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Sunday, March 31, 2013

I Want Candy


Hello, everybody!



I'd like to take the opportunity to wish everybody a Happy Easter Sunday! For today, I have dyed this blog entry in the finest Easter pastel colours! And, I'll tell you something...Easter has always been one of my favourite holidays. You want proof? Have a look at this picture!



In case you're wondering who the goofy looking kid with the bowl cut and velcro sneakers is sitting on the Easter Bunny's lap...well...it's me! Or, at least it WAS me back in the mid-1980s. I don't exactly know what year it was taken, but I would estimate it to be circa 1987. Unfortunately, I have a lot less hair than I did back then...but the good news is that I have since upgraded to lace-up sneakers!

Of course, going to the mall to visit the Easter Bunny was just one of the many traditions that I enjoyed as a kid. I probably have mentioned this before, but my family was never really the religious type, and we never attended Easter services. While all of us are very much aware of the religious background in regards to Easter, my family believed in setting our own holiday traditions at home. And, a lot of these traditions happened to involve a mainstay at almost every Easter celebration.

Easter candy.



Seriously, a lot of my fondest childhood memories involve Easter treats. First things first, I loved to eat the Easter candy! What kid didn't like to have a breakfast comprised of nothing but marshmallow Peeps, pastel coloured M&M's, and chocolate bunnies?

But eating it was only half the fun. Trying to find it was the real joy of Easter morning! When I was younger, whenever the Easter Bunny came, he would always leave behind a trail of candy enclosed in those little plastic eggs. It wouldn't be anything major...just jellybeans, jujubes, and maybe a couple of Hershey's Kisses. And, as a little kid, that trail seemed to go on forever. It would begin at my bedroom door, down a flight of stairs, down the first floor hallway, and into the den, where the real hunt for Easter candy began.

You see, when the Easter Bunny came for a visit, he always used to hide my Easter basket in some of the most unusual places, and it was my job to try and locate them with clues that were attached to small pieces of candy, like miniature chocolate bunnies, or a Reese peanut butter egg. And, the clues were quite cryptic, and some were really tricky to figure out. Here's a sample of what I mean...

  • I control everything that you watch (located in the remote control holder)
  • I'm hiding behind your sister and your brother-in-law (hidden behind their wedding photo on top of our VCR)
  • I'm the place where “Sunlight” and “Tides” can be found (hidden in the laundry hamper)
  • You can turn me on to shed some light on the subject (hidden behind a desk lamp)

You see what I mean? Those were tough clues to figure out for a kid! Yet, the final clue once I figured it out would lead to the smorgasbord of Easter treats. And, I congratulated myself on a job well done...despite the one year that I found my basket before I solved all the clues.



And, of course, all of us kids had our all-time favourites when it came down to what Easter candy we liked best. My eldest sister was a fan of white chocolate bunnies. My other sister enjoyed Laura Secord eggs. I myself absolutely have to have some form of Cadbury Mini Eggs. And, of course, all three of us were addicted to Reese Peanut Butter Eggs.

So, why am I talking so much about candy? Well, there's a couple of reasons why. First off, it's no secret that Easter candy makes up a huge part of Easter Sunday celebrations. It's estimated that in the United States of America, people spent almost $2.1 BILLION on Easter candy in 2012 alone! And, it's also estimated that Americans consume sixteen billion jellybeans on Easter Sunday alone! No wonder people are always in a good mood on Easter...they're all on a sugar high!

And, the second reason why I have decided to talk about candy is because today's featured song happens to have the word “Candy” in its title. We're going back in time thirty-one years for this one.



ARTIST: Bow Wow Wow
SONG: I Want Candy
ALBUM: The Last of the Mohicans
DATE RELEASED: May 1982
PEAK POSITION ON THE BILLBOARD CHARTS: #62

Not a lot of people may know this about this American one-hit-wonder by Bow Wow Wow, but this song is actually a cover version. The original hit was actually recorded just one year before lead singer, Annabella Lwin was born! Back in 1965, a group known as “The Strangeloves” released the original version, which if you like, you can listen to below!



TRIVIA: The Strangeloves had a fictional back story. Although the band originated in New York City, they claimed to hail from Australia. They claimed to be former sheep farmers who went by the names of Giles, Niles, and Miles Strange. In actuality, their real names were Bob Feldman, Richard Gottehrer, and Jerry Goldstein. Their record charted within the Top 10 in Canada, and peaked at #11 in America. Ironically enough, it never charted in Australia!

Seventeen years after the original charted, a British New Wave band decided to try their hand at success by recording their own version.



Interestingly enough, Bow Wow Wow was formed with an ulterior motive aside from making music. Malcolm McLaren was the man behind the band, and in 1980, he decided that one of the best ways to promote the fashions that up and coming designer Vivienne Westwood had created was to have the band wearing them while performing. The band's original line-up comprised of guitarist Matthew Ashman, bassist Leigh Gorman, and drummer David Barbarossa (of Adam and the Ants fame). As for the lead singer, it took some time for the band to find someone suitable.

Six months into the auditions, the band eventually settled on Annabella Lwin, a young girl that an acquaintance of McLaren's discovered at a dry cleaning place. She auditioned, and secured the position of lead singer in 1980.



