Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sunday Stealing

From A to Z

A If you were an ANIMAL, what would you be? I'd be one of my cats. I try to give them a good life and if I could be one of them for a day, I could better gauge how successful I am.

 B BOOKS: What's on your reading list? I think next up is At Risk, by Patricia Cornwell. It's been a long time since I've read one of her books that wasn't part of the Scarpetta series, so I'm intrigued but not sure what to expect.

 C COMPULSIVE about anything? Dopey stuff that doesn't matter. Like all my bathroom towels have got to match or I'm not happy.

 D DREAMS - Do you ... dream in color? remember your dreams? keep a dream journal? The
most recent dream that I can recall had me losing my notes before a big presentation and unable to recall what an acronym stood for. Another, strangely enough, had me touring Los Angeles' Staples Center with the mom of a long-time friend, played by Joanna Kerns -- who is only like 5 years older than me and an actress I'm just barely aware of. Recalling that dream had me going, "what the fu ...?"

 E EATING - what's your usual snack? Cereal.

 F A Few of your FAVORITE Things: "Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens ..." Julie Andrews. LOVE HER! And the Beatles. And baseball. Today my all-time favorite Cub, Greg Maddux, is being inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

 G GIGGLES! What (or who) makes you laugh? Do you have a good sense of humor? My oldest friend always makes me laugh. When we're together, we find most things funny.

 H major HOT Button: Guns. No one needs an assault weapon. No, you don't. You simply do not.

 I I am ______________ ... The Walrus

 K Also KNOWN As... Aliases? Screen names? A non de plume perhaps? Psst! "The Gal Herself" is not my Christian name.

L I LOVE ... Greg Maddux!
 M How do you feel about MEETING people? Do it all the time? Rarely? Parties or 1-on-1? I don't much care for it. But the older I get, the more confident I become.

 N What's the story of your NAME? were you named after anyone? Do you go by a nickname? Any aliases? I'm sorry, but I believe I just answered this.

 O OBSERVANT - What's around you right now? What do you see? This Week with George Stephanopolous, though George is not with us this week.

 P Who are the special PEOPLE in your life? I have a wonderful circle of friends.

 Q Any Little QUIRKs About Yourself: I can wiggle my right ear. I insist on my nails being clean. That's about it.

 R What do you like to do for RECREATION? Watch movies and fart around on the internet.

 S Do You SING in the Shower? In the car? For your friends? I am a shower songstress.

 T What's at the Top of your TO DO list?: I need to get off my fat ass, take a shower, and start my day.

 U Any UNUSUAL Experiences: Bruce Springsteen kissed me. He tasted like beer.

 V VEGAS, Vienna, Venice, Vladivostok... How far have you traveled? What's your favorite City? I've been to Paris and Munich, but my favorite city is still Chicago. If you like dining, theater, sports, museums, shopping and architecture, it's the most wonderful place.

 W WINTER, Spring, Summer, Fall... What's your favorite season? What makes it special? I'm really enjoying this summer, because it hasn't been too hot. I don't do heat.

 X EXes - Things You Don't Do Anymore (but did, once (would you, again?)) Sex

 Y Any secret/deep YEARNINGS? If I have secret yearnings, I'm afraid I'm not meme-ing them.

 Z ZERO to ZENITH - Where are you in your life? Still growing? On an upward (or downward) curve? Just skating along? I feel like I'm just skating along. Sometimes I can't believe how old I actually am!

It's almost happy time

Every year I take the August Happiness Challenge. Here's a brief explanation of the Challenge: "Each day in August you are to post about something that makes *you* happy. Pretty simple. And, it doesn't even have to be every day if you don't want it to be. It's a great way to remind ourselves that there are positive things going on in our lives, our communities, and the world."

You're invited to join me. Visit me with a link to your daily happy, and I'll come read it. I've found that experiencing other peoples' everyday pleasures is a great moodlifter.

It helps if your Happiness Challenge posts are marked with an icon. Just something that means "happy" to you. Here are mine from summers gone by. They all still make me smile.

And today he's in the Hall of Fame

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Why I Love Greg Maddux

He's the tenth winningest pitcher of all time. As of last night, Steve Carlton takes a back seat and the Professor takes sole possession of 10th place with his 330th win. Good is sexy, great is hot.

He's modest. In last night's postgame press conference, he spoke respectfully of passing Carlton. "It's kind of cool. I got to watch him in a few games when I first came up and I always admired and respected what he did on the mound."

