December 31, 2010

December 31, 2010

2010: The Year in Review

Since all the cool blogs are doing lists about 2010, I guess I should jump on the bandwagon and give my own favorite moments from the year that was. This list isn’t all-inclusive, probably defies a great many of your own conclusions, and will ideally spur debate in all corners of my readership. (So, yeah, it’s pretty much me and you on this.)

Discovery of the Year: Wegmans. I’ve not yet blogged about Wegmans, the grocery store to end all grocery stores. You can keep your Kroger, your Trader Joe’s, and even your Pick ‘n Save. At Wegmans, you get the selection of a Whole Foods (too WI-specific?) with the prices of an Aldi. (Well, maybe not that low. But seriously.) Throw in more eat-in areas than you can shake a stick at (wokery, sushi bar, seafood counter, Indian buffet, sandwich shop, shall I go on?) and the tear-inducing sight of at least two dozen registers kept open on weekends, and we have a winner. I lost a great many things when I left the Midwest. But I gained a kickass grocer.

Media of the Year: Mad Men. As you may have gathered, I consumed a great deal of literature, film, and music this year. Same as every year. You may claim that lumping all these into a single category is cheating (“Apples to oranges, I say!”), please note that I’m comparing my response to these things. And in the same way that I respond similarly to apples and oranges (they make me wish I’d gotten a banana), I respond similarly to the effects of a good song or a captivating film. In 2010, I spent more time talking/thinking/critiquing/studying Mad Men than any other. Not necessarily solely because 13 hours of TV will require more work than a three minute song. I spent most of an evening reading analysis of Inception; almost as much time as I spent actually watching the film.

Person of the Year: Every man or woman who deals in America’s junk. A new genre of programming has emerged, with such shows as Pawn Stars, American Pickers, Auction Kings, Storage Wars, etc. It’s a sure sign of civilization’s decline when we get as much entertainment from watching junk get traded as we did from buying it in the first place. Whether set in a pawn shop, an auction house, or a storage unit, these shows fascinated me. My parents have nothing old or interesting; both sides of my family tree are relatively new to the U.S. and were poor for a long time. (Did your ancestors fight in the Civil War? Mine fished the Danzig River.) Yet I’m happy for every person whose dusty trinket turns out to be a treasure. Happier still for every person whose cache is actually crap. Schadenfreude ftw.

December 30, 2010

December 30, 2010

Remember This? Volume 18: Happy Meal Boxes

You grew up on Happy Meals, right? If you didn’t, I assume at least one of the following applies:

a) You were foreign-born. (Really foreign, because the golden arches are everywhere.)
b) Your parents were too rich to eat at McDonald’s.
c) Your parents were too health-conscious to eat at McDonald’s.
d) You had someone hand-make all your meals.
e) You grew out of childhood before the 1950s.

Honestly, none of those options is making you look good to me right now. (No offense, but I am a plebe who grew up on fast food and TV.)

Anyway, when I was a kid (“back in my day”), Happy Meals came in little square boxes. Like so:

The perfect container for your chicken McNuggets, fries, and toy. (Don’t even get me started on apple slices or whatever. If you want to eat fruit, EAT AT HOME.) After you got to the table, your mom handed you your box and your soda, and you munched contentedly. Like so:

(Note: This is an actual picture. My expression is a mix of enjoying my McNugget and wondering why I'm wearing a barrette.)

Now, apparently, Happy Meals come in a bag. Like so:

An abomination, I say! Are you kidding me? If I wanted a sack lunch, I would eat at home and have my mom put my sandwich in a brown bag. (Which she would totally re-use, because my mom’s cheap that way.) How do you defend this bag? Is it more biodegradable or something? Did Ronald anger the cardboard producers? I just don’t get it.

I tell you, all this tinkering with Happy Meals is sucking the joy right out of it. Almost as if one isn’t meant to equate joy with foodstuffs.

December 29, 2010

December 29, 2010

Minty Revenge

If you’re a woman, or know any women, you’ve probably heard that Prince William has gotten engaged to Kate Middleton (who shall henceforth be referred to as That Woman). Women of the world (or at least the western hemisphere) are pretty much universally devastated.

It’s not so much the idea that we were going to become queen someday. It’s the idea that we COULD. Were circumstances to align in the perfect way (surprise visit to America, crazy happenstance late-night grocery run, that pair of shoes that makes your legs look super long, and so on), Prince William could propose to one of us. And say hello to a lifetime of charity events, dinners, and saying “It’s ‘Your Royal Highness’ at first, and then ‘Ma’am’ after that.” Unlike riding horses, collecting dolls, and playing the flute, becoming royal is a pursuit that appeals to every woman. We are ready, at any time, for crown and cape.

We had heard about That Woman, but figured it couldn’t be serious. Hadn’t they been “involved” for almost a decade? Please. Propose or get off the pot, Wills.

Sadly, he called our bluff on that one, and now we have to pretend to be happy for That Woman as she gets to pick out china and have her relatives knighted. (Note: My jealousy may be clouding my understanding of how the royal orders work. Whatever.) Plus she is stunningly attractive, intelligent, and already wealthy. You have GOT to be kidding us.

Which is why the fact that she looks butt-fugly on a new coin just a little bit sweet. Okay, a lot sweet. Don’t judge; we’re only human. One less-than-flattering portrait is nothing in the grand scheme of things. Just enough to make the rest of us feel a little better while That Woman waltzes off with prince charming. Literally.

December 28, 2010

December 28, 2010

Holiday Movie Reviews a la Menu: A Threeve

I watched a lot of movies this Christmas. A lot. Of movies. I alluded to three in three days yesterday, but it was actually more like five over eight days. While I won’t re-review The Social Network (except to say that it was even more brilliant and thought-provoking the second time around), here are quick snippets of the rest. Presented in meal format, because it’s my blog and I’ll food it up if I want to.

The Tourist (Appetizer)

Despite the film’s almost universal “meh” reviews, I was interested to see Johnny Depp step into a role that would seem to be made for someone shallower. I mean that in the best possible way; Johnny Depp is, in my opinion, an actor’s actor. He is deep. DEEP. He is not a pretty boy best served by tight suits and cold drinks. Of course, this film shows that he can play that role (or, um, play someone playing that role, ahem) quite well.

Angelina Jolie, of course, was genetically mutated to play the femmiest of femme fatales. Good grief.

Though I wasn’t impressed by the film’s big twist, I found the combination of exotic location shooting and chase scenes to be sufficient.

True Grit (Entrée)

Omg. Omg omg omg. OMG. Did I ever think Jeff Bridges would make me cry. Hell no, I di’int! But he did! He totally did!

Okay, Heather. Cleansing breaths. Whooooo……okay.

As you may have heard, this film should be taken not as a remake of the John Wayne movie, but as a straight adaptation of the Charles Portis book. In which a teenager named Mattie hires a lawman (or two) to avenge her father’s death. Along the way, fingers are cut off, snake bites are gotten, faces are shot, and my love of the passive voice is abused beyond all decency.

Even if this movie didn’t have the sort of incredible sweeping western vistas that haunt my dreams (seriously, wtf is up with that?), the characters alone are worth the price of admission many times over. Jeff Bridges as a crotchety U.S. Marshal with a heart of gold. Hailee Steinfeld as a girl unafraid to take matters on with her serviceable braids. Matt Damon as the Texas Ranger who provides comedic relief and also saves everyone’s butts.

