Established in 2017 and Published Weekly
Pets Must Adapt to Winter Weather
Q: My springy little mutt, "Sandy," just loves winter! Whenever it snows, she runs right outside to play. We had an early snowstorm just before Halloween, and I let her out to play. When she came back in after about an hour, she was whimpering and limping. I didn't see any cuts on her paws, but she was shivering quite a bit. I wrapped her in a towel and held her on my lap for a while. I guessing she got cold and scared, but that has never happened to her before. She usually stays outside for at least an hour and I have to call her back in. -- Daryl J., Leominster, Massachusetts
A: You did the right thing by checking Sandy as she came inside and warming her up. If she doesn't display any unusual behavior going forward, then your first guess is correct, that she got mild hypothermia from being out in the snow.
Pets need to acclimate to changing temperatures in the fall and winter. A cold snap in the fall can feel more bitter than colder but steady winter temperatures.
Other factors can also put a dog at risk for hypothermia. Make sure that Sandy always has water in her bowl, and that water is available during her outside romps, as hydration helps to maintain body temperature. Excessively wet or snowy conditions can speed heat loss. Providing a sheltered spot outdoors will give Sandy a place to take breaks and dry out.
A cold injury can take longer to recover from than we realize. For now, limit Sandy's time outside in the cold to about 30 minutes, and check on her every 10 minutes. If she is shivering or whimpering, bring her inside. And if you have continuing concerns, don't hesitate to contact the veterinarian.
Spend Thanksgiving Cuddled Up With Pets
DEAR PAW'S CORNER: This summer, when we thought the pandemic was easing up, my husband and I made plans to visit his family in Georgia for Thanksgiving. Now, we've canceled those plans due to the new wave of infections. I was quite sad about it for a while, but I realized that this is an opportunity to spend time with our pets, something we rarely get to do during a busy holiday.
For the first time in a decade, I will not be boarding our two Golden Retrievers, Arlo and Woody, so we can fly south to visit my mother-in-law, who's allergic to pets. Our two cats, Jinx and Star, won't have to stay at my friend's house across town.
Our house will not be filled with visitors and guests in the days after Thanksgiving. The annual post-Thanksgiving cookout that my husband hosts the weekend afterward, when I'm out shopping for Christmas gifts, is canceled, as well.
Instead, we'll be snuggled up on the sofa, with our dear pets all around. I will do most of my shopping online. We'll visit with friends and relatives on FaceTime and Zoom.
I realize that for the first time, instead of dreading the holiday season with all of the stress of catering to family and friends, we will be focusing on simple joys. I am thankful for that. These are difficult times, but in the midst of it all, we can stop and just hug our pets and feel love and joy. I hope your readers feel the same way. -- Carol M., Canton, Ohio
DEAR CAROL: You've encapsulated just how I feel about the holidays this year. Thank you for sharing it with us, and Happy Thanksgiving to all.
Downgrading Cat's Fresh Food Diet
DEAR PAW'S CORNER: I was furloughed from my job in April and have been getting by on savings and an unemployment check. With no new job yet, I need to drastically cut back expenses to get through this winter. My cat "Silk" is 9 years old and eats a special diet of prescription canned food plus fresh pet food from the grocery. Will she stay healthy if I temporarily replace her diet with a commercial cat food? -- Henry in Worcester, Massachusetts
DEAR HENRY: Thank you for putting Silk first in your household budget, especially in these tough times! Give your cat's veterinarian a call and discuss the situation. Would a four- to six-month break from prescription canned food be OK, and not threaten Silk's health? The answer depends on the condition for which she's eating special food.
You can probably stop buying those prepackaged fresh pet foods for your cat, at least until you get financially back on track. Instead, prepare a few days' worth of fresh cat food at home by steaming rice, peas and a protein like chicken or tuna until fully cooked (do not add spices or salt) and smashing together. Cool and store in the refrigerator.
Fresh food needs to be supplemented with a formulated cat food so that Silk gets key nutrients during this time. The veterinarian should be able to recommend an off-the-shelf cat food, either dry or canned, that will meet her needs for a few months. If she is taking medications as well, don't skimp on her medicines, and be sure to include them in your budgeting.
Does COVID Restrict Travel With Pets?
DEAR PAW'S CORNER: I'm driving from New York to Colorado for a long-term contract job, and my two dogs will be coming with me. My roommate in New York is flying with my cat about a week later, because I don't think my cat will do well on a long car trip (and I'm worried about her escaping). Are there any restrictions on pets traveling by plane or staying in hotels at this time? -- Beth G., Brooklyn
DEAR BETH: It sounds like you're doing your planning well in advance, and that's great.
Your dogs should be secured in the car while you're traveling. Depending on their size and the type of car, they can be placed in a large kennel cage in the cargo area (with comfy beds, chew toys and access to water). Or they can stretch out on the back seat -- use a restraint device designed to keep dogs from sliding around the car or escaping from the vehicle.
Many hotels are pet-friendly and have modified their cleaning procedures so that the hotel rooms will be clean and ready for the next guest.
And more good news: Your friend and your cat can probably travel together in the airline cabin, as long as your cat is in a carrier (hard or soft sided) that will fit underneath the seat in front of your friend. (Some airlines are no longer shipping pets in the cargo area due to the disrupted flight schedules.)
Book the airline seat with a pet option as soon as possible. Airlines allow a limited number of pets to travel in the cabin, even in a carrier. Those slots may fill up fast.
Likewise for hotels: Book the rooms as soon as possible so that you know a pet-friendly room is waiting for you and your dogs.
DEAR PAW'S CORNER: My two cats, "Sandy" and "Frankie," are indoor cats who never go out and never even try to escape. I last took them to the vet about three years ago. A friend said I'm supposed to take them every year and get their rabies shot, but I don't see the point. If they never get out, how could they get exposed? Also, vaccinations are expensive. -- Terry H., Buffalo, New York
DEAR TERRY: I know it can be tough pulling together the funds to vaccinate your pets every year, but it really is critically important that they stay up to date on their shots.
In addition to rabies vaccination -- which is required by law in most municipalities -- your cats need to be vaccinated against feline distemper -- a group of three viruses that are easily spread (they can even be tracked into the house on your shoes) and can cause severe illness and death in cats. If your cats have never received an FLV (feline leukemia virus) vaccination, they need to be evaluated and given this shot, too.
Getting up to date on their shots gives them an umbrella of protection against these illnesses, because you never know what may happen in the future. What if they are spooked by a storm or a volley of fireworks, and dart outside? That's dangerous enough without them potentially crossing paths with an infected cat.
Call around for a better price on veterinary exams and shots. Low-cost clinics are held in many cities and counties, but you have to look online or check notices at the pet store or city hall. Community newspapers are another source to find out about these clinics.
DEAR PAW'S CORNER: I know it's a running joke that cats rule people and not the other way around. But if cats can't stand people, why did they become domesticated in the first place? How did that happen? -- Trisha G., San Bernadino, California
DEAR TRISHA: While cats seem aloof and rarely fawn over people in the same way that dogs do, they do love their humans. They express their devotion in ways that are weird to us -- like quietly placing a dead mouse in front of us and sitting expectantly until their triumph is acknowledged. Or, like bumping their forehead against our hand, or even our nose. Or meowing incessantly when we're in the bathroom, worried that we will never come out.
When cats were domesticated -- scientists think that happened about 12,000 years ago -- they approached humans for much the same reasons that dogs did. There was food available. Cats, like dogs, earned their keep: dogs by keeping watch over their humans, and cats by protecting their food. When humans developed agriculture and began storing grain, rodents became the bane of their existence. Cats, on the other hand, saw a smorgasbord of tasty rats on the menu. Over time, they became domesticated, and our symbiotic existence was cemented.
Cats were revered by ancient societies, and yes, jokes about cats ruling the household are probably as old as the early Egyptian pharaohs. Their behavior -- as territorial hunters who move quietly and strike quickly -- probably did not need to change as dramatically as wild dogs' behavior had to evolve. Yet, they did become tame and companionable as well -- although much more aloof.
Archaeologists and sociologists have studied the domestication of cats quite a bit, because it helps to answer many questions about ancient peoples. In a way, it helps to outline why cats today behave the way they do.
Badly Behaved Dogs Need Basic Commands
DEAR PAW'S CORNER: Every time I read an article about a badly behaved dog, the trainer says that the dog needs to relearn basic commands like sit, stay and lie down. Why would unrelated commands solve a behavior problem? -- Edward in Albany, New York
DEAR EDWARD: Every dog should be trained to respond to five basic commands: come, heel, sit, stay and lie down. Dogs need to obey their owner the first time and every time a command is issued.
