Monday, November 30, 2009

Time for Family

With Thanksgiving ringing in the holiday season, I decided to take a few days off from blogging and spend the time I'm usually online, doing things with the family. So Thursday, after savoring the warmth of the covers well past when the alarm clock usually rouses us from sleep, we ran a few last-minute errands which included stopping by Polly's for a few pies and some fresh-baked rolls. Then, Caesar headed to his family's get-together in Pico Rivera while I headed to my own in Huntington Beach. I barely missed my cousin's skype chat, but my Mom filled me in with tales of my cousin's husband treating him to a traditional American turkey dinner (which for Spain must be fairly interesting) and the debacle of the pumpkin pie. (It turns out that they were late arriving at the grocery store so instead of the canned pumpkin, they bought a real pumpkin and made the pie from scratch. They both assured my Folks and my Aunt and Uncle that it tasted much better than they thought it would.) My Brother arrived shortly after I did and filled me in on the details of the marathon he ran on Santa Catalina Island. Then, the six of us sat around the table, passing plates of turkey, stuffing, candied sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and string beans to each other, laughing, chatting away and enjoying the time together. My Sister-in-Law stopped by in time for dessert, having spent much of the day with her own family.

Friday, Caesar and I slept in again, ran a few more errands, bought the final cans of paint for the bathroom, and cheated on our diets with some burgers from McDonald's. We spent the remainder of the day on the couch, switching between TV channels, Nintendo games -- Caesar bought the latest Lego Indiana Jones 2 -- and Tana French's In the Woods. A nice day filled with nothing terribly important to do -- which we both needed.

Saturday we finished painting the bathroom, a light shade of brown called Cliff Rock that sets off the white baseboards and other white wood nicely. While the paint dried, we watched three more episodes of Dexter, season one, before heading out to meet a few friends for dinner in at Avila's El Ranchito in downtown Huntington Beach. The restaurant was only a few blocks from where I used to live, and though I'd walked by it many times, I'd never stopped in for a bite. Man, what I had been missing! The food tasted incredible -- I loved the chingolingas, which was a pastry filled with chicken then rolled and fried like flautas. What I enjoyed even more, though, was catching up with Rob, Clark and Shane, laughing and talking and having a great time. It felt like our own Thanksgiving celebration, only with salsa and salty tortilla chips instead of turkey and gravy.

Sunday was another day to stick around the apartment, reading farther into the Tana French novel and perhaps a short walk down Retro Row to window shop. A nice, relaxing end to the holiday weekend.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.

-- Albert Schweitzer

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Not on the Bandwagon

I guess I'm in the minority who doesn't really like Adam Lambert's singing style. From what I saw on American Idol, sure he can wail and screech like the glam rockers of the '70s and '80s, but that's not my taste in music. And as for his performance at the American Music Awards, I feel what he did on Idol was far superior in terms of his singing. Sunday's show focused more on the showy shock value rather than any singing, and he came across flat and a bit boring vocally.

I know he's gay, but does that mean I have to jump on board the bandwagon and love love love him, like most in the community seem to? Does not liking him automatically revoke my pink card?

He does have a point when it comes to the editing of his performance for the West Coast viewers. He did nothing different from women singers (like Madonna, Britney and Christina sharing on-stage kisses...that were televised to millions of people, or Madonna being a bawdy courtesan for her performance of Vogue oh those many years ago on the MTV VMAs). Women seem to be allowed to flaunt their sexuality, even if it crosses the border into same-sex territory, while one little kiss between to men and civilization as we know it is coming to an end. Seems like a double-standard to me.

But I'm still not buying his album.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Book Review: The Gay Detective
Francis Morley moves to Bay City in the early 1960s, taking over his uncle's detective agency. Hattie Campbell, his uncle's secretary, isn't sure what to make of her new boss; he's definitely not the type of man his uncle was, perhaps a bit on the "swish" side, but that could just be his college theater days rubbing off on him. Or maybe it's the long line of young men waiting outside the office door when she arrives, all in response to an ad Morley placed looking for an able-bodied young man to help out. Tiger Olsen, the good-looking, straight-laced town hero, finds himself hired as Morley's' new assistant when all was doing was making a routine call for his employer Chadwick Motors to greet the new detective in charge of their account. He finds Francis a bit odd, too, but also a man determined to prove himself as a detective.

