Monday, August 31, 2009

A Weekend in the Country

I went upstate to Oneonta this weekend to spend some time with my cousins and help them get their cabin ready for their annual Labor Day blowout celebration. Alot of work, alot of fun. The first half of the weekend was a rainy mess, but Sunday more than made up for it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Survivor: Samoa's Cast

The granddaddy of all reality shows, Survivor, has announced next season's (Survivor: Samoa) new cast members. At first glance it appears to be a nice cross-section of people. Names, ages, and professions are listed below:

- David Ball, 38, LA Fitness Instructor
- Betsy Bolan, 48, Campton, N.H., Police Officer
- Mike Borassi, 62, Marina Del Rey, Calif., Private Chef
- Ben Browning, 28, LA Mixologist
- Marisa Calihan, 26, Cincinnati Student
- Erik Cardona, 28, Ontario, Calif., Bartender
- Brett Clouser, 23, LA T-Shirt Designer
- John Fincher, 25, LA Rocket Scientist
- Yasmin Giles, 33, LA Hairstylist
- Russell Hantz, 36, Dayton, Texas, Oil Company Owner
- Elizabeth Kim, 33, New York City Urban Planner
- Laura Morett, 39, Salem, Oregon, Office Manager
- Monica Padilla , 25, San Diego Law Student
- Jaison Robinson, 28, Chicago Law Student
- Kelly Sharbaugh, 25, LA Hairstylist
- Russell Swan, 42, Glenside, Pa., Attorney
- Ashley Trainer, 22, Maple Grove, Minn., Spa Sales Rep
- Mick Trimming, 33, An La Doctor
- Shannon Waters, 45, A Renton, Wash., Sales Rep
- Natalie White, 26, A Van Buren, Ark., Pharmaceutical Sales Rep

The new season premieres Sept. 17th.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Rites of Passage

A rite of passage is defined as a ritual or ceremony signifying an event in a person's life indicative of a transition from one stage to another, as from adolescence to adulthood. For a baby there's the first haircut, for a young girl there's a sweet 16 to mark her transition into womanhood, and for me, at 41...drum roll please...there's a mammogram.

Yes, I had my first mammogram last night, and as I told my friend at work, that machine is a torture device straight out of the movie Saw. As if the 'pinch' (that's what they said it would feel like, yeah right) from the vise-like grip on my breasts wasn't enough, add to that the technician manhandling my breasts like they were silly putty to get it 'just right' for the imaging. Discomfort and embarassment rolled into one pretty little package. I just hope I never run into that technician in a social setting. Can anybody say "awkward".

I guess now that I'll be having my breasts flattened into an unrecognizable pancake on a yearly basis, I can officially say that I've transitioned into middle age. Yippee for me! I don't even want to think of the great rite of passage waiting for me at 50, a colonoscopy. I'm glad I still have 9 years left to prepare myself for that one, because my butt cheeks are clenching just thinking about it.

Album News from Jason Castro

Jason Castro aka the dreadlocked dude with the beautiful blue eyes (aah, isn’t he just dreamy?) from Season 7 of American Idol has an official release date for his new album, November 17th. The new single “Let’s Just Fall in Love Again” is streaming on his website, and you can pre-order the album as well.

I’m really loving the single. It’s catchy and has a Beatles-like sound to it. If you need to know more, I found this Michael Slezak interview with Jason over at Entertainment Weekly with some inside scoop on the other songs on the album.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bollywood Meets Hollywood

This was my favorite performance from tonight's America's Got Talent. It's Ishaara, a Bollywood-style dance troupe comprised of students from UC Berkeley.

Want-to-See Fall Movie List

With Summer almost over (thank God!), one thing I'm looking forward to, in addition to some nice crisp Fall weather, is Fall movies. Here's the short-list of movies I'm actually eager to dole out $11 for:

Shutter Island. This is another Scorcese and DiCaprio project. The movie centers around two U.S. Marshalls (DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo) sent to investigate the escape of a female inmate at an institution for the criminally insane. The movie is based on the novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane. Lehane's books have translated well to the big screen in the past, including Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone, and with Scorcese on board I can't imagine that this movie will be any exception. (Release Date: Oct. 2)

Where the Wild Things Are. This movie is based on the classic children's book by the same name written by Maurice Sendak. It's about the wild adventures of a little boy named Max in his make-believe world. (Release Date: Oct. 16)