That may sound a little harsh, but a dog that can't be controlled is a dog in danger.
Owners need to be able to recall a dog that has slipped its leash before it runs into traffic. They need to make sure their dog will walk beside them and will sit calmly on command, especially when another dog approaches. Their dog needs to stay in position when told to do so -- whether sitting or lying down.
Dogs aren't robots, though. Like us, their discipline and training will slip if not regularly reinforced. Think about how often you and I give in to temptation and take that second cookie (or third or fourth or fifth). Just as we humans sometimes need reinforcement of good habits, our dogs need regular reinforcement of basic commands.
When owners spend more time working one-on-one with their dogs, they frequently report that undesirable behaviors happen less often. The time and attention that owners give can quickly blunt attention-seeking behaviors. The AKC has a good breakdown of the basic dog commands here: www.akc.org/ expert-advice/training/ and search for "5 basic commands."
Energetic young dogs can be a handful sometimes. If you are having trouble getting your dog to respond to basic commands, enlist the help of a professional trainer.
DEAR PAW'S CORNER: I took my Springer Spaniel, "Rog," for a walk in the woods this morning. When we got back, I noticed he was trying to lick a spot behind his shoulder. I found a thin scratch on his skin. I dabbed it with some antibacterial ointment, but that's about it. Will he be OK? -- Jessica in Jaffrey, New Hampshire
DEAR JESSICA: As long as the wound seems to be healing, Rog should be fine. Check the area once a day and reapply antibacterial ointment. If it begins to appear puffy and red, or Rog seems very distressed by it, take him to the vet for further evaluation.
Most minor scratches on a dog's skin and paws can be treated at home using the household first-aid kit. You also can build a pet first-aid kit that is easy to access when you walk into the house. In addition to antibacterial ointment (avoid products with hydrocortisone), it should have antiseptic solution, water-based lubricant like KY (not Vaseline), clean towels, an empty squeeze bottle (like a ketchup bottle), tick-removal tweezers, a muzzle, small scissors and a disposable razor to gently remove fur. (Electric clippers are an even safer option.)
To treat a small scratch or cut, fill the squeeze bottle with lukewarm water. Hold your dog securely, placing a muzzle on him to prevent bites if he gets agitated. Trim or shave away hair from the area. Gently clean the wound using the squeeze bottle of water. Pat dry. Dab the antiseptic onto the wound, then apply antibiotic ointment. Cover lightly with a bandage if possible; otherwise, prevent your dog from licking away the ointment for at least 10 minutes. Check and reapply ointment daily as it heals.
DEAR PAW'S CORNER: I live in an area where eastern equine encephalitis and West Nile Virus are active. On my walks, I make sure to wear plenty of bug spray to prevent being bitten by a mosquito infected with either disease. Are my dogs at risk of catching it? Can I use bug spray on their fur? -- Shellie in Worcester, Massachusetts
DEAR SHELLIE: While dogs (and cats) are at risk of catching either disease, most pets recover fully, especially with veterinary treatment (which is mainly supportive, to keep them strong while their bodies fight the infection).
Humans can get seriously ill from either EEE or West Nile Virus, so I'm glad you're using plenty of bug repellent. Mosquitoes are very active just before sunset, when most of us prefer to take our pets for walks during the hot summer months. However, pets do not tolerate bug spray made for humans very well. (Citronella candles also can be very irritating.) They still should have some protection from mosquitoes, as these flying pests also carry diseases that can be very harmful to pets, like heartworm.
Pet-friendly repellents are available at the pet store or through your vet's office. You can try natural repellents like lemon juice (try mixing it half-and-half with water in a spray bottle and applying to your dogs' coat just before walking), crushed peppermint leaves, or rosemary. Keep up with your pets' heartworm medication and check them for ticks and fleas after each walk, too. This will reduce their risk of getting a serious illness from an outdoor pest.
Using the Internet to Enrich Our Lives
With most of us spending most of our days at home, it's time for us to take advantage of the internet. Here are some resources that can enrich our lives.
Inquire at the local senior center about any exercise classes online. Some classes will be live on Zoom and others will be videos that the instructors record and post on the center's website. If they're not hosting any classes, search online for "seniors exercise at home" and look for some that are produced by other senior centers.
Virtual art classes can open up new areas of interest and reveal talents you didn't know you had. Better yet, if you're a beginner or are exploring a new art medium, look for videos that you can review over and over. Look online for free art classes online for seniors.
Exercise and art aren't the only free classes you'll find online. Yoga and tai chi, sewing, baking and cake decorating, creative writing, a new language -- if it can be done online, there's a class for it somewhere.
And don't forget Class Central (www.classcentral.com).
Check the website for a list of MOOCS (massive open online courses). There 15,000 different free and low-cost classes in its searchable database from colleges and universities around the world. Imagine taking a philosophy course from the University of Edinburgh or Introduction to Classical Music via Yale University. (I put art history into its search box and got back 165 results.) Read the details for any class you're considering. It will tell you if the class is self-paced, whether it's free to audit, the class level and how much time per week you can expect to spend on the work, as well as reviews from other students.
If you're unsure of your internet skills, search for "internet basics for seniors" on Google.
Are we bored yet? Of course we are. We're staying indoors, especially now that cold weather has arrived, not shopping, not visiting friends, not doing much of anything. Somehow we have to get through this winter, though, and now might be the time to explore things that are new and different to us. Here are some ideas:
Change the channel. If you watch the same television news every night, switch to a different one (or better yet, skip a night or two). If you watch the same shows all the time, consider watching something different, even if you think it won't appeal to you.
Step outside. Even though it's cold outside, wrap up and go outdoors anyway. Don't try this if there's ice, of course, but even a few minutes spent walking around outside in fresh air can raise your spirits.
Grab your camera. Set up still shots around your house. A fabric background on a table or shelf, a few small statues or trinkets (especially ones from trips you've taken) and a lamp for lighting, and you might discover that you have a real eye for photography.
Or read a new author, learn to watercolor, take a free online course, watch zoo cams...
The idea is to try new things, even given our "stay at home" limitations.
As of this writing, most states are seeing big increases in coronavirus levels, even states that were stable with relatively low rates even a few weeks ago. We seniors are, unfortunately, in the high-risk group because of our age, even if we don't have health concerns.
And as of this writing, the U.S. has more active cases of the coronavirus than any other country in the world, including India. It has four times the population but half the deaths that we do. It's everywhere, and we can't let down our guard.
Stay home, stay safe and look for new things to occupy yourself.
Act Now to Change Your Medicare Plan
Have you finished making your decisions about your Medicare plan for 2021? If you're going to make a change, you have only a short time to pick a new one. The deadline is Dec. 7.
There are so many options: Medicare Advantage, a supplemental plan or the traditional Medicare. And there are many things to consider within those options -- the drugs we currently take, eye exams, hearing aids, annual preventive tests and more.
The place to start is with your current plan. By now you should have received your Medicare Annual Notice of Change Letter if you have an Advantage or Part D plan. (You won't get one for a Supplemental plan.) The letter will itemize any changes to your 2021 plan, including price. Compare your current plan with any changes in your plan for next year.
Have your needs changed this year? Are there new drugs you're taking? Is your doctor included in your network? What about the pharmacy you like to use? Are you likely to need a procedure in 2021? What else are you likely to need in the next year?
Look at your Medicare & You 2021 book that came in the mail. Check inside the front cover for information on lowering insulin costs, acupuncture for back pain, telehealth visits and more. (If you can't find your copy, go online to www.medicare.gov/Pubs/pdf/10050-Medicare-and-You.pdf.)
If you want to consider making a change, go online to Medicare.gov and look at plans for your area. For any changes to a supplemental plan, call that plan directly.
Don't try to do this all in one day. Give yourself time to consider what you need, and ask questions.
Get personalized help at State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) at www.shiptacenter.org if you need it. Click on SHIP Locator for listings by state, or call them at 877-839-2675.
Social Security Increase for 2021
The news is out. Our Social Security benefit increase starting in January 2021 will be less than it was for 2020.
Instead of the 1.6% increase we received this year, they're cutting us back to 1.3% for Social Security benefits and Supplemental Security Income. For the average recipient, this comes to a whopping $20 per month. The average benefit will be $1,543 per month and $2,596 for a couple.
The retirement earnings test exempt amount will change in 2021 as well. If you're not yet at full retirement age, the annual exempt amount will be $18,960 per year. During the first year you reach full retirement age, the limit will be $50,520 per year (before the month you reach that age).
