In remembrance for my Grandfather, Sewall Frank Carter (AMM2c), who served on the U.S.S. Hancock in 1945.
Monday, May 30, 2011
Saturday, May 28, 2011
A Quickie Historical Visit
We did something out of the ordinary today: stopped by one of the local historical sites to gain a little more knowledge about Long Beach. The Rancho Los Cerritos sits in the Bixby Knolls area of Long Beach -- a well-to-do area with multi-million dollar homes and adjacent to the Virginia Country Club. The original parcel of land -- about 27,000 acres -- was bought in the 1840s by John Temple, and in 1844, he built a two-story adobe house on a knoll overlooking all the valleys and meadows stretching toward the ocean. In 1856, Flint, Bixby and Company purchased the land from Temple and began a very prosperous sheep ranching operation. In 1866, Jotham Bixby purchased the land from the Flint brothers, and from then on, most of the Bixby family called Rancho Los Cerritos home. (This information can be found on the History section of the Rancho's website.)
History lesson is over. You may now close your browser.
Friday, May 27, 2011
Book Review: Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala
Life for the boy Agu in his West African country changes in an instant. The threat of war treading into his peaceful village forces his mother and sister to flee while he and his father stay behind to protect the village. As the soldiers overtake the village, Agu's father is killed, leaving him to either become a child solider or die like a coward.
Agu's world is full of bloodshed, anger, desolation. Through it all he wonders about how his world has changed, how he has become used to killing in order to keep worse from happening to him. His surprising strength in such a mad world, keeping hope alive that he might find his mother and sister and that he might one day continue his education to become a doctor, allow him to not go completely mad himself. Beasts of No Nation is a gritty, graphic and uncompromising portrait of life as a soldier, as seen through the eyes of a child.
Beasts of No Nation
by Uzodinma Iweala
paperback, 142 pgs.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
A Bullish Badge
By now, I think everyone knows about my enthusiasm for foursquare. And yes, I do get the eye rolls whenever I bring out the Blackberry because I need to checkin somewhere. After all, there are worse things I could be doing, like publicly walking around with my pants sagging far below my ass crack to reveal my undies.
Moving on . . . . Last Thursday, Caesar and I checked out a little Italian place in the Naples section of Long Beach called Michael's on Naples because . . . well, if you follow Showtime on foursquare and checkin at a specific Italian restaurant, you earn a badge for their series The Borgias. And Michael's was on their list so I
begged pleaded asked if Caesar would indulge my whim in order to earn the badge.
He countered with, "Why don't you just stop your car in front of the restaurant and checkin? You'll get the badge, won't you?" I'm sure quite a few of you readers out there asked the same thing. To me, that would be cheating. Yes, it's a silly electronic picture. I don't get to pin it to my lapel or display it behind a glass box on a shelf on my bookcase. But earning the badge that way just wouldn't feel right.
Plus, that would take away the fun of trying out a new restaurant. Looking back I'm glad we tried Michael's. We had the upstairs dining room to ourselves, which the lone waiter probably didn't enjoy, having to trudge up the stairs for a single table. (We tipped him well.) The food was amazing, beginning with a taster from the chef of a large, braised white bean with a bit of olive on top (I think) on a small piece of toasted sourdough. Surprisingly good. Caesar's pork chop was perfectly cooked, very tender, not too pink, and the eggplant side dish was amazing. I ordered a braised Kurabuta pork shank that fell from the bone with a slight touch of my fork, served on a bed of saffron risotto. We opted not to order dessert, though the homemade Italian doughnuts were tempting.
The sacrifices my boyfriend makes so I can earn a silly little electronic badge. But I think he enjoyed the restaurant as much as I did.
