The Good Moral and Natural Philosophy of the Afterlife ‘Place’ {Guest Post by Madison Ward}

PHOTO:  NBC.com

PHOTO:  NBC.com

Introduction: Madison is our entertainment guru, keeping us up to date on the latest books, TV shows, and movies. She loves to cover pop culture and I'm glad to have her voice in this capacity.

{This post written by Madison Ward, Superstar Intern}

I do not recall how my preschool teacher decided to first explain the afterlife, but I remember at that point in time thinking that heaven was a bowl of m&m’s. A big, giant glass bowl of m&m’s on a long wooden table, with me sitting at the head. I am not sure how this image was put in my mind, if my teacher mentioned an m&m’s bowl as an example, or, at that point in time, I was just really feeling m&m’s and felt they represented a satisfying “heaven” for me.

Whatever the reason, my thoughts changed as I grew older. Heaven became less a place, a room, or a table, and more an intangible existence. Many people have tried to understand the possibilities of the afterlife, but as the possibilities are infinite, I have found myself detached from that sort of constant guessing game. I don’t know what the afterlife will bring, I don’t know how we will be judged or if we will be judged, but it is occasionally interesting to study other people’s hypotheses.

A couple months ago, I decided to watch the new show The Good Place, which was an unexpected delight for me and a large bundle of those interesting hypotheses. It looked easy and fun; I wasn’t sure of its quality, but then I wasn’t sure about The Office either before I started that and I constantly rewatch it now.

Not only was The Good Place hilariously charming and undoubtedly creative, it was enlightening and teaches me concepts in very receivable terms every time I watch it.

The cast is amazing. Manny Jacinto, who plays Jianyu/Jason Mendoza has also been in an episode of The Good Doctor and is incredibly good at staying in character, a very stupidly funny character at that. Jameela Jamil, who plays Tahani Al-Jimal, has never acted before in a TV show and has already mastered social gestures and emotional tics as signs of low-key reactions in every episode. William Jackson Harper, who plays Chidi Anagonye, has perfected being a constant irksome, and yet extremely relatable, nerd and continues to surprise with his adaptability handling concepts of moral philosophy and responses to inappropriate humor.

The show, in all, seems like any other late-night comedy on NBC, but has gone further with actually nurturing some key ideas of philosophy and controversial scenarios, similar to The Good Doctor, but in a way that I can actually use as a reference for my AP Literature class for our analysis of the novel Frankenstein.

Romanticism is a big theme of the book and the weight of nature and its inevitable impact can be traced back to Locke, Kant, and other such philosophers, who have also been highlighted throughout episodes of The Good Place. Kristen Bell is the final character of the human quad, Eleanor, and draws on the concept of pushing these natural moral and ethical limits, trying to change after death, and trying to be defined post-judgement.

In the show The Good Place, Heaven isn’t a thing. Not really. Neither is Hell. There is The Good Place and there is The Bad Place and every single act or decision a human makes on earth has a point value like stocks: negative 3.126, positive 7.452, etc., until they ultimately have hundreds or thousands or millions of positive or negative values, or in between, though since this afterlife is strict, the in between is basically negative.

The show does pull from traditional ideas, but is known for tricks and twists that will make you doubt everything you thought you knew. It is a new favorite of all my friends and family who had time to try it out for themselves and a new outlook to an immortal question. What happens when we die?

A bowl of m&m’s will wait for our consumption, if there even is consumption in the afterlife. A neighborhood of positive or negative point-getters will house our souls, socializing for the endless amount of time every death results in. Or a resurrection such as Frankenstein if we are so cursed and evolved by then.

Whatever the case, this show has made me lighter and brighter, literally and mentally. Little brain power is required, but much curiosity and the acknowledgement of potential outcomes nurture our little minds to doubt and to hope, to see the reality of our actions, but also the ability to conquer our predicaments, even if those predicaments may be ourselves.

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The Good Doctor: Better-Than-Good TV {Guest post by Madison Ward}

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Introduction: Madison is our entertainment guru, keeping us up to date on the latest books, TV shows, and movies. She loves to cover pop culture and I'm glad to have her voice in this capacity.

{This post written by Madison Ward, Superstar Intern}

I can unequivocally and undeniably state that I am not a fan of Bates Motel.

It may have something to do with the creepiness or the incest or the lack of comfort it provides. Of course, it is supposed to make your skin crawl and I’m sure it is much more dynamic and has various layered meaning within all the uneasiness, but I will not take part in that.

The main character is played by Freddie Highmore and he has recently started with another TV show, The Good Doctor, as an autistic surgeon named Dr. Shaun Murphy. Because I am a stubborn person, I ashamedly was convinced that Highmore’s past acting roles would affect what this new show means and create another uncomfortable, creepy late-night watch. Unknowingly initiated into watching it with my family one night in the living room, I was immediately proven wrong.

The Good Doctor is an ABC medical drama that is derived from an earlier television series created in South Korea. It focuses on a doctor with autism being hired as a surgeon at a hospital; he is wracked with not only doubt in his ability, but challenge to his already limited chances as an autistic individual. Sentimental, but also inherently political with doctors challenging and questioning one another and their actions, the series tests the waters of prejudice and expectation and the remarkable and/or understandable reality of outliers, of irregular intangibles.

Though Dr. Shaun Murphy is autistic, he is extremely high-functioning along with a lot of other miraculous attributes to create a condition that results in an almost perfect attitude and intelligence in a surgical setting, possibly a bit on the more extreme side. There were/are concerns of him being unemotional and/or uncompassionate to the already anxious and terrified patients surgeons have to deal with, and this may be true, but his ‘cold-heartedness’ in the field also results in a completely unbiased, fact-minded individual driven by the organs on the table, not the heart in particular.

This is not to say that Shaun doesn’t feel anything. As said above, this show is not overtly sentimental, but displays emotion in a way people are less familiar recognizing. The characters in the show try to navigate this with him as well, not being able to fully relate, which causes confusion, doubt, and bias. In many situations in life--race, gender, and now disabilities--this misunderstanding has held back various groups of people for ridiculous amounts of time. What is believed to be limitations can also open up amazing opportunities for other development, and Shaun is a perfect example of that.