The Road. Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel written by Cormac McCarthy. The story centers around a father and son in a post-apocalyptic road trip toward safety. Viggo Mortensen is cast as the father. I read the book, so if the movie is even half as good as the book, then it will be worth the money. (Release Date: Oct. 16)

A Christmas Carol. The Charles Dickens classic with Jim Carrey as Scrooge. What else do you need to know? Carrey's "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" is a perennial holiday classic in my home. I'm hoping this becomes one too. (Release Date: Nov. 6)

The Lovely Bones. Based on the novel by Alice Sebold. It's the story of a young girl who is raped and murdered, and then watches her family and murderer from heaven. It's directed by Peter Jackson and stars Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz. This is another case where I've read the book, which was wonderful despite the horrible topic, so the movie has a lot to live up to. (Release Date: Dec. 11)

I'm a Dancing Fool

This Fall will be all dancing, all the time. In addition to a special first time ever Fall season of So You Think You Can Dance, I'll also have Season 9 of Dancing with the Stars to keep me on my toes. Dancing with the Stars recently announced their Season 9 celebrity and pro dancer match-ups:

- Aaron Carter and Karina Smirnoff
- Natalie Coughlin and Alec Mazo
- Mark Dacascos and Lacey Schwimmer
- Tom DeLay and Cheryl Burke
- Macy Gray and Jonathan Roberts
- Ashley Hamilton and Edyta Sliwinska
- Melissa Joan Hart and Mark Ballas
- Kathy Ireland and Tony Dovolani
- Michael Irvin and Anna Demidova
- Joanna Krupa and Derek Hough
- Chuck Liddell and Anna Trebunskaya
- Debi Mazar and Maksim Chmerkovskiy
- Mya and Dmitry Chaplin
- Kelly Osbourne and Louis van Amstel
- Donny Osmond and Kym Johnson
- Louie Vito and Chelsie Hightower

One glaring omission from the list, of course, is my favorite dancer, Julianne Hough, who supposedly is taking time off this season to focus on her music career. Julianne, you will be missed. As for the match-ups, I think one obviously mismatched couple doomed to early failure is Kelly Osbourne and Louis van Amstel. What were the producers thinking? The kid's probably in her early to mid-20's, I can't imagine...and I could be wrong...stranger things have been known to happen...there being any kind of chemistry between the two.

I'll wait to watch the first episode before I pick my early favorites, but I will say that the couple I'm most curious to see is Tom Delay and Cheryl. We'll see if Cheryl can make a silk purse out of a sow's ear with Tom, and I'm referring more to his media persona and the fact that he's going into it with a lot of detractors from the get go, and not his dancing obviously, since I've never seen him dance. She'll have to do it if she wants to take home her third mirror ball trophy.

Whatever happens, Dancing never disappoints, and it will undoubtedly be an interesting and fun season filled with fake tans, scantily clad women in sequined spandex dresses and men in too tight pants that leave little to the imagination.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Death of a Spider

While I extend my deepest condolences to the spider, and its 1000 babies, this new video from The Cat Diaries is LOL funny.

Rainy Weekend Movie Marathon

When the local weather forecaster announced rain straight through from Friday afternoon to Sunday midday, I kicked in to "planner" mode, and like a hurricane veteran preparing for an impending storm, I hit the supermarket for snacks and my local Blockbuster for some much needed entertainment. I prepared to hunker down at home and ride out the storm. Now granted, it was just rain, not a hurricane, but it was as good an excuse as any to just chill at home not doing anything. Sadly and/or gladly (depends on when you ask me), it didn't rain straight through and there were enough breaks in between to allow me to finish cleaning my patio, visit the nursery for some items for said patio, visit the library for some future reading materials and visit my dear knuckleheads(nephews). In the end, even with all the interruptions I managed to squeeze in plenty of time to watch these great, not so great, and so-so movies.

17 Again - This sweet, funny and romantic movie was great. In the movie, Mike O'Donnell (Matthew Perry) is a 30 something year old wishing to turn back the hands of time and go back to his glory days when he was 17, and before he made a life-altering decision. Mike gets that chance when he's transformed into his 17 year old self (Zac Efron) and goes back to high school. Matthew Perry is barely in this movie, this is totally Zac Efron's movie and I thought he was great. I'd never seen him in anything and I was impressed. On a side note, I don't know if this makes me a so-called 'cougar' but let me just say, Zac's soo cute. I think I have a crush. Anyway, getting back to the movie, this one's definitely a keeper. Loved it!

