December 31, 2009

December 31, 2009

My Decade in Review

In 2000, I realized the world wasn’t going to end on 1/1/00. I did, however, continue to worry that kitchen appliances would come alive and take over in 2012. (I am not even kidding about this, people. I saw a thing on tv as a kid that mentioned 2012 and machines becoming sentient. No matter how many times I’m assured this isn’t going to happen, I still worry that it will happen. My microwave can totally kick my ass. Let’s be real.)

In 2001, I visited Washington, D.C. for the first time. I fell in love. Washington, je t’aime. A plan was born.

In 2002, I graduated from high school. I spent the summer preparing to leave the comforts of home (television, full-size bed) and life as an only child. While I’m sure many co-eds find their first semester of dorm life to be invigorating, I found sharing a dorm with 90 other girls WIHTOUT A TELEVISION IN SIGHT the most horrifying experience of my life.

In 2003, I turned the big 2-0. Though I probably never acted like a “normal” teenager, I could finally let me inner 80-year-old out to play. I did so by eating prunes in public, complaining about noise, and going to bed early.

In 2004 and 2005, nothing notable happened in my life. On Monday through Friday, I attended classes at crazy-Christian-college-that-shall-not-be-named. On weekends, I went home to catch up on all of the shows I’d taped (seriously, it was like 8 hours of stuff). During the summers, I spent most of my days using the free internet at the public library. Also, reading.

[Side note: On May 6, 2004, the final episode of Friends aired. I was an emotional wreck the entire day.]

In 2006, the Great Years began. I graduated from college, possibly the first valedictorian in its history that NO ONE KNEW. (I kid; I think a small handful of people knew who I was, or had possibly seen me in the halls, or maybe had listened to one of my pre-class reviews in Hebrew History. I dunno.) Anyway, summa cum laude, suck on that. Then I started graduate school, because there’s nothing like following schooling with MORE SCHOOLING. Also, I got my first real job, as a real-life Pam Beasley.

In 2007, I realized that I would need to start making plans for The Big Move, if I still wanted to proceed. For my 24th birthday, I took a scouting trip to secretly start looking at apartments. I also started this here blog, so woo-hoo.

In 2008, I earned a real-live Master’s Degree in Business Administration. Then I realized I should probably let my parents know that I was going to effect a seven-year-plan to move 800 miles away despite having no job, friends, or family awaiting me there. THAT WAS A FUN DISCUSSION, HA HA. In July, I signed an apartment lease to start October 8. On September 30, my 300 job applications and 3 interviews resulted in an offer with federal-agency-that-shall-not-be-named. (Runners-up: the Library of Congress and the Patent & Trademark Office.) Also, I met TheBoy.

In 2009, I survived a Presidential inauguration. TheBoy and I went a LOT of places. New York. Charlottesville. Willamsburg/Jamestown/Yorktown. Chicago. Pennsylvania. West Virgina. I continued to work my financial magic at federal-agency-that-shall-not-be-named. I turned 26: officially “Almost 30.” I hosted parental units several times and did not lose them.

The aughts were a busy decade. Here’s hoping the teens prove just as interesting.

December 30, 2009

December 30, 2009

Things I’ve Read: A Cook’s Tour

As I’ve previously written, Anthony Bourdain is a man who knows food. He could certainly out-cook you and me, and quite probably our moms as well. While Bourdain’s first book described his coming-up in the restaurant industry (the paying of his dues, so to speak), his second examines what ones DOES once one has “made it” as a food celebrity.

The answer, apparently, is EAT.

One of Bourdain’s admitted concessions to fame is a show on the Travel Channel called No Reservations. In short, he goes to different countries and lets himself be filmed finding, preparing, and/or eating the local cuisine. As you might imagine, said local cuisine is often on the far side of weird.

“Oh, Heather,” I hear you laugh. “I too have eaten some pretty crazy stuff. I once had escargots, ha ha!”

Um, yeah. Bourdain ate cobra heart. While it was STILL BEATING. He wins.

Anyway, the book is partially tales of Filming the Show, including the frustrations inherent in balancing “getting good shots” with “enjoying the damn experience.” (Hint: they’re pretty much mutually exclusive. I shudder to think what would happen if I weren’t allowed to start eating until the producer was satisfied with the footage of entering the restaurant, ordering, etc. It’s all I can do some meals to hold out long enough to take a picture for my Facebook.) The book is also partially Bourdain’s quest for the perfect meal. I’m not talking the most expensive meal, or even the one with freshest ingredients. In Bourdain’s own words, sometimes a dirty water hot dog on the streets of New York is exactly what’s needed to soothe the soul.

While the betcha-didn’t-think-people-ate-THAT-part-of-the-animal sections of the book made me more squeamish than I would have preferred, I really enjoyed the chapters involving trips to restaurants I’ll never get to visit. Restaurants in places like Napa, Italy, etc. There’s no way this Midwestern girl will ever willingly pay triple digits for a meal, thanks. I’ll stick to reading about it. In a book I borrowed from the library. (C’mon: if I won't shell out $20 for the book, you can be sure I’m not going to pay $200 for dinner, no matter how much cobra’s on the plate.)

