Sunday, January 31, 2010

Musical Quote

We were watching South Pacific this morning, and the lyrics of a song that Lt. John Cable sings after Emile de Becque wonders while American nurse Nellie Forbush will not have anything to do with him.

You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.

- You've Got To Be Carfeully Taught, music by Richard Rogers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

Friday, January 29, 2010

Book Review: Night Watch
Thousands of years ago, the forces of the Dark and the Light came to an uneasy truce, hoping to bring some sort of peace to their eternal battle with one another. To maintain this peace, both sides set up watches -- agents of "Others" with supernatural abilities -- to oversee each side. The forces of the Dark, known as the Day Watch, kept tabs on the activities of the forces of Light, while the forces of Light did the same in return, becoming known as the Night Watch. Each watch made sure that the other side didn't use magic out of turn or had the proper licenses for vampires to hunt or other such things.

But one night in modern Moscow, while Night Watch Agent Anton Gorodetsky was following a young boy presumed to be under the spell of an illegal vampire hunt, he stumbled across a humble young woman with a strange black vortex swirling over her head -- a sign of being cursed. His attempt to clandestinely rid her of the curse amounted to almost nothing and left him with few weapons when he finally encountered the rogue vampires, inadvertently killing one of them and setting in motion a chain of events that could possibly bring about the end of the world.

Sergei Lukyanenko's first book of the Night Watch series takes the dark fantasy world of the forces of Light and Dark where wizards, sorcerers, vampires and shapeshifters walk along the streets with regular humans -- albeit either in disguise or on a parallel dimension called the Twilight -- and mixes it with a good thriller where Anton tries to figure out the hidden agenda in which his boss has unwittingly "volunteered" him. Lukyanenko creates some great characters, from Olga, a sorceress sentenced to live the rest of her days as an owl as punishment for something in her past that involved Anton's boss, to Boris Ignatievich, Anton's boss who wields powers beyond most Others' comprehension and cleverly coaxes events to turn out just the way he wants them. And those two are agents of the Night Watch. The members of the Day Watch are just as ingenious, such as Zabulon who first appears as a seemingly frail older dark wizard, hiding his need for revenge against Anton. Most impressive, though, is Anton Gorodetsky who struggles to find some fragment of his former humanity hidden beneath his recently released powers. He seems to do things on the fly, but deep down, he's one of the smartest Agents, and through his actions and thoughts, the reader slowly realizes -- just as Anton does -- what's truly at stake.

The book itself seems to be a combination of three novellas, presented chronologically and focusing on a specific aspect of Anton's struggles without having to deal with the mundane passage of time. When story one ends, story two doesn't pick up the thread immediately. Some time has passed, characters are more familiar with each other, but the residue of that first story still lingers and affects what happens. For me, this allows Lukyanenko to move the story along without bogging the reader down with trivialities.

Night Watch delivers all the dark fantasy punches while at the same time telling a fine story of a man struggling to assimilate his new world with his former one. Lovers of fantasy will definitely enjoy this one, and may even want to check out the two movies based upon this series -- Night Watch and Day Watch.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The End of an Era

It had to happen eventually.

Today, January 28, 2010...after almost 15 uninterrupted years of fun, excitement and entertainment (not to mention churros and collectible obsessions), I'm allowing my Disneyland Annual Pass to expire. I realized that I'd been traveling to Disneyland less and less over the past years. And with the cost jumping from around $350 when I renewed at this time last year to almost $440, I could no longer justify the expense. (Plus, I never received any renewal notices or emails from them. But that's beside the point.) So farewell Haunted Mansion. Perhaps one day I shall venture through your darkened always again. Farewell Tower of Terror. We'll always have that moment of weightlessness as the car drops down the elevator shaft. Farewell it's a small world. No more will I hear that song repeatedly pounding through my head.