Knowing - Fifty years ago an elementary school class buries a time capsule. The students are urged to draw pictures of what they think the future will look like. All the kids do it, except for one little girl, Lucinda, who instead fills a page with a written sequence of numbers. Fifty years later, a current class at the same elementary school opens the capsule and each student is given an envelope with the past child's drawing, except for Caleb who gets the mysterious little girl's paper. His dad, John Koestler (Nicolas Cage), is a professor who quickly becomes intrigued with the paper when after closer inspection he realizes that the random numbers are in fact the date, number of dead, and coordinates for some of the greatest disasters in the past 50 years and supposedly more disasters are to come. Everything in this movie was great, until the end. I won't go into finer detail, because I don't want to ruin it for you guys, but let me just say WTF! were the exact words out of my mouth when I finished the movie. 'Nuff said.

Push - A group of people (conveniently all young and attractive) born with powers, including Movers, who move things with the mind, Pushers who can control and distort your thoughts, and Watchers who can foresee the future, find each other and band together to bring down the Division, a government agency that tracks them and is using a drug, which has proved mostly lethal when injected into its subjects in the past, to try to create an army of super soldiers. This one never quite did the job for me. It wasn't believable, or honestly good enough to make me suspend my disbelief. Not a total waste, but I wouldn't rush out to rent it.

New in Town - Lucy Hill (Renee Zellweger) is a big city executive sent to a small town in Minnesota to restructure a manufacturing plant with new equipment which in turn will need a smaller, scaled down workforce. It's your typical fish out of water story, with a dash of romance thrown in, in the form of Harry Connick Jr. who plays a local union rep who locks horns with Zellweger's Lucy. She's a cold fish who's quickly won over by the small town and its resident's charm, as well as by it's local hottie. The movie was cute, yet predictable. Maybe rent it when everything else on your 'must rent' list is out.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

On this Day (in 1942)

On August 13, 1942 Walt Disney Studios premiered Bambi at the Radio City Music Hall in New York. The movie was based on the book, Bambi: A Life in the Woods by Austrian author Felix Salten. The film went on to receive three Academy Award nominations for Best Sound, Best Song for "Love Is a Song" and Original Music Score. Here's a video of the original 1942 movie trailer.

My First Knitting Project

The lunchtime knitting lessons (two in total) that I mentioned in my previous post, I Know How to Knit! (Sort Of), went well and after a couple of weeks practicing what I learned, I've decided to jump in with both feet, and start my first real project...a child's sweater. Here's the pattern I bought online.

I picked what seems a very simple pattern. I've even opted for the rolled hem style, to avoid knitting the ribbed hem, neck and cuffs. My knitting teacher/co-worker thinks I might be getting a little over my head, but heck, I have nothing to lose. If I mess up and it doesn't turn out well, I can discard it and consider it a trial run for the real thing. The plan(hope) is to send the completed sweater to Guidepost's Knit for Kids, an organization that sends handmade sweaters to needy children all over the world. I will only send it if it's absolutely perfect, and if all goes well, I plan on attaching one of these lovely little labels to the inside collar.

Hopefully the next post you read from me on knitting will include a photo of the completed project. Cross your fingers for me and wish me well. If not for me, do it for the poor child that'll be getting my sweater.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Swell Season: Tiny Desk Concert

Anyone who saw the movie "Once" undoubtedly fell in love with Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova and their wonderful music, including their hit Falling Slowly, which was introduced to a whole new audience when it was covered by Kris Allen during this past season of American Idol. While visiting NPR I was thrilled to find that they have a follow-up album to Once titled Strict Joy, out October 27th.

If you're interested in a sneak preview, visit NPR's Tiny Desk Concert for 30+ minutes of Glen, Marketa and a battered acoustic guitar emanating beautiful music.

A friend at work introduced me to, and I can officially report that I’m obsessed and loving it. First things first, thesixtyone is an innovative music site whose mission in their own words is to “make music culture more democratic: artists upload their work for review, but, rather than allow a stuffy suit in a boardroom to decide what's good, thousands of listeners do.” I love the idea that as a listener you’re privy to talent on the ground floor of their musical journeys and careers.