Oh yeah...did I mention that at the time she was hired, Annabella Lwin was just thirteen years old? That's younger than the age that Debbie Gibson, Tiffany, and Britney Spears was when they had their first single released!

Needless to say, Annabella's age proved to be a factor in regards to some controversy regarding the band's album cover for “The Last of the Mohicans”, which contained the single “I Want Candy”. The album cover was taken in late 1981, and was a complete re-enactment of the famous painting “The Luncheon on the Grass”, by Manet.

Just for the record, here's the original painting below...



...and here's the 1981 album cover, which would be used for the band's 1982 album...



Now, what if I told you that Annabella was just fifteen years old when that photo was taken? Of course, the album cover doesn't exactly reveal any naughty bits (I'm sure if it did, it would have been double the scandal and double the trouble for the band), but Annabella's mother was concerned that the album cover was exploiting a minor, and even got Scotland Yard to launch an investigation into the matter.

Eventually, the investigation was dropped and McLaren had to promise not to promote Lwin as a “sex kitten” in order for the band to tour outside of the United Kingdom. If he didn't, Annabella Lwin would have been forced to quit the band.

At any rate, Lwin stayed on with the band long enough to record the song that got them noticed, “I Want Candy”. The video itself is quite...um...sub-standard compared to the videos that have been released since, but keep in mind that back in 1982, it was considered revolutionary and artistic. It certainly got a lot of airplay on MTV, which helped cement its place in the history of New Wave.

The song is now considered to be one of the most recognizable singles of the 1980s, and thirty-one years later, people still speak fondly of it. Recently, it was ranked at #86 on VH1's “Greatest Songs of the '80s”, and it landed at #8 on VH1's “Greatest One-Hit-Wonders of the 80s”. And, I'll be the first to admit that it is a great song!

So, what happened to the members of Bow Wow Wow since “I Want Candy” put everyone on a New Wave sugar rush?




Well, David Barbarossa would go on to be a part of another band, the British-based alternative group Republica, fronted by Saffron. If you're not sure of who they are, they released a couple of singles between 1996 and 1997 entitled “Ready to Go” (above) and “Drop Dead Gorgeous”. He had also been working on his first novel, “Mud Sharks”, which was eventually released in late 2012.



Annabella Lwin was kicked out of Bow Wow Wow in the fall of 1983, and embarked on a solo career, which spawned 1986's “Fever”. She reconnected with the former bass player of Bow Wow Wow in the mid-1990s, and re-created the Bow Wow Wow sound with rotating musicians filling in for the departed members. She also did some philanthropy work with her musical talents following the devastating tsunami in December 2004.



Sadly, there was no happy ending for Matthew Ashman. Following Annabella Lwin's departure from the band, Bow Wow Wow reinvented themselves as Chiefs of Relief, and Ashman became the band's frontman. That band would break up five years later in 1988, and Ashman stayed away from the music industry for a few years. He had been attempting to make a bit of comeback by joining the line-up of the group Agent Provocateur, but just before the band could release their album, Ashman died of complications from diabetes in 1995. He was just thirty-five years old.

And, that is our spotlight on the New Wave group, Bow Wow Wow. Not exactly the most relevant subject to talk about on an Easter Sunday...but then again, I've always loved weird traditions. Now, if you excuse me...I want candy. Ah...an Aero Peppermint Lamb. Delicious!

HAPPY EASTER!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Uncoupled Heart - A Short Story


Okay, so today is Saturday, and normally around this time of the week, I would be talking about a television series that entertained millions of children all over the world.  And, going into this week’s entry, with Easter Sunday just around the corner, I had fully intended to do a Saturday Morning feature based on the traditions of Easter.

Unfortunately, I could only recall one Easter special that would fit for the spotlight this week – “It’s The Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown”.  And, unfortunately for me, I did a feature on this special last Easter.

As a result of the well being completely dry for ideas, I decided to try something else for the blog entry.  I warn you ahead of time, there are no references to Easter, nor are there any references to Saturday Morning cartoons this week.  So, for those of you readers who are looking forward to the discussion on animated and live-action children’s shows of yore, it will be postponed for a week.

So, if cartoons and Easter are off the table for this week, what am I going to be talking about this week?

Well, I’ll be the first to admit that the idea came to me yesterday afternoon. 

As you well know, yesterday afternoon was “Good Friday”, and it is a day in which many people sit back and observe religious ceremonies at churches all over the world.  And, for those of you who did attend church services yesterday, I hope that they went well. 

By my own admission though, I’m not really one with the organized religion aspect, so I spent my “Good Friday” strapping on my iPod, and taking a nice, 90-minute walk around town.  The weather was slightly overcast, but just the right temperature, and as I walked around town, I was actually inspired to write a short story. 



Now, it comes as no secret that I love to write.  I wouldn’t have kept a blog ongoing for almost two years if I didn’t.  But it has admittedly been quite a while since I really sat down and penned a short story.  I think the last time I did that was two years ago, and I’m almost a bit embarrassed to admit that the story was a fan fiction.

So, for today’s blog entry, I’m really putting myself out there, and I want to share my short story with all of you reading this.  There’s no pop culture.  There are no interesting trivia facts.  There’s not even a Tuesday Timeline or a music video to share with you.

It’s just me stringing together a few lines and paragraphs to create a short story.  So, with that, I post the story, and I hope that you enjoy it, and that those of you who want to comment on it give me honest feedback.

