Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Billy Blanks: The man, the mission, and your personal trainer for 45minutes

Summer is quickly approaching and whether your work out goal is to get bathing suit ready or if your just looking to stay in shape, Billy Blanks, tae bo enthusiast, has the workout for you. It was just last year that Billy became a well respected figure in my roommates and my weekly routine. There are several reasons Billy and his entourage, featured in Billy’s Boot Camp Elite, appeal to us so much.

Here are five things you should know about Billy’s Boot Camp Elite DVD:

1. Billy’s Boot Camp is a set of two DVDs. The first DVD called “Mission One: Getting Started,” is meant for beginners. It slowly takes you through all of the exercises to come in “Mission Two: Maximum Power,” which is a fast paced workout. While Billy may take you through this workout at a slower pace, you will still gain strength from the different variations of kicks, punches, and arm lifts Billy teaches to you.

“Mission Two: Maximum Power” is part of the second DVD. It is forty five minutes long and is not only a good cardiovascular workout, but also helps you build strength in your legs, arms, and butt. The workout starts out building muscle in the arms by doing different exercises repetitively. The next workout is for legs and if you don’t “feel the burn” after this, well you may just not be human. Billy has you doing four different kicks non-stop.

2. Most days I would do the workout with my roommates, so we could laugh through the pain, together. But now even when I did the workout alone, Billy had lots of motivational sayings to offer keeping me going (and laughing). You will certainly feel your there exercising right alongside Billy when he tells you “your taking flight” and “lets keep it going guys.”

3. The second DVD also has another workout, “Mission Three: Rock Solid Abs,” which is led by Shelly Blanks, Billy's daughter. Most of the abs workout is not crunches, which you would normally use to work out your abdominal muscles. Instead Shelly demonstrates standing abdominal exercises. While I don’t find these exercises as helpful, traditional crunches are still included in part of the workout.

4. Sometimes, Billy exaggerates a little bit (insert me and my roommates yelling at the TV here). Usually it is a beautiful moment when I hear the words “last set guys,” but wait…the counting hasn’t stopped and neither has Billy. Sometimes he keeps you doing an exercise for a few reps longer than you would expect, but only to challenge you and give you the best workout.

5. There is no way that I could forget the motivational speech at the end of the workout. I’m pretty sure that it deserves a spot on a MasterCard commercial for being priceless. If nothing else keeps you going through the workout, then this speech will (even if it’s only for the laughter it brings you).

If you prefer to trip over yourself at home (due to lack of coordination) or can’t seem to justify a monthly bill from the gym, then you should consider purchasing Billy’s Boot Camp. Billy can be your personal trainer too, for $24.99 (available at Best Buy).

Margarita Mondays

Whether you are single or taken by that special someone, it is always important to have one day dedicated to food, fun, and of course friends! Both girls and guys do this (or at least they should), but girls get often more excited calling its "Girls Night" signifying they are just going out to have fun, wear fancy tops and maybe some heels (if you can walk in them). Guys have their poker or bar nights, but again are not too pumped.
Although these days usually happen on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, signifying the start of the weekend and involves a club or a bar and lots of dancing, my friends and I decided to do our "Girl's Night" a little differently.
Every one hates MONDAYS! Monday are often dreaded because the weekend has passed by a little too fast, so what better day to relax and celebrate friendship after that first day back to school or work than Monday.
Almost every Monday for the past two semesters, my friends from the dorm and I have gone to Chillies for what they call "Margarita Monday".
With $ 2 regular and strawberry margaritas and some food specials, a group of nine girls, and I get together to talk about our weekends and events in our lives. Usually only having one drink and sharing appetizers, we just sit for an hour or two and talk and laugh. It is definitely the best escape from the stress ors of the semester and extremely cheap. I would recommend this to anyone who looking for an inexpensive low-key night out!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

“Makin’ a list and checkin’ it twice…”

Packing cam be very frustrating especially when you forget something or pack too much.

It‘s all about …“Makin’ a list and checkin’ it twice…”
I figured it would be smart to make a list two or three days before the trip. This way I can put down whatever comes to mind and as time goes on other items may come to mind. Once I have made my first draft of the list I will post it somewhere I can see it; for example my fridge.

The best way to go about it is to think of your every step from when you wake up to when you got to bed and all the necessities you will be without when you leave home.

