Category Archives: Lifestyle

Affording Fido: A cost checklist for a new pet

By Jason Alderman

Premium food, state-of-the-art veterinary care and creature comforts most humans would envy are now a regular part of life for many American pets. That’s why prospective pet owners should consider financial planning before bringing home a dog, cat or other breed of animal.

For those considering purchasing or adopting a pet, do thorough research first about what owning that animal will cost. The wide range of products, services and advanced medical options for American pets have pushed U.S. pet industry expenditures to almost $60 billion in 2014, nearly double the amount in 2004. With pet ownership tripling since the 1970s according to The Humane Society of the United States, it is no surprise that advanced pet products and services at high price points are making it very easy for many pet owners to overspend.

Prospective pet owners should begin their research with an idea of first-year costs. The ASPCA (https://www.aspca.org) publishes an annual estimate for a variety of pets. Purchase and adoption costs may vary based on breed, so read as much as you can about a specific pet choice. Fortunately, virtually every kind of pet has an online presence, including sites for adoption and rescue. It’s particularly important to research the pet’s behavioral, care and health history and it might also be worthwhile to find a veterinarian who can offer additional insight about home and medical care.

Keep in mind that average pet costs, not counting additional spending for toys, treats or non-routine veterinary care, can be daunting. For example, the ASPCA currently estimates that a large dog may cost roughly $1,800 in his or her first year and $780 a year afterward. That doesn’t include potential bills for major illness or accident care that might run into the thousands. If that dog lives eight to 10 years, that means spending a minimum of between $7,260 and $8,820 over a lifetime. Many experts and pet owners are still debating whether it makes sense to buy pet insurance, (http://www.practicalmoneyskills.com/petinsurance) and that is an option worth researching as well before a pet is purchased or adopted.

Many homeowners and renters should also check with their insurers for potential pet restrictions that may raise their premiums or risk voiding their coverage. In 2013, the Insurance Information Institute claimed that one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claims came from dog bites alone. Certain types of breeds may be considered higher-risk among some insurers, so before a pet purchase or adoption, prospective pet owners should check their home or rental policies to see how the animal will affect the pricing or availability of coverage.

Finally, certain kinds of pet ownership situations may call for estate planning. Some pet breeds – birds and tortoises among them – may live well in excess of 20 years. If a pet owner becomes disabled or dies, pets at any age may have an uncertain future if there’s no plan in place for guardianship, care and ongoing financial support. Estate planners have recognized pet trusts as a potential legal solution for this purpose. Pet owners of advanced age, with disabling illness or living alone might consider leaving such specific instructions for their animals in their will or advance directives.

Bottom line: With the potential costs of veterinary and other forms of care, pet ownership requires its own form of financial planning. It’s important to do thorough research on costs related to specific species and breeds before you buy or adopt.

Column Awards shake boring to very foundations

Photo: Big hair, roller skates and Greek gods, the cast of Xanadu leaves the crowd breathless with a taste of their musical, which played last summer at ONSTAGE in Bedford. /Photo by Bryan Chatlain

Texas earthquakes are nothing compared to the 16th annual Column Awards, Forbidden Columns. The musical numbers brought down the house as some of the most talented people working in theater today collaborated to bring the best of the best together for one night.

Casts whose performances were selected from around the Metroplex for competition in the best musical category offered audiences a sample of the excitement of their work during the event at Patty Granville Performing Arts Center in Garland on March 22.

The lavish event honored the best directors, actors/actresses, stage hands, costume designers and others. With everyone attending dressed in ball gowns and three piece suits, the atmosphere was nothing short of stellar. It began with flashing lights, flamboyant pizazz, and a number to “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat.” Immediately following was Liam Taylor performing the hit song “Let It Go” from the movie Frozen.

Trich Zaitoon won an award for best play, non-equity, and also presented the award for best actress in a musical equity.

“I was a late bloomer and started performing when I was 40,” Zaitoon said. “But when you are on stage, you can’t explain what it feels like to perform and change lives.”

The Steve Lovett award for outstanding new work went to Annie Benjamin, Katen Cale, Lorena Davey, Terry Ferguson, and Shelby Addison-Hibbs.