My second favorite movie of the year. I will see your romantic visions of the west and raise you with this brilliant tale of its cruel justice.

Tron Legacy (Cheese Course)

All right, I confess. I had not planned on seeing this movie, because I am 27 years old and have no Y chromosome. But then I had a free ticket that could only be used when pass list wasn’t suspended. Desperate times, you see.

I feel this film is best described as a “spectacle,” in that it is absolutely visually dazzling. From the moment protagonist Sam steps into the grid, I was on the edge of my seat. People are slicing each other up with discs, they are driving vehicles powered by light, and they are blissfully unaware that glow-in-the-dark clothing is a poor camouflage strategy. Though I did not see the original Matrix movies in theaters, I imagine I felt very similar did-they-just-do-that astonishment during Tron. You stop caring after a while about who wins in the good-versus-evil plot. You just want more shiny fighting.

The King’s Speech (Dessert)

Topping many best-of lists, The King’s Speech recounts George VI’s efforts to overcome a stammer. (The difference between a stammer and a stutter? Go ask Wikipedia.) While the typical stammerer back then probably just went into a non-speaking vocation, England’s Duke of York on the brink of World War II had noticeably fewer opportunities in the trades.

Enter Lionel Logue, and Australian actor/theater teacher. He, of course, has unorthodox methods. Why stammer when you can sing? Or swear? Cue the jolly good sequence of Colin Firth letting fly with every British curse (and a few Yankee ones).

All of this is well and good, especially once Bertie (as he was known before ascension) really gets in the swing of things. Then Dear Old Dad (King George V) kicks it and all hell breaks loose.

Quick history lesson for those of you not unhealthily obsessed with the monarchy: When George V passed, the crown passed to his oldest son and heir, David. David took the name Edward VIII. He also realized that his squeeze, Baltimore divorcee Wallis Simpson, would not be allowed to be queen. (Why not? It just isn’t done, it’s not proper, etc.) Edward abdicates (not as lovely-dovey a move as you’d think; Edward was kind of an asshole) and all of a sudden younger brother Bertie is the king. So much for “an heir and a spare.”

So, yeah, now Bertie is George VI and the country’s going to war and it’s time to rally the nation over this newfangled wireless thing and OMG HE CAN’T EVEN SPEAK AN ENTIRE SENTENCE WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?

S’cool, though. Lionel’s got it under control. The film culminates with George VI’s wartime address to Britain. As the speech goes on, we see various Britons—in pubs, on the front lines, at the castle gates—listening. And realize that there will never be a greater generation; there was more courage in one stiff upper lip than in, like, my entire body ever.

Though I wasn’t blown away by the film (odd, no?), I did enjoy it very much. I hope it wins at least as many accolades as The Social Network, and many more than a film starring dusky poultry.

December 27, 2010

December 27, 2010

Things I’ve Read: The Hunger Games trilogy

…and we’re back.

I hope your Christmas was just as lovely as mine, if not quite as movie-filled (three movies in as many days, for real). Regardless, it’s back to business as usual for those of us without extravagant leave balances.

Today, I will be telling you about The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay. In case you didn’t get these books for Christmas (how short-sighted of you), you should immediately head to your nearest retailer and purchase them. That’s right: I’m advocating SPENDING MONEY on these things. They are that. amazing.

Thanks to the encouragement of friend-of-blog Aimee (to whom I am forever indebted), I decided to pick up the first book of The Hunger Games trilogy a few weeks ago. For those of you unfamiliar, this trilogy takes place in a dystopian future. The United States has become the nation of Panem, composed of twelve districts and the capitol. On an annual basis, each district must send two “tributes”—a boy and a girl—to fight in the Hunger Games. So you’ve got 24 teenagers fighting to the death (yes, the DEATH) every year. For the amusement of the capitol.

Are you sensing Roman empire overtones? Good. You should be.

Anyway. The heroine of the series is Katniss Everdeen, of district 12 (think Appalachia). She’s poor, she’s trying to support her family, and (wouldn’t you know it) she ends up in the Hunger Games. Luckily, she’s picked up a thing or two about survival in the wilderness. And I’m not talking about that stupid REI commercial with the chick eating peanut butter on the side of a mountain, either.

Now, at this point, I have to get a little spoilery. I’m sorry. Please please PLEASE don’t read on if you’re planning to read these books.

Book 1, as you know (because you have already read it if you are still reading this, RIGHT?!?!), details Katniss’s eventual victory in the HG and her alliance with fellow District 12 tribute Peeta. Now, I couldn’t tell you why, but in my head, Peeta is played by Chord Overstreet. Yeah, the Glee guy.

Of course, he is less smarmy and more dirty as Peeta. (Btw, I didn’t know he had such a ridiculous name. Wtf? Why, parents, WHY?) Suffice to say, I was cheering for them the whole way through. So when book 1 ends abruptly with them returning home, I was all “…?”

Then commenced a weeks-long wait while my library lost and then found the copy of book 2, Catching Fire, that I had reserved. MINUS ONE for Alexandria Public Libraries. (Why didn’t I just buy the books, you ask? Well, I wasn’t hooked on them yet. Also, stop being such a smartass. I hate it when you do that.)

Book 2, as you know (seriously, you must have already read the entire trilogy), describes how Katniss improbably survives yet another HG and starts fomenting some rebellion up in here. The outcome of that rebellion attempt, and its after-effects, are recounted in book 3, Mockingjay.

Let’s start at the end: I loved it. In my mind, Gale is sort of dark and smarmy, and not in a good way. Katniss needs a little positivity in her life, though I’m not sure having kiddos was really true to the character. (Aimee, this is my point. I’m ready for your counterpoint when you are.)

I’ve mentioned before what a fan I am of dystopia. This trilogy had it in droves, and WOW. You know I prefer my dystopia served in an orderly fashion; any government system that could dream up both the HG system and the Quarter Quells fits the bill. Plus, someone on the interwebs drew up this handy map of the districts, which made things even easier to visualize.

When it all hits the fan, I hope you get to be in the district that goes underground.

Were the characters compelling? Yes. Even though I’m over the age of 25? Yes. See, I was afraid this was going to be like Twilight, but with athletes instead of vampires. I have not read, nor will I ever read, the Twilight books. They strike me as maudlin crap. There’s nothing maudlin about a contest that involves harpooning people to death. (There’s actually not that much gore in the trilogy as a whole, but I wouldn’t recommend it for children.) I mean, even the secondary characters were great. I totally teared up when Cinna died, and that’s only partly because I’m a wuss.

To recap: Fantastic setting, stirring characters, provoking plot. Ding, ding, and DING.

Best thing I read this year, and that’s in a year that included books by Amy Sedaris, Malcolm Gladwell, and Julia Child.

Go forth and read.

December 24, 2010

December 23, 2010

December 23, 2010

God Rest Ye Merry Bus Riders

Today, I am fully appropriating from the blog We Love DC. The following real-life story is just too good not to cite. I myself have seen this happen many times, on the 21A, 21D, 13A, and 13B routes. How many times has my bus almost entered the wrong freeway or actually missed the exit? More than I can count.

(Original Link:

Pressed into service as a Metrobus navigator
Or, One More Thing an iPad is Good For

There I was, waiting at the bus stop after work, staring at my phone while waiting for Nextbus to load. Nextbus said the H1 bus would arrive in 2 minutes, though the H1 tends to run on Inception time, so I figured that “2″ really meant “15.”