1. Tooth brush, floss

2. Tooth paste, math wash...Etc

3. Two towels depending on how long you’re traveling (usually two towels is good for one week)

4. Bath supplies (soaps, face soaps, scrubber and shampoos). It would be smart to purchase the tiny containers instead of using large ones.

5. Lotions…Etc (small containers)

6. Enough under garments to last for each day of the trip plus three more just in case you decide to stay longer and don’t have anywhere to wash clothes. If you’re the type to take two showers in a day and want to double the amount you use on a daily bases then I suggest you wash your garments in the shower or in the sink by hand to save room, so pack a small bottle of laundry detergent.

7. Outfits (one for each day, so make sure to look at the forecast and plan according to the weather). Some people like to pack extra outfits in case they change their minds, but that’s what shopping is all about. If you pack your suitcase too full then you won’t be able to fit any new materials when you leave. If you’re not the shopping type and you know you will need extra clothes then pack away, but it might come back to haunt you!

8. Perfumes make up…Etc

9. Shoes (Shoes should be kept to a minimum simply because they take up a lot of room. It’s always good to have one dressy pair, sneakers (good for activity), and casuals (sandals).

10. 1 Bag that matches all, so you can wear it and not have to pack it (This counts as a purse for ladies, since men are lucky and have wallets).

11. Hair accessories (small containers should be kept in mind once again)

12. 2 pairs of Pajamas or lounge outfits

Remember this is a rough draft, so as the days lead up to the trip you may add more. The night of the trip pack all items to see if they fit. This is where things may or may not get complicated. Depending on the size of your luggage everything might fit, if not then you’ll have to pick out what’s least important.

Before going to bed, lay out all materials on a visible flat surface, when you wake up the next morning you can use them if need be, and then fold(click on fold for tips on how to fold clothes into a suitcase) them back into the suit case after you are all done.
Wait! did you remember to grab your passport or any other important doucments like your ticket? You wouldn't wanto to forget that.
Finally, when you’re all zipped up, you’ll feel confident and on your way knowing that you packed wisely.

Hello Children

Beep Beep offered the intense, gripping and mostly satisfying Business Casual in 2004, diversifying Saddle Creek's roaster with their intelligent, occasionally pornographic lyrics, and frantic experimental garage rock compositions. 

In 2009's Enchanted Islands we see a their new face; soft, open eyed and still just as mentally deranged. The noticeable change in their approach, their first album a heavy mash of soul, electronic and sex metal; their own brand of spaz rock, is now smoothed down and refined into a truly unique style that only Beep Beep themselves can adequately accomplish. 

In a sense, they're one of the few bands unbound by that nasty word in the Indie Rock world: genre. Without being confined by the cliches plaguing the independent music scene, cheap knockoffs of Conor Obesrt, trashy punk-basement rock and sleepy bands like Grizzly Bear, Beep Beep gives listeners a musical experience that'll leave them wanting to listen to Enchanted Islands over and over again. 

The album's opening track "I See You!" sounds as if it should be played out of an old Gipsy wagon housing an evil mystic. It creeps up your spine, easing you into the second track, "Mermaid Struggle", with an erie feeling in your gut. The album carries you, pulling you up and down on a fantastic adventure.

Co-front men  Eric Bemberger and Chris Hughes sound great together on this album. Bemberger's smooth voice with Hughes's angelic and occasionally frightening falsetto make the album as great as it is. It's a serious shame Hughes left the band, I couldn't imagine Beep Beep's live performances being as good without him. None the less, Enchanted Islands is a confounding collection of songs waiting to be explored, easily one of 2009's strongest new releases thus far. 

Monday, May 18, 2009

Smart Shopping: Supplement Itunes with Youtube

I think I may have noticed a new trend. Maybe it’s just me-or are we becoming a bit dependent on our comptures? Hey I’m not the one to tell you stop. After all, the internet is the lifeblood of my lively hood. Without a connection I would probably fail out of school, lose touch with friends, and still be listening to Bel-Biv-Devoe and New Edition.

With miniscule things like school and friends aside, let’s talk about something important, music. If you are anything like me, and a majority of college students, we do
n’t go anywhere without our IPods. We listen to music while we exercise, while we walk to class, while we do our homework, and wherever else we can squeeze in a few tracks. Without knowing we’ve added an official soundtrack to our everyday lives.

