Thursday, December 16, 2010

Movie Review - TRON: Legacy

There was a moment early in TRON: Legacy that my husband turned to me and said, “Holy Hell am I ever glad I’m not trapped in a videogame. If I was Sam I would have committed suicide by now.” He was joking, of course, but his reaction illustrated how difficult Sam’s task was.

If you’ve seen the original TRON (I hadn’t) you’ll know that Sam Flynn played by the oh-so-easy-on-les-yeux Garrett Hedlund (the young actor from Troy who looks like Brad Pitt and who got his throat slit accidentally by Eric Bana’s Hector) is the son of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges). In the 1982 film, the elder Flynn created a program called CLU, his digital doppelganger, as well as the do-gooder program, TRON, to help him create a digital Utopia.

For no apparent reason, old-man Flynn was sucked into the digital underworld where he fought CLU (who turned to the dark side) to stay alive for two decades on the deadly grid. In TRON: Legacy, Sam somehow ends up in getting “sucked” into the same game and valiantly goes to rescue daddy-o, who he hasn’t seen since childhood…and who he thought abandoned him.

That be the plot. I wish there were more.

Here’s the good stuff. The soundtrack. In a word - AWESOME. Buy it, download it. Listen to it. Love it. I loved it. At the media screening on Monday night the sound-check ran late so the film started an hour late. It was well worth it. The El Capitan Theater in L.A. shook and rocked and rolled …

The special effects are spectacular – it’s so pretty and crisp. It’s like living a tidy ice-house lit up by the Northern Lights. During the Lightcycle race (think chunky motorcycle covered with rows of Christmas lights), the screen is filled with trails of ice blue and green and purple and red. Uber-modern.

The costumes. Sam Flynn and Quorra a program who helps Kevin Flynn (Olivia Wilde from House) wear skin-tight motocross-inspired suits that light up. She wears platform shoes with cutout heels and some of the guys are in corsets. It’s so stylish, with shades of Barbarella though not the grit of Mad Max or Bladerunner. All in all, the wardrobe has the elegance of The Matrix. And Tronnies (Tronites?) can have a piece of that elegance by shelling out. There’s a clothing collection designed by Opening Ceremony (available in West Hollywood and online) and jewelry designed by Tom Tom.

The actors. Jeff Bridges. It’s obvious he’s having a blast. As the aging and trapped Kevin Flynn, he walks around the grid in flowing white robes and with one touch of his hand shows how much power he still has. He is the creator after all. But he’d rather not show his power. He’d rather find Zen, man.

I'm a fan of Olivia Wilde primarily because her mom is the amazing journalist/producer Leslie Cockburn who wrote a great book Looking for Trouble in which she chronicles, among other things, the destruction of Somalia while six months preggers with Olivia, voyages to Afghanistan and Haiti, and befriending Pablo Escobar. Cockburn was Peter Jenning’s producer and she co-wrote a book with her husband upon which The Peacemaker (with George Clooney) is based.

Wilde delivers one of my favorite lines in the film as Quorra to Sam: “Do you know Jules Verne?” I won’t say anymore. Let’s just say that she needs to get out more.

Michael Sheen (The Queen, 30 Rock, Underworld) who plays Castor is terrific although I didn’t really understand why his character was in the film. Is there any role this actor can’t conquer? He just consumes every scene he is in especially when he’s in a top hat and tails and singing with glee.

All in all, TRON: Legacy is a treat for your eyes thought not necessarily for your mind. It won’t be fun to watch on a small screen like say your iPhone or DROID or even on your 60-inch home telly.

Oh, and not to forget that first fight-to-the-death scene on the grid (that my husband referred to) where the newly arrived Sam fights a growling masked goon/program. Call me chicken but I’d rather jump off the grid by choice and shatter into millions of bits and bytes, than have one of those freakishly pretty Frisbees of death cut through my flesh. But I’m not Sam and my dad’s not trapped in a videogame.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


(Double-click on images to enlarge and read article from Chatelaine.)

For my complete interview with Kim Raver, pick up the November 2010 issue of Chatelaine magazine

Friday, October 8, 2010

Columbus Day Sale at L.A.'s The Address Boutique

Like a child coveting a new toy at Christmas, I often press my face up to the windows of Gucci, Chanel, and Versace, to stare at the glittering treasures inside.

If you’re like me and want to dress like a diva but have the budget of a church mouse get thee to The AdDress Boutique this weekend. For every $100 you spend at the designer resale store in Santa Monica, you get a $25 gift certificate (expires on U.S. Thanksgiving).

The AdDress Boutique is where stylists for celebs like Lindsay Lohan, Heather Graham, and Sharon Stone go to sell designer duds when the star has worn them once too many. Which is to say they’ve worn an outfit twice. And sometimes not at all.

I wandered in there today and was gob-smacked to see reasonable prices on an entire shelf of designer handbags. Gucci, Chanel, and Louis Vuitton all murmured suggestively “Buy me.” A black suede ruffle bag by YSL was $185 (USD). A gorgeous purple patent Salvatore Ferragamo was $395.

In the back were racks of pretty shoes. Golden Christian Louboutin slides for $175. Manolo Blahnik pumps for $135. An Herve Leger rainbow bandage dress that retails for $2250 at Nieman Marcus was priced at $695.

Unable to wait for the weekend sale, I hankered after a pair of oversized Dolce Gabbana sunglasses ($160 down from $395). Salesperson Crissy Madden convinced me they looked fabulous on me, even more so than the $190 Chanel cat-eye glasses. That's salemanship! It’s not Christmas…but, hey it was my birthday last week.

The AdDress Boutique ( is at 1116 Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica

Monday, September 27, 2010

Child of Thieves

When you see thieves on film they're always glamorous. It's George Clooney and Brad Pitt in Ocean's Eleven, all chisel-jawed, debonair, hunky, stealing with hi-tech flair. Or there's suave Cary Grant stealing priceless baubles and Princess Grace's heart in To Catch a Thief.

It sure as heck ain't like that in real life. Thieves are missing teeth, have pock-marked skin, greasy hair and shabby clothes; well, at least it looks that way judging by the mug shots on Bad Boys.