After about 5 minutes of shivering, we saw the H1 turn the corner from Constitution… and then blow right past the stop. There was a great disturbance in the Force, as though 10 angry government employees cried out… and the bus screeched to a halt on the other side of the intersection.

The harried driver waved us all aboard, not even wanting us to delay long enough to pay the fare. As I reached my customary seat right behind the rear exit, I hear the driver say, “Anyone going to Brookland?”

“I am!” I called out.

“Good, maybe you can help me, then. I don’t have the directions for this route. I mean, I’ve done it once before, but, you know, it’s been a minute.”

Oh. Great. It turned out that this particular driver was subbing in on the H1, and when he left the garage, he had only been given the route’s inbound directions. If you read Shannon’s article on how bus routes are named, then you already know the H1 is a rush-hour only route, which means it only goes inbound in the mornings.

And look, when I say that the driver had the wrong set of directions, let me be clear about what he actually did have: A folded sheet of photocopied paper, where the print was distorted as though the original had been part of a notebook that didn’t lay flat on the copier bed, where the directions were printed out in order, turn-by-turn, but with no distances, no map, no nothing. So not only were the directions for the wrong half of the route, they were practically unreadable.

The driver, to his credit, was a total pro in his demeanor. Yes, you could tell he was a little exasperated, but that doesn’t seem like an unreasonable reaction to being shoved onto a bus with the wrong directions and told to go pick up the cranky evening rush crowd on an unfamiliar route and having to rely on those same tired people to shout directions at you so you can get them home.

The passengers were all looking around nervously by this point, so I pulled out my iPad, downloaded the H1’s timetable, and showed it’s little half-assed map to the driver, because it was more helpful than what we was holding. And also backlit! And away we went.

Now, understand something really important: I have a terrible, awful, useless sense of direction. I get lost in large houses. And one of my favorite things about commuting by bus is that I can space out and pay no particular attention to the route. So let me be clear that in this situation, I’m just the one-eyed woman in the land of the blind. When I’m the one helping the bus driver get us all home, we’re all screwed.

But I sat in the front seat of the bus, helping the driver navigate the route from that mostly unlabeled map, occasionally turning to the other passengers when there was a question about the specific turn the driver needed to make, and jumping up to review the map with him while stopped at red lights. When a passenger boarded the bus and asked if it would go by the Columbia Heights metro and the driver hesitated, I said, “Yes!”

He said, “We do?”

“Yes! It’s right here on the map, see?”

As we pulled into Brookland Station, the driver visibly relaxed, his workplace ordeal over for the moment. “Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. So… that’s an iPad, huh?”

Guess I know what somebody wants for Christmas.

December 22, 2010

December 22, 2010

Joust to the World

If you have visitors in town for the holidays, you’re probably looking for things to do. Once you’ve exhausted the “let’s go to the mall” and “let’s drive around to look at decorations” options, what do you do?

You go to Medieval Times, is what. (Give me a chance here.)

For those of you who have never been to MT, imagine a renaissance festival, but climate controlled and more structured. For the price of admission, you get to wander around the booths selling swords, suits of armor (seriously), pricey drinks, and even the chance to be photographed in period garb. Then, when showtime starts, you’re treated to a lovely meal (including half a chicken, yo) and a show that includes jousting. Actual jousting. With lances and horses. And then swordfighting. Zomg.

I guess most of you are nearest the Chicago (actually Schaumburg) castle, though Dallas, Atlanta, and Baltimore are convenient for others. Each one has a different façade, though all are built to look like castles. Duh.

So let’s say you decide to go to a 7 p.m. show. Here’s my strategy: Arrive when the doors open at 5 p.m. “What am I going to do for two whole hours?” you ask? The answer: Look at all the shiny, the people buying the shiny, and the other ones just getting drunk. You could also decide to visit the torture museum, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You don’t have any idea what medieval people would put in various orifices to get people to talk. You don’t WANT to have any idea, either.

Anyway, getting acclimated (and watching the revelers) will take a good 90 minutes or so. Perfectly positioning yourself to enter the arena as early as possible once they’ve opened the doors. Now, you’ll have gotten a card assigning you a section and a table. I personally pay the extra $10 to upgrade to the front. But regardless of your row, the sooner you get in, the closer you’ll be to the action.

Once you’re seated and your wench or serf (yes, that’s what they’re called) has introduced themselves, you just need to enjoy the bread and circuses.

MT recently introduced a member pass sort of thing, with all kinds of benefits:

My favorite part is that there are no blackout dates…except the one blackout date.

December 21, 2010

December 20, 2010

December 20, 2010

Currying Favor

Today’s story presupposes that you’re familiar with the plot of Little Women, and particularly with chapter 28, in which Meg attempts to make jam.

If you are not familiar with said chapter of said book, I can’t believe the ghost of Louisa May Alcott hasn’t already smacked you upside the head.

Perhaps I’d best remind all of us: In chapter 28, Meg decides to make jam.

Meg, the practically perfect eldest sister, starts the day with all the ingredients for jam.

Meg, who can rock any challenge, ends the day a sticky mess, crying at her kitchen table.

Boo freakin’ yah, people. There’s hope for us yet.

Perhaps you are not culinarily challenged. You’re able to take any three ingredients, add a mixture of spices, and create a beautiful entrée. That’s right: with the little accent over the e and everything. Let’s try a little something.

Onions. Tomatoes. Garlic. You have an hour. GO.

Now, I assume that you have made a lovely pasta sauce, perhaps something to go over fish…maybe you’ve added ground beef and some lovely orzo.

I, on the other hand, am still chopping that onion.

I was reminded of my disability the other day, while preparing food for my Dad’s Christmas visit. Dads, like young hobbits, take a lot of provender. I had all the ingredients for a good curry on hand, and was following instructions precisely (I do NOT improvise in the kitchen), until I got to this sentence on the curry paste:

Add WATER to pot and bring to boil.

Did it tell me how much water? No. Nothing. Not even a hint. Maybe it was only in the Chinese instructions.

So I have a pot of rice, vegetables, beef, and curry paste. To which I must now add an indeterminate amount of water.

Cue Meg fainting into the curry.

I added a cup of water at a time until it looked like this three cups later:

Eesh. It tasted okay, but come ON, curry people. Help a girl out.

December 17, 2010

December 16, 2010

December 16, 2010

The Crazy is Everywhere

Those of you who grew up in glamorous New York or sunny L.A. know little of the ignominy inherent in growing up Midwestern. In flyover country, they make their own fun. Sometimes a sports team has a good run, or something gets filmed in Chicago. It is at those times that the Midwest reminds the rest of the country that dey make ‘em good dere, oh ya.

Then there are those times when the rest of the country just shakes its head. As when a mailman decides to let neither shirt nor slacks keep him from his appointed rounds. IN DECEMBER. In Florida, that sort of thing might fly; the people there are too hot (literally and figuratively) to care about the extra skin, or too old to see it. But in Wisconsin, you’re going to freeze your pecker off. The fact that you were dared to do so does not make that okay.

Or this little gem ranking Wisconsin, Ohio, and Illinois among the worst states for retirees. And I quote, “Of the 40 largest cities in the United States, Milwaukee has the coldest winter weather, based on normal daily temperatures…Wisconsin, as noted, is doubly cursed in these rankings as a high-tax state with cold weather. Plus, it has high property taxes.” In other words: those of you who like being comfortable and having money should look elsewhere. Like at that naked mailman.