Oh, wait.  One more thing before I go on.  The story might seemingly contrast with the note that I wrote about the “Nucleus of Negativity”, but I figure that since it’s a short story, it won’t appear too hypocritical.  Well, at least, that’s MY defense on the matter.

UNCOUPLED HEART

The bitterly cold wind licked at the back of my neck as I strolled down the street.  The transition between seasons was very much apparent as the weather remained indecisive that March afternoon.  The flowers inside the shops were beginning to bloom, even as the last of the winter snow began to melt away.  Winter’s touch was weakening with each passing day, and her last gasps for breath were one final reminder of how cold she could be.

But that was fine with me.  The confusion of the weather seemed to fit the mood.

The confusion seemed to spread among the people walking down the street, as people could not decide whether to bulk up with heavy clothing, or don their finest spring fashions.  In some cases, they were dressed appropriately, but in others, not so much.  And, I could easily tell which ones were in discomfort simply by looking at their facial expressions, or how they wrapped their arms around themselves, trying to capture the little warmth that they were clinging to.  But that wasn’t difficult for me to do, as I always made a point to notice the little things many others missed.

Most people wouldn’t have noticed that the older one was, the more apt they would be to complain about Winter’s last hurrah, but I never claimed to be like most people.  Quite a few would probably have ignored the sight of so many people sipping on a hot chocolate or coffee as they strolled through the park, but perhaps they would have made that observation had they not had their noses buried in their mobile phones or portable gaming devices.  And who knew that there were so many people within the town limits that were dog lovers?  I attempted to keep count of all of the dogs that I encountered along the way, but I regret to say that I lost count after twenty-seven.

Or, was it twenty-nine?

I had also made one more observation as I continued my stroll through a park.  It seemed to me that almost every single person in town was walking in a group, or in pairs.  Whether they were teenagers who were breaking out their skateboards and bicycles, or a couple who appeared to have been enamored with each other for decades, it was nice to see so many people enjoying the afternoon with the people they loved, I thought to myself.

However, I was feeling as conflicted as the weather, as while I was happy to see so many happy, smiling faces, I was simultaneously feeling great sadness.

It was wonderful to see that spring was just around the corner, and that winter was taking a hiatus for now, and I was thrilled to see so many people taking advantage of the season.  But no matter how nice an early spring day felt, winter was still in the air, attempting to spoil what was supposed to be a day of beauty and renewal.  And, no matter how happy I was to see so many people in the streets enjoying the day with their loved ones, I was still feeling as though Jack Frost continued to have his grip on my heart.  For everyone else was spending the day with someone else, and here was I, alone and seemingly isolated from everybody else.

And, I was beginning to realize something right then and there.  It should have been a great day, and for many people it was.  But without someone to share the promise of a new day with, it just seemed as though something would always be missing.  I was feeling as though no matter how high the temperature rose, or how many rays of sunshine beamed across the sky, life would forever be incomplete because I was unable to share those natural wonders with someone who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.

It felt strange to be the only person in what seemed like the entire planet without their other half.  In some weird, almost paranoid sense I felt as though all eyes were locked on me, almost as if I were some sort of sideshow freak that you might come across at a circus.  “Come see the eternally single man!”, I heard echoing in my ears while picturing that scenario.

But one thing I tried to keep telling myself is that my time would eventually come.  There would be one day in which I would be able to share the beauty of the world with someone who was able to appreciate it...and maybe one day, we would be able to appreciate the beauty that we would be able to show to each other.

Even the most dismal, rainy days do not stay that way for long.  At some point, the sun does pop out beneath the black cloud, and the world is bathed in the warm glow that the sunlight provides.  A new day filled with promise and meaning.

That’s what I hold onto as I walk down by the riverside.  I turn and look up at the sky filled with huge, puffy clouds that appear as if they could explode in a cloudburst of raindrops and fog, knowing that this is just one of many days in which we all feel a little bit down.  And, I realize that on a day like today, it only appears that my uncoupled heart is hurting more than it should. 

But, I keep telling myself...open your heart, and keep it open...and soon enough, the warm spring breeze will appear within. 

That’s what keeps me going.  That’s what keeps me walking through the city streets, watching the couples and singles passing on by.  Knowing that one day, my uncoupled heart will one day experience that warm, feeling.

The best feeling in the world.

Friday, March 29, 2013

American Idol


I’m sure that most of you who have read this space know that I am a shameless fan of reality television.  I enter a “Survivor” pool at work (which I won last Christmas), I have an addiction to “Big Brother”, and one of my goals in life is to try and appear as a contestant on “The Amazing Race”.  Of course, I’d have to relinquish my Canadian citizenship in order to make that a reality, and I’m not really sure I can make that commitment.

And, we won’t be discussing the fact that “The Amazing Race” is doing a Canadian edition, because the Canadian edition is set to take place within the Canadian borders.  I’ll be the first to defend Canada as being a country that has millions of things to see and experience, but when I compete on “The Amazing Race”, I’d like to see more of the world than Manitoba and Baffin Island.

So, yeah...I have some love to give for reality television.  If anything, some of the most obnoxious people who have ever appeared on reality shows make me look positively angelic by comparison!

