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Not Ready for Granny Panties
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Don’t Drink the Elderberry Wine!

arsenic-and-old-laceBy: Chrysa Smith

How do you make two spinsters from the 40′s relevant in 2014? You remake them, which is just what the producers did in the latest version of Arsenic and Old Lace.

Truth be told, I wasn’t too excited about going to see the old show. Well, maybe if Cary Grant was still around. But I’ve been there, seen that. However, it was one of the shows in the theater subscription plan. And I must say that I was pleasantly surprised to find myself engaged, laughing, curious and very much entertained, watching the antics of a couple of old ladies.

Charismatic casting and some modern day humor does wonders for older shows. It infuses just enough ‘new’ to make the story seem like you are seeing it for the first time. If you missed the high school productions, Arsenic and Old Lace is the story of two spinster sisters who live together and share a great many things. Their love for church, their family and taking lonely men out of their barren existence by offering them a taste of their homemade elderberry wine. Wine with a kick, you might say. It’s got just the right mixture of arsenic and strychnine that can knock a guy out and right under the window seat where the first victim was discovered by their nephew.

The story turns into a comedy of errors, as the young, engaged nephew discovers that this isn’t the first nice gentleman to fall prey to some ‘bad’ wine. In fact, there might be closer to a dozen. And they’re buried in the basement. So, being a good boy, he tries to protect his aunts from the law, the dead from being discovered and the police off the case, as the church-going, tea tottling ladies go about their business. But when the black sheep of the family shows up, life turns even more upside down, as he’s got a few secrets of his own.

If you haven’t seen it, do.

If you haven’t seen it in some time, see it again.

If you haven’t seen who’s poured your wine, do ask. If it’s elderberry, think twice.

Arsenic and Old Lace is playing at The Walnut Street Theater in Philly for another ten days.      



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A Walk on the Wild Side

It’s a very busy week here in the Bontempo house, so I thought I’d recycle one of my favorite columns, which, unfortunately, happens to be even more true today than when I first wrote it. Happy Easter!

By: Mary Fran Bontempo

To hear an audio version of this post, click the play arrow below.

MP900049885I swore it was Easter.

Everywhere I looked, I saw a plethora of bunnies, colored eggs and chocolate. Everywhere but my mirror, that is.

While putting together my Easter finest, I looked in the mirror to give myself a once over. A cursory glance at the outfit proved I was presentable. The hair? Not bad. Face? Passable. When my eyes descended to my neck, however, I recoiled in horror.

The Thanksgiving turkey had deposited his wattle directly under my chin.

Notes, a wattle is “a fleshy lobe or appendage hanging down from the throat or chin of certain birds, as the domestic chicken or turkey.” Now there’s an image.

To clarify, it’s not that I have anything against Thanksgiving turkeys. In fact, Thanksgiving, being all about eating, is far and away my favorite holiday. But it comes with certain built in buffers, for example, the fact that it’s in November, placed conveniently at a time when I can cover up any additional appendages, including my annually acquired winter time spare tire, with lots and lots of extra clothes. Have I mentioned that scarves are my favorite accessory?

Yet, despite their undeniable deliciousness, turkeys are really ugly birds. If anyone gave bird makeovers, turkeys would be first on the list for a major redo.

So having any part of a turkey as a part of me is rather offensive. Perhaps I wouldn’t be so put out if, now adding insult to injury, my personal wattle wasn’t from a ninety year old turkey. I might be more gracious in accepting the oddly placed Easter gift were the turkey it came from young and spry—the top of the turkey line, if you will. But the turkey who decided to rest under my chin has clearly seen better and far younger days.

While we’re on the subject of wildlife, how come I’ve a turkey under my chin while a sea lion has lay claim to my lower half? My understanding has always been that there are very specific lines of demarcation between species. Cross-pollination is only supposed to happen with plants. And if I’ve got to resemble an animal, how about a cougar? Wait, scratch that.

Anyway, the image of Tom Turkey staring back from my mirror has left me facing the no longer deniable truth that I am firmly a member of the “aging skin” set. That would be the euphemism created by the marketing gurus intent on selling we women all manner of creams, oils and cure-alls for the inevitable march of time and its effects on our publicly visible parts. (The publicly invisible parts are also an issue, but better left undiscussed. Ever. They are also better left invisible. Always.)