My one and only collision with the dark underbelly of crooks and thieves came when I was 13 - that awkward time between youth and adulthood when you don't fit in anywhere. Still like the comfort of childhood but covet adult things although you're not quite sure what to do with them.

I was in a smoke and gift shop - that's what they called convenience stores in the late 1980s - in a plaza not far from my parents' house. It was a narrow twig of a shop with two aisles. There was a deep freezer at the back filled with ice-cream, shelves of magazines, chocolate bars, Dettol, Archie comic books, and cigarettes behind the counter. No gifts to speak of.

My accomplice, Sherry, hissed at me, "Take the Mr. Freezie! Put it in your shirt!" Now any sane person would know better than to put a 12-inch hunk of ice down her shirt but I was impressionable i.e. stupid, so I grabbed the big white one (Crush flavour), stuffed it down my blouse and hoofed it for the door. I didn't make it. A cold hand was on my back. Nails scratched me. Sherry was out the door. "Wait for me! Sherry!! Sherry!" She didn't look back.

Through the large windows of the storefront I saw Sherry jump on her purple beachcruiser and tear down the plaza sidewalk. She didn't look back. She was shaking. At first I thought she was afraid and then I realized she was laughing. At me. At my stupidity.

The cold hand swung me around. It was the owner. The slender Chinese man who owned the store and to whom I'd said hello to so many times before. The man I'd paid money to for Mars bars and wax vampire teeth and gobstoppers and silly string.

"Who are you? Who is your father?," he said, "Where you live? Why are you stealing from me?" He lectured me on and on. It took everything not to pee my pants. The Mr. Freezie was still in my blouse and it was melting. I handed it to him. He didn't take it. Just looked disgusted. Gestured to the garbage can.

I began to cry. I spilled details like a bag of torn peas from the freezer. I told him my dad's name, where we lived. He made me write it down. He even checked it against the phone book. I thought I'd throw up. "Go home and pay me for what you stole. Right now. Go home and come right back."

"If you're not back in 10 minutes I'll send the police to your house." I was too young to know the police wouldn't come to his store for a 25-cent-theft. Or maybe they would have.

By the time I got back the store owner was angrier than before. He gave me another lecture. "You're an immigrant. You have to work harder that these people around you. You should be ashamed. Your father should be ashamed."

When he mentioned my father I couldn't bear it. "Never come back to my shop. Ever."

I cried again. "I'm sorry," I squeaked. I was a worm. Less than a worm.

When I went to school the next day, Sherry had told my classmates and they thought it was hilarious. Of course I'd have been a hero if I'd gotten away with my 25-cent-heist.

"You dipshit," Sherry said, when I told her what happened. "Why didn't you tell him your dad was John Smith or something?"

I couldn't think as quickly as her. Did I look like my dad's name is John? I'm brown-skinned you idiot I whispered under my breath.

Looking back I recall having monster fights with my mom who didn't want me to be Sherry's friend. "She's not your kind of girl." And she was right.

And now it's my turn to be bitch-slapped by my know-it-all kid. He's only three-years-old, but I know that the teenage train will be here soon. I can feel it thundering towards me! Will he listen to me? How do I get him to listen to me?!!

I watch him in the play-yard at school. Sometimes he's the alpha male, sometimes he sets the rules, sometimes he lets someone else do the bossing around. And sometimes he's democratic.

I wonder what stupid things he'll do. Who will he try to impress?How do I get him to avoid the mistakes I made?

How do I get him to listen to me when I didn't listen to my own mom and dad - who were AMAZING parents? There are no answers in the movies. There are no answers in self-help books. I just have to bumble along and watch and listen to him and hope and pray that I figure out good parenting as I go along.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I'm at Rocky Horror's 35th Anniversary Convention in L.A.!

I remember the first time I saw him, the “Sweet Transvestite of Transexual, Transylvania”. I was in Grade 13, wide-eyed and (mostly) innocent and Tim Curry’s Frank-N-Furter was shocking and sexy. I'd joined 10 friends in a local air-band competition and we chose to perform two songs from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Fifteen years after its release the film was still inspiring teens’ make-up and wardrobe choices. (We came in second to a group from another high school that did Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up. Gag.)

But I digress. This year marks the 35th anniversary of the cult musical, and downtown L.A.’s Million Dollar Theater hosts the annual Rocky Horror Convention from Sept. 23-25. (

I’ll be there – in jeans – eyeballing convention-goers in fishnets and corsets (and less than that) as they preen for the costume pageant, autograph sessions, star Q&A, and screening.

Barry Bostwick who played Brad Majors hosts; Cliff De Young (Shock Treatment) and other talent are booked.

If you can't get to the convention, practice your Time Warp dance and check out Glee’s tribute episode on Oct. 26. (FOX/Global). Meat Loaf and Bostwick guest star as TV station managers wooing Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch). Curry has apparently said no. I, for one, will ache for his lasciviousness and delicious humour.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Here's my interview with Kristen Bell. (In case you're wondering how to read the miniscule type, just double-click on the article.) She was lovely. I've interviewed her once before, on the set of Veronica Mars in its first season. She's as big as a blade of grass and has big opinions. I've interviewed a lot of celebs and I got the sense that she really wants to have as "quiet" a life as possible in Hollywood...and yet make positive contributions to the planet too. Bonne chance!

For the complete story pick up the October 2010 issue of Chatelaine magazin

Friday, August 20, 2010

Pakistan - Family Flashbacks & Floods from 1946 to 2010

My grand-mother had the saddest eyes. They were caramel-coloured and ringed with hazel and they conveyed depths of pain. She was a beautiful woman and she was kind and strong and hard-working. She was a pathologist who raised four children by herself. And she rarely smiled. I used to test myself to see what I could do to make her laugh.

I’ve been reading my grandfather’s diaries that he wrote in 1945 and 1946. This week when I opened the pages, the smell of smoke from his pipe wafted out. My father’s father was a civil servant and reading his diaries has given me insight into the turmoil in India before Partition (the division of India by the British that led to the formation of Pakistan and Bangladesh) in 1947. He also wrote of the end of the Second World War.

There are many revealing passages about my grandmother, Amtul Hafiz, and her children – my aunts and uncle. I always thought she had four children, two sons and two daughters. My father, Omar, is the eldest.