The first chapter, with some weird typography, is here. It’s about a Portuguese pig-slaying event. If you can make it through and/or enjoy THAT, please read the rest of the book. Even if only so you can reward yourself with Bourdain’s next work, The Nasty Bits.

December 29, 2009

December 29, 2009

In My Opinion: (500) Days of Summer

Though I’m by no means a fan of romantic comedies, I’ll see just about anything distributed by Fox Searchlight. Good reviews don’t hurt, either. Thus I found time during a recent snowbound weekend to finally, finally, FINALLY watch (500) Days of Summer.

The film takes pains to point out that this is not—repeat, NOT—a love story. Sure, there’s a boy and a girl. They meet and at least one of them falls in love. But you realize pretty quickly that things probably aren’t going to end well. (Rom coms with happy endings usually star someone named Kate or Jennifer.)

Joseph Gordon Levitt plays Tom, a greeting card writer with dreams of architecture. Zooey Deschanel plays the titular Summer, an administrative assistant at Tom’s company. Tom experiences love at first sight, in all its indie film glory. There’s indie music playing. It’s all in slow motion. Eyelashes are batted and hair is flipped.

Summer, on the other hand, makes it clear that she doesn’t want anything serious…but surely Tom’s okay with that? He agrees, or at least pretends to, and a relationship friendship is born.

The film is an almost-completely non-linear telling of the 500 days Tom and Summer are together: a scene from day 488 might follow day 12 and precede day 209. Title cards introducing each scene help, as does an animated tree whose seasons follow the “seasons” of the relationship. (Yet another hint that this is not a couple whose best is yet to come.)

The viewer quickly realizes that Tom’s a complete romantic…and Summer is anything but. Sure, she likes wandering through the aisles of Ikea together.* A little shower-based tomfoolery. Braving the rain to make heartfelt declarations of feeling. But as she said: relationships are complicated, and someone always gets hurt. Best to avoid them entirely.

And she does. Until she invites Tom to…her engagement party.

WTF, you ask? Yeah, that pretty much sums up Tom’s reaction.

Then he sinks into a depression broken only by snack foods and whiskey.

Then he has the obligatory “meltdown at work” scene and quits.

Then he decides to pull it together and follow his dreams.

Then he meets the true girl of his dreams, or so the audience is led to believe. Her name? Autumn.

And it’s just that sort of cutesy detail that kept this very good movie from being a great movie, in my opinion. The disclaimer at the film’s beginning ("Any resemblance to people living or dead is purely accidental ... Especially you, Jenny Beckman ... Bitch") made me wonder whether this was going to be nothing more than a big ol’ f-you to the writer’s past love. While it’s not a bitter film, I think sour grapes colored the tone. I never felt that Tom was completely committing to Summer, thus I didn’t feel the heartbreak when it didn’t work out. Again, the break-up seemed like a foregone conclusion. Just another day.

“Most days of the year are unremarkable. They begin, and they end, with no lasting memories made in between. Most days have no impact on the course of a life.”

* Um, how insanely excited was I to see Ikea in a co-starring role? Zomg, amazing.

December 28, 2009

December 28, 2009

Google read my…mind?

Google Reader is a wonderful thing. I’d like to state that right at the beginning. Whatever thesis I end up wringing out of this entry, I certainly remain in the pro-Google Reader camp. (Still unconvinced on Gmail and Google Talk, but we’ll save that for another day.)

Here’s the thing, though: Google Reader’s new Popular Items feed has proved to be both a blessing and a curse. I will henceforth refer to these as Rachel Sides and Leah Sides in an unprovoked attempt to use more Biblical references.

Rachel Side: Since there is apparently no shortage of people clicking the little “Like” link at the bottom of various Google feed items, the popular feed is virtually endless. Couple that with the long stretches of time when I must sit at a desk despite having no work, and you have a recipe for semi-amusement.

Leah Side: Since said people seem interested mostly in YouTube videos, geeky technology, and joke sites, 60% of the feed is useless to me.

Rachel Side: When I do find an intriguing feed, I can add it to my own personal favorites. I’ve discovered all sorts of gems this way.

Leah Side: My recommendations last week looked like this at one point (click to enlarge):

Et tu, Google? Et tu?

I know that Google will slowly take over aspects of technology until it becomes self-aware and enslaves humanity for its biochemical properties. Fine, whatever—I figure I only have a good decade or so left, anyway.

I just don’t want to spend it looking at pictures of lolcats.

December 25, 2009

December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Today you and I celebrate the birth of someone far more important than either of us.

I don't know what your plans are, but mine involve Chinese food and Sherlock Holmes. [Note: I've learned that this combination is known as a traditional "Jewish Christmas." I am not Jewish, but I am an equal-opportunity holiday tradition stealer.]

Hey, to each his own, right?

To you, I wish nothing but the very best. (Unless you are on my bad list, in which case I hope you eat too much wasabi.)

