April 30, 2008

April 30, 2008

Writer’s Almanac Highlight of the Day

I’ve finally caught up—today’s excerpt is actually from today’s almanac.

It was on this day in 1789 that George Washington took office as the first president of the United States. Two weeks earlier, he had begun his journey from his home in Mount Vernon to New York City, where the inauguration would take place. He wrote in his journal on April 16th:

About 10 o'clock I bade adieu to Mount Vernon, to private life, and to domestic felicity, and with a mind oppressed with more anxious and painful sensations than I have words to express, set out for New York in company with Mr. Thompson, and Colonel Humphries, with the best dispositions to render service to my country in obedience to its call, but with less hope of answering its expectations.

It took him seven days to travel the 300-mile route to New York City, then the nation's capital. He passed through crowds of cheering well-wishers along the way, following a path that went through Alexandria, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Trenton, Princeton, and New Brunswick. When he reached Bridgetown, New Jersey, there was waiting for him a large barge built just for the occasion and manned by 13 pilots all dressed in white*. A Spanish vessel anchored in the harbor fired 13 guns as a salute and displayed the flags of nations all over the world.

It took the House and the Senate a few more days to work out the details of the inauguration, including how to address the president. Vice President John Adams thought it should be, "His Highness, the President of the United States and Protector of their Liberties." Others thought "His Serene Highness" or "His Excellency" or "Mr. Washington" were better choices**. The ad hoc Congressional Committee finally decided on "The President of the United States."

The Oath of Office took place at Federal Hall on the corner of Wall Street and Nassau Street, on a balcony outside so that many people could witness it. Washington wore a dark brown suit, white silk stockings, shoes with silver buckles, and a sword***. New York Chancellor Robert Livingston administered the Oath: "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Washington appended the words "so help me God" to the Oath and then kissed the open Bible, which had been missing moments before the ceremony, and when found for the oath had been hastily opened to a random page, which turned out to be Genesis 49. In his inaugural address, Washington asked for the divine blessing of the "benign Parent of the Human Race" on the new government.

* I guess white is allowed before Memorial Day if Memorial Day does not, in fact, exist yet?

** Among the worse choices: The Man, His Awesomeness, and Dude.

*** Say what you will, the man knew how to accessorize. The right sword will tie any outfit together.

In My Opinion: There Will Be Blood

"I drink your milkshake. I drink it up.”

Somehow, that has become the catchphrase of the movie There Will Be Blood. I’m pretty sure no sentence in the film does a worse job of evoking what this movie’s about, though. “I drink your milkshake” sounds like something you’d see in a Disney flick. And this is no Disney flick.

Rather, it’s Daniel Day-Lewis acting his butt off for two and a half hours. Sure, there’s an ostensible plot (early 20th century, rags to oil-stained riches…and insanity). There are other characters, too, like Paul Dano as a faith healer who has definitely drunk the Kool-Aid of the “Church of the Third Revelation.”

But it’s really all about Day-Lewis’ Daniel Plainview—a self-made (and unmade) oilman from whom blind ambition is a STARTING point. As one of my friends said, “He’s come a long way from The Last of the Mohicans.”

Be warned that this is a violent film. A lot of it is about mining, so you have your run-of-the-mill (run-of-the-well?) accidents: people getting crushed by falling objects, losing limbs, etc. Then there’s the purposeful violence, like shootings and bludgeonings. At least there isn’t a ton of sex, seeing as women were pretty scarce on the oil fields. Those who were out there didn't last for long.

On a philosophical level, the film ponders the concepts of self-worth, ambition, religion, and family, and how they conflict. Plainview has no use for religion, unless it can help him get ahead. However, the very last scene, at the end of his life, posits that success alone, without anything to balance it out, may not really be success after all.

It’s a thinker, to be sure. But worth the effort.

“Ladies and gentlemen…I've traveled over half our state to be here tonight. I couldn't get away sooner because my new well was coming in at Coyote Hills and I had to see about it. That well is now flowing at two thousand barrels and it's paying me an income of five thousand dollars a week. I have two others drilling and I have sixteen producing at Antelope. So…ladies and gentlemen, if I say I'm an oil man, you will agree.”

“Can everything around here be got?”

“Well, that was one goddamn hell of a show.”

April 29, 2008

April 29, 2008

Writer’s Almanac Highlight of the Day

It never rains but it pours, huh? This is from yesterday’s Almanac. You know what the red means. Or you SHOULD, anyway.

It's the birthday of (Nelle) Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), born in Monroeville, Alabama (1926), the daughter of a local newspaper editor and lawyer. She was a friend from childhood of Truman Capote, and she later traveled to Kansas with him to help with the research of his work for In Cold Blood (1966). In college, she worked on the humor magazine Ramma-Jamma. She attended law school at the University of Alabama, but dropped out before earning a degree, moving to New York to pursue a writing career. She later said that her years in law school were "good training for a writer."

To support herself while writing, she worked for several years as a reservation clerk at British Overseas Airline Corporation and at Eastern Air Lines. In December of 1956, some of her New York friends gave her a year's salary along with a note: "You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas." She decided to devote herself to writing and moved into an apartment with only cold water and improvised furniture.

Lee wrote very slowly,
extensively revising for two and a half years on the manuscript of To Kill a Mockingbird (which she had called at different times "Go Set a Watchman" and "Atticus"). She called herself "more a rewriter than writer," and on a winter night in 1958, she was so frustrated with the progress of her novel and its many drafts that she threw the manuscripts out the window of her New York apartment into the deep snow below. She called her editor to tell him, and he convinced her to go outside and collect the papers.

To Kill a Mockingbird came out in 1960 and was immediately a popular and critical success. Lee won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. A review in
The Washington Post read, "A hundred pounds of sermons on tolerance, or an equal measure of invective deploring the lack of it, will weigh far less in the scale of enlightenment than a mere 18 ounces of new fiction bearing the title To Kill a Mockingbird."

Lee later said, "I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I'd expected."

I’d Take THOSE Electives

For those of you who don’t know, I went to a smallish, über-conservative Bible college in Wisconsin. I was browsing the catalog the other day, and things have definitely changed. For one, the catalogs of my school years were printed only in black and white, with a few dubious photographs. The catalog now is full color and shiny. (Okay, “glossy.” Same difference.)

At any rate (and my “I’m old now” rantings aside), while looking at courses, I noticed a few that were perhaps misnamed. Or, at least, made me go though something like this:

1. Read course title.
2. Take course title the completely wrong way.
3. Read course description.

In many cases, I’d conclude that the class would probably be better if my original connotation were correct.

For example (full course descriptions here):

1. Human Relations
2. Wait, like…wait, what?
3. “A study of human relation practices which include interpersonal relationships, cultural differences, and discriminatory problems.”

1. Transition and Life Skills Education
2. Is this “How to Become an Adult 101”? I’m thinking topics like “doing laundry,” “buying a car,” and “cooking without setting your apartment ablaze.”
3. "A study of instructional approaches, assessment of student interest and ability, and service delivery models related to the provision of career/vocational and life skills education for students with disabilities."

1. Drugs and Solutions
2. Just because you’re addicted to meth doesn’t mean you can’t live a fulfilling life.
3. “Introduces the student to the mathematical concepts related to the administration of medications.”

1. Motor Learning
2. Finally, a class that will teach you how to change your oil and replace a flat tire. Because I know how to do neither of those things.
3. “A study of learning and performance processes, individual differences, and instructional conditions as related to motor skill acquisition.”

1. Drugs, Society, & Human Behavior
2. Sounds like Steven Soderbergh’s sequel to sex, lies, and videotape.
3. “This course introduces students to knowledge of human problems within their environmental context. The course focuses on the biological, sociological, psychological, spiritual and cultural processes and development across the life span.”

1. Storytelling
2. For people who have trouble making their anecdotes interesting. Or coming up with anecdotes at all. Sadly, those people never seem to know that their stories suck.
3. “Reinforcement of interpretive skills necessary in the art of storytelling, with emphasis on practical experience in the use of illustrations and stories for all age groups.”

Wait. I may have actually gotten that last one right. Hmm.

April 28, 2008

April 28, 2008

Writer’s Almanac Highlight of the Day

The following text is stolen wholesale from yesterday’s The Writer’s Almanac. My favorite parts are in red.

It's the birthday of the Ulysses S. Grant, born in Point Pleasant, Ohio (1822). He was the commander of the Union Armies at the end of the Civil War and served as the eighteenth president of the United States. After serving as president, he joined his son in an investment banking business.