It's been a good 15 years.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dental Insurance: Almost Like Real Insurance

I sat in the dentist's chair Monday afternoon, trying not to gag as the hygienist stuck some oblong plastic thing in my mouth for x-rays. Out of all the medical visits I make each year, I despise the dentist's -- usually because I end up having to return a week or so later for at least one filling or a deep under-the-gums-until-they-bleed cleaning. And because my gag reflex goes full force whenever they attempt to take x-rays. I feel the hard plastic brushing against the back of my throat and begin choking.

Surprisingly, this time I survived without trying to cough up a lung. 6 pictures showing only two cavities. Not too bad and definitely easy to deal with once I get past my loathing of the novocaine needles. However, I also mentioned to the dentist -- a new person, visiting from her other office in Fullerton -- that I noticed a rough patch on one of my crowns and had mentioned it to my regular dentist on my first visit after the crown was put in. Back then, she glanced at it and said nothing. She continued to say nothing the next three times I brought it up with her. This new dentist, though, examined it thoroughly. In fact, she slid a video camera into my mouth and televised my tooth on the monitor in the room. I almost wretched -- the porcelain surface had been worn away, exposing the metal and the brownish cement holding it in place. My first thought was that it looked like a cancerous lesion. "That spot goes right down to the tooth." She sounded amazed as she spoke. "The crown's not that old so you probably grind your teeth, huh?" Well, it has been a stressful year or so. And when I get stressed, I clench my jaw, so yeah, I probably do grind my teeth. "That needs to be replaced and soon." We then talked about the different types of crowns -- she talked while I listened. It's not easy to speak when you have a sharp metal object scraping and poking around your teeth.

Once the cleaning was done, I set up the appointment for next Friday to get the fillings, the removal of the old crown and the placement of a temporary one. The shock came when I was informed that I would be paying almost $800 out of pocket for the crown. "It's not 5 years old yet," the front desk person told me, "so the insurance will not pay for the cost of a new crown." Luckily, what passes for my dental insurance did knock the price down from $1100 to $737. And that will be on top of what I must pay for the two fillings, also both at a discounted rate.

I fumed all the way back to the office and on the drive home. Would it have cost as much if my dentist had taken a real interest in the crown when I first mentioned the rough patch? And what of the dental insurance? If my health insurance operated the same as dental insurance, I wonder how much I would have had to shell out for the colonoscopy a few years ago? "Well, let's see...the insurance provides a nice discount so instead of $8000 you only have to pay $6500. Isn't that nice?"

And they wonder why so few people ever keep their dental appointments....

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Top 10 Music of 2009

Yes, I realize January's almost over. A good reason to finally post my last "Favorites" list of 2009 before another years passes. As with my other lists, this one contains only CDs/downloads that I have purchased.

  1. Ellipse by Imogen Heap
  2. A Low High by All India Radio
  3. Away We Go Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
  4. Yes, Etc. by Pet Shop Boys
  5. Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future by The Bird and The Bee
  6. Insides by Jon Hopkins
  7. Manners by Passion Pit
  8. The Resistance by Muse
  9. Glee: the Music, Volume II
  10. SonoSings by Sonos

Phew! Done for another year!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Book Review: Matchless: A Christmas Story

I realize this is a bit after Christmas, but the book didn't arrive until this past Friday so I neither started nor finished it until Saturday. The book was "prize" of sorts from LibraryThing as part of their monthly book giveaways from publishing companies. And I won the book back in October. The notification mentioned it might take up to 8 weeks for the book's delivery so I was excited and giddy when the package finally showed up in the mailbox after believing I'd been forgotten.