I’ve found some great music! I love this song, and this song, and especially this one by Sean Fournier. I love this song by Kate Earl, this one by Katie Herzig, and this one by The Rescues, and so many more.

You can listen to music without creating an account, but the account lets you save your favorite songs to listen to over and over again, and it also makes you a more active participant in making your favorite songs or artists heard.

Spread the word. If you love music, join now!

John Hughes: A Moving Tribute

I was saddened to hear last week of the passing of John Hughes, the brilliant mind behind such great movies as The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Uncle Buck, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and my all-time favorite Some Kind of Wonderful. Above all else, the characters in his movies all showed so much heart. They made you care...about them...about what they were going through.

I recently came across this blog post which speaks volumes about the man behind the camera. The post is a tribute, not to the filmmaker, but to the man. It’s from a fan who wrote Hughes a letter as a young girl and became a pen pal. In reading the post, I realized that the reason his movies were so wonderful was because a little of bit him shone through in each one.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

I Can't Wait to See This Movie

America's Got Talent Quarterfinals - So Far, So Good

After week's of auditions and the dreaded Vegas round where we saw over 100 acts whittled down to forty by the judges, we had the first quarterfinal performances that placed the power squarely in our, the viewers, hands to vote forth the acts we deemed worthy of continuing on.

First of all, I need to get one thing off my chest...Judges, you suck! While I know the show isn't all about the talent, just like So You Think You Can Dance isn't all about the dancing, that's why those judges always say it's "America's Favorite Dancer" not "America's Best Dancer" that's chosen. But c'mon, some semblance of talent should be a determining factor on whether you make it through or not. The judges put through a little girl with a big personality but who can barely sing or play the piano, and leave in tears, pleading for a chance, a talented singer (Kelli Glover) who had a real chance of making it all the way to the finale. It boggles the mind.

Ok, now that that little rant is off my chest, I'm very happy to say that one of my favorites, Kevin Skinner, made the first cut and thanks to America's vote he will be advancing into the next round of competition. Kevin not only sounded great, but he cleaned up very nicely too. I'm looking forward to seeing performances from the next batch of 12 contestants, and also hoping that a couple of my other favorites make it through.

Snickerdoodles and A Trip Down Memory Lane

A week before last it was my friend/co-worker's birthday and her friend/my knitting teacher brought her some homemade snickerdoodles (sugar and cinnamon cookies). I had never tried these delicious little cookies prior to this but I promptly fell in love with them as soon as I bit into the tender and sweet little morsel. I'm not a cookie person, so my own reaction was a bit of a surprise, but after gobbling up more than my fair share of the birthday girl's delicious treats, which she kindly shared with us, I quickly shot off an email to her friend asking for the sweet confection's recipe. So this weekend, despite my lack of baking expertise or know-how I decided to try my hand at making myself some snickerdoodles to enjoy and horde all to myself.

First of all, the recipe couldn't have been any easier, yet somehow I managed to mess it up -- not totally -- but enough that many of my cookies didn't exactly match the wonderful tenderness and sweetness of the original sample. The problem proved to be my inability to follow directions, as the recipe clearly stated to shape the dough into 1-inch balls, but I made my balls all various sizes which of course impacted the duration of time I kept the cookies in the oven, hence some of my cookies were flat and crispy where the originals had been plump and tender little bite size pieces. You live and you learn. I was able to salvage enough of them that after stuffing my face and belly with snickerdoodles I can now go a good year before I repeat this baking experience.

The trip down memory lane portion of the post title refers to the fact that I enjoyed said snickerdoodles while viewing, in the company of my dear cousins, one of my all time favorite kid's movies, "The NeverEnding Story." My cousin bougth the DVD for her daughter to enjoy, but in all honesty, I think we enjoyed it more than the kids. It was wonderful visiting Fantasia again, enjoying the bravery of young Atreyu as he tried to rescue the Empress and all of Fantasia from the Nothing. As I watched Jared's face, my cousin's little boy, during the sad scene when Atreyu loses his beloved horse Artax in the Swamp of Sadness, I could so relate to that look that said WTF! This isn't supposed to happen to one of the heroes of the story because I remembered feeling the same way. It's now a shared experience.