He's an all-around baseball player. He hits -- he got his 80th RBI last night. He fields -- 15 Golden Gloves. With Greg Maddux in the world, there's no reason for Roger Clemens to exist.

He has the sweetest smile. He looks like a Precious Moments doll in a Dodger uniform. Which comes in handy, since I've read that in person he's as slick and insincere as Tim Matheson's Otter. Reporters make it sound like he's likely to grab a stranger's hand and pump it, "Eric Stratton, damn glad to meet you."

His looks are deceptive. Friends who do not understand why he inspires my lust as well as admiration have dismissed Greg Maddux as looking like "a suburban dad" or "a computer geek." That is precisely the point. When you see Michael Jordan, you know instantly he's the best there ever was, the best there ever will be. MJ looks like he was kissed by the angels before he was born. Greg Maddux is an example of the power of concentration, will, and intellect. And I think that is sooooo hot.

His wife is his high school sweetheart. The first time I saw her, I thought, "Of course, a blonde." I mean, he's a ball player, and aren't blonde wives one of the reasons boys want to become ball players? And Greg Maddux is more than a ball player, he's a ball player who grew up in Las Vegas. I just assumed that meant he had the desire for peroxide in his blood. Amazingly, all my assumptions are wrong. Greg and Kathy met in high school! And here they are, quarter of a century later.

He gives back. The Maddux Foundation supports youth programs and shelters for abused women and children.

Yes, I've seen the old Nike commercial where he said rather memorably, "Chicks love the long ball." But rest assured, Greg Maddux, this chick will love you till I die.

Day 27 -- A view from today

There's a big tree right outside my living room window, and two more that I can see in the yard next door. Right now they're all thick with leaves and full of squirrels and birds. During summer I often find myself transfixed by the view. 

And I am not alone.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Saturday 9

1) This song refers to the summer breezes and winds of mid-July. Now that July is almost over, how would you describe this month's weather where you are? It's gonna be steamy today, but on balance it's been a chillier-than-usual July.

2) The lyrics mention the "perfect plans." Do you have plans for today? Or will you just let this summer Saturday unfold? I'm just going to let it unfold.

3) This week's artist, k. d. lang, attended Red Deer Community College in Alberta. Red Deer's school colors are green, black and silver. What were your school colors? I spent four years "always cheering for the blue and white. Fight! Fight! Fight!" So said our school fight song.

4) She had a bit part in the 2006 murder mystery The Black Dahlia. Do you enjoy murder mysteries? Yes. I'm hooked on them.

5) Ms. lang is a vegetarian. What's the last beef, chicken, pork or fish you ate? There was sausage on last evening's pizza. It was goooooood.

6) In 2000, when this song was released, California suffered a series of blackouts. Has your power gone out this summer? Not yet. (Thank God!)

7) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire also came out in 2000. Did you read it? No. Sometimes I think I'm the last Hogwarts virgin on earth.

8) Which would you rather have on your hot dog: sauerkraut, ketchup/mustard/relish or chili? I'm going to go old school with the condiments and choose ketchup/mustard/chili.

9) If you had your choice, which would you prefer: new shoes or a new wallet?
I'm actually good on both counts right now. Could I have the cash equivalent instead?

Day 25 -- Explore

I am spending more time than I ever expected to on, exploring new sinks. I want something small -- less than 22" wide -- because my bathroom is so tiny. I'm learning that, fortunately, smaller means cheaper. One I choose a pedestal and basin, I will move on to exploring faucets. This is a brave new world for me!

Day 26 -- I'm excited for

The backpack drive at the neighborhood toy store, where the goal is to fill up as many backpacks as possible. Back-to-school can be so expensive for parents, and it feels so good to help. Yesterday, for just $3.19, I was able to buy #2 pencils and gluesticks. I'll pick up something else over the weekend. Not having kids of my own, I feel left out of the bts brouhaha but with the community backpack drive I can be like every other American and stroll the school supply aisles.

I am happy

It took Cute Handyman a day and a half, but he got it done: he swapped out my Eisenhower-era medicine chest and lighting for my new round medicine chest and three-light sconce.

The "before" photo, at right, is not actually my bathroom. It's from the real estate listing for the condo next door. But mine was just as bad. Worse, actually, because instead of having lights atop the chest, there was one on each side. Dangerously close to the shower.

The new one is smaller so it won't get rusty from being splashed every time I shower. The smaller size also makes my tiny bathroom look less tiny. The overhead lights use cfl bulbs, which is better for the environment. Best of all, it's not recessed into the wall. If I want to change it, this chest can just be removed and another one hung. The wall won't have to be rebuilt, which is how Cute Handyman spent most of his time Thursday.

