I’d like to thank the Academy

side_oscar“I’d like to thank the Academy, and of course my wonderful husband and adorable son for inspiring me every day. And my fabulous family, friends and loved ones, for sticking by me in those lean years, when it looked like I might never be up on stage accepting this award. I couldn’t have done it without you.”

Since it looks like I won’t be hugging Billy Crystal on stage this Sunday, I thought it was about time that somebody heard my speech. After all, I’ve been practicing my Academy Award acceptance since I was a little girl, effusively thanking my best friend Tatum O’Neill, my husband David Cassidy, my best friend Julia Roberts, my boyfriend Jon Bon Jovi, and my husband John Cusack, depending on which year it was.

At various times I’ve fancied thanking the Academy for recognizing my directing, acting, writing, and-try not to laugh too hard-singing abilities. Despite the fact that the Oscar has yet to be awarded for best singing in the shower, I’m still practicing.

When you picture me giving this speech, envision me with Halle Berry’s body, in a red Valentino gown. My gown preferences have changed over the years-in third grade I was really into the “Little House on the Prairie” books and wanted to wear a red plaid petticoat. In seventh grade I thought strapless Quiana might be cute, and in college I wanted Geena Davis’ elegant long-sleeved gown. But no matter what the dress style, red always looks good for the camera.

Pink is another story. I still haven’t forgiven Gwyneth Paltrow for that ill-fitting pink, “Shakespeare in Love” Oscar night dress, or Penelope Cruz for her pink flamingo gown in 2007. If Penelope Cruz can’t carry off feathers, no one can. I bet you can’t hum a single tune by Bjork, but remember her swan Oscar dress in 2001? Of course you do. That was her career’s swan song, though that ridiculous image is forever embedded in our brains, along with Lady Gaga’s meat dress from another awards show.

Since I’ve been studying the Academy Awards so avidly for so many years-and I don’t seem to have any personal use for this knowledge-I’ll offer some of my sage advice to the nominees.

You’ve got just 45 seconds and more than a billion viewers for your moment of glory. Don’t blow it on a fashion “DON’T.”

DO expect to lose. Despite what your agent, your mother and your hairdresser have told you, prepare yourself for this possibility, then visualize it in your mind. There’s nothing more uncomfortable than watching a newly hatched Oscar loser try to hold back tears on camera. No one is that good of an actor.

DON’T talk too long. One the best Oscar speeches in history was Jane Wyman’s, “I accept this very gratefully for keeping my mouth shut for once.” She was accepting an Oscar in 1949 (I read about this one, I’m not that old!) for playing a mute character in “Johnny Belinda.” “I think I’ll do it again.” And she sat down.

DON’T picture the audience in their underwear, no matter how nervous you get. With most things in life, advice from “The Brady Bunch” is extremely reliable, however this is that rare exception. Try picturing Colin Firth and Brad Pitt (or Scarlett Johansson and Salma Hayek) in their underwear. Not exactly relaxing, is it?

DON’T get political. Your 45-second speech isn’t long enough to say anything meaningful about global warming or the presidential race. If you must be political, bring a visual aid to help communicate your point, such as a sad-looking puppy, or an extremely thin actress.

DO shed a few tears, but not too many. What’s to stop your mother from running up to the podium with a Kleenex?

Which reminds me of the most important advice I have to give to Oscar nominees (and for once, I hope my son is reading): DON’T forget to thank your mother.

Leslie’s all-time favorite line in an Oscar acceptance speech was from Dianne Wiest, who won Best Supporting Actress for “Hannah and Her Sisters” in 1987: “Gee, this isn’t like I imagined it would be in the bathtub.” Share your favorites with Leslie@LeslieDinaberg.com. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com.  Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on February 24, 2012.

Death to Chit Chat

Photo by stockimages, freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by stockimages, freedigitalphotos.net

“Small talk is one step down from no talk.”-Jason Love

I had a mid-life revelation this week. After a busy weekend standing around bonfires, barbecues and beaches talking about the weather (hot), sports (a good week at Appalachian State), and my child’s school’s spring break week, I realized something: I spend far too much of my time talking about things that don’t really matter-or even hold much interest-to me.

That’s it. I’m done. Terminado. Now that I’m in my “late” mid-forties, and I’m starting to think I don’t want to live to be 100, which makes me middle-aged like, uh, now, it’s high time for me to stop fooling around and take a stand. So here it is: From this day forward I am banishing the banter of small talk from my life.

It’s not that I’m not a talker, I LOVE to talk, especially late at night (just ask my grumpy husband). But time’s a wasting. I’m not getting any younger and I don’t have any more time to waste on idle chit chat when I could be talking about something, well, better.