Another prestigious award honors the late Rudy Seppy, who was tragically killed while working in the Dupree Theater. His wife, Maria, presented the award to winner Deborah Green.

After another musical number, “Hair,” and a wardrobe change from host John Garcia, the energy and entertainment lingered in the air. The “Legally Blonde” performance had the audience on their feet, as did the very talented cast of “Cabaret.”

The crowd then paid their respects with a moment of silence for the fallen soldiers of the industry.

“What I love most about this event is that you never know who is going to be nominated,” Garcia said. “We strive to stay away from popularity and mainstream. This opens up so many doors for our local theaters and artists. We put so much of our hearts into this, and we also risk our health, our finances, our relationships and our lives because we love it so much.”

Another musical performance of the hit “Xanadu” wowed the crowd followed by “The Musical Parody of the Fellowship of the Ring.” “The mystery of Edward Drood” and “The Little Shop of Horrors” also provided spectacular entertainment with dancing, strong vocals and outstanding wardrobe. This event was intriguing and is certain to be followed by an even more flamboyant and well executed Column Awards show next year.

New App for Texas Drivers Helps to Improve Gas Mileage and Reduce Emission at the Same Time

Highway trafin in sunset

Thanks to a new app, drivers in Texas can now save more money at the pump. The smartphone web app, which can be found at Roadcents.org, is being offered thanks to the Texas Department of Transportation, and it has multiple tips for reducing emission and improving gas mileage at the same time.

“A vehicle in peak condition will produce fewer emissions, reduce the chance of a roadside breakdown and improve gas mileage,” TDoT travel information division director Margo Richards said, regarding why the app can be useful.

The app informs drivers of how they can keep their cars and trucks operating more efficiently. By changing certain driving habits, for example, people can better maintain their vehicles. The app can also be helpful for locating auto repair facilities and information on what to do during a collision.

While the app might not seem too impressive to some, in reality, it can help drivers potentially save hundreds of dollars. When vehicles are driven without proper maintenance updates, drivers can end up spending over $100 more annually on gas, and many of these maintenance updates are easy to forget about. Most manufacturers recommend that a vehicle’s timing belt, for example, should be replaced every 60,000 to 110,000 miles. 

Similarly, driving with under-inflated tires is not only worse for the environment, but can add $90 in gas expenses each year. Are you in the habit of starting and stopping too quickly? This is something the app can let you know — so that you don’t have to pay potentially $900 extra a year in wasted fuel.

The Roadcents.org app is only the latest offering from the “Drive Clean Texas” campaign that has been active since 2002. Hopefully, it, and other measures like it, can help Texans reduce how much they spend on gas, while also reducing their contributions to air pollution.

Why is it so difficult to wait on God?” Part 2

Even as a Chaplain, who has seen and experienced the mighty move of God, I yet sometimes have the same struggle as others when it comes to waiting on God. Sometimes because we are in a deep relationship with God, we expect Him to move as soon as we make known our petitions. That is when things can get hard and that is when we wonder whether the Lord is really listening to our prayers.

Sometimes we develop anxiety while waiting on God. Anxiousness in the believer suggests a lack of faith and that grieves God, not only because He doesn’t want us to be anxious for anything, but also because He knows our anxieties stem from an incomplete understanding of who He is. The most important aspect of God’s nature and character and the one attribute that will enable us to patiently wait on Him in complete confidence is His sovereignty. God’s sovereignty is defined as His complete and total independent control over every creature, event, and circumstance at every moment in history.

Once we grasp this understanding, waiting for our perfect God to work and act in – His perfect time not only enables us to wait patiently, but it also allows us to wait confidently.

I hope these articles have blessed you while you wait on God!

Be blessed and take care. Take care and “I’ll see you in the terminals!”

For more information, visit www.dfwchapel.org .

Who should carry home Oscars, according to Matt

By Matt Mungle
Photo: ABC
Photo: ABC

Over the next few weeks leading up to the Oscars I will break down each category and let you know precisely who should win and why. There is an exact science to my methods, so I do not suggest you try and figure out how my mind works; just go with it.

Best supporting actor :
Barkhad Abdi — “Captain Phillips”
Should not win. True he never has acted in a film before, and his ability to look Somalian was amazing. That said, he is Somalian. Maybe we should nominate Jennifer Anniston on her ability to transfer herself into an American Stripper who is pretending to be a wife and mother. (We are the Millers.) I wish Abdi luck in the future and to quote his character, “No problem “Irish”, everything gonna be OK.”