It cost more than $900, but I love it. Next up is my new sink. That will take another day and another $700 in October. The main event will be the tub and wall tile, which will take days and simply can't be done until 2015. I don't have the time or money this year.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

July Journal Challenge

Day 24 -- Old photo of a family member

I miss my girlcat. 
Charlotte was moody and elite and had such balls when dealing with her male feline roommates. I really admired her chutzpah. 

Connie has fit into the household very well. She's a far livelier playmate for Reynaldo than Charlotte ever was, and he's better behaved and less manic now that he has a running buddy.

Interestingly, I think Joey misses Charlotte, too. She hated him, of course, dismissing him as big and sloppy and a blight on her personal landscape. But Joey likes routine. Being hit upside the head by Charlotte every morning was something he could rely on. With her disappearance and Connie's arrival, he's been grooming himself very aggressively. I think it's nerves and confusion

I wish we could talk, Joey and I. I'd tell him that I miss her sitting on the toilet seat, observing my makeup ritual as if to guarantee that I didn't embarrass the household when I went out. I miss reaching behind me on the sofa, knowing she's sitting behind my head. And he could tell me how he misses her stealing his food.

Politics and sex and religion

I live in one of the most progressive villages in a very blue state. That's why I was surprised by what I overheard at lunch yesterday.

I took Wednesday off because, well, I could. I treated myself to an uberfilling lunch and a cocktail at Flattop Grill. The tables are very close together, and I couldn't help but listen to the conversation at the next table. I wasn't intentionally eavesdropping -- my current read is a thriller and I'm rather into it -- but the gentleman was almost literally speaking into my ear.

At first I was amused. A man of about 35, he was lecturing his much-younger male friend (20?) about "the ladies." After two marriages, he's decided not try matrimony again, instead settling into "serial monogamy." Then he started in on gay marriage.

He called it, "a perversion." It's taught by his church and The Bible that it's "a perversion." He asked his younger friend how it's different than necrophilia. I was going to chime in that the difference is consent, but the younger man did well on his own. The younger man said civil rights are everyone's struggle. He wasn't articulate, but he was passionate.

I wanted to quote the book of Matthew to the "ladies man" -- "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery" -- and according to my understanding of that verse, he's living against God's rule. I wanted to tell him that some of hold the separation between church and state very dear. But the younger man was doing fine all by himself. And besides, he's entitled to his toxic, ugly opinion. I was just shocked to hear it espoused so openly in my liberal little hamlet.

On a separate, but related, note: Our Meet Up moderator, Will, is a gay Republican. I didn't think such creatures exist, but they do. He even "liked" Laura Ingraham on Facebook! Go figure.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

July Journal Challenge

Day 22 -- What makes you laugh

"The Boys." That's how I think of Stewart and Colbert. When something big happens during the day, I say to myself, "I wonder what The Boys will have to say about that!" Their humor is smart but silly and politically based and I love them because they are, at heart, anarchists. They speak truth to power every night, four nights a week. They are following in the most glorious tradition of American humor. Somewhere, Groucho Marx is smiling.

 Day 23 -- Abstract

I'm afraid I don't get abstract art. And I'm afraid I can't come up with anything else for this prompt.

Monday, July 21, 2014

 Day 21 -- Your favorite story

A grandmother is planning a trip to the beach with her baby grandson. She buys him a hat to protect his little face and a shovel and pail for play in the sand. She picks up the beloved toddler and they have a wonderful time. And then a tragedy occurs: a tidal wave sweeps him away into the depths of the ocean.


Grandma immediately bows to her knees in the sand and prays to God for the return of her grandson.  "Please, Lord! I have always been a good person and a loving Grandmother. Please return my grandson to me."


Just as she finishes her prayer, a huge wave crashes back on the beach, returning the baby, his shovel and his pail in hand, to his Grandmother's side.


She looks at her grandson, then looks back at the sky and yells, "He had a hat!"

Ah, humans! We always want more, don't we?

Once again, you're bugging me, Bud

I like Barack Obama. I respect Barack Obama. I'm proud of being from the state that gave the rest of you Barack Obama (and that feisty Southside girl, Michelle).

But Barack Obama works for us. And, just as I had a performance review last week, I want to have a sitdown with my President and tell him that when it comes to the Border Crisis, I'm rating him, "Needs Improvement."

