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Month: December 2015

New Year’s Resolutions: Ideas and goals for a brand new year

What are you doing New Year’s Eve? Are you out ringing in a brand new year, or furiously brainstorming New Year’s resolutions?

We’ve all been there before. The champagne corks pop, the calendar page turns, and we all begin a sobering period of self-assessment. For whatever reason, we realize we don’t like what we see and we are determined — or resolute — to make changes.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

We set out to fix these “defects” in our life and make bold plans to do it. We set lofty goals that seem reasonable in the moment but are often way unattainable or, at the very least, are destined to take longer than we expect them to do. We spend big money on gym memberships, fitness equipment, or food for fad diets, figuring it’s a worthwhile investment to help us achieve our goals. We then hit the ground running and give our New Year’s resolutions the best effort we think we can give, even getting a momentary high from the initial progress.

Then life happens, and our resolutions are over as quickly as we conceived them.

Why is it that our New Year’s resolutions fail? Is it because they are bad ideas and goals, or is it because what seemed important to us in the moment doesn’t carry as much weight later? Are these goals too difficult to achieve? Or do we just leave them by the wayside because we have higher priorities in life?

New Year’s resolutions come in abundance and span a variety of topics, including altering one’s body image, changing a profession, improving fortunes and finances, and modifying unwanted behaviors and habits.

Although resolutions have a tendency to fail, that doesn’t mean we have to avoid them altogether. Here’s a list resolution ideas — some lofty and others much more achievable — to help you ring in a brand new year on a good note.

Spirituality

  1. Go to church: Make an effort to attend church regularly. Not only does it help your spiritual health, but more importantly, it’s an opportunity to commune with your brothers and sisters while praising God.
  2. Read the bible: The book may seem daunting, but if you break it down into small sections — perhaps less than a chapter a day — you can really stick with it.
  3. Pray: Prayer is a powerful thing. The beauty is that you can do this anywhere and at any time. Offer up a prayer of thanks or request in the morning in bed, while getting ready, during your commute, at lunch, or any other time during the day.
  4. Forgive: “To err is human, to forgive divine,” said Alexander Pope. Forgiveness is one of the hardest things to do but is one of the most liberating. It frees us of a particular burden and allows us to live as God intended.
  5. Give more: Make every effort to give more in the coming year. Give your time, give your money, give your advice and experience.
  6. Find contentment: There is great happiness in contentment. Live each day with peace in, and appreciate for, what you have in your life. And don’t waste time comparing your fortunes to that of others.
  7. Donate anonymously: God loves a cheerful giver, thus, you should give because you want to, not out of a sense of obligation. There’s no greater way to exemplify joyous giving than to do it without recognition or return.
  8. Give up social media for Lent: Looking for something to give up for Lent this year? Abstain from social media for 40 days.
  9. Start a pay-it-forward line at the drive-thru: Have you ever driven to the drive-thru window to learn that somebody else paid for your order? It’s a wonderful thing. Start the pay-it-forward chain next time you go through a drive-thru.
  10. Walk away from gossip: To engage in gossip is sinful and, quite frankly, weak. Run from gossip and do not engage in it.
  11. Dare to intervene in gossip: For the more brave, rather than run from gossip, step in and intervene on the behalf of the one who is being talked about.
  12. Volunteer: Time is our most valuable resource and there are fewer greater gifts in life than giving your time to others in need.

Mental Health

  1. Read daily: Reading keeps your mind sharp and is one of the lost forms of entertainment in our society.
  2. Reduce stress: Stress eats away at your happiness — and your innards, too — and you need to avoid the people, places, and activities that cause stress, if feasible.
  3. Find out why: When you learn something new, don’t just leave it at that. Ask follow-up questions to figure out why something is the way it is.
  4. Ask yourself if it could be worse: Do you have something heavy weighing on your mind? When you’re feeling that stress, use logic to combat it, and realize things could always be worse.
  5. Read a book per month: Some people are fast readers and others are not. For the latter of you out there, just make it a goal to read one book per month.
  6. Read the newspaper more often: Buy — or subscribe to — the newspaper! The industry could use the support, but you can also keep informed on the latest happenings.
  7. Do crossword puzzles: The brain is like a muscle that needs to be exercised. Work it out by solving crossword puzzles.
  8. Answer trivia questions: Similar to crossword puzzles, trivia questions can keep your mind sharp.
  9. Take naps: If it’s possible for you to do so, resolve to take quick power naps. You’ll wake up feeling refreshed with a clearer mind.
  10. Ponder, and answer, thought-provoking questions: Pick up a book, or find sites online, that offer thought-provoking, challenging questions. Give deep, intentional thought to how you would respond.

Emotional Health

  1. Accept help: People don’t like to accept help, for fear of showing weakness or being proven wrong. Don’t be afraid to fix a problem with someone else’s advice.
  2. Become self-reliant: Being too dependent on others stunts growth. Make it a point to learn how to do things you had previously gone to others to fulfill.
  3. Learn to let go: Are you still holding on to something hurtful or painful? Being able to say, “It happened, but it can’t hold me down,” is healthy.
  4. Confront a fear: Don’t let fear hold you back from living free. Be bold and confront your fears.
  5. Smile more: Smiling serves a dual purpose: it’s impossible to genuinely smile and be in a bad mood, plus a smile can legitimately make someone else’s day.
  6. Spend less time in front of mirrors: We are a vain society that spends too much time in front of mirrors. Fix yourself up during the morning, and then get away from the mirror.
  7. Worry less: The great philosopher, Van Wilder, once said: “Worrying is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but doesn’t get you anywhere.” Learn from him.
  8. Share your problems: One of my favorite life quotes is, “A problem shared is a problem halved.” Tell your loved ones your problems and you’ll immediately feel less burden.
  9. Find at least one positive in every day: When night falls, spend ten minutes thinking about your day. Not only will the meditation and reflection free your mind, but it will help you recall something positive from the day.
  10. Do more of what you enjoy: As long as other priorities are being met, don’t be afraid to schedule a little more time to do what you enjoy.
  11. Spend one night a week writing down what you are thankful for: Everybody has something to be thankful for — for even life is a gift. I’m sure you can find more if you give it thought.
  12. Remove all grudges: A grudge is a terrible burden to carry, and it certainly doesn’t help to do so. Just let it go.
  13. Clean up: There is a correlation between home tidiness and happiness. Take some time to keep your house in order.

Physical Health

  1. Move: You don’t have to get up and run a mile. Just move. Every ten to fifteen minutes, get up and walk around. It helps your body’s structure and your fitness.
  2. Get better rest: Everybody needs a good night’s sleep. Give yourself the gift of an earlier bedtime, even if it’s a half hour.
  3. Exercise 30 minutes a day: Grab your favorite TV show on DVD, pop it into the player, and do something aerobic during the duration of the show.
  4. Train for a 5k: If you have some level of physical activity but want to do more, get out there and train for a 5k run.
  5. Walk incrementally: When you’re starting something new, don’t shoot for the gold right away. Start by walking around your block. Then increase it by a few feet every day.
  6. Buy fitness bands: Resistance training is one of the best ways to strengthen and tone muscles, and you don’t have to spend a fortune to do it. Buy elastic bands and pull til your muscles give out.
  7. Make more trips to the park: Walk to your nearby park and rollerblade, play basketball, hit the tennis court, or do any number of physical activities.
  8. Take the stairs: Do you live or work in a building with an elavator? What are you doing using it? Hit the stairs and get some hidden exercise.
  9. Park at the back of parking lots: Not only does parking at the back of a lot give you exercise but it frees up a closer spot for somebody who might actually need it.
  10. Walk or ride a bike instead of driving: This is one of the most common resolutions but it often fails. Resolve to walk or ride a bike to nearby locations, if only once a week.
  11. Work on oral hygiene: Nobody likes a dirty mouth. Try brushing after every meal, not just in the morning or at night. And use the dreaded floss and mouthwash, too.
  12. Wash – and sanitize – your hands more often: Americans have a disgusting habit of not washing their hands after going to the bathroom. Blah. How about you start doing that, but also doing it sporadically throughout the day?
  13. Walk your – or another person’s – dog regularly: Your dog has a New Year’s resolution to walk more … why don’t you help him or her achieve that?

