All posts by alanwp

Holiday Gift Guide 2016: The Year’s Best Toys & Games

There’s a good reason—a very good reason—Build & Imagine Founder Laurie Peterson was named Rising Star Toy Inventor of the Year by Toy & Game Inventors Awards and why the products she has invented, created and sell are top-notch.

Laurie, always having fun!

We’ll let her speak:Toys help to shape our view of the world and develop important skills. Building toys have been one of hottest categories, and I just wasn’t seeing a lot of options that are especially engaging for girls. So what I did was combine several things girls have historically loved. Build & Imagine StoryWalls are like building blocks meets dollhouse meets dress-up dolls. It’s a unique mashup featuring adventurous characters and rich illustrated details that inspire girls and boys alike to build and imagine.
In the past, toy companies designed their construction toys almost exclusively for boys. Thankfully, they are now starting to invite girls to build, but many are doing so by taking their existing construction sets and turning them pink. I call it ‘pink think’.
We can approach toy design in a more thoughtful way, and doing so is important. The simple act of combining shapes to form a three dimensional structure helps kids to develop foundation skills for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Skills like spatial reasoning, problem solving, creativity, and design. Toys can make a difference. Let’s invite all children to Build and Imagine.”

We invite you to try and test her products. We vote them the Best of the Year because we asked  kids to play with a Draw & Build Dollhouse and a Pet Portrait Studio. The dollhouse is a far cry from those nasty Mattel messes: The kids got to make this magnetic dollhouse their own by drawing their decorations and scenes with the four write-on/wipe-off markers that are included. They customized each magnetic panel with your own artwork; drew hair and clothes on the included wooden doll and combined panels magnetically to form a dollhouse (and whatever else their imaginations desired.1_draw_build__024_edited_web-800x575 After a solid five hours of play, we had to nicely remind them their lunch was getting cold . . . and nap time was a-approaching! Recommended for ages 4-8. $24.99;

The next day they spent six (!) hours playing with Pet Portrait Studio.  They helped prepare the local shelter pets for adoption day by providing each pet with a special portrait.
pets_195_web-800x602 They built a studio with the illustrated magnetic panels, then dressed the wooden pets in crazy outfits and arranged wacky scenes for the dolls to capture with their camera and paintbrushes. It’s the fun of a dollhouse with the enrichment of a building set. $44.99;

The prescription for fun and games . . .and some scientific knowledge? With Dr. Eureka Speed Logic Game the brilliant Dr. Eureka has important experiments for you to complete. Pick a challenge card, 3 test tubes and 6 colorful balls to solve his scientific formula. c2820264-6a7c-4c22-a2ec-413d3ff368e4-jpg-_cb283032652__sl300__Carefully move your materials from tube to tube without dropping them and position the balls as illustrated on the challenge card. This game is a great, hand-on, dexterity-based, brainteaser that can be played with friends or by yourself. For 1-4 players, ages 8 and older. $19.99;

Wanna try and Top That!? Put on your hat, break out your props and hide your rabbits in this magical match up. When the challenge card is flipped over, players race to stack their objects in 1 single pile following 3 simple rules: objects printed in color must be visible on the stack, objects printed in grey must be hidden inside objects on the stack, and objects surrounded by stars must be kept empty.t604_x1_cfed86be0d5b9d51a321c02940b23586 Do you have what it takes to master your magic in this grand stack ‘em up finale?  For 2-4 players; ages 6 and older; $19.99;

Everyone is trying to get their claws on something called Hatchimals. And that’s no yolk.  The people at Zeno, who do the PR for Spin Master, the toy’s manufacturer, tell us “ the consumer response to Hatchimals has been extraordinary, exceeding all expectations. Spin Master has increased production and expedited shipments to ensure stock is arriving every week and will be right up to the holidays. We encourage consumers to check with their favorite retailers. “
Yet they are sold out in every store we visited and/poor called . . . yet on Amazon and eBay they are selling for upwards of $500! How sad people have snatched ‘em up and those greedy grinches are making a profit instead of making wee ones happy.

So we turn to a trio of other delightful toys that Spin Master has spun out. The series of Zoomer Hedgiez are interactive hedgehogs with lights, sounds and sensors. The one seen here has the name “Whirl”, and he (she?) looks as if his (her?) “fur” was designed by Andy Warhol. These critters move on their own, making cute sounds while they perform tricks.91mggh2ohil-_sl1500_ When you pet their heads they’ll walk, roll, do headstands; Hedgiez love to cuddle—tickle their bellies and they’ll curl up and giggle. Each Hedgy has soft, pet-able “fur”, perfect for brushing (they even come with their very own comb). Each needs 4 AAA batteries (not included) to hatch to life. $40+ each;