Now I’m not here to tell you to take the headphones out of your ears and enjoy the sounds of nature-that would be a ridiculous idea, and a bit creepy. Instead, I’m here to tell you that you should be downloading as much music as possible, the newer the better, the hotter the better. All I ask is that you don’t limit yourself to ITunes useless “30 second preview.

While Itunes may be the best place to download music, it is probably the worst place to preview music. For full length free music previews, you don’t have to look any further than america’s favorite “time waster” Youtube
With Itunes increasing the cost of songs from $0.99 to $1.29, knowing what you are paying for is more important than ever. To preview a song in it's entirety-simply log on to Youtube and type in the song title in the search bar. 99.9% of the time, all of the time.

It only takes a few seconds...heres an example
1. Log onto youtube
2. Search "Lay Back by Rick Ross"

Fighting My Way to Fenway

Now that baseball season is in full swing, I felt it necessary to share my "fighting my way to Fenway" adventure! Yes, I am Red Sox fan, so all you Yankee's fan with your new stadium can just sit back and enjoy. This is way more exciting and has more sentimental value and history than a fancy new stadium.
Every year my parents, a friend of my choice, and I venture to Fenway to see a Red Sox Game. Usually we get tickets from a friend of my father's, but that has proven to be up in the air this year. In order to guarantee we have tickets and keep up with our yearly tradition, my father signed up to get tickets through the Red Sox Nation website. What he did not realize was the process of getting any Red Sox tickets.
After being denied early access, he was left to a pool of random ticket buyers. After signing in at exactly 12 noon today, he is sent to a "virtual waiting room" where ticket buyers are made to sit and watch their screen refresh every 15 seconds until they are brought to another page if chosen by random.
As my dad and I took turns sitting by his laptop with minimal hopes of every getting past this "Virtual Waiting Room" that greatly reminded me of the DMV wait line without the annoying people, "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond came on IPOD as it played on shuffle. We had been sitting there for just about an hour, losing hope with each page refresh, and then the song rang through my IPOD speakers. Instantly my dad's face lit up because the song (besides being one of Neil Diamond's greatest hits) is the song of Red Sox Nation.
Now I have been watching baseball ever since I was a little girl, but as I got older "Sweet Caroline" seemed to get more and more popular with Red Sox fans and although I loved the song, could never figure out the significance behind it.
After some research I found out, it was the doing of Amy Tobey who directed the music during the games from 98-2004. It was first played every so often between the 7th - 9th innings, but then became tradition to play at every home game during the 8th inning. Fans were encouraged by it, expected it and could recite every word soon after. It even made its way into the 2005 film with Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore Fever Pitch.
So as the Diamond lyrics say: "Where it began
I can't begin to knowin'
But then I know it's growin' strong"
The tradition is def. growing strong amongst Red Sox Fans--young and old alike. As for the family tradition, my dad did get tickets for Sunday, July 12th right behind first base.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sweet decisions: A search for the most mouth-watering ice cream

Right off the Berlin Turnpike is an ice cream lovers best friend, Mortensen‘s Ice Cream and Restaurant. The anticipation started to build as soon as my friends and I pulled into the crowded parking lot with Jimi Hendrix blaring from the speakers. We rushed out of the car and out of the sprinkling night into Mortensen’s, which seemed to glow from the outside.

Inside, every booth was filled with happy customers enjoying their disappearing bowls of ice cream. While the grey printed wall paper and grey countertops didn’t excite the eyes, the glass case filled with more than 20 flavors of homemade ice cream and sherbet didn’t disappoint.

As we admired the ice cream at the counter we were greeted by several friendly waitresses wearing bright pink shirts and pony tails. Walking down the case gazing at each flavor, the decision of what to order grew more difficult.

How do you choose between flavors like graham central, mud pie, and amaretto? Finally I decided to order a regular size bowl with half coconut ice cream and half Maine black bear.

My eyes lit up as I was handed the overflowing Styrofoam cup. Each bite was creamy and more delicious than the last. The coconut ice cream brought a tropical feel to mind, while the Maine black bear ice cream, which has swirls of black raspberry syrup and dark chocolate chips filled with the same familiar sweet syrup, will forever remind me of summer.

We all left satisfied and with smiles on our faces knowing that while we were soon to be left with empty bowls, that we looked forward to making another difficult and delicious ice cream decision at Mortensen’s soon.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Concert Spectacular

Concert Mania

Getting ready for the concert was nervewracking as me and my two closest girlfriends, Lauren and Christine, were almost ready to leave the dorms to head to a concert featuring Ne-Yo, Jay-z, and none other than Lil' Wayne. The drive down there was filled with excitement. The concert was in New Jersey hosted by a local radio station in the Ikon Stadium across from the Giants Stadium.