December 24, 2009

December 24, 2009

In My Opinion: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Like advanced mathematics or the 21A bus when I’m running late, the appeal of Tim Burton whooshes past me. I realize that many people love Tim Burton’s work in the way that I adore Wes Anderson. As long as our favorite guy is at the helm, we want to be on board.

Of course, there may also be Tim Burton fans out there who DIDN’T care for The Nightmare Before Christmas. That would make me feel a little better. I mean, I’ll be honest: it was no good for me. TheBoy and I watched it over Halloween weekend. Seasonally appropriate, right? We even watched it at night, while in a cabin in the middle of nowhere. I was trying to stack the deck in favor of this movie as much as possible short of turning my head into a damn pumpkin.

It didn’t work.

Maybe it was the visual style, which seemed to be a combination of stop motion and gore. Perhaps it was the omnipresence of scars, bodily fluids, et al. It’s possible I just didn’t care enough about the inhabitants of Halloween Town. What I’m trying to say: it’s probably my fault.

But, seriously. This film did not work for me.

I tried to embrace the non-scary aspects, like the love story and Christmas Town. I was hoping that I could use this movie as a springboard into the Burton canon.

Not happening.

I mean, I love thrillers. Suspense. Give me a Hitchcock film (preferably Rear Window) and I’m happy. But when you start throwing monsters at me, when vampires show up, when ghosts are around but Harry Potter isn’t? No thanks.

December 23, 2009

December 23, 2009

Not a Birther

Like hundreds of thousands of others in the National Capitol Region, I believe I have fine tuned my commute as much as possible. My personal blend involves two buses, a transfer at Pentagon, and an ideal door-to-door time of 45 minutes. Since I ride commuter routes (IS there any other kind, I sometimes wonder?), I’m used to the presence of some things (Kindles, laptops) and the absence of others (conversation, children).

Imagine my surprise, then, when I encountered a baby-on-board situation recently. THREE TIMES. The kid herself seemed pretty run-of-the-mill. Socks that looked like shoes. Crazy hair. I think a bjorn or some sort was involved. The first two encounters actually happened while my parents were in town; my mom (predictably) made googly eyes at the baby the whole time while I pretended not to know who she was (my mom, not the baby).

Anyway, the third sighting happened week before last. I mentioned it to my dad because I still cannot get over the weirdness of seeing a baby on the bus—since moving to D.C., I hardly see children of any sort. Since most D.C. commutes aren’t friendly to any sort of parcel, carrying a freaking baby around can’t be fun. I don’t mind helping a random dude shove his backpack through the closing train doors. I’m going to be a little more reluctant to do the same with his daughter.

During the discussion, my dad and I had this little back-and-forth. (Keep in mind that my parents plan to retire to somewhere nearish.)

Me: It’s rough on both the mom and the kid. I mean, there’s lots of germs, and it’s something extra to carry…
My dad: That’s another reason I want to move out there. When you have a kid, I can watch her.
Me: *head explodes*
My dad: Or him. While you’re at work and things.
Me: *head continues to explode*

Frankly, I still haven’t recovered from the call. Because…of course I will have a kid? Or course it will be a girl? Or course I will ask for free child care? (Well, okay on the last one—cheapness dies hard.)

But, um, I don’t think so. I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout birthin’ no babies.

December 22, 2009

December 22, 2009

Zoolights 2009

Every year during the holdiays, the National Zoo puts up a bunch of animal-shaped light displays, stays open late, and forces people dressed as pandas to do all sorts of untoward things. Though I'm not a huge zoo person (over age 6, hi!), TheBoy wanted to check it out and promised me dinner afterwards. He had me at "dinner."

Here, then, a few snapshots of the experience.

The National Zoo realizes that the pandas are its trump card. Thus they are everywhere, including at the entrance to the Zoolights section of the zoo.

Kids visiting the Zoolights exhibit may have been expecting a picture with Santa. No such luck.

Several of the buildings were open, including the Small Mammal House. Too bad 90% of said mammals were sleeping. Obviously, they had not gotten word that you could get your picture taken with, um, Panda Claus.

Yes, it's a panda in a giant snow globe. What you can't see in this picture: the panda was dancing. And the wee girl in pink was FREAKING OUT.

The lights really were quite pretty, though. Even those not in animal form.

Plus, I got to get more up close and personal with the ACTUAL pandas than I'd ever been before.

Thus I was glad we went. (Also, that we got sushi after. Shutup.)

December 21, 2009

December 21, 2009

Snowpocalypse 2009

[Note: Re-reading this entry, I notice that parts of it come across as rather dirty. I apologize in advance and invite you to mentally insert a “That’s what she said” where appropriate. I'm going to continue enjoying my snow day.]

Okay, so here’s the thing: I moved 800 miles away from the frozen tundra in order to avoid giant snowfalls. I understand that D.C. gets snow. A few inches here, a few inches there. Maybe one big ‘un every few years.


My first winter in D.C., from 2008-2009? Nothing huge. One 6-incher or so in February-ish. Just enough to turn the National Mall a lovely white. I was lulled into a false sense of security.