Within a few days of re-opening the detective agency, Morley is approached by Captain Starr of the Bay City Homicide Department, hoping that he will be able to help solve a series of murders and the disappearance of a young man which may be connected to the murders. The reason for bringing his agency in is the odd nature of some of the people involved, people whom Starr suspects someone like Morley might be more in tune with.

Lou Rand's camp version of a noir detective story comes across as a parody of the gay pulps but with a minor difference. In many of the pulps I've read, the gay character struggles with his own identity, being forced to hide his sexuality until it ultimately forces its way into the open with tragic results. With The Gay Detective, Francis Morley never questions his own sexuality even when he knows people such as Captain Starr are using him because of what they think instead of what they know. No one out right asks him about a girlfriend or wife, but neither does he offer any such information. He's also incredibly comfortable with himself and doesn't hesitate when it comes to searching the local gay bars and restaurants -- even the bathhouse -- to uncover whatever has Bay City in an uproar. A refreshing change, but at the same time, I was never certain myself of Morley's sexuality: is he really gay, or is he putting on a show because it will allow him entry to places the police would never want to go?

Then again, most of the main characters all seemed to display some sort of homosexual tendencies though not as obviously as Morley. Captain Starr and many other male city notables frequent the back room of a bar, making it an exclusive gentlemen's club known as the "Back Room Crowd". Though no hanky-panky goes on, the insinuation that it's more than what it seems is definitely present. Not to mention all the bad guys appear to be homosexual, such as Kay Dunbar who helps to kill a man at the beginning of the story with the pay being a chance of having sex with the gunman n the backseat of the car that held the dead body in the trunk. (And Bay City seems to have only three women in its entirety -- Hattie, a rich woman who lost her cat, and a young woman whom Captain Starr referred to Morley.)

Interspersed with all its campiness, The Gay Detective spins a good detective tale, filled with drugs, sexual slavery, and a great detective. And I have to agree with the Ann Bannon quote on the cover: "It's so flaming you could roast marshmallows over it."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Earlier Each Year

Forgive the grainy look of the pictures. But when you're on the go and don't have a proper camera, the cell phone will have to do.

Is it just me, or does Christmas seem to be coming earlier and earlier? Way before Hallowe'en, stores began displaying rows of Christmas-oriented cards, ornaments, gift wrap, snowflakes, reindeer, and everything else you can think of. Except for Christmas tress; at least that was a good sign. Then, I stopped by South Coast Plaza on Wednesday -- a full week before Thanksgiving -- and their tree was already up with toy trains rumbling through the trunk.

And then there's the matter of Disneyland. Of course, the only Christmas decorations up were mixed with Hallowe'en times thanks to The Nightmare Before Christmas. And yet, even now, they have lighted trees in both parks, a Christmas parade, snow falling, garlands, ornaments, stockings, and other yule tidings up.

I feel as though I'm being rushed into the holidays, that I need to drop everything and buy Christmas presents for the family and friends, start watching It's a Wonderful Life three times a day, and listen to carols on the commute to work.

Can't I at least enjoy Thanksgiving first?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Spring Awakening Redux

Last night, we treated our friend MM to Spring Awakening. Caesar and I saw it last year so I won't re-hash the whole show, but it was just as good as that first time. Fantastic music, a shocking and surprising story, wonderful acting. One thing I've noticed about touring productions is that sometimes the song lyrics may have been subtly updated or changed. It happened with a touring production of Hairspray that we saw earlier this year, and I caught lyrical changes once again last night with the finale song, The Song of Purple Summer. (I only mention it because this is my favorite song in the show.) Perhaps the original lyric "The grey fly choir will mourn" was bit archaic, but I liked it within the context of the song...and every time the changed lyrics popped up last night, it stood out to me, a little jarring.

I also wondered how the show would go over with Orange County audiences. The crowd tends to be quite a bit older and crusty and conservative, and the subject matter of the show deals with teens and sexuality, sometimes a bit graphically. I expected at least one-third of the crowd to disappear during the intermission, but most of the crowd returned to enjoy the second act. So perhaps the OC Mindset is changing....though an older gent behind us gasped loudly when Hanschen and Ernst locked lips.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

We're Walking, We're Walking....