I was surprised to read that she had another baby, a boy who would have been about 9 months old. In the entry of April 2, 1946, my grandfather writes about that baby named Shahbaz – meaning literally “one who submits”.

My grandfather was away from their home in Delhi, attending a wedding and he received a telegram from my grandmother saying that Shahbaz was ill and weak with an infection. He was a "blue baby", which means he had been born with a hole in his heart and he had been sick and suffering from lack of oxygen since birth.

My grandfather wrote that Shahbaz had a fever of 104. He was very alarmed about his son and couldn’t eat. The next day another telegram from my grandmother: “Don’t worry now. Get the wedding over and return according to your programme.”

The next day at the wedding, a relative pulled my grandfather aside and said, “Shahbaz is gone.” My grandfather wrote: “My poor darling long and patiently suffering boy had gone home. I was not even with him at the end nor by the side of Hafiz.” My grandfather sent a telegram: “My dear Hafiz, I wish I was wish you in this. Courage. Love Nasrulla.” The surgery that could have saved Shahbaz was invented in the 1950s.

There’s much more sadness in this family that followed but it cracks my heart to write it – just to relive what my Dadda-ji wrote in his beautiful artistic handwriting in turquoise ink. I don’t mean to say they didn’t have lovely times. They did. They took holidays, they went horseback riding, had picnics; but it’s the sadness that overwhelms the pages in those trembling post-war days.

When Shahbaz died, I don’t know what my grandmother felt. All I can say is that I was beyond shocked to read about him. I’d never known there was a third son. I cried. I cried because I was ashamed I didn’t know this about her. I cried because I was sad she was alone when the baby died. I cried because I cannot imagine the agony of outliving your own; one who weighs just a few kilos.

I cried because once I remembered the time my grandmother got frustrated with my sister and I. We were pre-teens, visiting her in Lahore for the summer. She said we were soft, growing up in the West and had it easy. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I remember being angry. And telling her she didn’t know what she was talking about. I think I talked about racism, school yard taunts and fights, about not fitting in, about loneliness. God, how childish I was. She fought dysentery, typhoid, cholera, lived through a World War, food rations, partition, Hindu/Sikh/Muslim riots, British rule, a divided country… What a brat I am.

I loved her so much and today I realize I hardly knew her. How much should a grandchild know a grandparent?

In 1952 my grandfather died of a heart attack. He was 49. He had suffered from hypertension for a long time. He wrote of it in great detail. She was a widow at the age of 35. She was a pathologist and in a very conservative country she went on to raise her four children. My dad became a physician, his younger brother, Jehangir, a general in the Pakistan Army, the youngest sister is psychiatrist who lives in the states. The middle sister (the one born after Shahbaz) lived in Pakistan with my grandmother until my grandmother died on June 17, 2002.

Reading the 1946 diary has taught me some and frightened me a lot. Namely, What will I do with my child?! How will I guide him? I live in Orange County where the biggest thing I have to worry about is, how to raise a kid who isn’t a spoiled brat who expects a new toy every day and a BMW for his 16th birthday.

I am nothing compared to my grandparents. Nothing compared to any of my South Asian ancestors. How do any of us compare to those who went before us? And how are we doing when it comes to looking after those around us?

Today in Pakistan, as anyone following the news knows, 14 million people are devastated. Devastated - is that even the right word? The old, the young, the sick, the healthy, the mentally ill, brothers, sisters, the blind, the good (and I wish the evil) are devastated by flooding. Thousands are dead, diseases about to be spread. I’ll leave the reporting to others but it’s a mad, sad, bad world right now.

I feel as if that I don’t know a thing about anything – not the news, not the world, not even my family. I should try harder. What is most pitiful is that I feel helpless to actually help. Oh sure I’ve donated to Red Cross… but …. Am I really helping?

I didn’t help my grandmother in her lifelong grief. I love her still. She knew so much. She’d seen so much. No wonder her eyes were always sad.

Monday, August 16, 2010

FUNNY GIRLS: Stand-up gals who always crack us up!

Reprinted from
ELLE Canada
September 2010

By Amber Nasrulla

After years of interviewing celebrities, I get a kick out of reading star profiles in which writers describe wealthy actors as “so normal.” Newsflash: They’re not. It’s impossible.

Oh, sure they will share their limo, buy you lunch and look into your eyes while answering your questions. They’ll kiss you good-bye and their lips might actually graze your cheek. They’ll complain about the price of gas and the local politician’s latest gaffe, but, let’s face it: Stars aren’t normal. There are as many reasons for that as there are dollars in a star’s bank account. Still, there are a few high-profile actors who are almost average, in a gal-next-door kind of way. One of them is Tina Fey.

In the comedy world, performers traditionally hold specific roles: Mae West was a sensuous vamp; Lucille Ball and Debra Messing, were ditzy klutzes; Mary Tyler Moore and Phyllis Diller had a lock on self-deprecation; Roseanne Barr wore the mantle of angry feminist; Sarah Silverman and Kathy Griffin were shockers. Now, for the first time, “normal” joins the line-up, and Fey has a firm hold on that category.

As queen of the castle Fey is all tangled up with Liz Lemon, the character she created for the Emmy Award-winning 30 Rock. Both produce a late-night comedy/variety show at a large TV network in Manhattan. Both deal with overbearing bosses and prima donna talent. Both inspire us with the fact that they are brainy, high-achieving women in a field still dominated by men. They are not perfect and don’t pretend to be. And, God, do they make us laugh.

Liz is the most realistic single career woman on TV since Murphy Brown. She’s not the girlfriend, the wife or the hot chick. She’s the boss. Liz isn’t afraid to wear granny underwear and ugly pajamas in the era of Victoria’s Secret. She has dated a beeper salesman and chugs wine while running on a treadmill. Perfect, she ain’t. Normal? Yeah. Relatable? Absolutely. Liz gives us permission to be eccentric, to be okay about ourselves, to do exactly what we want. We can laugh at our mistakes and not take ourselves too seriously. How freeing is that?

