Friday, August 28, 2009

A virtually fit Mii

It has taken me a lot of years, but I have finally found a way to fitness that I enjoy. Over the years I've tried many things, some of which have been reported on this blog. Remember the workout sessions last winter with the trainer? Many years earlier, I jogged, though that was a pretty loose description of my lumbering through the streets of Miami Beach. Then came actually joyful years playing tennis. Then came what is best described as the great decline.

I could offer a lot of explanations for falling off the fitness wagon, but they'd just be excuses. The truth is that most things, except for tennis, bored me to tears, so I flat-out didn't do them. Since my knee issues have kept me off a tennis court, I've done nothing.

And now there is Wii!!!!!! Wii bowling! Wii Fit! And, oh joyful day, Wii tennis!!

My days now have a new structure. I'm up before dawn, at my computer to write through the morning, lunch at home or out with friends and by 2 p.m. I am getting fit. At least in virtual reality, if not in fact. I have mastered (well, almost) several yoga poses. I've done a few aerobic exercises. But my very favorite, despite my pitiful attempts to do them, are the balance exercises. I can't tell you how many downhill slaaloms I've done and every single time I stand at the top of the mountain I am convinced I will ski faster and more accurately than ever before. Sadly, I do not. Since the game takes only a minute, I do it again...and again...and again. When I set a new record, which I seldom do, my virtual Mii and I both dance around like lunatics. Hopefully my neighbors can't see in my window.

Having put in my 30 minutes or so on the Wii Fit, after dinner I get to my favorite part, the tennis. My backhand is wicked, as good as it ever was when I played in a league. My forehand is lousy, as it often was back then. And my play at the net? Well, let's just say that my Mii spends a lot of time running, falling and virtually cussing...just like the real life me. Still, this is fulfilling my long-neglected love of playing tennis. If I thought I could move fast enough on a court, I'd be back out there now...and maybe in a couple of months I will be. In the meantime, a half-hour of virtual victories is doing wonders for my endorphins.

As I play these various games, I think about the kids I know who are equally hooked. How much better to see them playing virtual sports than sitting at a computer or with a video game control in hand which provides a workout only for their fingers. Though Wii can be played alone, it also encourages competition, another social skill that was sadly lacking in some older games. For those things alone, it's worth the investment for family entertainment.

Now if only they'd create a virtual Mii who could write my books, life would be very good indeed!


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Thursday, August 20, 2009

When the "Light" goes out...

I've been in mourning for a while now, ever since CBS announced the cancellation of The Guiding Light. Now that the final airdate is rapidly approaching, it's getting harder and harder for me to face not having the Bauers, the Spauldings and the Coopers in my life anymore.

Yes, soaps are among my favorite things, a not-so-guilty pleasure.

I suppose the addiction goes back to childhood when I'd listen to soaps on the radio with my mother, but it came back with a vengeance during my years as a television critic when I was stuck at home with a broken ankle and a cast up to my hip for weeks on end during one interminable winter. Though daytime TV was theoretically part of my job all the time, during this period I became addicted to it all over again. I wrote columns about all the shows on the air, especially my favorites...The Young and the Restless, As the World Turns and The Guiding Light.

I was always willing, if not downright eager to interview soap stars, unlike many of my colleagues. I became friends with a couple of them...Paul Gleason who was then on All My Children and Don Stewart, who played Mike Bauer on The Guiding Light. I often saw them in New York, met them for drinks or lunch.

On one particularly memorable occasion I had lunch with Don, who invited me back to the set, thinking, I'm sure, that he was with a semi-sophisticated journalist. As I walked through the set, however, I was wide-eyed with awe, exclaiming things like, "Oh my, it's Ed's office," or "Wow, this is Sarah's living room." Before his eyes I'd been transformed from journalist to pure fan, caught up in the world that captivated me every day.

To think that that world, which has enticed viewers for decades, will be no more after mid-September breaks my heart. I could lay the blame for that where the network does, on dwindling viewership and changing times, but instead I lay a lot of it on the network and local stations who've treated soaps more and more shabbily in recent years. The shows are preempted at the drop of a hat, interrupted for so-called breaking news that could easily wait a few more minutes. In some markets The Guiding Light was taken off the air in the afternoon and shifted to various morning times.