But, there are some reality shows that I will not watch at all.  Some of them bore me to tears (Dancing With The Stars), some of them I find completely offensive (The Bachelor/Bachelorette), and some of them make a tsetse fly appear intelligent in comparison (Jersey Shore/16 And Pregnant).

I’m typically not a fan of reality talent competitions either.  I may tune in for a couple of episodes now and again, but I can’t say I ever invested my time in watching a complete season from beginning to end.  I don’t think that I’ve watched a single episode of “The X-Factor”.  I think that I’ve maybe seen one episode of “The Voice”.  I completely laughed off the lame 2003 “Star Search” remake with Arsenio Hall, but I can’t really say that I paid all that much attention to the original “Star Search” when Ed McMahon hosted it.  In regards to “So You Think You Can Dance”, I’d rather eat lead chips off of a wall.   And the only thing that I could tell you about “Canadian Idol” is that Carly Rae Jepsen appeared on the show as a contestant.

And, no...I did not just meet her, and that's not crazy.




But, what about "American Idol"?  Well, to be honest with you, while I have seen several episodes of the series, I can't really say that I cared enough about the show to watch an entire season all the way through.  However one cannot simply ignore the ratings juggernaut that the show was for the first few years that it was on the air.




When "American Idol" first debuted on June 11, 2002, few knew just how huge it would become. Between 2003 and 2011, it ranked near the top of the Nielsen ratings, with several episodes topping the list of most viewed shows for the days that the show aired.  With Ryan Seacrest as the host for the entire show's run, and a judging panel which originally comprised of Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, and Simon Cowell, "American Idol" was a show that grouped people between the ages of sixteen and thirty all over the United States, and gave one of them the chance to be named the American Idol.

And, certainly within the show's history, they have certainly succeeded in changing the face of the music industry.  With the show currently in season twelve, it is estimated that "American Idol" has spawned at least 345 Billboard chart-toppers, and have made household names of several people.




It's just unfortunate that the show seems to be a glimmer of its former self.  Randy Jackson and Ryan Seacrest are the only fixtures of "American Idol" that have remained unchanged.  The show has employed several judges over the years following the departures of Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell.  Some of the past judges have included Kara DioGuardi, Ellen DeGeneres, Jennifer Lopez, and Steven Tyler.  The current judging panel comprises of Jackson, Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj, and Mariah Carey...and unfortunately, the on-set tension between Carey and Minaj, and Minaj's rather...um...colourful judging sessions, are taking away from what the show really should be about.

Finding new talent.

It's interesting to note that of the eleven Idol winners, only a few have really made a mark the music industry.  Many of the others who have had huge success after appearing on Idol have come in second place.  In one case, they didn't even make the Top 5!

And, rather than talk about the scandal, drama, and backstage fighting between the judges, I thought I'd use this blog entry to talk about the true winners of "American Idol", whether they won the competition or not!  

So, let's go back to where it all began...




KELLY CLARKSON - Winner of Season 1
Notable Hits:  "A Moment Like This", "Breakaway", "Since U Been Gone",  "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)"

Kelly Clarkson was just twenty when she won the title of "American Idol" during the show's inaugural season.  Who knew that after releasing the song "A Moment Like This" , she would go on to release five successful studio albums, have album sales of 23 million, and singles sales of 36 million?  Believe it or not, "A Moment Like This" became the best selling record of the year 2002, and broke the record for the biggest chart jump to the top of the Billboard Charts.  Even more interesting is that she ended up breaking her own record in 2009, when "My Life Would Suck Without You" went from #97 all the way to #1 in ONE WEEK!  That record is still holding today!  And, Kelly Clarkson has proven her versatility in both the pop charts and the country charts, when she reworked her song "Because of You" as a country duet with Reba McEntire.  Kelly Clarkson certainly did very well for herself, and now at the age of thirty-one, she is still continuing to make music.  In that sense, "American Idol" made her a star, and she was savvy enough to keep that career going.




CLAY AIKEN  - Runner-Up of Season 2
Notable Hits:  "Invisible", "Bridge Over Troubled Water", "Solitaire", "The Way"

An interesting fact about Clay Aiken.  He initially wanted to be a contestant on "The Amazing Race" before being convinced to audition for "American Idol".  It was a move that paid off, as Clay Aiken made it to the finals.  In fact, there was a little bit of controversy surrounding Clay coming in second overall, as many people believed that the voting (fans could vote for their favourite singers via phone, text message, or online) was rigged so that Clay would lose to eventual winner, Ruben Studdard.  

In the end, it didn't really matter, as Clay released his debut album "The Measure of a Man" later that year to huge success.  Although Clay has slowed down his music recording in recent years, he still does tours.  But these days, he's been raising his son, Parker, came out to the public, came in second place on "The Celebrity Apprentice", got into a minor scuffle with Kelly Ripa involving a hand-covering incident, and appeared in Spamalot!  Not a bad resume indeed...well...minus the Kelly Ripa thing.




JENNIFER HUDSON - Seventh Place Finisher of Season 3
Notable Hits:  "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going", "Spotlight"

Jennifer Hudson didn't do quite so well during the competition, finishing near the middle of the pack.  But her career after the show took off in a way that nobody ever imagined.  She was cast in the 2006 film "Dreamgirls", which also starred Eddie Murphy and Beyonce Knowles, and to say that the film changed her life is an understatement.  To this day, she remains the only "American Idol" contestant to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture.  She also won a Golden Globe, a BAFTA Award, an NAACP Award, and a Screen Actors Guild Award!  Sure, it would have been nice to have won the title of "American Idol" as well, but hey, why should she complain?