It’s only when you’ve left the Midwest that you realize how scornfully folks from other parts regard it. Little did I know that Wisconsin is actually a broad area that ranges from Minnesota to Ohio. I know that now because I have co-workers two equally convinced that I am from both Minnesota and Ohio. Forget about the ones convinced I’m secretly Canadian.


Then again, when your current metro area gets shut down by a Christmas ornament, you begin to realize the crazy is everywhere.

December 15, 2010

December 15, 2010

In My Opinion: Unstoppable

Though the holiday movie season is often about heartwarming tales starring Paul Rudd or Aslan, some of us prefer movies featuring suspense, explosions, and suspenseful explosions. No offense to romantic comedies and/or felines. It’s just the way we roll.

Unstoppable is the based-on-a-true-story tale of a runaway train. Facts such as the train’s location (Pennsylvania), cargo (chemicals or some sort), and possible victims (Chris Pine playing the anti-Kirk and Denzel Washington playing…pretty much himself) are ancillary.

I repeat: runaway train.

What I liked best about this film was its way of making me think about railroading, a profession with which I have very little consciousness. Sure, we all depend on the rails to transport the little commodities that make our lives so much easier. But as someone who no longer lives near rails, doesn’t ride AmTrak, and hasn’t owned a model train since childhood, I just don’t think about our nation’s railways all that much. Yet they are still out there, and thousands of men and women (and hundreds of hoboes) brave them every day.

While the basic plot (runaway train) is pretty straightforward, director Tony Scott threw in a few complications and close calls to keep it interesting. A passenger train full of kids on a field trip. A crazy/genius/crazy rogue welder. Corporate buffoons. New technology vs. old school instinct. They’re like sides at Thanksgiving: good on their own, but obviously supporting the bird.

And in this case, that bird is Denzel Washington. Does anyone not love the man? Does anyone doubt the fact that he will survive? (Does anyone worry that I just compared him to poultry?)

Folks in my demographic will also appreciate the travails of Chris Pine’s character, aka the New Kid on the Block. I thought I had a hard time breaking into an office environment. I’d be eaten alive in the blue collar world. Right after I whip out the Hello Kitty thermos, probably.

December 14, 2010

December 14, 2010

Simple Math

Look, I’m by no means a definitive voice on logos. Other than an obsession with Mad Men and my habit of watching too much TV, I am not an advertising professional. Yet I’m taken aback by recent news related to the Big Ten.

First, the fact that it’s going to include twelve members starting next year. Twelve? C’mon, guys. Those of us who grew up in the Midwest are already trying to shed the illiterate farmer stereotype. This isn’t helping.

Second, what in the name of Don Draper is this atrocity?

According to the Big Ten’s website, this logo was designed by an international firm. So it sucks in multiple languages.

Let’s remind ourselves of the former logo:

A bit of clever eye-play, with the silhouetted eleven, right? Why didn’t we get the people who came up with that to do the new design, as well?

Third, the Big Ten will include Nebraska (the twelfth school). Now, I’m going to play the Cheesehead card here and unequivocally declare Nebraska to be a Plains state. Nothing wrong with the plains, mind you! America’s breadbasket is a noble cause. Where else would we grow our wheat? Or Willa Cather? Where would our purple mountains’ majesty go? The Plains are a vital component of this great land of ours.

They are not, however, the Midwest.

Neither is Pennsylvania, but I think Joe Paterno has right to choose whatever conference he damn well pleases. He set that deal up with President Grant. Check it.

Now that I live on the east coast, it’s a lot harder to keep up with things like this; people here are more concerned about the ACC and other conferences that I don’t care about. Though the way things are going, perhaps the Big Ten will someday encompass the east coast, as well. With a tiny “50” in the dot of the i.

December 13, 2010

December 13, 2010

Addition to the Family

I’m pleased to announce an addition to the family, who entered my world on Saturday, December 11, 2010, a little after 10 in the morning.

Meet Clav, my new Clavinova.

152 pounds, 55 7/16 inches. (The delivery was short and quite simple; this is why I paid the extra $150.)

He’s a keeper.

It’s funny how having a piano again reminds you of all the things necessary to play well. A good light. Something to hold the book open. A pencil on the stand so you can write notes and cheats on the music.

I hated to practice as a child. I was lucky to be talented enough not to need much. Ironically, now that I would love nothing more than to sit and play for hours, I have no time to do so.

Regardless, I plan on spending plenty of time with Clav.

December 9, 2010

December 9, 2010

My Network TV

Entertainment Weekly recently asked readers what single channel they couldn’t live without. As a longtime subscriber to the magazine and even longer-time devotee of le tube, I posed the question to myself.

It resulted in some deep soul searching. (“The sea was angry that day, my friends.”)

I mean, let’s throw out events that bounce between networks, like sports and awards shows. Don’t worry about syndication. Assume you wouldn’t be able to watch the programs on until they were released on DVD. Focus on the programs you currently enjoy, and pick one channel. It’s like choosing a favorite kind of cheese, right? Gah.

I mean, I watch quite a bit on NBC. But nothing I need to see rightawaythisminute. The Office no longer holds me in its thrall, frankly.*

The other networks are the same, though I’d rue having to wait for Modern Family. However, the rue is countered by the fact that I would get like 11 hours of MF all at once when the DVD came out. Manny. Overdose.

I enjoy a lot of cable, too…HGTV, Bravo, HBO, Food, and History, to mention nothing of my beloved HLN.

But if I had to choose one show whose pulse I absolutely must have my finger on, I’d have to choose Mad Men. And thus AMC. Oddly enough, a network whose other programming I don’t follow. I tried Breaking Bad but didn’t get the appeal. And the other programming, like….wow, I have no idea what else is on AMC. Something about zombies?

What network would you choose?

* And don’t call me Frankly. RIP, Leslie Nielsen.

December 8, 2010

December 8, 2010

Green is Good

You’ve probably noticed the popularity of being green these days. No disrespect to Kermit, but it’s apparently pretty easy to be green. Or so the many vendors of Natural, Organic, Green-Certified products tell us. My local ABC affiliate ran a story recently about how most self-proclaimed green products don’t clearly explain what makes them so. The rest aren’t green at all.

Yet while many proudly bring reusable totes to the grocery store or provide a travel mug for their $6 cup of Starbucks coffee, those of us who choose to reduce/reuse/recycle in other ways are shunned. No more, I say! Let those of us who have been heretofore labeled as cheapskates stand proudly with our eco-brethren!

You know how we’re green? We buy used clothes. That’s right: I said it. We shop thrift stores (call them “vintage” if you prefer), rummage sales, and consignment shops. Along the way, we buy clothes for a fraction of what they cost originally. A good dry clean and they’re good as new. Goodwill, the Salvation Army, the Council of the Blind…these are the unsung environmental heroes.

You know how we’re green? We regift. “SAY IT AIN’T SO, HEATHER!” I hear you remark. Um, I’m sayin’ it. I’m sayin’ it loud and proud. If you give us something silly, we don’t throw it away. We tactfully donate it to someone far enough removed from you in time and social standing. Saves us from buying a new present and gives a little cheer to someone else. How are you going to argue with that?

So before you get all high-and-mighty with your biodegradably-fueled cars and your soy-based meat products, give the rest of us a little credit. We’re trying to help the planet, too. We just do it in a way that’s more wallet-friendly than socially-acceptable.

