The Piano Guys say "It's Gonna Be Okay"


2016 has certainly been a rough year for world events and culture. In May 2016 my home country of the Philippines was surprised and shocked when Rodrigo Duterte (aka captain murderfest) was elected President of the Philippines. In July, Alfie's home country, the UK, was surprised and shocked when its citizens voted for Brexit. Then just a week ago, the USA was surprised and shocked when its citizens voted to elect Donald Trump as President of the United States. And don't even get me started on all the pop culture legends -- David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Gene Wilder, Muhammad Ali, Alan Rickman to name just a few -- passing on!

I doubt if The Piano Guys knew all that would happen when they first started collaborating on their latest album, Uncharted -- but its release on October 28 could not have come at a better time. It's as though they knew that we would need the healing touch of their music to uplift us and inspire us to keep going, even in a world gone topsy-turvy. They have a magical way of blending the classical sounds of cello and piano with contemporary hits to make beautiful music that every generation can relate to.

I can't get over how perfect the name of their album is, not just for the music itself but for the present time. The Piano Guys became famous with their videos, and three of the videos for this album were shot in literally "Uncharted" (at least for them) territory -- Scotland, Mexico, and Jordan. The music is "Uncharted" in the sense that they've combined so many different styles, from pop music icons Justin Timberlake, Adele, Coldplay to modern composers John Williams and Hans Zimmer to classical composers Mozart and Handel.

I've listed Uncharted's song list below. To be honest, I could listen to any of those songs again and again, because The Piano Guys are one of my favorite musical groups, but I have a special fondness for Pirates of the Caribbean, Fight Song/Amazing Grace, and the Jungle Book medley.

  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Can’t Stop The Feeling
  • Indiana Jones and The Arabian Nights
  • Okay
  • Celloopa
  • Holding On
  • Tour de France
  • Uncharted
  • Fight Song/Amazing Grace
  • Sky Full of Stars
  • Hello/Lacrimosa
  • Jungle Book/Sarabande


Finally, I can't publish this review without mentioning the tragedy that befell The Piano Guys just a few days before the release of Uncharted. Pianist Jon Schmidt's 20 year-old daughter Annie went missing, and after weeks of frantic searching, her remains were found at the bottom of a cliff. I can't even imagine what Jon and his family are going through. Every time I listen to Uncharted, I think of Annie and her dad and mom and the rest of the Piano Guys family. Somehow it makes the album even more meaningful. When I listen to "It's Gonna Be Okay" or "Amazing Grace", I imagine telling Jon and his family the same thing. I think a lot of people are listening to Uncharted and thinking the same thing.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Uncharted to facilitate my review The views and opinions expressed here are my own.

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Free Pancakes for Veterans and Military on Veteran's Day


IHOP

Today is Veteran's Day, and IHOP is honoring the men and women who have served in the military by offering a complimentary stack of patriotic Red, White, and Blue Pancakes -- three fluffy, yummy buttermilk pancakes with glazed strawberries, blueberry compote, and whipped cream! This is happening at IHOP restaurants nationwide, and some are even throwing in a free breakfast combo with 2 eggs, hash browns and 2 pieces of meat (bacon or sausage). Just show your proof of military service (US services ID card, US services retired ID card, veterans' organization card, or even a photo of yourself in US military uniform, military dog tags, a citation or a commendation.  Darren Rebelez, IHOP president, is himself an Gulf War veteran with the Army Rangers.  It's a small token that IHOP is offering to thank our men and women in uniform for their service!

Since school was out due to Veteran's Day, I took the boys to our local IHOP and boy was it busy!  I don't know if there were lots of military families or whether people simply took advantage of the school holiday to visit IHOP, but it was more crowded than usual. 3Po and Jammy love IHOP, and not a month (or at most, 2 months) goes by without them innocently remarking that IHOP has some great new menu offering that we should really try!

IHOP

It's a good thing that I have 3 kids, because I always want to try whatever is new, yet I can't bear to give up my regular order of 2 pancakes, 2 eggs, 2 pieces of sausage or bacon, and hash browns. I let the kids order the new stuff and I try all of it!
IHOP

Speaking of new offerings, IHOP's Holiday Menu offerings are back, so Jammy indulged in some Pumpkin Spice pancakes, and we treated ourselves to some Frosted Mint Hot Chocolate.  It is sooo nice to indulge in comfort food at IHOP on a chilly day!
IHOP


Disclosure: I received an IHOP gift card to assist me with my review.  The views and opinions expressed here are my own.