And Fey seems to have it all. She is navigating a man’s world, but she has maintained her sense of self, hasn’t compromised her ideals and never seems manipulative or coquettish. You don’t see her purring like Paris Hilton or the Kardashian sisters on the red carpet or flashing her waxed privates to paparazzi in Hollywood. And when she does do something that could be considered sex-kittenish – like the April issue of Esquire with the cover line, “Tina Goes Wild” – she defuses it with a self-deprecatory comment. “What I've come to realize is that when people say, ‘The thinking man’s whatever,’ there’s no such thing. The thinking man also wants to fuck Megan Fox.”

Fey was matter-of-fact when she told Vogue in March: “I feel like I represent normalcy in some way. What are your choices today in entertainment? People either represent youth, power or sexuality. And then there’s me, carrying normalcy.” As a multi-millionaire entertainer, Fey isn’t really “normal.” She was the first female head writer at Saturday Night Live and has won mountains of awards. She created, writes, and executive produces 30 Rock. She writes and stars in movies and makes a point of working with her friends. (And we love her more for her loyalty.) During last year’s presidential election, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more quick-witted political satirist and impressionist. But she projects normal beautifully. She talks of her stable home life. She’s married and has a daughter. She’s self-deprecating and downplays her achievements.

“Tina Fey is a hero to a lot of women,” says Kelley Lynn, a comedian and frequent performer at the Gotham Comedy Club in New York. An adjunct professor at Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y., who teaches dramatics and stand-up comedy, Lynn says of Fey, “She’s brilliant. She works hard. She’s not Ms. Plastic Surgery. Her trickle-down effect is positive, positive, positive.”

When I do a shout out to my girlfriends on Facebook they gush about how they relate to Fey. Tara, a film marketing coordinator in Los Angeles, writes: “She doesn't conform to the beauty aesthetic in Hollywood and she has created a sex appeal for smart, cute brunettes.”

Marie Lavallée, a Canadian expat and sales manager in Newport Beach, California, says Fey has “that BFF aura” about her and has created an equally approachable character. “Liz Lemon is the personification of my most inner dialogue and her character makes me laugh at my anxieties.”

Every decade has had a comic social commentator with an artfully contrived look. Phyllis Diller commanded the stage in zany costumes while mocking her looks. Joan Rivers held the microphone in an evening gown, a vision of elegant sarcasm; Roseanne Bar wore feminist rage on her sleeve. And now there’s Fey as Liz: quirky, brainy, lovely.

Jessica Kirson, a stand-up comedian in New York City, who has appeared on The Tonight Show, says that stand-up comics have evolved past costumes and props, and somehow nutty and normal manage to co-exist. “We can be vulnerable – and our audiences want to hear more reality,” she says.

When she won an Emmy in 2008, Fey said, “I want to thank my parents for somehow raising me to have confidence that is disproportionate with my looks and abilities. Well done! That is what all parents should do.”

I feel like she’s parenting us through her comedy, spreading confidence with each quip, improv sketch, and punch line that she writes, and every laugh, giggle, and cackle she brings out in us. Fey is my role model for the 21st century – next to my mom of course. And I’d buy them both lunch anytime.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

DEFY YOUR AGE: the antioxidant answer

Reprinted from Chatelaine
August 2010

By Amber Nasrulla

Canadian actor Ellen Dubin (shown above) admits to being an antioxidant addict. The co-star of the upcoming HBO Canada movie, Second Chances is constantly moving between time zones and climates, and all that travel takes a toll on her skin. “In L.A. the pollution and sunshine are very intense. In Toronto, the extreme weather is so dehydrating,” she says. But when you’re an actor, bad-skin days aren’t an option. To keep looking her best, Dubin loads up on antioxidants. She always carries a Thermos full of green tea and snacks on dark chocolate seasoned with acai and blueberry extract. “Have Baggie, will travel!” she says.

Has Dubin jumped on the latest food fad out of California, or is there sound science behind her dietary arsenal? “Antioxidants are kamikaze disease fighters because they combat free-radical damage,” says Christine Gerbstadt, a dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

To understand how antioxidants work, imagine looking at your body on a cellular level. You’ll see that you are made up of atoms. Stable atoms always have electrons in pairs, one positive and one negative, so they have a neutral charge. Free radicals however, are pesky little oxygen atoms that only have a negative charge. They’re lonely and unstable, and they go around trying to steal positive electrons from healthy atoms. Put in dating terms, free radicals are like that sexy single gal (or guy) who hits on your date and has lured him away by the end of the night. Now they’re together you’re the one looking to pair up.

The dating game between free radicals and healthy atoms starts almost from the moment we’re born. Our bodies produce free radicals when we’re exposed to stresses like sun, environmental pollutants, cigarette smoke and electromagnetic radiation. The more we produce, the more likely they are to harm cell structures and DNA. Eventually, the damage becomes irreversible and may result in inflammation or disease.

The negative impact of free radicals is most visible on our skin. It shows up in the form of brown spots and precancerous lesions, for instance. (Part of the mechanism here is the same chemical reaction – oxidation – that tarnishes your silver your silver and turns an apple brown after you bite it.) But don’t sob, sister – it is possible to protect yourself.

Enter antioxidants. By stimulating cells’ defence mechanisms, these super-nutrients neutralize free radicals. Antioxidants willingly donate electrons to the free radicals, without affecting healthy cells. They are the “sacrificial lambs that preserve the health of your cells,” says Gerbstadt.

The rock star antioxidants are Vitamin C found in blueberries, broccoli, strawberries, and oranges; Vitamin E in goji berries and acai berries; resveratrol in red wine and raw grapes; polyphenols in red cherries, cranberries, dark chocolate, coffee and green tea; lycopene found in tomatoes and watermelon.

Dietitians recommend adults eat 4½ cups of antioxidant-rich food daily. According to the Canada Food Guide, a serving size is ½ cup so that’s nine servings of fruits and vegetables. Herbs and spices, such as cloves, basil, oregano and cinnamon, contain antioxidants too. (Small quantities, such as ¼ tsp of cinnamon, make up a serving.)

If you’re trying to harness this power for your skin, you’re going to need more than a few berries on your cereal. The antioxidants required for serious skin care work best topically, but only if they penetrate the skin. Sheldon Pinnell, a professor emeritus of dermatology at Duke University proved that Vitamin C can reduce sun damage in his groundbreaking 1992 study. He’s a pioneer in the industry and considered by some to be the godfather of skin-care science.

