Saturday, June 30, 2012

Reds and Whites for Your 4th of July BBQ *Sponsored*

This is a Sponsored Post from BevMo!, written by a BevMo! representative. While I didn't write it, I think it's a great idea for holiday celebrations! Cheers!

There's nothing quite like celebrating America on the 4th of July with a backyard BBQ.  BevMo! wants to remind all patriotic party throwers and goers that offering some whites and reds in addition to your Blue Moon can be a great BBQ compliment, too.

Check out the list below for some tasty wine and BBQ pairings. And with the signature 5 Cent Wine Sale happening now through July 9, stocking up for a party doesn't have to break the bank – you can buy every wine listed below and get the second bottle for 5 cents.

Hot Dogs + Sparkling Wine
Charles Ninot Sparkling Wine Brut - $16.99 and second one for 5 cents
The bubbles and citrus help to cut the fattiness and compliment the saltiness.

Grilled Corn + Chardonnay
Bushranger Cpt. Starlight Chardonnay '09 - $16.99 and second one for 5 cents 
The citrus and mineral flavors and full body are the perfect complement to the sweet corn and salty butter.

Brats + Syrah
Hahn Estates Syrah '10 - $15.99 and second one for 5 cents
A full-bodied red with ripe fruit tones compliments the heat.

Burgers + Zinfandel
Gen 5 Zinfandel '10 - $14.99 and second one for 5 cents
This rich and slightly peppery wine pairs well with smokey flavors, and even barbeque sauce.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

*Giveaway* Hollywood Bowl Boasts a Family-Friendly Summer

2nd UPDATE: Congrats to Comiendo en LA, who won the two tickets to Pixar in Concert! Please email me at with your preferred date. Thanks to everyone who participated, and I'll announce Diana Krall winners next Thursday, July 19.

UPDATE: Congrats to you big baby!, who won the two tickets to see Frozen Planet in Concert. Please email me at with your preferred date. Thanks to everyone who participated, and stay tuned for more winners next week!

The Hollywood Bowl has a great summer planned for families, and I have a trio of giveaways that should make any parent eager for an entertaining night out under the stars.

I have to say, I love the Bowl. I've been a couple of times -- once with CC and friends to see Randy Newman and others perform, and once with a friend of mine to see The Sound of Music sing-a-long, which I highly recommend! (Hello, laser pointers and Lederhosen!)

It's gorgeous, casual and always a treat.

They've got a lot going on this summer (stay tuned for my Summersounds for Kids post!), and first up is Frozen Planet in Concert.

Co-produced by the BBC and the Discovery Channel, Frozen Planet will be premiering at the Bowl next weekend, July 6 & 7 at 8 p.m. The documentary explores the polar region and, in the Bowl screening, will combine live orchestral music with HD footage of our planet's snowy life.

Also on the Bowl's calendar are the following family-friendly concerts:

* Joshua Bell Plays Mendelssohn (July 17 & 19)
* Pixar in Concert (Aug. 3-5)
* Diana Krall (Aug. 24 & 25)
* Brian Setzer Orchestra (Sept. 14-16)

*** GIVEAWAY ***

I'm really so excited about this! I'm giving away 2 tickets to each of the following performances -- Frozen Planet in Concert, Pixar in Concert and Diana Krall.

To enter, leave a comment below telling me which performance you'd like to see and why. Please be sure to note the date and time, and make sure you're available.

For more chances to win, follow me on Twitter and retweet this giveaway. I'm at @la_story. Or you can "Like" the L.A. Story Facebook page and share the giveaway.

Just be sure to leave extra comments telling me you did so.

Good luck, and I will announce the Frozen Planet winners on Tuesday, July 3, and the Pixar and Diana Krall winners on Thursday, July 12!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Yummy Treats at Dole's California Cook-Off

CC eyes a fruit bouquet at Dole's California Cook-Off at The Grove.
Sunday was an especially tasty day at The Grove, as Dole hosted its California Cook-Off, complete with lots of free samples, a grilling competition and demos by local chef Ben Ford of Ford's Filling Station.