Bradley Cooper — “American Hustle”
Should not win. I had a perm in the 70’s. No one gave me an award.

Jonah Hill — “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Should not win. We are not ready to forgive you for helping write 21 Jump Street. Moneyball was different, we were distracted by Brad Pitt’s face.

Michael Fassbender — “12 Years a Slave”
Should not win. It pains me to say that. I am a fan of Michael Fassbender, and if not for Mr. Leto, he would get my pick. But it was such a hard role to watch. He was too good at being hated. People aren’t ready for that. We are comfortable watching guys dress up in women’s clothes, but not slave owners. Maybe he should have worn a dress-a long one.

Jared Leto — “Dallas Buyers Club”
Should win. In a nutshell, he is prettier as a guy than as a guy dressing up as a woman. That takes talent. Plus he is in a rock band. You can’t dress like that and be in a rock band. Oh wait, never mind. I still think he should win.
Best supporting actress
Jennifer Lawrence — “American Hustle”
Should not win. She has had better performances. She is the hot commodity right now as we all love to love her. But this is too tough a category this year. She won best actress last year against a little kid, an old woman, and Naomi Watts laying on a stretcher the whole film.

Lupita Nyong’o — “12 Years a Slave” 
Should win. This would force every entertainment reporter to say her name and get it right. Plus she makes good corn husk dolls.

June Squibb — “Nebraska”
Should not win. She reminded me too much of my real family. If they gave an award for having the most fun with well written one-liners she would be a shoe in. Certainly worth a watch but not an award.

Julia Roberts — “August: Osage County”
Should not (bleep) win. Yes she went toe to (bleep) toe with Meryl Strep and won. Yes this is the first (bleep) time she has cursed this (bleep) much since Erin (bleep) Brockovich. And yes we all love to hear her laugh during her (bleep) acceptance speeches. But sadly August isn’t Oscar County. (bleep).

Sally Hawkins — “Blue Jasmine”
Should not win. Because no one watching the Oscars actually saw this movie.
Next week we take a look at the directors! Your homework before then is to learn that Steve McQueen is not that Steve McQueen.

A man and his phone – a love story

By Matt Mungle

 

Title: Her

Rated: R

How attached are you to your technical devices? Do you rely on your phone, tablet, etc. to meet most of your social and business need? What about personal and relational? In the new drama HER (written and directed by Spike Jonze) we get an interesting into one man’s journey into the world of online dating; and it isn’t what you think.

Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is a writer, who after his recent divorce, is lonely and withdrawn. When he purchases a new operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) that is designed to organize his life and meet all of his needs he finds that “she” may be the only one that truly gets him. They begin a relationship that in many ways is deeper and more meaningful than two humans could have. Samantha, as she has named herself by searching baby names, is able to evolve and grow due to her access to everything every posted online and the ability to see it all at once. So she rapidly begins to understand how to respond to Theodore, and they find themselves falling in love.

Though this sounds like a farfetched comedy or sci-fi experiment, it is at its core a romantic drama like any other, just with a unique twist. Samantha and Theodore go through all the emotions and discussions that conventional couples do. They argue, laugh, joke around, and view the world together. If Theodore has had a bad day, Samantha is able to pick up on it due to his voice inflections. She in turn has learned the art of emotional speaking and can sound sad, frustrated or excited too.

Granted the society they live in has become accustomed to high forms of artificial intelligence. Theodore’s few friends accept this relationship as normal. This allows the film to seem more socially correct. It also makes you wonder what the future holds. Many people have lengthy online chats with people they have never seen. Sure they may have a picture, but that in itself is just a bit of data. So in theory, this isn’t as odd a movie as it appears. In fact, it is a very touching and emotional film about one man trying to find that special someone.

Phoenix is spectacular in this. The ability to carry one-sided conversations and respond in dramatic fashion takes a special sort of actor. You feel for him and though awkward at first, you eventually start to understand him. Johansson may give the first Oscar worthy performance simply for a voice over. She is able to deliver such emotion simply by reading a script. You never have to see her face to understand exactly how she is feeling. Her character is as alive as any though we never see her. It is remarkable how you forget she is an OS.