This winter, from 2009-2010, has responded by already kicking my ass.

For those of you that didn’t catch the news, we got walloped with the sixth-worst storm in D.C. history. My city, Alexandria, got something like 19 inches.

There are a few scenarios in which the phrase “19 inches” is a good thing. This is not one of them.

Of course, the storm also struck the exact day my dad was supposed to fly in from Milwaukee.

Of course, the storm also struck while TheBoy was out of town and unable to provide me with shoveling assistance. Or a shovel.


Keep in mind that my car looked like this:

And that I was armed with this:

That’s right. A broom, a pizza pan, and a cookie sheet. (C’mon, it’s not like I bake things. This is likely the most use those pans have ever gotten.)

About 45 minutes in, one of my neighbors offered to lend me her shovel. Hooray! 45 minutes after that, with an assist from the apartment maintenance guys and their snowblower, I’d almost completely dug out:

The rest of the area? Not so much.

I rewarded myself with orange soda and some pre-emptive Advil. I may do 45 minutes on the treadmill every day, but this exercised a whole different set of muscles.

December 18, 2009

December 18, 2009

Dynamic Duo Week, Day 4: Things You Just Can Live Without

[Last day of theme week, woo.]

It’s funny how a little perspective changes things. I was recently inducted into the legion of BlackBerry users. Yet I haven’t experienced the CrackBerry phenomenon. I don’t carry it with me when I’m off-duty. Heck, I usually don’t even carry it with me when I’m ON-duty. It’s a handy tool, but certainly not essential to my trade.

In that vein, I’d like to finish this theme week by discussing two things whose prominence confound me. Maybe it’s like the BlackBerry and I’m in that minority that just doesn’t get it. I’m okay with that.

Trigonometry. Sine? Cosine? Tangent? I think I knew what those meant when I was in high school. Then ACT time came around and I got zero of the three trig questions correct. Composite score: 33 of 36. Suck it, trigonometry. And all of the advanced maths, really. How many of YOU have used them lately? Calculated a trajectory much? Recited the periodic table? I don’t think so.

Crocs. Maybe they’re comfortable. Maybe they’re cheap. Maybe they’re really good for walking or skipping or insert-preferred-method-of-locomotion-here. Not once have I ever looked at a garish piece of composite rubber and thought, “Huh, I think I’ll strap that puppy on my foot.” Because, hi, HIDEOUS MUCH? (I also believe flip flops belong only in public showers. I am a one-woman crusade against flimsy footwear.)

Again, it’s probably just me. Mathematics and holey shoes will live on long after I do. Except perhaps in the South.

December 17, 2009

December 17, 2009

Now THERE'S Something You Don't See Every Day

Please forgive me. I'm about to bore you with details of my personal life, blah blah blah. In my defense, this is a little payback for every time I’ve sat through a story that started with any of the following lines:

“My kid is so funny…”
“Did I tell you about my doctor appointment?"
“I have this idea…”
“You’ll never guess what my dog did!”

If it’s not painfully clear, I have very little interest in those aspects of your life that do not directly affect me. Unless that pet or child is toothing my leg, it and I should remain on our separate ways. Thus I take no offense at all if you scroll past this item in your RSS feed, delete this email, and/or click to the next blog on your reading list.

Now that we have those preliminaries out of the way, on to the good stuff. (Is it obvious from that 15-minute introduction that I was raised Baptist? Next thing you know, I’ll turn to an epistle and start yelling about pre-Millennials.)

One year ago today, after a string of dates with lackluster men I met TheBoy. In an uncharacteristic move, I was like 10 minutes late. (Seriously, I know, right?) I should have known that using a new train station would backfire. Multiple exits + date nerves = walking the wrong way for a good two blocks. In December. While wearing heels.

Luckily for me, it worked out.

Too. Freaking. Adorable. (Don’t worry; I may have been smiling, but I was also wondering when lunch was and whether TheBoy had packed a snack.*)

Happy anniversary, honey. Here's hoping you keep me around for another year. And that you always have emergency snacks on hand.

* He'd packed two. That's how I know it's love.

December 16, 2009

December 16, 2009

Dynamic Duo Week, Day 3: Childhood Fundraisers

[You're halfway through the theme week. You can make it.]

A lot of things troubled me as a child. Gym class. Dentist visits. Other children.

It was rough.

Then there were the fundraisers.

Maybe you were home schooled. Maybe your school district had more money than it knew what to do with it. Maybe you grew up in a Dickens novel without the benefit of an education.

As a product of Milwaukee Public Schools, however, I was forced to shill all manner of goods. (Actually, much like a Dickens character. So there you go.) Though I could regale you with tales of gift wrap and frozen pizza, two fundraisers in particular stand out as particularly memorable.

Girl Scout Cookies. Please note that I was NOT a girl scout. I was a Brownie. Chubby, brown sash with patches…I was the female version of the kid from Up, basically. Contrary to what you’re expecting, neither I nor my parents ever bought-then-shame-ate my cookies. My parents were too cheap to pay for overpriced (even by ‘90s standards) baked goods. They didn’t like taking the form to their respective workplaces, either.