From now on, no more small talk. Try asking me how I am. Last week I would have automatically answered “Fine. How’s it going?” or some other equally scintillating conversational nugget, but this week I’ll give you a real answer, like, “How did I get to be so old?”

See what I did there? That’s one of the secrets of great conversationalists. I answered a question with a question. OK, it was a rhetorical question, but give me a break. I’m new at this small talk banishment stuff.

But I think I’m onto something with this answering a question with a question thing. Everybody’s favorite thing to talk about is themselves. Plus, I’m a naturally nosy person (hence the journalism career), so this new anti-small talk strategy will work both ways. You get to talk about you-thus making you think I’m charming and witty and interesting to talk to-and I get to find out what I really want to know.

Here’s an example. You ask me about the weather, and I ignore your question and ask you about what you think would change if a woman were president.

Or you make an inane comment about sports, and I’ll ask you when the last time was that you had sex. “Do you really believe in God or do you just like going to church? Are you naturally skinny or anorexic? Has your husband always been a jerk, or is he just having a bad year?”

Isn’t this fun?

Admit it, with the rare exception of earth shattering headlines (“Pearl Harbor Bombed” and “Kennedy Shot” come to mind) these off limits topics are a thousand times more interesting than any current events.

“Did you catch the news today?” might be greeted with “Do you feed your kids healthier food in public than you do when they’re at home?”

“Thank God it’s Friday,” could garner a response from me like, “Have you ever Googled an ex-boyfriend?”

Hey, I didn’t say I was going to be speaking deep thoughts from here on in, I only promised that I’d stop talking about all the things I could care less about and start talking about the things I’m really interested in. So when was the last time you thought about that ex-girlfriend of yours? Were you having sex?

Asking better questions could actually change the world-or at least our social gatherings-if we all joined in and started asking people about the things that used to be considered rude.

Try one of these anti-small talk conversation starters at your next party:

* How do you feel when someone says you’re just like your mother?

* Have you ever been fired?

* If you had to choose to be stuck on a desert island with someone that you know-other than your spouse or significant other-who would you pick? (No, watching Angelina Jolie in a movie doesn’t count as knowing her.)

* If you could go back in time and change one thing about your childhood, what would it be?

* Have you ever gotten drunk and been told you did something you can’t remember doing?

* How much money do you make, and do you think you’re worth it?

* If I were to force you to sing karaoke right now, what song would you pick?

* What would you like to accomplish before you die?

And finally,

* Is 48 really late-middle-aged? (Make sure you ask a senior citizen this one.)

Email email to ask Leslie the burning question you’ve been too polite to ask until now. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com. Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on February 17, 2012.

Valentine XOXOXO

Photo by Ohmega1982, freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by Ohmega1982, freedigitalphotos.net

It used to be so very, very easy. Everyone got valentines in first grade-even the frogs we already knew would never under any circumstances turn into princes, no matter how sweetly we asked them to “Be Mine” with pink foil hearts or “Bee Mine,” with Bit-O-Honey bars. Boys gave cards to girls and boys, girls gave cards to boys and girls, and there were no quibbles about it. The teacher made us give valentines to everyone, so people knew they didn’t mean I like you like you or anything complicated like that.

Everyone understood the rules and, for the most part, we all had fun. We’d jog to each person’s desk and drop a valentine into their decorated Kleenex box that we’d adorned with hearts, smiley faces and various spellings of “Hapy Valantune’s Day!”

What’s not to like about the chalky candy Sweethearts, with messages like “4 Ever” and “I’m Yours,” and the amusing little cards featuring bug eyed owls crooning, “Whooo do I want for my Valentine,” or baseball playing poppets pleading, “You’ve made a big hit, will I make a good catch?”

How on earth did we grow up and let Valentine’s Day get so very, very stressful?

It used to be a day for light-hearted fun but now-unless you live on a planet far, far away without advertising-Valentine’s Day has become a sneaky, predatory holiday full of unrealistic expectations. It’s a do-or-die litmus test for your romantic relationship. Flowers in a box fail to pass the sniff test, according to a Teleflora commercial (during the Super B$wl, no less), and any jewelry short of a ginormous diamond engagement ring falls disastrously short of expectations if you’ve seen the trailer for any romantic comedy made in the last decade.

For most guys, the very mention of the words “Valentine’s Day” conjures up nightmare memories of frantic last-minute shopping at the drug store followed by yelling, threats of bodily harm and then tears from their disappointed wives or girlfriends. Women tend to fantasize-despite the evidence of every previous experience they’ve EVER had with their loved one-that this will finally be the year he brings champagne, candles, chocolate, roses and Michael Buble to serenade them.