The banking venture was extremely profitable for a few years, and then the bubble burst. One of the bank's partners had been keeping false books and embezzling money into his private account. Grant, who had thought he was a millionaire, found out that his partnership in the failed bank left him several million dollars in debt. Less than ten years since he had been president of the United States, he had gone completely broke.

He had previously rejected requests to write about his experience as a Civil War general. Now he desperately needed the money. Mark Twain offered him 75 percent of the profits if Grant would publish with Twain's newly started publishing house.

But by that time, Grant had also been diagnosed with throat cancer and his health deteriorated rapidly. He realized that he didn't have long to live, and wrote his memoirs as fast as he could. In extreme pain, and in a daze from pain medication, he still managed to write 275,000 words in less than a year. In the last few weeks of his illness, he couldn't even speak, but he kept writing and revising, and checking everything he wrote against the official records to make sure it was all factual. He finished his memoirs in July 1885, and died four days later.

Grant's book did not appear in bookstores, but was sold by subscription, and it was Mark Twain's idea to send out former Union soldiers, in uniform*, to sell the subscriptions door to door across the country. The book eventually sold more than 300,000 copies. It provided Grant's family with $450,000 in royalties, the largest amount of royalties that had ever been paid out for a book at that point in history.

Critics and writers of the time were shocked at how well Grant wrote. His book Personal Memoirs (1885) is one of the few books ever written by an American president that qualifies as great literature.

Among the most famous passages in the book is Grant's description of Robert E. Lee's surrender at the Appomattox Court House. Grant wrote, "What General Lee's feelings were I do not know ... [but] my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on receipt of his letter, were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause (slavery) was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.”


* Note from Heather: Yet more proof that men in uniform can do ANYTHING.

C’est un Bon Magasin

I’m cheap. I may have mentioned that. Thus Goodwill is like my Mecca. (With a good dollar store like my Medina.) A proper Goodwill provides clothing, housewares, and entertainment media at incredibly reasonable prices. It’s hard for me to pay $10 for a shirt at Kohl’s that I can get for $2 at Goodwill. Like I said: cheap.

While you usually know what sorts of finds to expect, Goodwill sometimes surprises you. Maybe with an amazing chair. Or a book with money in it (that’s happened to my dad…twice).

Or, as happened to me on Saturday, amazing art. Behold:

Not as blurry in real life. I promise.

Yes, it’s a reproduction drawing of vases. Since I plan to decorate The First Apartment in a colonial style, though, it’ll fit in perfectly. (By "colonial," I mean "reproductions of colonial art and furnishings." As much as I'd love Duncan Phyfe and Chippendale, they're a little out of my price range. Again: cheap.)

And, oh, wait, where was this purchased?

That’s right. PARIS.

Don’t be scared of Goodwill. You just need to have a good eye and the willingness to search for a bargain. Also, maybe a little bravery, because there are some scary types there. (Hi, woman who buys a cartload of socks!)

Trust me—it's worth it.

(Fun fact: When I was trying to figure out how to say “It’s a good deal” in French for the title of this blog entry, the translator recommended a phrase that translates to “nice blow.” While I’m sure that would also be good, it’s not quite what I was going for.)

April 27, 2008

April 27, 2008

This math, I can do.

Whatever happened to personal responsibility?

I had the NBC Evening News on while making dinner last night, and they ran a story about New York’s requirement that restaurants post calorie counts for all menu items. The intent, I believe, is to make people realize just that that Triple Whopper value meal equals the nutritional allowance of an entire DAY. Hopefully, they’ll then choose something sensible. (Hard to do at a fast food place, but technically possible.)

Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against posting calorie counts. It would definitely save me some time on restaurant websites. But will it work? Think about it: calorie counts have been posted on food boxes and bags for years, yet Americans’ asses continue to grow.

Obviously, being told that “This! Is! Unhealthy!” is not enough. Why is that? Why do people assume “This must be okay” as the default? Perhaps I’m odd in that I wait for permission/approval/someone else to do it before doing things. Something about that saying…curiosity killed the child, right?* Maybe America needs to start assuming No and waiting for Yes, rather than the other way around.

Or maybe I just need a Triple Whopper.

*I know that’s not the saying. Meet my friend, Creative Exaggeration.

April 25, 2008

April 25, 2008

A Mean Girls Follow-Up

A friend and I IMed today about my review of Mean Girls:

Amanda (10:29:11 AM): fyi: i have mean girls
Amanda (10:30:04 AM): i loved it
Amanda (10:30:15 AM): i was so in a clique thing in school
Me (10:30:47 AM): lol
Me (10:30:51 AM): Yeah, baby.
Me (10:30:55 AM): Plus, Tina! Fey!

Amanda (10:31:08 AM): i know, she's hilarious
Amanda (10:32:14 AM): i love the leap of faith part
Amanda (10:32:40 AM): and no, i'm not endorsing lindsay lohan
Me (10:32:53 AM): lol
Me (10:32:58 AM): I know. She's actually not bad in this.
Me (10:33:04 AM): It's considered her "breakout role."
Amanda (10:33:20 AM): i thought the parents trap was?
Amanda (10:33:32 AM): those are like the only 2 good ones she was in
Me (10:33:51 AM): Yeah, no kidding.
Amanda (10:33:52 AM): well
Amanda (10:33:54 AM): freaky friday
Me (10:33:58 AM): Boy, PT was when she was tiny.
Amanda (10:34:07 AM): and freakled
Amanda (10:34:11 AM): freekled
Amanda (10:34:14 AM): whatever!
Amanda (10:34:29 AM): frekled
Amanda (10:34:32 AM): shit
Me (10:34:32 AM): Freckled.

Start with movies, end with grammar and profanity. I wish all my conversations were this way.

In My Opinion: Mean Girls

Though I’m not the biggest Lindsay Lohan fan out there, I may quite possibly be in Tina Fey’s top ten. Throw in a bit part by Amy Poehler, and Mean Girls earned a place on my to-see list quite some time ago. Now that I’m DONE with grad school (forever!), I have time to actually work my way through said list.

I’m pretty sure I would have enjoyed Mean Girls much more if I were closer to high school age. This was a pretty sad realization. I’m slowly slipping out of the age group the advertisers crave and into the “waiting for death” one. I mean, it’s not all that long before I leave the 18-49 demo, is it? (Actually, it’s 26 years. Allow me a little license here.)

The Wikipedia article has an amazingly-detailed plot rundown. Entries like these make me wonder about our future. Or give me faith in it. Definitely one of the two. Suffice to say that Lindsay Lohan’s actually quite good in a leading role (that doesn’t even require her to take any clothes off), though I would have preferred more Tina Fey and Tim Meadows. The humor is very subtle and quick, a la 30 Rock, which I find quite enjoyable. You just have to pay attention.

Overall, it’s great satire. Not just about high school cliques, but about moms who try (and fail) to stay young and cool, about how screwed-up Halloween has become (dress like a slut one night a year!), and even about the exercise in discomfort that is health class.

“Well, this has been sufficiently socially-awkward.”

“I love seeing teachers outside of school. It's like seeing a dog walk on its hind legs.”

“They've gone wild. The girls have gone wild.”

April 24, 2008

April 24, 2008

My Thoughts on The Office

Disclaimer: There appears to have been some confusion about the nature of these posts. When I write about my thoughts on last night's The Office, I will usually mention my thoughts on last night's The Office. If you are not interested in my thoughts on last night's The Office, do not read on. If you do not want to know what happened on last night's The Office, do not read on. If you choose to read on, please know that THERE WILL BE SPOILERS regarding last night's The Office. I would have assumed that was inherently clear. This is why you never assume.