Thus, like the victim of peer pressure I’ve always been, I went door-to-door in the neighborhood. For some kids, this is probably excellent practice for future social interaction with friends, family, co-workers, and the like. For a shy one such as myself, it was akin to torture. Not only did I have to interact with strangers, I had to convince them to give me money in exchange for the promise of cookies? I’d rather die first. Suffice to say that I only got the participation badge for cookie selling.

Jump Rope for Heart. Jumping rope was a big deal at my elementary school. There was—I kid you not—a jump rope team. They did tricks and formations and everything. I think they were called the Wizards. Did I want to audition? Hell yes. Did I actually audition? Hell no.

Anyway, every year the whole school did Jump Rope for Heart. While we ostensibly raised money for...heart research or some such, the endeavor boiled down to asking people for pledges and then jumping rope for most of an afternoon. People could pledge a certain amount per minute of rope-jumping, or a lump sum.

So, again, we have the “give me money and I will do something of no benefit to you” aspect. However, Jump Rope for Heart had the added allure of PRIZES. Total amount raised in the $20 range? Free jump rope. $50? Throw in a water bottle and towel. $75? All of the above, plus a TROPHY.

Know this about me: I am a sucker for trophies. One of the neighborhood kids went house-to-house once selling random crap to raise money for comic books or crack or whatever boys buy with pocket change. I bought his little league trophy, despite having zero little league experience or desire.

Though in years past I had passed the form around to family members (no way I was asking neighbors to support JUMPING ROPE—the cookie thing was bad enough), I just couldn’t bring myself to do it the year of 5th grade. I love (mostly) my extended family, but there’s a reason my parents and I have started doing holidays with just the three of us.* So I pledged the entire $75 myself, under the guise of a generous uncle. Shameful? Yes. But if getting a trophy is wrong, maybe I don’t want to be right. It’s the Tiger Woods philosophy.

Suffice to say I’m not cut out for sales.

* We’re totally the best ones.

December 15, 2009

December 15, 2009

Dynamic Duo Week, Day 2: Signs of OCD

[The theme week continues.]

You know me well enough by now to realize that I like things a certain way. I’m neat. I’m organized. I have systems. It’s very ORDERLY.

As far as I can tell, however, I do not have OCD. Yet.

I think I may be creeping to the dark place. I don’t count things (steps, windows, etc.) or compulsively wash my hands. But I noticed recently that two of my habits are a bit…much.

I always pump seven times at the paper towel dispenser. At federal-agency-that-shall-not-be-named, this results in just the right amount of towelage. A lucky number of pumps, if you will. However, at restaurants, movie theaters, and other places-that-aren’t-my-work, I usually end up either with a giant wad of towel. Could I theoretically pump, oh, I dunno, fewer times? Sure. Will I? Not a chance.

I also keep the cover on my toothbrush when it’s not in use. You know the travel cover you have for your toothbrush? I always leave mine on (except when brushing). Right now, it’s sitting on my bathroom sink. Next to the floss. No plans to travel any time soon. But TOTALLY COVERED. I believe my original impetus was to protect from toilet germs, since the toothbrush holder is right next to the commode. But now? I just sort of like the idea of it. It’s like a little hat. A purple one, covered in dried toothpaste.

Paper towels…toothbrushes…handwashing… Say what you will about those with OCD—at least they’re clean.

December 14, 2009

December 14, 2009

Dynamic Duo Week, Day 1: Perky Women

[A theme week, yay.]

In general, perky people annoy me. I’m all for “fake it ‘til you make it”—goodness knows it’s the only way I got through decades of parochial schooling. But really? Perky people, are you telling me you never get annoyed, or hungry, or confused? I mean, I am often all of those things at once. Often. Thus it’s best to keep me away from the happy ones, lest I ruin their fun by, y’know, bludgeoning them to death.

However, the rule has two exceptions. Perky women who don’t bother me a bit. In fact, I like them, and I like them perky.

Kelly Ripa. One might say that Kelly Ripa is perky only as a counterpart to the curmudgeonly Regis Philbin. Hey, even Kelly might admit that to be true. I haven’t seen the woman in any other arena; perhaps she’s a nasty piece of work in real life. On the show, though, she manages to keep Reege on an even keel. Plus, she willingly poked fun at herself on SNL with a faux commercial for shampoo laced with crack.

Rachael Ray. Rage all you want about 30-minute-meal-as-harbinger-of-doom. As someone who more often than not finds herself making 5-minute-meals, I can only aspire to half an hour. Plus, the woman unapologetically uses terms like “Dontcha find?” and “EVOO.” Twee? Sure. But my favorite color is pink and I have miniature frogs as pets. You do the math to figure out what side of the twee/anti-twee camp I’m on.

Ripa and Ray. Wouldn’t want to be them, but I like to know they’re there.

December 10, 2009

December 10, 2009

In My Opinion: 2012

My parents and I have a holiday tradition. Whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas, or the Fourth of July, we like to eat a giant lunch, go see a movie where stuff blows up, and finish with a long nap. (This trifecta is hard to achieve on Easter, so we sometimes have to replace the movie with several rounds of Scattergories. Midwesterners, hi!)