Although there are thousands of antioxidants, Pinnell’s lifetime of research as a collagen chemist, has determined that the skin can absorb very few of them. Vitamins A, C and E are good bets for skin care. The bottom line: Look for serums and creams that have high concentrations of these vitamins.

For the complete story, pick up the August issue of Chatelaine…. and go to and

P.S. I invested in Phloretin CF from Skinceuticals and love it…it’s pricey $153 for an ounce; and I also tried samples of the Hero package from Deep…both are great. Deep is more than $200 so I've started a savings fund for it. As a working mommy in the harsh Cali sun, it’s working wonders. And NO I didn’t get any freebies. Alas, they only send that to the editors, not to lowly freelancers. Hint. Hint.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sneaking a Nap With Preschoolers Around

Sometimes the best sleeps happen just where you happen to be sitting. But like a winter thaw, "snaps" (short naps) are to be cherished, because they don't last very long.

Take, for instance, my father, who is 69, and my son, who is three. Aba was at work at 7:30 a.m. today assisting in various surgeries. It's 6:22 p.m. and he's sprawled on the couch, eyes barely open for the last 7.5 minutes. Kamran is reading a soft cover book about a caterpillar looking for some lunch. "Red tomatoes, red tomatoes, munch munch munch tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes, so much tomatoes. There are a lot of foods," he says. He pokes Aba. "Read it! Read it." Pre-schoolers aren't much for subtlety when someone needs rest.

Kamran brings his chubby face close to Aba's, so close that he inhales Aba's exhalations. "Naan-Aba, can we read another book!" Aba jumps. "Help me Naan-Aba. It's too heavy."

You're thinking I'm cruel for observing instead of giving my dad a break. Yes I am. But I so enjoy watching them play. Aba reads him Diego and Dora translating the English into Urdu. Kamran repeats the occasional word. Kitab. Book. "Dora made it past the troll bridge! Yaaay." He rubs his eyes. Aah, who is tired now?

Soon, Aba, soon, Kamran's eyelids will grow heavy and he'll fall asleep for 12 hours. Zzzzzzzz

Friday, May 14, 2010

Look Away! He's Surfing Porn in Public Library

There's a big purple fluffy dog at the local library and kids are crawling all over it and all I can think is "Good God it could be covered with Impetigo! Walk away! Walk away!"

But there are more dangerous things in the library.

Like the weird guy at the free computer station surfing porn. I noticed him while Kamran and were searching for Elmo's Potty Time DVD. Why oh why isn't there legislation prohibiting watching porn in public libraries? Blah blah blah free society but there are babies wandering around and I don't mean the two year olds. Teens, tweens, kids experiencing their first pimples. They should not be exposed to this. And I don't think my taxes should... Oh never mind. Now I sound like a Republican.

I mention it to one of the librarians, my voice thin and pitchy, like a scared contestant on American Idol. She sighs and says there's nothing they can do about it unless he starts jacking off. Lovely.

We got our DVD and left.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Potty-Training Rewards Club

Post Script to Mother's Day.

Four poops and Three Pees later... on the toilet no less. And I have rewarded Kamran with a Thomas the Train battery-powered bubble-machine. Bribery works.

Once he's completely potty trained he gets a Schwinn bike.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day - Toiletries

On Mother’s Day after the fish tacos have been devoured, the brownies mobbed and the last of the freshly squeezed lemonade drunk, the boy is tucked in and snoring. He’s zonked out after running amok on Balboa Island. There’s sand in his shoes, waves, seagulls, seashells – and the first surfers he’s ever seen in his entire life – in his memories – I’m sure.

I look back at the last few and I can’t pat myself on the back. I have not been an exemplary parent. I love my kid. I would lie down on train tracks and allow myself to be cut in two if need be, I would, so I don’t question my devotion but I do question my execution of parenting. I have sucked at much of it.

Potty Training
Two weeks ago it was blazingly hot – 89 degrees. I took Kamran for a swim in the association pool. You can see the pool from our balcony. It’s outside surrounded by palm trees, bird of paradise, bougainvilla.

Five minutes in after a little bit of splashing, a few kicks and dunks and Kamran said “Ami I have to go potttyyyy.” Uh-huh. We ran to the woman’s loo. The bloody door was locked. Threw myself at the men’s door. Locked.

I know what you’re thinking. Lady, if you can see the pool from your balcony why didn’t you just go home? Well, my kid is 34 months old and his bladder is the size of a walnut. I’m trying to instill confidence in his peeing abilities.

I pulled off his swim trunks. Off came the Lightning McQueen swim diaper. “Pee in the bushes, Kamran.” He looked aghast. He looked around. Embarrassed. Shy. Again, he’s not even three years old. He’s 3 feet tall. He peed. Then he looked at me. The words they haunt me. “I have to go pottyyy.”

“You just did.”

“I have to go POTTY!” Urgent. Afraid. He started to crouch. Oh. Dear. God. I. Will. Never. Make. It. To. My. House. And I didn’t bring a spare diaper with me because he never poops at this time of day. And he can hold his pee in no problem. So I did what anyone would do.

I held him in my arms, facing me. Plup. Plulp. Plop. (Don’t judge, dogs do it.) He pooped in front of a bird of paradise bush while I frantically scanned the nearby condos for the neighbours.

If someone saw me, a brown-skinned woman with long black hair and a nose-ring, holding a squatting, half-naked kid pooping on the flowers, they’d think we were fresh off the boat and call the authorities. I had a plastic bag (for wet towels) and I scooped up his scat.

Kamran was very proud when it was all over. I couldn’t run home fast enough with my pantless child and the small bag of his warm poo. He yabbered the whole way: “Ami I didn’t poop in my diaper. I’m a big boy. I pooped on the gwass. I pooped on the pwetty p’lowers.”

“Shh. Be quiet.”

“I’m a big boy! I pooped outside. Ami I pooped outside.”

“Yes you did. Good job. We’ll talk about it at home.”

“I pooped at the pool! There's a mo'cycle! I want to colour. I tell Daddy I pooped at the pool.” ‘

“Yes I heard you the first 15 million times you told me.”

Where is he hiding a megaphone in those chubby adorable hands?

I look at him and see his wonder and joy at his accomplishment. Such small things bring him pleasure.