With that being said....
Matchless is author Gregory Maguire's re-telling of the classic tale from Hans Christian Andersen. As Maguire did with The Wizard of Oz and Cinderella, he takes the original story of a little girl, selling matches on a cold winter's night with the hope of bringing some much-needed money to his family, and weaves it into another tale -- this one of a young boy named Frederick. During the day, his mother works as a seamstress for the Queen, continually at her beck and call for the few pieces of money she's given while Frederick fights the sea gulls at the wharf for any bits of fish that might left over from the fishermen. He also has an active secret life where he's created a village from neighborhood discards and people it with two creatures made from his mother's wooden spools and acorns. But two creatures aren't enough for his little village so he decides to make a boat so they can sail across the ocean to find more creatures. As he scours the neighborhood for the perfect item to make his boat, he unknowingly runs into the little match girl, setting in motion a chain of events that will change his family forever.

Maguire does a fine job of meshing the two tales while also keeping both Andersen's original story and it's heart intact. Well, fairly intact, with regards to the story. Maguire transports the time of year to Christmas and instead of the match girl seeing visions of her grandmother, she sees her mother up in heaven smiling upon her. Those small diversions and the incorporation of Frederick's tale don't change how the story ultimately becomes an uplifting one, maintaining the connections between the living and the spirits of loved ones long past.

It's also a short tale - about 100 pages, but usually only a single sentence on the left page with an illustration on the opposing one. (And Maguire drew all the illustrations.) As it says in the Acknowledgements, this tale was meant to be heard, as it was featured on NPR in Christmas 2008, and I can easily seeing it as one of those storybooks that teachers bring out each year to read to a class of eager youngsters, fascinated with the tale and the pictures. Nice work!

Image from received book from publisher via

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Few Pounds Here, A Few Pounds There

This picture dates from Summer 2008, weighing probably close to my heaviest which was somewhere between 217 lbs. and 220 lbs. I don't know for certain as I hadn't stepped on a scale in who knows how long. Fear can do that to you. And it shows why I'm reluctant to have my picture taken: notice the puffed out shirt thanks to my belly (and I was trying to suck it in), the jowly cheeks, the moobs. The only reason for the t-shirt was that we were in Las Vegas in the unbearably hot weather.

Fast forward almost two years and a medical scare later to this picture taken last weekend in San Diego. I honestly never realized how much 15 lbs. of lost weigh looked on me. Caesar and my folks insisted I looked thinner, but I found it difficult to believe. And I must say that I look pretty darn good!

(Hey, give me my moment of gloating....)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Whispering in San Diego,Pt. 2

We headed back to the Inn to rest and maybe munch a few appetizers before the walk back to the theater. Tanya motioned us to the sitting room where a couple sat on one sofa tapping away at a laptop as they enjoyed the sliced meats and cheeses. And we just started talking, trading descriptions of our rooms, sharing our reasons for staying at the Inn. Soon two more couples joined us, and we all enjoyed spending the next hour or so getting to know one another. Nancy and Carol owned the canine cryogencis lab; Barry's girlfriend Nicole was starting her own business, Puppy Air Care, which helps breeders transports puppies on planes sitting with people rather than in the cargo hold; Lucy and her husband were visiting to see the show (like us) and were then heading back to the LA area on Sunday. Something about sitting in that cozy room, with a fireplace warming the air, seemed so comfortable that no one minded simply sitting and talking to strangers about politics, theater, dog sperm, or what have you.

A little after 7pm, we reluctantly excused ourselves to get ready for the theater.

The Old Globe was located to the right and somewhat behind the Museum of Man in Balboa Park. We followed quite a few other walkers along the Cabrillo Bridge and up the steps to the theater grounds which resemble the actual Old Globe from Shakespeare's time. At least, I think they do. No matter, it was a wonderful building on the outside, and a very intimate theater on the inside mimicking the original theater. The stage itself was uncurtained, allowing us to examine the singular set piece: a large metal spiral staircase beginning from a make shift kitchen, leading up to a bedroom off to the left side and continuing up to a large light. A quite nice deconstruction of a lighthouse from set designer Michael Schweikardt. A faint sound of waves played over the loudspeakers guiding us to our seats in the orchestra section not too far from the stage.