Kids don’t remember I Spy, but they can learn the art with Spy Gear: Spy Go Action Camera. Prepubescent snoops can spy and record anywhere with this portable surveillance camera that features three camera modes: burst mode capture, single frame capture, and video capture mode. 91qy7pl5yql-_sl1500_Those who want to be more recognizable can clip the camera anywhere with the included clip mount. $40+ each;

Not as hard-to-find as Hatchtk but a close second are Brightlings. These interactive singing and talking 15-inch tall plush “things” love to chat! She says more than 100 things, including “I love you” and “I’m getting sleepy”. To get Brightlings talking, just lay her on her stomach or place her upside down (Sounds a bit, perverse, no?) Activate new phrases the more you play with her—there’s never a dull moment with your new friend Brightlings! Unlike most kids, she listens to what you say, records it and repeats it back in her quirky voice. de8ca1ce-3513-40de-9c74-ea582ed0a6c8-jpg-_cb282237268__sl300__Squeeze Brightlings’ ear to record your voice, a song on the radio or just about anything for up to 15 seconds. (Yes, she can even curse!) Now press her tummy for her to repeat it back to you. Have some fun and tilt Brightlings while she’s repeating back and her voice will change pitch from super high to down low. This talented musician also creates songs in sixunique music styles. Select the music mode by squeezing Brightlings hand, and then press her ear to select the style. $42+;

Endless Games truly lives up to their names. They continue to offer an endless supply of must-have games that give a new definition  of” family game night!” hashtagit_content-180x180The best new item is Hashtagit! Each round begins with a completely ridiculous photo. Play the best Hashtagit caption from the cards in your hand. Be voted the best Hashtag and win the picture card.  Play continues until one annoyingly lucky player gets seven cards. For three or more players, 18 years and older. $19.99;

A perfect stocking stuffer: Ochos Locos Card Game. Think of this as a crazy game of eights with a spicy twist.  The object is to play all of your cards first by matching the color or number on the discard pile. Ochos (8’s) are Wild and can be played at any time. Other “Pepper Cards” spice up the action by creating new rules and different strategies. Ochos Locos is a new twist on a classic game that is instantly addictive! ochoslocos_3d_right-381x600Ole! Ochos Locos is a game for 2 or more players, ages 7 and older. $7.99;



Holiday Gift Guide 2016: The Year’s Best Gifts for the Home and Garden

Somewhere, over the rainbow, Judy Garland will be asking Santa to bring her Kikkerland’s Solar-Powered RainbowMaker. The genuine Swarovski crystal rotates and refracts sunlight to create a swirl of rainbows in any room.rain2 A few tips: Always place the RainbowMaker in direct sun. You may have to adjust its placement at different times of the year depending on how the sun shines through your window. Not only does it case many pretty colors, the must-have device brings good Chi into your home according to Feng Shui . . . and the God(dess) of Rainbows. Item 1588; $37.50. Visit Kikkerland

If musick has charms to sooth a savage breast, it can do the same calming to any beast. Kikkerland’s innovative Make Your Own Music Box hits all the right notes. And you create them! Create your own melody by punching holes in the music paper strips provided. musicboxThe Happy Birthday melody is included for you to get started. The kit also includes an instruction booklet to help you get started. And when the music has ended, start a new one: Kikkerland also sells paper refill strips. Item 1200; $23. Visit Kikkerland

We freely make asses of ourselves when we steer you to the cat’s meow: Kikkerland’s Cat Butt Magnets. Their whimsical wonder, from the hand and mind of Steph Mantis, have no ifs, ands or buts about it . . . instead, six hilarious animal butt magnets, plastic animal butts perfect for displaying everything. mg53_cat_butt_magnets_action1_1024x1024 Sizes vary but approximately 1 to 2 inches.  Item MG53; $15. Also available in Safari Butt MagnetsDog Butt Magnets and Farm Butt Magnets. Visit Kikkerland

Ever since we were littl’ sprouts, we have firmly planted the Gardener’s Supply Company’s catalog closer to our hearts than, say, the Sears Gift Book. To this day, we unearth nifty, necessary and never-been-seen must-haves for the garden and home . . . the heap of thank you notes will grow from everyone who receives any of these treasures.

Whether you live in a palatial home or teeny balcony apartment, the VegTrug Patio Garden is just the thing to go green. So innovative is the VegTrug that it was named winner of the 2012 Green Thumb Award for Outstanding New Product. Grow plants at an easy working height in this unique patio garden; no bending or kneeling to plant, tend and harvest. The elevated bed means no weeds and fewer pests, too. The V-shape makes efficient use of space and planting mix—grow deep-rooted plants like tomatoes in the center, shallow-rooted crops like salad greens along the edges.gs40331_01_vegtrug-patio-garden
The Veg-Trug boasts quality construction and easy assembly and is meant to last. (The solid wood is FSC-certified, sustainable plantation-grown fir with non-toxic stain; with dovetail joints and a food-safe finish.) There’s also a fitted fabric liner to keep soil contained while letting excess water drain; plastic feet protect wood from wet surfaces. Get growing! Item 40-331; $279;