For Turkey Day 2009, the film of choice was 2012. (Christmas 2009 will be Sherlock Holmes—you’ll see a review of that shortly thereafter.) Though Will Smith was not involved in any way, the trailer assured me I’d get to see plenty of chaos. And there’s no better time to view chaos than from a padded chair with a belly full of trytophan. Do your worst, Mother Nature—I HAD FIVE PIECES OF PIE!

John Cusack and Amanda Peet play an estranged couple with two children. As you might expect, the boy is skeptical and more interested in video games than family time. The girl is sweet and naïve—pop a tinfoil hat on her and it’s Signs all over again. Little does any of them realize what the ancient Mayans and one irritated scientist (Chiwetel Ejiofor) do: 2012 is the end of the world as we know it! Dun dun DUN.

As these things often do, it starts small. Light earthquakes. Middle-of-nowhere lake dries up. Birds behave strangely. “C’mon, it’s fine,” says the media. “It’s not like we’re in a Michael Bay film or anything.” “Oh, wait, it’s a Roland Emmerich film?” Yeah, SUCKS FOR YOU.

As all hell continues to break loose, Cusack & Co. meet a crazy-but-he-really-isn’t blogger/podcaster* played by Woody Harrelson. From him, they learn not only that the government has been secretly building arks (they knew all along?!) but also the location of said arks: Tibet.

Fortunately for all involved, Cusack is able to score a plane ride to Tibet. I’m not going to get into the logistics, because HOLY CRAP THE EARTH IS EXPLODING.

Yeah, this movie is 97% about the special effects. I’m not going to lie. You want to see cities slide into the sea? Tsunamis engulf D.C.? More fire than is (probably) possible? It’s all here, baby.

As in any good Irwin Allen film, most of the main characters survive, though you’re certain at several times that they won’t. There’s even a Poseidon Adventure-esque underwater mission that made me yearn for Shelley Winters. Does society make it? Of course. Will it be forever changed? Probably not. Should the audience ponder its own ways to determine how to avert similar catastrophe? Okay. But if the ancient Mayans know it to be true, which of us can stop it?

As I see it, we have a good three years left. Pass the pie.

* Remember when the crazy “The end is near” people just used signs? This is the way the world ends: not with a bang, but a twitter.

December 9, 2009

December 9, 2009

Things I’ve Read: Kitchen Confidential

While the prefix “bad boy” has long been appended to the professions of rock star, movie star, and congressman, “bad boy chef” is a relatively new phenomenon. I mean, before Julia Child, cooking as a profession was considered a cop-out. The sort of thing you went to trade school for after realizing you weren’t cut out for anything white collar. Actually, as Anthony Bourdain tells it in his memoir Kitchen Confidential, such was the case even in his days coming up as a chef.

Bourdain learned young that his tastes for drugs and women wouldn’t mesh well with the world of, say, investment banking. A few summers as dishwasher/errand boy at a New England seafood shack, though, made him realize that the motley crews and fraternity-like mindset of a restaurant kitchen was just the place.

Unlike on the stage, screen, or Senate floor, in the kitchen, a man lives or dies by his skills. Bourdain attempted to ensure his survival by attending the Culinary Institute of America. Today? Renowned training institution. Back then? Trade school. But it gave him solid knowledge about food and its handling. Plus a fancy (and then, relatively rare) piece of paper to impress prospective employers.

At this point, Bourdain began making his way in the restaurant world. The bulk of the book involves remembrances of the various joints and crews he worked for and with. The reader quickly learns that the foodservice world is a lot like the military. You have rank and order. If specs aren’t followed, someone could get seriously hurt. Hey, you even have uniforms. The thing with a kitchen, though, is that the customer is sitting, oh, ha ha, twenty feet away and is HUNGRY. You either bang out the product or find yourself without a job. (If only the armed forces worked the same way.)

Bourdain, of course, eventually becomes the top chef. The book was written before he REALLY struck it big, with Travel Channel programming (that’s the basis of his second book, A Chef’s Tour), public snarking about Rachael Ray, etc. By reading the book, though, you get a little insight into the man (flaws and all) behind the public figure. As said RR criticism shows, Bourdain is unabashed with criticism, whether it involves detailing his drug habits, admiration for a fellow chef, or utter loathing for vegetarians. Bourdain may be used to spinning plates, but you’ll never find him spinning bs.

(Is it too late for me to once again plug the underrated show based on this book? It is? Crap.)

December 8, 2009

December 8, 2009

Today, one panda. Tomorrow, life as we know it.

So D.C.’s panda cub is being deported returned to China. As I understand the situation, Tai Shan was on borrowed time, anyway. The Chinese had granted us extensions through Tai Shan’s second birthday…and he turned four in July. Thus we should have seen it coming.