Nutrition

  1. Eat less carbs, fat, and calories: What is the proper balance of carbs and fat? I don’t know, and I’m not sure experts do, either. But if you eat less calories from healthy foods, you’ll likely lower both.
  2. Eat more protein: Protein is a powerful thing. It helps muscle growth and also makes you feel more full, thus stopping you from snacking.
  3. Limit portion sizes: Large portions is one of the greatest offenders of obesity in our country. Eat off smaller plates and keep it to one serving.
  4. Drink moderately: If you like to drink alcohol, you might want to consider cutting back. Drinking slower and allowing more time in between sips will help.
  5. Eliminate snacks: Snacking is a big problem, especially if you indulge in unhealthy treats. Instead of three big meals plus snacks, eat several small meals throughout the day.
  6. Drink more water: Drinking plenty of water is essential to good health. A tip would be to buy a 24 ounce (or larger) water bottle, and make sure you fill it three or four times.
  7. Stop or limit soda intake: Soda, both regular and diet, is bad for you. The sugar and carbonation alone causes bloating. Try cutting back 50% of what you normally drink.
  8. Cut out fast food: No offense to anyone who likes it, but just the thought of fast food makes my insides churn. It’s so unhealthy per portion. Think hard about seriously reducing your intake.
  9. Seek healthier dessert substitutes: Instead of ice cream, cakes and cookies, try Jell-O, pudding, whipped cream, popsicles and other healthier alternatives.
  10. Don’t finish eating the whole thing: As previously mentioned, portion sizes are much too large. Make it a priority to be conscious about how much you eat and don’t completely empty your plate. Eat leftovers or give it to the homeless.
  11. Stop eating three hours before bedtime: It’s not healthy for food to sit in your gut right at bedtime. Your metabolism slows down. Keep an eye on the clock before you eat late.
  12. Eat more fruits and vegetables: Tell yourself you’re going to eat at least one fruit or vegetable per day (if you’re not already eating them). Then, slowly increase intake.
  13. Limit processed, packaged food: Foods that are processed and packaged are much more unhealthy than fresh, organic stuff.
  14. Cut down on caffeine: I’ve learned from personal experience how bad caffeine can be. Try to keep your coffee and soda intake to one serving per day.
  15. Arrange your entire day’s food the night before: Not only is this a good production goal to have, but by laying out your food, it helps stop you from habitually stuffing your face out of boredom or mood swings.
  16. Eat more low sodium foods: Sodium leaves you feeling sluggish and makes you retain more water and raise your blood pressure, straining organs in your body.

Learning

  1. Learn how to fix something: One of the great feelings in life is fixing something yourself. Instead of always relying on others to fix things for you, use Google and YouTube to learn how to do it.
  2. Journal daily or weekly: Getting your thoughts out on paper is a great way to grow. Try starting slow, but set a reminder for yourself so you don’t forget.
  3. Start a blog: I started my blog because I had thoughts in my head that I wanted to share. But at the same time, I’m also learning new things as I prepare to write.
  4. Learn to cook or bake: Make an effort to learn how to cook or bake something new each month. Your culinary skills will be honed in a year.
  5. Learn to play an instrument: One of the greatest gifts in life is making music. The feeling one gets in entertaining others with an instrument will give you a natural high.
  6. Ask questions: Asking questions is the best way to learn things. Make it a priority to ask one question per day with the intent to learn something new.
  7. Observe human behavior: Take your mobile phone or a pad of paper with you and walk to a place where there is a lot of foot traffic. Observe human behavior and jot notes about people. You’d be surprised by what you discover.
  8. Analyze friends’ strengths and weaknesses: Do you have a friend who is successful? Analyze what he or she does to get that way. Conversely, is there a friend who always messes up? Learn from their mistakes.
  9. Become an expert at something: Do you need to go to school to become an expert at something? No. You just need knowledge and experience. Pick a topic that interests you, read one book per month on that topic, and engage in regular conversation. Expertise is just on the horizon!
  10. Take a local class: There are a lot of free or inexpensive classes offered in your local community. Log online to the city’s website and see what is offered.
  11. Look up new information daily: Everybody hears at least one thing daily that either piques their interest, confuses them, or completely goes over their head. When this happens, log on to Wikipedia, Google articles about it, or ask somebody close to you for more information.
  12. Learn something from your failures: Nobody likes to fail, but the bigger crime is to fail without learning something. When you fail at something, make it a priority to find out why that was. Ask others for assistance, if need be.
  13. Learn – and memorize – a joke every month: Everybody likes a joke teller. Learn and memorize a new joke each month. If your memory can retain more, go for it!
  14. Learn a new word every day: Expand your vocabulary by learning a new word — and then putting it into use — every day.
  15. Learn a new language: For the more ambitious out there, pick up a second language. It’s romantic, helpful in many jobs, and good for traveling.

New Opportunities

  1. Eat something new: Are you a picky eater? Don’t worry, I was too. Then, I just hit a point in my life where I made myself try new foods. It has paid off!
  2. Say Yes: Just like Jim Carrey in Yes Man, learn to say “yes” to opportunities that arise that you normally would refuse. A whole new world of experiences will open up to you.
  3. Do the opposite: Do you remember when George Costanza did the opposite of what felt normal to him, and his fortunes began to change? Give it a try; you never know what’ll happen.
  4. Do something out of your comfort zone: Go camping, do something adventurous, give a public speech, try playing extreme sports. Resolve to do something that isn’t normally comfortable for you.
  5. Live in the moment: As the great matchmaker, Hitch, once said: “When you’re in the room, be in the room. Daydreams are for private time.” Don’t think about other things when you’re around other people. Engage with them and the activity that is going on.
  6. Update your resume: Have you gotten complacent in the job you’re in? Spend time updating your resume in case new opportunities present themselves.
  7. Advance your career: Even if you feel like you’re set in your job, it never hurts to do research to see if better opportunities await you.
  8. Plan weekend getaways: Maybe you’re someone who annually makes a New Year’s resolution to travel more, but you never get around to it. Start small, take one day off work, and go on a three-day getaway. Keep it simple and it makes it harder to say no.

Digital Devices

  1. Put the phone down: Just put it down. Resolve to have your mobile phone in your hands less this coming year. There’s a great life going on around you; make a New Year’s resolution to be a part of it.
  2. Budget screen time: Remember when you were little and your parents may (or may not) have limited your video game time to a certain amount? Why do we not limit ourselves as adults? Budget a limited amount of time in front of the TV, computer, or your cell phone.
  3. Put your phone in your trunk: Unless you use your phone for the map app, you have no reason to have your phone accessible when you’re driving. If you put your phone anywhere within reach, you’ll be tempted to dangerously reach for it.
  4. Keep your phone out of reach but within earshot: To help avoid cell phone addiction, but to make sure you answer when someone calls, put your phone out of sight and reach, but within earshot to hear it ring.
  5. Substitute learning apps for games: When you’re bored, do you pick up your phone and play a game app? Try deleting those mindless apps and load ones that educate and inform.