This is exactly how I felt during the BP Oil Spill. Just as George W. Bush needed to go to New Orleans after Katrina to show he cared, Barack Obama needs to go to the border. He has to set an example for the rest of us, and show the rest of the world, that the United States of America treats children with compassion. Pope Francis spoke out all the way from the Vatican. Barack Obama needs to do that much and more.

Because he is the responsible, elected officer of this goverment.

Don't tell me he doesn't "do theater." Bullshit. He always has. Whoever is reading this has not been to Springfield, IL, as many times as I have. Barack Obama announced his candidacy, and then introduced Joe Biden as his running mate, in an area where he never spent much time, and that's not especially photogenic or especially accommodating for 21th century media -- because it's preserved as it was when Abraham Lincoln walked there.

He appeared "between two ferms" to promote his namesake legislation.

Instead of going to the border, he was played pool with Hickenlooper and his staff sent out social media #thebearisloose missives aimed at showing us he's a regular guy, just like us. Rather than showing me you like beer, Mr. President, I'd prefer you show you're just like me by showing me you ache for those refugee kids and denounce the xenophobia on display.

I don't think I agree with the Administration on drones. I don't think I accept that Gitmo is still operating as it did when he took office. But I also know there's much about these situations I don't understand.

This I get. And I don't like it.

My President is my leader. So lead.

Joe Klein, hardly a Foxhole, wrote an effecting op ed in the July 17 issue of Time. He compared Obama 2014 with the Kennedy I grew up on, the Kennedy I actually remember, Bobby. In 1968 -- Bobby's all-too-brief shining moment -- the nation was aching, too. Civil rights and Vietnam, anyone? But Bobby didn't avoid speaking to our better angels, he "went there." He dove in. In Klein's words:

Kennedy never gave the impression that politics was distasteful, beneath him, as Obama too frequently does. Kennedy was all about passion; Obama seems all about decorum.

Barack Obama can do that. Unlike Bobby Kennedy, he's not an inherently shy man. Unlike Bobby Kennedy, he's not saddled with a thin, nasal voice. Unlike Bobby Kennedy, who relied on poetry, Barack Obama has the gift of original, soaring rhetoric. Unlike Bobby Kennedy, ambition for the nation's highest office came naturally to Barack Obama.

Well, Mr. Obama, now you're our President. Inspire me. Soothe me. Show me your heart. Here's an example. A man forcing his audience to question "what kind of nation we are." The piece of paper he's playing with? A campaign speech that was never delivered. Instead, he spoke from his heart.

We need leadership from you, Mr. President. Go to the Border. Give us greatness.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sunday Stealing

Summer Meme

Favorite summer flower: Gerbera daisy

Flavor of ice cream: Mint chocolate chip ice cream

Mode of transportation: Train

Music: Sir Paul

Food: Barbecue

Favorite game to play: Farmville 2

Earliest childhood summer memory: Going to Kerry's Custard for ice cream. It was just up the street from our home, but going with just my friends (no adults!) gave me a heady sense of freedom.

Favorite Drink: Coke

Favorite Snack: Ice cream

Place to read: Anywhere!

Most annoying: Rudeness. People are friendlier in cold weather, and more short-tempered when it gets hot.
How I handle the heat: I don't. If it's over 80º, I hide indoors.

Pet Peeve: Space hogs. If you didn't pay for two seats on the train, you shouldn't take two seats on the train. Your backpack shouldn't be riding in comfort if it means someone else has to stand.

All-time favorite bathing suit: One piece, because I burn so easily. With a skirt, because I don't feel like dealing with a bikini wax. (You'll never lose if you bet on me being lazy.)

Best Time of Day: Around 7:00 PM

Most romantic: Watching fireworks

Summer movie: So far this year, Begin Again.

July Journal Challenge

 Day 20 -- A Daydream You Had
… and continue to have. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Saturday 9

Saturday 9: Ring of Fire

1) Recorded by Johnny Cash, "Ring of Fire" was written by his wife, June Carter. Johnny's daughter Roseanne says it's about "the transformative power of their love." What's your favorite love song? "Close your eyes and I'll kiss you, tomorrow I'll miss you. Remember I'll always be true ..." The Beatles with Sir Paul singing lead on "All My Loving."

2) Though more than 50 years old, this song is still popular today. Country Music Television named it one of the best and most requested of all time. Are you a country music fan? Not really.