The way this is supposed to work is that when the annual inflation rate goes down, our cost of living adjustment also goes down. We allegedly don't need as much money to get through the month. (Although the cost of our groceries has gone up, the price of gas has gone down because no one is going anywhere now.) The Senior Citizens League guesstimated correctly a few months ago that our increase would be 1.3% -- the second lowest increase ever.
Meanwhile our Medicare Part B premium continues to climb. The good news there is the "hold harmless" clause in the regulations. If the Medicare premium rises enough that it overtakes our Social Security increase, the dollar amount of the Part B premium will be reduced so we don't end up with fewer Social Security dollars than we received this year. This applies to most but not all of us.
Keep an eye on the Senior Citizens League (seniorsleague.org). They fight for us when it comes to drug costs, veterans benefits, Medicare, Social Security and more. They're in Alexandria, Virginia, right across the river from Washington, D.C., and the halls of Congress.
Online Scammers Eye Holiday Shoppers
Holiday shopping online is one of our annual rituals, at least for a portion of the gifts we want to buy, but with COVID making in-person shopping too risky, a much larger percentage of us are likely to shop online. That's what the scammers and thieves are hoping, anyway. The biggest threat this year is likely to be emails.
You'll often receive an email from the retailer saying your purchase has been shipped, and there might be a link in the email about that delivery. Beware clicking it. It could be a scammer hoping to install malware on your computer to capture any future credit card or account numbers you type in. Or they might ask you outright to type in personal information such as your name and credit card number.
Instead of clicking any link in any email supposedly from a retailer, go to the merchant's website to look for information on your purchase or call them directly. Take the phone number from your bill or their website, not from any email.
You might also receive emails about items you didn't order and worry that your account has been hacked. Again, that is one way for the scammers to get you to click a link. Don't do it. Call the merchant instead.
Just ordering online isn't the end of your steps to being safe. There are the porch pirates, those awful people who dash up to the house and steal packages right at the door. They often follow delivery trucks to see where the parcels are being left. Keep an eye out for your delivery. Or track it online.
A final warning: Merchants often ask you to download their app to make purchases. You don't have to. You can still make online purchases without adding yet another potentially unsecure form of communication.
Who's Hoarding the Mini Blinds?
It's a bit unnerving to walk through a store and see so many empty shelves. I haven't been to the local big box store very often lately, but I wanted to see if what I suspected was true.
I'd been unable to order a number of items for curbside delivery and had been told that lots of things were actually in the store but couldn't be purchased except inside in person. That made no sense. I suspected that, instead, those items just weren't there.
So, in I went, mask on face, miniature hand sanitizer bottle in purse.
I was stunned to see so many empty shelves. It wasn't like the first month of the pandemic when people were hoarding and taking as much bread, sanitizers and canned goods as they could carry out, until limits were put on purchases. Instead, there were shelves empty of items you wouldn't normally associate with hoarding, like mini blinds.
Who hoards mini blinds?
I could (maybe) understand the lack of packs of lined school paper and pencils, for the kids doing remote learning, or toys because the kids are home all the time. I could see where we'd still be missing a variety of paper towels. And I could almost understand the few choices for shampoo and bath soap.
But what about dishes and light bulbs? Unless one was in the market for square red dinner dishes or 40-watt bulbs, there were none to be had.
Certain shortages we can understand. But what has happened to the supply line when we can't get a simple 100-watt bulb?
With winter coming, we might do well to reconsider our supplies and add a few light bulbs to our stash. Otherwise we might be in the dark even more than we already are.
Quarantine Scofflaws Put Us All at Risk
A recent local party was so loud it could be heard nearly a quarter mile away. A curious neighbor got in his car and went to investigate. He reported back that it was a very large gathering of young people in an alley, music echoing off the brick walls, not a mask to be seen, nor any social distancing. The neighbor did a quick calculation and estimated that the crowd had many times more than the restrictions allow. A call to the police netted this sad truth: They really don't care.
The alley party the other night does not bode well for the coming fall. It's highly likely they were college students, celebrating a return to school. The next days they were in the grocery stores stocking up. (Thankfully there is at least one store in town that insists on the wearing of masks and spacing in lines. The other one's stated policy is that they are not the police.)
We see on the news that tens of thousands of young people are frolicking together on the beach ... and we know the outcomes of those interactions. The virus is going to flourish in those environments, and it will spread even more than it already has, forcing us to stay locked down even longer.
While it's not smart to personally approach those who are violating the rules, we can make calls. Let the store managers know you won't be shopping in their stores unless they enforce mask and distance rules. Get your neighbors and friends to call as well. Let the town council know the police are not responsive, as well as retail and dining establishments that allow flouting of the rules.
Those are a few things we can safely do.
Two Trusted Sources
It's hard nowadays to know where to get accurate free information online. Here are two trusted, responsible places we can go.
Consumer Reports: While CR would like you to subscribe to their monthly print or online magazine, you don't have to do that to get information. Sign up for their various newsletters (weekly or monthly) and zero in on what you'd like to know about: a weekly What's New, home (appliances and products), cars, health (nutrition, drugs, fitness and safety), food, money (finances, investing, tax planning, retirement) and shopping. You can opt to receive one, a few or all of these in your email.
Go online to www.consumerreports.org, scroll to the bottom and click on Sign Up for CR's Free Newsletters.
Kim Komando: Known as a Digital Goddess, Kim Komando been on the Internet (as well as radio) for many years. She won't steer you wrong. A recent email newsletter covered 10 cybersecurity myths, how to tell if someone is snooping in your computer, a Windows patch that fixes 100 new flaws, and more. The website even has a coronavirus section with makes-sense information and news. There are 12 email newsletters to choose from, some daily and some weekly, including breaking tech news you need to know, tech tips & how-tos, weekend digital digest and weekly roundup, fraud and security alerts, and more.
Go online to www.komando.com and scroll to Subscribe at the bottom of the page. You can opt out or change your mind at any time, and they won't give away your personal information. I've been a subscriber for close to 10 years, and I've never suspected my information was given out. If you want to listen to Kim Komando on the radio, look for Find A Station at the top of her web page and put in your ZIP code. It will give you the stations, date and time of the radio shows.
Rising Food Costs
Prices on so many necessary items have gone up over the past six months. Most worrisome is food.
Of all the grocery store price increases, beef and veal went up the most. But they've all gone up: bread, seafood, cereal, vegetables. Fresh fruit, on the other hand, reportedly went down (although not at my store), as did milk (again, not at my store, which saw a ridiculous increase).
It likely won't get better for the rest of the year.
What hasn't gone up is our income. In fact, for those seniors who had part-time jobs to supplement Social Security, incomes have gone down because of the loss of those jobs. Yes, many of us got that $1,200 stimulus check ... how many months ago?
For so many of us, the time has come to admit that we need help. It's not easy, but it's really not giving up any independence. There are many organizations and groups out there giving away food. Have you seen the lines of cars waiting for food pickups? The trunks of those vehicles get loaded with bags and boxes of food, gallons of milk, sacks of potatoes, frozen meat and fresh bakery goods. Other groups focus on seniors and deliver individual boxes of food to the door.
Don't jeopardize your health because of lack of food. Pick up the phone, make calls. Find out where the free or low-cost food is in your area. Call the senior center, all the churches, the food pantry and your state's National Council on Aging (www.ncoa.org). Get on the internet and look for seniors dining sites and Meals on Wheels, senior food boxes, Commodity Supplemental Food Program and "free food for seniors in (your state)."
This pandemic might last for a very long time. Get your food support system in place. It's one less thing to worry about.
Leftover Turkey and Pear Salad
After all the dishes are washed and the leftovers are put away, you're probably wondering how you'll use up the leftover turkey. Well, wonder no more! Here's a wonderful "winter" main-dish salad just waiting for you to stir up for lunch.
3 cups shredded romaine lettuce
1 1/2 cups diced cooked turkey breast
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup unpeeled and diced Bartlett pears
1/3 cup fat-free blue cheese salad dressing
3 tablespoons fat-free mayonnaise
In a large bowl, combine romaine lettuce, turkey, walnuts and pears. In a small bowl, combine blue cheese dressing and mayonnaise. Drizzle dressing mixture evenly over salad mixture. Toss gently to combine. Serve at once. Makes 4 (1 full cup) servings.
Thanksgiving Pumpkin Torte
You take care of the rest of the meal, and I'll take care of dessert. Now if we could just find someone else to take care of the dishes, we'd have something else to be thankful for!