I don’t like the term. If you want to split hairs, everyone’s skin is aging, from the moment of birth. Why are those of us with bird parts around our necks singled out? Couldn’t they come up with something a bit gentler for our already bruised egos? Maybe “goddess skin,” which could imply old—Venus has at least a couple thousand years under her belt, right?—without hitting us over the head. Really guys (they have to be guys; no woman would come up with “aging skin”) if you want us to buy your lotions and potions, a spoonful of sugar would really help the medicine go down.

I know it’s all about maintaining the delusion, but I’m okay with that. If I thought about my age in any real context, I’d pull the shades and buy a bunch of cats. When I was young, I thought people my age were dead, so whatever it takes to keep me reasonably functional is just fine.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to check the Farmer’s Almanac in hopes that we’re in for a cool summer. Just the weather for a scarf.

Have your own animal parts you’d like to vent about?  Click “comments” below and grumble away!

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Conan Becomes a Mary Kay Consultant–A Video for You!

If Conan O’Brien ever leaves the late night game, he may just have a future as a Mary Kay beauty consultant. Enjoy your giggle for the day. (Oh, and apologies to all of my Mary Kay friends who do a fabulous job!)
–Mary Fran

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Open Culture–Free Learning and Entertainment

By: Mary Fran Bontempo


That’s not a word used frequently regarding education, entertainment, or, well, much of anything these days.

But on the website, Open Culture, it’s all free. Yep, all of it, from online classes and lectures, to movies, books, educational worksheets, web resources listed by subject matter, and on and on.

I stumbled across Open Culture recently, but the site was founded in 2006. Lead editor, Dan Colman, is the Director and Associate Dean of Stanford University’s Continuing Studies Program, and he’s made it his mission to gather some of the most interesting and educational content available on the web and put access to it in one convenient, intellectually rich place–Open Culture.

Lots of other really smart folks are behind the action at Open Culture, too, whether it’s by way of contributing original content or making sure all the techie stuff delivers as promised. It adds up to one smart site that can help you get a little smarter, too.

The site offers access to free language lessons (free initially but with a price for more advanced offerings)–the thing that first attracted me as I’m determined to learn Italian that goes beyond “Ciao!” I’ve just started the free lessons, but I already know how to say “apple” (mela) and “How are you?” (Come sta?), so when I go to Italy, I can be polite and I won’t starve.

There are free art books and images as well as other textbooks available, and free lectures from the likes of Carl Sagan, authors Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood and master conductor and musician Leonard Bernstein.

If it’s movies you’re after, the site explains its over 675 offerings better than I could: “The Free Movies collection is divided into the following categories: Comedy & Drama; Film Noir, Horror & Hitchcock; Westerns (many with John Wayne); Silent Films; Documentaries, and Animation. We also have special collections of Oscar Winning Movies and Films by Andrei Tarkovsky and Charlie Chaplin.” If it’s a classic you’re after, you can probably find it on Open Culture.

Now that the weather’s finally breaking, by all means, get out and enjoy the sunshine. But when you feel the need for a little intellectual stimulation, or if you just want to learn how to say, “apple” in Arabic or Chinese, head over to Open Culture, and get a little smarter–for free!

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Opera Meets Broadway

By: Chrysa Smith


A few years back, I had the brilliant idea of getting season tickets to the opera. Long story short, it left me with little to sing about. I mean I can watch and admire opera singers for short periods of time. In fact I find them truly amazing. But for a night out on the town, give me a Broadway show any time. Or, as it happened today, give me a more modern version of both.

Enter Aida. Not Giuseppe Verdi’s version, but the Disney presentation of Elton John and Tim Rice’s modern day musical. Sorry, traditionalists. Usually I’m with you where music and pomp and circumstance are concerned. But on this one, I’ve gone to the modern side. Because the combination of understandable lyrics with Broadway staging and direction makes this production new and fresh. And makes for a really enjoyable few hours of ancient-inspired entertainment.