Productivity

  1. Become more organized: Much like a financial budget helps you retain more money, organizing your professional and personal schedules can maximize your time and help you find more of it.
  2. Be on time: If you have a problem with tardiness, start telling yourself that if you’re not at least ten minutes early, then you’re late.
  3. Rearrange schedule/habits: People who say they don’t have enough time to do something aren’t properly budgeting their time. You can still have your personal time, but after you work out first.
  4. Be the first to arrive and the last to leave: Try going above and beyond your next obligation. Instead of just being “one of the crowd,” be a leader by showing up first and leaving last.
  5. Take your lunch break later: I found out early in my work life that as the day wears on, I’m less productive. So, I decided long ago to burst out of the starting gate and work longer and harder at the beginning of the day, then take my break and get refreshed for the shorter home stretch.
  6. Leave the house early to account for traffic: Why does traffic have to be so stressful? It doesn’t. People get stressed because they have to be somewhere on time — or on their own desired time. If you leave earlier, you become less stressed or pressed for time to get where you’re going.
  7. Write goals each month and then evaluate at the end of the month: Try writing down goals on the first of each month that you want to achieve for the upcoming 30 days. Then, on the last day of the month, recap what those goals were and analyze why they did or did not get achieved.
  8. Finish what you start: Have you ever started something that you just couldn’t — or didn’t want to — finish? Of course you did. You’re human. Resolve to finish something no matter how poorly it comes out. Just as writers re-write drafts, you can go back and amend what you finished.
  9. Give yourself more time in the morning: This is hard for people who crave their sleep, but by giving yourself more time in the morning, you can have a better breakfast, take your time getting ready, and be places on time.
  10. Assess priorities: Priorities often are set purely by one’s own desires and wishes rather than written plans. This is purely out of habit, but it doesn’t have to be. Make a resolution to write down what’s important to you in your life and budget your time and money accordingly.

Entertainment & Culture

  1. Find a new favorite song each week: Is your New Year’s resolution to keep up with the latest trends in the music industry? Each week, visit the Billboard 100 and find a new song that you like. 52 weeks later, you’ll have quite the collection.
  2. Visit a neighboring town: You never know what is around your town until you do a little investigating. Visit the websites of neighboring towns to find out what local events are coming up, and attend them.
  3. Go to one game for every sport: Make it a priority to attend at least one game for every sporting event in the calendar year.
  4. See one movie per month and write an analysis: You can become the movie critic of your social group. Resolve to attend one new movie each month and then write your thoughts about it. Post it on social media.
  5. Go to a nearby big city and partake in its culture: Similar to the neighboring town goal, drive to the nearest big city and expand your boundaries a little bit. Spend a whole day — or a weekend — immersed in its culture.
  6. Go to a museum: Museums just have a negative connotation surrounding them, don’t they? They don’t have to be boring, though. Go and walk through at your own pace and find something of interest. Take pictures and read more about them online.
  7. Go to an aquarium: Perhaps you’re less a museum person and more into aquariums? Make an effort to go see the marine life.
  8. Attend a new local play each month: If you don’t have a lot of money but still want to expand your culture, go attend a local play put on by an amateur cast.
  9. Try a native dish each week: If you’re willing to give new foods a try, research the native dishes from around the world and give a new one a try each week.

Lifestyle

  1. Cut down on procrastination: We all love pleasure more than pain, which is why we put off unpleasant tasks in favor of pleasurable ones. Make a New Year’s resolution to do a little bit of work at a time to make it seem less overwhelming.
  2. Watch less TV: I wish I had the statistics for it, but the amount of time we spend in front of the boob tube — especially watching reruns or movies we’ve already seen — is sickening. Don’t waste so much time in front of the TV.
  3. Adopt a pet: Every pet needs a good home. If you are responsible, go out and find a new furry little friend and give him a good home.
  4. Vacation more: There’s a reason why most jobs give vacation time off. It’s because we need a break from the hard work. Don’t fight this formula. Go on vacation more.
  5. Live intentionally: Do you ever feel like you’re that feather from Forrest Gump, just floating around aimlessly? In all that you do in life, make a resolution to put effort and drive into it.
  6. Find a better financially-personally rewarding job balance: Money is an important part of living in a society, but it’s an awful thing if you worship it. If you have a really financially-rewarding job that you’re miserable at, take a more pleasing job for less money. And vice versa.
  7. Simplify; become a minimalist: While not for everyone, sometimes reducing the amount of junk in your life frees you from stress. Why do we collect so much junk? Get rid of it.
  8. Find a new hobby: Never has it been so easy for someone to develop a new hobby. The amount of resources that are available to us on the internet is staggering.
  9. Find a new pastime: What do you do to pass the time between appointments and meetings? If you mindlessly check your cell phone, maybe it’s time to think up something else.
  10. Sit at the table when eating: Once upon a time in our society, it was proper for families to gather around the table at dinner time. Now we eat in the living room on couches in front of the TV. So much wasted valuable time together.
  11. Remove clutter from your home: As we accumulate new personal possessions, sometimes we just stick them in a corner wherever there is free space. Why not go through old clutter and remove it? You’d be surprised by how much space you can save.
  12. Set up – or amend – your will: If you don’t have a will yet, you might want to consider a resolution of getting one. Death is not pleasant to think about, but what happens with your estate after you die is important.
  13. Have a social media fast and journal it: We spend entirely too much time on social media. Choose to go a day, a week, or a month without it. You can journal your thoughts and experiences without it, and then post it online when the fast is over.
  14. Improve wardrobe: If you’re not a fashionable person, chances are you have room to improve your wardrobe. Donate old clothes, return some Christmas gifts, and go out and buy some new threads.
  15. Dress like a mannequin: No, I don’t mean have a plastic, chiseled physique, although that certainly would help. I mean that store mannequins are a good source for finding the latest fashion trends. Pick an outfit that it’s wearing, and buy it.
  16. Rearrange furniture or décor: Maybe you’re like me, and you enjoy changes in scenery. Maybe your resolution is to change up your living room and buy some new décor.
  17. Take time to enjoy overlooked beauty: God’s wonderful creation is full of beauty that we so often overlook. Take a walk around town or a forrest preserve and take in all the beauty.
  18. Make your bed daily: A simple, yet effective way to lead a healthier lifestyle. The difference in how you feel based on whether you see a made or unmade bed is small but noticeable.
  19. Rise and set with the sun: Get out of bed and go watch the sunrise. Sit outside and watch a beautiful sunset. Not only is it pleasant scenery, but it gives you time to think and reflect.

Relationships

  1. Become a big brother/sister: There are lots of kids out there in desperate need of a positive role model. Go be that difference in their lives.
  2. Give credit to others first: Be a humble, selfless person and deflect all praise from others. Give others the due credit they deserve for the roles that they play in your success.
  3. Mail birthday cards with handwritten sentiments instead of sending Facebook messages: Facebook has made communication plentiful, but far less personal. Instead of a one-liner birthday wish on somebody’s wall, mail them a birthday card with more thoughtful sentiments.
  4. Start a selfie photo album and collect photos with loved ones: Selfies are the big deal these days. Don’t fight it; embrace it. Put together a photo album containing selfies of yourself with friends, family, celebrities, and even strangers if you so dare.
  5. Share or retweet more of other’s posts on your timeline: Everybody has something to say, hence they have their own social media accounts. But why not give props to your friends and followers by sharing their thoughts and feelings?
  6. Seek specific advice from friends: Every peer of yours has something unique to offer. Find out what they know or do best and ask them for advice on those topics.
  7. Apologize more: Nobody likes to be wrong, but we often stick to our guns and want to blame others. It started with Adam and Eve and continues to this day. Take responsibility and vow to apologize more.
  8. Say I Love You every day: Tell a different somebody every day that you love them. Make a reminder on your phone if you need it, but share the love.
  9. Offer a compliment each day: You have no idea how powerful a compliment is. Make it a priority to compliment someone for something big or small, whether it be someone you know or a total stranger.
  10. Call somebody instead of texting: Phone calls occur less each day due to the ability to text someone. But if you have a question for someone, give them a quick call instead.
  11. Use snail mail for personal touch: Make a New Year’s resolution to send a letter in the mail each month. It’s a pleasant surprise for the recipient and is much more personal than email.