My challenge is to…. Well, my challenge is to appreciate Kamran’s joy, his simplicity as well as his complexities and uniqueness and his purity and sweetness. But mostly my challenge is to stop (him from screaming that he did his business outside) and trying to be the Perfect Parent. There’s no such thing. There’s no schedule. There’s no statistic. So I take back what I said. I don’t suck. I’m just me. I’m Amber.

I certainly can’t predict every bowel movement no more than I can predict every skinned knee and every subsequent tear drop. But I would certainly like to be there for as many tickles, giggles, hugs, and kisses as possible with My Kamran. Happy Mother's Day toute le monde.

Friday, April 16, 2010

COLD COMFORT Is freezing your eggs the key to beating your biological clock?

Reprinted from ELLE Canada
May 2010

By Amber Nasrulla

(*names have been changed)

Elizabeth Schwartz* knew that her biological clock was ticking but she never expected it to come to this. “I wish I was married and had kids already,” she says. “I wish I didn’t have to be spending all this money. I wish I wasn’t in this place.”

Schwartz is a 38-year-old social-media marketing consultant in Boston. She is single. In January 2008 she began researching technology that would allow her to freeze her eggs so that she could have children in the future. “I have to do everything I can to preserve my fertility,” says Schwartz, who had six mature eggs extracted and frozen at a hospital and stored at an egg bank until she meets Mr. Right. If she is unable to conceive naturally with a future partner, she will have her younger eggs thawed and fertilized with his sperm.

Rachel Sandoval spent a year trying to conceive before she learned her fallopian tubes were blocked. Then 29, the Anaheim, California resident knew she’d need in-vitro fertilization (IVF). “I didn’t know if it would take five months or five years and it made sense to freeze my healthy eggs and use them down the line,” she says. In 2003, Sandoval underwent her first round of IVF at West Coast Fertility Centers in Fountain Valley, California, and also froze some eggs. The IVF worked and her daughter was born that winter. Three years later, Sandoval was unable to conceive naturally, so doctors fertilized three of her defrosted eggs. Her second daughter is now three years old. In 2008, she visited the clinic a final time to use the eggs they had frozen in 2003. That yielded a son, now 16 months old. “I’ve never won a contest in my life. And now we have two frozen egg babies,” says Sandoval happily.

Schwartz and Sandoval are pioneers in the world of “oocyte cryopreservation,” in which eggs are extracted from a woman’s, frozen and stored, so that they can be thawed and fertilized in the future if natural means of conception don’t work. It was introduced in the early 1980s to help women undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, or diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, lupus or other autoimmune disorders that can destroy fertility. These early attempts at egg freezing were extremely inefficient and the technology remained mired in obscurity for 20 years until recent research advances vastly improved the process. Now it’s being increasingly used for egg donations as well as for IVF, and elective egg freezing by women who lack a male partner or wish to delay childbearing to focus on their careers, and IVF.

Although the technology for egg freezing is advancing, the Canadian Fertility and Anthology Society, and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, still classify it as a research procedure. To date, there have fewer than 1,500 frozen egg births worldwide.

We’re born with all the eggs we’re ever going to produce and they age along with us – though two or three times faster than the rest of our bodies. The ideal reproductive years are between 18 and 24, when we are most fertile, and our eggs are the least likely to be defective. “Looking good in the mirror doesn’t equate with good fertility,” says Dr. Scott Slayden, an IVF Specialist at Reproductive Biology Associates (RBA) in Atlanta. “Our lifestyles, toxin exposure – especially cigarettes – genetic background, gynecologic surgery or disease, determine the fate of this precious cargo.” From 24 to 38, the average woman’s fertility drops by about 50 per cent and then it continues to decline. By the time you are in your mid-40s, up to 90 percent of your remaining eggs could be chromosomally abnormal. Your risk of miscarriage and having a child with Down’s syndrome also increase significantly, so, putting your eggs on ice freezes them in time and – in theory at least – gives you the choice to beat the biological clock.

Just as the pill allowed women to have sex without pregnancy, egg freezing could allow women who want children to be unshackled from their aging ovaries. Dr. Janet Takefman, director of psychological research and services at the McGill Reproductive Centre in Montreal, has firsthand experience of the impact of oocyte cryopreservation on patients. “One psychological benefit is that they feel proactive,” she says. “They have taken control over their own fertility.”

It has taken scientists a long time to level the playing field for women. Men have been banking their sperm since the 1950s, and couples going through IVF can freeze embryos for future pregnancies. Since the 1980s researchers have tinkered with egg freezing using the slow-freeze method, in which the egg is dehydrated and its water replaced with a cryoprotectant. It’s only in the past five years that scientists have devised vitrification, a safer, more effective way to freeze eggs that has increased survival rates. (Eggs, which contain a large amount of water, tend to form ice crystals when frozen and the cell is often killed when the egg thaws.)

At the McGill Reproductive Centre, a worldwide leader in oocyte vitrification, eggs are plunged into liquid nitrogen and frozen quickly to prevent ice-crystal formation. For women under 35, the clinical pregnancy rate per cycle with frozen eggs is comparable to that of IVF – 45 per cent versus 50 to 60 per cent respectively, says Dr. Seang Lin Tan, chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at McGill University, and founder and director of the McGill Reproductive Centre. Thirty healthy babies have been born there from frozen eggs.

But critics say that elective freezing should be discouraged for reasons ranging from ethical issues to the ramifications of a generation of children whose parents may not live long enough to raise them to adulthood. “The women’s movement, in which I was an avid participant for many years, has sold women a bill of goods by leading them to believe that they can have whatever they want, whenever they want, in the order they want,” says Diane Allen, executive director of Infertility Network in Toronto. Couples in their early 30s need to get serious about having kids, she says, otherwise they run a real risk of their fertility declining with age. Educational programs, accessible childcare, job sharing, and changes to the tax system, could help couples start their families earlier, she adds.

Ava McKenna* a 32-year-old MBA student at Emory University in Atlanta, has polycystic ovarian syndrome and there’s a history of miscarriage in her family. She knows it will be difficult for her to conceive and stay pregnant. She also knows oocyte cryopreservation is experimental but has studied it enough to be confident with the outcome. “I believe in doing whatever I can now to give my future baby the best chance at being healthy.” That includes spending US$7,500 last winter to have her eggs extracted and frozen at RBA and another $7,500 to complete the IVF transfer in the future. (Over the past two years, RBA’s vitrification method has accounted for 10%, or 127, of the world’s frozen-egg babies.)