December 7, 2010

December 7, 2010

Remember This? Volume 17: Mr. Rogers Videos

You are obviously familiar with the program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. (If not, we must cease communication immediately.) Think back for a moment, and try to remember how Mr. McFeely would often bring film/slides/videotapes (depends on your age) to Mr. Rogers. And how Mr. Rogers would insert the media and we would get to see some often kick-butt footage on Picture Picture. With me so far? Good.

What was your favorite one?

I was always most fascinated by films of things being made. Whether erasers or crayons, you saw a small pile of pellets turned into the very things you used every day. (Because, yes, when you’re a kid, it’s always a good time to color.) I enjoy factory tours for the same reason. As someone very far removed from manufacturing, I can appreciate the effort that goes into it without its bringing work to mind. (Now ask me about federal government, on the other hand…)

PBS has kindly posted several of these films online. I always liked the crayons one the best.

From the psychedelic music to the ‘80s fashion, it’s just as good as I remember. Still makes me want to don a hairnet and join the assembly line of smiling, bespectacled workers. Viva la revolution industriale!

December 6, 2010

December 6, 2010

And in This Corner…

As TheBoy and I were heading to Best Buy to do some Christmas shopping (hint: it involved a television larger than Texas), I saw a bumper sticker supporting having your pets spayed or neutered. Something to the effect of “Save a life, spay and neuter.” I noted that I guess you’re saving lives by preventing their creation in the first place.

A conversation remarkably like this followed:

TB: Yeah, if the Catholics are so anti-birth control, they should really speak out against spaying and neutering. I mean, that’s birth control, right?

Me: But it’s Bob Barker’s thing. You don’t want to pit the church against Bob Barker.

[thoughtful pause]

Me: Who do you think would win if the Pope fought Bob Barker?

TB: Bob Barker.

Me: So the Pope would have to take his hat off?

TB: No.

Me: Then how would Bob Barker win? That hat is huge.

TB: Bob Barker would have the microphone. It’s almost as big as the hat, and really pointy.

Me: Oh. True.

Happy Holidays, everybody.

December 2, 2010

In My Opinion: RED

I must admit that the holiday movie season combined with the holiday every-sort-of-other-activity season has put me quite behind in my movie reviewing. Everything seems to happen in these darkest months of the year from fall to Yule. Blah blah blah excuses.

In the pantheon of movies derived from comic books, this has to be one of the least apparent. The hero is an old man. Yes, I said it, Bruce Willis is old. The man could still kick both our butts, yes, but he is definitely Of a Certain Age. Willis plays Frank Moses, a retired CIA agent. As you might imagine, retirement is a bit jarring after a career in the CIA. A highlight of Moses’s life is his phone relationship with a winsome pension worker played by Mary Louise Parker. (Side note: I’m really not a fan of Parker since she tried to lure Josh Lyman from his one and only on West Wing. Please don’t let that sour your view of her.)

Then, wouldn’t you know it, Frank finds out that someone’s trying to kill him. He finds this out when a squad of hitmen blow up his freaking house. It’s never just a postcard, is it?

Frank rounds up his old gang (Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, and others), who gamely help him bring the bad guys to justice. Just like the old days, everybody! Woo hoo! I won’t spoil how justice is won (or is it?) here, or whether Frank lives up to his status as RED (Retired, Extremely Dangerous). But it’s Bruce Willis—what do YOU think?

As a federal employee, I empathized with the pension worker who spends her days dreaming of exotic locales. Yes, the government provides many of your vital services. Doing so, however, is often more about paperwork than spywork.

The cast speaks for itself, of course. I have a feeling that I’d’ve enjoyed the incongruity even more if I were old enough to remember these people as anything but, um, aged. My parents, for example, thought this film was a hoot.

One disappointment: This film’s use of the non-existent “Ultra Top Secret” classification level, coupled with the recent wikileaks scandal, convince me that most people have no flipping idea how to treat classified information. Come ON, people.

December 1, 2010

December 1, 2010

Holiday Movie Preview 2010

Wow, December. Time to shop for Christmas presents, mail cards, and pretend you enjoy eating candy canes. (Don’t give me that: I love sugar and mint as much as the next gal, but I find candy canes about as appealing as giant breath mints.)

Time also for holiday movies. C’mon: it’s cold outside and the world is filled with reminders that you no longer have a chance at becoming the Queen of England. Set yourself up before a large screen and check one of these out:

The King’s Speech

Perhaps not the best way to get over William’s engagement, sure. But let’s focus instead on the Nazis, dirigibles, and Colin Firth aspects of this film. Do you know much about George VI? Me neither. But I’m ready to learn.

The Tourist

I’m not exactly Angelina Jolie’s biggest fan, but I’m all for sexiness on European trains. We all like to think our vacations will turn into globetrotting intrigue (or is that just me?); here’s what that would actually look like.

True Grit

When I first saw this trailer, I had no idea it was based on a John Wayne movie. Yeah, the character Rooster Cogburn sounds like he belongs in a Looney Tunes cartoon, but how amazing does this thing look? Coens. Damon. Bridges. Plus those sweeping western vistas. Oh yeah.

So did I miss any?

November 30, 2010

November 30, 2010

My Commute in Four Minutes

The petty annoyances of my commute have been discussed here ad infinitum. I’ve told you about inaccurate arrival times, hijacked buses, and my fellow riders, God bless ‘em.

But not until now have I been able to give you a visual aid. A way to see what I see during my (ideally) 45- to (less-ideally) 90-minute ride into and out of the District each day. This video, to my understanding, was taken by some guy with a dashboard cam. It covers much more ground than my commute does (seriously, I have never been on some of these roads for any reason), but my little ride is definitely included.

Come. See what I see.

He mislabels the Mixing Bowl interchange (which is actually nowhere near the Pentagon), but it’s still pretty cool. Don’t you wish you got to deal with this traffic every day?

November 29, 2010

November 29, 2010

When Samuel Met Tina

Did the Americans among us all have a lovely Thanksgiving? I hope so. While I wasn’t crazy brave enough to go anywhere near a mall on Black Friday, I certainly partook in the “stuff yourself silly” tradition whole heartedly (and stomachedly).

But now, alas, it is time to return to more serious matters. Like the fact that Tina Fey won the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor and none of you came. Since it was broadcast on PBS, you have a good chance of still catching a rerun. Or, y’know, just watch it here:

But seriously, shame on you. And also, shame on me, because I could have actually attended in person. That’s right, I COULD HAVE BEEN IN THE SAME ROOM WITH JON HAMM. Isn’t this exactly the reason I moved to the same area as the Kennedy Center? Use your head, Heather!

My mental anguish aside, I really enjoyed this presentation. You may not share my disgustingly-fervent adoration of Tina Fey, but you have to admit that she bridges the worlds of comedy and politics with distinction. I mean, five minutes of any 30 Rock is packed with more meta-humor and topical references than some episodes of Fox and Friends news shows that shall remain nameless.

Even without the whole Sarah Palin thing, which you have to admit, is perhaps definitive proof for the liberals that there is a God. Am I completely comfortable with the thought that comedy is affecting politics in a Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle sort of way? No. Really no. But that’s the way things are in our hyper-aware world. At least Tina Fey helps us laugh at it.

November 25, 2010

November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving: A Threeve

Wow, what do you know, it’s Turkey Day. I mean THANKSGIVING, for all you purists out there. It’s not like the most important part of the day is food, right? Right? RIGHT?