The lights dimmed, and two ghosts appeared on the stage, rocking almost immediately into the opening song to introduce the story and the characters. Whisper House takes place at a lighthouse in 1942 New England. Christopher's father was killed during the war by a Japanese plane, causing his mother to have a nervous breakdown. He arrives at the lighthouse run by his Aunt Lily with the help of her Japanese handyman Mr. Yasuhiro and refuses to settle into his temporary new life. On his first night in his new bedroom, he hears strange music and asks his Aunt about it. She tells him about a yacht in the midst of a costume ball that crashed off the rocks because the lighthouse wasn't lit one night and how the ghosts of the two singers are rumored to haunt the lighthouse. Throughout the show, the Ghosts appear to the boy, showing him that Mr. Yasuhiro might be up to something and in a time of war against the Japanese, that augment's Christopher's resentment for the handyman.

I enjoyed the story and felt the acting to be top-notch, especially by Mare Winningham as Lily and David Poe as one of the ghosts. Duncan Sheik's new music was also terrific, with clever lyrics and storytelling and very much in his style. Somehow though, I didn't feel that they connected to one another. The ghosts did all the singing throughout the entire show so we'd see the main actors performed a bit then remained onstage with the light dimmed while the ghosts came out and sang their songs. They held to the fringes of the set, away from the main actors, though the lights would focus on them. The actors sometimes continued with smaller actions, such as walking up the stairs or opening a package, but as an audience member, my eyes were drawn to the light and to the singing so I almost missed a few important parts of the story. As a whole, it seemed a bit disjointed, very stop and start, stop and start. And at times, the band seemed to overpower the singers, drowning out the female singer. I feel the show has quite a bit of potential with great songs and a great story, but the two need to be combined better. Perhaps having the ghosts interact with the actors would have helped me to enjoy the show more than I did.

But we did walk up to Duncan Sheik afterward, said hello and now have an autographed program.

The next morning, we packed up the car and then wandered to the dining room to enjoy our complimentary breakfast: a pecan and raisin muffin with fresh squeeze orange juice followed with whole wheat buttermilk french toast for me and scrambled eggs with garlic sausage and potatoes for Caesar. We hiked back to the park to work off some of the delicious food, then hightailed it out of town before both the Charger's game and the impending rain started.

We did, however, make one final stop before heading back home: the Sea Life Aquarium in Carlsbad. The aquarium was closed that last time we visit Legoland so we thought it might be fun to see the sea. It turned out to be a fun and slightly disorienting experience. Fun because Lego scenes were hidden everywhere including inside some of the tanks, and disorienting because of both the concavity and convexity of some of the glass. We tested the glass first with an outstretched hand to keep from bumping our heads. Sea Life displayed some neat specimens from three types of sea horses to sharks to jellyfish and rays. A few rooms contained touch pools with a guide explaining the different creatures and how to gently touch them without scaring them (some of the few times children weren't running around, screaming at the top of their lungs). Sadly, the visit ended after an hour and a half: we'd seen everything. So we walked back to the car and drove North.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Whispering in San Diego, Pt. 1

Saturday morning, Caesar called Enterprise to pick us up in the car he rented for our quick trip to San Diego. We both stood outside, waiting for the compact to arrive like we'd seen in all those TV commercials. After about 20 minutes, a semi-beat up white van parked across the street, and the driver called over to us asking if we were the ones waiting for Enterprise. We gathered our bags and headed across the street. As we approached, the driver said he only had room for one passenger in the van. Caesar and I looked at each other, and I waved him into the van. The rental was in his name, anyway. I could wait until he drove all the way back to pick me up.

30 minutes later, and with ugly thoughts about Enterprise ruining the start of our road trip weekend, Caesar slowed to a stop in front of the apartment -- not in the compact he requested, but a boxy "upgrade" called a Dodge Avenger. I threw my stuff in the trunk, climbed into the passenger seat, whacking my knees against the all-encompassing dashboard, and we made a break for the southbound freeway.