Hot dog! Those who like to DYI will relish the Gardener’s Supply exclusive Make Your Own Zesty Homemade Mustard Kit. Created and assembled in Vermont, it includes everything you need to make three different varieties, including mustard seeds, spice blends, vinegars, jars and more. A fun family activity with delicious results: The mustard will be made from natural ingredients, no preservatives and GMO-free.8593911_7445_homemade-mustard-kit-for-dijon-brown-and-yellow This is just one of the crop of  new, exclusive Gardener’s Pantry do-it-yourself homemade food kits. The three you’ll make? Sweet Brown Mustard ( featuring maple syrup, brown and yellow mustard seeds); Dijon Style Mustard (a classic Dijon style with onion and garlic); and Grainy Yellow Mustard ( yellow and brown mustard seeds give it a medium-aggressive kick). Weiners not included! Item 8593911; $29.95;

When Gardener’s Supply promises something is for the birds, that’s a major compliment. Witness this Natural Birch Log Bird Feeder—carefully handcrafted from birch logs, this feeder is not only beautiful, it also provides natural camouflage to protect birds from predators. There are six entrances for small birds to access seed. The overhanging roof protects the seed inside from getting wet.8589118_029 And the center lid lifts off for easy filling. Ready to hang with a built-in braided rope loop. Made from sustainably harvested birch trees from Latvia. Holds 3/4 cup of any kids of seed. Item 8589118; $19.99;

We now chime in with news about Gardener’s Supply’s Butterfly Wind Chimes. This delightful, nature-inspired decoration features  graceful chimes and adds interest to any porch or garden. A gentle breeze sets this flock of butterflies in motion, accompanied by the sweet chiming of handmade bells.8586392_02 Light dapples off the hand-painted sculpture, adding to its allure. Hang on a porch, door or branch to enjoy the captivating sound and movement. Item 8586392; $39.99;

Can’t stand plants all over the house? Take a stand: This Glass and Metal Branch Plant Stand is the most gorgeous solution. Plants and cherished curios take center stage when displayed on this nature-inspired plant stand. The sturdy steel frame has a rustic bronze finish and holds three glass shelves. The compact footprint fits easily into any indoor living space, and is ideal for use in a corner. It’s 52 inches high; folds flat for easy storage.gs37315_04_branch-plant-stand Item 37-315; $84.95;

Yes, Virginia, you can fence it in. Neatly. Easily. The Gardener’s Supply No-Dig Garden Edging creates a polished, 1-1/2″ high border with Ease . . . not the capital “E”.  Use this easy-to-install edging to create a tidy border on garden beds, tree rings and walkways. Keeps mulch and gravel contained. No-dig edging installs on the soil surface using the included spikes. Easy to bend into curves. 8592452_001v_dimex-easyflex-no-dig-edging-garden-lawn-landscape-recycled-plastic There’s 50 feet of edging made from recycled polyethylene,  16 eight-inch spikes and two connectors. Item# 8592452; $49.95;

Has the mall haul hurt your feet? Are those arches and heels and toes aching? Two offers of advice: Stop doing the mall haul. Do you really want to fight for a parking spot and then fight with those other shoppers for that gift for Sweetums? Second bite: Receive a stimulating foot massage from the HoMedics Shiatsu Pro Foot Massager. Using soothing heat, 4 rotational heads and 12 massage nodes, the Shiatsu Pro Foot Massager delivers a deep kneading, relaxing massage for both feet.fms-250h-lifestyle_final_1 With its easy to use toe-touch control, you don’t have to bend over to adjust the settings. It’s time to give your feet the rest they deserve in your own home. Model FMS-250H;$49.95;


Are your kitchen counters cluttered with just too many appliances? Here’s the recipe for being clean and tidy: KitchenAid’s 4-Quart Multi-Cooker , with more than 10 cooking methods and 4 step-by-step modes. We consider the Multi-Cooker the ultimate in versatility for cooks of all levels–unlimited versatility, exceptional control and consistent results with every dish. Serve up Irish Porridge with Berry Compote for breakfast, enjoy Fennel and Potato Bisque for lunch, and then close the day with Asparagus Parmesan Risotto.  2aa4890e-aae2-4900-9bcd-995b290256c0-jpg-_cb317811252__sl220__All meals are done to perfection, thanks to the even heat technology. It’s so simple to operate: Digital display guides you through simple step-by -step instructions, and displays temperature and timer for up to 12 hours of cooking. Once the tasty treats are finished, keep the grub warm for up to 24 hours! The Multi-Cooker comes in Stainless Steel, Candy Apple and Onyx Black,  boasts a soft grip handle with clear tempered glass lid; there’s even a dual purpose steam basket and roasting rack. Model KMC4241SS; $245;