In that spirit, here are some things* I’m thankful for:

1. Treadmills. In preparation for today’s feast, I have logged almost 11 hours of pre-emptive treadmill time. That’s over 4500 calories. I plan to pretty much wipe that out today.

2. Magazines. They give me something to do while commuting. They’re a great gift for the person who already has everything. They entertain and instruct. Best of all, they don’t give you carpal tunnel or inky fingers.

3. Corrective eyewear. I realized recently that if I were living even 200 years ago, I would be functioning at a much lower level. (I would also be unable to vote and a mother of many babies. HOORAY FOR MODERN TIMES.)

4. Deep fryers. To wit:

Happy Thanksgiving.

*I’m obviously thankful for people, too: family, friends, and all of you, dear readers. But let’s not get misty-eyed; there’s gravy to be had.

November 24, 2010

November 24, 2010

In My Opinion: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

Word to the wise: if you’re expecting me to review this film as a movie on its own merits, without regard to the source material, you’d best move on. Rabid Potterphile that I am, I consider the film and the book inseparable. I understand the need to condense, to edit, to modify. Yet I disagree with wholesale butchery of source material in order to produce a 90-minute theatrical romp.

This film is obviously not a 90-minute theatrical romp. However, I’d argue it’s less of a film than it could be. You don’t even have to go to the other end of the spectrum (a four-hour page-to-screen adaptation), though I’d watch that, too. I simply would have liked a little more clarification vis-à-vis:

The Dursleys. We saw them leaving Privet Drive. We didn’t see any of the wistful parting between Dudley and Harry. Got a glimpse of a slightly-rueful Petunia, but that’s it. I thought of that parting as the redeeming moment for characters who (granted) became more odious and less important as the series progressed.

The Wedding. Um, wasn’t Harry supposed to be in disguise? Heck, wasn’t he supposed to be in disguise for several scenes in this movie in addition to the ministry break-in?

The Horcruxes. How about a little consistency in number, location, and items remaining? Readers know that there are seven in all: diary, locket, ring, diadem, cup, Nagini, and Harry himself. At one point, someone mentions there are three horcruxes left. Obviously, we can rule Nagini and Harry in. But only one additional horcrux will be handled? Since the movie included the Golden Snitch, I guess the ring/resurrection stone is the third? So the diadem and cup are completely thrown to the winds. Poor Ravenclaw.

The Snatchers. I understand why we didn’t get the whole “Dean Jordan in the woods” plotline. And why the movie had to focus on Harry, Ron, and Hermione as opposed to what was happening in the rest of the world. But as someone who lives for those small details, those scenes at the Ministry of Magic or St. Mungo’s, I would have loved to see how the wizarding world at large was handling things.

Though I started with a heck of a lot of complaining, I loved things about the film, as well:

The Ministry. Gorgeous. Everything from the gleaming atrium to Umbridge’s office. The scene involving the break-in was perhaps my favorite. Kudos to the three adult actors who had to (I assume) mouth all their lines.

The Dance. It seems as if this scene, an extension not found in the book, is rather controversial. I didn’t consider it so at all. Harry and Hermione are friends, thrown together in intimate quarters on a mission that will almost certainly end in death. Who wouldn’t want a little twirl to ease the tension? Come ON, people.

The Dobby. You’d think that since I knew it was coming, Dobby’s death would be less heartbreaking. Um, NO. It was still devastating. Ditto for Hedwig, though that one seemed too fast for people to soak it in.

One of the people sitting near me had no idea what was coming—he must avoided spoilers and not have read the books. God bless him—it was like reading the book for the first time all over again. I wasn’t even tempted to spoil it for him, because I know how thrilling that initial realization can be.

(But to the couple in front of me who brought their four-year-old son? Those people need to be slapped upside the head. I mentally cursed them each time I heard “I have to go potty” in a little voice. Poor kid. Poor the rest of us.)

November 23, 2010

November 23, 2010

Remember This? Volume 16: Hand Turkeys

Little of my childhood remains with me, either in physical or mental form. What can I say? My mom’s an avid tosser and I have a terrible memory. I hope your parents documented your early years well, with videos and school papers and all that. I’m lucky that Milwaukee Public Schools for some reason compiled a folder of some of my best work and mailed it to the private school I graduated from in 2002. Without that sheaf of papers, I’d have little more than some report cards and the recollection of hand turkeys.

Yep, it’s Thanksgiving time again and children all over the land are making hand turkeys. Or, I hope they are. This is one of the few crafts that seems to be universally familiar with people from the Midwest, coasts, and everywhere in between. We learned about Pilgrims and Indians by tracing our fingers in crayon.

I was tickled when Sir Dr. Stephen Colbert, DFA referenced the hand turkey in a skit recently:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Joseph Gobbles Shoots Jay the Intern
Colbert Report Full Episodes2010 ElectionMarch to Keep Fear Alive

I must assume, therefore, the hand turkey goes back at least one generation (no offense to the Sir Dr.). Ideally, they were doing this back in colonial times, but with slate pencils or something. Coal sticks. Whatever it is children colored with before crayons.

I may not have children, but I’ve certainly spent time in nurseries, Sunday school classes, etc. passing on the knowledge of the hand turkey. It’s a simple craft, ‘tis true. But unlike most of what I see in Martha Stewart’s magazine, I can actually do it.

November 22, 2010

November 22, 2010

Towering Inferno

Like many of you, I get to enjoy a shortened workweek this week. Off Thursday and Friday, working from home on Wednesday. De-LIGHT-ful.

However, I learned last week that spending more time outside the office than isn’t just about increasing my personal happiness. It involves my safety from actual physical hazards. Fires, power outages, bedbugs, faulty alarms—all of these have plagued government buildings in the D.C. area of late. Yipee kay-ay, federal worker.

This is not to say that we feds are kickin’ it Chilean miner-style. There’s a very good chance I will suffer no more-lasting work injury than a papercut during my career. The facilities and security offices of my federal agency do a top-notch job with what they have.

But DAMN, amiright? It’s like an Irwin Allen movie up in here.

Perhaps you work for a small business, a large corporation, or Google. Places whose offices were built, well, during this century. Perhaps you think with awe what it would be like to work in a place like the White House, the Old Executive Office Building, or the Federal Reserve. I mean, the freaking Corridors of Power and all!

Here’s the reality: WH is only on blue and orange train lines, OEOB has been under scaffolding for years, and the Fed is guarded by a dude with a submachine gun who’s probably going to shoot first and ask questions later. (If you’re still thinking all this is cool, please, come join us.)

You just KNOW there are more chemicals in the water and asbestos in the air than are ideal. Add to that the law that appropriated funds (i.e. most of our money) can’t be used for food, drinks, or other personal comfort-y items, and it would seem to be rather dreary. Hence why the most satisfied of us does this for the mission and not for the perks. (Example: your Christmas party last year may have had booze and dancing. Mine had a small lunch THAT I HAD TO PAY FOR.)

I just hope Michael Bay is paying attention, because the tagline “One man…One agency…One collapsed roof!” would play really well around here.

November 20, 2010

November 18, 2010

November 18, 2010

Sail Away, Sail Away, Sail Away

My parents will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in January 2012. I’ve decided to eschew the traditional present (pearls—not so much fun for my dad) and get them a cruise to Alaska. That I also will go on, because heck if I’m going to drop $3000 without getting in on the action.

(Don’t worry; they’re not going to read this and find out. My parents are not your parents. They do not understand blogs and cell phones and the Facebook.)