And sample we did! From fruit cups to Mrs. Mays natural fruit and nut snacks to grilled banana s'mores (see recipe below!) to Dole's cool new Smoothie Shakers, we definitely indulged in a few summer treats.

Grilled bananas!
It was also such a gorgeous day, and there were tons of Angelenos out taste-testing, too. I also enjoyed catching a glimpse of some local cooking talent.

Chef Ben Ford demos summer recipes.
But back to those grilled banana s'mores! Check out this easy recipe:

Grilled Banana S'mores
Prep: 5 min.
Grill: 10 min.
Makes: 4 servings

* 2 Dole bananas, unpeeled
* 4 graham crackers, broken into halves
* 2 bars (1.55 oz each) milk chocolate, broken into halves

1. Place unpeeled bananas on the grill over medium high heat. Grill 4 to 5 minutes on each side until bananas darken and slightly soften.
2. Remove from heat. Remove top half of banana peel. For each s'more, scoop half of grilled banana on graham cracker square. Top with square of chocolate and second graham cracker half. Press gently together.

Yum! And congrats to Jeanette Nelson of Crab Orchard, W.V., who won the cook-off with her Island Pork Sliders with Jicama Salsa recipe!

Monday, June 25, 2012

'Brave' Review

Sometimes it's better to walk into a movie without knowing exactly what it's about. The Usual Suspects is a good example of that. Brave is the kid-friendly version of that, a surprising movie -- not because it has a crazy twist at the end, but because it's one that wholly defies a genre that's been established since parent company Disney released Snow White back in 1938.

Yes, I'm talking about the so-called "princess movie," the one in which a young woman is rescued by a handsome prince ... but not before her mother is killed off in scene two (if she's lucky) or doesn't exist at all.

I have to applaud Disney*Pixar for this one -- especially Pixar, since this is its first female-led movie. The main character, a Scottish princess named Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), is spunky, confident and knows what she wants -- or, rather, is confident knowing what she doesn't want.

When presented with a few (not-so-handsome) suitors, Merida decides to compete in an archery contest for her own hand -- basically for the right to decide not to decide on a mate for the near future. She's simply not ready.

This decision, of course, throws the tradition-based clans into a tizzy and incites a hurtful feud with her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). Angry words strike their targets, and next thing you know Merida takes off into the woods on her trusty horse, Angus, to blow off steam but also to find a way to change her mother's mind.

And that's where the story really changes.

It's hard to write a review of a film when I don't want to give away its most outstanding characteristic -- its courage to be something different from what we've seen before. Sure, there have been animated films -- Disney animated films -- with strong female characters, but the story has always been somewhat the same. There's always a love story. And there is something of that here, but it's not what you think. Not at all.

I took CC to see Brave on Saturday, and she dressed up in the film's signature blue costume that my mom bought her when she was in town. It was a cute mother-daughter outing, complete with ice cream afterwards.

And if there was any movie that spotlighted the connection I have with my daughter, it was this one. I could also tell that there was an inkling of the reverse coming from CC. She couldn't stop telling me how much she loved me and how awesome I was after it was over. (And it wasn't because I bought her popcorn during the show.)

Without giving anything away, yes, there's a love story -- but it's the story of that highly charged, highly combustible, but in the end unbreakable bond between mother and daughter.

CC as Merida.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

LA Film Festival Interview: Mary Wigmore and Ina May Gaskin from 'Birth Story'

Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and the Farm Midwives
Last week I had the chance to check out the Los Angeles Film Festival entry Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and the Farm Midwives, directed by Sara Lamm and Mary Wigmore. (Read my review here.)

I also had the chance to speak with director Mary Wigmore and Ina May Gaskin, and I wanted to share my interview here. They were both down-to-earth, funny and, like me, in total awe of the birthing process. As a bonus, I found out that Wigmore has one 4-year-old son and is pregnant with her second child. How fitting!

L.A. Story: Mary, what brought you to this film? Why now?