Social

  1. Meet new friends: You may think you don’t have time for new friends — and you could be right — but you shouldn’t stop meeting people because a new one just might push a “fringe” one out of the picture.
  2. Find significant other: If you’re single and lonely, this year is your time! Don’t get frustrated by your lack of progress in this area. Just keep a positive attitude and enjoy meeting new people.
  3. Join Twitter: If you don’t already have an account, join Twitter and start following people with similar interests. You can enjoy the conversations with them and also keep updated with the latest news in the world.
  4. Join Instagram: Get an Instagram account, snap pictures, and post them for all to see. There is so much beauty in the world that is worth sharing.
  5. Thought of the day: Looking for something to say on Twitter or Facebook? Start with something simple by resolving to share one thought every day that may be on your mind.
  6. Picture of the day: Similar to the thought of the day, snap a photo of something that appeals to you and post it each day.
  7. Have purposeful conversations: Small talk is fine and dandy when you don’t have a lot of time, but leave that type of conversation alone otherwise. Each time you talk to someone, resolve to learn something about them. It doesn’t have to be something new, either. It can be additional info about something you already knew about them.
  8. Teach someone something: If you have a particular skill or knowledge of a certain topic, don’t be afraid to share that with someone who is seeking it.
  9. Organize a regular game night: Have a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly game night with friends and family. It’ll be good social time and loads of fun.
  10. Chat with one random stranger every day: Often we like to keep to ourselves, but you’ll find that if you converse with someone random each day, you can not only learn something — possibly make a friend — but you can also brighten their day.
  11. Set up rotating movie night with friends: You can save money and have fun by hosting a movie night with your friends.
  12. Post more positive things on social media: Do you ever look at your Facebook timeline and see nothing but complaints and whining? There are so many negative thoughts that people have to share that it often overshadows positive stories and comments. Resolve to stick to the positive.
  13. Throw potluck holiday parties: Parties can be expensive, so choose a potluck where everyone brings food and enjoy the company of your friends and family.
  14. Don’t ever feel excluded from a conversation: Do you ever sit at a table where people are having a conversation about people or things you don’t know? Don’t feel left out! Just ask them to explain who these people or things are, and I’m sure they’ll happily oblige because you’re showing interest.
  15. Have a “New Year’s Resolution” recap/kickoff party next New Year’s with friends: As sort of an incentive for keeping your New Year’s resolutions, have a party at the end of each year and see which of your friends have stuck to, or achieved the most resolutions.
  16. Participate in a theme day: If you’re a student, a teacher, or an everyday worker, there’s a chance you’ve been presented the opportunity to participate in a theme day at your office. Resolve not to skip out on these!

Acts of Kindness

  1. Be more courteous: We have a courtesy problem in America. We often get lost in our own world and forget that there are other lives that matter. Think of others before doing certain things in public.
  2. Give the benefit of the doubt: When we see someone do something we don’t like, or hear them say something we disagree with, our first inclination is to judge them. Try giving them the benefit of the doubt first, as if there are factors weighing on that person’s heart and mind.
  3. Buy a drink for a stranger: When you’re out at a bar, try buying someone a drink just for the fun of it. And no, I’m not talking about that cute girl you’re interested in, although that’s fine, too. Just spot someone random, buy them a drink, and leave with no questions asked.
  4. Hold the door open for strangers: Chivalry is dying thanks to the rise in feminism. But it doesn’t have to be. Make a resolution to always hold the door open for anyone around you who is headed for the same building as you are.
  5. Bring doughnuts – or a healthy alternative – to your office: Spread some good workplace morale and bring in a snack for your coworkers.
  6. Leave a surprise holiday gift on neighbor’s doorsteps: You don’t have to spend a lot of money. Buy a pack of candy canes, print out a generic goodwill note, and leave them at your neighbors’ doorsteps.
  7. Follow the rules of the road more closely: This one personally affects me, as I think it’s a general lack of courtesy for other drivers when people break the rules of the road. Resolve to change that.
  8. Write a positive — or, an insult-free negative — review for a product: Did you make a recent purchase that you like? Log online to that company’s website and write a positive review for it. Or, if you didn’t like it, you can be honest but do it without hurling insults.
  9. Post a positive comment on an article you read online: Do you ever read the comments section on articles? I don’t, because the vast majority of them are from keyboard bullies who exist just to insult people. Try changing that up and spreading some goodwill to others with positive comments. Even if you hate what they wrote, find one thing that you liked and focus on that.

Financial

  1. Get a part-time job: Looking to improve your finances? The best place to go is to work.
  2. Cut up your credit cards: I’m in the Dave Ramsey school of thought that credit cards are a bad thing. They’re a slippery slope and make it way easy for you to overspend.
  3. Home brew coffee: Do you realize the addiction our country has to coffee? And what’s worse is that it’s the expensive, foofy stuff sold at Starbucks and other coffee retailers. We spend way too much money there. Stop going there and start brewing at home.
  4. Get out of debt: Debt is a huge problem because it slows your ability to make money in investments. Make a resolution to get out of debt this year.
  5. Save more: There’s a staggering number of Americans who either live paycheck to paycheck or spend a disproportionate amount of their income. Resolve to put away a little bit of each paycheck you get into a savings account.
  6. Tip more: Make a resolution to go above and beyond what you normally tip. Can’t figure out the percentage? Just take 10% of the check, multiply it by two, and round up to the nearest dollar. Every now and then, drop a $20- or $50-bill on an unexpecting waiter or waitress.
  7. Make money with your hobby: Do you do something for fun that you absolutely love? Why not investigate if there’s money to be made with your talents?
  8. Increase your 401k contribution: Most Americans do not save enough for retirement because they’re too interested in “living in the now” with their paychecks. Don’t be poor in your senior years! Increase your 401k right now, even if it’s just one percent.
  9. Start a budget: If you thought you spent too much money last year, make your resolution this year to budget where every dollar is going.
  10. Have a garage sale: I think it’s safe to say that nearly every middle class person has something in his or her house that he or she doesn’t need anymore. Why keep it? Sell it and get some extra money.
  11. Resolve to live below your means: In our society, we have this obsession of “keeping up with the Joneses.” What our neighbor has, we’ve gotta have. Enough of that. Cut down on your expenses, save money, and pay for it when you can actually afford it without debt.
  12. Substitute movies at home for theater: Movie theaters are still very expensive and it can put a strain on your budget. Instead, dive into the $5 bins at Walmart for a cheap movie you may not have seen — or haven’t seen in a while — and watch that for much cheaper.
  13. Make a shopping list and only buy what’s on it: Rid yourself of the impulse buying at the supermarket, and instead make a list before you go, buying only what is on the list. You’ll save much more money.
  14. Save – and cash – loose change: It’s amazing how much money we accumulate in pure change. And we treat this change as if it were little value. If you save all the change you collect throughout the year, you can have a big New Year’s resolution bash next year.
  15. Support – and save at – small shops: Small businesses need your help! They often have good deals and you can help save yourself and them.
  16. Bring lunch to cut down on restaurant costs: People spend too much money eating out each month. Start bringing your lunch from home.
  17. Carpool: Cut down on gas costs and increase communication with your peers by organizing a carpool.
  18. Buy cheap, bulk greeting cards: Do you ever look at the back of greeting cards when you’re in the store? Prices are ridiculous. You can save by buying generic cards in bulk or writing your own.
  19. Learn to love leftovers: Need to save money and eat healthier? Cook big meals, divide them up into proper portion sizes, and eat the leftovers later.