The Battle of Gettysburg won’t compare to the battle over the great gifts offered by GettysGear. We don’t advocate smoking, but we do think this hand-cast, hand-finished aluminum ashtray is smokin’.  Made in the centuries old sand-casting method, the finished pieces yield exceptional detail and a wonderful patina.
img_2949_1024x1024Weighing in at more than one pound, these hefty 6 1/4-inches pieces feature a deep ash bowl as well as two cigar slots. Available in our antique pewter or antique black finishes they come gift boxed and ready to use.  Since all of their ashtrays are hand made, no two will be exactly alike. Made in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. $24.99 each;

If you are a connoisseur of gourmet coffee, then we have a treat for you.  Great Gettysburg Coffee Company procures the finest high mountain, shade-grown beans possible.  The beans originate from Central and South America and are locally hand roasted in small batches and then packaged to ensure the freshest and most aromatic cup of coffee you can imagine. fullsizerender_medium All of their coffees are packed in high quality, foil lined bags that are heat sealed with a one-way valve to ensure freshness.  Each bag also has a resealable tape to help maintain freshness while you are enjoying your coffee.  An extra bonus:  These bags are a full 16 ounces of coffee rather than the more common 12 ounce bags that you might find elsewhere. Good to the very last drop! $14.99 per pound;

We don’t mean to be a drip when it comes to making a fresh and hot cup o’ Joe. Skip those enviromentally unkind K cups. Enter KithenAid’s Precision Coffee Maker. It’s a classic French press without any of the hassle. 81c3pfukppl-_sl1500_This 25-ounce wonder is enchaned with an intergrated scale and timer. Model KCM0512SS; $265;

Arm your favorite Civil War buff with this non-firing replica of the famous Colt revolver.  This hand-cast piece is made of solid aluminum and does an excellent job of representing the revolvers that were generally carried by officers during the American Civil War. After the piece is cast, the gun is laser etched “Battle of Gettysburg” on the barrel and “July 1-3 1863” between the grip and cylinder. img_3757_1024x1024 Then a hand-rubbed, two-part finishing process yields the final result.  This is a great conversation piece for a desk, bookshelf or wall hanging.  It weighs in at more than 1.5 pounds, is 14″ long and has a great feel in your hand.  As these pieces are hand made, no two are exactly alike. Made in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. $34.99;

Attention! GettysGear offers two sets of Guardians of Gettysburg, mini statues that pay tribute to the valor, bravery and commitment to all those that have served. img_3045_1024x1024Hand-cast and hand finished in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, these solid aluminum figures weight in at more than 6 ounces and make a great accessory for your mantel, desk, bookcase or shelf. The 5 1/2-inch tall statues are available in four different finishes:  Antique Bronze, Antique Butternut, Antique Pewter and Antique Silver.fullsizerender_medium-1  Be sure to check out their Union counterparts! Remember, since they are hand made, no two are exactly alike.  $12.99 each;



Bissell has done it again. That’s “Bissell” with a “B”, as in “best”. Get your hard floors cleaner than you could have ever imagined with the Bissell CrossWave—a groundbreaking new machine that vacuums and washes your floors at the same time.


With a Dual-Action Brush Roll rotating at 3,500 RPM and an innovative multi-surface cleaning solution, the CrossWave cleans better than a sponge mop and bucket, in less time. Plus, with the touch of a button, you can seamlessly switch from cleaning hard floors to vacuuming and washing your area rugs. This one-of-a-kind tool removes debris, spills, and sticky messes from hard surfaces and it freshens area rugs, too. Get a fresher, deeper clean the quick, easy way with the amazing CrossWave. $249.95;

UMe rushes the great news: Three collectible, expanded editions of Rush’s classic “2112”

We don’t mean to rush things, but the news from UMe deserves a push. Big time. After celebrating over 40 years together with the same trio line-up, UMe continues the celebration of the Rush catalog with the release of three 40th anniversary expanded editions of the band’s classic 1976 album 2112.

On December 16, just in time for the Jolly Fat One to put under the tree or bush, 2112—40th will be released in three distinct variations. The 2-disc/DVD edition will include a newly remastered CD of the original album by Abbey Road Studios, along with an additional CD of rare, live and previously unreleased material including newly-recorded tracks from 2112 featuring Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters along with Nick Raskulinecz, Billy Talent, Steven Wilson, Jacob Moon and Alice In Chains.unnamed-1The set’s third disc is a DVD featuring a newly restored vintage 1976 Rush concert recorded at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey, plus bonus videos of the Grohl/Hawkins/Raskulinecz track and Billy Talent track, and a new 25+ minute interview featuring Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson and longtime producer/engineer Terry Brown. The new 2112 remaster originally appeared on the much-acclaimed 2015 hologram vinyl edition of the album; this marks the Abbey Road Studios master first time on CD.