Mary Wigmore: I became interested in Ina May as I read her book Spiritual Midwifery when I was pregnant with my son, and I found that the book made me feel less afraid. It made childbirth seem like a great adventure and part of life, rather than something to be feared. And I feel like her books are great examples of how the power of positive stories can be so helpful for people vs. stories based in fear.

(Sara and I) were introduced to Ina May, and I felt like when I read her books and when I was pregnant, I was sort of searching out for the documentary about her and it didn't exist. And there was just this luck of meeting her, and there was no film about her, and we just decided to go to Tennessee and interview her.

L.A. Story: Were there any surprises for you while you were filming?

Mary Wigmore: We filmed two births, so it was sort of tricky going there because we live in Los Angeles. And waiting around for births, we felt like we were midwives or got a feeling of what it would be like to be on call all the time. That was surprising how every time the phone would ring, you'd sort of jump up and get ready to go. There were sleepless nights, wondering when that call would come.

The two births that we filmed were seamless and very calm. There were no complications whatsoever, so in terms of surprises that way, no. ... The big surprise is how the majority of births are uncomplicated, and through love and kindness, these women are able to have babies in a calm, sweet environment, where they feel supported, and I think that's more of a surprise to know that that can happen at the Farm and, obviously, elsewhere.

L.A. Story: Had you seen someone else give birth before filming the documentary?

Mary Wigmore: No, it was thrilling. We were nervous when we were shooting. You're one step back, and we were right there. We had a physical reaction -- I was shaking, I was excited. It was so beautiful and amazing to see.

L.A. Story: Ina May, what are some misconceptions (so to speak) about home births and midwifery?

Ina May Gaskin: Everybody likes to set it up as an opposition. Everybody should have their babies at home, or everybody should have their babies at a hospital. In an ideal system, you have the option of both of those. We're not trying to get rid of hospital births. The home birth rate is 1%, and we're arguing whether 1% can exist, when there are quite a few women that don't have long enough labors to even get to a hospital.

Women need to have the option of home birth. It makes a lot of sense if you're Amish. I mean, how are you going to harness up your horse and get your buggy ready to get to the hospital on your 10th labor? Are we going to criminalize your culture because home birth is a necessity? Or if you're one of these fast birthers? Or someone who has agoraphobia? It should be a choice. If it's not a choice, guess who does some births -- truck drivers. If you Google 'truck drivers' and 'childbirth,' you're going to find out that there are a bunch of truck drivers who carry birth kits with them.

Having home births be part of an acceptable choice means that this is the laboratory where midwives who attend home births, we learn things from women. No matter how old we are or how many births we've attended, some woman is going to come along and teach us something new. It's sad to say, but hospital guidelines have become almost like rules or laws now to where you can't bring new elements of practice in very easily that are brilliant because everything is so frozen.

(Midwifery) is a kind of laboratory for innovation and rediscovery of ancient skills. ... We don't want to become more ignorant as we go, we want to keep learning as we go.

L.A. Story: Did you ever consider getting your medical degree and becoming a doctor?

Ina May Gaskin: *laughs* No, no, no! I was actually crowned obstetrician in 1999 when I'd given a grand rounds lecture at the University of Florida at Gainesville. The head of the department there said the technique I taught him was a message from God because it had saved this baby's life. ...

He brought me over to the lectern, and he put the baseball cap on me that said OB-GYN on it. So I'll take that.

The final festival screening of Birth Story will be tonight at 7:20 p.m. at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live. Tickets are $13 and available at the door only.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Coming Attraction: 'Brave'

Saying CC is excited about seeing the upcoming Disney*Pixar movie Brave, which screened at the L.A. Film Festival and opens wide June 22, would be like saying donuts are only kind of awesome.

She's crazy excited. My child has been practically counting the days.

And I can't blame her. I'm excited, too, but for different reasons. I love Pixar (and Disney), but I have to say that it's about time they made a film that has a girl front and center. Of course, CC loved Wall*E, Toy Story, Cars and Up, but now I can see that she's really making this movie her own.

In fact, last week when my mom was in town for CC's graduation, she bought CC a little Merida costume that looks like the one the main character wears in the movie. Not only that, but CC insisted that we call her Merida, the red-haired lass pictured above, for an entire day.