(8:00:31 PM): We have peanut butter in our work kitchen, too.
(8:00:42 PM): "I want an ice cream sandwich."
(8:00:54 PM): Wow, I think he used enough PB there.
(8:02:03 PM): "An arty photograph of Cindy Crawford...nude"
(8:02:20 PM): Ryan, button your shirt.
(8:02:36 PM): "Favorite branch." Please.
(8:03:31 PM): Someone make fun of his half-beard!
(8:03:55 PM): Ah, Ryan's spouting jargon again.
(8:04:59 PM): "TDB." Oh, Michael.
(8:05:44 PM): "Stay real, Scranton."
(8:06:35 PM): "curse of three"
(8:06:49 PM): "With sex."
(8:07:19 PM): Good ideas, once a year. Sounds familiar.
(8:07:39 PM): I really need to see Swingers.
(8:08:08 PM): Wow. Ryan is TRES excited. What's in that drink?
(8:12:09 PM): Oh no!
(8:12:22 PM): Jam-capades.
(8:12:57 PM): "You resemble a Tolkien character."
(8:13:37 PM): Toby, I've missed you.
(8:14:21 PM): Ah, weevil season.
(8:14:53 PM): "Do you have powers?"
(8:16:19 PM): "This place is like a sexy preschool."
(8:16:48 PM): Amazons
(8:17:15 PM): "Don't step on him."
(8:17:32 PM): OUCH. Football to the FACE.
(8:18:15 PM): Whoa, Dwight.
(8:19:39 PM): "I've asked a lot of girls to dance, mom."
(8:24:10 PM): Hand on the leg! Hand on the leg!
(8:24:18 PM): NO!
(8:24:21 PM): Costa RIca?!
(8:24:50 PM): Holy. Frak.
(8:25:36 PM): Okay, is Jim just a huge racist?
(8:25:42 PM): Because that would go on his bad list.
(8:26:02 PM): Wow, shitty apartment, Ryan.
(8:27:14 PM): I tried watching the Wire. 2 episodes. Didn't care for it.
(8:27:34 PM): "It's not about the horniness. It's about the loneliness."
(8:27:38 PM): "Boys on the side."

Listen to This, Volume 10: Maroon 5

Though Maroon 5 released its first album in 2002 and has won several Grammys, I just discovered them a month or so ago. Let’s just pretend that the years between my graduation from high school and March 2008 were a musical void, shall we? (In my defense, does anyone watch the Grammys? I mean, I’m a pretty die-hard awards show person. I’ve watched the Tonys. And the People’s Choice Awards. I voted in the Teen Choice Awards for quite some time. But an awards show consisting of approximately 98,000 obscure categories [Spoken Word? Eh?] doesn’t appeal to even me.)

Fortunately for illegal downloaders, the band’s only released two albums: Songs About Jane and It Won’t Be Soon Before Long. My favorite track off the former is "This Love," and off the latter is "Infatuation." Honestly, though, Maroon 5 is that rare band with very few B-side tracks. They are ALL GOOD SONGS, especially on It Won’t Be Soon Before Long. I find it like Death Cab for Cutie’s Plans in that way.

I have a co-worker who really likes Adam Levine’s voice. As do I. I also really like the name Adam (long story). But I think my friend Amanda, who has SEEN HIM IN PERSON, would agree that it’s really a whole package deal.

(Not the best picture of him, but I had to do a hurried Google image search at work. As forgiving as they are of my John Krasinski obsession, I'm thinking a 10-minute search for Adam Levine photos might push me over the edge. Even today, my two-year anniversary on TheJob*.)

Maroon 5 is touring with Counting Crows this summer, including a stop in Milwaukee. Not even my fandom can convince me to pay $300 and brave the crowds, though. Score a point for antisocial cheapness.

*Random life event alert!

April 23, 2008

One Day, One Deal

In yet another example of my lagging the zeitgeist, I have recently stumbled upon Woot.com. In case you are unfamiliar (though you seem pretty hip, so you’re probably already in the know), Woot puts one item up for sale every day and offers it until it’s sold out. Most of the products seem to be tech-related: computers and accessories, DVRs, etc. However, there’s the occasional vacuum or air purifier thrown in for good measure. Recently, comic books were even offered, likely in an attempt to assist those guys hoping to completely outfit their apartments with Woot purchases.

The prices are, well, pretty good, which is why things tend to sell out. Once they do, you’re out of luck—Woot doesn’t do backordering. Even if the product isn’t doing well, it’s only up until midnight central, anyway.

The product commentary, though, is priceless. More snark than even I am used to. And how can you not love a website that also occasionally sells a grab bag officially known as “Random Crap”? Or that has events called “Woot Offs”?

Woot has two spin-offs: Woot Wine and Woot Shirts. I don’t drink, so my interest in the former is negligible. However, I’m a pretty avid t-shirt wearer. I’ve not yet purchased anything off the site, since my local thrift stores have vintage-y shirts for approximately two dollars (or less), but this one sorely tempts me.

April 22, 2008

April 22, 2008

Things I’ve Read: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

As its title suggests, AHWOSG is almost precociously self-aware. I’m rather twee myself, so I like to think I have a relatively high tolerance for self-serving humor. I’m also a big fan of McSweeney’s, and the author of AHWOSG, Dave Eggers, just so happens to be its founder. Thus I went in with great expectations.

I came out, though, with some confusion. This isn't a straightforward, from-the-heart memoir. It’s not even a straightforward, totally-made-up “memoir” (I’m talkin’ to you, Frey). Rather, it’s a loose connection of creatively-licensed anecdotes from Eggers’ youth and early adulthood. Not to mock his life experiences: losing both parents within weeks to cancer and having to raise your younger brother on a non-existent budget is wholly admirable and something completely beyond my experience or ability.

Structurally, though, a lot of this book was over my comprehension level. The anecdotes were understandable enough, though the dialogue was rather pronoun-heavy. Add to this the self-reverential asides and the multitude of characters, and I got pretty confused. (I realize I’m the pot calling the kettle black—is this how people reading my blog feel?)

The novel’s lynchpin is an interview that may or may not have happened when Eggers auditioned for MTV’s The Real World. Technically, he probably cheated by filing in the gaps of his life story with a Q&A session. For me, though, that entire interview provided some much-needed clarification and structure. Eggers seems to have known this, as he basically acknowledges the interview as a conceit meant solely to explain the stuff he couldn’t get in elsewhere.

The first chapter graphically details Eggers’ mother’s last days of dealing with stomach cancer. I happened to read this part while eating. After that, I figured I might as well tough it out—it was baptism by gross-out. If you decide to read the book, prepare yourself for the same.

April 21, 2008

April 21, 2008

You want me to do what?

That sound you heard earlier today was my maniacal laughter on discovering that it's TV Turnoff Week. That's right: the very week Lost returns. Score one for irony.

From the FAQ on this site:

Q: "I can't give up my programs! Don't interfere in my home!"
A: Remember that a TV-Turnoff is voluntary and meant to be fun.
Wasn't that the justification used by the Nazi party?

Q: "Is all TV bad? What about the Discovery Channel or PBS?"
A: All TV is passive, sedentary and non-experiential.
What's not to love?

Q: "How can we best appeal to teenagers?"
A: Make the turnoff fun and provocative.
Is it just me, or does that sound vaguely dirty?

Don't get me started on the list of 52 alternative activities. In my defense, I watch a lot less tv than I used to. Does that count at all?

Gallery Day 2008

Once a year, on a Friday night and Saturday, many Milwaukee art museums and galleries participate in what’s known as “Gallery Night and Day.” Basically, they put together special exhibits, maybe get a band, and open their doors to the people of the city.

This year, I decided to go to a couple of smaller museums on the east side. My previous adventures with the east side have been discussed. And this was the part of the east side that abuts the lake. So all the houses look like this:

Anyway, I went to Villa Terrace and the Charles Allis Art Museum. Both are in huge houses built by the very rich back in the day. Plus, they have student admission, and I’m still getting mileage out of the college ID, despite not really looking anything like it. Minor detail.

Villa Terrace

Lloyd Smith built Villa Terrace as a gift to his wife after they traveled to Italy. It’s basically an Italian villa, transplanted to Milwaukee. Nothing screams Mediterranean like Wisconsin weather, I know. But who wouldn’t love this view of Lake Michigan?

The Villa Terrace was holding a reception for a new Frank Lloyd Wright exhibit. This meant a couple of things: a few more people than usual, a pianist, a cash bar, and FOOD.

And this was fancy food. Of the salmon/hummus/falafel variety. I’d like you, though, to notice the berry covered thing that the woman in the pink sweater is having. Notice that it is covered in berries. I see something that color and size covered in berries, I make assumptions. Thus it took me some time to realize that I was not eating the world’s least-sweet, densest crustless cheesecake. No, my friend. What I was eating was, in fact, just plain CHEESE. That’s right, folks. Keepin’ it classy.

Other than the hors d’oeuvres, I can’t say there was too much to get excited about. The attraction was mainly the structure itself, not the contents.