My lunch hour during the work week used to consist of buying a lunch from the food court across the street, bringing it back to the office courtyard, and sitting at a table with a book in one hand and usually a roast beef or tuna sandwich in the other. Since August, though, my routine has changed: I know spend 30 minutes walking around the area, then eat a lunch brought from home (a sandwich or soup, apple slices, diet drink). And so far, I'm down 10 lbs. Today I decided to try a different route for my walk and couldn't help myself when I saw these trees. Probably because no one really believes that the leaves change during the Fall in Southern California much as they do back East. Granted, it's not on as grand a scale, but we still get the beautiful colors. By tomorrow, the trees will most likely be bare, with their crinkly, brown paper bag colors drifting across the street.

But for today, what a nice sight.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Random Long Beach Moment



Saw this on the morning walk: one of the apartment buildings down the street topped and shaved a few palm trees in their front yard and began carving tikis into them.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Book Review: The Resort
Lowell Thurman decides to try something different for a family vacation: an exclusive spa located in the Arizona desert known as The Reata. For five days, he wants to do nothing but enjoy the pool, the five-star restaurants, the peace and quiet, and everything goes according to plan until they return from dinner the first evening to find someone else has been given their room. Not too big a deal, as the management finds them a different, bigger room almost immediately. But Lowell, his wife Rachel and their three kids soon notice other strange things, like the Reata's activities coordinator who almost bullies and threatens the resort guests or the spot at the bottom of the pool that looks too much like a dead body or the creepy ruins of an old resort not too far from The Reata. As their vacation nears its end, the strange incidents become more frequent, more violent, and the Thurman's find themselves fighting for their lives against an ancient evil.

As a fan of horror stories and novels, I'm kicking myself for not learning of Bentley Little sooner. The Resort is the kind of twisted tale I enjoy reading. The nature of the resort and its workers is revealed in small doses, the terror and unease slowly building with glimpses into the true horror of events to keep the reader off kilter and not completely trusting all the characters. The story itself is also very original so I never quite knew what to expect. (The scene with the Thurman family's first -- and only meal -- in The Grille restaurant and what happened afterwards in the Thurman's room comes vividly to mind.) By the last 100 pages of the book, I found myself reading and faster and faster because I wanted to know how things would turn out.

My one gripe has to do with one character -- Patrick Schlaegel -- whose story mixes in every chapter or so. Staying at The Reata while covering a local film festival, he encounters a wild, loud party in the vacant room next to him, a gigantic spider-like creature hunting him in his own room and other hard-to-explain happenings. But toward the end of the book, Patrick's captured, and that's the last we see of his character. Not sure if he died, if he lived, if he wandered across the forty miles of desert to salvation. I would have preferred some kind of resolution to his part in the story because I enjoyed following his character.

The Resort delivers a chilling horror tale, sure to cause shivers to run up and down any reader's spine. A good book and highly recommended.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Capella

Browsing the CDs at a Barnes and Noble listening station last night, I happened upon a CD of a capella music from an L.A. group known as SONOS. Some great music here: covers of Imogen Heap, Depeche Mode, Rufus Wainwright, Björk, the Bird and the Bee, and many others. Here's a sample of their work:

I Want You Back by SONOS.

I hate that I can't embed this video!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Meet Me at the Fair

Geez, I started writing this on Tuesday, but distractions (a.k.a., procrastination) had other intentions. So with any further ado (fingers crossed), on with the post....
>Sunday evening, Caesar, myself and two friends took advantage of discount tickets offered by Musical Theatre West ($10 tickets!!) to see the stage version of Meet Me in St. Louis. Shows based on movie- musicals, especially one as well-known and loved as this one, always seem risky. The show creators must overcome what everyone already knows and expects to create something new yet recognizable. This production of Meet Me in St. Louis managed to do that.

A quick synopsis of the story: in St. Louis circa 1903, the Smith family enjoys the months leading up to the St. Louis World's Fair. Oldest daughter Rose is expecting her beau to propose; her sister Esther's heart pines for John Truett, the boy next door; their mother and father deal with the ups and downs of raising four girls at the turn of the century.