The response was nothing like that when she saw the other films -- and she hasn't even seen this one yet!

Brave is the story of Merida, a young bow-and-arrow-friendly girl who lives in the Scottish Highlands and defies a sacred custom of her culture. This move is apparently a big no-no and throws the kingdom into chaos. Things don't get better when Merida is granted an "ill-fated wish" that turns into a curse she must somehow break. Cue bravery.

I'm looking forward to taking CC to Brave this weekend. It's showing in theaters across the city as well as at the El Capitan, where there will be a live stage show before the movie.

Hopefully, it won't encourage CC to defy her own mother and, say, not clean up her toys. Chaos would definitely ensue.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

If Kunal Nayyar Likes Milky Way Ice Cream Bars ...

Kunal Nayyar (The Big Bang Theory) and the Milky Way Ice Cream Truck

With tomorrow being the official start of summer, I thought it would be a great time to talk about ice cream bars and Kunal Nayyar, who stars on one of my favorite TV shows, The Big Bang Theory.

A couple of weeks ago, Milky Way launched its new ice cream bar in a super-cool way. They brought a mod ice cream truck down to the California Science Center and gave out Milky Way Ice Cream Bars to no-doubt ice-cream-hungry fans. Kunal joined the party and indulged in some sweet treats himself.

While CC and I weren't able to make it (I was at work), I still got the chance to talk to Kunal over the phone.

Check out what he had to say about ice cream, his show and getting girls to like science! And, in case you're wondering, he doesn't really sound like Raj Koothrappali. (Bummer.)

L.A. Story: What brought you to Milky Way?
Kunal Nayyar: They called me, and of course it makes sense because it's called Milky Way, and I play an astrophysicist on television. And I came down, I tried this ice cream bar, and I loved it right away.

L.A. Story: As far as your show, do you have to hone your science skills for your character, or are you just acting, playing a part?
Kunal Nayyar: Yeah, I mean of course I'm playing a part. I can't even pretend to be as smart as my character because he has a PhD in astrophysics.

L.A. Story: And he has a very big desk!
Kunal Nayyar: He does have a very Brobdingnagian desk. But sometimes we'll be saying stuff and we won't get it, but we have a science consultant, who's a real professor at UCLA, so we ask him a bunch of questions.

L.A. Story: There are lots of smart female characters on The Big Bang Theory. What do you think are some ways to help show girls that science is a great path?
Kunal Nayyar: That's a good question. What do young girls like to do? They like to listen to music -- maybe if there's a boy band full of nerds?

L.A. Story: Did you do science projects when you were in school?

Kunal Nayyar: Growing up mainly in India, in school, we had science projects, but we never had to dissect anything, which is really good. I was never a big science guy. I liked math, I liked numbers, I was a math guy but I never liked science that much. I liked English literature and math, but science always puzzled me.

L.A. Story: If you had family in town with kids, where would you take them in L.A.?

Kunal Nayyar: I would go to Runyon Canyon to see the view, I'd take them to the Griffith Observatory, the Getty Villa and the Self-Realization Fellowship in Malibu.

L.A. Story: Do you have any projects coming up?
Kunal Nayyar: Ice Age 4: Continental Drift. That comes out in July.

It was great talking to Kunal ... and, of course, now I feel like having ice cream.

Monday, June 18, 2012

2012 LA Film Festival: 'Birth Story' Review

To tell you the truth, I didn't know much about midwives before watching Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and the Farm Midwives, which world premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival on Saturday.

But after checking out this thoughtful and thought-provoking documentary by directors Sara Lamm and Mary Wigmore, I became fascinated with the idea of having your baby at home, surrounded by women (and your husband) who were caring, gentle and affirming. These midwives were carrying out the ideal set forth by the founder of this modern birth alternative, Ina May Gaskin, who said that Rule No. 1 in the delivery room should always be "Be nice."