Charles Allis Art Museum

The Charles Allis was both a more interesting building and a better collection. No food, sure, but a really cute docent. Plus, it was akin to the little house museums D.C. is bursting with--I can spend all day hitting those. The rooms were pretty much all decorated historically, including a Duncan Phyfe table in the library. Duncan. Phyfe.

And this great Chippendale mirror. Had it been less massive (and had I any sort of upper-body strength), the Antiques Roadshow fangirl in me would definitely have attempted to steal it.

There were tons of little galleries open, too, but a gallery is intimidating to me in a way a museum isn’t. I mean, I’m good with museums. They’re comfortable. But a gallery is full of arty people drinking fancy drinks and expecting me to buy things. Um…not so much.

Gallery Day 2008: Come for the art, stay for the falafel.

April 20, 2008

April 20, 2008

The Sound of Music, Concluded

Did you miss part 1 of this scintillating tale? I’d suggest reading that first.

I looked forward to Friday night’s concert for a couple of reasons. I can honestly say that getting to see The Cute Cellist again wasn’t one of them. Rather, the program, subtitle “Journeys,” was going to feature Gustav Holst’s The Planets. In telling people about this concert, I’ve been surprised at how many non-musical people know about The Planets. I’ve been a Holst fan since my high school band did his suites. But, again, I’m a reformed band geek, so obscure musical knowledge comes with the territory. Regardless, Jupiter is my hands-down favorite piece of classical music.

This concert was also the debut of the MSO’s new Musical Director, Edo de Waart. He comes well-recommended, but you almost have to be in this sort of situation, don’t you? I mean, it’s not like they’re asking ME to conduct the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. And I was in the youth symphony for TWO years, even. Played on the very same stage as the big folk and everything.

Thus the thought that The Cute Cellist would be present didn’t even occur to me. It ended up being like a little bonus surprise.

The concert itself was excellent. The first half was two Strauss pieces with only smaller groups of string players (including The Cute Cellist--you can imagine my joy).

The second half was all Holst. According to the program, we were supposed to get NASA footage of each planet projected on a screen above the orchestra. Before the concert started, though, the MSO’s director came out and informed us that it had been determined that the NASA stuff was too distracting and that the music would “speak for itself.” There were a lot of disappointed noises, but no boos. That’s something, at least. And the music WAS good. Very good.

Thus the chance to see Edo de Waart’s debut, hear Jupiter, and get a few glimpses* of The Cute Cellist (who looks even cuter with glasses, natch) made the evening well worth it. (Sweetening the pot: a February sale meant that my orchestra seat was only $20. Win-win-win.)

* Which is all I did. Come on, this is ME we’re talking about.

April 19, 2008

April 19, 2008

The Sound of Music

When I told my friend Amanda on Friday that I was going to a Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra that night, she had just five words for me:

“Should I warn the cellist?”

You see, I went to a Milwaukee Symphony Pops concert in March. I gave Amanda the recap of that but somehow failed to do the same for you. Thus, before I can say whether her concern had grounds, I should probably talk about its foundation. Consider this a flashback entry--and experiment in narrative blogging structure, if you will.

On March 14, I went to a Milwaukee Symphony Pops concert. I went to two last year: one of Gershwin songs and one of movie music. I enjoyed them both; Pops concerts are a lot more relaxed than regular MSO ones. I mean, there are people in Packers clothing. You don’t get so much of that at the orchestra, even in Wisconsin.

Last month's concert was Randy Newman songs. In case you’re unfamiliar, Randy Newman is a rather prolific composer who scores movies, including all the Pixar films. He wrote “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from Toy Story. He even won an Academy Award (after losing 15 times, aw). It’s all very good.

I thought the Pops were just going to play some of his stuff. You know, a little Monsters, Inc., maybe something from The Natural. Little did I know, though, that the man himself would actually be THERE. In the house. Singing, conducting, and even playing the piano (not all at once). The first half of the concert was mostly him doing non-movie stuff from his early albums, including a great song called “Short People” and another that required us to sing with him a little. He noted that we should get some of our admission price refunded for that. I think he was right.

(During intermission, the man on my left asked whether I worked at the casino. What I should have said: “What job do you think I have? Am I cute enough to be a waitress? Quick enough to be a dealer?” What I actually said: “Um, no.”)

The rest of the concert was the aforementioned movie music. No “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” (could he not get the rights, or what?), but some other stuff from Pixar films, Seabiscuit, and The Natural.

However, as interesting as Randy Newman was, I couldn’t help but be a little distracted by Joseph Johnson, principal cellist, who shall be referred to hereafter as The Cute Cellist. I texted my friend Amanda about him at some point. She didn’t get the message until the next morning, at which point she replied wondering whose house I was in. (Don’t worry--it was mine.)

Tomorrow: Was Amanda right to be concerned? Where would I be the morning after concert number two? And why has this blog suddenly turned so melodramatic?

April 18, 2008

April 18, 2008

To Delete or Not to Delete

I don’t get a ton of spam at work, but I’ll occasionally get the typical ads for ways to shrink your mortgage or grow…other things.

And watches. Lots of ads for watches.

However, a few days after this flurry of messages, the battery on my watch did indeed die. Are spammers now able to predict and/or influence the future? I feel vague Minority Report overtones.

Color Me…“Awesome”?

Like any American child, I went through several boxes of Crayola crayons growing up. I plan to continue the tradition with my kids. (Clarification: The tradition of fostering creativity, not of substituting amusement for love.)

Debate continues (in my mind) regarding the best-sized box. Is bigger really better? As an adult, I think the 24-count gives you all you need. I mean, you have 23 useful colors and white. No one ever seems to know what to do with white—it’s the appendix of the crayon world.

However, as a child, I was all about the 48-count box. Twice as good as 24, right? I envied the kids who had a 64-count box (with built-in sharpener!), sure. But my box was endearingly square-shaped and less ostentatious. Don’t even get me started on the 96-count behemoth boxes. What were THOSE kids (parents?) compensating for?

At some point since my coloring heyday (and maybe during), the Crayola Powers That Be decided to democratize the process and allow kids to pick crayon names. For many years, this worked out, producing sensible names like “Robin’s Egg Blue” and “Macaroni Yellow.” Without seeing the actual crayons, you can pretty much figure out what the colors look like, right?

Sadly, kids these days appear to not understand the concept of appropriate nomenclature. (I think the fact that I would probably use a word like “nomenclature” with a child underscores my disconnect from “kids these days” in a way senior citizens would envy.) Readers, the 2008 “Kids Choice Colors (text stolen wholesale appropriated from here):

- “Super Happy”: kids don’t want to worry, they just want to be happy — “super happy” — as their color says and they wish the same for others, too.
- “Fun in the Sun”: riding bikes, playing soccer, skateboarding, and gymnastics — kids said this color means exercise and keeping fit are important … and fun!
- “Giving Tree”: it’s a colorful truth that kids are thinking green, too, and want to play a part in protecting the Earth.
- “Bear Hug”: a hue of harmony as kids want their homes to feel warm and loving just like a great big bear hug.
- “Awesome”: means kids think school is cool and getting good grades feels awesome.
- “Happy Ever After”: kids want to make a difference and create Cinderella moments for others, so everyone’s story has a happy ending.
- “Famous”: American Idol and shows like it inspired this hue, as kids believe they can become celebrities just like everyday people who become stars.
- “Best Friends”: this shade of purple reveals who kids’ real BFFs are — their parents — and spending time with them is what they enjoy most.

Do ANY of those names evoke a specific color? Is this Crayola’s way of being lazy? If you come up with a broad enough name, I guess you can pretty much label any color with it. I’m also really disturbed that one of the colors references American Idol. Has that show not already done enough damage to America’s psyche? Do we really want children aspiring to reality tv? I’m pretty sure that’s how Rome fell.

But as for the “best friends” color, well, aww. :o)

Happy Friday.

April 17, 2008

April 17, 2008

My Thoughts on The Office

I got a little excited there at one point late in the episode. I think every woman watching probably did, too.