3) This recording features mariachi horns, inspired by Mexican folk music. Have you ever been to Mexico? No

4) Cash's birth certificate said, "J. R. Cash," and "J.R." is what his parents always called him. When he enlisted in the Air Force, Uncle Sam refused to let him simply go by initials, so he chose the name "John." If you could choose a different name for yourself, what would it be? I think I'd be a good Julie. It fits me.

5) Cash and his first wife, Vivian, had their first date at a roller skating rink. Tell us about one of your first dates. I was in a relationship with a former coworker. We'd seen each other 5 days a week for more than a year. After he was let go, we went out, got drunk and ... um ... acted on our mutual attraction. He used to tease me about what a great first date I was.

6) Cash died in September, 2003, four months after he lost his second wife, and love of his life, June. The cause of death given was complications from diabetes, but his children believe he died of a broken heart. Do you think that's possible? I think perhaps after losing June he gave up, and giving up can kill you.

7) Cash was known as "The Man in Black." What color do you wear most often? Blue, as in denim.

8) There's a Johnny Cash Museum in Nashville. What's the last museum you visited? I keep intending to visit the Chicago Cultural Center. It's nearby and free and there's always something interesting going on there. And even if the exhibitions don't turn me on, there's always the ceiling. It's always inspiring to gaze up at that Tiffany glass dome.

9) A stretch of Tennessee Highway 31E is known as "Johnny Cash Parkway." What street in your town is named for a famous person? There are expressways named after Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, but every town has those, right? So instead I'll go with Cermak Road, named for the Mayor of Chicago who literally took a bullet for FDR in the 1930s. Some horrible person actually tried to assassinate Franklin Roosevelt but hit Mayor Cermak instead. Anton Cermak was born in the Czech Republic and gave voice to Chicago's immigrant population. If it wasn't for the road, I don't think he'd be remembered today at all, which is sad.

Atta girl!

Feeling very virtuous about yesterday's trip to the dermatologist.

First of all, I made it. I simply forgot and didn't go at all in 2012. The result was the discovery and removal of two suspicious moles in 2013. My doctor emphasized that I'm fair skinned, at risk, and have to take this seriously. His message got through to me.

Secondly, he complimented my complexion. Considering that this is what he does, it felt like quite a compliment! I mean, let's face it: if I'm out there looking for a job again, it won't help to look 56. He praised my skincare regimen, which most importantly includes sunscreen, and says I'm good until next year. Even the problem I've had in the past with congested oil glands (resulting in small flesh colored bumps on my upper cheek and temple) have abated somewhat and nothing has to be removed. YEA!

Our office has summer hours and I like using my Friday afternoons off for errands like this. My dermatologist's office is in a neighborhood I have a strange affinity for. It's not very attractive, really, at the intersection of two extremely busy streets. Except for the massive old Sears store, the buildings are all one story and nondescript ... kind of like a strip mall. But it's a nice mix of little restaurants and pizza places and a family-owned Italian bakery that's been in the same spot for more than 50 years.

July Journal Challenge

 Day 19 -- The weather today

So hello, Gorgeous!

Today will be sunny and 82º. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Who is this about?

I love my niece very much. More than that, I admire her. She's talented and tough and virtually impervious to peer pressure.

She's also only 21. She's stumbling as she finds her way, as we all did/do as we grow up. She's very unhappy in her relationship with her first real boyfriend but can't figure out whether to go or stay with him. If she stays, is she settling? If she goes, is she hurting him unnecessarily? And how will it feel to be alone again? If she were to ask me, I'd tell her to cut bait. (Of course, that could be why she hasn't asked me.)

One trait many women in my family share* is a fear of the dentist. As the date of my niece's impending oral surgery (wisdom teeth) approached, she blurted out to her mother/my sister, "That why I have to stay with him. If we break up, who will take care of me after the dentist?"

My sister was furious. "I'm her mother! How could she forget me? Of course I would drive up there to take her to and from the dentist! I'd sleep on the floor next to her bed as she recuperated! How could she forget about me like that?"

As always when my kid sister is concerned, the situation automatically becomes about her. To her, this wasn't my niece being so frightened she couldn't think straight. To her, it was her daughter dissing her.

I realize we're each the star of our own story, but my kid sister takes it to the extreme. On top of being unhappy with her love life and scared about the dentist, my niece got to tangle with her mother.

I must remember not to fall into this trap myself. My best friend hasn't been sharing much about his internal life with me. All he does is report the day's activities, as though reciting an itinerary. I've been hurt and insulted that he no longer feels he can confide in me. Instead perhaps I should remember that, since he lost his job, he feels emasculated and no longer in control of his own life. Just as my niece's problems are not about my sister, his problems are not about me.