It's a show filled with nostalgia, which translated well from screen to stage, bringing the joy and heartache of the music and family lives to wondrous life. Cassie Silva was saddled with the task of filling Judy Garland's shoes as Esther, and performed wonderfully, bringing much warmth to The Boy Next door and much heartache to the classic Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas as she comforts younger sister Tootie. Sarah Bermudez did a fine job as the prim and proper Rose, with Grace Kaufman and Alexa Freeman equally as fun as the two youngest smith girls, Tootie and Agnes. In fact, the entire ensemble was fantastic, with Mary Gordon Murray (who we recently saw in Putting It Together as Anna Smith, Norman Large as Alonso Smith, Cathy Newman as the stout Irish maid Katie, and Kevin Cooney as Grandpa Prophater, to name a few. The set wowed us, too, with a large Victorian house that opened like a doll house to reveal a quaint family home, and the trolley car which drove about the stage while the actors danced and sang across its platform. Oh, and not to forget the ice skating rink at the beginning of the second act!

Meet Me in St. Louis turned out to be a great show, filled with classic songs and great performances. The four of us left the theater in such good spirits that we headed to Hof's Hut for some pumpkin cheesecake to extend our cheery mood.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day

Honoring my Dad who served as a member of The Old Guard in Washington, DC, and to my Grandfather Sewall, who served on the U.S.S. Hancock in 1945.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Penance

I walked this morning down along the beach. Not something unusual for me, but I'd been waiting for the cold that I've been battling since the beginning of October to finally blow over. But last night, I think I ate way too much food so the need to return to my weekend walks made itself very apparent this morning thanks to the extended belly feeling.

Last night, we were supposed to join a dinner party in order to meet our friend's new boyfriend. However, a family emergency for the host derailed those plans so we decided to meet our friend and her boyfriend in Belmont Shore at a Lebanese restaurant called Open Sesame. Caesar and I had been wanting to try this restaurant for our anniversary back in August, but the nightly throng of people, the hour-long wait, and the fact that they don't take reservations kept us from eating there.

Caesar and I arrived a bit early and put our name in then wandered around the shops until our friend arrived. First stop was the Rock Mountain Chocolate Factory, and I'd say that I resisted temptation incredibly well. Chocolate-covered cupcakes, chocolate-covered Twinkies, gigantic peanut butter cups, taffy, candy apples, and chocolate-covered bacon sat in their rows, looking delicious and calling to us. What? Oh yes, you heard right: chocolate-covered bacon. BACON. COVERED IN CHOCOLATE. I almost broke down and bought a slice, but Caesar pulled me out of that store quick. Instead, I spent money at Papyrus on Christmas cards.

Our friend arrived as we left Papyrus. She was all smiles as she and her new boyfriend met us in front of the restaurant. The first impression of the new beau was favorable: tall, salt-and-pepper hair, handsome face. And he didn't seem uncomfortable meeting the Gay Best Friend and His Partner. So we headed into the restaurant and crammed into a small table near the window.

We managed a good conversation, though we struggled against the clanging plates and glasses and the loud conversations around us. I think the boyfriend passed Caesar's questions with an "A" -- intelligent, funny, good job, family man, good listener, and really likes our friend.

We stayed in the restaurant a good two hours, enjoying the company and the food. Especially the food! I tried the kafta (beef and lamb mixed with parsley and onions then formed into kabobs and served over basmati rice) with the fattoush (a salad or romaine lettuce, onions, sumac, tomatoes and pita bread croutons), along with hummus and pita bread. Caesar's chicken tawook tasted wonderful; I had to sample some. For dessert, we walked across the street to Sweet Jill's for Red Velvet Cake, a chocolate walnut brownie, and two large, soft pumpkin cookies. (I felt my waist band stretching as the night progressed.)

So that's why I walked this morning.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Random Friday

Books I finally finished a book I started quite some time ago -- Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko. That brings the total of books needing review on my blog to 3. I'm slowly catching up on those.

Writing My own attempts at fiction are not really panning out. The stories dance around in my head, and I try to put them onto paper. Doubt, though, wends its way into the mix -- will people read it? will people like it? I'm never confident about that. But I would love to have something published in a magazine one day. (And I do have a second part to the Hatch story which I've procrastinated about writing. Maybe writing isn't my thing....

Theater Between now and the end of the year, Caesar and I will be seeing 7 shows, beginning this Sunday with a performance of Meet Me in St. Louis at Musical Theatre West. $10 tickets -- can't beat that!!

Weight I plateaued again, this time at 206 lbs. But I'm not feeling defeated like I thought I would. 9 lbs. is good, and I know I can lose more to reach my goal of 200 lbs. by the end of the year. My cardiologist, however, would like to see me down to 185 - 190 lbs. There's always next year....