I’d just begun researching cruise lines and best times to go and possible side trips when WHAM-O, the universe decided to make a very public disaster of one Carnival cruise. I’ve no doubt that a past version of me was planning a nice cruise in mid-1913 for HER parents on the White Star Line.

Though a lack of hot food and running toilets isn’t as dire as losing one’s life via iceberg…

Wait a minute. This is me and my parents we’re talking about here. If the buffet goes down, we’re thisclose to throwing ourselves overboard.


See, I picked Alaska because a) it’s something my dad has mentioned wanting to do for years and b) you don’t look silly if you stay on the boat. Because believe me, my parents and I will be staying on the boat. So if you can’t enjoy it from the dock, it ain’t happening. I’m sure Cancun, the Caribbean, et al have lovely shopping, scuba diving, and other activities. But if you think I’m going to drag my parents around St. Thomas, you have another think coming. It’s going to be best for everybody if we stuff ourselves with shrimp while looking at snow-covered mountains.

(Okay, but secretly? I want to re-enact the game Yukon Trail. I want a picture of myself with the Skagway sign. I want to swindle a swindler by guessing which cup is hiding the pea. I want to buy sled dogs. I may be missing the point here.)

Problems I’ve run into so far, other than the whole Carnival catastrophe: These cruises run like June to September. Which I guess makes sense, since it’s Alaska’s warmest (least frigid?) time. However, considering that my parents were married on January 16, this is going to be one fraktastic build-up. Also, I have no idea whether any of us is going to get seasick. We don’t get car- or airsick as a rule, but just my luck we’ll spend the entire time barfing our guts out. This will severely hamper the time we can spend stuffing our faces with free shrimp.

But on the plus side? We get to go to CANADA. The one place that might be free of “Palin in 2012” mania.


November 17, 2010

Why act when you can sing?

Gywneth Paltrow has been making me feel even more inadequate than usual lately. It’s not enough that she’s incredibly talented, incredibly thin, and married to the lead singer of Coldplay—now she also SINGS?! It’s like when Angelina trotted out the humanitarian stuff: leave something for the rest of us!

(Though I can’t stay too mad at a woman who names her online newsletter “Goop,” I can remain moderately pissed at a woman who names her daughter “Apple.” So that’s a wash.)

I believe Gwyneth sang in a movie some time ago. I don’t remember what it was titled or about; someone get their helper monkey to look that up. However, I do remember that I was less than impressed. Now, though, the girl’s developed some skills. Did you see her on the Country Music Awards? (Of course you didn’t; I however suffered the TWO HOURS AND FORTY-FIVE MINUTES of country music that aired before she sang.)

Not bad, right? I figure Chris helped her out with the guitar, but seriously. Not bad at all.

Now I understand she was on Glee as a sub who fills in for Mr. Shue. Included in her songs:

Um, damn. The girl can dance, too.

November 16, 2010

November 16, 2010

Uh Oh, Coco

As a fan of doing things legally whenever possible, I’ve been watching episodes of Conan on Shows are posted the day after they air, both full episodes and clips categorized by type (monologues, interviews, music, etc.). It would appear to be a beautiful system for those of us without even the basickest of basic cable.

Then you try to actually use the player and you realize you’re in for a world of hurt. You thought had a sucky player? Hulu pisses you off? Just. You. Wait.

My peeviest peeve is the fact that the full episodes are actually split up into many clips, each of which resets the window. You can’t full screen at the beginning of the show, sit back, and enjoy. Rather, you must get off your couch every three minutes and re-full screen. TBS, check it.

Also less-than optimal: the clip categorization. I mean, for someone who wants to watch just monologues, or just musical guests, it’s probably fabulous. But I daresay most of us would rather watch a mélange of guests and bits. Bringing back the “variety” in “variety programming.” TBS, check it.

This sounds awfully complainy, I realize. I’m incredibly thankful that the show gets posted online at all, saving me from resorting to more nefarious ends to get my daily dose of Coco.

[Editor's Note: Full episodes of Conan are also posted on The author gratefully no longer uses to get her Coco on.]

November 15, 2010

November 15, 2010

Someone’s in the Kitchen

This past weekend, I attended my third Metropolitan Cooking & Entertaining Show. Held annually in Washington, D.C., it’s a chance for specialty vendors to showcase their food, cooking, and other wares. Often accompanied by free samples. So, really, it’s a day to nosh on cheese and chocolate, aka The Best Day Ever.

The key is getting there early. When you arrive early, the floor looks like this:

When you don’t arrive early, the floor looks like this:

Seriously. Go early. Buy your tickets in advance, too. Anything you can do to get your butt on the floor as soon as possible.

What do you do once you’re there? I’m so glad you asked. Attendees wile away the hours with three main tracks: celebrity appearances (which cost extra and are scrupulously guarded), vendor booths, and workshops.

Little-known fact: “Don’t tase me, bro” was preceded by “I just want to see Paula Deen.”

The D--- in a Box people have obviously branched out.


I pooped out after 6 hours, unfortunately. Despite several visits to the McCafe booth.

Good thing I’d gotten my fill of cheese.

My favorite innovation this year was the ginger beer. That stuff was amazing. Not your father’s ginger ale.

My second favorite was the rum cake. So moist, it had to have been 60% butter. At least.

Did I feel a little sick afterwards from all the sugar and fat consumption? Sure did. Was it totally worth it? Sure was.

November 10, 2010

November 10, 2010

New Boy in the Neighborhood

All right, so I’m poking around Hulu recently. Hulu, a site I love because it provides a legal conduit for me to partake of the media I so dearly love. It’s like the 21st Amendment, or Las Vegas. If I didn’t get my fix on Hulu, I would (and have) (and do) find it elsewhere.

But anyillegaldownloading, Hulu offers recommendations based on the things you watch and subscribe to. These almost always make brilliant sense, and come with a little explanation of the reasoning.

For example, Hulu thinks I would like the show Monk, because I subscribe to Castle. Both are about crime solvers, both have a quirky sense of humor…it’s all good. Further, Hulu tells you have many people who got the same recommendation agree. (In this case, 77%--I really need to give Monk a shot.)

It’s a great system. Until it isn’t.

I know there are a few 25-29 year old females out there. So, ladies: seriously? Plus, what sort of reasoning basis is that? It’s not like I subscribe to “Joanie Loves Chachi” or anything. The fact that there’s no agreement percentage makes me think this is just Hulu’s way of screwing with me.

Unless it knows how much of a control freak I am?

Or that my favorite Scrubs episode involves the a cappella group practicing the Charles in Charge theme song?

Dear lord, maybe this thing is smarter than I thought.

November 9, 2010

November 9, 2010

Things I’ve Read: My Life in France / Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession

I inadvertently pulled a “Julie & Julia” last week: I read Julia Child’s My Life in France followed immediately by Julie Powell’s Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession. I’d like to attribute this clever feat to subconscious echoes of the film I saw last year, or perhaps the ethos of joie de manger that is my everyday life, but I think we have to chalk this one up to complete randomness. In my books (whoa, no pun intended), Julie Powell is fated to be tied to Julia Child.