Freddie Highmore plays Dr. Shaun Murphy perfectly, and he is not the only cast member who has piqued my interest. This show is supposed to be kind of like a new and improved Grey’s Anatomy, but where that show was yummily encased in romantic trysts and social disasters, The Good Doctor steadies a firmer hand on the hierarchy of the political wheel and how characters each, differently, choose to navigate through this medical path. Characters Dr. Neil Melendez, Claire Brown, Jared Kalu, Marcus Andrews, Aaron Glassman, Jessica Preston, and Allegra Aoki all do a fantastic job at making me hate and love them at the same time.

This may seem unpleasant and confusing for most, but viewers typically don’t want a character they can always trust in or one that will always deceive them. Characters grow, and if one is perfect or a disaster the entire time, then there is no development. These developments are placed periodically throughout the show/movie’s journey; what this show does is reflect on controversial decision making throughout every episode, constantly testing the characters’ priorities and morals, which is understandable. Even the people I hate more than others, have situational circumstances or motives that I can see and relate to why and begrudgingly accept the result.

There is no perfect answer in decision making, especially in surgical scenarios, just like the trolley problem. Let’s say you’re steering a trolley which has lost its brakes on a track that ends in two different paths, one with one person, the other with five. Which path would you chose to run over? That one person may be your spouse or Mother Teresa or could be a bank robber or a serial killer, same with the five on the other path. Who do you decide to kill? Whose lives are you risking and somehow have the unfair control over? The Good Doctor does a noteworthy job of complimenting the wavering circumstances with the resulting imperfect decisions, through the values and heart of the characters that made it, and what becomes of it all.

Though this show seems increasingly intense as I continue ranting, with characters stepping on toes and breaking hearts of a poor autistic dude in the process, combined with biology and probability, the directors create a surprisingly humorous atmosphere to the very serious issue of disability and sickly patients. They even play on The Boys Next Door and allow Shaun’s dialogue to be hilariously unintentional, insulting superiors and blatantly proving others wrong. All the doctors are extremely gifted at comebacks and continuously leave me reeling from the quick wit with which they challenge each other’s positions.

The winter finale for the first half of the show ended on December 4th and will return in 2018. This show has become an immediate success for ABC, and after only the first two episodes, received so much attention they added five more episodes, making it an 18-episode first season (commonly unheard of!). Humbling me and shutting down prejudice, whether it be on cast preference or autism ignorance, The Good Doctor will hopefully be around for a very long time to beat people upside the head with open debate on controversial beliefs and actions based on those beliefs.

(P.S. I also watched The Good Place right after I caught up with this, and the ‘Good’ is an understatement in both their titles! Makes me want to try The Good Wife.)

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Roller Coaster Thrills: the Stinger

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When I was a teenager, I loved roller coasters. Fidgeting with anticipation, I’d wait in long lines for the Vortex, The Beast, and the Racer. Later, I stopped enjoying roller coasters after an unrelated neck injury, and once I had my son, my risk tolerance decreased significantly.

It was when I started writing about cars that I rediscovered my love for sharp turns, surprising twists, and spins. That sharp intake of breath when you stop, hard. The laughter that bubbles up when the turn squeals the tires and your whole body shifts to the side. It’s flying down a hill, your stomach suspended.

#StingerIsHere

Women who love to drive: Alice Chase, Fadra Nally, Me, Meagan Shamy, and Stacie Connerty. 

Women who love to drive: Alice Chase, Fadra Nally, Me, Meagan Shamy, and Stacie Connerty

Kia staged a course for their new Stinger along the windy route in the Angeles National Forest Highway, finishing in the oversized parking lot at Magic Mountain, the Six Flags amusement park in Visalia, California. The loops and steep hills of steel roller coaster tracks created a beautiful, thrilling backdrop to a beautiful, thrilling vehicle.

The manufacturer says the Stinger is a throwback to the muscle cars of the 70s; the driving event was chock-full of 1970s references from the color scheme to the play list in the lounge when we arrived at the Garland Hotel. To put a cherry on top, the Brady Bunch house was a short walk away, and you can bet I walked down there and took a picture with my friend Alice in front of that landmark.

The drama of the Stinger is evident in the marketing materials, videos, and in the voices of the brand representatives. It’s clear that Kia is ecstatic about this car. There seems to be a new spring in their step, and rightly so: the Stinger, in all of its glary, can compete as a performance car against some of the top sport sedans in its class. Kia’s vision was a performance vehicle that could “fit two couples and their things, to arrive in style at a fabulous location, and to also do it incredibly rapidly, ride comfortably, and with a lot of speed.”

Created with Adrenaline and Euphoria

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Kia tested the Stinger for over 6000 miles on the Nürburgring in Germany for speed, did braking runs in the Austrian Alps, completed winter testing near the Arctic Circle in Sweden, and tested its heat tolerance in the Mojave Desert. All in all, the Stinger went through over one million miles of testing around the world.

The promotional video set my heart racing; I could feel the smile spread across my face. The words they used were thrilling: Adrenaline. Anticipation. Euphoria. Exhilaration. Passion. The smile on the face of the designer, ex-Audi head designer Peter Schreyer, says it all.

The manufacturer hired Albert Biermann, who had been the chief engineer for BMW and spent 32 years with the luxury brand, between Biermann and Schreyer, Kia anticipates ushering out the “pre-Stinger” and moving forward into the “post-Stinger” era of design and performance for the brand. Kia says this car is unlike any Kia that has come before it.

Yep. This is my roller coaster.

Smokin' Hot

The 70s-era vibe was strong with lava lamps and the color palette of that decade. Making turns was fun on the course, squealing tires all the way. 

The 70s-era vibe was strong with lava lamps and the color palette of that decade. Making turns was fun on the course, squealing tires all the way. 