Still, it’s a hard blow. Perhaps you have known someone who was deported returned to another country. Or lost a beloved pet. I myself misplaced a gerbil once. I like to think, though, that Zippity went on an epic journey a la Fievel in An American Tail and ended up somewhere happy. New York City, maybe. Seattle. Perhaps even Canada. Just rolling around North America in that little plastic ball.

But I digress.

Here’s the thing about pandas. Like art, they serve very little purpose other than aesthetics. They don’t like reproducing. They prefer eating and sleeping. Left in the wild, they’re certain to die in short order. Folks, they are LIVING THE AMERICAN DREAM.

Unfortunately, like cheap manufactured goods and rice-based cuisine, the American dream apparently belongs to China. Mind you, China doesn’t mind letting us THINK we have things under control. They mask a desire for domination with Wal-Mart, P.F. Chang’s, and leases to zoos.

Eventually, though, it will all hit the fan. I fear that this is only the beginning of America’s trade deficit-fueled slide into becoming China’s bitch. But you know what? If Chinese buffets are wrong, maybe I don’t want to be right. We had a good run.

Best of luck, Tai Shan!

December 7, 2009

December 7, 2009

In My Opinion: Amelia

You must know again my reluctancy to marry, my feeling that I shatter thereby chances in work which means so much to me.

In our life together I shall not hold you to any medieval code of faithfulness to me, nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly.

I may have to keep some place where I can go to be myself now and then, for I cannot guarantee to endure at all times the confinements of even an attractive cage.

I must extract a cruel promise, and that is you will let me go in a year if we find no happiness together.

Amelia Earhart wrote those words in a letter to her husband just before they married, a scene shown in the film Amelia. My first reaction: “Dang, that was one crazy chick.” My second reaction: “Amelia Earhart was married?”

Yep and yep.

The film didn’t do terribly well with the general populace. Fortunate, then, that I’ve never been burdened with normalcy. Many of the reviews I read criticized the lack of character development, especially of Earhart. Or bemoaned the heavy-on-quotations dialogue. Hey, critics, guess what? Woman. Quotable. Flew planes back in the day. It’s not nuclear science.

While Hilary Swank was probably chosen to play Earhart because of the incredible physical similarity, let’s not discount the rest of the portrayal. The film ends with real footage of Earhart in some of the scenes the film re-created. Once you’ve seen those, you realize how well Swank wore the role. Sure, the two look alike. But Swank makes sure to act, talk, and BE like Earhart was.

I don’t know about you, but my Amelia knowledge before seeing this film was pretty much limited to “1930s female flyer; disappeared and never found.” I now also know that she was married to her manager, George Putnam (played in the film by Richard Gere), had a long-time liaison with Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor, who seems to be EVERYWHERE these days), and was a pioneer for women’s rights (obvious in light of her profession, perhaps, but eh). The film also plays Amelia’s unfeminine ways (short hair, PANTS zomg) as a cover-up for physical insecurity. I found that interesting, since one would assume pants to be more of a practicality for a pilot rather than a shield for ungainly limbs. Who knew?

Amelia may not be the best film you see this year. It may not even be the best film you see this month (Sherlock Holmes, am I right?). But with the economy in the crapper, war breaking out left and right, the globe turning into a giant puddle, and people party-crashing the freaking White House, maybe we all need a little reminder of a time when anything seemed possible.

Even for a woman.

December 3, 2009

December 3, 2009

Uh oh! Hot dog!

My parents were in town last week for Thanksgiving/sightseeing/making sure the daughter hasn’t broken into the drug trade. Y’know, the stuff of any good family visit.

While we participated in plenty of tourism and ate our weight in pumpkin pie, I made sure to collect on my parental dues. My dad checked out my car and helped my lug home stuff from Ikea. My mom wrapped Christmas presents (yeah, I’m THAT girl—the cards are ready to mail, too) and cooked.

Since she’s Korean, that means that my refrigerator is packed to the gills. I’m sure it’s pretty confused, since it’s usually just a holder for Diet Coke and hummus. The real action happens in the freezer.

Anyway, one of my requests was hot dog sushi. Hey, when you grow up with a Korean mother, you look for anything that makes seaweed more palatable. I liked it as a girl, and I like it now.

In case you ever want to make hot dog sushi for yourself or your loved ones, follow these simple steps.

Step 1: Buy the ingredients. At a minimum, seaweed sheets, rice, hot dogs, and eggs. I added asian pickle (it’s yellow and that’s probably not its real name, eh). Cook the hot dogs and slice into strips. Cook the eggs in a sheet and do the same. Cook the rice, too, and you’re all set.

Step 2: Cover a third of the seaweed sheet with rice.

Step 3: Add the fillings. Dab water on the seaweed edge that will be at the end of the roll so you have a good seal.

Step 4: Roll, baby, roll.

Step 5: Slice.

Step 6: Eat.

I have plenty of leftovers if you’re interested in a taste test. Be warned that they won’t last long.

Take that, raw fish.

December 2, 2009

December 2, 2009

In My Opinion: The Informant!

After The Men Who Stare at Goats, I was a little wary of tongue-in-cheek conspiracy films starring members of the Ocean’s Eleven Cast. George Clooney and Matt Damon have earned a lot of brownie points, but even I can take only so much mediocre filmmaking.