(8:00:16 PM): Andy's pennyloafers
(8:00:31 PM): Parking at my work is similarly cutthroat. 14 spaces for all of us.
(8:00:55 PM): I think I have Pam's shirt.
(8:01:56 PM): So Jan and Michael are broken-up?
(8:03:06 PM): "Call us when you get there so we know you're okay."
(8:03:24 PM): Kevin and Stacy are broken-up, too?!
(8:03:49 PM): Oscar Mayer weiner.
(8:03:56 PM): liberal, girl-type friends
(8:04:16 PM): "jolly, sassy opera singer"
(8:10:12 PM): 10 minute walk, no, 30
(8:11:47 PM): "Dude, this is a Wendy's restaurant."
(8:11:53 PM): And then he ORDERS over the phone. Classic.
(8:12:28 PM): "She shall bear your fruit."
(8:13:50 PM): Seriously, I HAVE that shirt.
(8:14:13 PM): Ew. Kitchen tooth brushing. That crosses the line.
(8:14:34 PM): "Grade-A Badass"
(8:14:37 PM): "super old and really mean"
(8:20:50 PM): He has Jan's pic on his phone still.
(8:20:57 PM): And he CALLED her. Awesome.
(8:22:34 PM): "It's just nice to win one."
(8:22:55 PM): intensity, cool, and youth
(8:23:12 PM): Wait, are they going to move in together?!?!
(8:24:14 PM): !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
(8:24:18 PM): Engagement?!?!!??!?!?!?!
(8:24:35 PM): I JUST SCREAMED.
(8:24:38 PM): HE HAS A RING.
(8:24:42 PM): OMG, OMG, OMG.
(8:25:38 PM): "Joe six-pack"
(8:25:41 PM): Aw, Andy moonwalks.
(8:26:48 PM): Wait until next year's catalog.
(8:27:49 PM): I can't even begin to speak right now. I think my heart skipped two beats.
(8:29:57 PM): "Bye, bye, Miss Chair Model Lady"

Good News/Bad News, Volume 2

The Good News
John McCain visited South Milwaukee yesterday. He spoke mostly on the economy and his proposed “gas tax holiday” (starring Gene Kelly, now available on DVD*).

The Bad News
Actual Milwaukee headline on Monday: “Blood trail leads to stabbing suspect.” Details aren’t specific, but the article does say that police followed said trail for an hour. An HOUR. It’s like a macabre Hansel and Gretel.

Summary: The presidential candidates may come to Milwaukee, but they bring extra shoes.

* If you listened to my favorite drive-time radio show on Tuesday, you get that joke. Otherwise, you can just nod and smile.

In My Opinion/Things I’ve Read: The Hours

One year later, I finally got around to seeing The Hours*. Technically, I only saw about 13/15ths of the movie, as the DVD crapped out near the end (public libraries, woot). Since I’ve read the book, though, I figure I saw enough to get the gist.

Since I apparently didn’t review the book, please allow me to combine my opinions of it and the film in one handy entry. Call it a twofer.

The conceit of The Hours: three (apparently) unrelated plots that end up getting tied together (or do they?) in a rather interesting way.

Plot 1: Virginia Woolf (played in the film by Nicole Kidman) in 1923.
Plot 2: Mrs. Brown (Julianne Moore) in 1949.
Plot 3: Clarissa Vaughn (Meryl Streep) in 1998.

The tying mechanism is Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. Woolf is writing it, Brown is reading it, and Vaughn is living it (for those who haven’t read it, Mrs. Dalloway details a day of party planning in Woolf’s signature stream-of-consciousness style). “The Hours” was actually Woolf’s original title for Mrs. Dalloway. Fun fact!

Anyway, I admire how the disparate plot threads, while fantastic on their own, come together in a truly unexpected way. Each story evokes a time period, whether it’s Brown’s increasing despair at the trappings of domesticity (THIS is a desperate housewife, people—she calls her child “Bug”) or Vaughn’s difficulties in coming to grips with the decimating affect of AIDS on her friend. And yes, those women turn out to be connected.

Nicole Kidman got a lot of press for her work in the film. Sadly, a lot of it had to do with the fact that she wore a fake nose. If you’re able to look past the prosthesis, though, it’s an excellent performance and worthy of the Oscar. Then again, that could just be my Woolf-fangirl speaking. (I try to keep her locked up with The Voyage Out and plenty of lemonade.)

The book won the 1998 Pulitzer. The movie won a crapload of awards. For good reason.

“Oh, Mrs. Dalloway...Always giving parties to cover the silence.”

“We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep. It's as simple and ordinary as that. A few jump out windows, or drown themselves, or take pills; more die by accident; and most of us are slowly devoured by some disease, or, if we're very fortunate, by time itself. There's just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds & expectations, to burst open & give us everything we've ever imagined.”

* Or as my dad calls it, "The one with the lesbians." To be fair, there are a few sapphic developments. But it's not a time-traveling Girls Gone Wild or anything.

April 16, 2008

April 16, 2008

Good News/Bad News

I’ve decided to start tempering my disturbing Milwaukee news with exciting Milwaukee news. Here’s installment the first.

The Good News
A traveling exhibit of Titanic artifacts is coming to Milwaukee! I almost saw one of these (apparently, there are six) in two different cities. Now that it will be here for inne months, though, I’m thinking there’s a good chance I’ll catch it.

The Bad News
The Milwaukee area is experiencing a measles outbreak, with a case of rubella thrown in for good measure. That’s right: measles. I thought measles was like polio or consumption—something only suffered by miners or people in Laura Ingalls Wilder books.

Summary: Come see the Titanic stuff, but make sure you get vaccinated first.

In My Opinion: 21

Higher education is pretty competitive these days. As the protagonist of 21 learns, you need more than good grades and extracurriculars to get the best scholarships. Ideally, you would have lost a limb or been raised by wolves. Perhaps both.

Since Ben Campbell has all limbs intact and was raised by a human mother, he has to find other ways to jump off the application page and into Harvard Medical School. The robotics competition he’s involved in with his (stereotypically socially-awkward) friends isn’t bad, but won’t quite do it.

[sidebar]

Jim Sturgess was just amazing as Ben Campbell. He has that perfect combination of lanky/mathy/dorky that constitutes Heather's Type. This character has the added bonus of being vaguely age-inappropriate, which seems to be a thing with me. Sadly (or is it?), in real life, Sturgess is British. And 30.

[/sidebar]

Luckily for Ben, he’s a math savant. Not just in that “knows the squares up to 50” way, either. In fact, he shows such potential that one of his professors (Kevin Spacey) takes note and invites Ben into a special after-school club. "Special" in that is teaches card counting.

(Normally, the rules of card counting would be explained here. However, my attempting to communicate such a mathy conceit would be completely pointless, so you should just read this for further information.)

Now Ben and his (stereotypically cool but still MIT-smart) friends hit Vegas every weekend and rake in the money. This was probably my favorite part of the movie, as you got the glitz of Vegas, the flashy disguises, and lots of gambling action. If you’ve never been to a casino, there’s no way to really explain the atmosphere of the gaming floor. Believe me, the buzz is palpable.

Of course, as the old adage tells us, card counters never prosper. And as a good bildungsroman*, this film has to have a few setbacks for our hero. Still, you care enough about the characters to stick around and see whether the house really does always win.

I don't want to spoil it, so I'll just say that math isn’t everything. Watch the movie for the rest.

* My friend Amanda previewed this review and gave me the following comment: “you might wanna link bildungsroman to wikipedia cause i had TO LOOK IT UP.” I’m not one to ignore an ALL CAPS command, so here you go.

April 15, 2008

April 15, 2008

New Blogs: A Threeve

In my never-ending quest to find ways to waste time while staring at a screen, I’ve been trying to beef up my blogroll. I mean, the [redacted] and Daily Dump archives were good for a while, but like all good things, they eventually came to an end. (“There’s no ‘Older Posts’ link! Where is the ‘Older Posts’ link? What do I do?”)

Luckily for me, while it may be hard out here for a pimp*, it’s apparently quite easy for a blogger.

1. Stuff White People Like

I’m indebted to Josh for turning me on to this one. PLEASE NOTE that enjoyment of this blog (and its companion, Stuff Educated Black People Like) directly correlates to your ability to lampoon a stereotype. If your sense of humor is on temporary leave, has been surgically removed, or never existed in the first place, you should avoid Stuff White People Like.

However, I can attest that even the partially-caucasian (half-Asian shoutout!) can find eerily identifiable things in this blog. For example, this entry made me actually say the words, “I am SO white.” As did this one. Okay, I’ll stop. (No, wait, also this one. NOW I’m done.)

2. She Just Walks Around With It

Discovered via [redacted]’s blogroll. Kristy, a San Francisco woman in her 30s, blogs about, well, her life. Traveling to Paris. Knitting, or intending to knit. The idiosyncrasies of her cats. Horrible internet dates she went on Back in the Day. While these topics may not blow you out of the water (I heard that “Knitting? Seriously, Heather?” you just thought**), she’s got a great voice. I’ve found myself already adapting several elements of Kristy’s style, including using the phrase “Teh Internets,” randomly capitalizing words for emphasis, and footnoting blog entries***.