Basically it’s all about love, lingerie and letdowns.

Decades ago when my husband and I were young and in love and didn’t know any better, we decided to avoid the commercialism and stress of the holiday and instituted a Valentine’s Day tradition of making something for each other. None of that wussy Hallmark stuff for us. I may adore roses and chocolate, but we decided that buying something off the shelf for Valentine’s Day was for people who weren’t creative. Our gifts would come straight from our hands, and our hearts.

Oh how naïve we were.

You think picking the perfect card off the shelf is stressful, try writing the perfect poem where something rhymes with “Valentine” and “Klobucher.” You think getting a reservation at a romantic restaurant on Valentine’s Day takes clever planning, try running out of pink glitter and heart shaped doilies at 2 a.m. on February 13th. Over the years I’ve made more crafty projects than Martha Stewart and the Naughty Secretary combined, but
after more than 20 Valentine’s Day love crafts, I’m out of new ideas.

Clearly my romantic chops need defrosting. I decided to consult “1001 Ways to be Romantic” by Gregory Godek, who I had seen talk about romance on Oprah’s show a while back, so he must be the man. Some of his ideas were pretty good.

* Compliment your partner. (I love you even more now than that Valentine’s Day I made you a mix tape, before iTunes made it so ridiculously easy.)

* Check in with each other during the day. (Does texting him at work to ask, “have you made my Valentine yet” count?)

* Make a New Year’s resolution to be a more creative romantic. (Of course, I always do that one.)

* Make plans for Valentine’s Day well in advance! (This year, I’ll move it back to the 13th at 1:00 a.m.)

I still felt the pressure until I read an excerpt from Godek’s next book, “Bring Food. Arrive Naked.” That seems pretty manageable. I started to mull over recipe ideas when this historical note leapt off the page: “The ancient Greeks believed that love resided in the liver, not the heart.” Hmm … do you think champagne goes with chopped liver?


When Leslie’s not wishing for a Valentine’s Day that’s well, not chopped liver, she can be reached at Leslie@LeslieDinaberg.com. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com. Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on February 12, 2010.

Good Libations

KEKO64, freedigitalphotos.net

KEKO64, freedigitalphotos.net

It was the headline I’ve been fantasizing about for all of my adult life: “Study Finds Fruity Cocktails Count as Health Food.” I double-checked the URL, just to make sure I hadn’t accidentally stumbled onto the Onion.

Sure enough, Reuters was actually reporting that, “a fruity cocktail may not only be fun to drink but may count as health food, U.S. and Thai researchers said on Thursday.”

It makes so much sense. I knew I hadn’t been irresponsibly drowning my sorrows in alcohol for the past couple of decades. Those massive quantities of strawberry margaritas consumed over the years really did make me feel better–even in the morning.

I love it when science finally comes around to my way of thinking.

The discovery was pure serendipity–like the discovery of penicillin.

Tucked away in their labs (no doubt downing Red Bull, Mountain Dew, and Jolt cocktails) Dr. Korakot Chanjirakul and colleagues at Kasetsart University in Thailand and scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture were exploring ways to help keep strawberries fresh during storage, and accidentally stumbled on evidence that treating the berries with alcohol increased their antioxidant capacity and free radical scavenging activity.

In English, this means that adding ethanol–the type of alcohol found in rum, vodka, tequila and others–boosted the antioxidant nutrients in strawberries and blackberries.

The next time someone gives you a hard time for chugging a pitcher of Tangerine Banana Mango Daiquiris, you get right on your high horse and tell them you’re just conscientiously doing your part to prevent cancer.

Does that rock or what? You can now imbibe with pride.

This means that all those times we brought Margaritas to the Little League games we weren’t senior delinquents. No. We were good Samaritans saving lives.

The report in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture says that any colored fruit might be made even more healthful with the addition of a splash of alcohol. How awesome is that? Look around at the Farmer’s Market. All fruits are colored!

Get this: for those of you that like celery with your Bloody Marys (blech!) or onions with your Martinis (gag!), the antioxidant effect works with vegetables too.

As we all know by now, people who eat more fruits and vegetables have a documented lower risk of cancer, heart disease and some neurological diseases. Add that to a little Leslie logic and you’ve got a double whammy on the rocks: (a) Fruity frilly drinks are whimsical; (b) Scientists like fruity frilly drinks; (c) I like fruity frilly drinks; (d) Therefore, I’m a whimsical scientist.

I’m hoping the next phase of research will prove that adding little cocktail umbrella enhances the antioxidant effect.

Share your favorite fruity frilly girly drinks, we mean health tips, with Leslie at Leslie@leslieDinaberg.com. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com. Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on July 27, 2007.