The Stinger is designed with a long hood, long wheelbase, broad shoulders (they call them haunches, which evokes an animalistic feel), and a fastback profile. The wheels are pushed out at the corners to give it a firm stance and it grips the road as you drive it. It’s a little longer than a BMW 3-series and has a longer wheel base (the distance between the front and wheel tires) than the Audi A5 and Lexus GS. And it has more cargo and leg room than the A5, the BMW 640i, and the Porsche Panamera.

Believe it or not, the Stinger has more horsepower than a base model of the Porsche Panamera. And after testing the Panamera on the track against the Stinger, I can attest that the Stinger stands up to the scrutiny. I took a ride in the Porsche with The Robb Report’s Jason Harper, who made me laugh with glee as he tore up the track, and sat shotgun with Kia’s James Bell, who raced around the corners so sharply and expertly in the Stinger that the tires smoked.

Is It Safe?

George Notaras, creator of MotoManTV, is one of my favorite car enthusiasts. Check out his work at MotoMan.TV. 

George Notaras, creator of MotoManTV, is one of my favorite car enthusiasts. Check out his work at MotoMan.TV

Well, that's up to you. What I can tell you is that the Stinger is made of 55% high-strength steel and ultra high-strength steel, which must be formed and molded in the molten stage. They're targeting top crash ratings from NHTSA and IIHS, and the rock-solid body is serious business. In fact, the strength of the body and expanded haunches help the suspension do its job and to give it the rigidity of the German sedans Biermann and Schreyer are used to working on. And that doesn't even start to cover all of the other standard safety features. 

The physics of this car are impressive; Kia has considered how the air moves around and hugs the car to reduce turbulence, which gives it a smoother ride. Ducts also allow air to travel over the engine to keep it cool. At $31,900 for a base Stinger and about $50K for a Stinger GT with all the bells and whistles, it’s tens of thousands of dollars less than a Porsche, and it’s $10K less than a BMW 440i. The affordability of this dream is compelling.

The hand-stitched components and aircraft-inspired cockpit are impressive. This is the Kia of the future, and I’m all in.

Get in and buckle your seat belts, keep your hands inside the car, and get ready for a great ride.

My new friend Jason YarbOROUGH at a break in the road. 

My new friend Jason YarbOROUGH at a break in the road. 

JUST THE FACTS, MA’AM:

  • Starts at: $31,900 MSRP (2.0L) to $49.200 (GT2); All Wheel Drive: add $2K
  • 25 combined miles per gallon of fuel
  • Top speed: 167
  • 3.3 liter V6 twin turbo engine in the GT and GT2
  • 365 hp, 376 lb-ft of torque, and a 0-100 km/h time of 4.7 seconds
  • Tires: long-lasting, all-condition, best-in-class Michelin Pilot Sport tires tuned for the Stinger
  • Brakes: 4-piston Brembo
  • Harman Kardon sound system with 720 watts, 15 high-performance speakers, under seat subwoofers, and Clari-Fi Digital Music Restoration Technology
  • UVO infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
  • The driver’s seat has a 16-way and 12-way front seat for the driver and passenger, with an added air-cell lumbar adjustable bolster for the Stinger.

Learn more: https://www.kia.com/us/en/vehicle/stinger/2018/overview

Disclosure: Kia paid for my airfare, room, and meals; there were no conditions set regarding what I would write about my experience. Many thanks to Kia for providing a few of the photos in this post. 

Perma-smile. It is hard to frown when you're having a fantastic time in a great car. 

Perma-smile. It is hard to frown when you're having a fantastic time in a great car. 

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The Edge of Texas: Me, Jack Ingram, Mark Cuban, Texas Monthly, and Mazda

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When I moved to Texas, the cover of a Texas Monthly magazine caught my eye at the grocery store, and as soon as I opened it to the first page, I was hooked. The writing is extraordinarily good in a way that makes me want to be a better writer. Skip Hollandsworth, an award-winning journalist on staff, writes feature stories so rich with detail that I am always a little sad when I'm finished reading them. 

Back in May at a Texas Auto Writers Association event, I met the new Texas Monthly editor in chief, Tim Taliaferro. I liked him immediately; he exudes a warmth and deep intelligence when he speaks. And when speaking in front of a crowd, I discovered, Tim's vocabulary is as rich as the words on the pages of his magazine. One of the best things in life is to listen to an intelligent person use the English language to its fullest. The words themselves are like tiny poems, each. 

The longer I'm in Austin, the more I discover that this is a small town in a small world, and everyone is connected. As it turns out, Tim was a classmate of a friend of mine, and he invited both of us to attend the Edge of Texas, a new event his magazine was hosting in Dallas. With a lineup that included Jack Ingram and Mark Cuban, I didn't want to miss it. Susan and I made plans to make the trip up to Dallas with another mutual friend, Mary Beth, and DriveShop loaned me a Mazda CX-5 for the three-hour ride. 

Ready to roll in our mazda cx-5!

Ready to roll in our mazda cx-5!

I was excited to see Mark Cuban, because my son used to bring home a new sports book every week from the library, and the one about the Mavericks and their rise to the championship after Cuban bought the team was fascinating. Hollandsworth interviewed him with a wry, straight-man approach that was paired perfectly with Mark Cuban's uber-confident approach. Will Cuban run for President in 2020? No one knows. But he sure talked about policy quite a bit

Skip Hollandsworth interviewed Mark Cuban at the Joule Hotel at the Edge of Texas event. 

Skip Hollandsworth interviewed Mark Cuban at the Joule Hotel at the Edge of Texas event. 

Next on the schedule was Jack Ingram, appearing with four young songwriters he has been mentoring through the organization he helped to found, Texas Songwriter U. Just having the chance to see Jack Ingram live was a treat. 

Mignon, Jack ingram, Andy langer, and Jefferson Clay on stage at the Edge of Texas event in dallas. 

Mignon, Jack ingram, Andy langer, and Jefferson Clay on stage at the Edge of Texas event in dallas. 