3. 15 Minute Lunch

I also stumbled upon this blog after blogrolling. (For some reason, that sentence makes my think of lumberjacks. Huh.)

Instead of telling you why I like this one, I shall instead DARE you to read this entry without laughing aloud.

* I promise never to obliquely reference a rap song again, regardless of the number of Oscars it may or may not have won.
** Yes, I can hear your thoughts. And shame on you for that one yesterday. You know which one I’m talking about.
*** Like so.

April 14, 2008

Wait, what?

In many business classes, students are taught the difference between high- and low-context cultures as preparation for international dealings. The last thing you want to do after purchasing a Japanese subsidiary is to insult his entire family by, say, bowing incorrectly.

In low-context cultures (like America and much of Europe), people say what they mean. Expectations are verbalized. Things change from one generation to the next. People are independent and have few really personal intimate relationships. Many of you readers live in America, so you know exactly what I’m talking about. (Yes, that was an oblique way for me to mention that I have an international readership.)

High-context cultures, on the other hand, require a lot of assumptions. People communicating in this type of culture need to know a lot about history, expectations, and how people are expected to behave.

Though I live in a low-context culture, I fear I am a high-context thinker. People who’ve known me for a while or who speak to me often know that I will make references that appear apropos of nothing. However, after I explain, it turns out there was a pretty distinct (though convoluted) thought process.

Here’s a prime example from February:

*begin scene*

Background: A friend and I are discussing that night’s Academy Awards ceremony.
Me: I’m so excited! I get shrimp!
My friend: I must be having a logic breakdown…what do the Oscars have to do with shrimp?
Me: Because it’s fancy!
My friend: Still not getting it.
Me: I make shrimp for fancy things.

*end scene*

See, here’s how my thought process appeared: Oscars --> shrimp
Whereas this is what it actually was: Oscars --> fancy event --> fancy food --> shrimp

So if you’ve not already experienced my random (or ARE they?) thought patterns, consider this a tutorial. I almost always have a reason for my randomness. And it almost always makes sense.

Almost.

April 13, 2008

April 11, 2008

April 10, 2008

April 10, 2008

My Thoughts on The Office

Here they are, live and unedited, for episode 408, "Dinner Party." When I started, I thought I'd clean them up later, hence the lack of capitalization. However, as the episode progressed, my anal retentive tendencies took over.

(8:01:14 PM): "dinner, dancing, drinks" at Michael's. Yikes.
(8:01:40 PM): andy, how ive missed you
(8:01:47 PM): don't cry, dwight!
(8:02:42 PM): jan looks good
(8:03:09 PM): wow, the house actually looks great
(8:03:19 PM): "babe" alert
(8:03:39 PM): "this is my office" "never been used"
(8:03:47 PM): I want an office and a workspace
(8:04:04 PM): "james bonfire"
(8:04:25 PM): white like an asylum
(8:04:54 PM): oh, michael, that bed is so sad
(8:05:50 PM): Wow, Michael as tech support?
(8:05:52 PM): Dundies!
(8:06:38 PM): Aw, Andy and his flower are so cute.
(8:09:51 PM): Hunter! Yay!
(8:10:29 PM): Okay, is Jan ON something?
(8:10:56 PM): "I just wanna eat." I have SO been there.
(8:11:17 PM): "My my my my my turn."
(8:12:30 PM): Oh, Jim. Nice try.
(8:12:47 PM): "You're getting into my head."
(8:13:07 PM): "No rhyming!"
(8:13:37 PM): Hmm...this Michael/Pam stuff is interesting.
(8:15:15 PM): "Since you guys dated" ?!
(8:17:30 PM): Jan as a mother is a SCARY thought.
(8:22:10 PM): Beet salad?
(8:22:57 PM): He did NOT just dip his food in his wine.
(8:23:03 PM): WTF, Michael.
(8:23:50 PM): That is one BRIGHT sign.
(8:24:10 PM): "I think it ties the whole room together."
(8:24:54 PM): NOT THE TV!!!
(8:25:13 PM): My jaw literally just dropped.
(8:26:45 PM): I want a guy who'll steal crappy CDs for me.
(8:27:28 PM): Wow, Angela. Harsh. Don't waste ice cream, no matter who's licked it.

A Tale of One City

As much as I disparage it, Milwaukee has a lot of positives. And I’m not just talking about the drug tests.

*rimshot*

(Thank you, ladies and gentlemen—I’m here all week!)

Seriously, though, I’ve had the chance to show a few people around the place, and there’s plenty to show off. Since it would appear doubtful anyone reading this blog will ever get my Milwaukee tour, allow me to present it virtually. (Note that these would normally be spread over two days. I wouldn’t want to overload you. I’m good that way.)

Milwaukee Art Museum

I’m a member at the art museum, so you and I would both get in for free. Ideally, you would have visited during the summer of 2007, when we had an utterly kickass Pisarro exhibit. For people who love Impressionism (and, really, who DOESN’T love impressionism? it’s like pizza), it was almost utopian.

Other highlights include the Brise Soleil. It’s been in print and television advertising—classy!

And Windhover Hall. I would get married there…but it costs $10,000 to rent. And, also, I’m very single. Details, details.

Milwaukee Public Museum

While giving a tour of the MPM recently, I realized that most of the exhibits can be prefaced by the words “This scared me as a kid.” When you think about it, a lot of natural history museum stuff does tend to be a little weird. I mean, giant dinosaur models? Dark rooms filled with fluorescent rocks? Gah.

(I had nightmares about that exhibit many times as a child. You can’t tell, but it’s life-sized, i.e. HUGE.)

Mitchell Park Domes

Mitchell was a big deal around here. We named the airport after him, too. But the domes are not to be missed, if you’re any sort of plant fan. (As we’ve established, I am.) If not, it’s still fun to walk from the tropical dome to the arid one with people who wear glasses. Think about that for a while, and you’ll figure out why.

Miller Brewery

Like Detroit and cars, Seattle and technology, or San Francisco and fog, Milwaukee made its name on beer. We once had something like 5 breweries here. Madness. (And drunkenness.)

Even though I don’t drink, I find the brewery tour pretty interesting (plus there are free beverages at the end). It turns out (brace yourself) that Miller makes a lot of beer. The warehouse you go through on the tour is the size of several football fields and covered in pallets of beer. That will all be shipped within 48 HOURS.


Milwaukee: profiting off drunken America for generations.

The Lakefront

Growing up on Lake Michigan has inured me to just how lucky I am to live on a large body of water. The extent of my involvement is usually checking what color it is as I drive home from work. (Usually blue, sometimes sort of greenish or gray. After big rains, parts might be brown, because we keep accidentally dumping sewage into it. Eh.)

Since I’m sure this scintillating blog entry has but whetted your appetite, look me up the next time you’re in town. We’ll hit the highlights and then go to my favorite Chinese place. (Luckily for everyone involved, all of these locales be seen without getting anywhere near the ghetto. Because let’s face it: in a street fight, I’m not going to be of much help. I’m from the south side, which means I have approximately no street cred.)

Milwaukee fever: Catch it!

April 9, 2008

April 9, 2008

Sorry I Missed It: The Tudors

I have found Teh Internets to be an enabler. Who needs cable when you can download commercial-free programming? Granted, it takes a while, and you’re limited to the size of your computer screen, but still. You don’t have to pay for cable or (as many of my shows would require) premium channels. (Cable channels are like ice cream: “premium” is code for “costs WAY MORE than the regular kind.” Also, “is fattier.” Wait, that may just be for ice cream.)

The Tudors is Showtime’s attempt to liven up history with some angst, lots of costumes, and a fair amount of bodice ripping. (If you’re familiar at all with Philippa Gregory’s work, this is very similar.) Jonathan Rhys-Meyers is Henry VIII, but young and lusty. Most critics (and, to be honest, viewers) agree that Rhys-Meyers has two emotions: boredom and rage. Luckily for him, those are pretty much all you need to play Henry.

The good thing about a program based on actual events is that you know what’s coming. You get to see the stuffy history brought to life. Who knew Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk was so cute?

The bad thing about a program based on actual events is that you know what’s coming. When Anne Boleyn shows up and starts getting cozy in court, you want to warn her against getting the extended warranties on those wedding gifts.