18 (2 1/2-inch) graham cracker squares
1 (15-ounce) can solid packed pumpkin
1 (4-serving) package sugar-free instant butterscotch pudding mix
2/3 cup nonfat dry milk powder
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
3/4 cup water
1 cup reduced-calorie whipped topping
2 tablespoons chopped pecans
1. Evenly arrange 9 graham crackers in a 9-by-9-inch cake pan. In a large bowl, combine pumpkin, dry pudding mix, dry milk powder, pumpkin pie spice and water. Mix well using a wire whisk. Blend in 1/4 cup whipped topping. Spread half of pumpkin mixture evenly over graham crackers.
2. Top with remaining 9 graham crackers. Spread remaining pumpkin mixture over top. Evenly spread remaining 3/4 cup whipped topping over pumpkin mixture. Sprinkle pecans evenly over top. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Serves 8.
* Each serving equals: 115 calories, 3g fat, 3g protein, 19g carb., 225mg sodium, 2g fiber; Diabetic Exchanges: 1 1/2 Starch, 1/2 Fat.
Walnut Peach Pie
Looking for something different to serve for dessert at your Thanksgiving table? Here's a simple peach pie using canned peaches.
1 (4-serving) package Jell-O sugar-free vanilla cook-and-serve pudding mix
1 (4-serving) package Jello-O sugar-free lemon gelatin
1 (16-ounce) can sliced peaches, packed in fruit juice, drained and 1/2 cup liquid reserved
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup peach spreadable fruit
1 (6-ounce) graham-cracker pie crust
2 tablespoons purchased graham-cracker crumbs or 2 (2 1/2-inch) graham-cracker squares, made into crumbs
1/4 cup Splenda Granular
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1. Heat oven to 350 F. In medium saucepan, combine dry pudding mix, dry gelatin, reserved peach liquid, water and spreadable fruit. Stir in peaches.
2. Cook over medium heat until mixture thickens and starts to boil, stirring often, being careful not to crush peaches. Spoon hot mixture into pie crust.
3. In a small bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs, Splenda and walnuts. Evenly sprinkle crumb mixture over filling. Lightly spray top with butter-flavored cooking spray. Bake for 15 minutes.
4. Place pie plate on a wire rack and let set for 30 minutes. Refrigerate at least 1 hour. Cut into 8 servings.
HINT: A self-seal sandwich bag works great for crushing graham crackers.
Cheesy Garlic Potatoes
This is a great side dish to accompany any meat -- from a simple chicken breast to your favorite meatloaf recipe.
1 (10 3/4-ounce) can Healthy Request Cream of Mushroom Soup
3/4 cup chunky salsa (mild, medium or hot)
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded Kraft 2 Percent Milk Cheddar Cheese
1 teaspoon dried minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
3 1/2 cups (18 ounces) diced cooked potatoes
1. In a large skillet sprayed with olive oil-flavored cooking spray, combine mushroom soup, salsa and Cheddar cheese. Stir in garlic and parsley flakes. Cook over medium heat until cheese starts to melt, stirring occasionally. Add potatoes. Mix well to combine.
2. Lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until mixture is heated through, stirring occasionally. Makes 6 (3/4 cup) servings.
* Each serving equals: 185 calories, 5g fat, 10g protein, 25g carbs, 658mg sodium, 233mg calcium, 2g fiber; Diabetic Exchanges: 1 1/2 Starch/Carb, 1 Meat; Carb Choices: 1 1/2.
A chicken in every pot! I'm not running for elected office -- but if I was, this is the dish I'd be sharing on the campaign trail. It would ensure a landslide victory for me!
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 full cup diced cooked chicken breast
1/2 cup (one 2.5-ounce jar) sliced mushrooms, drained
1/4 cup sliced ripe olives
1 3/4 cups (one 15-ounce can) Italian stewed tomatoes, undrained
1 (10 3/4-ounce) can reduced-fat cream of chicken soup
2 cups hot cooked spaghetti, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup grated reduced-fat Parmesan cheese
1. In a large skillet sprayed with olive oil-flavored cooking spray, saute onion for 5 minutes or just until tender. Add chicken, mushrooms, olives, stewed tomatoes and chicken soup. Mix well to combine. Stir in spaghetti.
2. Lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When serving, top each dish with 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese. Makes 4 (1 1/2 cups each) servings.
* Each serving equals: 264 calories, 4g fat, 20g protein, 37g carb., 816mg sodium, 4g fiber; Diabetic Exchanges: 2 Meat, 1 1/2 Starch, 1 Vegetable.
Awesome Apple Crisp
Try this easy dessert and see if you don't agree it's "just awesome."
2 cups (4 small) cored, peeled and sliced cooking apples
1 teaspoon apple-pie spice
1/4 cup quick oats
6 tablespoons reduced-fat baking mix
Granular sugar substitute to equal 1/4 cup sugar, suitable for baking
4 teaspoons reduced-calorie margarine
1. In a medium bowl, combine apples and apple-pie spice. Evenly spoon mixture into 4 (10-ounce) microwavable custard cups. In same bowl, combine oats, baking mix, sugar substitute and margarine. Mix well until crumbly. Evenly sprinkle crumb mixture over apples.
2. Microwave on HIGH (100% power) for 8 to 10 minutes or until apples are tender. Let set for at least 5 minutes. Good warm or cold. Makes 4 servings.
Peanut Butter Apple Crumb Pie
When you add peanut butter and apples, you're doing Magical Meal Math! Don't be tardy -- stir this up today, and you'll be sure to go to the head of the class for desserts.
3 cups (6 small) cored, peeled and sliced cooking apples
1 (6-ounce) purchased graham-cracker pie crust
1 (4-serving) package sugar-free vanilla cook-and-serve pudding mix
1 1/2 cups water
6 tablespoons reduced-fat peanut butter
6 tablespoons purchased graham cracker crumbs or 6 (2 1/2-inch) graham crackers, made into fine crumbs
1. Heat oven to 350 F. Evenly arrange apple slices in pie crust.
2. In a medium saucepan, combine dry pudding mix and water. Add 1/4 cup peanut butter. Mix well to combine. Cook over medium heat until mixture thickens and starts to boil, stirring constantly. Evenly spoon hot pudding mixture over apples.
3. In a medium bowl, combine graham-cracker crumbs and remaining 2 tablespoons peanut butter until mixture is crumbly. Evenly sprinkle crumb mixture over top of pie. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Place pie plate on a wire rack and let set for at least 30 minutes. Makes 8 servings.
* Each serving equals: 234 calories, 10g fat, 4g protein, 32g carb., 282mg sodium, 2g fiber; Diabetic Exchanges: 1 Starch, 1 Fat, 1 Fruit.
Broccoli Harvest Salad
Summer is almost over. Winter will be here sooner than most of us want. Let's gather family and friends together for one last chance to have fun in the sun. We'll provide a tasty salad dish!
2 3/4 cups chopped fresh broccoli
1/4 cup raisins
1 cup unpeeled, cored and chopped Red Delicious apples
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup bacon bits
1/3 cup shredded reduced-fat Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup fat-free mayonnaise
1 tablespoon white vinegar
Sugar substitute to equal 2 teaspoons sugar
1. In a large bowl, combine broccoli, raisins, apples and onion. Stir in bacon bits and Cheddar cheese.
2. In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, vinegar and sugar substitute. Add mayonnaise mixture to broccoli mixture. Mix well to combine.
3. Cover and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes. Gently stir again just before serving. Makes 6 (2/3 cup each) servings.
* Each serving equals: 94 calories, 2g fat, 5g protein, 14g carb., 409mg sodium, 2g fiber; Diabetic Exchanges: 1 Fruit, 1 Vegetable.
Creole Shrimp Gumbo
Tomatoes are at their all-time peak in late summer. Don't let this "love apple season" pass by without trying this succulent gumbo, especially created with that juicy red tomato in mind!
1 cup chopped onion
2 cups peeled and chopped fresh tomatoes
2 teaspoons chili seasoning
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley or 1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 cups reduced-sodium tomato juice
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 (6-ounce) package frozen cleaned shrimp, thawed
1 cup chopped fresh okra or frozen cut green beans
1 1/2 cups cooked spaghetti, rinsed and drained
1. In a medium saucepan sprayed with butter-flavored cooking spray, saute onion for 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, chili seasoning, parsley flakes and black pepper. In a covered jar, combine tomato juice and flour. Shake well to blend.
2. Pour tomato-juice mixture into tomato mixture. Add shrimp and okra. Mix well to combine. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring often. Stir in spaghetti. Lower heat and simmer for 6 to 8 minutes or until mixture is heated through, stirring often. Makes 4 (1 cup) servings.