*Except me. Doesn't bother me at all.

July Journal Challenge

Day 17 -- I'm Really Good at …
My job.

I got my annual* review this week and the results were "Needs Improvement" because I didn't/couldn't complete a project that didn't materialize (Bossman noted that on the form), an "Exceeds Expectations" for my online work and an "Excellent" for the successful and profitable ongoing project that lands solely on my shoulders.

It was very satisfying to hear.

Now all I need is money. I know I'm still making 11% less the guy I sit beside. He's a good writer -- dependable and knowledgeable. BUT the project I got an "Excellent" on accounts for more than half of my client's revenue for that division and well more than half of my agency's billings for my team. I'm a pudgy little middle-aged cash register ... for everyone but me.

I told my boss I was concerned that new employees with my same job title, those just entering the building through the revolving door, are probably making more than I am after 10 years. He told me how he's in the same boat, how hard it is to find good agency jobs at our age ... basically, that it sucks to be me.

I don't accept that. I told him I realize that he doesn't control the purse strings, but I'd like to talk to the person who does. "Who's that?" I asked. "Who knows the salary range for each job title?" He gave me the name of one of our HR reps, but told me first he'd mention my plight to the Chicago office president. I told him I appreciate that, but if nothing materializes by Labor Day, I'm talking to Human Resources.

If I don't ask, I won't get. And I've been at this agency for a decade and this will be the first time I've gone to HR for anything.

Day 18 -- Best Book Ever

For me, it's Saving Graces by Elizabeth Edwards. She wrote with breathtaking candor about loss and
grief. At times, during the scorching passages about how she struggled after the loss of her son, I had to put the down. It was too much, too revelatory, too raw.

And yet her message was ultimately life affirming: Sharing your fears and your pain doesn't make you weak, it makes you strong.

I took it to heart. I have successfully flirted with not always the strong one, for asking for help and hugs when they are needed, or at least accepting them when they are offered.

Elizabeth Edwards made a difference in my life with this book. I hope that where she is now, she knows how much she mattered to women like me who she never even met. 

*Only it wasn't annual. It's been more than two years.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Gal and Her Twizzlers

Part of going to the movies is getting movie food. To qualify, it has to be overpriced, have no nutritional value whatsoever, and be something I would only consume while in a movie theater.

Over time it's been Snocaps, then Goobers, then popcorn, and now Twizzlers. I can't tell you what's behind the change. Sometimes I surprise myself when I get to the counter and ask for [Insert Movie Food Here].

So for now, Twizzlers is my movie food of choice, and I consumed it while watching two very different movies.

First I saw Begin Again. Mark Ruffalo, an actor I almost always like, plays a very gifted but very troubled husband/father/music producer. After a day that finds him at his lowest in all three areas, he literally stumbles into a New York club and hears a very reluctant Keira Knightly onstage. Her character plays a songwriter who has just had her heart broken and is getting ready to give up on both love and New York and is ready to return home to England. He believes she's an original, a talent who can resuscitate his career, and he convinces her to put her travel plans on hold for a short while. They record an album together, and each soul heals in the process.

It's a sweet little movie. Very unconventional. Ruffalo's domestic situation is messier than is usually portrayed on screen, and the resolution surprised me. Keira sings, while Adam Levin and CeeLo Green act, but none of it feels like stunt casting. If you're curious, here's Keira singing my favorite song from the soundtrack, "Like a Fool." Her voice is rather thin, but her performance is unforced and sincere. (And I love the lyrics.)

Then I went to see a special, free preview of And So It Goes. This movie is as predictable and star driven as Begin Again is intimate and unique. Diane Keaton plays ... well ... Diane Keaton. A sweet, neurotic, perpetually flustered sweetheart of a woman who is widowed after decades of wonderful marriage. Michael Douglas plays … well … Michael Douglas. He's grumpy and selfish and money driven. If you can't predict every plot twist in And So It Goes before it happens, you've never seen a romantic comedy or read any chick-lit.

Still, there were things I liked about it. Both Keaton and Douglas are frankly their age. Not every actor of their generation is willing to let the wrinkles show. Both Keaton and Douglas are pros; you sit in your theater seat knowing you're in the hands of two accomplished film stars who are much better than their material. And Keaton sings. She's a better singer than Keira Knightly. Here's a clip of her as a crooning Annie Hall.