I started watching about midway through season 1; season 2 started last week. My favorite scenes (besides those with the aforementioned Brandon) are ones with Jeremy Northam’s Thomas More. His philosophy is scarily enlightening. I know bad things are in store for him, but if wishes were fishes… Peter O’Toole’s Pope Paul III (new in season 2) isn’t bad, either. He referred to his predecessor thus: “Although it was very wrong for some people to dig up his dead body and stab it in the streets, I can understand their sentiments.” Nice.

It’s not noble television, by any means. That I’m also watching HBO’s John Adams miniseries* by no means exonerates me. The O.C. is but a distant memory, though, and I need something to fill the “mindless hour” spot on my roster.

The Tudors airs Sundays at 10/9c on Showtime. Or you can download it whenever you want for free. Whichever.

* Basic summary: dialogue, horse riding, dialogue, blood-letting, amputation, Franklin in a coonskin cap, dialogue.

April 8, 2008

April 8, 2008

In My Opinion: Leatherheads

When I’m trying to judge something, I’ll often make a Good List and a Bad List. Unlike the usual advice when someone does that (“Then throw the lists away and go with your gut”), I stick with the lists. They’ve served me well thus far.

Unfortunately, nearly every one of Leatherheads’ Good List items can be countered with “But it’s a chick flick.” I mean, the closest I get to a chick flick is Groundhog Day. Maybe Jerry Maguire. You’ll note that each of those has other mitigating factors (time travel and a pre-crazy Tom Cruise, respectively).

Leatherheads, of course, also has mitigating factors. Like every woman ever, I love George Clooney. I also have a bit of a thing for John Krasinski, who in this film plays an All-American war hero-cum-athlete. If you count carefully, you can find three reasons to love him right there in that sentence. As EW’s Lisa Schwartzbaum says in her review, “It's Krasinski's irresistible Jim Halpert from The Office, redux, with a bonus of athletic prowess.”

While the romanticky stuff didn’t grab me, I did enjoy the flapper atmosphere: great clothes, great music, great Prohibition humor. Also not hurting: the film was set in Duluth and Chicago, with several shout-outs to Milwaukee. I really liked Renee Zellweger’s reporter character, too; she was smart and feisty. Quoth Lisa: “A career-girl toughie who thrives on brainy banter with the boys.” I want that on my business cards someday.

Overall, though, the film wasn’t enough to turn me on to the romantic comedy genre as a whole. The gritty football pseudo-violence was okay. The dialogue wasn’t bad, though it seemed rather tongue-in-cheek. I just get more excited by explosions and car chases, I guess.

April 7, 2008

April 7, 2008

Paradise Lost

As promised, here are the highlights of my Saturday in Chicago. For some reason, they ended up as headlined subsections. I’m not totally sure how that came about.

Also allegedly coming: WiFi on the buses.

I just found out that Megabus now has a hub in New York and a route to D.C. I like to think they’re getting ready for me. (Granted, we’ve established that I also like to think my life is a movie. So eh.) At any rate, this news offset my disturbance at the shut-down of Skybus. Now I’ll never get the chance to fly to and from Columbus in one day for $20 JUST BECAUSE I COULD.

When I got to the stop, the Minneapolis bus was getting ready to leave. You may recall that when I went to Minneapolis, I did NOT get a double-decker. Enough said.

It's easier to get a freaking golden ticket.

I don’t have a lot of insidery information for Chicago visitors, but I’ve picked up a few things here and there. My one good tip is to forego the bus pass machine in Union Station (which is always busy and/or out of the goods) and buy your pass at the Sears Tower gift shop, conveniently located just one block east. It’s much faster and easier, and they don’t run out.

Until they DO, that is.

So I’m now really reduced to just the one tip: go to the top of the John Hancock Center instead of the Sears Tower. It’s cheaper and the view is better.

(Wait, is this Sears karma kicking me in the butt? It IS, isn’t it?)

I’m still not sure what all the fuss is about.

I had time to walk from the train station to the movie theater where I was meeting some of my people (okay, one friend and her boyfriend, whatever) to see Leatherheads. Google tells me it was 2.5 miles, though it didn’t seem terribly long. Anyway, walking gave me a couple of added advantages:

1. Following a group of straw-hatted Amish men…

…until they went into an Arby’s. That’s right: an ARBY’S.

2. Stopping to see the bean. You know I can’t resist the bean.

I’ll let my thoughts on the movie itself wait until tomorrow, but perhaps the title of this subsection gives you a hint.

Try the teriyaki chicken and spicy Mongolian beef.

We (and, again, by “we,” I mean “me and my people,” and by “my people,” I mean one friend and her boyfriend) went to lunch at a place called Wow Bao. Bao are steamed dumplings stuffed with different kinds of meats or vegetables. Super, super delicious and not freakishly-unhealthy. Three Chicago locations, check them out. *cashes endorsement check*

Animals? Good. Plants? Better.

Since it was an absolutely gorgeous day, Lincoln Park was packed. I managed to avoid HOMICIDAL RAGE at the sight of a million strollers and enjoyed looking at the animals. I was surprised at how many of them were, you know, both alert and visible. Some of them were even eating things. This one was playing with a barrel.

Though my favorite part of the zoo isn’t actually a part of the zoo: the Lincoln Park Conservatory. It’s rarely busy, and I find it a little Edenic.

I wanted to walk back to the train station (5 miles? seriously? am I some sort of inadvertent marathon walker?) but ran out of time. I’d hoped to get the World’s Most Awesome Ice Cream Sandwich from Potbelly’s, but got there 5 minutes after they closed. Because apparently no one in Chicago eats dinner after 5 p.m. on a Saturday. Good to know.

Overall, though, an excellent, excellent day.

April 4, 2008

April 4, 2008

Caffeinated Beverages, Pièce Deux

Every day, my co-worker Amber gets a huge coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s so large, I have dubbed it The Bigass Coffee.

A Google-provided picture, but that’s what it looks like.

(I realize my work hijinks are becoming a regular blog topic, á la movies and Matt Damon. You know I prefer to keep my blog about witty banter rather than real life and/or introspection. However, sometimes actual events relate to my pre-written daily blog entry, lending credence to my suspicion that my life is, in fact, a screenplay.* I document these occasions for you, dear reader.)

Anyway, every day, Amber tries to convince me to drink some of The Bigass Coffee, usually saying something like, “It’s like crack…but BETTER!” Since I am nothing if not stubborn, I always say no.

Plus, it leads to bits like this:

Amber: I’m gonna go get my coffee.
Me: The Bigass Coffee. Nice.
Amber: You should have some.
Me: No.
Amber: But it’s so good!
Me: No.
Amber: You know what? Maybe I’ll get two.
Me: In that case, you will make me actually WASTE FOOD. Because I will not drink it. Do NOT make me waste food.
[laughter]
[pause]
Amber: What makes you think the second one is for you?

Frankly, she appears to have gone to A Bad Place and I’m determined not to let her drag me there, too.**

*Being directed by Wes Anderson, of course.
**Not without baked goods, anyway.

It May or May Not Be Ginseng-y

I’ve found lately that the old adage “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” is becoming one of my favorites. There’s just too much that requires consciousness for me to allow more than six hours for sleep. You’re busy, too; you know how it is. (If you are, for whatever reason, NOT busy, then you’ll have to pretend.)

Sadly, my body seems hard-wired into a different circadian rhythm. If I don’t get seven or eight hours, I get cranky (crankier) and occasionally even (sort of) confused. I’ll find myself laughing and not know why. I mean, it’s not even in response to some snarky internal joke, as is the case with approximately 60% of my laughter. (Seriously, I’m immediately endeared to people who make me laugh out loud. I actually make a point of mentioning it when it happens during IM conversations.) On the plus side, people talking to me on these days will probably get a huge ego boost.

Warning: Objects viewed through the mirror of sleep-deprivation may appear funnier than they are.

Thus I must turn to aids in order to maintain a functional level and not give anyone ideas about their potential in comedy. I’ve decided on beverages as my weapon of choice. But not the ones that probably came to your mind. I never have (and never plan to) drink coffee. It tastes bad, unless you add all kinds of crap to it. I like things that taste good, and then get EVEN BETTER when you add all kinds of crap to them.

I will never drink Red Bull because I fully believe doing so will induce a heart attack. We’ll file this under “Heather’s Misguided Yet Unwavering Beliefs” and call it a day.