* Each serving equals: 205 calories, 1g fat, 15g protein, 32g carb., 281mg sodium, 5g fiber; Diabetic Exchanges: 3 Vegetable, 1 1/2 Meat, 1 Starch.
HOLLYWOOD -- Neil Bogart launched Casablanca Records in 1973 at age 30 and was a pioneer of the disco era. Bogart discovered and promoted Donna Summer, Curtis Mayfield, The Village People, Kiss, The Isley Brothers and Gladys Knight, to name some, before succumbing to cancer a short nine years later, at 39. Now his son, Timothy Scott Bogart, wrote "Spinning Gold" and is producing and directing the biopic about his father with a fantastic cast.
Jeremy Jordan, of the Marilyn Monroe NBC musical series "Smash" (and a few Hallmark movies), has been cast as Neil Bogart. Samuel L. Jackson embodies "Godfather of Funk" bandleader George Clinton; Jason Isaacs plays Neil Bogart's father, Al Bogart; Grammy nominee Jazmine Sullivan does Gladys Knight; and Steven Strait is Gene Simmons. Stand-up comic and "The Irishman" co-star Sebastian Maniscalco embodies three-time Oscar and four-time Grammy-winning composer/songwriter and record producer Giorgio Moroder. SNL's Kenan Thompson and James Wolk also have key roles. If you've never experienced disco, you're in for a treat.
A star is reborn! Elaine Ballace has to be one of the last traditional Hollywood comedic character actresses in the vein of Ethel (Vivian Vance) in "I Love Lucy" and Gladys Kravitz (Alice Pearce) in "Bewitched." She worked extensively for Mel Brooks (who has become a friend) from 1987- 1995, in "Space Balls," "Life Stinks," "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" and "Dracula: Dead and Loving It."
She co-starred in the web series "The Rich & the Ruthless" for three seasons for former "Diagnosis Murder" and "The Young and the Restless" star Victoria Rowell, who created, executive-produced, wrote and directed the award-winning series, which has just completed season four. She also stars in the current film "Dared My Best Friend to Ruin My Life." Elaine has several films awaiting release, which have been delayed due to theater closures because of the pandemic: "Free Lunch Express," "Gaycism" and the comedy "Love Without Hairs," in which she plays a prostitute.
In her spare time, Elaine has created a little book that will inspire first-time and young writers who need a cheerleader to get them motivated to actually put their life and thoughts on paper. "How to Write a Book, Camp Elaine Style" (based on her popular web series of the same name) is basically a place to write your thoughts while homebound that you'll love sharing years later with friends and family, when we're finally out of this mess. It's not "Gone With the Wind"; it's just for fun and a great stocking stuffer, or for those people who are hard to shop for. For $24 plus shipping and handling, it could be yours. You can contact Elaine at Platzer.Media/elaine. Where was she when I was starting out?
HOLLYWOOD -- It had to happen: "The Fast and the Furious" is coming to an end. The ninth "Fast & Furious" film, "F9," will be released May 2021 if all goes as planned, to be followed by "F&F" 10 and 11, which will end the franchise. But "Fast & Furious" fans don't despair, of course there are spin-offs such as "Hobbs & Shaw" that will take up the slack.
In 1967 when I visited Hollywood, the one actor I wanted to shoot pictures of was an unknown actor earning his living as a carpenter. In 1973 he got a big break as the handsome stud riding around in a '55 Chevy in "American Graffiti." Four years later he became a star in a little-known science-fiction film called "Star Wars." Now, at 78, Harrison Ford is still going strong.
He's currently shooting the shipwreck comedy "The Miserable Adventures of Burt Squire Aboard The Horn High Yo" (bet that title gets changed), with Ed Helms, who is shipwrecked on the Atlantic Ocean with Ford, a charming but unhinged sea captain. Ford's been reveling in playing the grumpy old white-bearded stoic he says he's always been. Can you say "curmudgeon"?
Are you ready for another Peter Pan movie? The twist is that it's told from Wendy's point of view and called "The Lost Girls." Louis Partridge, the 17-year-old teen idol currently seen as Viscount Tewkesbury in Netflix's "Enola Holmes," opposite Millie Bobby Brown and Henry Cavill, plays Peter Pan as he did in 2015's "Pan" opposite Hugh Jackman.
This time he's playing opposite Oscar-winner Vanessa Redgrave and her daughter Joely Richardson, as well as "Game of Thrones'" Lain Glen as Captain Hook. Partridge is still attending his same school in Britain and maintains that his mates tease him endlessly about his success.
The 1978 sci-fi series "Battlestar Galactica," which starred Richard Hatch and Lorne Greene, and the 2000 reboot, which starred Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell, will live again as a feature film for Universal.
Not long ago we told you about the new streaming service Quibi, which raised $1.7 billion for its launch in April. Jeffrey Katzenberg thought young people would love 10-15 minute films, serialized, that they could get only on their phones. Well, he was wrong! December 1 is its last day of service. Quibi had 200 employees and amassed a subscriber list of 500,000 phones, but alas, that wasn't enough to keep the service in business. Despite major investors such as Disney, NBCUniversal, Sony, Viacom, AT&T, Warner Media, Lionsgate, MGM, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Google, they couldn't make it fly. Billion-dollar blockbusters are on big screens like IMAX, not small phone screens ... duh!
HOLLYWOOD -- What is the future of movie-going? Will we ever feel safe in a theater, watching a film, or will we settle for the biggest screens we can put into our homes? If the many streaming platforms have their way, they'll buy up big films that were postponed from release because of the pandemic. "Wonder Woman 1984," the 007 epic "Die Another Day," "A Quiet Place: 2" and "Top Gun: Maverick" all pushed their theater openings back. The Eddie Murphy/Arsenio Hall "Coming to America" sequel threw in the towel altogether and was scooped up by Amazon Prime as a streaming Christmas present for its subscribers. Reportedly, Amazon paid $125 million for the privilege.
Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos revealed that pandemic precautions are actually saving them money: "Cutting shooting times on the sets of series, such as the currently shooting 'The Witcher' and 'Sex Education,' are running more efficiently as people adapt to new ways of working. Actually, people are not falling prey to pre-pandemic illnesses such as flu because sets are better run, with fewer people, which keeps the trains running on time." Netflix also started shooting Jason Momoa's "Slumberland," with Chris O'Dowd and Kyle Chandler of "Friday Night Lights."
In 1983 I was asked to shoot some female stars of "The Young and the Restless" at Chippendales, which featured a revue of muscular male dancers stripping down to a G-string. I was told to have the photos approved by the owner of the club, Steve Banerjee, who liked my photos so much that he asked me to work for him. But he thought I would jump at the chance to work for $25 a show, which of course, even in 1983 was ridiculous. I already knew that he was a shady character who you couldn't trust. His choreographer and partner, Nick De Noia, had been married to actress Jennifer O'Neill (of "The Summer of '42").
Now director Craig Gillespie ("I, Tonya" and the upcoming Disney film "Cruella") has cast Dev Patel as Banerjee and Ben Stiller as De Noia. Banerjee was later accused of De Noia's murder, and he hung himself in his jail cell while awaiting sentencing. I was wise to steer clear of those people.
"The Lost City of D," a "Romancing the Stone"-style film, will reteam Oscar-winner Sandra Bullock and "Deadpool" star Ryan Reynolds, who haven't worked together since 2009's "The Proposal."
Ewan McGregor will star in the title role of the Disney+ single season six-episode series "Obi-Wan Kenobi." It's set eight years after "Revenge of the Sith" and 11 years before "A New Hope." Wanna bet it goes more than one season and six episodes? After all, "The Force" is with it!
HOLLYWOOD -- There's no denying that one of the greatest films of all time is 1972's "The Godfather," which received 10 Oscar nominations and won Oscars for: best picture; best actor, Marlon Brando; and best adapted screenplay, Mario Puzo (who wrote the original book) and Francis Ford Coppola (who also directed the film). It grossed $287 million. Three years later "The Godfather II" won four Oscars for: best picture; supporting actor, Robert DeNiro; again for best adapted screenplay for Puzo and Coppola; and best director, Francis Ford Coppola. It grossed $80 million. But when 1990's "Godfather III" was released, the bloom must have been off the blossom, winning no Oscars but still besting "Godfather II" grosses with $137 million.
Director Barry Levinson, who directed "Diner" (1978), "The Natural" (1982), "Good Morning Vietnam" (1987), "Bugsy" (1991) and "Rain Man" (1991), for which he won a best director Oscar, is directing "Francis and the Godfather." Oscar Isaac ("Star Wars'" Poe Dameron), will play Francis Ford Coppola and Jake Gyllenhaal has been cast as Robert Evans, the former actor who was the head of Paramount Pictures, the studio that made "The Godfather" films.