It was a great afternoon of shared fun and memories, which I hope to repeat soon.

Back to the cookies, I was only able to take this one lousy photo of my creations because my camera's batteries were dying, a fact I only realized when I went to take said photo, but here's the very simple recipe for those interested.

Snickerdoodles (from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, 2002)

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1.5 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

In a medium mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add the 1 cup sugar, baking soda, and cream of tartar. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour. Cover and chill dough about 1 hour or until easy to handle.

Combine the 2 tablespoons sugar and the cinnamon. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll balls in sugar-cinnamon mixture to coat. Place 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 10-11 minutes or until edges are golden. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Help

This great novel by Kathryn Stockett introduces us to three incredible women: Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, Aibileen, and Minny, who despite their differences come together, at their own peril, to try to make a difference in the world around them. In "The Help", set in Jackson Mississippi during the time of the civil rights movement, Skeeter is a young woman fresh out of college, who comes back home eager to embark on her life. While her mother's fondest with for her is a husband and family, Skeeter's hopes and aspirations are to become an editor at Harper & Row Publishers in New York City. Aibileen and Minny are two black maids who have spent their life employed by some of the well-to do white families in town, including Skeeter's friends, caring for their children. Of the two, Aibileen is a serene and wise woman who loves the children she cares for, especially her current charge, Mae Mobley, and Minny is Aibileen's complete opposite, sassy and outspoken with her white employers, she's lost more than one job because of it.

When one of Skeeter's friends from the Junior League, Miss Hilly, decides to put forth a new initiative to have separate bathrooms created in each private residence for the colored maids, this triggers a greater social consciousness in Skeeter and after taking a job at the local paper writing a column on household advice, Skeeter reaches out to Aibileen for help in answering the questions and a tentative and fragile bond begins to form between these two women. Motivated by the memories of her own loving bond with the black maid who raised her, Constantine, Skeeter decides to write about the experiences of these black women and the white families they care for. The book becomes a compilation of interviews with 12 black maids sharing their stories of both daily struggle, but also in some instances of the love and compassion shared with the white families they're employed by. Of course, the names are changed and all the interviews are held in secret, because knowledge of the book endangered not only the black maids jobs but their very lives.

The book delves frankly, through the maids personal stories and through their eyes, with their every day fears of abuse from their white employers, their struggles for equality -- even with something as simple as sitting down to eat at the Woolworth counter, to the sad realization that the young children that they help raise and love will one day be their employers and possibly treat them the same as their parents.

I loved this book. It was insightful and moving as it dealt with the issue of racism from the different perspectives of these women. Each character is so well written that it leaps off the page. Even the side story of Miss Celia and Mister Johnny, Minny's employers, was both funny and touching. I highly recommend this book.

Picasso I Am Not

In an effort to expand my interests, as well as to step away from the couch and TV, I purchased a sketch book, drawing pencils, and some instructional material to take a stab at drawing. In all honesty, the stuff sat on my coffee table collecting dust for more than a month until I got a little nudge thanks to an article I read and listened to at NPR.

The article was titled "Getting Adults to Draw" and it discussed how we were all artists as children. Drawing and coloring to our hearts content on any flat surface we could find: paper, coloring books, and some of us -- even on walls. We did our thing at school or daycare and rushed home to share our art work with our parents, who in turn proudly displayed it in a place of honor -- more than likely the fridge. But at some point, we as children stop drawing, and the guest attributes it to the fact that children don't see adults do it and drawing becomes a "baby" activity. Another potential reason is that people stop drawing when they realize they're not good at it, when in fact that shouldn't stop anyone from drawing. We don't stop playing basketball when we realize we're not going to play in the NBA, so why should we stop drawing or sketching just because we're not going to be the next Picasso or Rembrandt.

So, to make a long story short, though it might be a little too late for that, I opened up my box of pencils and I started drawing. Here's my handiwork:

I wanted to include a photo of my art supplies, but Jasmin had another idea.

Here's my first creation. It's not van Gogh's Sunflowers, but heck, there's no where but up from here.

I don't think this one is necessarily a step up, but he is cute.

Jasmin manages to get in the shot again. The girl wants to be in pictures.

This little guy is my favorite.

There's definite room for improvement, so I'm not giving up. Even if my skills have already reached their peak, I'm OK with that, because you know what, drawing is still fun.