HER is rated R for language, sexual content and brief graphic nudity. It must be very brief, because I never recall seeing it. The language and adult content is certainly geared for older audiences. As far as the sexual content, well, you can sort of clue in on how that works. I give it 4 out of 5 reboots. It is original, well written and perfectly performed. Spike Jonze gives us something new and inventive with this one.

2014 Mungleshow Productions. All rights reserved.

 

Top notch writing, directing, acting create family drama must see

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Photo Source: IMDB

By Matt Mungle

Title: August: Osage County

Rated: R

Stop me if you have heard this before. Three Oscar winners walk into a film… Normally that doesn’t mean much, but when you factor in the writing and directing of August: Osage County, you get a one of a kind experience that is near perfect. This adult film will be talked about much during the award season, and it will be interesting to see how the voting goes.

Violet Weston (Meryl Streep) is the matriarch of a highly dysfunctional family. They rarely speak, and when they do, it is at high volume. When a crisis occurs, the siblings all converge to Oklahoma and the house they grew up in. What happens then will make you smile, laugh, cringe, and at times shake your head at how familiar it all feels. Barbara (Julia Roberts) is also dealing with a rough marriage and her husband (Ewan McGregor) and daughter (Abigail Breslin) aren’t helping the situation. With drama abounding, it will be a gathering that they hope they all survive.

The cast in this is superb. Along with aforementioned stars add Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale, Juliette Lewis, and Benedict Cumberbatch to the batch. They all bring their a-game and with a script as solid as this one it only makes sense that what you get is a fantastic film. Even though it is a volatile film at times, it also has a warm family heartbeat. You can’t help but sense that the anger and passion come out of a love and desire to see their loved ones make better choices. The frustration that comes out is understandable and many times familiar.

Because of the strong emphasis on dialogue and character interaction, this film has a strong stage feel to it. As the actors move across the set, you could easily imagine this as a live production. Also the look and feel of the Oklahoma plains give this a simple stripped down look. It is this ability to pull back everything but the characters make you totally engage with what is happening and the script comes to life.

August: Osage County is rated R for language including sexual references, and for drug material. This is a very adult film in the themes and language, which is the only drawback to the film. The language will make it awkward at times to watch with older parents or certain siblings. It is a marvelous piece of work, and even with the few flaws, I give it 4.5 out of 5 dinner tables. It is one to see for those who follow the award season and love acting at expert levels.

2014 Mungleshow Productions. All rights reserved.

Artistic film captures creepiness with style

Photo Source: IMDB
Photo Source: IMDB

By Matt Mungle

Title: The Truth About Emanuel

Rated: Not Rated

 

Some films just nail the creepy factor without being creepy at all. Others know they are creepy and flaunt it. In the dramatic thriller, The Truth About Emanuel the subtle way it goes about being creepy is very stylish. You almost want to pretend for the sake of the characters that it isn’t creepy at all. Sort of like the crowd watching the Emperor pass with no clothes. You are afraid that if you point out the obvious, you will find the joke is actually on you; if there is a joke at all.

Emanuel (Kaya Scodelario) is a troubled young girl who has never gotten over the loss of her mother. Her father (Alfred Molina) has raised her well, but she still feels like she is living outside herself. She is smart and funny, often at the sake of others, and you have to wonder if it is all just a way to get attention. When a single mom (Jessica Biel) with a new baby moves in next door, Emanuel is drawn to her immediately. But Emanuel soon discovers a fictional world and has to work hard to keep everyone else out.

Francesca Gregorini wrote and directed this film, and she does a brilliant job of staging each scene so that the tension is always there even if for no reason. You are on the edge of your seat and breathing softly, afraid that the actors will find you looking in. You know that things are not as they seem as you engage with the characters on screen. You feel sorry for them, and know that you will share whatever emotion comes next. At the same time, you get the sense that you really don’t know the truth at all.

Scodelario is a talented young British actress who plays this part nicely. You see her teetering between two worlds, and it is believable. She is lost, hurting, and emotionally unattached. Yet there is a playful wit about her that is obviously a shroud. Biel will surprise many in this role. It is quite the curve ball from her normal offering. She is the one that you can’t figure out. As your mind try’s to guess the truth, she is the biggest obstacle.