Levinson will soon be announcing actors to play Marlon Brando, James Caan, Robert Duvall and Diane Keaton, among others. When Marlon Brando won his Oscar, he sent American Indian Sacheen Littlefeather to accept his award and deliver a message about the plight of the American Indian. Brando went on to make epic films such as "Last Tango in Paris" (1972), "Missouri Breaks" (1976), "Superman" (1978) and "Apocalypse Now" (1979) (directed by Francis Ford Coppola) and his last film, "Superman Returns" (2006). Levinson redeveloped this screenplay, which was based on a Black List script, but that's another story among the many to be told about the making of "The Godfather."
When asked what he thought of Barry Levinson making this film, Coppola said, "Any movie Barry Levinson makes about anything will be interesting and worthwhile!"
Ricky Martin, who hasn't made a film since 2018's "The Assassination of Gianni Versace," in which he played Antonio D' Amico (Versace's lover), is shooting Netflix's Nov. 13 release of "Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey," a live-action musical film with Keegan-Michael Key, Phylicia Rashad and Forest Whitaker, who plays a toymaker Jeronicus Jangle, whose prize creation is stolen. It will feature original songs by "The Voice" judge and EGOT member (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award winner) John Legend, Philip Lawrence and Davy Nathan, and includes "This Day," performed by Usher and Kiana Lede.
Ricky Martin plays Don Juan Diego, a devious 12-inch matador. If he doesn't sing in this one, it will be a bunch of bull!
HOLLYWOOD -- Zac Efron's reboot of the late '80s TV series "Baywatch" (2017) grossed $178 million, thanks to teaming him with Dwayne Johnson. But his first starring film, "Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil And Vile," tanked, earning only $9.8 million. Next he'll need to be teamed with two male stars for the remake of "Three Men and a Baby" (1987), which earned $240 million thanks to Tom Selleck, Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg. Then Efron will topline the remake of Stephen King's "Fire Starter" (1984), which -- despite Oscar winners George C. Scott, Art Carney and Louise Fletcher, plus Drew Barrymore, Martin Sheen, Heather Locklear and David Keith -- pulled in only $19 million at the box office. The question is: Will Efron's fan base be strong enough to make these films successful?
Don't think Angelina Jolie has been distracted fighting Brad Pitt for custody of their kids, because she's been busy making films. "The One and Only Ivan" was released by Disney in late August, with Bryan Cranston and the voices of Jolie, Sam Rockwell, Chaka Kahn, Helen Mirren and Danny DeVito. That will be followed by "Come Away," with Michael Caine and David Oyelowo, based on "Alice In Wonderland" and "Peter Pan." Next up is the neo-Western thriller "Those Who Wish Me Dead," with Nicholas Hoult and Tyler Perry, and Marvel's "The Eternals," with Salma Hayek, Richard Madden, Kit Harrington and Kumail Nanjiani, which has been pushed back to Nov. 5, 2021, because of the pandemic.
"The times they are a changing!" Imagine if the Bible and the Torah were combined to create one entity to make their religions stronger. Once upon a time there were two powerful show business daily bibles in Hollywood: Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. Because most magazines were going out of business, The Hollywood Reporter became a weekly in 2010 and Variety became a weekly in 2013 so they could survive.
Now, as newsstands disappear and both publications have become mostly online entities, they have joined forces with Billboard, Rolling Stone, Vibe, Deadline, Indie Wire and WWD (Woman's Wear Daily) under one company, PMC, and will present new TV, film and live events. The combination of a suite of publications fighting for the same audience may help them survive the pandemic, which saw advertising evaporate because films, award shows and events were canceled.
Chris Hemsworth's Netflix film "Extraction" did so well that Netflix signed him to star in the future-themed film "Spiderhead" (written by "Deadpool" writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick), with "Friday Night Lights" and "Birds of Prey" star Jurnee Smollett and Miles Teller (due soon in "Top Gun: Maverick"). Then Hemsworth shoots the next "Thor" installment, "Thor: Love and Thunder," for a February 2022 release. Do you love him, or his hammer?
HOLLYWOOD -- This year's Oscar winner, Brad Pitt (for "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"), has finally settled on his next acting gig. He'll be playing an assassin in "Bullet Train," based on the Japanese novel by Maria Beetle. The gossip mill is saying that the 56-year-old, eternally youthful-looking star is dating 27-year-old model Nicole Poturalski. An unknown source supposedly close to Brad reveals, "Brad has absolutely no plans, nor any desire to get married again; Brad doesn't want a girlfriend he's with every day." We'd believe that, but what would we do with last month's rumors about him getting back together with Jennifer Aniston after their virtual table reading of "Fast Times at Ridgemont High"?
Have you been wondering where Madonna has been? She's been planning a film biography of herself. The "Evita" Golden Globe-winning actress has teamed with the Oscar-winning screenwriter of "Juno," Diablo Cody, on a screenplay about the singing superstar's life that Madonna will direct herself. She confesses, "The focus of the film will always be music. Music has kept me going and art has kept me alive. There are so many untold and inspiring stories, and who better to tell them than me? It's essential to share the roller coaster ride of my life with my voice and vision." It'll be interesting to see how she sees herself!
In this era of superhero and IMAX epics, we are going to be treated to Oscar-winners Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Coleman in "The Father." Their screen time together will be magic. Hopkins, in the title role, essays a man suffering mental deterioration due to his old age. As Variety explains: "It places us in the mind of someone losing his mind -- and does so by revealing that mind to be a place of seemingly rational and coherent experience." The film debuted at Sundance earlier this year and will be released in most major markets on Christmas Day.
Chris Hemsworth has no plans to give up his hammer anytime soon. After four stints as "Thor," he admits, "Thor is far too young, he's only 1,500 years old. It's definitely not goodbye to the brand!"
If you haven't seen Henry Goulding (who became a star because of "Crazy Rich Asians") and Emilia Clarke (of "Game of Thrones") in "Last Christmas," it's worth downloading. There's an amazing twist that you will not see coming. Goulding is filming "Snake Eyes," a prequel to the "G.I. Joe" franchise, due in October 2021. Meanwhile, Clarke and former "Doctor Who" Matt Clark have been seen together around London and could be a romantic item.
First there was "Blackish, then "Mixed-ish and "Grown-ish" and now there will be a fourth ABC spinoff, "Old-ish." It stars Laurence Fishburne and Jennifer Lewis, reprising their roles as Earl "Pops" Johnson and Ruby Johnson as they give love a second chance. What's next? "Divorce-ish!"
HOLLYWOOD -- Movie theaters are trying to figure out the best way to reopen. Will people still be afraid to go to a theater without knowing if the ventilation will filter out COVID-19? One way, of course, is drive-in movie theaters. However, it appears that moviemakers and studios think the way to get people back into theaters is with superhero films.
Ben Affleck played Batman in "Batman v Superman" (2016), in an unbilled appearance in "Suicide Squad" (2016) and in "Justice League" (2017). Between 2014 and 2015, he was set to direct, co-write and star in "The Batman," but he decided to bow out of the project. This year the reason came to light when Affleck admitted to having a drinking problem. "The Batman" moved on without him, and Batman is now being played by Robert Pattinson. Filming began in January 2020, and they shot one quarter of the film before shooting was suspended March 25 due to COVID-19. Shooting recommenced this month.
But Affleck isn't done playing Batman; he's before the cameras in the new "Flash" film being directed by Matt Reeves. Michael Keaton, Batman in Tim Burton's 1980 and 1992 films, also has been cast in the new "Flash" flick. "The Flash" is Ezra Miller, the 27-year-old co-star of "Perks of a Wallflower" (2012), "Trainwreck" (2015), the two "Fantastic Beasts" films (2016, 2018) and "Justice League (2017).
The sequel of "Suicide Squad" (which grossed almost $1 billion), will have Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman and Jai Courtney returning, as well as new additions Idris Elba (originally cast to replace Will Smith as Dead Shot, but now in a new character instead), Alice Braga, Nathan Fillion, Pete Davidson, John Cena and former "Doctor Who" Peter Capaldi.
Another sequel coming is "Shazam! Fury of the Gods" (the 2019 original grossed $365 million), starring Zachary Levi and comedian Sinbad. And not to be left out, Mr. Top Box Office, Dwayne Johnson, is set for the DC feature film "Black Adam," which also will star Superman himself, Henry Cavill. "The Rock" issued a message for existing DC superheroes Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg: "Let them know something ... things will never be the same, the hierarchy in the DC Universe ... it's about to change."
