Thursday, November 16, 2017

Broken Memories Movie, a Touching Look at Alzheimer’s

Broken Memories movie

I had the privilege of attending a screening of Broken Memories, an indie film centered around a family dealing with Alzheimer's, and in the process gained a little perspective.

The screening was held at Writer's Guild Theater in Beverly Hills and was combined with a benefit for Alzheimer's Greater Los Angeles. In attendance were Ron and Bryce Dallas Howard, son and granddaughter of Rance Howard, who starred in the film, there to show support. This topic is especially dear to the Howards, as Rance's wife passed away from Alzheimer's earlier this year. The audience got to hear just how proud the father-daughter pair are of their grand/father, as well as speak about how Alzheimer's has played a role in their family.

Ron and Bryce Dallas Howard at Broken Memories movie screening

Going into the movie I was nervous about the subject matter. I immediately thought of The Notebook and how sad the film was. As the movie progressed, I learned that this story, while painful, was also a celebration of life. A reminder to cherish time with our loved ones. And it didn't hurt that Rance Howard played the role perfectly. He was charming and hilarious. Throughout the screening I wanted to give his character a big hug.

Being indie, the movie wasn't a big production. I felt the characters could have been developed more and the supporting cast, Ivan Sergei and Kelly Greyson, while they did just fine, weren't on the same level as Howard who was phenomenally relatable. In fact, Ron Howard said this is his father's best work. Despite it not being a big blockbuster, the feelings that the film evokes of the audience is undeniable.

Broken Memories movie screening

Many of us have been affected in some measure by Alzheimer's. According to alz.org, more than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer's. It's a savage disease that wipes away memories, is frustrating for those affected, and possibly ever harder for those left to care for loved ones who lose their memories.

A few days before the screening I spent time with my grandpa who is starting to forget things. Right now he'll call us by another name and ask us the same questions repeatedly, but overall he still remembers. Sometimes when he repeats himself, I catch myself thinking, "Grandpa, I just told you" and then feel guilty. This movie was a great reminder that he has no control of what he forgets and I am truly lucky that he still has his memories.

You can watch Broken Memories now on Apple's VOD. The film is shining light on this heart-wrenching topic and is definitely worth seeing, regardless if you have an experience with Alzheimer's.




Sunday, November 12, 2017

Bacari P.D.R. Boasts a Phenomenal Brunch

Bacari P.D.R.

Bacari P.D.R. has me wishing I lived in the South Bay! Hands down, it is the best brunch I've ever experienced. The food is phenomenal. Every single thing I tried was delicious. And it doesn't hurt that the perfectly-decorated, hip restaurant is located in the small seaside town of Playa del Rey, CA

Upon entering Bacari P.D.R., you are greeted with vintage light bulbs, a ceiling covered in wine bottles, and an intimate atmosphere. The restaurant is small, but in good way that allows you to enjoy conversations with your table mates. The size didn't hinder our experience, but I hear it can get crowded. We visited for Sunday brunch and were seated right away thanks to reservations. Call ahead to be safe.

Bacari P.D.R. in Playa del Rey
Bacari P.D.R. Playa del Rey

We started off with bottomless mimosas for $20 a person and were provided with jars of champagne and orange juice. No wait at all! We later switched to sangria, also part of the $20 deal. It was nice to have variety and drinks that were promptly replenished our entire meal. Bravo to the staff!

Bacari P.D.R. brunch menu

And then there was the food. The amazing food! Portions are on the smaller side, allowing guests to try a plethora of dishes. Two to three plates per person are recommended. With our group of four, we ordered about two items each and were able to try at least half of the menu. Check out the amazing dishes below.

Crab Cake Benedict
grapefruit hollandaise, sous-vide egg
Crab Cake Benedict - Bacari P.D.R.

Poached Shrimp
citrus chili, shaved radish, parsley, micro basil
Poached Shrimp - Bacari P.D.R.

Gravlax Pizza
cured salmon, avocado, pickled red onion, creme fraiche, crispy dough
Gravlax Pizza - Bacari P.D.R.

Shakshouka
rustic tomato sauce, bell pepper, garlic, sous-vide egg, parsley, baguette
Shakshouka - Bacari P.D.R.

Bacari Fries
chef's sunflower, roasted garlic, lemon and smoked pepper sauce, fried egg
Bacari Fries - Bacari P.D.R.

Incredible flavors! I'd say my food adventure level is a medium so some of the combos sounded a little weird and I was hesitant to try, but I'm glad I did because the ingredients work so well together.  Not pictured were a few more items that I didn't try because I'm pescatarian, but my friends said it was all delicious. I also forgot to snap photos of the veggie hash and chef's french toast. Even though I don't eat meat, I am not a big fan of fake meat. That being said, WOW was the veggie hash good! Didn't taste vegetarian at all. And I also don't care for french toast, I know, so weird!, but I was pleasantly surprised that I loved Baracri's. 