All four songwriters were stunningly good, but Susan, Mary Beth, and I each had our favorites. Mine was Mignon Grabois, a native Texan who has been performing since she was a little girl, and has already shared a stage with Brad Paisley and Chris Young. Check her out, because she is a rising star. 

The evening after the event, Texas Monthly hosted a party at the Longhorn Ballroom, which is an iconic country and western dance hall near the convention center in Dallas. Several of the top chefs in Texas provided small bites for the crowd, and the lines were long. Once they depleted a little, I jumped in to wait for the sweet potato-stuffed crepes from Austin-based Launderette, and may or may not have eaten 4 of them. Maybe. 

I drove our replete, happy group back to Austin in the borrowed CX-5, which had plenty of cup holders and leg room. Susan and Mary Beth got to enjoy the ride while I sped through the changes in terrain along I-35. 

My friend Jenna looks for hearts in nature all the time, so when I see them now, I think of her. This one was right in the middle of my path at Bull creek park. 

My friend Jenna looks for hearts in nature all the time, so when I see them now, I think of her. This one was right in the middle of my path at Bull creek park. 

If you haven't been to Austin, you may not realize how beautiful the terrain is. It's not the flat, dusty ranch lands of the west, or the concrete metropolis of Dallas, or the swampy, humid lowlands in Houston. It's rocky and wild and gorgeous, on the eastern edge of Hill Country. Near my house, there is a park along Bull Creek where stone walls and giant boulders coexist with hikers and swimmers, and kids and adults and pets of all sizes enjoy nature. 

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I clearly don't visit these places enough; when I brought my son and a friend, the boys enjoyed jumping from rock to rock, and I loved watching them pick up rocks and explore. 

I've been in Texas for nine years now, and in some ways, it seems like it gets a little bigger every time I drive across it. Good friends, good times, good vehicle, and I'm ready to explore some more. And from what I've seen of Tim Taliaferro and the updated Texas Monthly, it's going to get better and better. 

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TELL ME MORE ABOUT THE MAZDA CX-5

From a vehicle perspective, if you like to take road trips in a sporty compact SUV with enough room for 3 people and their luggage on a long weekend, the Mazda CX-5 is a great choice. 

Mazda CX-5 details:
MSRP: From $24,045 (excellent value)
MPG: Up to 24 city / 31 highway
5/5 score from cars.com
Seats: 5
Engine: 187-hp, 2.5-liter I-4 (regular gas)
Quiet ride, good pickup

Ideal customers for the CX-5: small families with kids older than 2; single people; couples of any age. 

I like to refer to Cars.com's car seat check when recommending a vehicle for families, and this is what they say. In other words, great for forward-facing car seats and boosters; less so for infant seats. 

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The Mazda company SUV goes everywhere... including Little League games! 

The Mazda company SUV goes everywhere... including Little League games! 

I like Mazda's Command Control knob for the on-screen menu. So easy. 

I like Mazda's Command Control knob for the on-screen menu. So easy. 

 

 

 

Ragnarok: Funnier than the Average Marvel {guest post by Madison Ward}

Official poster via Marvel

Official poster via Marvel

Introduction: Madison is our entertainment guru, keeping us up to date on the latest books, TV shows, and movies. She loves to cover pop culture and we're glad to have her voice in this capacity.

{This post written by Madison Ward, Superstar Intern}

Warning: spoilers ahead!

When realizing they would not be a part of the large group starring in Captain America: Civil War, Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Mark Ruffalo (Hulk) were determined to top--or at least rival--the big cast with their own in the next Thor movie, Thor: Ragnarok. After finishing the film, the Ragnarok group couldn’t be happier with how it all turned out. Hemsworth and the cast joked that this was not only the best Marvel film yet, but the best film, period. Now, I’m not sure I would go that far, but I, too, am pleased and surprised by what the team pulled together.

Refreshing and rebellious, this movie did not lack in humor or action and repeatedly confronted the audience with a new, more irreverent Marvel.

Though Hemsworth is drool-worthy and dependable, I will admit that his first two individual movies, Thor and Thor: The Dark World, did little to nothing for me. The action is always exciting and thrilling, but his character went from arrogant to boy scout so fast it gave me whiplash, and throughout those first two movies, Thor just felt like he was missing something. I’m surprised it took them so long to pull out the ‘the hammer is just a tool’ twist and how he is much more powerful than anyone except his daddio even knew.

Looking closer to other consequences that quickly followed Odin’s death, it seems like that one event unlocked several powers--or made them less fearful--as Hela and others started rising up against Asgard right after Thor and Loki’s father passed away. I can see this possibly being a reason Thor finally evolved into his stronger self (that scene was flipping amazing, by the way), and even though I wish I would have gotten a more sooner into his growth as a god, not just a person, I am happy with how this movie plot played out and believe the wait was worth it.

With several new characters arising and different character combinations being tested, Thor: Ragnarok created its very own dream team that may have been smaller than the Civil War cast, but were more crucial. I am all for chucking as many characters as you can get in a film, all with their own power and role, but with the more you take on, the less personal you can get with each one, and Ragnarok's narrower focus allowed the directors to develop each of the main characters continuously and harmoniously.

Thor, Loki, Hulk, and Valkyrie may have not fully bonded together by the end of the film but gave the audience enough to see all their values and how they will all, for the most part, end up on the same side from now on. (Loki can always teeter-totter a bit, but more on that later.)

But what the movie pulled us in with the most was the witty, almost childish, interactions the cast carried with through its entirety. In a meeting with Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige, Hemsworth made a point to want to make his role more interesting and to integrate more humor into the movie and create a comfortable, enjoyable atmosphere for all those watching, according to Vanity Fair. This film was about fun and their humor paid off ten times over. Thor and Hulk’s ‘buddy comedy’-like partnership and lovingly aggressive conversations and Thor and Loki’s ‘only a sibling would understand’ banter and hilarious tiffs made the movie lighter and not suffocated with so much tension. The innocent, yet inappropriate quality that all these interactions withheld, made for a very interesting ice breaker compared to the other Thor films; possibly all the other Marvel films as well.