For some reason, the Traffic Gods were on our side, allowing us to reach San Diego in about an hour and thirty minutes. And we were afraid we wouldn't make it until well after 3 PM! Caesar guided the car along Sixth St. while I scanned the street signs for Maple, and soon enough we parked in front of a beautiful Victorian house about three blocks from the entrance to Balboa Park. The Britt Scripps Inn took my breath away as we got out of the car. Three stories tall with walls painted in rusts and yellows and greens. The west-facing wall displayed a gorgeous series of stained glass windows from floor to ceiling, set perfectly to capture the sunlight. A large camphor tree, the oldest planted in the U.S., grew in what was once the backyard and now shadowed the Inn's Carriage House. We slowly climbed the steps, taking everything in, and buzzed for the innkeeper. Tanya showed us into the main hallway, making us feel at home immediately and treating us as if we were the owners returning home from a short trip. She also explained a little about the house stating that it offered 9 rooms -- 8 in the house itself and one in the Carriage House. Each room had its own theme, ranging from Gothic to Aesthetic to Renaissance to a Library. When booking our room, we asked for one with a Queen bed, not selecting a specific room, so we were pleasantly surprised when Tanya smiled and said we had the Carriage House. She guided us through the house, past the delicious aroma of fresh-baked cookies from the kitchen, and out the back.

She showed us the small herb garden and the small pomegranate bush, around the camphor tree to the small green and yellow Carriage House. She moved a small hanging plate and inserted the key to open the door, and I think we were both in awe of how cozy the room seemed. A nice big sleigh bed guarded at the back by two hand carved nightstands topped with Tiffany lamps. A red and white patchwork quilt covering the feather mattress. A long oil painting of a quaint farm with an 1800s look settled on the wall. A smaller hand carved dresser near the closet. A flat screen TV with a DVD player (conveniently hidden in the closet because of the lack of space by the TV itself). The new bathroom contained not only a towel warmer (!!!) but a jacuzzi tub with a raining showerhead. Tanya pointed out a few things, like the phones and the robes and the thermostat, then mentioned she would be serving appetizers between 5 and 7. She hoped we enjoyed our stay and left us to unpack.

We gathered our bags from the car, and while I unpacked, Caesar moved the car into the driveway next to the Carriage House, parking behind a truck with schools of what appeared to be sperm rounding the sides and onto the hood. The lettering advertised cryogenic services for canines, and we learned later that the couple who operated the service were also staying as guests in the Inn. We unpacked, and since the whole reason for our visit -- Duncan Sheik's new musical Whisper House -- wasn't until 8 that evening, we took a walk to Balboa Park.

Three blocks from the Inn, we followed El Prado past the spacious dog park (with dozens of very well-behaved dogs) and crossed the Cabrillo Bridge to wander around the museums and shops. Most of the buildings were erected in 1914-1915 for the Panama-California Exposition and now house such places as the Museum of Man, the San Diego Art Museum and the Spreckles Organ Pavillion. We wandered through the mummies and the retablos in the Museum of Man, then managed to make it inside the botanical gardens for 10 minutes before they closed. (It's amazing how many orchid pictures I can take when in a hurry, such as the one to the left.) Afterwards, we took a half-priced look around the Natural History Museum looking the extensive fossil collection as well as some amazing black and white aerial photography of places such as the Grand Canyon from the 1950s.

By then, the Sun started to disappear so we headed back to the Inn.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

It's Only a Game

I enjoy playing computer games. But, unlike quite a few out there, I've never been too adept at the first-person shooters, like Call of Duty or Halo, and those fantasy ones have never really captured my interest. I find myself drawn to puzzle/adventure games like the Myst series: no instructions, simply explore and figure out what you have to do.