Pulling into the parking lot filled with hudreds and hundreds of eager fans made the wait even more hard. We finally got a spot and parked, grabbed are belongings and headed for the front door of the building. The strong evening breeze made the wind almost unbearable. You could hear fans shouting and cursing at the nasty wind that was ruining their hair and makeup.

Tickets had to be taken from each fan upon entering the door as well as a security check. The ticketer took our tickets, ripped it in half, and handed us back the stubs. Practically running to the inside of the stadium, we climbed up the stairs to find our seat in the pitch black with very light lighting coming in and out. Our seats were close to the top but close to the main stage where the performers would be. The smell of alcohol filled the stadium as drunk college kids chugged down their beers.

The anticipation of the concert made it even that more exciting. Finally, all the lights went dim and the first performer, Ne-yo, walked out onto the stage and began singing and dancing to his very famous radio jams. The crowd went crazy, dancing and singing along. The stadium was full and this is when I noticed how packed it really was in there. Cameras were flashing nonstop from every angle and multi colored neon lights filled the stadium as fog rose from the noisy stage.

The concert was amazing and the performers were awesome. There was even a guest appearance from Beyonce where she sang her hit, "single ladies". At the end, people were pretty exhausted from all the dancing and singing and beers. It took forever to leave the seating area for there were thousands of people trying to get out and make it back to their cars to go home.

Overall, the experience was amazing and the performers were great!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Bamboozle 2009

As the spring and summer weather settles in and more and more people can be found outdoors, there is only one thing to say "Tis the Season"--for music festivals that is!
Bamboozle is a yearly festival held at the Meadowlands, better known as Giant's Stadium, in Rutherford New Jersey. Similar to other festivals like Warp Tour, it contains music from the emo/punk and pop/rock genres, but Bamboozle seems to stand above of the rest for a variety of reasons. Beyond the clouds of marijuana smoke, crowd surfing, mosh pits, and drunken fools lies a true appreciation for the music. Traditionally many music festivals are centered around pointless teenage to twenty something year old illegal antics that attract crowds for the wrong reasons. A prime example of this is Dave Matthew's Band's yearly visit to Connecticut. When Dave comes to town, (although some people do enjoy his music), the average Dave goer is there for the experience. They pay 50 + dollars to tailgate before the concert and be too drunk to understand the lyrics by the time the concert starts. Personally, I think that is ABSOLUTELY ridiculous and is why I enjoy Bamboozle so much more.
Every year Bamboozle has over 70 bands for only 70 dollars and it is nearly a ten hour festival. Although it spans over two days, usually the first weekend in May, I would suggest only picking one day to go, don't go both! If you do feel adventurous and invest in both days, be prepared for over 20 hours of standing in hot sun!
With mostly up in coming to moderately popular bands, the concert goer gets to choose between four stages who to watch. At night, the main headliners come on and bring in the crowds. This year Fall Out Boy and Third Eye Blind were the headliners and were amazing. I am partial to Third Eye Blind because they are my favorite band. I was super excited that they played several old songs including "Motorcycle Drive By" and "Graduate" from the first cd that came on the scene in 1996.
Other bands made the line up even better. This included We Three Kings, Bayside, Bloodhound Gang, New Found Glory, Cartel, and Boys Like Girls. Overall, as the music festivals are in full swing, Bamboozle is totally worth it. If you are interested in bands like these, definitely look in Bamboozle 2010.

A Bustling Bridal Shower at Gusto's Trattoria

As I walked away from my tan Chevy cavalier to the doors of Gusto’s Trattoria, I tried to keep my clumsiness to a minimum or risk dropping the box of wine glasses nestled in a silver bag that dangled from my arm. The bright sun disappeared as the doors to Gusto’s closed behind me. I was greeted by a tall waitress dressed in black who must have seen many gifts and uncertain faces that day as she directed me towards the room where the bridal shower was being held.

Down the long, shaded hallway to the right was a large room filled with women chatting quietly. Small conversations were soon interrupted by a few loud “Oh my gosh’s” when my sorority sisters saw me enter the room. After hugs went all around my gift was placed on a long rectangular table in the front of the room. The table was overflowing with white wrapped gifts that had silver bows.