Gaskin founded this movement in the early 1970s after going through her own delivery with her daughter and not being impressed with the process, to say the least. She objected to the hyper-clinical attitude that seemed to almost take the mother and her considerations out of the picture entirely. She was not -- and still isn't -- a fan of forceps, induction or Caesarean sections, saying that women should feel confident that they can do this without the surgery or the potentially harmful instruments. (Our bodies are not lemons, as she says.)

That said, midwives don't discount medical science entirely (which, admittedly, was what I had thought before watching the film). If things start to go awry, it's the midwife's job to call an ambulance and get help.

Wigmore and Lamm do not shy away from the birthing process, chronicling two present-day births (one in a tub of water at home, no less) while also making great use of archival footage from births at the Farm, a commune started by Gaskin and her husband, Stephen, in rural Tennessee.

They also did a beautiful job of capturing Gaskin's no-nonsense personality. Living a modest rural existence, she speaks her mind with humor and a knowing sense of the fast-moving modern world.

But for me watching children come into the world, while their mothers were being encouraged, cuddled and supported, was simply breathtaking. It was calm, it was peaceful, and I couldn't help but see the appeal.

There will be another screening of Birth Story on Friday, June 22 at 7:30 p.m. at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live. Tickets are $13.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

CC Graduates from Preschool *sob*

Preschoolers get caps and gowns, too.
I almost lost it when I saw CC walking out of her preschool classroom last night, complete in blue cap and gown, to the melody of Pomp and Circumstance.

It's so hard to believe that CC has officially finished preschool and is moving on to bigger and more wonderful things. (Although preschool was pretty great, too.) Ian and I were always so happy to see her so at home with her teachers and friends. It really doesn't get any better than that -- seeing your child confident and happy.

Remember when she first started preschool? And her second year?

In the fall she'll be starting kindergarten at a new school, and we hope it's just as wonderful. That she learns a lot. That she makes loads of new friends. And that she's happy.

Well, the gut-wrenching milestones are starting -- you know, the ones that remind you that she's inching closer to the edge of the nest. Somehow the other milestones didn't feel that way. Walking and talking never seemed to imply that she was leaving anything. Instead, that she was better able to interact with her parents and the world around her.

OK, now I'm getting sappy.

And this is just the beginning.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Coming Attraction: 2012 LA Film Festival

The 2012 LA Film Fest, aka the city's largest film festival, will be returning to L.A. Live from June 14-24, and there are some fun, family-friendly entries, as well as a few oldies but goodies.

Not only will Brave, Disney*Pixar's new animated, girl-centric film, be screening at the festival, but E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial will be celebrating its 30th anniversary (!) with a free screening as well.

For older kids, and maybe a few nostalgic parents, a Dirty Dancing Dance-A-Long will liven up California Plaza on June 22.

You know I love documentaries, and I can't resist recommending a couple here:

* Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and the Farm Midwives tells the story of Gaskin, who with her friends in the '70s began delivering each other's babies on a caravan of hippie (their words, not mine) school buses headed to a part of rural Tennessee. I'm sure this will get a lot of moms talking about their own birth stories and choices! (Directed by: Sara Lamm and Mary Wigmore; screens June 16, 22)

* Sun Kissed looks at a Navajo reservation, on which some children have developed a fatal reaction to sunlight. The film explore cultural taboos and what has caused this genetic disease. (Directed by: Maya Stark and Adi Lavy: screens June 16, 18)

Lastly, I wanted to give a shout-out to a narrative film that looks good, Crazy & Thief, about two young children who make their own star chart and set out on a wondrous journey to find the ultimate prize, the Star of Bethlehem. (Directed by: Cory McAbee; screens June 17, 19)

For more information about the Los Angeles Film Festival, go to And be sure to check online for ticket availability. Most run about $13, but a lot of the films sell out quickly.

Have fun!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Creative Space Birthday Party

CC at Creative Space
Driving down Pico Boulevard, you might miss it. The dark exterior blends in with most of the shops that line the busy street. But Creative Space, where CC celebrated a preschool friend's birthday party, proved to be loads of fun for kids and parents.