Best movie series: sequels, trilogies, and sagas, oh my!

With the release of Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens, which hit theaters on Thursday and figures to set major box office records, it got me thinking: just what are the best movie series ever?

I’m a huge fan of sequels, trilogies, and sagas. To me, a good movie series will surpass a great individual movie in terms of the legacy it sets over the course of time. And the reason is pretty simple: in movie series, there is more story and conflict, more action and drama, and more character development to attract your affections.

To give you an everyday analogy, let’s say you meet somebody at a party and spend two hours interacting with them, learning about their past, their likes and dislikes, and find out what kind of character they have. You may never see that person again, despite how pleasant the evening was, and it still feels like they’re a stranger. On the flip side, aren’t you more likely to grow fond of that person if you met up with him or her a few more times, kept learning about and having experiences with him or her? The same thing can be said about characters in a movie series.

So, what makes a great movie series? For starters, let’s make sure we understand that greatness is relative to each individual. What I find great isn’t necessarily going to be felt by others.

The other thing that makes a movie series great is the continuity of characters and storyline. There are plenty of movies where the cast of the sequel is different than the original, and that just doesn’t feel right to me. Because although they share a movie title, it feels like two completely separate movies.

With that in mind, here are the six criteria I used while grading the movie series that I’ve seen.

  • Plot: How good is the storyline? Is it an interesting tale that holds my attention? Do I learn something from it? Does it motivate me in some way? Does the script offer a dialogue that helps push the story forward?
  • Characters: How unique are the characters? Are they clearly distinct in their personalities and mannerisms? Do they entertain me? Can I empathize with them? Are the protagonists easy to like and the antagonists easy to dislike?
  • Entertainment: How entertained am I by this movie? Is it funny? Does it make me laugh? Is it a thriller or suspenseful? Does it hold my attention? Do I pick up my cell phone in the middle of it to check Facebook without wanting to pause it?
  • Cinematography: How good is the film production? Is it an expensive production or low budget? How good are the visual effects? If there is some kind of animation, is it good quality or does it look oddly out of place? How’s the soundtrack? Is the music enjoyable and does it fit with the plot?
  • Suspend Disbelief: Can I lose myself in the moment, or does it feel like I’m watching a movie? Could I imagine myself being there live as the action unfolds? Do I have to question the validity and reliability of the script, or does it just feel right?
  • Rewatchability: How likely am I to watch these movies again? Can I watch them over and over again without getting bored? Will they sit in the closet collecting dust for months? How much time has to elapse before I watch them again?

For each of those categories, I assigned a value of 1-3. A value of 1 meant the movie series was just fine in that area. A value of 2 meant the movie series was good, or strong, in that particular criterion. And a value of 3 meant the movie series was superior or excellent in that category.

Without further ado, here is my list of Best 25 Movie Series:

Best 25 Movie Series

  1. City Slickers
    Starring the always hilarious Billy Crystal, City Slickers (trailer) is a funny tale about a man who is on the verge of turning 40 and who, along with his two best friends, are having midlife crises. As a birthday gift, the three friends go on a two-week cattle drive, and, as the title denotes, find it hard to make the transition from city slickers to cowboys. In the sequel, City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold (trailer), Crystal’s character, along with one of his friends and now his brother — played by the annoyingly funny Jon Lovitz — go back on the trail to search for gold that may or may not be there.
  2. Monsters, Inc.
    One of the first of a few animated movie series I enjoy, Monsters, Inc. (trailer) is an extremely clever story about an alternate monster world that exists behind children’s closet doors. The funny twist is that while children are afraid of monsters in real life, monsters are just as afraid to have any contact with children in the movie. Monsters University (trailer) is the second movie in the series, but is actually a prequel to the first movie. It traces the history of the two main monsters from the original movie (voiced by Billy Crystal and John Goodman) as they go through college, trying to earn their way into the scaring industry.
  3. I Know What You Did Last Summer
    I’ve never been a big fan of gory horror movies, but I do enjoy thrillers. I Know What You Did Last Summer (trailer) stars Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe and Freddie Prinze, Jr. It’s about those four teenagers who are being stalked by a killer, one year after they hit a man with Phillippe’s car and attempted to cover it up. In the movie’s sequel, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (trailer), the teens, now in college, win a trip to the Bahamas. But what they come to find out is that their haunting past follows them all the way there.
  4. Scream
    Like I Know What You Did Last Summer, Scream (trailer) is what I would call a lightweight horror film movie series. There are four films in the series, each with its own surface-level plot, but the core plot of the entire series is that Sidney Prescott, played by Neve Campbell, is stalked by a variety of killers over the span of a few years. The killers are generally copycat killers or individuals that are aware of the horror film genre and try to replicate these in “real life.” The sequels are all sequentially numbered: Scream 2 (trailer), Scream 3 (trailer), and Scream 4 (trailer)
  5. American Pie
    What’s a more wholesome movie than four high school kids making a pledge to lose their virginity? In all seriousness though, American Pie (trailer) didn’t receive a lot of points in my plot category but there was quite a bit of humor that made this enjoyable. American Pie 2 (trailer) brought back the original class on their summer break from college in a quest to throw the ultimate beach house party. American Wedding (trailer) was the third movie in the series and showed all the fun and shenanigans that happen when planning a wedding. And American Reunion (trailer), which might have been the best and funniest movie next to the original, featured the cast meeting up for their high school reunion.
  6. Father of the Bride
    Father of the Bride (trailer) is a classic, heartfelt romantic comedy about a father who has trouble with the fact that his firstborn daughter is getting married and moving out. There are so many funny lines in this and Steve Martin (the father) nails the role. In Father of the Bride Part II (trailer), Martin’s next big challenge is caring for his wife and daughter — both of whom are pregnant at the same time. I love how committed he is and how he runs around willingly to do anything and everything for his two pregnant ladies.
  7. Men In Black
    A clever tale about alien life, Men in Black (trailer) stars Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith and is about a special department that monitors extra terrestrials that live discreetly in human disguise. Based on its popularity, the film spawned off sequels Men in Black II (trailer) and Men in Black III (trailer), but in my opinion, both fall short of the original.
  8. Major League
    Major League (trailer) is one of the best baseball movies of all time. It’s about a professional baseball owner who inherits the team from her late husband and she wants her team to lose so badly that she can relocate them to Miami. So she assembles a cast of oddball players to do that, but they rally together and foil her plan. Major League II (trailer) returns most of the first movie’s cast but is more a kid-friendly movie that lacks much of the adult humor and theme that made the first one special. They also came out with a third installment, Major League: Back to the Minors (trailer), but only a few actors from the original appeared in it and it was far worse.
  9. Beverly Hills Cop
    Starring Eddie Murphy, Beverly Hills Cop (trailer) is about a Detroit police officer who heads to — where else? — Beverly Hills to solve a murder. Filled with action and the unique humor of Murphy, the movie was extended into a series with the additions of Beverly Hills Cop II (trailer) and Beverly Hills Cop III (trailer). Similar to the first installment, Murphy’s character finds his way to California for the second two movies to investigate crimes.
  10. Toy Story
    Toy Story (trailer) just might be the greatest animated movie series of all time. It features the voices of some great actors such as Tom Hanks and Tim Allen and is a heartfelt comedy about the importance of a child’s connection to his toys, and a made-up tale of the connection between the toys themselves. Toy Story 2 (trailer) and Toy Story 3 (trailer), unlike many sequels in the movie industry, were highly successful and did the first movie justice by continuing the storyline. Supposedly, Toy Story 4 is also in the works for a 2018 release date.
  11. Jurassic Park
    I was hesitant to give this series the ranking that I did, mostly because I did not like The Lost World: Jurassic Park (trailer) and Jurassic Park III (trailer), the second and third movies of the series, respectively. But Jurassic Park (trailer), the first, and Jurassic World (trailer), the last, were so good that the series belonged higher on the list. This received high marks from me in Characters, Entertainment, and Cinematography based on the creation of the dinosaurs, the gripping action and solid visual effects.
  12. National Lampoon’s Vacation
    The National Lampoon’s Vacation (trailer) movie series received high marks from me for its humor and entertainment value. Chevy Chase plays a bumbling, but extremely dedicated husband and father for whom you can’t help but have empathy. He loves his family dearly and wants to take them on good ol’ fashioned family vacations, all of which never go as planned and lead to some kind of trouble. There are some continuity issues among the four core movies — European Vacation (trailer), Christmas Vacation (trailer), and Vegas Vacation (trailer) followed the first — most notably that the children and the family’s household change from movie to movie. But you’re in for a barrel of laughs every time you sit down to watch one of these.
  13. Ghostbusters
    When there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call? A classic movie from 1980s, Ghostbusters (trailer) stars Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis as parapsychologists who start a ghost-capturing business in New York City. The trio eventually hire Ernie Hudson as their fourth and set out to rid the city of ghouls and goblins before landing a job helping Sigourney Weaver’s character. In the sequel to the first, Ghostbusters II (trailer) showed an out-of-work Ghostbusters team finding ways to make ends meet until a resurgence in ghosts in the city cause them to get back in business for a final, New Year’s Eve showdown. Another installment of the Ghostbusters franchise will be released in July 2016, featuring Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones as female ghostbusters.
  14. The Karate Kid
    Where else can a skinny, nerdy kid from Newark, New Jersey beat up a tough, seasoned karate fighter from California? In The Karate Kid (trailer) movie, of course. I have an affinity for ‘80s movies and this one is filled with great culture, fashion and music from that era. With the help of an Okinawan immigrant named Mr. Miyagi (played by Noriyuki “Pat” Morita), Daniel LaRusso (played by Ralph Macchio) is trained to defend himself against school bullies, and enters a karate tournament to prove his mettle. He wins the championship and then returns to defend his title in The Karate Kid, Part III (trailer). But wait, what about The Karate Kid, Part II (trailer)? Oh yeah, immediately after winning the title in the first movie, Daniel and Mr. Miyagi head to Okinawa to visit Miyagi’s dying father. While there, another thug bullies Daniel, who has to defend his own honor and that of his love interest he meets there.
  15. Speed
    The first Speed (trailer) movie was very clever for its time. The movie starred Dennis Hopper as an angry retired member of the bomb squad who rigs a city bus with a bomb, set to explode if the bus drops below 50 miles per hour. Keanu Reeves stars as a police officer who jumps aboard the bus to try to save the people on board and and help them resolve the issue. The always delightful Sandra Bullock, in one of her first starring roles, plays a college student who has to take over driving the bus after the driver was shot by another passenger. The movie did well enough to garner a second installment, cleverly titled Speed 2: Cruise Control (trailer) — a play on words considering this movie took place on a cruise liner. Bullock returned for this film, but with a different love interest than Reeves.
  16. Rocky
    Who doesn’t love underdog stories? Rocky (trailer) may be among the best. Played by Sylvester Stallone, Rocky Balboa is a struggling Italian boxer from the streets of Philadelphia. He’s given the opportunity to fight the heavyweight champion of the world, Apollo Creed (played by Carl Weathers), in what is supposed to be an easy fight for the champ. But Rocky goes toe-to-toe with Creed and nearly beats him. The movie was a big success and spawned off many sequels: Rocky II (trailer), Rocky III (trailer), Rocky IV (trailer), and Rocky V (trailer), all of which Rocky seemed to be the underdog in. After a 16-year hiatus, Stallone filmed a sixth installment, titled Rocky Balboa (trailer). And nine years later — this past November — they added a seventh, which is called Creed (trailer), and it tells the story of Apollo Creed’s son.
  17. Spider-Man
    Tobey Maguire plays Peter Parker (and Spider-Man (trailer), of course) in the 2002 adaptation of the comic book hero. Parker is a high school student in New York City who develops spider powers and turns to crimefighting. Spider-Man 2 (trailer) was released two years after the first and features Spider-Man trying to save the city while battling the diabolical Doctor Octopus with his mechanical tentacles. Spider-Man 3 (trailer) came out in 2007 and is basically a continuation of the second film, as it takes place a few months after the end of the second one. Spider-Man takes on Venom and Sandman in the third film. A reboot of Spider-Man came out thereafter, titled The Amazing Spider-Man, but I enjoyed the first three better.
  18. Batman
    Although the cast changes from film to film, Batman (trailer) happens to be my favorite superhero movie series. Originally starring Michael Keaton, Batman takes on Joker (played by the incredible Jack Nicholson). Batman returns in Batman Returns (trailer), the second installment of the series. Danny DeVito plays the role of Penguin as the chief antagonist who teams up with Christopher Walken’s character, Max Shreck. And Michelle Pfeiffer stars as Catwoman. The third film, Batman Forever (trailer), featured an interesting villainous duo of Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face and Jim Carrey as the Riddler. Val Kilmer replaced Keaton as Batman and Nicole Kidman played his love interest. In the fourth film, titled Batman & Robin (trailer), George Clooney starred as Batman and Chris O’Donnell, who appeared in the third film, reprised his role as Robin. Alicia Silverstone become Batgirl and Arnold Schwarzenegger played the villainous Mr. Freeze. There was another Batman series that came thereafter — The Dark Knight Trilogy — which was great in its own right, by my heart lies with the Keaton-led movie series.
  19. The Hunger Games
    I read the first Hunger Games book while on my honeymoon and was instantly hooked. When my wife and I returned, I borrowed the second and third books of the series and finished those in short order. Then I heard that the fourth movie was coming to theaters in the fall of 2015, so what did I do? What any normal person would do: buy the first three films and watch them in sequence before going to the theater for the fourth! The Hunger Games (trailer) is — as I noted — originally a series of three novels written by Suzanne Collins that was adapted into a movie series. It’s about a post-apocalyptic nation called Panem, which is divided into 12 districts that are oppressed by the Capitol. Every year, as punishment for past rebellion, the Capitol forces one young boy and girl from each district as part of a lottery to compete in a fight-to-the-death outdoor arena in what is called the Hunger Games. 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence), triumphantly — and defiantly — wins the Hunger Games for which she volunteered, which sets off the plot for the second, third and fourth installments — The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (trailer), The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (trailer), and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (trailer).
  20. Indiana Jones
    Harrison Ford stars as Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones, a fictional archaeologist who’s a bit of an adventure hunter, to say the least. Raiders of the Lost Ark (trailer) is the first installment of the Indiana Jones movie series and sets Indiana out on the mission of locating the Ark of the Covenant. The second film, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (trailer), is actually a prequel to the first one in which Indiana chases after a mystical stone for an Indian village and discovers a secret, evil cult. In the third film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (trailer), which is perhaps my favorite of the series, Indiana searches for his father (played by Sean Connery) who was kidnapped by the Nazis who are looking for the Holy Grail. Nineteen years after the Last Crusade, a fourth film was released titled Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (trailer). In that one, Indiana is up against Soviet agents while searching for a telepathic crystal skull.
  21. Die Hard
    In my favorite police-action film series of all time, Bruce Willis stars as NYPD officer John McClane. Seriously, who can play that role any better? In the first Die Hard (trailer), Willis battles East German terrorists in Los Angeles. In Die Hard 2 (trailer), Willis takes on villains at Washington, D.C.’s Dulles International Airport. In the third film — which could be my favorite — titled Die Hard with a Vengeance (trailer), Willis is back in New York City and taking on terrorists and is at the whim of a madman named “Simon.” He runs all over the city playing a dangerous game of Simon Says, answering tough riddles and completing near-impossible challenges to avoid more bombs from blowing up. Twelve years after the third film, Live Free or Die Hard (trailer) was released, featuring Willis battling cyber-terrorists who hack into FBI computers. Finally, A Good Day to Die Hard (trailer) was released in 2013 where Willis travels to Russia and Ukraine to save his son and battle the bad guys on a new frontier.
  22. The Fugitive
    I was a little hesitant to include this movie on the list because The Fugitive (trailer) was such a strong stand-alone film — and may be my favorite movie of all time. But the film did spawn a sequel titled U.S. Marshals, thus, it qualifies for the list. In The Fugitive, Harrison Ford stars as Dr. Richard Kimble, who was wrongly convicted of the murder of his wife. He escapes while being transferred to another prison and evades U.S. Marshals led by Deputy Samuel Gerard (played by Tommy Lee Jones) while trying to put together clues to prove his innocence. In the sequel, Jones and the rest of his U.S. Marshals (trailer) return as the focal point of the movie as they try to capture fugitive Mark Warren (played by Wesley Snipes), who was also wrongly accused of a crime. Both films will grab you by the throat and not let you go throughout the twists and turns.
  23. Back to the Future
    Back to the Future (trailer) became a cultural phenomenon in the late 1980s and revived some of its popularity in 2015 due to it being the year that Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) and Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) time traveled to in Back to the Future Part II (trailer). Brown is a crazy scientist who invents a time machine built out of a DeLorean. While being chased by Libyan terrorists, McFly accidentally goes back in time to 1955 and gets stuck there without plutonium. So Brown’s 1955 self devises a plan to use the aid of lightning to send McFly back to 1985, where he came from. As previously mentioned, Brown and McFly travel to 2015 to save McFly’s future son from jail time. The bully of the trilogy, Biff Tannen, steals the time machine and goes back in time to 1955 to give his old self a sports almanac so that he can make bets and become wealthy. Brown and McFly have to go back in time and stop Biff from giving his younger self the almanac. At the end of the second film, after they achieved their mission, Brown is struck by lightning in the middle of a storm and sent back in time to 1885, to the Old West. In Back to the Future Part III (trailer), McFly — who was stuck in 1955 at the end of Part II — found the time machine that Brown buried while in 1885 and he used it to go back to the Old West to bring Brown back to 1985. If you’re confused, no worries — it takes a few watches to get it all. This is a classic trilogy and, as you can tell, one of my all-time favorites.
  24. Star Wars
    Alas, we come to film series that inspired this post, and as you can tell, it is not my favorite movie series of all time. But it just might be the greatest of all time in popular culture. For more on why I like this series, you can read this post. But in short, to have six — going on seven — movies that form one long story is about as epic a saga as it can get. Space battles, evil plots, good guys versus bad guys — this science fiction action series has certainly influenced this country for many years. As all Star Wars fans know, Episodes 4-6 came out first, followed by Episodes 1-3, and now Episode 7. But sequentially, they are: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (trailer), Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (trailer), Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (trailer), Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (trailer), Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (trailer), Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (trailer), and Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (trailer).
  25. Pirates Of The Caribbean
    What’s better than outer space fighting? Well, to me, fighting out on the open seas! We finally reach the greatest movie series — in my opinion — of all time. In Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (trailer), Captain Jack Sparrow, played by the uber-talented Johnny Depp, sets out to regain the ship he once captained but that was stolen from him when the crew mutinied and left him stranded alone on an island. In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (trailer), the second film, Sparrow has control of the Pearl but now must avoid the villainous Davy Jones, to whom Sparrow owes servitude. Meanwhile, Lord Cutler Beckett of the East India Trading Company is chasing after Sparrow and is trying to take control of the seas. In Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (trailer), the third film, Lord Beckett gains power over Davy Jones by capturing Jones’ torn-out heart. Jones reluctantly does Beckett’s bidding as they try to extinguish Sparrow and pirates everywhere. There are lots of twists and turns in this one as alliances change frequently which culminates in an epic battle at sea with unbelievable cinematography and visual effects. A fourth installment of the series, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (trailer), came out four years after the third. In that installment, Sparrow sets out to find the Foutain of Youth and comes across the infamous pirate Blackbeard. Former captain of the Black Pearl, Hector Barbossa — who led the mutiny against Sparrow in the first movie — joins King George II’s navy and is in a race against Sparrow and the Spanish fleet for the Fountain. A fifth installment of the film, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, is set for release in 2017. Guess who will be there sitting middle-center of the theater?