Magazine cover via Entertainment Weekly

Magazine cover via Entertainment Weekly

Another refreshing and ironic aspect of Thor: Ragnarok was how the solution to their Hela problem (ha, ha, ha, hella’ problem) ended up being siccing another, worse evil upon her, one that they had been trying to prevent the entire journey. Their resolution of their issue was creating another issue and hopefully this will not come to bite them in the butt later on.

Speaking of later on, this movie was also an amazing in-betweener to prepare all of us Marvel fans for what’s in store for the next Avengers film, Avengers: Infinity War. Here is what we now can assume:

  • Thanos is on their tail and since they are in space and the Guardians of the Galaxy (GotG) are going to be in Avengers: Infinity War, this is probably where they will meet up as GotG will probably help them out of this extremely sticky situation.

  • Loki has the tesseract and, if Thanos suddenly knows where everyone is, it is very likely Loki tipped Thanos off and is being a little turncoat jerk again, sad as it is.

  • Drax and Hulk’s first meetup will be pure three-year-old-tantrum-dialogue gold.

  • Hulk is still Hulk and Banner warned Thor earlier that if he Hulked out again, which he obviously did, he may not be able to ever change back again.

  • Throughout this film, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers 4, it is said to contain Hulk’s ‘individual movie’ since they aren’t going to make an actual one for him, just trade around and resolve his storyline woven throughout all the other messes happening now.

It is well-known that I am not a very patient human being and will hopefully survive the long lapse between now and April when the next Avengers is said to come out. Black Panther does come out next month, so I will have a bit to tide me over, but also more material to even further ache for. And as Marvel continues to raise the bar even higher and higher, we can all pray that their future films will live up to their current reputation and that our minds won’t explode when they do.

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Meet Eric, my Hero of the Day

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Meet Eric at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. I was connecting through PHX from San Diego, and I saw a post that my dear friend Ian was delayed here. I sent Ian a text, and discovered he was all the way across the airport from me, and I had about 20 minutes until I was boarding. 

I made a quick decision and flagged Eric down. 

“Can you help me?” I asked. “I have a friend on the other side of the airport who needs a hug. My flight boards in 20 minutes.” 

“Oooooookay,” he said. “Are you sure you can make it?”

I said yes, let’s do it, and he whisked me all the way to Ian at concourse A. On the way, we chatted, and I asked him about my options to get back to make my flight on time - it was much further than I expected. 

“How long are you going to be?” He asked. 

Two minutes, I told him. I just need to give him a hug. 

“I got you,” Eric said. And he waited with my bag on his cart while I gave my friend a few giant hugs and we promised to see each other longer than two minutes very soon. 

Friendship. Good people. It’s all worth every effort. 

Thanks, Eric.

[Post script: Eric brought me back to the entrance to the Southwest concourse, and I strolled to my gate. I got in line and found that I was next to someone with my same exact boarding number. Huh, I thought. That’s weird. Turns out they had changed my gate and I had to go halfway back, so I had to run and got my exercise in today.]

First published at Facebook.com/KristinVShaw

All Out War, All Out Good Time {Guest post by intern Madison Ward}

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Introduction: Madison is our entertainment guru, keeping us up to date on the latest books, TV shows, and movies. She loves to cover pop culture and I'm glad to have her voice in this capacity.

{This post written by Madison Ward, Superstar Intern}

The month of October provides many entertainments, including Halloween; slightly less obvious are many upcoming premieres of television shows. Riverdale season 2, Supernatural season 13, and so on (new and recurring), October sets up the season of fall for a very bumpy, and yet extremely enjoyable, ride.

AMC’s The Walking Dead (TWD) is one of the highly-anticipated recurring shows that I am thoroughly invested in. Though last season (season 7) left viewers feeling a bit depressed, desperate, and weak, and  enveloped with a very melancholy tone, season 8 is predicted to be a showstopper. Action-packed and high spirits are to be expected, violence, and a whole heck of a lot of fun. Converging the three communities together for the first time, the characters finally feel confident in their position against the Saviors, and the hope that they have desperately tried to hold onto is now resting easy on their shoulders. People will die--main characters will die--but we can at last see a promising future for not just these current communities, but the generations that will follow them - the children that will have a chance to live and thrive, even in the apocalypse.

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TWD wasn’t always my favorite. I watched the first episode with my dad years ago and refused to watch it again for a long time because of what happened to Rick’s horse in Atlanta. Who wants to watch a bunch of flesh eating, slowly rotting corpses devouring innocent people and animals, while a group of survivors walk from one place to another, losing people and finding people, but always fighting for their lives? Now, this is enough for a vast array of people and I guess it interested me enough to come back and watch more, but once I got into watching it, episode after episode, season after season, I can see the even greater appeal.

The show has continued a unique shooting style of long dramatic sequences before people/cars/moments of scenes come into view. These long clips build up copious amounts of suspense and seriousness to such a laughable subject as zombies. And throughout the show, there are also a few common themes and devices that continuously arise and develop: hair length, deer (food in general), and limbs, and then the changing morals, learning through trial and error, the living v. the dead, but now more the living v. the living.

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My favorite one of all is hair length. If you are sitting there, reading this, thinking, this girl is crazy, I completely understand, but seriously, hair has been used as a symbol since the very beginning and has always affected a character right afterward. Examples follow as:

  • Shane--shaves his head and then goes psycho,

  • Rick--has little hair and is  scared in the beginning, grows a beard and longer hair and is awesome, shaves and cuts his hair and goes crazy, grows his hair again and is good, trims and tries to look cleaner and is weak, grows messy hair again and is ready to fight

  • Hershel--clean shaven at his home in the country and almost kills everyone by locking walkers in his own barn, grows a beard and ponytail and dies saving his family from the Governor

  • Aaron--clean shaven and short hair in the beginning and lives in a community that can’t protect itself at all and basically just lets it happen, grows scruff and longer hair and is ready to fight for and with his now-ready-people

Basically, the longer hair, the better.