UMe is also releasing a three-LP 200-gram vinyl edition incorporating all of the aforementioned audio material, plus a special laser-etched LP side, the 2015 hologram on 2112‘s  B-side and a unique turntable mat featuring the band’s iconic Starman character. Fans will also have the option of purchasing a Super Deluxe edition, incorporating both CDs, the DVD, all three LPs plus its bonus items, and several exclusive collectible items including two 12-inch x 12-inch lithos, one featuring Hugh Syme’s original Starman pencil sketching, the second showcasing a 1976 Massey Hall ticket stub; a reprint of the 1976 Massey Hall handbill and three buttons featuring each band member, all housed in a box lined with velvet

For the first 1,000 Super Deluxe pre-order purchases at, and,  the purchaser will receive a limited edition 7-inch pressing of the album’s first single “The Twilight Zone” (b/w “Lessons”) and a custom red star 45 large hole adapter ring, both newly designed by Hugh Syme.

All three versions of 2112—40th feature extensive liner notes by renowned rock historian Rob Bowman, and newly designed artwork by longtime Rush art director Hugh Syme. The set’s rare recordings include “Solar Federation,” spotlighting the isolated Neil Peart vocals that close the song “2112” in “Grand Finale,” two outtakes from the 1976 Massey Hall concerts including “Something For Nothing” and a nearly complete 15+ minute performance of “2112,” as well as a recently-rediscovered live version of the album track “The Twilight Zone,” which has only been performed twice in the band’s long history.

The epic 2112 album which guitarist Alex Lifeson described as “the first record where we sounded like Rush,” is widely regarded as a crucial landmark in Rush’s body of work. Although it was the band’s fourth album, it’s generally considered to be the one on which the band’s epic sound and ambitious conceptual approach blossomed. Resisting record-company pressure to focus on shorter, more radio-friendly songs, the band stuck to its guns and constructed the album’s seminal seven-part, 20-minute title piece, a conceptual suite set in a dystopian future.

In addition to its status as a creative landmark, 2112 was also Rush’s commercial breakthrough, becoming the band’s first album to reach the Billboard LP chart and the first Rush album to achieve Gold sales status in the U.S. (it was subsequently certified Platinum). 2112 was also Rush’s first platinum album in Canada, spawning a now-legendary Canadian tour that culminated in a three-night stand at Massey Hall in Toronto, which was recorded for Rush’s first live album, All the World’s a Stage.


“9/11 Inside the Pentagon” offers first-hand accounts of the attack we must never forget

America marked the 15th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S., a nightmare we just never forget. PBS Distribution offers 9/11 Inside the Pentagon on DVD, a documentary which reveals new, first-hand accounts of the attack that took place at the heart of the country’s military headquarters–an attack in which 184 people from inside the building and on board American Airlines flight 77 perished.

While most of the media coverage of the events of September 11 focused on New York City and United Flight 93, the story of what happened inside the Pentagon on that tragic day has never truly been told. Until now.

Produced by Lone Wolf Media, 9/11 Inside the Pentagon revisits the events of 9/11 from the perspective of those who were in Washington, DC, working at or near the Pentagon. Using exclusive first-person interviews with Pentagon personnel, first responders, aviation experts and journalists, as well as rarely seen Department of Defense footage taken from inside the Pentagon after the attack, the special tells the story of heroism and perseverance in the face of unimaginable, life-threatening obstacles.

Unlike those in New York City who were completely taken by surprise, those in Washington, DC, followed the news coming out of New York and realized than unaccounted-for flights still in the air would likely target significant, symbolic and strategic sites in the nation’s capital–including the Pentagon.

In the chaos that followed after Flight 77 struck the Pentagon, a group of workers inside would crawl through black smoke and pools of jet fuel looking for an exit, only to find themselves trapped behind a newly installed blast-proof window that was impossible to break open; emotional clashes over jurisdiction would break out between Pentagon personnel and first responders trying to find survivors in the wreckage; smoke would threaten to incapacitate the National Military Command Center; and an unaccounted-for plane would pose the threat of yet another strike.

Among those interviewed in the film are those who experience the attack first-hand: Steve Carter, assistant building operations manager at the Pentagon; first responders Mike Regan, Alan Wallace and Ed Hannon; Pentagon personnel Captain William J. Toti (U.S. Navy, retired) and Colonel Marilyn Wills (US Army, retired); air traffic controller Colin Scoggins; structural engineer Leo Titus; and Washington Post reporter Steve Vogel.

TV pioneer Norman Lear is impossible to stifle. PBS celebrates his career in “Just Another Version of You”

We call it 90 minutes of good times. How else would you explain a PBS special–the first documentary about the television legend– celebrating the career of Norman Lear? Savor American Masters: Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You on Blu-ray and DVD.  Enjoyed the special on PBS? Take note that the home releases include more than 12 minutes of bonus features.

Bea Arthur and Bill Macy in an episode of “Maude”.