In all, I tried seven dishes and enjoyed each. Not just, eh that's OK, but really, really enjoyed each dish. You can't go wrong with anything on the menu. I look forward to my next visit and trying the remaining items!

If you are on the west side go to Bacari P.D.R. stat. If Playa del Rey is too far of a trek, check out their Glendale location, Bacari G.D.L. or Bacaro L.A. in Los Angeles. You can thank me later.




Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Ghost and Haunt Tours of Gatlinburg Thrills

Ghost & Haunt Tours of Gatlinburg

As a self-proclaimed ghost tour aficionado, I make it a point to book one in every city I visit. My most recent was in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. While researching the best options in the area, I came across Ghost & Haunt Tours of Gatlinburg and knew this was the tour for me! It not only looked legit, but had equipment that I thought was a fun touch. That equipment lead to a haunting experience.

Ghost tours are a great way to get history of the location you're visiting, see the area at a slower pace, and have a little fun while hearing ghost stories. I've taken several ghost tours all over the country. Whether you're a believer or skeptic, in my opinion, there is something for everyone. I took the tour with my dad who doesn't get into ghost stories, but throughout the night I saw him snapping pictures and he couldn't come up with logical answers to a few questions.

Ghost Hunting Equipment

Our night started with an explanation of what to expect, along with an introduction to several "ghost hunting" instruments. As soon as our guide showed us a spirit/ghost box I was excited because I had never seen one before. Essentially they pick up what a ghost is saying and it displays on the box. As we were embarking on the tour ours popped up with "blog" which freaked me out! That's not a common word for a ghost to know - especially the ones who have been gone for centuries!

Ghost and Haunt Tour of Gatlinburg spirit box

So here's where the skeptical part creeps in, because even if you believe, you have to be discerning. Did they program the spirit box for me, knowing that I'd see it? As our guide explained how each worked, we would request to use the item. When we got to the box, I asked to use it. There were four boxes and seven guests. So my thinking is that if it was programmed for me, so I'd read blog, how would they know which box to give me? They couldn't anticipate that I'd even request to use that item. Some of us were getting overlapping words. So maybe they all said blog? I did something I normally don't and announced that I was doing a blog review. I think if any other guest saw blog pop up they'd have said. Also, only three words appear at a time on the box. Sometimes the words don't change, sometimes they pop up so fast it's hard to catch them, and sometimes words repeat. My dad is the one who pointed out blog and I saw it but new words popped up so fast I didn't get a picture of the screen. The photo above is a log of words that came up during the tour, illustrating the word blog. If they were tricking me, they probably would have programmed the word to pop up several times to ensure I'd see it.

spirit box allows ghosts to speak

The box itself can be pretty creepy! We were all getting words like death, beware, etc. So maybe they are words that the company programmed? But then again, we experienced something that made us think it could be real. We kept getting Robert. That's my grandpa's name but it's also pretty common so no big deal. Then we got Robert, console, and funeral. We were going to my grandpa's sister's funeral in a few days. Weird. I had also seen Nana around the other three words and told my dad that the word didn't fit. That surprised him because, unknown to me, they all used to call his grandma Nana. Goosebumps!

In addition to the freaky box, the tour itself was great. Our guide was wonderful. She interacted with guests as they read messages from their boxes and asked questions, did a fantastic job of telling us stories all night, and at each stop along the way showed us photos with strange orbs, lights, and even faces(!) taken by previous tour guests.

Ghost & Haunt Tours of Gatlinburg

Added scary bonus: we saw a wild bear while walking around! Our guide had warned us they often look for food late at night and we may see them in certain areas. But then it happened and we were all a bit unsure of how to react to a 300+ lb wild bear. It was about 50 yards from us and could care less that we were in the area, but the rest of the night we made sure to be aware of our surroundings.

So if you hadn't gathered yet, I highly recommend this ghost tour. Days after, we found ourselves still talking about the experience. We really enjoyed the tour - even my dad the skeptic!

To book a tour with Ghost & Haunt Tours of Gatlinburg, head on over to their site. If you book online and use code ghost2off, you'll save $2.



Sunday, October 29, 2017

Two-Day Smoky Mountains Itinerary

Smokey Mountains National Park

Although the Great Smoky Mountains National Park covers just under 300 sq. mi. and spans across two states, if you map out your must sees, it's possible to hit your highlights in two days. There are so many things to experience, and I wish I was able to cover more ground, but I am really happy with the two days I spent in the Smokies and Gatlinburg. If I had more time, I would have ventured into North Carolina, but otherwise, our trip was perfect!