Food is a big deal as well. The deer shown are almost awe-inspiring. They have continuously caused characters to stop and smile and think optimistically, and yet usually don’t end up being caught, like the shot to the deer that shot Carl and the two deer Rick and Michonne didn’t get (mostly Rick’s fault). An example of food in general could be the sorghum truck Rick and Daryl found; Jesus interfered and it ends up in a lake, extremely unfortunate and heart-crushing, but a good reminder to try harder next time. Survival isn’t a walk in the park (unless there are walkers walking in that park about to eat you, then it may be).

The limbs symbols are made up of a darker kind of humor and follow a set of strange rules: lose a leg and you become a better person, but later die (Bob and Hershel); lose an arm and we never see you again (some Saviours and Tyrese); lose an eye and you contract slowly escalating anger (the Governor and Carl); lose a hand and no one knows yet, but will probably happen since it does in the comics (Rick and possibly others).

 

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The changing morals and living v. living themes are pretty self-explanatory and have been coming about more now that the walkers are not the main problem, but other survivors. The characters have questioned how far is too far and have sometimes crossed the line, sometimes not crossed far enough. Since this season is All Out War and we know exactly who the common enemy is supposed to be, hopefully these issues will sit on the back burner so we can have a little fun.

TWD’s season 8 premiere was Sunday, October 22 and was also the show’s 100th episode, which will surely mean a lot of memories and references hidden throughout it! The show has come a long way and still has so much more to go if the comics have anything to say about it. Jesus is supposed to later end up with Aaron--so bye-bye Eric-- Rick is supposed to lose his hand and get a cane, and Ezekiel and Shiva died around this time as well. Who knows what the directors will decide to do and if they will stay with or veer from what is to be expected, but we will survive and, hopefully, our favorites will survive too.

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Visit the Gaylord Texan resort this year for holiday magic!

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Two years ago, my husband and I took our son up to the Gaylord Texan resort to visit right before Thanksgiving. As soon as we walked in the front door, we were struck by the gorgeous lighting, the sheer breathtaking, awe-inspiring thoroughness of the decorations, and the details for each aspect at the resort. 

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We checked out the icy-cold ICE exhibit, where master carvers spent almost a month in shifts inside a 9-degree freezer, to transform two million pounds of ice into a jaw-dropping exhibit. Every guest is offered a subzero parka, and it's still incredibly cold, but not unbearable. 

Once again this year, Ice artisans from halfway around the world in Harbin, China have created crystal ice, white ice, and colored ice to form the 'Twas the Night Before Christmas attraction. There are also five two-story tall ice slides, and a nativity set carved from ice. After visiting ICE, grab a hot chocolate and some snacks and warm up again. ·

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I'm not sure which was the highlight of my son's stay: the cookies and story time with Mrs. Claus; or the 12-lane tubing hill with real snow. I know for sure which one was my favorite part: tubing down those hills as fast as I could with my family. We don't get much snow in Texas, so it felt very special. We tubed down those hills over and over again!

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Other options: photos with Santa; an escape room activity; snowball throw; Build-A-Bear Workshop® Scavenger Hunt; ice skating; and gingerbread house decorating. Basically, everything you need for a perfect family weekend.  

Thinking about going? Check out their value days, below:

Exclusive Savings - Christmas Value Days!

SAVE up to 20%* on your Holiday Stay, book by 11/20/17.

*Valid select dates from November 10, 2017 through January 7, 2018.

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Expanding your family? Check these reviews to see which vehicles fit your car seat needs first.

This is a sponsored post; all opinions are mine.

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Before my son was born, I researched car seats ad nauseum (confession: I researched A LOT OF THINGS ad nauseum). Based on recommendations, online ratings, and reviews, I chose the car seat I thought was the safest and most versatile. What I didn't think to research, however, was which cars were best for the type of seat I chose, and how that might fit with other car seats.

Recently, I was searching for information about a sedan I was covering for a review, and needed to know about car seat configurations for a reader. I stumbled across the Cars.com site, where I discovered that they have three certified car seat technicians on staff, and they run a battery of tests on every vehicle they can. They conduct hands-on tests and offer ratings in six categories: LATCH, infant, rear-facing convertible, forward-facing convertible, booster, and third-row access (if applicable). 

Speaking of LATCH, did you know that it stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children? LATCH is required on car seats in most vehicles manufactured on or after Sept. 1, 2002. A safety tip I learned at a Britax event recently was to check the vehicle user guide and car seat user guide to determine if LATCH or the seat belt restraint is best for your child, depending on his or her size. Each seat has safety guidelines for the maximum weight the LATCH can hold. And (I didn't know this prior to the event) it's actually less safe to use BOTH the LATCH and seat belt, because the car seats are designed to use one at a time.

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If you already have kids in the mix or plan to do some carpooling, it's smart to find out how your vehicle of choice performs with more than one car seat. As an automotive journalist, friends ask me on a regular basis about which cars can safely and comfortably fit three car seats across the back, as well as which are the best vehicles with three rows. 

Cars.com answers those questions in two separate roundups: 

Which cars fit three car seats?

2017 Three-Row SUV Comparison

One of my favorite sedans I reviewed last year was the Kia Cadenza, which my family drove round trip from Austin, Texas to Ft. Myers, Florida for Christmas vacation. It was roomy and comfortable, and my son's Britax high-back booster fit behind the driver's seat with plenty of room to spare. When I looked up the ratings on Cars.com, I was pleased to see that the Cadenza rated very highly

Whether you are expanding your family or extending your carpool, check Cars.com for more information on how your plans fit with the type of vehicle you have; and if you're car shopping, take these guidelines under consideration. You'll be well prepared for a variety of situations that suit your family best! 

 

Our voices matter. Every one of them.

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Stick with me, this is a multi-year story:

When I was in my early 30s, I was working for a company in Atlanta, in a job I really liked, with a female boss I loved. I was writing the CEO's speeches and helping to organize the annual sales meeting and writing and producing a company-wide TV show. The job was so much fun.