Largely responsible for the explosion of bold American television in the ’70s, the writer/producer is synonymous with the sitcom. With unprecedented access to Lear, his work and his massive personal archives, the special combines stories from his turbulent childhood and early groundbreaking TV success (think All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Good Times, Maude) and social activism.

The documentary also features colorful stories from Lear’s family, friends and collaborators, including John Amos, George Clooney, Alan Horn, Bill Moyers, Rob Reiner, Phil Rosenthal and Russell Simmons, as well as cinéma vérité moments with Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Jon Stewart, Amy Poehler and Lena Dunham.

Rob Reiner and Carroll O’Connor bickering (as usual) in “All in the Family”.

Breaking down the fourth wall to create an evocative collage where past and present intermingle, Oscar-nominated filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady reveal a psychologically rich man whose extraordinary contributions emerge from both his personal story and his own self-professed childlike view of the world.

The documentary traces how a poor Jewish kid from Connecticut started writing for The Colgate Comedy Hour with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, created All in the Family and became one of TV’s most successful showrunners.

All character-driven, with theatrical sets and live audiences, Lear’s TV series changed not only the face of national television but the content of national discourse. Bringing provocative subjects like war, poverty and prejudice to 120 million viewers every week, Lear proved that social change was possible through an unlikely prism–laughter–and created some of the greatest moments in television history.

Co-produced by Ewing and Grady’s Loki Films and THIRTEEN’s American Masters series, Just Another Version of You doesn’t shy away from the controversies Lear stirred with his TV series and advocacy organization People For the American Way (PFAW). The documentary also highlights his later years touring the country with the Declaration of Independence and promoting his memoir Even This I Get to Experience, spending time with his tight-knit family, and developing new productions.

Look at this way: Lear can never be stifled.

Premiere pitmaster Aaron Franklin serves up some might tasty menus

More food for thought, served by PBS Distribution and premiere pitmaster Aaron Franklin. Feast on BBQ With Franklin, 10 half-hour episodes that celebrate the traditions, techniques and histories passed along through generations, while serving up a new take on this distinctly American passion. The tour guide for this adventure is the owner and chief firestarter at Austin’s Franklin Barbecue, Aaron Franklin, widely regarded as one of the most influential pitmasters in the U.S.

Part pilgrimage, part noble quest, the series brings viewers into Franklin’s world as he visits notable BBQ joints and their legendary masters, tries new recipes, answers burning questions such as “Is it done yet?” and shovels wood at his own BBQ pits.

BBQ With Franklin is based on the popular YouTube web series of the same name, created and launched in 2012 by KLRU-TV, Austin PBS. The broadcast series serves as an entertaining blueprint for barbecue buffs as Franklin treks across Texas, talking with big thinkers in the world of barbecue, from an old-timer pit boss to today’s game-changing BBQ artisans. The journey is full of experiments and detours, as Franklin cooks brisket in his backyard, builds his own smoker from scratch (out of a 250 gallon propane tank) and ponders whether or not to go whole hog by barbecuing a whole hog. Along the way, the Master of Central Texas ’cue serves up some of his hard-won knowledge and unlocks the secrets behind truly great barbecue for the backyard pitmaster.

Aaron Franklin’s interest in BBQ started with the backyard cookouts that he and wife, Stacy, would throw. When they opened up a small barbecue trailer on the side of an Austin, Texas, interstate in 2009, they had no idea what they’d gotten themselves into. Today, Franklin Barbecue has grown into the most popular, critically-lauded and obsessed-over barbecue joint in the country (if not the world)—and Franklin, a 2015 James Beard winner, is the recipient of every major barbecue award there is, including Texas Monthly’s coveted Best Barbecue Joint in Texas award and Bon Appétit’s Best Barbecue Joint in America. Six days a week, crowds stand in line for hours for a taste of his mouth-watering brisket. Franklin’s barbecue has been celebrated by everyone from Jimmy Kimmel to Anthony Bourdain to President Obama.

Seconds anyone?

“Craft in America: Teachers” offers an inside look into artists who share creative lessons

PBS Distribution teaches us another valuable lesson by releasing the eighth season of Craft in America: Teachers, the Peabody Award-winning series. This time ’round, the program delves into artists committed to sharing the skills and passion for craft with students of all ages.

Craft in America: Teachers takes an inclusive approach to education and craft, emphasizing that it is never too early–or too late–to acquire skills and appreciation for craft. The education covered in this episode starts with kindergarten exploration and discovery; goes through high school and university where the curriculum becomes simultaneously more liberating and challenging; and develops into the curiosity and enthusiasm of lifelong learning.

These artists/teachers are a special breed. They are found in classrooms and workshops ensuring that their hard-earned wisdom and practical skills are passed on. Across the country these craft artists are dedicated to education–inspiring, evaluating, critiquing and praising their students’ achievements.