This film could have gone many different routes in way of content and shock value. Luckily it has enough confidence in its script and director that it never takes the easy way out. It refuses to add any gratuitous elements but instead allows the mind of the viewer to decide what is happening off-screen. It is in the vein of Hitchcock films where you get just enough to hook you in. It is a bit more fantasy than old Alfred would have dared but still a classic thriller premise. When it is all said and done, you find it to be a touching film more than anything and all your fears float gently away.

The Truth About Emanuel is not rated but is geared for those 18 and older. Some of the language and thematic material is best suited for older theater goers. I give it 3.75 out of 5 bike rides. A perfect on-demand choice or if you want something a bit out of the box, then look for it now in your art house theaters .

2014 Mungleshow Productions. All rights reserved.

The Christmas pooch

Julie Bannon loves dogs, and hers was a constant companion. But when she developed breast cancer, the cost of therapy and medication forced an ultimatum: pay for the expensive treatment or keep the dog. Wracked by the obvious but difficult decision, Julie lost a friend as a degenerative condition and invasive medical care confined her to bed, sending her deeper and deeper into despair.

To fill the void, her friend Helen West brought her pet Chihuahua, Cisco, to visit Julie in her apartment. Her time with Cisco had a marked effect for the better on Julie. Medication and a newfound rapport with Cisco worked some measure of improvement in her condition. Seeing her friend’s face light up when in the dog’s company, gave Helen an idea – why not get Julie another pet: a small, low maintenance Chihuahua like Cisco, who weighed only four pounds. Only 68 pounds herself, Julie could not handle anything larger.

A former Irving resident, Helen was on her way home to Fort Worth from her doctor in Irving when, on a whim, she paid a visit to the Irving Animal Shelter. She had never been there before but knew of it by reputation.

Helen assumed she picked a slow day to visit because when she stepped into the shelter’s tiled atrium, she spied two staff members chatting by the door in addition to a receptionist seated at the front desk. “Do you have a little dog, hopefully a little Chihuahua for $10? That’s all I can afford,” Helen meekly inquired of the receptionist.

“No,” the woman’s response was not unkind, only the truth. Helen’s initial optimism began to fade, and soon Julie’s story was pouring out of her.

Touched, the receptionist looked at Helen and said, “Well let’s go see what we got.” So Helen followed her back into the shelter where barking dogs jockeyed for attention, running around in circles and pushing themselves against the glass windows. Since traffic at the shelter was light, the two staff members who had been standing by the door followed. The group paused in front an enclosure, and the receptionist brought Helen a cute little black dog. It was nice enough, but Helen knew it was not Julie’s dog.

“Well, can I hold a Chihuahua?” Helen asked, and the receptionist handed her a small creature, slightly larger than a teddy bear. Most of its body was covered in fine, white fur with bits of tan around its ears and one eye with tan speckles on its back. The tiny animal rested contentedly in Helen’s arms, and the two bonded immediately. This was Julie’s dog.

“How much are they?” Helen asked.

“One hundred dollars.”

Helen’s heart dropped. “I can’t come up with that,” she said sadly, handing the Chihuahua back to the woman.

“Do you really want her and promise to take care of her? She’ll have a home for life and all that stuff?” The question broke through Helen’s despondency. She looked – it was one of the two workers, named Paige, who had followed her.

“Well yeah – if Julie, God forbid, passed away or they couldn’t take care of her, I’ll take her. But I have to give her back.”

“I’ll pay the adoption fee.” The words stopped Helen in her tracks. Could this woman really be offering to give her the dog?

“Don’t make me cry, because it’s so important.” Helen pleaded, hope beyond hope welling up inside of her.

The woman hugged Helen, telling her through the embrace that this was no dream or joke. But it was not the final surprise of the day. “I’ll split it with you. We’ll go 50/50,” said Terri, the other woman.

Despite her joy, Helen was confused. “They let you do that here?” she asked.

“Oh, we don’t work here,” Paige piped up cheerily.

The four women returned to the front where Helen, still rapt with amazement, could barely believe she was signing the paperwork for Julie’s new friend, Lacy. “

You two are like angels for Julie because she needs this really bad,” Helen kept telling Paige and Terri, baffled that the women acted like this kind of thing was normal.