I can sit for hours in front of my computer screen, trying to figure out the correct sequence to press the keys in order to unlock a door or manipulating dials to find the correct frequency to cause a hidden panel to open in the wall. And I have on many occasions, to which Caesar can attest. In fact, I get so enrapt by such games that I've filled notebooks and sheets of paper with my scribblings just like in the photo. The lower, white pages are from Rhem 3, which I finished a few weeks ago, and the upper, beige pages show some of the puzzles from my newest obsession, Alida. In this one, my character's sent to an island built to resemble a giant guitar (that plays, as I learned when I discovered the plectrum) to find the missing members of a rock band who created the island. Though only a few days into the game, I've jotted, plotted and puzzled my way through 6-7 pages of the notebook. Caesar says that he doesn't have the patience for a game that requires so much extra work.

I find them addictive because each time I solve a puzzle, the game continues forward, the mystery deepens, and I want to know what's going on. Adrenaline seeps into my blood and soon two hours have passed. There's something exhilarating about it that I can't pinpoint. But I love it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Favorite Live Productions of 2009

The "Non-Broadway Edition". Because even though a "Broadway" is about three blocks from the apartment, it's not Broadway Broadway. And I have yet to see a show on the actual Great White Way. Out of the 23 shows we attended last year, here's my Top 10:

  1. Mary Poppins at The Ahmanson
  2. Putting It Together at South Coast Repertory (and I saw it twice!)
  3. Spamalot at the Orange County Performing Arts Center
  4. Parade at the Mark Taper Forum
  5. Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Theatre Out
  6. Forbidden Broadway: Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 at Musical Theatre West
  7. Lovelace at the Hayworth
  8. Meet Me in St. Louis at Musical Theatre West
  9. Palestine, New Mexico at the Mark Taper Forum
  10. Xanadu at the Orange County Performing Arts Center

With Rufus Wainwright in concert last weekend and another show this weekend, it appears that 2010 is off to a rousing start!

Monday, January 11, 2010

I'm Going Out for a Short Walk

All this for a pack of Twinkies from the liquor store....

Sunday, January 10, 2010

All Days Are Nights

Late Saturday afternoon, after finally de-Christmas-ing the apartment and completing a few other chores, we cleaned ourselves up and caught the Passport to downtown Long Beach. First stop was a leisurely dinner at La Muse, a small, trendy restaurant specializing in savory and sweet crêpes. We happened upon La Muse during our walk back from a Prop 8 rally at the City Hall and made it a "restaurant of choice" when we see a show at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center just across the street. Tonight we both ordered the Melpomene the Songstress -- a crêpe filled with sliced chicken breast, cheddar cheese, fresh spinach and mushrooms. (By the way, each crêpe was named for a Muse, but how exactly each Muse was matched to a crêpe is still a mystery.)

We quickly devoured the food only to realize it was too early for the theater to open so we walked to The Pike to waste some time. We wandered through the people lined up at the Laugh Factory to see who was performing but didn't recognize anyone on the list, spent some time browsing the books and magazines in Borders, then finally crossed the street and up the stairs toward the Performing Arts Center.

The usher directed us to our seats, and Caesar was surprised at how close we ended up to the stage -- Row 7, a bit off to the left. Not too shabby, and we both hoped they would provide a good view of the star of the evening, Rufus Wainwright. But before we would find out, the lights dimmed, and the opening act stepped onto the stage. The Webb Sisters offered some very beautiful songs that showcased not only their exquisite harmonies but their proficiencies with the harp and the acoustic guitar, as well. With our stomachs full of food and the two of us comfortably seated, though, the music began lulling us to sleep. However, the constant flow of people along our aisle to find their seats prevented us from nodding off completely. After a brief intermission, the lights dimmed once again, and Rufus took the stage.

I think of the concert as "Rufus Unplugged" because it was just him on the stage: no backup band, no guest musicians - only Rufus and either a piano or guitar. He offered a mix of songs from prior albums, like Grey Gardens, California and the one that drove the audience crazy Chocolate and Cigarettes from the Poses album and Sanssouci and others from Release the Stars, and a few songs from his upcoming album All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu. As it turns out, the show was a test run for some of those songs, and he impressed us all with the new material, including a 3-song cycle of Shakespeare's Sonnets set to his own music. The audience became almost reverential at this, not daring to snap a picture or applaud until the entire cycle finished.