Although Hudson suffered a devastating tragedy following the murders of her mother, brother, and nephew in 2008, she managed to find a way to work through the pain, and she remains a huge force in both the music and acting industries.  In between, she's signed on to become a spokesperson for Weight Watchers, having success with the program herself!  One could argue that Jennifer Hudson has become the most successful non-winner of all of the Idol alumni to date.




CARRIE UNDERWOOD - Winner of Season 4
Notable Hits:  "Jesus Take The Wheel", "So Small", "Before He Cheats", "Two Black Cadillacs"

But if Jennifer Hudson is the most successful non-winner, then some might call Carrie Underwood one of the most successful winners.  Since she won the competition in 2005, Underwood has been working almost non-stop.  She's won six Grammy Awards, sixteen Billboard Music Awards, seven American Music Awards, and ten Academy of Country Music Awards!  Where on earth does she find the space to store all of those awards?

With Underwood selling a combined total of 45 million records worldwide, she certainly has beaten Kelly Clarkson in terms of overall sales.  But, I don't think that Carrie should have anything to feel bad about.  After all, she has had twelve singles top the Country Music Charts!




KATHARINE MCPHEE - Runner-Up of Season 5
Notable Hits:  "Somewhere Over The Rainbow", "Over It", "Love Story"

Season 5 made history, as three of its alumni ended up fashioning huge careers following the season's conclusion.  First up is Katharine McPhee, whose rendition of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" just missed the Top 10.  Her follow-up singles didn't perform much better...but she's certainly not a flash in the pan, as you can currently watch her on NBC's "Smash", playing the role of Karen Cartwright.




CHRIS DAUGHTRY - Fourth Place Finisher of Season 5
Notable Hits:  "It's Not Over", "Home"

It was a sad day for fans of Chris Daughtry, who was voted off of the competition just before the Top 3.  But, don't feel too bad for him.  Within weeks of his elimination, he was signed to a recording deal with RCA Records, and he formed a band named after his last name, "Daughtry".  The band released their debut album in 2006, and the album became the fastest selling rock debut in Nieslen Soundscan History, selling well over a million copies within a month and a half!  The band is still together and is recording new material for an upcoming album, set to drop later this year.




KELLIE PICKLER - Sixth Place Finisher of Season 5
Notable Hits:  "Red High Heels", "I Wonder", "Best Days of Your Life"

These days, you can catch Kellie Pickler on the current season of "Dancing With The Stars" (where I hear that she's doing very well).  Prior to that, she charmed Idol fans with her southern charm, and self-admitted ditziness to make it to sixth place in the same season that made Daughtry a star.  But, Kellie has had some success on the country charts, and she continues to record music today.  And, she also recently shaved off all her hair in support of a friend who was battling cancer last year...so, that was wonderful for her to do.





JORDIN SPARKS - Winner of Season 6
Notable Hits: "Tattoo", "No Air", "Battlefield"

Jordin Sparks was only seventeen years old when she won the competition, making her the youngest person to ever win "American Idol".  Now twenty-three, Sparks has certainly made an impact on the music industry.  Her debut single, "Tattoo" hit the Top 10 on the Billboard Charts, as did "No Air", a song that also featured Chris Brown.  She's sold 1.3 million albums worldwide, and she has also won several awards, including an American Music Award and a People's Choice Award.  She was named one of People Magazine's Most Beautiful At Any Age in 2012, and that same year, she acted alongside the late Whitney Houston in the 2012 film "Sparkle".




ADAM LAMBERT - Runner-Up of Season 8
Notable Hits:  "For Your Entertainment", "Whataya Want From Me", "If I Had You"

Adam Lambert was destined for stardom even though he lost out on winning the whole show.  He was signed by 19 Entertainment (the company that is tied to American Idol), and his first three singles did phenomenally well on the Billboard Charts.  He became the first American Idol contestant in history to headline a worldwide concert tour within the first year of appearing on American Idol, and his second album made history when he became the first openly gay artist to  have an album debut at number one on the Billboard 200 charts with 2012's "Trespassing"!




SCOTTY MCCREERY - Winner of Season 10
Notable Hits:  "I Love You This Big", "The Trouble With Girls"

The final Idol alumni that we'll be spotlighting is 19-year-old Scotty McCreery, who won the competition just two years ago, making him the youngest male winner of American Idol in history.  Though Scotty's career is just getting started, it is predicted that he will be doing very well as time passes.  His first two hits both made it into the Top 20, and a Christmas album that he released almost six months ago has been certified gold.  Time will tell if McCreery becomes a huge star, or just another Kimberley Locke, Diana DeGarmo, or David Archuleta...




Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Nucleus of Negativity


This Thursday Diary entry is going to be one that is needed for me to look back on. It's not so much a message to anyone in particular. It's more like a personal reminder for me not to fall back on old patterns, and move forward with my plans for a better future for myself.

March 28, 2013

The decision that I have made to make my life a better one this year has not been an easy one to follow through on. Certainly, it's a decision that I have thought about for quite a long time, and it's only been now that I've come to the conclusion that it can definitely be possible to make some huge changes that will better myself.