If you’re unfamiliar with it, the tragic love story takes place in Egypt, where the Pharoah has taken over neighboring Nubia. When Radames, the Captain of the Egyptian army finds a group of captured Nubian women, he is smitten by one named Aida. Of course, she’s like no other woman he has ever met. She’s got moxie, as they say, maybe even to a fault. But, one of many small complications; Radames is engaged to the Pharoah’s daughter, Princess Amneris.—an arrangement made by Radames manipulative father. And not wanting to bring any further pillaging to her native land or to herself, Aida keeps it secret that she too is a princess—daughter of the Nubian king.

As with most operas, lots of twists and turns, and the heat keeps getting turned up on Aida and Radames. Finally, with one foot in love and the other with their ties to their homelands, each must decide what to do.  Radames forfeits his arranged marriage and his willingness to do further damage to any people, saving Aida’s Nubian King father in the process. Aida is offered a free pass to return to Nubia, but gets captured after needing to see Radames one last time.

How does it all end? Badly, of course. But the nice twist in this production is that the opening and the closing become one, leaving the viewer with hope and perhaps why we all might have moments of deja vu. See it if you can.

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What Color Are You? A Hump-Day Quiz for You!

Yep, it’s hump-day again. Have a little fun and take the quiz below to find out what color best suits your personality. Then, go and buy yourself a whole wardrobe featuring “your” color! It’s a win no matter how you look at it. Have fun!

–Mary Fran


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Stupid is as Stupid Does

By: Mary Fran Bontempo

To hear an audio version of this post, click the play arrow below.

white sails and blue skies“Tell me something–are you stupid?”

“Stupid is as stupid does, sir.”

Forrest Gump might not have been a “smart man,” but he knew stupid. Forrest knew that stupid, despite all outward appearances of mental competence, was clearly visible in actions. And despite all of his supposed mental shortcomings, Forrest was rarely stupid.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of Charlotte and Eric Kaufman, the parents who set off to sail around the world along with their one and three-year-old children on a 36 foot sailboat, becoming stranded 900 miles off the coast of Mexico last week.

Yes, you read that right. Two kids, ages one and three, on a 36 foot sailboat. Sailing around the world with their parents.

There are no tests to pass before one can become a parent. Biology allows that anyone who knows what goes where and completes the act under the right circumstances can become a parent, sometimes unfortunately for the resulting offspring.

I became a parent for the first time just before my 26th birthday. My son turns 29 today (Happy Birthday, David!), and I’m still not sure of what I’m doing.

But I do know this: under no circumstances would I have taken a one and three year old on a sailboat into the ocean. Not for a short sail, not for a three hour tour (Gilligan’s Island, anyone?), not while in full view of land, not nohow, not noway, not ever.

As far as I was concerned, there were enough dangers lurking in our own home, what with electrical outlets, stairs, bathtubs, heck, even a mouthful of Cheerios, to keep me on full alert, moments away from a nervous breakdown, for fear something would happen to my kids. Willingly put them in a sailboat in the ocean? Um…no.

I realize that I was often overly cautious. Okay, ridiculously paranoid. But still, what in the world were these two thinking? I mean, they weren’t refugees escaping from a totalitarian government. This was no necessary trip to freedom, to a better life. This was fun. Until it wasn’t, that is. Until the boat lost power and baby Lyra, dependent on her apparently intellectually challenged parents, got sick. So sick that a California Air National Guard crew had to parachute down to the stricken vessel, stabilize the child and wait until a United States Naval warship arrived to lift Lyra, her sister, and their parents, to safety.

In defense of their actions, the parents want the world to know that “this is how our family has lived for seven years,” and they “remain today confident that we prepared as well as any sailing crew could.” Yeah, except for the fact that you didn’t have kids seven years ago, and as anyone who takes on the ocean knows, there’s not enough preparation in the world for the one rouge wave that could capsize your boat, taking you and those innocent babies with you.

Personally, I think the Navy should have taken the kids and left the parents. And now that the Navy has the kids, I’m not sure they should give them back.

Sure, life is never a given, and accidents happen. But any parents who take their defenseless children and willingly put them at risk in such a dramatic, unnecessary way, are just stupid.

I think even Forrest Gump would agree with that.

What do you think of the Kaufman’s adventures? Click “comments” below and share–and check out Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, below.