Throughout the performance, he seemed like someone who threw himself into his music, not simply playing and singing but humming along as he struck the piano keys or using his entire body to assist his hand strumming the guitar. And he also didn't seem to take himself too seriously. If he made a mistake, which I don't think many in the audience would have noticed, he laughed it off and continued with the song, playing the missed chord or words over until he got it right. It made the evening feel more intimate, as if we were guests at a dinner party and he decided to entertain us all on a whim. The entire show was truly a fun experience.

My favorite of his songs were Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk, his cover of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, and the song with which he ended the night, Les feux d'artifices t'appellent from his opera Prima Donna.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Book Review: Push

I need to play a bit of "catch-up" with some of the books I finished reading in December. By "catch-up" I mean writing my reviews of them before I'm so far behind that I forget what I wanted to say about them.

Grudgingly writing in a journal for a school project, Claireece Precious Jones recounts her difficult life in 1980s Harlem before entering the Each One Teach One program: being held back in school twice; suffering her father raping her; two pregnancies, the first producing Little Mongo who has Down Syndrome and stays hidden from her at her Grandmother's; an violently abusive mother. But as each page passes, Precious learns and grows. Thanks to her new teacher Blue Rain she learns words and how to read them and to put them down on paper; she gains the confidence, thanks to fellow classmates, to break away from her mother, to begin a new life. She gains a new confidence in herself and fights against a society that classifies her as invisible to create a place for herself and her children.

I hadn't heard of Push by Sapphire until the movie trailer began making its way onto TV screens. And, though I still haven't seen the movie (yet), the brief snippets with Mo'Nique and Gabourey Sidibe enticed me into buying a copy of the book. (I also admit to wanting to prep myself for what would be shown on-screen; Mo'Nique's performance looked pretty intense.)

The novel is written in Precious' point of view, using her language skills as a sixteen-year-old girl, very bright but who knows neither how to read nor write, to tell what comes across at first as a heart-breaking tale. She's more of a servant than a daughter to her heifer of a mother; her father's raped her twice, and yet her mother blames Precious for "stealing" her husband. The words come across very blunt, without anything to soften the blows, so as a reader, I never felt talked down to and could quickly empathize with Precious and cheer her on as she at first sees a glimmer at the end of the tunnel and begins her journey toward it. Even when obstacles are dropped into her path, she never falters but finds a way to surmount them. I think that's what I liked most about the book: it seems filled with hope that even though bad things may be happening all around you, you can find your way to something better.

Push tells a remarkable story about a remarkable young woman, and it's definitely worth everyone's time to read.

Image from

Friday, January 08, 2010

Pork Chops with Escarole

I decided to attempt something new for dinner last night and stopped by the grocery store after work. With the printed recipe in hand, I searched the aisles for a bottle of balsamic vinegar, ransacked the produce section trying to find the smallest red onion and the least wilted escarole, and scanned the pre-packaged meats for 4 decent pork chops. They all seemed a bit bland and unappetizing, though, so I chose a few from the butcher's display case -- inch thick and with very little fat.

Back at the apartment, I heated some olive oil in a frying pan, cleaned and seasoned the chops, laid them gently into the pan. While the chops sizzled and filled the apartment with a wonderful odor, I sliced the red onion into rings, remembering not to rub my eyes even though the tears started with the first cut, then washed and tore apart the escarole, setting it aside in a glass bowl until ready. Ten or so minutes later, the cooked chops sat on a plate beneath some foil, and into the pan went the onion rings. I browned them for a bit then squirted in some balsamic vinegar. When the rings felt limp, I tossed in the escarole with some sea salt and fresh ground black pepper.