But, I will be completely honest with all of you reading this. It's one thing to say that you want to make changes, and it's one thing to put forth the effort and commitment to make sure that you get everything that you want in this life. But sometimes, that isn't enough.

In order to really have a shot at making sure that the decisions that you're planning on making are the good ones, you almost need to have a driving force behind you at all times. In a lot of cases, many people have found the courage to make these decisions based on the love and support of loved ones and close friends. And, in a lot of cases, many people find strength in positivity. It's no secret that a positive attitude is always the key to success in life and, as long as one is optimistic about things, the possibility of dreams coming true will be greater.

But what happens when you don't really have a large support system at your fingertips, and you don't really have anyone in your corner to keep you on the right track towards making those dreams come true? And, what happens when you're in a situation where you try with all your might to stay positive and you can't because everyone else around you is a Debbie or Darryl Downer?

I would think that it would be difficult to find the courage and the strength necessary to make life-changing decisions, wouldn't it? When one doesn't have anyone standing by the choices they make and supporting them on their journey, it's easy to have the attitude of “why should I try to make my life any better if there isn't anyone else to share my joy and successes with me?”

And, I would also think it would be difficult to put on a happy face, when everywhere you look are frowns and tears, and you hear the words “woe is me” inserted into every conversation.

How do I know this? Because I've been one of those people who have experienced this phenomenon hands on.



It's a little vortex that I like to refer to as the “Nucleus of Negativity”.

If you've ever taken physics, then you probably know the definition of the word nucleus. Even though I only lasted four weeks in my physics class before I dropped the class because of it being too complex for my mind to process, I did learn that a nucleus is the core of an atom.

So, if the nucleus is the core, then obviously whatever surrounds the nucleus will have an effect on the heart of the atom, right? I suppose in a way, it's kind of comparable to the human heart inside of a body. In order to keep the body going at its maximum health, you feasibly have to keep your heart as healthy as possible. You do this by doing things that will keep your body healthy and happy. You drink milk, you exercise, you eat all the right foods.

In short, if you treat your body with tender loving care, then your body should continue to give you TLC right back.

And, I'm not just talking about physical health either. The same principle applies towards mental health as well.

If you're surrounded by positive people, and have lots of support, then feasibly speaking, you should have a better shot at making good decisions in your life, right?

Well, I've come to the conclusion that a lot of the reason why I have been making excuses for why I don't do anything to change my life is because I have been caught in the Nucleus of Negativity for quite some time. And, when one gets stuck in that trap, it becomes incredibly difficult to get out of it. Believe me, I know from experience.



I'll be the first one to admit that when I was younger, I had the worst attitude towards life in general. I can admit that now. Back in those days, I couldn't.

And the reason why I couldn't was because I was stuck in that negative zone and was unable to find my way out of it. I don't really need to go into detail over what my teenage years were like, because you already know all of it, and I promised myself that I wouldn't talk about those days as I have already made peace with it. I plan to keep that promise, but I'll state that having a negative frame of mind was easy at that time.

A little bit too easy, looking back on it.

But just fast-forwarding ahead a few years, I'm finding that my mood for the day is largely based on the moods of others. If I'm around people who are in a wonderful, positive mood, then I tend to be quite positive myself. On the flipside, if I am surrounded by negativity...well, guess what happens?



And, I'm at the point in my life where I can't handle being around constant negativity any longer. Because when others are in a negative frame of mind, it causes me to fall into that trap, and I become a negative person myself. Let's be honest here. Nobody likes being around a negative person. I'm fairly sure that when I was younger, I was always in a pessimistic mood because I kind of expected it. Whenever anybody said anything nice to me, or paid me a compliment, I laughed it off, or I became all defensive, insisting that I wasn't deserving of it. Who does that anyway?

Well, looking back on it, I did. And, sometimes I still do.

And, that's one of the many drawbacks to being trapped in the Nucleus of Negativity. It causes you to question everything about yourself, and it implants feelings of self-doubt and anger over things that may not necessarily be your fault or in your control. And, because of that, some people might feel the need to try and spread that negativity around to other people in the hopes that they can rid themselves of their negative feelings by passing it onto someone else.

Of course, we all know that doesn't work. If anything, it just increases the intensity of the negativity.

So the question becomes...how can I break free of the Nucleus of Negativity? How can I find my way back to building up a positive attitude again?

Well, the answer may seem incredibly simple upon reading it, but I've found that the best way to get out of the Nucleus of Negativity is to avoid getting stuck in it in the first place!

I'm being serious here!

When I was growing up, I probably tried to befriend people who didn't exactly have my best interests at heart. In fact, a lot of them kind of used me for something, and once they got it, they cast me aside. Not exactly what one would call a healthy friendship, right? But yet, I kept coming back for more because that was all that I had known. The worse I was treated, the more I came to expect it. It really wasn't until I entered adulthood and came across people who really did care that I began to turn my whole life around, and started to look at the world through a positive filter. Of course, it took me some time to get to that point because I was still stuck in the middle of that negativity nucleus.



I'm at a point in my life where I feel as though I am getting better at staying positive, but I do have setbacks now and again, as everyone else does. But, I know now that I don't want to spend the rest of my life with a black cloud of negativity hanging over my head. I need to maintain the drive and ambition that is powered by positivity so I can find my ticket to happiness.