But soda. Soda’s a different matter entirely. I started with one Diet Dr. Pepper in the early evening. Not bad. Then my slavish devotion to Diet Coke took over, and I switched to two of those (since they have less caffeine per and, oh yeah, are WAY DELICIOUS).

However, Diet Coke isn’t always on sale at my local grocer, so I needed a Pepsi alternative for those weeks when Cheap Heather overpowered Coke Fangirl Heather. (If it helps you to imagine some sort of fight there, feel free to do so.) Luckily for me, Pepsi has introduced something called “Diet Pepsi Max.” Apparently the magic of ginseng boosts the caffeine to somewhere safely below Red Bull-levels but above most other sodas. So the can has some kick. In theory, anyway.

Having tried it for a couple of days, I can attest to several facts:
1. I am still alive.
2. The soda tastes pretty good, for one not surnamed Coke.
3. I cannot taste any ginseng. (I also do not know what ginseng tastes like. That may be part of it.)

Happy Friday.

I’ll be in Chicago tomorrow, so look for an amusing recap on Monday. Unless I get shot or arrested, of course. In that case, look for a mind-blowingly awesome recap sometime later in the week.

April 3, 2008

April 3, 2008

[Insert Subject Here]

My co-worker Amber (referenced a few days ago) and I often email snarky comments, interesting news stories, etc. back and forth using our non-work email accounts. (Yes, we learned that the hard way. No, I’ll not be writing about it here.)

To hint to each other that we’ve sent a message, we’ll send an email on the work accounts with a subject line and/or contents of “*poke*” or something like that.

Today, I decided to change it up a little with a blank message and a different subject. The following exchange ensued:

From: HEATHER
To: AMBER
Subject: Like I even need to put something here.

***

From: AMBER
To: HEATHER
Subject: RE: Like I even need to put something here.

Pretense?


***

From: HEATHER
To: AMBER
Subject: RE: Like I even need to put something here.

Oh, yeah, that was supposed to be like a poke.

Though now that I think of it, me just sending you a blank message wouldn't really be THAT weird.


***

From: AMBER
To: HEATHER
Subject: RE: Like I even need to put something here.

Good point. Of all the weird things you do, sending me blank emails wouldn't even rate in the top 10.


Ah, the joys of the job.

Only in My Dreams

This entry is brought to you by the hormonal 14-year-old version of me. The one who would have put pictures of boys in her locker, had that sort of thing had been allowed at her school. (I make up for it with this. And this.)

In addition, men, children, and people who don’t watch The Office should stop reading now. Save yourself some time and see what’s for sale on Woot.

Now that Matt Damon and his lovely (yeah, I can pretend to be happy for her) wife have announced that they’re expecting child number 2, I’m afraid it’s time to bump him from the top of my freebie list. At this point, it would probably be a little late for annulment.

Thus, we bring on number 2: John Krasinski.

While many women would stop with the “He’s cute and SOOOOO tall!” argument, you know I have more than that. Please.

- He’s self-deprecating. Watch or read him in any interview, and he’ll joke about himself. Arrogance can be good, but it only gets you so far. There’s nothing like a man who makes light of his awesomeness.

- He’s from Boston. A cool hometown is always a plus. I’m not ruling out the millions of guys from, you know, small-town Iowa, but I consider myself pretty urban. (And this is my. dream. Quiet, you.) If you’re dead-set on living in a place whose tallest building is the water tower, we have a problem. Boston has the added bonuses of East Coast urbanity, a crapload of history (“Boston: A Crapload of History” would make a great tourism motto, I think), and eponymous foods like beans and cream pie.

- He’s educated. He went to Brown. And graduated with honors. HONORS. IVY LEAGUE. *breathes*

- He took a semester off between high school and college to teach English in Costa Rica. That one speaks for itself; I need add no more.

- We have eerie similarities. We’re both Polish and born in October. In a recent Tonight Show interview, he says he wants someday to open a Dunkin’ Donuts. Ethnicity, astrology, food-philia: check, check, and check.

- He’s cute and SOOOOO tall. Hormonal 14-year-old, remember?

Who tops your freebie list?

April 2, 2008

April 2, 2008

In My Opinion: No Country for Old Men

I enjoy the films of the Coen Brothers. O Brother, Where Art Thou? is one of my favorites. Fargo reminds me all-too-well of people I know (and am). While I didn’t really understand Barton Fink, I appreciated it on an artistic level anyway.

Thus while I’d been warned that No Country for Old Men was violent, it had both auteur respectability and awards credibility backing it. Plus, I watch 24 religiously, so I figured I’d be inured to whatever Javier Bardem wielded during his hitman hijinks. (Which, in case you were wondering, was mostly a pneumatic bolt gun, but also several firearms and a vehicle.)

I guess the too-succinct plot summary would run along the lines of the following:

Josh Brolin stumbles upon a drug deal gone bad in the Texas wilderness. He takes the money. However, he ends up being followed by people who want the money and various third parties they hire to recover it. The cat-and-mouse game continues across Texas and Mexico. Lots of people die.

My observations, to fill that summary out a little (since the entire film was pretty bleak, without even any soundtrack to speak of, they’re mostly acting-related):

1. Despite a general revulsion for all things Texan, I love Tommy Lee Jones. He excels in this sort of role: the authority figure who, though world-weary, finds that the job was really the only thing keeping him going.

2. Woody Harrelson needs to do more serious roles. I thought he was great in The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, and he was great in this.

3. Everyone knew that Javier Bardem was a shoo-in for the Oscar, and that annoyed me at the time. I love cheering an underdog, but I absolutely cannot begrudge him the award. His performance was so coldly nuanced, so void of apparent emotion yet filled with passionate drive, that I was frankly a little awed. In one scene, he lets the fate of a friendly Texaco cashier rest in the (metaphorical) hands of a coin. Never have the words “Call it” held so much weight.

(Did I get a little pretentious and arty in that last paragraph? I’ll try to rein it in.)

4. I often have dreams of wide-open vistas. Maybe I’m regressing to a past life. Or a future one. At any rate, those sweeping yet bleak Texas vistas were oddly soothing.

“Let me ask you a question: if the road you followed led you here, of what use was the road?”

“There was this boy I sent to Huntsville here a while back. My arrest and my testimony. He killed a fourteen-year-old girl. Papers said it was a crime of passion, but he told me there wasn’t any passion to it. Told me that he’d been planning to kill somebody for about as long as he could remember. Said that if they turned him out he’d do it again. Said he knew he was going to hell. Be there in about fifteen minutes. I don’t know what to make of that. I surely don’t.”

April 1, 2008

Who’s your daddy?

Sometimes blog entries require a lot of thought. Occasionally, soul-searching is involved, or at least a five-minute lengthy Google search.

Other times, the ideas just fall into my lap. Er, email inbox.

My co-worker Amber, who really needs to stop opening my eyes to life-altering things (like real food, Battlestar Galactica, and Woot.com), sent me the following message last week:

Does this mean Maury is out of a job now?
http://www.mlive.com/news/index.ssf/2008/03/meijer_rite_aid_selling_low_co.html

Now, you may at some time in the past have found yourself looking for a quick, cheap, and easy way to determine paternity. The search engine results that bring people to my blog have taught me that I have NO idea who my typical reader is. So it’s possible. And I can understand your concern. Knowing who fathered your child is important, if for no other reason that to slap the correct surname on the kid.

However, this news story raises some concerns for me. To wit:

1. This product was developed by a Salt Lake City company. The Mormons need a lot of paternity testing? Really? I thought I understood polygamy, and that an overabundance of men was not the issue.

2. If you imagine the quotes in the following paragraph to be air quotes, it becomes that much funnier:

The lab process is the same for the retail kits as for the company's "legal" tests, which it has been offering for 15 years. The only difference is that in order for test results to hold up in court, the company establishes "a chain of custody" by having an independent third party collect the samples and verify identity of the individuals tested.

3. The differing stocking strategies confuse me. Meijer keeps them next to condoms, while Rite Aid puts them next to the pregnancy tests. Does this mean the Meijer shoppers are wise enough to need only a reminder of possible consequences, whereas the Rite Aid customers are already screwed? ("You did it, so you might as well find out if you're knocked up AND whether it was that blondish guy who bought you a gin and soda.") Remind me never to shop at, well, either of these stores.

You know I appreciate a bargain, as well as the opportunity to satisfy your grocery, hardware, and (apparently) medical needs all at one mid-level retailer.

But seriously?