As the group waited for Jackie, the bride-to-be, to arrive, small baskets of warm bread were passed around each table. The bread was dunked into the small plates of oil dipping sauce, while the heads of roasted garlic lay untouched.

Jackie entered the room, she wore a black and white printed dress and an undeniable glow that stayed with her throughout the shower. Her mother, aunts, and soon to be mother-in-law surrounded her. She said her hello’s and she made her way over to our table. Giggles and stories were shared by a group of friends catching up.

The group eagerly hurried into the lobby area when it was announced that the food was ready. A long line formed in front of the steaming buffet table. Eyes were wide and appetites were large as the women went down the line and filled their plates with an delicious looking selection of Italian food.

Never one to be shy about eating, I took my slightly overstuffed plate back to the table. Food of all colors filled my plate, there was a green salad coated in light balsamic vinaigrette, tender beef tips with mushrooms on the side, rich cavatelli and broccoli with red peppers, fresh seasoned string beans, and rosemary roasted potatoes.

Pictures followed lunch, with cameras flashing from every direction trying to capture Jackie and her bridal party as they stood in front of the crowded gift table and large floral centerpiece.

Though the room was now bustling with women and children, the atmosphere in Gusto’s remained as calm as the wait staff. The golden hues of the wall had a Tuscan feel and the light breeze that circulated around the room felt refreshing. The high ceilings that were supported by dark beams could make even a crowded room feel large and open.

After the bride-to-be opened her gifts and the wait staff refilled glasses with water and plates with chocolate mouse cake, Jackie went out to all each guest offering a friendly hug and a thank you.

The table that was once filled with homemade Italian cookies began to clear and guests started to gather their belongings. A little girl with a tight curly brown hair and wearing a ruffled pink polka dot shirt, stumbled around the room as Jackie’s big Italian family said their good byes.

Once the car was loaded with enough gifts to stock a Bed Bath and Beyond, five friends hugged their good byes and bid Gusto’s and the bride-to-be farewell.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Manny Being Manipulative: Another All-Star Caught Cheating

Five years ago this Fall, the game of baseball was changed forever. It just so happened that in 2004 the American Championship League Series (ALCS) came down to the two teams with the biggest rivalry, Boston and New York. When the Yankees took the first three games in a race to four, what had promised to be an action packed series turned into what everyone thought would be a clean sweep but little did they know the action was just about to start.

Boston won the next three games to tie the series at 3 games a piece and with the title on the line as well as a birth in the World Series it was Boston that came through in the clutch on the shoulders of their slugging left fielder Manny Ramirez. Never in the history of the game had a team lost a series after going up 3-0 and as the Red Sox went on to win the World Series in a four game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals, they also broke an 86 year drought as well as the legendary “Curse of the Bambino.” The series between the Yankees and Red Sox was dubbed “The Greatest Comeback of All Time,” and rightfully so. Two years later they won their second World Series Title of the decade, proving the other one wasn’t a fluke. Finally Red Sox Nation had a banner from this century to celebrate and something to be proud of… “had” being the key word.

Fast forward to today where Manny Ramirez now has to wait out a 50 game suspension for testing positive for hCG, a banned substance by the MLB. Ramirez claims he took medication prescribed by a doctor for another health reason so he clings to the “I didn’t know” excuse we’ve heard all too often. This was adding insult to injury for baseball fans who can now add one more All-Star to a growing list of others who are linked to performance enhancing drugs, such as Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, and Barry Bonds. After Ramirez cut all ties with Boston in his trade to the L.A. Dodgers for Jason Bay last year, the last place this news should devastate fans is in Boston, however, unfortunately for them, that’s not the case.

His alleged steroid use was said to have taken place in 2003, while still a member of the Red Sox and coincidentally right before his career numbers blew up. Ramirez was the MVP of Boston’s World Series sweep of St. Louis and had one of his best seasons hitting .308 with 43 homers and 130 RBIs. Suddenly the untouchable moment in baseball history seems questionable and tarnished.

“Everyone’s entitled to their opinion but I don’t feel like our ’07 season was tainted,” said Mike Lowell, Ramirez’s third base teammate during his Boston tenure. “This is still a 25-man team.”

Though he’s right it’s hard to see Ramirez’s staggering numbers as just one of 25 other contributing players. As the MVP of the World Series and one of, if not the biggest contributor in the series against the Yankees, how can anyone say with certainty the Red Sox would have prevailed without his bat in the clean-up spot and glove in left field?