If that means that I sit at a lunch table by myself with my iPod to drown out the gossip, the finger-pointing, and the constant complaining, then that's what I will do. Because it's too easy to fall into that trap.



If that means that I have to take a brisk walk from one end of town to the other to cool down after dealing with people within my own family who are constantly down, then I'll strap on my running shoes and walk, walk, walk. Because it's too easy to fall into that trap.



If that means that I have to turn off people's news feeds on social networking sites and log off of these sites to watch something funny on YouTube, then that's what I will do. Because it's too easy to fall into that trap.

I'm at an age and a time in my life where negative people are no longer welcome in my life. Everyone is entitled to a bad day every now and again, but when people do everything to bring you down, I'm not okay with it. Nor am I okay with being in a situation where everyone around you is complaining about everything.

I don't have it in me to deal with negativity anymore. I need to stay positive at all times...and I know that in order for me to do that, I need people in my life who will support me, and stand by me, and offer me their blessing in choices that I have to make for myself so I can continue to grow and develop.



And, I think that next Thursday, I'll talk about that in greater detail...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Tales of Beatrix Potter


Can you believe that Easter Sunday is just four short days away? I tell you, whenever Easter falls in March, I think it screws all of us up. But, according to several sources, Easter can fall anywhere between March 22 and April 25. The earliest Easter I remember fell on March 26, and the latest I can recall was on April 24. It's one of those magical holidays that can fall anywhere within a five-week period, and occasionally, it can fall in March, as is the case for 2013.

With Easter fast approaching, I thought that I would use this blog space to speak about a subject that is loosely related to Easter-themed symbols and icons. Mind you, the books by today's featured author aren't quite Easter related, but there's enough symbolism present that I can do a fairly good job tying the two themes together.
And, as always, this post was actually inspired by a childhood memory.

You know how almost every fast food place in the world seems to have a children's menu complete with toys, games, and activities? I think I probably have explained this before, but one of the reasons why I hung around McDonald's so much in my youth was because of the lure of the McDonald's Happy Meals. It certainly wasn't because I liked the energy surrounding McDonald's, and it sure as heck wasn't because of the food (which, coincidentally I cannot stand these days). It was because of the wonderful toys and games and puzzles that were included within each Happy Meal. I amassed a small collection of these toys, and played with them almost every day in my youth.

Well, the promise of toys upon every visit wasn't limited to just fast food outlets in my store. There's a barbershop/salon chain in town that gives out free crayons and finger puppets, and I will be the first one to admit that if I weren't in my thirties, I would totally take advantage. There was a supermarket chain that existed years ago that helped me build a complete set of encyclopedias back in the day (which unfortunately are now twenty-five years out of date).

Believe it or not, even gas stations took advantage of offering up toys and games when people dropped by to fill up their cars with gas. And, one particular gas station had a series of books that were available to purchase for $2.99 each when you bought gasoline from them.

If memory serves me, it was the local Shell station (I only remember the name because there was another time in which they gave away Sesame Street figurines the year before), and there were twenty-three different pocket-size books available to buy. Because my family were very loyal to their friendly neighbourhood gas station, it took a lot of convincing to get them to drive out of the way to purchase gas from the Shell station just so they could have the chance to purchase the books for me. Even so, I didn't get the complete collection. If anything, I think I only ended up with a quarter of the books that were offered.



But, since that works out to approximately six books, I think it's enough to do a blog entry on the late children's author, Beatrix Potter.

Yes, there was a time in which Shell stations offered people a chance to read to their kids while filling their tanks with gas by selling Beatrix Potter books at the front checkouts. And, you know something, it was a brilliant idea. Growing up and reading the books, I'll be the first to admit that the books are classic tales with morals, lessons, and just a smidgen of humour, and I'll always have a soft spot for the literary works of Beatrix Potter.

Before I go ahead with the books that I have read of hers, why don't I give off a brief biography of Beatrix Potter.

She was born in Kensington, London, England, on July 28, 1866. She was raised in a Unitarian family, and much of the inspiration behind many of her books was influenced by her childhood. She and her brother had several small animals as pets, and Beatrix used to observe them very closely, even drawing up sketches of them. Her family also took frequent holidays to Scotland, and the English Lake District, which helped Beatrix grow to love the natural world.

Throughout her formative years, Beatrix Potter took private art lessons and was an all around good student, becoming skilled in languages, science, history, and literature. Over time, Beatrix experimented with several forms of illustrating, discovering that watercolour was what she liked working with best. After experiencing some great success from illustrating greeting cards, and booklets, she published the first of twenty-three books in 1901. At first, she had intended to publish the book privately, but within a year, she had inked a deal with Frederick Warne & Co. to have the book circulated as a small three-colour illustrated book to the public. Over the next twenty years, she would have several works published, and she would also use the money to purchase several English farms in the hopes of preserving the countryside she grew to love. In fact, her love for the countryside was so great that upon her death on December 22, 1943, she left her entire fortune to the National Trust, which used the money to preserve most of the land that makes up the Lake District National Park in England.

So, let's talk about some of the stories that helped Beatrix Potter become a star of the literary world. Of the 23 original works that she wrote, I read and owned five of them. And, what better way to illustrate the tales of Beatrix Potter than talking about my own personal experiences with them.