Speaking of superheroes, Oprah Winfey has decided to declare Election Day Nov. 3 a paid holiday for her employees at "OWN." She feels they should have the day off to deal with voting, and she's challenged industry companies to make it a paid holiday, too. You know she won't stop until it's a national holiday. Will that be every four years, like leap year? Stay tuned.
HOLLYWOOD -- For years, filmmakers have added bits of legal nudity to spice up their movies. So why not just throw the movies away and make a movie with the best and most controversial nude scenes? It's called "Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies." Among the films that nudity has been taken from are "Last Tango in Paris," "The Blue Lagoon," "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," "Blow-Up," "Caligula," "Vixen" and "Ecstasy." Among the dozens of actors and directors providing commentary are: Linda Blair, Peter Bogdanovich, Bruce Davison, Pam Greer, Traci Lords, Malcolm McDowell, Sylvia Miles, Marilyn Monroe (archive footage), Eric Roberts, Mamie Van Doren and Sean Young. They threw the movies away and kept the sexy parts for 130 minutes of "Skin"!
From ridiculous to sublime ... "Army of the Dead," the sequel to the zombie movie "Dawn of the Dead" (2004), starring Dave Bautista, about a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas with the backdrop of a mercenary heist of a Vegas casino, was completed before COVID-19 hit. But since comedian Chris D'Elia, a co-star of the film, is facing accusations of sexual harassment of underage girls, he has been replaced -- scene for scene -- by comedienne Tig Notaro.
"Captain America" Chris Evans and "La La Land" Oscar-nominee Ryan Gosling are joining forces to star in the Netflix action thriller "Gray Man," based on the bestselling book by Mark Greaney. Gosling plays an ex-CIA operative who becomes a killer for hire pursued by his former colleague Evans. Kind of curious that Gosling's last three projects have "man" in their title: "First Man," "The Wolfman" and "Gray Man."
Two Asian TV series stars whose shows have ended -- Daniel Dae Kim ("Hawaii Five-0") and Randall Park ("Fresh Off the Boat") -- have been friends for years and have looked for a project where they can work together. They finally got their wish and played opposite each other in Netflix's "Always Be My Maybe." In addition to recurring roles in "New Amsterdam," as Dr. Cassian Shin, and "Flack," as Gabriel Cole, Kim stars with Anna Kendrick and Toni Collette in the upcoming science-fiction thriller "Stowaway." As for Park, he plays the school principal in the remake of "Valley Girl," with Jessica Rothe and Josh Whitehouse, which was released in May on Amazon Prime.
Kelsey Grammer returned to shooting "Miss Willoughby and the Haunted Bookshop" in England with Natalie Cox ("Kingdom of Heaven") in mid-July with strict COVID-19 guidelines, and he admits, "This has been a terrific experience, a wonderful creative process." At this point, working anywhere is a terrific experience!
Can you guess who is the highest paid actor in films for a second year in a row? "The Rock" of ages, Dwayne Johnson, pulled in $87.5 million, including his pay for the film he's currently shooting, "Red Notice," for which he received $23.5 million. It co-stars Ryan Reynolds, who pulled in $20 million for the same film, for a 2020 income of $71.5 million. Third place at $58 million belongs to Mark Wahlberg, currently working on "Spencer Underground."
They're followed on the Forbes list by No. 4. Ben Affleck, at $54 million; No. 5 Vin Diesel, $54 million; No. 6 Bollywood star Akshay Kumar, with $48.5 million; No. 7. Lin-Manuel Miranda, with $45.5 million; No. 8. Will Smith, at $44.5 million; No. 9 Adam Sandler, with $41 million; and at No. 10, Jackie Chan, with $40 million. What they all have in common is that they produce their own films and films for others. Lin-Manuel had the $75 million sale of "Hamilton" to Disney, and Adam Sandler has starred in and produced a slew of films for Netflix.
The list for women hasn't been released yet, but in 2019 the No. 1 female earner was Scarlett Johansson at $56 million, followed by Sofia Vergara at $44 million and Reese Witherspoon with $35 million.
Speaking of Will Smith, he will be the executive producer of the reboot of the "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air," his TV series that ran from 1990-1996. It will probably land at HBOMax, since the service is streaming the original series. Smith also is executive producer of "Life in a Year," which stars his son Jaden, Cara Delevingne, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Nia Long.
The 1982 film "Tron" starred Jeff Bridges and was a modest success, costing $17 million to make and grossing $50 million. In 2010, Bridges returned, after winning a best actor Oscar the year before for "Crazy Heart," to make the sequel, "Tron: Legacy," which grossed $400 million. Now comes word we're going to have another "Tron," this one to star Jared Leto and be called "Tron: Ares." But first we'll see his American crime thriller "The Little Things," opposite Denzel Washington and Rami Malek, opening Jan. 29, and the superhero film "Morbius," co-starring ("Doctor Who's") Matt Smith, due March 19.
Are you ready for a "Three Men and a Baby" sequel? The 1987 original starred Tom Selleck, Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg. It grossed $240 million, which prompted a sequel, "Three Men and a Little Lady" (1990), which didn't do as well, grossing only $72 million. Even so, it's coming, this time as a vehicle for Zac Efron, whose last film was "Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile," which grossed only $10.5 for Netflix. With that title, they were lucky to make that!
* Five ways to keep yourself from turning up the thermostat this winter: Put on a sweater; have a nice bowl of soup or stew; wear slippers or thick nonskid socks, grab a comfy blanket; snuggle up with someone special.
* "If you bathe in a tub, try rubbing on bath oil before getting in the tub. You will get greater coverage and more moisturizing power from your bath oil. And at this time of year, who doesn't need that?" -- M.E. in Washington
* "Here's a great way to use Christmas cards from last year: Trace a child's hand on the back of the pictures. Cut them out and use them to make a wreath for the front door. Or, make small jigsaw puzzles for young children to play with. Any good, detailed artwork on a card front will do. Make squiggly lines in the fashion of a jigsaw puzzle, then cut out. It helps if the cardstock is good and thick." -- M.M. in Utah
* "To keep light bulbs from sticking in the socket, apply petroleum jelly to the base of the bulb before screwing it into the fixture." -- B.D. in Virginia
* Here's an oldie but a goodie: Add a few drops of water to votive cups before adding a candle. The wax will float on the water, and when the candle burns down, it won't get stuck in the votive glass.
* "Burned rice? No problem. While it's still hot, carefully remove to a new pot any rice not browned or blackened. Then top it with a single slice of white bread. Allow it to sit for several minutes under a tightly fitted lid. The burned smell is absorbed by the bread, and the rice is fit to eat." -- M.U. in Michigan
* "At a home center recently, I saw a zip-up bag to store artificial Christmas trees in. This bag looked like luggage, with wheels on one end. I have purchased two, and I use them under my bed to store off-season clothes. I can pull the handle and they wheel right out, and I no longer have to get down on the ground and tug them out as I used to do. It's a back saver." -- I.W. via email
* If you get a scratch in a white enamel sink or other white enamel surface, try touching it up with white fingernail polish.
* "Try soaking an ink stain in rubbing alcohol for a few minutes before putting the garment in the wash." (Test first on a scrap.) -- B.D. in Virginia
* "If you have a picture frame that just won't stay straight, cut the eraser tip off of a pencil and glue the flat (not the domed) side to the back of your frame at the bottom. For stubborn frames, use one at each corner. Then re-hang. Once you situate it on the wall, the erasers keep the frame from slipping to either side. It works great." -- R.I. in California
* Don't just move dust around with that feather duster. Reserve it for dusting delicate items in a designated space (outdoors, preferably). Get a microfiber cleaning cloth instead. It catches dust and holds it.
* To make your own special flavor of coffee creamer, use a pint of fat-free or low-fat half and half and add the extract or spices of your choice. Some ideas: peppermint extract, chocolate syrup, almond extract, cinnamon, nutmeg or vanilla extract.
* This is a wonderful tip received via e-mail: If you have a panic button for your car alarm, keep your keys by the bedside. If you experience a problem during the night, trip the panic alarm. Let your trusted neighbors know about your intention, and they will be able to assist you.