We had a bit less time because we flew in and out of Nashville, then made the 3.5-hour drive to and from the National Park. Coming from Los Angeles, we were looking for the best flight options and that ended up being Nashville. If it works for you, Knoxville is the closest airport. Despite the long drive, it wasn't bad because we had lots of pretty fall leaves to look at along the way.

Here is how we mapped out our trip:

DAY 1

Cades Cove
This is a MUST when visiting the Great Smoky Mountains! Motorists hop on a one-way, 11-mile paved loop that wanders through the wilderness. We visited on a Tuesday and the drive took three plus hours, so expect heavy traffic. Throughout the drive there are areas to stop and see homesteads dating back to the 1800s as well as spot wildlife. We saw a bear and her cub, wild turkey, and a deer! We were worried we'd encounter windy, unpaved roads with high drops off but Cades Cove is a very mellow drive.

Cades Cove in the Smokey Mountains
Cades Cove bears
The Great Smokey Mountains


Old Creek Lodge
From Cades Cove we drove 27 miles to Gatlinburg and checked into Old Creek Lodge for two nights. We stayed in a comfy Two Queen Stream Room with a cozy fireplace that we used constantly. The hotel is located in the perfect location right across the street from Ober and close to restaurants and shops, but far enough away from the touristy center of town. The rustic theme and smaller size of the hotel added to the charm, and the running stream that provided a soothing sound each night elevated the ambiance. Friendly staff, free breakfast, convenient parking - I could go on and on. From outside appearances alone it is among the nicest hotels in Gatlinburg and if I return, I will definitely stay here again.

Old Creek Lodge
Old Creek Lodge rooms with fireplaces
Cozy Old Creek Lodge rooms
Cozy Old Creek Lodge stream view rooms


Ghost and Haunt Tours of Gatlinburg
None of my vacations are complete without a ghost tour! After doing some research I came across Ghost and Haunt Tours of Gatlinburg and knew this would be the perfect addition to our trip. I have a full recap coming up, but I'll give a teaser: we used a spirit box and it seemed to be talking to me!

 Ghost and Haunt Tours of Gatlinburg


DAY 2

Ober Gatlinburg
The main attraction in Gatlinburg is Ober, boasting an areal tram that travels 2.1 miles providing sweeping Smoky views. After our ride up the mountain, we visited the wildlife encounter where several rescued animals are housed. I'm not a fan of animals in captivity and wish they had a bit more room but they were saved from really bad situations. We talked to a man who cares for the animals and it's evident he really loves his job so that made me feel better. Next, we took a fifteen-minute chair lift even higher up the mountain. I'm severely afraid of heights so it was a disaster! I literally cried and had a tiny panic attack. At the overlook, the views are beautiful and every hour a band comprised of cute old men plays so if you're not afraid of heights it's a great experience. I, however, needed a beer after my breakdown so we checked out the seasonal OktOBERfest where traditional Bavarian food and beers are served while a band performs. It was a cool experience and perfect way to end the visit.

Ober Gatlinburg
Ober Gatlinburg Wildlife Encounter
Ober Gatlinburg Wildlife Encounter
Ober Gatlinburg live entertainment
Ober Gatlinburg areal tram


Ole Smoky Distillery
From Ober we walked about five minutes to Ole Smoky Distillery where we met with a company representative who gave us a behind-the-scenes tour, told us the history of their federally licensed moonshine - first in East Tennessee, and graciously let us sample 13 of their moonshine varieties. I'll have a dedicated post coming soon.

Ole Smokey Distillery in Gatlinburg


DAY 3

Roaring Fork Nature Motor Trail
Before heading back to Nashville, we drove through Roaring Fork early in the morning. Another one-way paved loop through the Great Smoky Mountains, this 5.5-mile drive is right outside of Gatlinburg and less crowded than Cades Cove. It is much windier and feels higher in elevation though, but still not too steep. The big difference between this trail and Cades Cove is this trail doesn't have open spaces and is densely populated with trees. The leisurely drive took about an hour and gave us one last chance to enjoy the breathtaking national park.

Roaring Fork in the Smokey Mountains
Roaring Fork Nature Motor Trail

The Great Smoky Mountains are so incredibly beautiful! I knew I was in for pretty landscapes, but the trees and changing colors were stunning. I had hoped we'd see wild animals, and when we did it was that much more magical. Such a memorable trip.

In 2016, 11.3 million people visited the Smokies making it the most popular National Park in the United States. Are you among the tens of millions who have visited?