Now, if it looks like I’m missing some big ones, it’s probably because I have not seen them — or, haven’t seen the complete series. Among these “incomplete” movies are: Harry Potter, The Terminator, Friday the 13th, Lord of the Rings.

As for the rest of the movies that I’ve seen and enjoy, but that did not make the top cut, they are listed below.

Honorable Mention Movie Series

  • Home Alone
  • Ice Age
  • Jump Street
  • The Mighty Ducks
  • The Santa Clause
  • Analyze This/That
  • My Girl
  • Shrek
  • Sister Act
  • Wayne’s World
  • Bill & Ted’s
  • Look Who’s Talking
  • Madagascar
  • Problem Child
  • The Naked Gun
  • Scary Movie
  • Short Circuit
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • Weekend at Bernie’s
  • Gremlins

What exactly is eggnog, and what part of the egg is the nog?

What the heck is eggnog made of, and which part of the egg is the nog?

As I sit here enjoying my cold, delicious eggnog in front of the Christmas tree, that little random thought just happened to pop into my head — which has become quite a weird habit as of late.

Eggnog has essentially become synonymous with Christmas and I can’t go a season without tossing back a glass of it. Maybe you’re the same? But whether you love eggnog or hate it, have you ever actually wondered what you’re drinking?

Try observing it as it sits in the glass. Not to ruin it for anybody, but it’s a weird, discolored goo that looks as if someone cracked open six eggs and poured some milk into it.

So, as my inquisitive mind often prompts me to do, I Googled the topic and came up with the answer.

According to the all-knowing, never deceiving Wikipedia, Eggnog is a “dairy-based beverage traditionally made with milk and/or cream, sugar, whipped eggs and…” for the adults out there “…spirits such as brandy, rum or bourbon.”

Basically, what I just described is accurate: it’s a bunch of raw eggs mixed up with milk, topped off with sugar and cream.

And yet, somehow that still sounds appetizing to me. Go figure.

But why “nog?”

Wikipedia goes on: “The ‘nog’ part of its name may stem from the word noggin, a Middle English term for a small, carved wooden mug used to serve alcohol.”

So take the alcohol out of the recipe, and if you’re drinking nonalcoholic eggnog, you’re basically chugging eggs like Rocky Balboa.

Bottoms up!

Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens — the epic plot continues

Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens hits theaters on Thursday, December 17, and it’ll be the greatest thing since sliced bread — or is it the best thing since sliced bread? I don’t know, I can never remember which phrase is correct. Either way, sliced bread was the beginning of a downward spiral of laziness for the human race. But, I digress.

Episode 7 is the next installment of arguably the greatest film series in history. Star Wars has developed a cult-like following — an army of nerds, if you will — since 1977 when the first installment, Episode 4, was released. Don’t worry, I can refer to them as nerds because I’m one of them — at least, I have one foot in the door while the other straddles the threshold.

Don’t expect to find me standing in line for the midnight showing, though. I won’t be dressed as Obi-Wan Kenobi, swinging my light saber in an epic battle with another fan donning a Darth Vader shroud. I have no interest in dressing up or standing in long lines. I’ll wait until the crowds die down, sometime after the calendar turns.

In the meantime, I’ll re-watch all six previous episodes in sequential order, probably by myself as I don’t expect my wife to be sitting by my side. She has little interest in watching 13 minutes of the movies, let alone 13 hours.

The Star Wars franchise has been such a phenomenon in our country, which has led to countless parodies and pop culture references throughout the past 38 years. But what is it about the series that makes it so enticing? What causes fans to shell out big bucks for movie tickets, toys, T-shirts, coffee mugs and loads of other merchandise? And what makes male Star Wars fans such babe magnets?

While I can’t speak for everybody, it’s all about the story to me. I love epic sagas and I’m a huge fan of film series. From Pirates of the Caribbean to Indiana Jones to Back to the Future and many more, there’s something appealing about the continuation of a story that resonates with you.

For example, I’m a big fan of reading. I enjoy picking up a book and losing myself in the story, as if it were actually happening somewhere in the world and was not merely a 300-page mirage of salable fiction. And the nice thing about a book versus a movie is that a book has the time and space to go into greater detail, while a movie has to tell you a story in or around two hours.

The brevity of a movie is appealing to some — and I love movies, don’t get me wrong — but from a storytelling perspective, a book is much better.

Thus the appeal to me of a film series: there is more time spent with the characters you love.

But does that answer the question of why Star Wars is so appealing? No, not really. There has to be something specific about the story or the characters that draws people in, so let’s dive in further.

Action and conflict are the necessity of a good story, and the Star Wars franchise is packed with it. From light saber fighting to spacecraft attacks to the explosion of the Death Star, there’s enough action to keep your innards tensed up throughout the duration of the series. And conflict stems from the tried-and-true formula of “good guys versus bad guys”, galactic battles, the light side of the force against the dark side, and from Luke Skywalker’s weird family dynamic with Princess Leia and Darth Vader — the epitome of a Maury Povich show if it existed “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”

Perhaps the most appealing facet about the Star Wars film series, though, is the imagination and creativity of the franchise’s characters, plot, and setting. The amount of odd-looking mutants rivals that of a giant Halloween costume party and yet we can’t help but empathize with those with which we have nothing in common. To come up with a futuristic — yet, oddly, in the past — universe, name all the planets and moons, design creatures of all walks of life and give them each a back story, and then write a compelling tale of universal domination is just a brilliant piece of mastery.

I have no doubts that Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens will surpass Episodes 1-3. But whether it can match the original trilogy of Episodes 4-6 is the ultimate question and a difficult task at that. Either way, it figures to attract a new generation of fans to add to the Star Wars family and let the story live on in both our personal lives and pop culture.

Gluten-free Christmas cookies and desserts

Christmas is my favorite time of the year! We celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, bask in the joy and comfort of our families, cheerfully give gifts and deck our houses with lights and decorations.

And, let’s be honest, the majority of us pack on the pounds. How can we help it? There is too much good food and too many occasions where we sit down and eat large meals.

But perhaps the greatest offender of all this time of the year is the delicious Christmas cookies and desserts that we gorge ourselves on. I’m guilty of that as charged!

This year is a little different for me. This is the first Christmas season that I’ve been aware of my gluten intolerance. Feeling ill after eating is one sure way to avoid eating all these fatty foods to begin with! But … where’s the fun in that?

So, I set out to compile a list of gluten-free Christmas cookies and other dessert recipes to help others (and myself) get through the holidays with full bellies!

Choose by Category:

Frosted Sugar CookiesGingerbread CookiesTrufflesEggnog DessertsHolly/Wreath CookiesPeanut Butter BlossomsRum BallsSpritz CookiesChristmas FudgeBrownies and BlondiesToffee Squares and DessertsPeppermint DessertsCinnamon DessertsCranberry TreatsChocolate Peanut Butter BarsCaramel DelightsWalnut DessertsLemon SquaresChocolate CookiesPeanut Butter Cookies

The List:

Frosted Sugar Cookies

Delicious sugar cookies with a tasty frosted design, these have long been my favorite cookie of the season! The softer the better.

Gingerbread Cookies

Who doesn’t love gingerbread cookies!? Well, I guess there are plenty of people out there who do not. But this cookie is synonymous with Christmas desserts!

Truffles

Definitely a holiday and party classic, there are dozens of varieties of truffles out there for enthusiasts of all flavors.

Eggnog Desserts

Eggnog is one of those drinks I’d get sick of if I had it year round, but since it’s part of the Christmas season, I absolutely love indulging in it.

Holly/Wreath Cookies

If you like corn flakes and marshmallows, you’ll love these holiday treats, designed specifically for the Christmas season!

Peanut Butter Blossoms

You cannot give or receive a tray of Christmas cookies without spotting a few of these! Peanut butter flavor with a chocolate kiss — definitely a good combination.

Rum Balls

For the adult audience out there, a yummy confection of chocolate and rum. How can you go wrong?

Spritz Cookies

A classic, traditional buttery sugar cookie of German origin, this cookie is just enough to satisfy the appetite for a sugar rush, but not filling enough to spoil your appetite.

Christmas Fudge

My mouth waters at the mere mention of fudge! So rich and delicious, there are dozens of great choices. For the Christmas season, I have to say my fudge of choice is peppermint.

Brownies and Blondies

Not exactly limited to a Christmas dessert, brownies and blondies are a classic choice for the sugar craving. They can be given a special holiday flavoring to fit the season.

Toffee Squares and Desserts

I didn’t grow up much of a fan of toffee as a dessert, but it has really grown on me as an adult, and now, try keeping me away!

Peppermint Desserts

I’ve already mentioned my love of peppermint fudge, but the holiday taste isn’t just limited to that. There are plenty of opportunities to savor the flavor.

Cinnamon Cookies

Aside from Cinnamon Toast Crunch, rolls, and golden brown French toast, there’s no better use for cinnamon than in cookies!

Cranberry Treats

Tis the season for cranberries! I enjoy cranberries throughout the year, but it seems like from Thanksgiving through the new year, I can’t help but have extra servings of it.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars

There’s no better combination of ingredients than peanut butter and chocolate — sorry, peanut butter and jelly enthusiasts! So naturally, this would be a top choice to reach for on Christmas cookie trays.

Caramel Delights

I like caramel on sundaes and in my chocolates, but there are certainly other good uses for it!

Walnut Desserts

Whether it be because of allergies or personal preference, desserts with nuts are not for everybody. But I like my protein — I’m a guy, after all.

Lemon Squares

A classic, year-round dessert, these remain a tasty treat for lemon fans.

Chocolate Cookies

There’s a wide variety of different types of chocolate cookies to fill out your cookie trays.

Peanut Butter Cookies

For those who can’t get enough peanut butter, you’re in luck! There are plenty of desserts to choose from.