Luckily for me, The Informant! hit one out of the park.

In the film, Matt Damon plays Mark Whitacre, a bigwig at Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) during the 1990s. Though you’ve probably never heard of the company, turns out ADM is one of those agribusiness giants who affects your life every day. They do stuff with corn, which involves corn syrup and cornstarch and whatnot. As Whitacre says early in the movie, “You’ve probably never had a meal we HAVEN’T been a part of.” I mean, they made $69 BILLION last year. Way more than me. Probably way more than you. (If not, please make checks payable to “Heather.”)

When they weren’t making ungodly sums of money, the suits at ADM were also playing a little game of Twister. And by “little,” I mean “huge.” And by “Twister,” I mean “price-fixing.” Right foot red and where are those futures sheets?

Whitacre, at his wife’s urging, becomes an informant for the FBI. He wears a wire, makes recordings, facilitates meetings at the Bureau’s request, etc. Throughout the film, Whitacre’s internal stream-of-consciousness narration is on full blast. Since he’s bipolar (and just plain wacky), there’s a lot of funny stuff. The brilliance of the film is the evolution of its protagonist. At the beginning of the movie, you’re rooting for a quirky victim of the system. By the end, you’re hoping he gets put away for a L-O-N-G time.

The cast is, excuse me, PHENOMENAL. Damon, who notably gained 30 pounds for the role, hits just the right mix of wunderkind and do-gooder. Scott Bakula* and Joel McHale** are the FBI agents assigned to Whitacre’s case. Patton Oswalt shows up at one point, too. And that’s not even counting the tiny appearances by the Smothers Brothers. Yep.

Since the good guy/bad guy delineation is always changing, things can get a little confusing for the audience. Stick with it to the end, though, and you’ll never look at corn the same way again.

* Or, as I call him, “Captain Jonathan Archer.”
** Or, as my dad called him, “that guy from Community.”

December 1, 2009

December 1, 2009

WTF Product of the Day, Volume 7: Big Top Cupcake

While this series usually describes products that confuse or anger me, today I’d like to tell you about one I am ALL OVER: the big top cupcake.

See, here’s the thing about cupcakes. While they all tiny and twee and frosting-tastic, I can’t help but loathe their anti-storage properties. They don’t nestle like cake slices. You can’t stack them. It’s like there’s a small bubble of “DO NOT TOUCH” around every darn thing. Good luck transporting those things anywhere. When a food item requires a specially-constructed container, you KNOW it’s high maintenance. I don’t do high-maintenance food (see: my aversion to the oven).

However, this isn’t to say that I wouldn’t eat a cupcake set in front of me. (Hi, obvious.) I just don’t want to be responsible for it at any other time. And if you set one of these big top cupcakes in front of me, I would likely dig in with nothing more than a comment of “Serving size: one” and a brandishing of my always-ready travel spork.

I’m still not sure how “giant cupcake” is different from “regular cake shaped like cupcake,” but I’m not going to look gift bakery in the mouth. That is the exact opposite of how a transaction between girl and cupcake should go.

Anyone ever tried this thing? Does it work? Could one theoretically eat the entire cupcake at once, perhaps accompanied by milk and shame?

November 30, 2009

November 30, 2009

Shake Once for Yes, Two for Conspiracy

Recently, friend-of-blog Michael was in town. Like any good hostess, I submitted an all-inclusive list of possible Things to See. Like most people, the list was returned with a “Yes, please.” Tourists. (A co-worker of mine once got a request to take her out-of-towner to “the Smithsonian.” There are like fourteen, people. Pick one and deal.)

Luckily for me, a couple of things on that list were things I myself had never done. Despite being an old hand at D.C. tourism (just go with it), even I have a list of things yet to visit. Thus it was off to the George Washington National Masonic Memorial.

Before I start with the pictures, let’s get a couple of things straight:

1. Yeah, parts of it were seriously creepy.
2. No, I did not become a Mason.
3. No, I would not tell you if I had become a Mason even if I HAD.

Draw your own conclusions.

The building itself is nice enough, with a mix of temple-like base and architectural tower.

The first floor rotunda was also lovely, with pillars, a statue, and giant paintings on the wall.

And I actually was rather impressed by the Scottish Rite room—a small museum dedicated to the different roles Washington played (farmer, politician, soldier, etc.).

Then we got to the York Rite room and it all blew up in my face.

I mean, REALLY? You wanna memorialize Washington with a re-creation of the Holiest of Holies?

(Side note to Masons: please don’t kill me! Thanks!)

Moving on up (movin’ on up—sing it with me!), we came to the Knights Templar Room. Awesome because a) knights templar, b) stained glass windows, and c) suit of armor.

The top floor observation deck provided some stellar views of Alexandria’s fall foliage.
Who knew my city had trees?

While the basement included meeting rooms, a theater, and several exhibits by the Shriners.
That’s a whole lotta fez going on.

As you can see, there’s plenty inside the memorial.

And that’s just the stuff I CAN tell you about.