The craft-based party offered kids lots of hands-on activities, such as drawing and building, but once the party really got started, the tykes went one way and the adults went another. With three staff members running the show, the kids got their own private room to make sports-centered backpacks (the birthday boy is a baseball fan) and their very own bouncy balls.

Honestly, it was great to be able to relax and catch up with pre-K parents. We spoke in our own language -- sometimes exhausted, sometimes hilariously funny, and yes, with an expletive or two thrown in just for savory flavor -- without the kids being within earshot.

We even watched as one baby boy tried to make out with a baby girl. I guess some just start early!

The kids had their own lunch, and we all finally came together for cupcakes and "Happy Birthday." By that time, the kids were ready to head out, and the parents were ready for a nap. Or was that the other way around?

11916 W. Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90064

Monday, June 4, 2012

DVD Review: 'The Garfield Show: Summer Adventures'

It's almost summertime, and our orange pal Garfield is back in mischievous action. The Garfield Show: Summer Adventures, from Vivendi Entertainment, hit shelves May 29, and CC and I got a chance to check out what the ornery cat has planned for poor Jon, Odie and some other neighborhood friends.

The DVD (SRP: $14.93) sports six episodes plus one bonus episode, and CC's and my favorite is the first one, Perfect Pizza. There's a surprisingly sly tone to a lot of these episodes, making light of issues such as corporate greed and aggressive TV sales pitches that are most likely disguising a product's ineffectiveness.

OK, so CC didn't really get that part of it, but it was definitely on my mind, especially in the pizza episode. A local pizza restaurant, Vito's, is almost displaced by a huge chain that's offering 12-for-1 pies. Of course, our feline friend has one taste of Mama Meany's pizza and would have spat it out had it not been too rubbery to even bite. Next, Garfield and Jon are on a mission to help Vito win his customers back, with the inadvertent help of a famous food critic.

Let's just say, hooray for the little guy!

Garfield shows his especially mischievous side in Mailman Blues. The put-upon regular mailman can't begin his vacation fast enough when Garfield decides to torment his replacement, a young letter carrier who thinks he can best the lasagna-loving cat. First Garfield lures him in with love and then proceeds to embark on a multistep plan to drive him bonkers.

There were some fun hijinks in that episode, at the expense, of course, of a guy who's new on the job and new to the determination of a usually lazy cat.

Garfield's summertime adventures proved to be great fun for CC and a silly break as the school year is about to end (but that's another story).

Saturday, June 2, 2012

'Care Bears' are Back!

Everything old is new again -- although I feel as if I should say "old-ish" since I'm talking about something I used to love myself as a child.

This time it's the Care Bears. They're back, and they're much more, well, animated than they were back in the '80s when I used to watch them. And guess what? CC loves them. Just like she loves My Little Pony and Strawberry Shortcake -- other 1980s blasts from the past.

The newest incarnation of Care Bears premiered this morning on The Hub, a kids' channel that has really succeeded in reviving and revamping kid fare from back in the day. The shows don't feel rehashed and dated. Instead, they are fresh interpretations of ideas that just happen to have been favorites of their target audience's parents. Smart idea, if you can pull it off! And The Hub has.

Care Bears: Welcome to Care-a-Lot
CC and I caught the first episode of the series, Welcome to Care-a-Lot, and you'll recognize these loveable, cheerful (well, sometimes Grumpy -- see the blue bear in the above pic) little bears. Remember Cheer Bear, Share Bear, Funshine and Harmony? Well, they're back in action, helping friends and making a few mistakes along the way. There's even a cute new bear named Wonderheart, the smallest of the bunch who wants to play with the "big bears."

Wonderheart Bear
In this episode, Grumpy takes a dangerous shortcut and gets caught in the mud. While most of his Care Bear friends rush to help -- even as he keeps grumping at them -- Funshine and a human friend Penny decide to keep playing instead. Each bear has his or her own personality and makes a point of sharing common emotions and hesitations that small children often have themselves.

It's great to show that everyone can make mistakes but also learn from them without losing valuable friendships.

Check out The Hub for the Care Bears schedule.


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