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Get 20% off wine at Grocery Outlet


Grocery Outlet Bargain Market

What time is it? It's Wine-O-Clock, and it's time to head over to your nearest Grocery Outlet Bargain Market for their Thanksgiving wine sale! They are offering an extra 20% off their everyday low wine prices from November 2-8. That's up to 80% savings on over 150 wines! What a great time to stock up for your holiday parties! Even if you're not throwing a holiday party, you're going to be invited to one, so you can stock up on hostess gifts without breaking the bank. Take a bottle of wine -- or two -- to every party you attend this holiday season!

Here are a few examples of the wines you'll find at Grocery Outlet Bargain Market, and just how big the discounts are (note that stock will vary from store to store).  I've also included a couple of suggestions on what to pair them with:

Indigo Eyes Sparkling Brut

Sparkling wine is my favorite, and I usually find myself sipping it at late night parties or at brunches. But with the Indigo Eyes Sparkling Brut going for just $4.79, every day can be a party day! And since brut is a bit dryer, you don't have to limit yourself to chocolate or strawberries when sipping it! Did you know that sparkling wine goes great with fried foods?

Appetizer: zucchini sticks
Main course: fish n chips
Cheese: gouda
Grocery Outlet Bargain Market


Pra Vinera Cabernet Sauvignon

My  husband loves Cabernet Sauvignon; it's so rich and complex! We think California Cab is the best in the world, so when Grocery Outlet Bargain Market sent us a bottle of Pra Vinera Reserve, it was like the holidays had come early. He's not a big fan of meat, but I think he'll make an exception for this Cab.
Appetizer: mini beef empanadas
Main course: hamburgers
Cheese: manchego

Grocery Outlet Bargain Market wine sale

While you're at Grocery Outlet Bargain Market shopping for wines, make sure you check out the rest of the store. They have bargains on EVERYTHING from grocery staples like bread, milk, and cereal, to treats like ice cream (my favorite Three Twins is in stock right now!!), to gourmet foods like ground bison or stilton cheese or chocolate, to organic foodie items like coconut milk and quinoa. I pass by Grocery Outlet at least twice a week (fortunately our local store is on the way to my daughter's dance studio!) to see what they have in stock. How do they do it? They buy surplus inventory (NOT expired inventory) from bigger chains that have ordered too much, or products that have undergone packaging changes, or seasonal products or products with seasonal packaging. It just makes so much sense!

That's really the key -- Grocery Outlet's stock varies store by store and week by week, so you never know what's going to be in the store, or how long your favorite bargains will stay on the shelves! That's definitely going to be the case for the wine sale -- it's getting to be a not-so-well-kept-secret these days. It seems like everyone knows about the Grocery Outlet Bargain Market wine sale these days, so go to your local store as soon as you can (and definitely before November 8) to make sure your favorite wines don't sell out!



Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.  The views and opinions expressed here are my own.

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Crab Pot Christmas Trees: big on shiny, small on space



Do you live in a small space? Do you stress out about storing your holiday decorations every year? Check out Crab Pot Christmas Trees! Crab Pot Christmas Trees are remarkable, perfectly shaped trees that are pre-lit, fold flat for storage, sparkle from EVERY angle and are easily set up. What makes these holiday trees so unique and the MUST HAVE of the season for home decor? Crab Pot Christmas Trees are made from the very durable PVC Coated Crab Pot Wire which withstands all that Mother Nature throws at it.

Check out this video to see how they are folded:

My Readers save 30% Off Crab Pot Christmas Trees that fold flat & sparkle from every angle  Use Code:USFG16



Disclosure: I will be receiving a product sample courtesy of US Family Guide. The views and opinions expressed here are my own.

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Marvel's Dr. Strange opens November 4


Marvel Dr. Strange

Whenever a superhero movie releases, most people are already familiar with him or her, so they go into the movie theater with a preconceived notion of what to expect. That is how it has always been with me. Dr. Strange is the first superhero movie that I've watched knowing absolutely nothing about the character, his powers, his backstory, or his enemies.  Sure, I've seen illustrations of Dr. Strange, but he just looked like a sinister old guy, so I was never really interested in delving deeper into his story. When Marvel announced they were doing a Dr. Strange movie, I wasn't exactly counting the days until I could watch the movie. I was mostly counting on the reputation that Marvel and Disney have built up with the Avengers for coming up with an entertaining movie.