There’s no way to ever know for sure when stipulating over the past, but the one thing that is for sure is that something needs to be done to prevent this from happening in the future. The league has already implemented more tests, stricter rules, and harsher punishments for players who violate the drug policy yet it continues to happen.

“Another big-name guy,” Lowell said of Ramirez, “is just another black eye for the game. It’s hard for the MLB to try and glorify the guys they think are doing it right because we really don’t know. We keep finding these guys [who use banned substances] and I think the message is terrible, especially for young kids who might aspire to be a major league ball player.”

With questions circling about the authenticity of the Red Sox Championships, whether Ramirez took them unknowingly or not, the only question that really matters is where to go from here. Major League Baseball and the Player’s Association have made a long journey in their fight against performance enhancing drugs and while the progress has been great and drug use is down, there are still loopholes in areas where testing isn’t available for certain substances.

Now we have two options. We can wait around for some scientist somewhere to come up with a test for the hundreds of undetectable substances or we can simply implement a no tolerance rule to eliminate the loopholes…one positive test and you’re out of the game, no second chances. A no-tolerance rule encompasses the ideology that if you’ve cheated your team, your fans, your employer and your union brethren, you shouldn’t get paid and you shouldn’t be allowed to lace up your cleats ever again. Playing baseball is a privilege, not a right and when you cheat you forfeit that right to make millions for swinging a bat. You want to stop all steroid use? You want to give baseball its credibility back? You want to set a good example for kids? That’s the answer. Now the only question left is what are we waiting for?

New Britain's 5 Hidden Gems

Whether it’s by working 40 hour weeks and saving up, or selling their soul to the student loan fairy, otherwise known as Sallie Mae, college students are having a tough enough time living comfortably, much less are able to treat themselves to a nice vacation during a demanding semester. So, as Spring break came and went, fewer students came back sharing tales with classmates of illustrious trips and more told sob stories of being stuck here in New Britain. While we all would love to be able to throw down a credit card and take off to some Caribbean beach, with the economy like it is, it’s just not an option anymore. Despite not being able to go somewhere fun and exciting, the upside to going to C.C.S.U. is that that we don’t have to. Sure New Britain, CT may not be considered a vacation hot spot, but it has at least 5 hidden gems that are fun, exciting, and well within the confines of a student’s budget.

First, right in our own backyard is the New Britain Museum of American Art, which is considered to be one of the nation’s most dynamic art museums. Between their permanent collection (which includes a captivating mural of the Sept. 11) and their special exhibitions (constantly filtering new and different pieces), they combine to provide engaging and intellectually accessible arrangements. Free admission with a student ID allows you to not only a trip through corridors covered in amazing artwork, but the opportunity to participate in their Adult Studio sketching and watercolor classes, attend independent film screenings and lectures from established artists as well. Another perk is the great tasting cafĂ© that allows you to sit outside and eat while overlooking Walnut Hill Park, another hidden gem.

Walnut Hill Park is most known for its rolling green hills and intriguing architecture. At the main entrance to the park, there are stone walls laid into the ground and the base of the hill and layered all the way to the top creating a truly gorgeous landscape. Trails inside the park include many historical monuments that make for a pleasant and peaceful walk. It isn’t always quiet and peaceful however, because from late Spring to early Fall, the huge venue inside the park has many musical talents visit. The huge stage faces an inclining slope equipped with stadium seating and room on the lawn for many other fans on blankets. Guests such as The New Britain Symphony, Music Series at South Church, the Park and Recreation Summer Music Program and Connecticut Virtuosi are just some of the musical entertainment the venue provides to the residents of New Britain, free of charge!

If you spent most of your break in front of the TV, the least you could do for yourself is go down the road to the Hole in the Wall Theatre and get some live entertainment. Voted Best of the Hartford Readers Poll in 2008, Hole in the Wall Theatre is known for combining drama and comedy with mystery and music, and with a suggested donation price of $20, it’s a great bargin for solid live entertainment. Currently the theatre is producing the play “Live Old Time Radio” which opened March 20th and will run for the next five weeks. For an evening they’ll transport you back in time to our last financial crisis during WWII and share the entertainment Americans turned to then. Don’t forget to hit the concession stand on the way in or out (or both!) as it is filled with delicious home baked goods at low costs.