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Wild Things
Caesar and I had the entire afternoon with nothing to do before heading to California Heights for trick-or-treating with the twins so we treated ourselves to a showing of
Where the Wild Things Are over at the Art Theatre. Including the projectionist, I think only 7 people were in the entire theater taking advantage of the $6.50 show -- which is a great deal for a matinée in Southern California. After one preview and having to run to the concession stand to ask someone to focus the projector, we settled in....

After an argument with his mother, Max runs away from home, his mother trying to follow as he disappears into the woods. Not sure where he should -- and definitely not in the mood to head back home -- he happens upon a small boat, pointed toward the sea, and climbs aboard, sailing as far from shore as the tiny craft will carry him. Some time later, Max spies a campfire small island and brings his boat to shore in order to check things out. He sneaks up on a camp full of large creatures all standing around, not sure what to do as another, larger creature demolishes a series of large, round structures, asking for help from his fellow creatures all the while. When no one will help him, Max decides to help with the destruction, running and screaming at the top of his lungs,much to the surprise of the other creatures. He soon finds himself accepted by the group who makes him their King.

I found it amazing what Director Spike Jones and Writer Dave Eggers were able to create from Maurice Sendak's children's book. They gave each of the creatures a personality -- more like an aspect of Max's personality -- to give Max a visual impression of what he's like and how his own actions affect others. The special effects were amazing, specifically the combination of Jim Henson's Creature Shop costumes with the computer-generated faces. The expressions and subtle facial movements looked so real. The acting impressed me, too, especially the voices of James Gandolfini as Carol (whose personality matches Max's the closest), Catherine O'Hara as Judith the downer and Lauren Ambrose as KW, and not to forget Max Records who played young Max. He made me not like Max at the beginning but was able to change that by having his character learn and grow as the story progressed.

The movie seemed a bit dark for younger kids to enjoy or to understand, but I think older kids and their parents will enjoy it.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

That's Hot

Woke up to loud music from the radio and groggily made my way to the bathroom to shower. Soaking in the warmth of the water, lathering up, rinsing off, shampooing my hair. Cover my face in soap, scrubbing my nose, rubbing my cheeks, wiping the suds over my eyes. With eyes closed, begin to lean forward into the shower spray.

Jump back! Stifle a scream as the water quickly switches to arctic. Run my hands against the shower walls in search of the hot and cold knobs. Hurriedly spin the cold side almost off, but the hot water merely trickles from the shower head. Turn the hot up, but it scalds, add some cold. Let it fill my hands then splash my face a few times as I hear the neighbor below beginning to sing as she showers.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Book Review: Mister B. Gone
In Clive Barker's most recent novel, a demon by the name of Jakabok Botch retells the tale of his homelife in the Demonation and his being lured like a fish on a hook through the many levels of Hell and into the modern world -- 13th century Europe -- by a party of demon hunters. He manages to escape, thanks to the help of another demon Quitoon Pathea, disguised to move around more easily among the humans. Together, the two demons roam about Europe, leaving havoc in their wake and generally enjoying each others' company. Until one argument goes too far, with Jakabok fleeing for his life while on a journey to Mainz. Not sure what Quitoon's fascination is with Mainz, Jakabok decides to try his luck there, see what all the fuss is about. Upon arriving, he's surprised to discover Angels and Demons in battle both in the air and on the ground, all because of a new invention from Johannes Gutenberg.

From the opening sentence, "BURN THIS BOOK.", Mister B. Gone takes a unique approach to the story by forcing the reader into becoming a character. The narrator, Jakobok Botch -- or Mister B. Gone as he's also known -- speaks directly to the reader, trying to convince him/her by means of flattery, taunting, tales of horror, and perhaps even pity, to coax the reader into burning the book and releasing him from the prison of pages. But as Jakobok mentions many times during his tale, curiosity draws the reader further and further in, delaying his possible freedom by wanting to know how he became trapped in the book. What also helps the tale is that Barker infuses Jakobok with humor and humanity. Jakobok may be a demon, but he also feels love and pain, and I found myself almost liking him, wanting to burn the book and to release him even after reading all the horrific deeds he'd done.

Mister B. Gone is a fun read that fans of Barker's and of horror tales will enjoy.