After watching a preview last night, I'm happy to report that my faith was rewarded, and all the hype that Dr. Strange is getting is well deserved! It's like The Matrix without all the confusing plot twists combined with a classic kung fu movie, with amazing special effects, humor, and contemporary references (Beyonce, wifi passwords) thrown in.

I was surprised to discover that I actually love the character of Dr. Strange. He reminds me a lot of Tony Stark -- the arrogant genius part. I love how Benedict Cumberbatch brings a younger, more modern, and more handsome look to Stephen Strange than the classic comic book image. Actually, I love Benedict Cumberbatch, period. He makes a great arrogant doctor, a great bearded bum, desperately seeking salvation, and a great hero, using his intellect along with his willpower to defeat his enemy. The costume he ends up with when he fully embraces his identity as Dr. Strange, sorcerer, looks a bit cheesy, especially with the cape -- but his Cloak of Levitation actually turns out to be the best thing about his costume because it is a sentient object, much like Aladdin's magic carpet. I really hope they develop the cloak's character a lot further in future movies!

A word on the special effects: I've read reviews saying that you should watch this movie for the special effects alone. They are that good. You may have seen some of them on the movie previews, and I'm here to say that this is NOT one of those cases that they've shown the best scenes in the previews. There are way more and way better scenes! Dr. Strange's enemy, along with his mentor, have the ability to warp time and space, so you will see buildings fold into themselves, floors turn into ceilings, people running upside down, all at lightning speed. I actually found myself getting dizzy from all the shifts in perspective! Watching the movie in 3D really enhanced the experience. There are many movies where I think it's a waste of time to pay extra to watch in 3D -- Dr. Strange is NOT one of them. The occasional dizziness and nausea I felt was actually worth it.
Doctor Strange

Another thing I had to address: the whitewashing. I had read a lot of criticism about Marvel's whitewashing of the Ancient One character played by Tilda Swinton. That, along with the comic book image, were the only 2 preconceived notions that I had coming into the movie. I have to say that I agree with the critics; the Ancient One could have been played by a more ethnically appropriate character than Tilda Swinton. She's an amazing actress but I don't think she brought anything unique to the role. However, I don't think this is a reason to boycott the movie either, because if a black man can play Johnny Storm, then a white woman can play The Ancient One.

Oh, yeah, the story. Here's the synopsis:
From Marvel Studios comes “Doctor Strange,” the story of world-famous neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange whose life changes forever after a horrific car accident robs him of the use of his hands. When traditional medicine fails him, he is forced to look for healing, and hope, in an unlikely place—a mysterious enclave known as Kamar-Taj. He quickly learns that this is not just a center for healing but also the front line of a battle against unseen dark forces bent on destroying our reality. Before long Strange—armed with newly acquired magical powers—is forced to choose whether to return to his life of fortune and status or leave it all behind to defend the world as the most powerful sorcerer in existence. Join Strange on his dangerous, mystifying, and totally mind-bending journey when Marvel Studios’ “Doctor Strange” opens in U.S. theaters on November 4, 2016.

I deliberately left the story for last because I thought it was the least important thing about the movie. The movie lasted less than 2 hours, so in comparison to other Marvel movies you don't get a lot of the plot complications or surprise endings or extended fight scenes (which is a good thing). You don't get a lot of character development either (which is not a good thing). You definitely get the feeling that this movie was more like a backstory intended to introduce viewers to Dr. Strange and get them invested in his story. If that is the case, they definitely succeeded: as soon as I got home, I went on the internet to find out more about Dr. Strange, and I can't wait for him to show up in other Marvel movies! Would I watch this movie again? Probably. Would I watch a sequel? Definitely!

As always, stay till the end of the movie for 2 bonus scenes, both featuring some well-known actors.

Dr. Strange opens in theaters across the US on Friday, November 4.



Disclosure: To assist me with my review, I was invited to an advance screening of Dr. Strange. The views and opinions expressed here are my own.

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