The program begins with the artistry of Navajo weavers Barbara Teller Ornelas and her sister Lynda Teller Pete, both of whom learned the craft of weaving the time-honored way–through family. Often this method of teaching begins with observation, when skills are absorbed. This legacy of learning is essential to Navajo weavers. The Teller sisters spent summers with their grandparents in Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, ancestral home of the Navajo people, in an environment where weaving “is a way of life.”

In early childhood they were introduced to weaving by their mother, Ruth Teller, who instilled the belief that beauty and harmony should be woven into every rug. We film as they teach outdoors amidst the extraordinary natural beauty of the Canyon. They recount the story of Spider Woman who, as ancient legend has it, taught the Navajos to weave. Our cameras then move with them to the Idyllwild Arts Native American Arts Program, where in the summer, they teach the practice of Navajo weaving atop a mountain overlooking Palm Springs, California.

The program travels to Honolulu, Hawaii, where artist Mark Mitsuda introduces professional glass forming techniques to his students at Punahou School. In 1972, his mentor Hugh Jenkins started the high school glass program at Punahou, using recycled milk and mayonnaise bottles as raw materials. Mitsuda took charge of the program after Jenkins’ retirement in 1998. Since its inception, participation in the program has doubled. Underscoring the inter-generational mission of teaching, Mitsuda says that what he learned from Jenkins, he now passes on to his own students.

“I feel fortunate to be teaching something that I feel passionate about and being able to inspire other people in the place that inspired me to first go into glassblowing.” Mitsuda’s early work was a balance between conceptual and functional, slowly he was drawn back to making objects of utility which he finds in his teaching especially, carry tremendous meaning for the student in the process of learning.

The program next travels to Omaha, Nebraska, where Therman Statom, a major figure of the Studio Glass Movement, decided to start programs for underserved inner city students and economically challenged youth.

“I think teaching is the highest form of advocacy in terms of influencing the world or having the chance to be a part of something that you can change,” he explains. Cameras capture Statom at work in his studio and the excitement of his class at the Hot Shops Art Center, witnessing how art and glass blowing inspires youth.

Alfred, New York is home to Alfred University, School of Art and Design. Here, students perfect their craft and learn to become professional artists. The College of Ceramics includes a graduate program where conceptual thinking elevates the approach to clay. Professor Linda Sikoradescribes the program: “We teach many disciplines alongside what might be more strictly categorized as craft. This is deliberate and allows our students to become broad thinking in terms of visual and material culture regardless of how they specialize. It is also, I believe, what keeps our program vital and contemporary.”

Nikola Tesla: PBS remembers the “mad scientist” in a must-see DVD

He’s been dubbed the “patron saint of geeks” and has had electric cars, rock bands, a unit of measurement, a minor planet and a lunar crater named after him. Yet visionary scientist Nikola Tesla is still relatively unknown, eclipsed by contemporaries such as Edison and Marconi. And he died impoverished and largely forgotten.

During his lifetime, he gained international fame for his invention of a system of alternating current that made possible the distribution of electricity over vast distances and is the basis for the electrical grid that powers 21st century life. But the visionary Tesla imagined much more—robots, radio, radar, remote control, the wireless transmission of messages and pictures, and harnessing the wind and sun to provide free energy to all.

A showman, he dazzled his scientific peers who flocked to see him demonstrate his inventions and send thousands of volts of electricity pulsing through his body. His fertile but undisciplined imagination was the source of his genius but also his downfall, as the image of Tesla as a “mad scientist” came to overshadow his reputation as a brilliant innovator. But it is his exhilarating sense of the future that has inspired renewed interest in the man, as his once scoffed-at vision of a world connected by wireless technology has become a reality.fair-edison-tesla-westinghouse-people

PBS introduces him to audiences in the DVD American Experience: Tesla.  The program is also available for digital download.

Born in 1856 to a Serbian family in Croatia, the tall, gangly, 28-year-old inventor arrived in New York in 1884, almost penniless but with a letter of introduction to his hero, Thomas Edison. Tesla was convinced that he had solved the problem that had plagued Edison’s plans to electrify the world, not just the tip of lower Manhattan. Edison relied on direct current (DC) to transmit electricity, which was severely limiting. Tesla had found a way to do what had so far stumped everyone: invent a motor that could run on alternating current (AC), making the distribution of electricity across long distances possible.Nikola_Tesla_on_Time_Magazine_1931

“Before Tesla, you would have to have thousands of little power plants at every mile,” explains biographer Marc Seifer. “After Tesla, from one power source—Niagara Falls—you could light up and power the entire northeast.”

Edison immediately hired Tesla, who abruptly quit just six months later, frustrated by Edison’s refusal to adopt his idea. After a grim winter of digging ditches, his luck turned. The wealthy inventor and entrepreneur George Westinghouse knew that the future—and immense profits—would be found in electricity and he quickly bought the young inventor’s patents, making Tesla a rich man. But when Westinghouse became overextended, he revised Tesla’s deal, stripping him of a royalty that would have made him one of the wealthiest men in the world. Nevertheless, Westinghouse’s gamble on Tesla’s ideas paid off; the company beat Edison for the contracts to wire the Columbian Exposition in Chicago and to harness Niagara Falls to generate AC current, ending once and for all Edison’s hopes for his now antiquated DC technology.