THE TALE OF PETER RABBIT (1902)

This was Beatrix Potter's first book, and as it so happens, it was the book that introduced me to the world of Beatrix Potter. Of course, everyone has heard of the various tales, songs and stories that have been told about Peter Rabbit, but in Potter's version, Peter Rabbit is one naughty bunny. And, right off the bat, the story begins on a disturbing note as we are introduced to the Rabbit family. Let's see...there's a mother rabbit, and her babies (Peter and his sisters)...but no father. Turns out that Father Bunny's fate was a gruesome one. While he was out gathering food for the family, he was trapped by Mr. McGregor, and baked into a pie and eaten!

As I said, disturbing.

Anyway, Peter's mother warns the children not to go anywhere near Mr. McGregor's garden, but the temptation of fresh carrots, delicious lettuce, and savoury herbs proved to be too much for Peter to resist, and he snuck into the garden against his mother's wishes only for him to almost become the next victim of Mr. McGregor's serial killing spree.

INTERESTING FACT: The book was created based on a letter that four-year-old Noel Moore written in September 1893, which asked Potter to create a story that starred a rabbit named Peter. This book was so successful that it has been translated into thirty-six different languages, and has sold 45 million copies since it was first published in 1902, making it one of the best-selling books of all time.



THE TAILOR OF GLOUCESTER (1903)

This book was Beatrix Potter's third, and the main character was a tailor (obviously). He sends his cat, Simpkin out to town to purchase some food, as well as cherry-coloured silk needed to fashion a waistcoat to be worn by the mayor on his Christmas Day wedding. But while Simpkin is gone, the tailor discovers that the mischievous cat has imprisoned several mice underneath various teacups, and lets them go. When Simpkin discovers what the tailor has done, he plays a little game of hide-and-seek with the cherry-coloured silk that the tailor needs to finish the coat!

To add to the stress, the tailor falls ill just days before the wedding, and he is worried that he won't be able to finish the coat. But when he gets help from an unexpected source, he (and Simpkin) realize the value of friendship, and all turns out well.

INTERESTING FACT: According to Beatrix Potter, this book was one of her favourites to create. I can see why. This book happens to be one of my favourite Beatrix Potter books too!



THE STORY OF A FIERCE BAD RABBIT (1906)

Book number nine in the series sort of reads like an animal version of the Highlights Magazine feature “Goofus and Gallant”. In this book, we're introduced to a pair of rabbits...a good, kind, Gallant rabbit, and a fierce, bad, Goofus rabbit. In all honesty, this is a perfect book to illustrate the battle between good and bad, and it also shows the comeuppances one might face if they stay fiercely bad for far too long. The Gallant Rabbit is happy at the very beginning of the book. His mother has given him a nice, yummy carrot to snack on. Unfortunately, Goofus Rabbit didn't get his carrot allowance (likely because he was bad at home), and he decides that he wants Gallant Rabbit's carrot, even resorting to violence by way of scratching him badly. But, if you think that Goofus Rabbit gets away with his mugging, a hunter with a gun proves otherwise.

SPOILER ALERT: Don't worry. Goofus Rabbit doesn't bite the big one...but he loses more than just his face...



THE TALE OF JEMIMA PUDDLE-DUCK (1908)

Jemima Puddle-Duck is the star of Potter's twelfth book, and in this tale, Jemima wants to hatch her own eggs, but the wife of the farmer who owns the land that Jemima calls home doesn't think that a duck is capable of being a good sitter, and she snatches the duck eggs and places them in the hen house so that the hens can hatch them instead. So she straps on a poke bonnet and ventures away from the farm so she can hatch them herself on her own terms. An independent woman...I like that.

But what happens when she comes across a stranger who tells Jemima everything to get her to trust him, only for him to be proven as a wolf in...um...fox fur? Will anyone be able to help her and her eggs? It's a classic tale of pursuit and prey, and the story is filled with so many twists and turns that you never know how it will go until you reach the end.

INTERESTING FACT: The book remains one of Potter's most famous works, and it inspired the creation of an original Jemima Puddle-Duck doll complete with a bonnet and shawl. One can only imagine how much a mint-condition original doll would go for in auction these days!



THE TALE OF JOHNNY TOWN-MOUSE (1918)

This was one of the last books created in the original twenty-three book series, and it is essentially a retelling of the classic Aesop fable “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse”. The story actually doesn't start with the introduction of Johnny Town-Mouse though. We're instead introduced to Timmy Willie, the country mouse who ends up on a one-way ticket to the city after falling asleep in a hamper of vegetables after gorging on a feast of peas.

Somehow, Timmy Willie finds himself at a dinner party hosted by Johnny Town-Mouse, who invites Timmy to stay with him for a while. Later in the series, Johnny Town-Mouse pays a visit to Timmy out in the country. Though both mice didn't have a lot of fun away from home, they did seem to form a friendship. The story gives perfect meaning to the phrase “It's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there”.

And, those are just five of the stories that Beatrix Potter told. Although I only owned five of the twenty-three books, I did eventually read all twenty-three books through libraries, online resources, and other sources. And, if one day I become a father, I will seek these books out to read to my kids because they are absolute perfection in my eyes.