Of course, the show itself has made its share of mis-steps, but ironically it has been better than ever in recent months. Favorite characters have been brought back in solid storylines, reminding all of us why we've cared and why the show has endured. Phillip's back, along with Ed Bauer, Michelle, Jonathan and so many other beloved characters played by incredibly talented actors who too often don't get the credit they deserve. The writers are playing to the show's history and its strengths...focusing on family and relationships. Each episode is filled with a mix of laughter and tears.

For weeks now, I've been hoping for a reprieve. There was talk of the show being picked up by a cable network, but to date that apparently hasn't happened, so the end is in sight. One more loss to be chalked up to changing times.

At least, though, when the "Light" does go off for the final time, it will be doing so with honor and integrity, with stories that engage and actors who can make us care. The show's devoted following deserves no less, though we want much, much more.

Sherryl Woods


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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Defining 'pure evil'

I feel as if I've been here before, pleading for people to stop amping up the rhetoric, spewing fear tactics not even remotely based in fact, all to achieve a political goal. Talk about pure evil. That's my definition.

Take, for instance, the current hysteria being fostered by some to avoid necessary changes to our health care system. It doesn't take much to stir fear and loathing. Just mention ridiculous things like so-called "death panels," "socialized medicine" and my very favorite, the suggestion that somehow President Obama in his zeal to create change is comparable to Hitler.

Now I am the last person in the country to say that I endorse every single item in the proposed health care reform. For one thing I haven't read every paragraph in the bill. Neither, I suspect, have most of the people who are waving signs, shouting and generally creating chaos in the town hall meetings around the country. They're there because someone's told them they're going to lose their current medical benefits, because someone has planted the notion that some "death squad" will decide whether the elderly live or die. I've read enough and listened enough to know that neither of those things are true. And the people who've raised that sceptre of fear are the ones who are "pure evil."

I certainly understand the fear, and I know these are people who are genuinely opposed to the changes they fear might be coming. But when was the last time a shouting match accomplished anything? Seek first to understand. That's a lesson I was taught a long time ago. But none of these folks are listening or even attempting to learn the facts. They're reading or listening to the venom spewed by certain politicians and commentators designed to defeat, rather than improve a necessary bill. People who are shouting down their congressmen aren't seeking a better bill based on logic and an informed opinion. They're acting out of panic.

I seriously doubt that a single one of them could mount an argument that our health care system doesn't need to change. Costs are skyrocketing. Millions of hard-working citizens are uninsured because they can't afford insurance. Many others are prevented from getting insurance -- at any cost -- because of pre-existing conditions. And some of these people, many of them children, may die because the public clinics that serve them are over-crowded and understaffed and the wait for an appointment may take too long. That's my definition of a de facto "death panel" and it exists right now, simply because of an overburdened system.

I would love to see a town hall meeting where people air their opinions and actually listen to the responses, where information is sought and shouting is quieted so the facts can be shared. Will all of us agree on whatever final bill emerges from Congress? Probably not. But the best bill will come from thoughtful discussions and compromise, not from shouted threats. It's way past time to tone it down.

Sherryl Woods

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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Forget the generation gap. It's a chasm.

I like to think I understand the younger generation. It's probably a delusion, but I do pay attention to what kids are doing and saying, not just so they're credible in my books, but because they're interesting.

For a very long time, I've heard people talk about a generation gap, and I thought I understood that, too. Every generation has its differences in music and pop culture, even to some degree in its value system and political beliefs. Now, however, it seems the gap has widened into a chasm when it comes to how we get our news, assuming we pay attention at all.

For a news junkie like me, who worked for several newspapers, covered television and network news for daily papers in Ohio and Florida, it was tough enough when I realized that more people were getting their insights into the world from two-minute (or less) reports on the evening news than from the in-depth reporting in a morning paper. Journalists of my era even jokingly referred to USA Today as being the McDonald's of the news business, offering bite-size, fast-serve bits of news. These days I'd be grateful if more people were even getting that much from a newspaper.