* "Great gravy is only a plastic bag away! This is my tip for separating the fat from pan drippings to make gravy. I take a quart-size plastic bag and set it in a glass measuring cup. Pour the pan drippings through a strainer, right into the bag. Let it sit for 15-20 minutes, and the fat will separate to the top. Seal the bag, and snip a small hole in a bottom corner, drain the liquid into a saucepan to make gravy. It's that easy." -- T.C. in Idaho
* Whenever I am baking and the recipe calls for, say, 1 cup of honey (or some other sticky substance), I used to pour the honey into the measuring cup but then have a hard time getting all the honey back out of the cup and into the mixing bowl. Now I rinse the measuring cup with water right before measuring, or spray with nonstick cooking spray. It slides right out!
* To create a self-watering area for potted plants while you are on vacation, set plants in the bathtub or in a kiddie pool and use a length of cotton rope to wick water from the bathtub to the plant's roots. You can either stick it up the holes in the bottom of the pot or dig it down a few inches into the soil. This should get you by for a week or so.
* If you have a table that's wobbly because of an uneven leg, and you are a wine drinker, you're in luck. Take a wine cork, cut it in small slices and glue the slices to the uneven leg until the table no longer wobbles. Easy!
* Yard sales sponsored by churches and other charities can be a great source of bargains, especially at this time of year. Since they are a fundraiser, usually with donated items, they are motivated to sell, even if it's at a lower price. Oftentimes you can get items that still have tags, which make great gifts.
* "If your toothpaste is almost done, just snip off the top and dip your brush in the container. There's usually more in the tube." -- T.D. in Kentucky
* If someone has written on your dry erase board with a permanent marker, try writing over it with a dry erase marker. Sometimes this works to remove the permanent marker.
* Wrap a bit of tape sticky side out around a straightened-out paper clip. You can GENTLY put it in the headphone jack to get out lint that is otherwise inaccessible. Also, keep a lint-free cloth that comes with glasses handy to clean the screen of your smartphone.
* "If you are inundated by paper, here are some things you can do to at least stem the tide: First, if you can't bear to shred something because you think it might be important, scan it first. If you're the kind of person who prints out and saves things like online bill payment receipts, print to PDF and save it electronically." -- W.L. in Illinois
* "It's really annoying when I put a shirt on or take one off and I get foundation on the collar. When that happens, I use shaving cream to remove it. After removing the garment, I squirt a dollop of shaving cream on the stain and rub it in. Sometimes I try to use a paper towel to remove some of it before I put it in the washer. Always check it before you put it in the dryer!" -- L.M. in Washington
* Remember to turn off bathroom fans after 10 minutes. In the winter, if your house is on the dry side, don't use the fan at all: Open the door so the humidity from the shower or bath reaches into the house.
* "To remove the skin from salmon, I freeze it and skin it while frozen. The skin comes off much easier, and I waste less of the fish. I buy a large piece and parcel it into several smaller pieces, since it's just me. I like salmon, and it's healthy for me!" -- L.A. in Florida
* Need extra dishware or servingware for a holiday meal? Try looking at secondhand stores for large dishes, serving utensils and more. It's sometimes cheaper than getting throwaways, and it's better for the environment! You can always donate them again after the holidays.
* Here's a makeup tip from Captain Obvious: Wet your beauty blender. I didn't know this and had been using it for about a month before my sister told me. So much better! -- V.A. in Florida
* Freeze fruit that is on the verge of spoiling rather than letting it go to waste. You don't even have to use it for smoothies. Chuck a handful of frozen fruit in water or iced tea for added flavor. And it's a superb addition to fancy cocktails.
* "Quick sewing tip: Check your fabric's stretch direction before you lay out your pieces. You'll thank me later." -- E.F. in Missouri
* "I find it helpful to set calendar reminders on my phone for working out and meal prepping. I have to treat it like a job so that I'll do it. Thought that might help other people who struggle." -- S.O. in Wyoming
* "Those hide-a-key rocks can be a little obvious -- at least they are to me. I have a spare key hidden outside too, but I sealed mine in a plastic baggie and buried it in a spot known only to our family members. Also, it's not right by the door." -Ð I.E. in Mississippi
* Home office motivation: Preplan your outfits for daily success. When it's all too easy to roll out of bed and log on without a thought, it might help your productivity to prepare for the workday as you would have in the time of commutes and conferences. The right wardrobe choices can help you set the tone for the day.
* "When closing up our cabin for the season, we brought a box of mothballs and scattered them around the porch perimeter. This keeps the small animals like mice and skunks from setting up shop there while no one is around." -- S.F. in Pennsylvania
* Now's a great time to start weatherstripping! Check and recaulk windows. Caulk along baseboards to deter drafts. Add insulation to electrical outlets and under sinks around plumbing. Seal it up to stay toasty this winter.
* "When temperatures fall where I live, outside exercise becomes preferred. We all know to drink lots of fluids in the blazing heat of summer, but it's important to plan your hydration when extreme sweating isn't the norm. You still need to replace fluids for optimal performance." -- T.D. in Florida
* If you are looking after baby kittens that are bottle feeding, when you handle the kittens, wear pants and long sleeves. Tiny kitten nails are like razor blades they are so sharp! And of course, they love to climb up on you to get your attention.
* "While my family is still participating in virtual learning, it's important that we recognize some structure. This means preparing -- or at least planning -- lunch meals ahead of time. Our house is small, and one of us is near the kitchen. This saves us two to three periods of someone banging around in the kitchen being disruptive." -- E. in Florida
* "Want to be more organized in your home cleaning? It seems many people want to have a cleaner, more organized home but get overwhelmed when putting it into practice. Start by creating a cleaning schedule that breaks down jobs into a list incorporating tasks to be done daily, weekly and even monthly or quarterly. It takes the 'if I can't do everything I'll just do nothing' factor out of play." -- J.M. in Pennsylvania
* A bathroom squeegee can help eliminate water spots before they form on your shower doors. Hang one in your shower.
* If you haven't worn an item in six months (of its seasonality), it's time to let it go. That's been the Golden Rule for as long as I can remember. I was asked recently, Does it apply this year? I think now, like always, is a good time to look critically at your overall summer wardrobe, but I would add "opportunity" to the caveats. Meaning, if you haven't worn it because you have not had an opportunity you otherwise would have had, save it. Those work clothes will be important again! -- JoAnn
* Cooking a recipe with garlic and onions to start? Invite me to dinner! But first, remember to let the onions cook to nearly translucent before adding the garlic, which cooks much faster. If you put both in at the same time, the garlic will burn before the onions have a chance to deepen their flavor.
* Automatic toilets are great for not having to touch the handles, but they can be scary for kids -- and some adults too, if I'm being honest. Try putting a sticky note over the sensor so that it will not flush until you take it off, giving you some control.
* "For chores, I write tasks on sticky notes and put them up on our family board. The kids choose the things they want to do, and when they are done to my satisfaction I sign their ticket. At the end of the week, they can bring me the tickets to pay out. This is for extra money, so they don't have to do it; I don't have to chase them, and I don't have to keep track of it either." -- E.L. in Montana
* Every so often, use a very diluted bleach solution to rinse out your reusable water bottles. Put them on a bottle rack to air dry completely before sealing them back up.
* "I use the same grip tape that my son uses for his baseball bat on my hand tools, like my hammer and pry bar. I also have used it on my lawn tools. It makes a nice barrier that stays put." -- C.R. in South Carolina
* Things you should wash with soap and water more often than you think: hairbrushes, eyeglasses (and sunglasses) and keychains. Think about how often they get handled and how infrequently they get cleaned.
* "In my shop, I have stored small bits of hardware in baby-food jars. They were all on a shelf together, and when I needed one, I would have to move bottles around until I found the right one. I took a piece of 1-by-4 and cut it into 2-foot sections. Then I glued the bottoms of the bottles in a row to the wood. Now, they still sit on the shelf, but all I have to do is slide the 1-by-4s out and find the right jar. I can still see in the sides, and it makes them so much easier to deal with." -- J.N in Missouri
* "My child has so many toys that they were starting to take over his room and our house. We got three big plastic storage tubs and distributed the toys among them. Now the rule is that only one tub can be open at a time, so if he wants to play with other toys, he must pick up all the toys from the tub he is playing with first. It has made such a difference since the house gets picked up at least once a day." -- C.I. in Tennessee
* Here's a boating safety tip: Make sure you check the weather before you head out for a day on the water. And everyone needs a life vest, large or small!
* "Lots of people are selling things online now to make a few bucks, and that's cool. I know I have things I've picked up that I don't use. Why not make a little money? Here's a tip though: Do a little research on price for your item. You want to avoid listing it for too much (no interest) or too little (yes, it gets snapped up quickly, but you could have gotten more for it). A little homework goes a long way." -- C.A. in Florida
* No red wine for your recipe? You can substitute an equal amount of grape juice or beef broth in most recipes.
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