The fourth hidden gem is the soon to re-open New Britain Stadium, home of the Rock Cats, on Wednesday April 8th for their season opener. The double AA baseball team is affiliated with the MLB team the Minnesota Twins, but luckily doesn’t charge MLB prices. General Admission is $5 and goes up as the seats get better, rounding out with a whopping $12 for behind the plate and dugout seats, best in the house. If that isn’t enough, on Wednesdays they offer a combo pack for $30 complete with 4 tickets, 4 hot dogs, 4 sodas, and 4 popcorns…try getting that deal at Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park. So grab three friends, and get a seat in a ball park and a whole meal all for only about $8 each. Even if it’s not a Wednesday, ticket and concession prices are still really low and there are group ticket packages available through their website so the more friends you bring the more you save. Where else will a couple of bucks buy you a hot dog meal and a ball game?

If after paying tuition, buying books, paying rent, and food shopping, even the most discounted price is out of your budget, then you truly are lucky to live in New Britain where you don’t have to pay to enjoy it. Not only does New Britain have beautiful parks, they have lots of them. Apart from Walnut Hill Park, the five other parks located around town (A.W. Stanley, Chelsey, Osgood, Washington, and Stanley Quarter Park) ensure there’s one close to every neighborhood. Conveniently, Stanley Quarter Park is within short walking distance of CCSU and certainly one of the best. Equipped with the usual soccer, baseball, and softball fields, it also has tennis and basketball courts, a playground, and a widely popular skate park. As if that isn’t enough, the park also has a huge gorgeous lake with a track that wraps around it to provide a place for people to walk their dog, take a run, or simply take a seat on the many swings around the lakes perimeter that allow you to take in the beautiful scenery, all for free.

So sure it may not be as glamorous as lying on the beach sipping a cocktail or as exciting as backpacking through Europe, but if those luxuries aren’t in your budget, it doesn’t mean you’re doomed to boredom during school vacations, or even weekends. There are still fun and exciting things to do right here in New Britain that are in your budget, and these hidden gems are the proof.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Wonderful Performance, Lefty Didn't Show

     Shouting fills the theater. As the audience enters they’re encouraged to “sign in”; to the left, sheets of paper and pens sit near the entrance. Chairs fill the room, circling the low stage. Actors run around, full costume, addressing you as if you were a character in the play you’re about to watch.

            The cast of Waiting for Lefty successfully executes the illusion; instead of being an audience member, you’re now an angry cab driver of the 1930s, seriously considering the possibility of a strike. The room quiets, waiting for Lefty Costello, their committee president, to arrive. Everyone in the theatre is now a cast member.

            As you may know, Waiting for Lefty was written by Clifford Odets, first produced in 1935 during the Great Depression. A political piece, it borrows heavily from The Communist Manifesto, praising communism throughout. It chronicles a meeting of New York taxi drivers planning to strike, displaying their reasoning through different stories told by the cab drivers, acted out in episodes of their past. Within these scenes we see the bleak looking world of America in 1935.

            The CCSU Theatre Department certainly does Odets justice with their production of Waiting for Lefty, generating a believable atmosphere and an overall successful representation of the stress caused by the economic struggles of the play’s time period.

            The April 28 opening performance, free to the public, was not without its subtle flaws, such as Sid dropping a prop knife during his conversation with Florence, but those flaws were often overshadowed and forgotten due to the mostly excellent performances delivered by the young and talented cast.

            RJ Negron, who displayed some of the strongest acting of the evening, played the part of Joe, quite possibly the most dominating character in the play. He pulled off a classic New York accent without making it cheesy or overbearing, and managed to create extremely realistic romantic energy between himself and Edna, played by actress Annie Capobianco. Capobianco displayed equal passion while describing the couple as the oppressed class, shouting with teary eyes "the world is supposed to be for all of us," grabbing attention like a magnet.

            Michael Adolph Dichello also gave one of the highlighting performances of the evening, portraying the Character of Harry Fatt so well, that he was actually an intimidating presence. Every time Dichello used the word "red" it was like receiving a sharp jab. Alongside him was Ben McLaughlin as the Gunman, who completely embodied the violent force and questionable intelligence of the character, acting as an allegory to the period’s law enforcers.