Tesla was now a celebrity, the new Edison. He moved into the luxurious Astor House, dined at Delmonico’s, and became a friend to the rich and famous, including Mark Twain, John Jacob Astor and J.P. Morgan. But he was plagued with a plethora of odd phobias that had followed him since childhood, when he often suffered from inexplicable visions and a difficulty in separating reality from his imagination. Everything he did had to be divisible by three, he had a manic fear of germs, and couldn’t bear the sight of earrings or the touch of human hair.

In 1899, Tesla headed west to Colorado Springs where he set up a laboratory and began to build massive coils that produced a million volts of electricity; he soon announced that he could transmit electricity over vast distances by sending currents though the earth. But he never produced the evidence and his credibility slipped, tarnished even further by his claims that he had received signals from Mars. His imagination, so critical to his inventive powers, began to betray him.99774988_136425712297

Returning to New York, Tesla managed to convince Morgan to invest in his next idea, the transmission of wireless messages, although Tesla dreamed of transmitting electric power without wires as well. With Morgan’s money, Tesla bought 200 acres on Long Island’s North Shore and began building a transmission tower. But an Italian electrical engineer, Guglielmo Marconi, doomed his dream by sending the first wireless transmission across the Atlantic in 1901—based on Tesla’s patents. The invention of wireless telegraphy—radio—would win Marconi a Nobel Prize and send Tesla into a downward spiral.

By 1916, he had relinquished the Long Island mortgage to the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, where he had lived on credit for almost 20 years. He would spend the rest of his life imagining new inventions and searching for investors while his ideas became increasingly bizarre and fantastical, more science fiction than science. His mind drifting, his money gone, he died alone in 1943 in the New Yorker Hotel. Six months later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the patents to Marconi’s wireless device belonged to Tesla, and that he, not Marconi, had launched the wireless world with the invention of radio.

James Pattersion’s bestselling young adult fantasy novels hit the big-screen with a “Maximum Ride”

James Patterson is pretty prolific. And pretty rich.

Based on the phenomenal bestselling young adult fantasy novels by their author, Maximum Ride takes flight on DVD on December 6 from Paramount Home Media Distribution.  Patterson’s book series spent 144 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, has sold more than 20 million books worldwide and has spawned 11 Manga comics.

The film brings to life the extraordinary journey of six DNA-enhanced young orphans with the ability to fly who are on a mission to rescue the youngest of their flock while discovering the diabolical, scientific secrets of how they came to exist.  Their leader is Max, wise beyond her years, who must summon all her courage and acumen to outmaneuver the brutal half-human/half-wolf creations known as “Erasers”, confront her own inner demons and ultimately face a stunning betrayal.

Maximum Ride boasts a sensational cast of up-and-coming talent including digital influencers such as Allie Marie Evans, Patrick Johnson, Lyliana Wray, Luke Gregory Crosby, Gavin Lewis, Tetona Jackson, Zayne Emory,  Carrie Wampler and Peter O’Brien.

The film ran into trouble in early 2012, when Catherine Hardwicke quit as the film director. When asked about the odds of a movie still being made, Patterson claimed he was “very hopeful as opposed to mildly depressed”. Trouble continued with the death of screenplay writer Don Payne on March 26, 2013. Two years later, the plans geared into a maximum ride and the flick was made.


A most memorial event: The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s new DVD

Think of this as a memorial event. Each year on Memorial Day weekend, The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center takes up residency in one of the country’s most beautiful historic sites: Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Kentucky, where a vibrant Shaker community once flourished.

Live From Lincoln Center went on the road with the ensemble for the first time in its 40-year history, taking its cameras, trucks and a 15-member crew into the heart of rural America. Performed for a riveted audience in a converted tobacco barn, the concert celebrated American music with unparalleled intimacy and intensity, climaxing with Aaron Copland’s iconic Appalachian Spring, which incorporates a traditional Shaker theme at the heart of the work. Pulsing with the spirit of the Shakers, the film draws poignant parallels between art and craftsmanship; the beauty and hardships of the frontier; and the quest for transcendence in American life.

The result? Simple Gifts: The Chamber Music Society at Shaker Village (PBS Distribution). Featured on the DVD are performances of Copland’s Appalachian Spring; Gottschalk’s The Union; Dvořák’s Sonatina; Barber’s Souvenirs; O’Connor’s F.C.’s Jig; and selections from Foster’s The Social Orchestra, plus an additional 52-minute bonus documentary, A Gift to be Simple with a behind the scenes look at the Chamber Music Society and the story of the Shaker community.