The dating rules have changed for McKenna, who wonders, “How do you tell a guy you have frozen eggs?” If he has a problem with her decision, he’s not for her, she reasons. She is emotionally and financially prepared to be a single parent. “I've created my own choices,” she says.

Angela Lauria chief marketing officer of a software company in Washington D.C. has a four-year-old son and is getting a divorce. She wants to have more kids but, at 37, knows the window is closing and is considering putting her eggs “on ice”. In a few years she might have them fertilized with sperm from a gay friend. “He feels that this is such a gift and he wouldn’t have the opportunity to be a father otherwise,” she explains. “My goal is to be able to use science to make a relationship an option in my life, not something that is required.”

Slayden considers egg freezing to be a form of “reproductive insurance” rather than a definitive path to extend fertility. “If you have a life insurance policy,” he says, “do you really want to use it? No – for obvious reasons.” Tan agrees, “My dream is that every woman should freeze their eggs in her 20s.”

Dr. Gerard Letterie, a reproductive endocrinologist and founder of the Northwest Center for Reproductive Sciences in Seattle, predicts that five or 10 years from now, the doctor/patient conversation will move beyond contraception. “This option will be to tomorrow’s women what contraceptive choices were to our predecessors,” he says.

Back in Boston, Schwartz wishes she’d had that option. “I really want women to think about it even earlier than I did,” she says.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Toddler Injury, Illness, and Oh Yes, Monkeys Jumping on the Bed

Bounce. Bounce. Bounce. Bounce. Giggle. Bounce. Giggle. Bounce. Bounce. Huge laugh.

“Ami. Ami. Amiiiiiiiiiii.” That’s Urdu for mommy. “Come see me. I jumping high,” Kamran sang to me Monday morning.I was brushing my teeth five feet away. Huffing and puffing he made up his own version of the silly song. “So many monkeys jumping on the bed. Two fell off and bumped its head. Mommy called doctor and doctor said…” as he lost his footing and sailed into the bedpost and thwacked his browbone. I heard it.

I turned to see a bruise the size of a doorknob under his left eye and tears the size dinner plates coursing down his face. So I exaggerate a little. His sobs were loud. When your baby is injured everything slows down. You imagine reaching into the ether and with a few well-placed clicks turning the dial back, nudging the toddler to the left so he falls on the goose-down pillow, the pile of laundry, anything but the bloody bedpost.

Dear husband cusses me out for “letting him jump on the furniture.” I actually don’t mind that he jumps on the furniture, not even in the living room. He’ll only be two years old once and it’s only for a few more years that he’ll be sailing through the air in that wonderful delirium unaware of the laws of gravity and the brutality that high school physics holds for him. I love to watch him jump. I don’t love that I let him fall.

I am a Class A klutz. I wish there were Olympics of clumsiness because I would have Nike, Gatorade, AMEX, and whoever else the big kahunas are right now, beating a path to my door to sponsor me. My home would be littered with gold medals and citations from prime ministers and presidents and other heads of state.

When I was two years old, I fell off a boat and 20 feet down onto a dock and lay frothing at the mouth. My mother thought I was dead. At 10 I was swinging from a tree branch when the branch broke and I hurtled to the earth. I was taken to the ER unconscious.

At 12 I was riding my bike to school and was the victim of a hit-and-run. The police never found the car or the runaway driver.

In my 20s, I fell off a train in Switzerland (it wasn’t moving) and wrenched my neck and back. I’ve stepped on nails but never slipped on a banana peel, fallen walking UP the stairs, broken my ankle multiple times most recently two years ago while walking down ONE step at Toronto’s Harbourfront.

I've had tropical diseases (all completely cured now), fevers that refused to break, been thrown from horses, chased by cows, bitten by donkeys, chickens, ducks, birds, I’ve wrenched my neck, had a slipped disc…

This is a boring, scary list. I don’t want my Kamran to inherit any of this. How do I prevent it from happening? Can someone tell me? I’ve enrolled him in swimming, baby soccer and football and some other class to work on his fine and gross motor skills. I guess it’s a start to keep my precious monkey from falling off the bed in the future.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

CLUB MEDICAL Need a doctor? Here's how to move to the front of the line

Reprinted from ELLE Canada
March 2010

By Amber Nasrulla

Andrea Seet’s back ached. The doctor at a Vancouver walk-in clinic said it was spasms and sent her home. That was Christmas, 2005. The 24-year-old couldn’t find a family doctor so, for the next three years, with her pain worsening, she visited several walk-in clinics. In the fall of 2008, her legs became stiff and it became hard to walk and sit. That December Seet finally found a GP, who took an X-ray and found nothing. “He said, ‘You’re young and healthy. It’s all in your head’,” she recalls. “I was scared – I knew something was wrong.”

Last March, a desperate Seet paid the $3900 annual membership fee (plus one-time $1000 initiation charge) to join Copeman Healthcare Centre, a private clinic that specializes in preventive health care. Over the next two months her medical team (a GP, physiotherapist, and sports-medicine specialist) treated her and conducted bone and CT scans. The diagnosis? A three-cm schwannoma (tumour) was choking a nerve root several vertebrae above her coccyx.

“The schwannoma filled her entire spinal canal and was protruding,” says Dr. Broughton, Seet’s new GP, a clinical assistant professor in the department of family and community Medicine at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, who acts as the in-house physiotherapist and sport-medicine specialist for the Copeman Healthcare Centre. “It had flattened her spinal cord against the bone.”

Last July, a surgeon took four hours to remove the dumbbell-shaped tumour. If it hadn’t been excised, the growth – though not cancerous – could have destroyed bone, damaged her muscles, and worst of all, robbed her of the ability to walk.

Seet’s case is extreme but it vividly demonstrates how our health system is in tumult. Dismayed by GPs who spend barely seven minutes with them and excruciatingly long wait times for specialist appointments, Canadians are turning to independent, for-profit clinics. Some, like Seet, are in crisis when they turn to preventive healthcare facilities. Others want a family physician to work with them on a long-term wellness plan, which the public system can’t always provide.