            The performance was marked by an invested director. Josh Perlstein, an associate professor of theatre at CCSU, showed us through Waiting for Lefty that CCSU has a very worthwhile Theatre Department. The vignette where Fayette and Miller argue the morality of producing poisonous gases for biological warfare was moving and powerful, capturing Miller’s symbolic step towards communism, as well as symbolically regaining his deceased brother by the scene's end.

            Perlstein’s ability to navigate his actors towards these waters encourages the idea that even at a college with a little known theatre department, the stage can be used to sufficiently display heavy themes and major commentaries about society. We also saw him use certain creative liberties, like the inclusion of a hidden female cab driver dressed as a man, adding more political charge to the final scene based on the roles of gender during the play's setting.

            The present day’s weak economy and financial crunch made this tale of the working class hit closer to home than other plays the department could’ve chosen. You don’t need to be an underprivileged cab driver of the 1930s to relate to the episodes of human injustice depicted in this play, you don’t need to be a communist to appreciate it. When Agate, played by Kyle Mencel yelled "we're reds because we wanna strike, then we take over their salute too," you almost wanted to stand and shout your own frustrations with our current economic situation.

Fortunately, due to a great cast, director, and fantastic costume design thanks to Lani Johnson, this production of Waiting for Lefty proves that the often times overlooked CCSU Theatre Department is one of the university’s true hidden gems. Keep your eyes open for future productions by the department. 

Monday, May 4, 2009

Go Green

Going Green has become more important to people today. From receiving how to conserve energy emails at work to walking into Wal-mart and see T-shirts with Go Green themes.

Helping our Earth is like helping ourselves since we take everything the Earth gives. We need to start making the little changes in our everyday living to help the issues of Global Warming. Polluting the earth is what results in Global Warming, and we can help the Earth by being green. There are 10 easy ways to go green. Important natural resources, energy savings, and pollutant reductions are lost each and every day, causing unnecessary damage to our planet and these ten easy tips will absolutely help with that.
Species are also endangered due to pollution. Pollution happens when something finds its way into the environment that does not belong there. Chemicals and artificial materials destroy habitats. Some of the worst chemical pollutants are insecticides such as DDT (dichlor-diphenyl-trichloro-ethane) and PCBs (poly-chlorinated biphenyls). An example of an extict species due to pollution is the Condor which is part of the old world vulture family, and the Hawksbill Turtle both located in Central California. Nothing can ever bring the species back.

There are also organizations that you can look into that have the mission to try to protect the climate such as the Alliance For Climate Protection, Green Peace, and the We Can Solve It Organization. These organizations have lots of information for those interested in helping to make a change. It is never to late to start going green now. Like I stated earlier just even applying those ten easy tips whenever you can makes a big difference. Everyone, go green somehow!

O'Flanagan's Irish Pub

O'Flanagan's Restaurant is a little piece of Ireland hiding out in New York City. Most of its staff has heavy Irish accents and it is family run. Located at 1215 1st Avenue between 65th and 66th street, O'Flanagan's is a popular Irish pub with some American twists mixed in. Coming across this oddly empty restaurant on a Saturday night while on the senior class trip a couple weeks ago, I have to say I was very impressed.

At the time there was only what appeared to be a father and son duo and a few patrons at the bar, but as my roommate and I sat through dinner, the tables and bar stools filled in for the “disappointing” Yankee's game blaring on the three big screen televisions. We later found out that the bar/restaurant holds live music every Wednesday-Saturday night, which I wish we could have stayed for

Now I am not usually a big fan of pub-oriented food because of its grease factor, but once again, O'Flanagan's caught me by surprise. With menu items ranging from your typical soup and salad or burger and chicken fingers, to more Irish orientated favorites like Sheppard's pie, O'Flanagan's has a decent diverse selection of food that is reasonably priced. The average price for a large meal is between 13.95-15.95. The bill for two was only 36.00 dollars or so (plus tip of course) and I felt that was amazing considering we were in New York.

I have to say that they have the best fried shrimp and onion rings I have ever eaten. The onion rings appetizer was extremely large. The rings themselves were the size of baseballs, lightly breaded, and barely greasy. One could probably make a whole meal out the rings alone, but they are also good to share as a starter. I got the fried shrimp basket as my meal and it was extremely filling, there is no way I could have finished it. The shrimp had a light crispy beer battered coating with a tender inside. The grease was minimal and the pile of french fries seemed endless. Overall, if you are ever looking for a cheap, but classy place to eat with a little bit of culture, look no further than O'Flanagan's Irish Pub.