Caesar was duly impressed with the finished product: one half of the plate held a pork chop while on the other side sat a warm salad with the onions still sizzling.

See? He's not the only one who can cook....

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Favorite Reads of 2009

I doubled back through both my blog and my account at LibraryThing to verify the numbers, and yes, indeed, I read 49 books last year. That's almost a book every week or so. No wonder I need to get my eyes checked next week!

With that said, it's time to list my Favorite Reads of 2009. Not all these titles were released last year, but I included any book that passed before my eyes. And they are....

  1. The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall
  2. Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry
  3. Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
  4. In the Woods by Tana French
  5. Almost Like Being in Love by Steve Kluger
  6. The Girl Who Played Go by Shan Sa
  7. The Silver Eggheads by Fritz Leiber
  8. Bite Marks by Terence Taylor
  9. Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko
  10. Whores of Lost Atlantis by Charles Busch

As I did last year, the following is a list of my favorite LGBT reads of last year....

  1. Almost Like Being in Love by Steve Kluger
  2. Whores of Lost Atlantis by Charles Busch
  3. Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai
  4. Push by Sapphire
  5. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

And, because I know the suspense is getting to you, my least favorite read of 2009: Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Triple Take

I stepped on the bathroom scale and was shocked at what I saw. So shocked, in fact, that I needed to try it two more times to make certain my eyes weren't playing tricks on me. All three times, the digital readout displayed the same 4 digits: 199.5.

Holy. Crap.

I broke the 200-lb. barrier! The last time I weighed less than 200 was about 10 years ago. Woo hoo!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Elementary, My Dear

What better way to ring in the New Year than with a movie!

After the ginormous crowds at the theater on Christmas Day, we decided to try once again to see Sherlock Homes, this time buying tickets online with the hope of bypassing the glut of people at the box office.

When I handed our tickets to the ticket taker, he said that the line had just been allowed into the theater. I looked at Caesar with a bit of worry, wondering if we would be able to find a seat. We stepped through the theater doors, up the ramp into the seating area and see only about 15 people scattered about the place. I headed up the steps looking for some aisle seats while Caesar checked out the concessions, and after a few minutes, the lights dimmed as the previews rolled. (I won't recount them to you if only because none of them seemed all that interesting.)
Fearing that Inspector Lastrade and his friend Dr. Watson might arrive too late, Sherlock Holmes breaks into a temple of sorts, thwarting Lord Blackwood before he can sacrifice a young woman to whatever god he's appeasing. Once captured and sentenced to death, Blackwood summons Holmes to his cell, warning him that three more deaths will occur. Intrigued, Holmes is about to begin his quest to solve this new puzzle when Irene Adler, a woman from his past and the only person ever to have bested him, appears requiring Holmes' help to find a missing person. Days later, word begins to spread that Blackwood, recently hanged for his crimes, has risen from his grave, and Homes discovers that Adler's missing person and Lord Blackwood are somehow connected. With the help of Dr. Watson, Holmes is determined to uncover Blackwood's plot before more lives are lost.

Definitely not the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce team I'd been accustomed to watching with my Dad, but Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law turn the two characters into action heroes. Downey Jr.'s Holmes is intelligent and adventurous, quick with a joke but always wants to have some form of control on a situation. In some fight sequences, the story literally breaks down Holmes' intended actions, watching as he methodically goes through the punches and probable outcomes from each blow. Then, he does it. Law's Watson is also intelligent but not bumbling; he can get into the fray just like Holmes though he needs a bit more prodding. I liked the two actors a team, making Holmes and Watson more like the leads in a "buddy cop" movie.

And it was most certainly an action film, filled with explosions, chases through he streets and the sewers, fights with a large, Lurch-like Frenchman, and much more. Holmes still uses his observational skills and intellect to piece things together, which links to the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle creation, but he's also very street smart and seems to enjoy the chase as well. I applaud Guy Ritchie's version of the characters and hope a few more tales might be in the works.