Zoltan Nagy, president of the Canadian Independent Medical Clinics Association (CIMCA) says it’s not only wealthy seniors who are populating the clinics’ elegantly decorated lobbies – younger Canadians, like nutritionist Kristen Schiener, are coming in too. The active 34-year-old was feeling sluggish and went to Toronto’s Medcan Clinic for a medical assessment. She became a convert after doctors there diagnosed hypothyroidism, which her GP had overlooked. She still sees her GP for minor ailments but relies on Medcan for detailed investigations.

CIMCA estimates Canada has between 200 and 300 private clinics, including numerous surgical centres and imaging facilities, and 30 to 50 executive or preventive health-care clinics. (It doesn’t keep statistics on patients.) These boutique clinics roll out the red carpet for wealthy athletes, actors, executives, and increasingly, the middle-class. They boast state-of-the-art-technology, spa-like layouts (no decades-old issues of Reader’s Digest and torn fabric chairs here), specialists of many stripes, electronic medical records, and short wait lists.

Yes, two-tier medicine is blossoming.

The majority of for-profit clinics aren’t in the business of urgent or emergency care; they sell prevention. “Many of us have financial advisors [and] fitness trainers but there aren’t enough health care professionals helping people stay on track,” says Dr. Elaine Chin, founder of the Scienta Health Group in Toronto. The proactive health-and-wellness model includes physicians, naturopathic doctors, and fitness trainers who identify a client’s risk factors and design a health action plan.

Even the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) supports private sector involvement although it’s drumming for public funding so patients won’t be left with the tab. Its two past presidents – Dr. Richard Ouellette and Dr. Brian Day – operate for-profit clinics. This August, the CMA introduced Toward a Blueprint for Health Care Transformation: A Framework for Action. Behind that clunky title are resolutions to accelerate use of electronic medical records, improve access to doctors, and study the role of private resources in a public system. In 2005, concerned about long wait lists, the CMA recommended the creation of a “public safety valve”, through which governments reimburse patients for treatment, travel, and other costs if they go to private clinics at home or abroad. All Canadian provinces and territories have adopted the measure, though reimbursement varies. With pre-approval from each province and territory’s ministry of health, treatment, not travel, is covered. (Medical middlemen, like the Star Hospitals organization in India, oversee international care. These brokers arrange travel, secure hotel packages, and treatment at hospitals around the world.)

Canadians are famously proud of universal healthcare, so it’s surprising that other prominent medical organizations aren’t clamouring for a ban; in fact, they’re oddly silent. The Royal College of Physicians & Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC), the Ontario Medical Association, and the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Ontario declined to comment for this story, saying they don’t have a policy on the issue. (The RCPSC does have a position paper suggesting private clinics be studied.)

But public health-care advocates aren’t skeptical, calling it “chequebook medicine.” The Calgary-based group Friends of Medicare (FOM) believes that private clinics violate the Canada Health Act by charging for services. Clinic owners explain they charge for services that governments don’t pay for, like nutritionists, kinesiologists, and personal trainers. FOM also fears that private clinics siphon doctors from the public system.

Dr. Michael Rachlis, a Toronto-based physician and health-policy analyst, maintains that private clinics actually make things worse. “Private insurance costs more than public coverage and it's less equitable,” he wrote in an op-ed article in the Toronto Star last April.

Dr. Brian Day, a Vancouver orthopedic surgeon who opened the Cambie Surgery Centre in 1996, says the rise of private clinics has less to do with capitalism, and more to do with reducing admissions to medical schools in the 1980s; deeming procedures like knee replacement elective; and cutting OR times. The public system is a relic, he says. Over the past 30 years, advancing technology has made treatment more expensive. “Government found it couldn’t afford to deliver on those promises [of universal coverage] so they started rationing health care.”

But for-profit clinics don’t always deliver. On January 11, 2008, Jean-Jacques Sauvageau died in the waiting room of Clinique Médicale Viau, a private, urgent-care-clinic in Montreal. No-one tried to resuscitate him. An autopsy showed Sauvageau died of massive pulmonary embolisms and resuscitation wouldn’t have helped. But staff couldn’t know that and should have tried, reported the coroner. The clinic also lacked a proper triage process, and an on-site defibrillator, and its upfront staff didn’t know CPR.

The Sauvageau case is a reminder that every medical boutique operates independently. Regulation varies from province to province and there’s no registration per se except doctors must be licensed to practice medicine. Membership fees vary and run into the thousands and tests often cost extra.

Some centres are hybrids, with medical staff working part-time in the public system. One expensive import is the Cleveland Clinic. Its Canadian staff bills the Ontario government for medically necessary services but patients pay for elective procedures and the clinic sends patients to Ohio treatment when wait lists are long.
Broughton explains that his patients at the Copeman Healthcare Centre often secure appointments with specialists sooner because of thorough work-ups. He refers patients to both private specialists and those who work in the public system.

For 14 years, Lynn Spence’s family doctor in Vancouver rarely ordered tests. “My GP never checked my cholesterol,” she says. (In British Columbia an annual physical fee isn’t covered.) In 2006, Spence had a silent heart attack. Astounded by her physician’s oversight, she joined a private clinic. “I didn’t care that they offered me a latte,” says Spence. “I knew that if I didn’t get that comprehensive care and make the necessary lifestyle changes I could die.” The 63-year-old doesn’t pause for a nanosecond when asked how she’s changed since joining the Copeman Healthcare Centre. “I smoked for 35 years. I never ran a day in my life,” she says. “Now I’m training for the Boston Marathon and my cholesterol is perfect.”

Meanwhile, Seet is recovering and on an indefinite leave from her accounting job. Her faith in the system has withered. “None of the doctors at walk-in clinics spent more than five minutes with me,” she says. “They were oblivious.”

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mammogram Central!

A rite of womanhood. Got my very first mam two weeks ago. The tekkie Diane was pleasant and warm and I should have asked her for dinner afterwards. She manipulated (manhandled aka mandled) my right boob so it was as big and flat as a dinner plate. Possibly larger. At least I know there aren't any chunko glunko tumors hiding in there. A raisin would look like a mountain in there.