At my first annual conference, I was wearing a red pantsuit. I'll never forget it, because I can remember so clearly standing there talking and meeting people. One of the regional vice presidents approached me - he had been friendly to me in the past - and in a low voice, he said, "How about a nice bubble bath and massage in my room?"

To this day, I can still hear his voice in my ear, and my stomach still sinks.

I didn't know what to say. I believe I stammered something like "That... that wouldn't be a good idea" and got away from him.

The next week, my director asked me how my first conference went with the company, and I said it was great, learned a lot, etc. Casually I mentioned, "But one of our VPs said something really weird to me" and I told him what it was. His face blanched.

As per the protocol, he told his boss, who told the Chief of Human Resources, who showed up at my office door. I refused to tell her his name, at first. I just got this job and I loved the job. I didn't want to be the whistle blower. She would not leave my office until I told her.

"You owe this to the other women at this company, Kristin. We have to address it."

So I told her. And the result was that he got a reprimand, and word got out that I had reported a well-liked and popular executive. It certainly didn't help me or any other women there.

The following year, one of the other executive vice presidents started propositioning me in front of the other officers of the company.

"Are you coming to my room tonight, Kristin?"

No one said anything.

Another executive vice president slipped his hotel room key across the table to me at the following year annual conference and said, "I'm in room xxx if you want to have the most fun you've ever had." He was married, with two kids.

I didn't tell anyone, because I had learned that all it did was hurt me. I had learned that years before, when I opted to not report a sexual assault because I knew it was my word against his and all that would happen, most likely, was that my reputation would be dragged through the mud.

I'm telling you this story because whenever a prominent figure is accused of sexual harassment or rape - Cosby, Weinstein, even the president of the United States (and I'm not just talking about the current one) - it takes a great deal of effort to stand up. It takes a groundswell. One woman, standing alone against harassment gets disdain, not support. That's why some women take a settlement, because they don't feel any hope for justice.

For all of you out there who have experienced harassment of any kind and didn't speak up because you didn't feel that your voice was loud enough on its own, I understand, Rose McGowanGwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd. I get it.

I don't know the answer of how to fix the problem, but I do know that our voices have power. I'm here with you.

The Most Important Elements of a Story {Guest post by intern Madison Ward}

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Introduction: Madison is learning the craft of writing and is developing her skills; she is putting in the work. This post outlines what she sees as some of the most important elements in a story and in what way they may have the greatest effect.  

{This post written by Madison Ward, Superstar Intern}

First and foremost are The Basics, the tell-tale mundane structure and chronological list that lays the foundation for a work.

The Basics:

  • The genre (Action/Comedy/Documentary/etc.)

  • The characters (known and constantly developing)

  • The settings (reliable and varying)

  • The culture (a tied community like society or difference b/w societies)

  • The music (if a movie/tv show; works closely with theme)

  • The themes (nature v. nurture/prodigal son/etc.)

  • The transitions (shift b/w scenes that flows nicely)

  • The arrangement (twists and unexpectant styles to go further than a type A plot)

Though some of The Basics may be less complicated and developed than others, they are not subtle and underlying enough to enhance more concentrated parts than themselves. They have just enough ‘core’ness to be on its own and not a supporting element such as The Journey elements. These elements are the more intangible parts than those of physical plot demonstrations.

The Journey:

  • The problem (obstacles/opponents faced)

  • The reason (belief/meaning throughout everything)

  • The imperfections (failures/almosts that didn’t quite succeed/weaknesses)

  • The want (what is desired)

  • The need (what is necessary and enough)

  • The destination (end goal)

  • The solution (how to achieve end goal)

The Journey elements can be thought more of as the invisible plot that characters work through mentally. These are situationally concepts that travel our hero from point A to point B as a transformed or more informed individual, or they change something in a way that is different from how it was when this whole experience started. The results of these transformations and changes can be called The Gives and Takes.

The Gives and Takes:

  • The blood (family)

  • The roots (background)

  • The fillers (ALMOST useless people/moments/things main character(s) come across)

  • The tethers (stuff that holds you back)

  • The weapon (thing that saves you from your obstacles/opponents)

  • The wings (freedom/thing that releases you)

  • The price (sacrifice)

These elements are a combination of physical and intangible and are the elements that give you all you need to ‘survive’ if one just uses them correctly. They are taken if they are misused or thwarted in a lack of protection. The Basics, The Journey, and The Gives and Takes all can create a solid structure of ‘story’, but they need cushion and intelligence which comes with The Delivery.

The Delivery:

  • The reality (cynical/realistic problems we wish could be avoided but aren’t in real life)

  • The understanding (...of the basic human body and that one thing called gravity)

  • The contemporariness (connection with a modern audience)

  • The guidelines (rules followed throughout that also keeps us sane and grounded)

  • The hints (little nuggets tucked throughout that can be put together to fit the plot puzzle)

  • The symbols (hidden meanings/themes demonstrated through objects)

  • The character interactions (dialogue and development that ties us to the people)

  • The counterargument (part(s) that proves your argument/meaning by eliminating others)

  • The examples x, y, and z (how you get from point A to point B within reason)

The Delivery of a story are the ways in which to succeed with earlier mentioned elements, or add in devices that amp up the maturity and wisdom the piece hopes to achieve. They are pretty vague and can be optional, but are good to at least be considered before finalizing a story. Paying attention to what the audience wants surrounding The Basics, The Journey, and The Gives and Takes is the key and then you can decide how you want your audience to receive it, or The Feel of your work.

The Feel:

  • The ‘right’ atmosphere (negative/hard/positive/light/tense/carefree)

  • The ‘right’ shot (angle means everything; positon writing/design shooting; words/camera)

  • The ‘right’ pauses (drawn out suspense/quick clips)

  • The ‘right’ humor (awkward/nonexistent/sardonic/understating)

  • The ‘right’ boundaries (lines drawn that characters either toy with/cross/won’t cross)

Also known as The Dramatics, The Feel elements are what give your story sass, lack of sass, or somewhere in between. It is the kick, the direction, the push of mood and tone to make us emotionally connected to what is being displayed. A story may have a dark, harder feel, with suspense, and ruthless, unforgiving danger, or may be the complete opposite, flying through cloudless skies of light blue, sun and happiness, casual conversations and laughter. Whichever, these are the elements that lead your viewers to feel that certain way in subtle correspondence with each scene.