Instead, it seems the thump of the morning paper on the front lawn has been exchanged for flipping a switch on the computer and glancing at headlines en route to emails. Way too many people, it seems to me, are getting their "news" from blogs, which often have far more opinions than facts.

It's said that newspapers will eventually vanish unless they find a way to reinvent themselves. Young people don't care about them and too many in my generation distrust them. How sad, and frightening. Freedom of the press was included in the Constitution for a reason. A free society needs a free press to keep a watch on the world, to be alert to the insidious corruption that goes on far too often, to keep politicians in check, to remind us of the sacrifices of war and to take note of those who die to protect us.

Some would say the Internet now fills that role. I suppose some news-affiliated sites do, but I wager if you ask a dozen people whether they got their information from a journalist or a blogger with a personal bias, far too many would list the bloggers without even realizing -- or caring --what a difference there is.

Beyond that, the oldtimer in me wants a newspaper in my hands each morning, much as I want an actual book in my hands when I'm reading on the porch in the afternoon. I want to flip from news to sports to Sudoku. I want to check the movie listings and the stock reports, all in one convenient place that doesn't involve staring at a computer screen, which I have to do for far too much of each day. Kids, however, have grown up with a computer mouse all but attached to the end of their arm. It's as much second nature to them as breathing.

There's also the allure for some that it's all free online. There's no payment for a subscription or dropping $6 for the Sunday New York Times at Starbucks. What a rude awakening it will be when sites start charging for content, as Fox News announced it would just this week. If other news sites follow suit, then I suspect young people with a penchant for "free" will spend even less time on news sites and turn more to blogs.

Perhaps this shouldn't worry me as much as it does. After all, I am a blogger. And even though I am a journalist as well and check my facts carefully, this is, after all, my opinion. It's not hard news. And the difference is monumental and important.


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Saturday, August 1, 2009

Sixteen candles...and then some!

There are various schools of thought when it comes to birthdays, some of them having a whole lot to do with how old you are. It's always seemed to me that women, especially, make a mistake trying to pass themselves off as being younger than they are. For instance, I look really, really good for eighty. Maybe not so terrific, if I'm trying to get anyone to believe I'm still 40 or even 50.

That said, I've always subscribed to the philosophy that birthdays should be treated as special occasions. Chances are that within your own circle of family and friends, no one shares this same date with you. It's yours, and should be celebrated with all due pomp and ceremony. Maybe that's the only child in me. Or the Leo. Hard to say.

In recent years, however, for one reason or another, every birthday celebration I've planned, whether a trip or just a special outing, has gone awry and had to be cancelled. This year I decided to make up for all those missed opportunities. I've basically been celebrating for most of the entire month of July.

I began by writing as fast as I could to meet every deadline for the three new Sweet Magnolias books to be published next spring. That bought me time off.

Then I arranged for a house in the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a week for me and my Ohio "family," fourteen of us in all, many of whom happen to have birthdays and anniversaries in July. I wasn't sure how well I'd do surrounded by all this commotion -- there were six kids ranging in age from 1 to 14. It was fabulous. I loved every single minute of it, even though I lost countless games of Old Maid, Go Fish, Uno and Scrabble.

This should have been enough celebration even for me, but I decided to throw a party a week later and invited friends from all over. There were 75 people in all, including a few I didn't even recognize who turned out to be friends from childhood I hadn't seen since high school. We had a rock 'n roll band, plenty of food and a whole lot of laughter. I had company off and on for most of a week pre- and post-party.

Needless to say, all of this hoopa came at a cost, and I'm not talking dollars. I'm exhausted. I'm pretty sure every time I've been seated for more than two minutes, I've fallen askeep. It was worth it, though. I've stockpiled a whole bunch of new memories to last till the next milestone comes around.

Bottom line, I highly recommend not waiting for others to plan the celebration of a lifetime. Plan it yourself, whether it's a trip you've been dying to take or a small gathering of family and friends. Don't put it off. No matter how old we may be, we have no way of knowing how many chances we'll have to celebrate the living we've already done. Do it now. You deserve it!



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