My Life in France was a birthday present from friend-of-blog Hope. (Consider: Her gift encompassed food and reading. Yea, how verily she knoweth me.) The book is Julia Child’s autobiography, as told to and written by her nephew. You could say this book is the basis of the “Julia” half of that film, but it’s an incredibly detailed picture whereas the film was quick and glossy. Child discusses her marriage, living situations, and career in glorious (and sometimes gruesome) detail. Since Paul Child spent his career in government, he and Julia both were subject to the whims of politics. (As someone who herself has dodged a fair number of whims, let me attest that, ahem, these bitches is crazy.)

Perhaps you only ever knew Julia Child as a TV chef. True, ‘twas the culmination of her life’s work. But that was really the third act of her career. First, she learned to cook. Then, she wrote about cooking. Only after did she show people how to bone a duck in Technicolor. Honestly, I found the “writing” phase the most fascinating to read about. Creating the first-of-its-kind French cookbook for American audiences involved a lot more than converting recipes from metric. Throw in Julia’s obsessive attention to detail—it wasn’t enough for her to get it right; she wanted to figure out all the ways to get it wrong and why they didn’t work—and you can’t help but wonder how she didn’t impale herself on that chef’s knife.

Cleaving, on the other hand, is the second book from Julie Powell, who famously cooked all of Julia’s recipes whilst blogging the process. Now, say what you will (it’s okay; I’m about to), but the portrayal of Julie Powell in that movie was, well, I believe goshdarncute is the exact word. So when you find out that Julia Child didn’t care for Powell’s project, you’re all “WTF? She’s freaking adorable!” Yeah, not so much. I present as evidence this book.
In real life, Powell and her husband are having marital issues. Serious ones. That involve torrid affairs on both sides, and which are described in squirm-inducing detail. To distract herself from the slow crash and burn of her marriage, Powell decides to apprentice as a butcher.

(If you answered “What. The. $%&*?” I think that you’re finally coming around to Julia Child’s side of the table.)

Powell’s obviously a fan of meat—she spends quite a bit of time discussing the different cuts and techniques. She throws in some recipes, as well, all of which I’m sure are delicious. (I will never know for sure because I prefer to get my meat pre-formed and ideally pre-cooked.) Even the diehards should know, though, that butchering is a lot more than slicing and shredding. Pigs are killed. Lambs are killed. Powell eats a lot of freaky stuff in this book, people. It’s like a horrifying, horrifying version of Charlotte’s Web. And that’s coming from me. Think about it.

Bottom line, I think My Life in France has a lot going for it. French living, the comedy of bad apartments, disagreements between writers, etc. It’s a great mélange. Cleaving, though, is best left for those seriously interested in butchering or adultery.

November 8, 2010

November 8, 2010

In My Opinion: The Social Network

While I usually give movies a week or two to sink in before I recap them for you, I’m going to go ahead and rashly review The Social Network mere hours after I’ve seen it. There’s even a method to this madness: it seems to me that the founding of Facebook was all about being rash.

The vast majority of you are already intimately familiar with Facebook and are aware that this film presents the story of its creation in Rashomon-style multi-perspective flashbacks. The best part of this film isn’t wondering who’s right, who’s the bad guy, or anything like that. Nah, what this film really does is explore the messy world of intellectual property.

Because, c’mon, you’re asking me to believe that a guy who looks like this…

...both went to Harvard and had trouble getting a date? NOT SO MUCH.

So obviously, we’ve left the world of hand-to-heart verisimilitude and have wandered instead into idealized history. Fine by me. What do we know?

We know that Mark Zuckerberg was a genius at computer programming but an idiot at understanding people. (I’ve dated enough computer science majors to know that it’s a problem with the breed.)

We know that the Winklevoss twins (and God bless a family whose surname is crazier than mine) had an idea for a social networking website while attending Harvard.

We know that the Winklevosses asked Mark to help with the website.

We know that shortly afterward, Mark created a social networking site not with the Winklevosses, but with his best friend Eduardo Guerin.

We know that Sean Parker, the creator of Napster, then became involved.

We know that Guerin then got cut out.

We know that both the Winklevosses and Guerin sued Zuckerberg. Both reached settlement deals.

But who was right? Whose idea was Facebook, anyway? Who should be getting the money, and the credit, and the fame that spews from it’s every blue-and-white page? How much of what is presented in this movie as history even happened? Since non-disclosure agreements were signed, we will never know.

Aaron Sorkin’s script performed by Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, et al may not be the exact truth. But good GRIEF, it’s fantastic. If only every event could be thus retold.

November 4, 2010

November 4, 2010

Liberty, Woo

As you may have done, I voted this week. Despite caring 200000% more about the Wisconsin races than I ever will about those of the Old Dominion, my apparently permanent Virginia residency and something called “the law” mean I can no longer vote a straight Cheesehead ticket.

Now, keep in mind that live, Election Day voting is a relatively new thing for me. See, Milwaukee allows no-excuse absentee voting. With the result that I hadn’t set foot in an actual voting booth for many moons. Then I moved to Virginia, got myself a li’l voter card, and discovered that getting an absentee ballot here requires little less than two DNA samples and a sacrifice to the ghost of Robert E. Lee. (YOU may think I'm kidding. The two goats I slaughtered, on the other hand, know better.)

My first Virginia vote was last fall, in the gubernatorial race. (And OHDEARLORD, remember that debacle?) For some reason, we elect our executive in off-years, unlike pretty much the entire rest of the country. I swear, this state picked the wrong side in the Civil War and it all went downhill from there.

This year, my ballot had just one house race and three referenda. Still, civic duty and all that.

When I arrived at the polling place, an elementary school, 30 minutes before closing, there was a line out the freaking door. Now, in any other circumstance, I would have been pissed. Incredibly pissed. Willing-to-stab-a-stranger-to-skip pissed. But this time? I was thrilled. Lack of interesting contests in our district be damned! We were getting our VOTE on!

When I recognized multiple fellow bus riders from my morning and/or evening commutes, I had my first hand-to-heart feelings of community. Like I belonged. Something I haven’t felt since the last Wisconsin State Fair. (I suspect that a good Wisconsin accent will thrill my soul to the end of time. It’s in the DNA.)

So not to get all sappy and whatnot, but it was good. Really good.

Ironically, none of my choices ended up winning. At least I got a sticker.

November 3, 2010

November 3, 2010

The Lone Bagel

While I’m appreciative of a good bit o’ distance between parental units and their offspring, having my mom nearby has its perks. Namely, free food. (Pretend that I talked about other stuff first, like the ability to do things together or something.) Perhaps your parents sent care packages in college filled with cookies and granola bars and stuff. Same sort of deal. Except much more random. To wit:

All right, let’s break it down. Starting at the lower left, we have a bagel. Just one. A lone bagel.

At the upper left, we have cream cheese. To go with the lone bagel, ostensibly, though I am not against eating that creamy goodness right out of the tub.

We move on to a dinner roll. Just one. A lone dinner roll.

Now, I would say that my mom believes bread products should be segregated like rabbits—get two together and they just multiply out of control. (Sidebar: How cool would it be if food really DID do that?!) But then we finish this bag of random food with two waffles I know you can’t tell, but there are two. Blueberry. Delicious. My mom’s waffle maker definitely kicks Eggo’s butt.

(Yeah, despite having less counter space than the typical bathroom in her kitchen, my mom has a waffle maker. And a George Foreman grill, multiple crock pots, a rice pot, and other kitchen appliances. Unpacking all that was a really FUN experience for me.)

Since this picture was taken, I have also received chicken (raw—I microwaved it, though), fried rice, and bananas. Is it too much to ask for a normal platter of brownies or something?