As I have said in other posts of mine, these are my thoughts, untainted by literature plot charts or composition analysis worksheets. I honestly tried not to look up anything at all for this compiled list. I may be completely off-base compared to other, probably far more language-minded individuals, but maybe this will connect with someone.

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Reese Witherspoon and Home Again: the Perfect Distraction for a Girls' Night Out

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The first time I saw Reese Witherspoon on screen was when she appeared in the movie Pleasantville, with Tobey Maguire (whom I loved in Cider House Rules). But really, I became a fan of hers with Legally Blonde and Sweet Home Alabama

Home Again was directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer. Her mom, Nancy Meyers, is a veteran movie director with hits like The Parent Trap, Something's Gotta Give, The Holiday, and It's Complicated. And her dad is Charles Richard Shyer, who directed Private Benjamin, Irreconcilable Differences, and the Father of the Bride movies. With a pedigree like that, it would be almost impossible for her to fail. 

Knowing Meyers-Shyer is a rookie director, it was easy for me to forgive a few awkward moments and a few clichés. I brought three friends with me to the screening, and I started to shrink near the beginning of the movie with the portrayal of the typical hotelier and a few cheesy pick-up lines in the bar. However, I noticed that they were laughing along, and soon I was too, as the movie picked up steam. 

Witherspoon with Pico Alexander, who plays Harry, the young romancer. 

Witherspoon with Pico Alexander, who plays Harry, the young romancer. 

Alice Kinney, Witherspoon's character, is recently separated from her husband, and moves from New York City back to her hometown of LA with their two girls. The memories of her dad are front and center as she takes up residence in his former home, and his artifacts become her treasures. 

The trailer reveals that Alice takes in three aspiring movie makers, so I'm not giving anything away there, and along the way she finds a How Stella Got Her Groove Back kind of romance with a much younger man. I'm going to be honest with you here: this part reminded me so much of the summer after my own divorce that it brought back a lot of good memories of the men who helped me regain my confidence through the dating process. A couple, yes, were much younger than I was. 

Alice's love interest was 27 in the film, but he looked and acted younger. By the end, I had kind of hoped she would end up with one of the other guys, but... well, you'll have to see it for yourself and decide what you think. 

What I loved about this movie, despite a few quirks, was that it was funny and fun. It was not believable in several parts of the storyline, if we were living in real life, but I feel like that's the point of watching a movie: it's not real life. It's supposed to entertain you and the viewer can suspend disbelief in favor of having a good time and forgetting all of the stress of real life.

Home Again did that for me, and for the three mom friends I brought along. We had a chance to grab a bite to eat and catch up both before and after the movie, and that time is precious. Grab a girlfriend and go see Home Again, not because it's the greatest story ever told, but because it's Reese. And it's sweet relief from the news. 

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Lethal Legacy {Guest post by Madison Ward}

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{This post written by Madison Ward, Superstar Intern}

On September 21, 2016, the television show remake of the Lethal Weapon movie franchise series premiered its first season.  I have been hooked ever since, and am currently waiting impatiently for the next one. It may have been only one season, and I may be disappointed with what they decide to do from here on out, but season one was spectacular. FOX always has new fun things they’d like to play with, but I truly believe they have a real, solid future with this remake, and not just because the originals did so well themselves.

I would first like to state that I have not seen the original four Lethal Weapon movies. I’ve heard they are great, and they obviously were successful if there were four of them, but I guess these were some of the few oldie but goodie movies my Dad forgot to encourage me to watch. I do have plans in place to watch them in the future, but I am actually happy that I got the opportunity to start this new remake off without a preconceived notion of what it’s ‘supposed’ to be like. Reading books and then later seeing them being made into films, I am always afraid that they will let me down and seem inadequate in comparison, same with remakes, like Footloose or something.

Actually, I pointed out the show to my mom one day after watching a few trailers when watching commercials, saying how it looked really good and she then told me that it was originally from a movie series. I had the opportunity to judge it just for me, before knowing that it was generally liked. Watching this new old story play out in a modern and slightly more mainstream atmosphere definitely helps me, as a 2000s baby, and I also just wanted to have faith that they would have that one ‘something’ that somehow called in the spirit and enthusiasm that the originals brought on.

And I definitely felt it in this new television series.

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Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh are very well-written characters in the first place, from what I can see, but having Clayne Crawford and Damon Wayans play their parts is phenomenal. At first, I was a little worried about Wayans because I couldn’t imagine the star of My Wife and Kids as a veteran detective fighting heart problems, but it definitely worked.

And not only does Crawford do an amazing job of drawing the line between series drama and exasperated humor, he just has ‘it’. You know what I mean by ‘it’. He is one of the very few actors I have ever encountered that has this air around them, that no makeup, no camera lights, no photoshop can create. He doesn’t merely act well; he transforms a character into a developed yet incredibly base concept that no one else could achieve. Sure, there are actors that can act the part, but Crawford is the part.

And the chemistry that the actors have together is outstanding. They were a perfect choice for Martin and Roger and the actors chosen for Trish Murtaugh, Maureen Cahill, Captain Brooks Avery, and Leo Getz, were also incredibly well done.  From the outside, it seems that it would be much easier to make the TV show than the movie because the outline of it was already in place it may actually be considered cheating in some parts, but I couldn’t care less. They clearly did take parts from the original movies, and a lot of things are going to be the same, but there are a lot of new things as well and it has been sculpted to fit contemporary time. It’s barely the beginning and I can feel the legacy of a well-done old tale and a promising new chapter all in one.

Lethal Weapon, Season Two is to be released on September 26, 2017 and let it be known that it is written, highlighted, and set to alarm on my phone’s calendar. I seriously don’t know how I will survive this month while I wait for it to air.

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