When she got home, Helen dressed Lacy up in a pink dress that had belonged to a toy Chihuahua she used to own. As she was about to walk over to Julie’s apartment, Helen heard a knock at her door. It was Julie’s husband, Michael. Helen produced Lacy, and he became as excited about surprising Julie as Helen was. When they got to the couple’s apartment, however, they beheld a wonder of their own. Julie, who never got out of bed except to attend church, was sitting on the stoop, taking in the sun.

“I never get to go outside, I just wanted to,” Julie said when asked why she left the house.

“Look what I got!” Helen exclaimed, revealing the tiny animal she had been concealing, up until now, in her hand.

“Oh,” Julie sighed, happy that her close friend had acquired another pet, but relatively disinterested.

“It’s your Christmas present,” Helen smiled. A transformation was affected on Julie; she positively glowed. “You want to hold her?”

took her Christmas pooch inside, and since then the two have been inseparable. Lacy rarely leaves her side except to eat and attend to personal matters. The rest of the time she lies on the bed next to Julie or in her lap.

Not a yappy dog, Lacy gets along well with most people. But she is not intimate with everyone, and the connection she shares with Julie is a true friendship made possible only through a random act of kindness that would make St. Nick proud – who, if you remember, once threw a small fortune down a poor family’s chimney because it is what they needed at the time

Why was your credit card transaction denied?

By Jason Alderman

We’ve all had these moments: You’re at a romantic restaurant and the evening went great. But just as you and your date are readying to leave, an embarrassed waiter appears and whispers, “I’m afraid your card has been denied.” So much for romance.

The same thing can happen at the grocery store, when shopping online or worst of all, when you’re traveling and don’t have a back-up means of payment. Why do credit card transactions get denied and what can you do to prevent it?

Banks and other credit card issuers have developed complex algorithms that track credit card behavior and highlight unusual usage patterns commonly associated with card theft or fraud.

“Unusual activities” that jump out to card issuers include:

When you ordinarily use your card only rarely, but suddenly make several charges in one day.

Making multiple purchases at the same store (or website) within a few minutes of each other.

An unusually large purchase – say for a major appliance, furniture or jewelry. Alert your card issuer before making large purchases.

One small purchase quickly followed by larger ones. Thieves will test the waters to see if a small purchase is denied; if it’s not, they’ll quickly run up major charges.

Exceeding daily spending limits. Some cards limit how much you can charge per day, even if you have sufficient remaining credit.

Making large purchases outside your geographic area.

Multiple out-of-town purchases in short succession. (Always tell your card issuer when you’ll be traveling.)

International purchases, whether online or while traveling. In fact, some card issuers automatically decline international transactions because of the high potential for fraud, so learn your issuer’s policy before attempting one.

Other common triggers for credit card denials include:

Outdated or incorrect personal information – for example, when you’re asked to enter your zip code at a gas station. Always alert your card issuer whenever you move.

Also, make sure you don’t mistype your credit card number, expiration date, security code, address or other identifying information.

Expired card. Always check the card’s expiration date. You should receive a replacement card several weeks beforehand. It’s often mailed in a plain envelope, so be careful what you toss. If the new card doesn’t arrive, contact the issuer to ensure it hasn’t been stolen.

You’ve reached your credit limit. For the sake of your credit score, try to keep your overall and individual card credit utilization ratios (credit available divided by amount used) as low as possible – ideally below 50, or even 30, percent.

A temporary hold has been placed on your card – say for a rental car or hotel reservation – that puts you over your credit limit. Always ask whether a hold will be placed, how much and for how long, and factor that into your remaining balance calculations.

You miss a monthly payment. Card issuers may let this slide once or twice, depending on your history with them, but eventually if you don’t make at least the minimum payment due, your card will probably be frozen.

The primary cardholder made changes on the account and forgot to tell other authorized users – for example, reporting his or her card stolen, lowering credit limits or removing you from the account.

On last thought: If your card is denied, don’t shoot the messenger – he’s only following instructions. Rather, call the card issuer and find out what happened. Embarrassment aside, it’s nice to know that someone is trying to ensure your card isn’t being used fraudulently.