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Since Thursday last week, a funk seems to have descended. I'm struggling with the urge to write, which bothers me since I'm trying to finish a short story by the end of the month. Not sure what's causing it, but thankfully, it's not as strong as it was last week. In any case, I wanted to attempt posting something so I thought this video (from 1992!!) would fit the bill. Enjoy this blast from the past:
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
A Day at the Aquarium
In spite of the surprise rain -- which downpooured for all of 20 minutes -- my Mom and I still made it to the Aquarium of the Pacific to fulfill my Mother's Day gift to her. I still can't believe she'd never visited the Aquarium before, but that made for a fun experience as she oohed and aahed at the tanks, the brightly-colored fish and other marine life. She turned into a little kid again, gleefully reaching into one of the tidepool exhibits to touch the anemones, smiling widely as the tentacles closed in with the slightest touch. We took turns searching for the fish pictured on the different displays, calling out the names to one another. She gasped at the size of the sharks and rays in the big tank in the outer area of the grounds. But I think the sea dragons impressed her the most. The giant spider crabs came in a close second.
We finished the trip with a nice lunch at Gladstone's -- yes, a seafood restaurant. And it was good! My Mom even scored a free pass to the Aquarium for ordering a dish made with salmon from a sustainable farm. I think she's already planning her next visit . . . .
Monday, May 16, 2011
Well whaddya know?! My very first film review for The G.A.S.P. Factor went live today, and it's a virtual face off with another reviewer about the same film. Take a look at the dueling reviews for Paranormal Activity, leave a comment on the review, and maybe -- just maybe -- win some neat books and stuff.
Saturday, May 14, 2011
Book Review: Pryor Rendering by Gary Reed
Growing up in rural Oklahoma hasn't been easy for young Charlie Hope. Daily life runs toward the mundane, listening to his mother Ida's tales of his father Garl Hope or spending time at his secret spot by the lake. His only real means of escape comes from Chick, his heavy-drinking grandfather, who totes him all over the Tulsa area, making appearances at all the dive bars and saloons. After one such trip, Ida and Chick have quite a rout about everything from taking such a young boy out drinking to the truth about Garl, not realizing that young Charlie's listening to every word. When he realizes all is not quite at it seems about his long-dead father, a wedge works its way between Charlie and Ida, and he soon begins to question his past and what a future in Pryor holds for him. But that's nothing compared to his chance meeting with Dewar, one of the orphan boys from the Strang House. Soon, they begin spending more time together, and Charlie discovers that he's not the same as everyone else in town. This understanding shakes up not only his life, but the lives of those around him in unexpected ways.
I had never heard of this novel until I checked through Publishing Triangle's 100 Best Gay and Lesbian Novels. Though, it's not on the publisher's list but rather on the list chosen by readers.
Pryor Rendering is populated with interesting characters: young Charlie Hope struggling not only with the realization that his father wasn't the fine man his mother painted him to be, but also with his burgeoning attraction to his fellow schoolboy Dewar; Dewar, who's trying to survive the Strang Home and school until he graduates and can skip out of town; Owen the Turtle Man, a hermit who offers a surprisingly simple and reasonable view on life and relationships; and a host of others, all of whom give Charlie insight into the world around him. They all come across as real people rather than two-dimensional words on a page, making it very easy to get caught up in their stories.
I also liked that the novel spins a very positive outlook on coming out. Charlie notices how different he feels and acts from the other boys around him, but rather than let that drag him down, he grabs onto it, realizing it maybe a way for him to escape the mundane life in Pryor. Sure, Charlie's mother Ida is a little disappointed when he tells her, but the other characters see it as a natural part of growing up. In fact, Charlie finds people who are accepting of him just as he is, giving him the confidence to remain true to himself -- even if it means having to let go of the one thing you love.
Pryor Rendering presents a well-crafted tale of a boy struggling with his sexual identity while maneuvering through the daily drama of his family life and is definitely worth reading.
by Gary Reed
A Plume/Penguin Book
trade paperback, 279 pgs.
Monday, May 09, 2011
Happy, Albeit Belated, Mother's Day
>Yesterday, I treated both my parents to a Mother's Day breakfast. We ate at one of their favorite local places called Mollie's, eating some great food (chicken machaca with tortillas!), chatting about politics and home life and recent trips. Then, we made a quick visit to my grandmother's assisted living facility.
She had definitely changed since the last time I'd seen her. Lost much of her weight, the open sore on her nose finally healed, and what I took to be a shine of happiness on her face. She woke up when we entered the room, beamed at each of us -- though I'm sure we appeared as indistinct masses of colors and sounds. I sat next to her, wished her a Happy Mother's Day, and she grabbed my arm, holding tight and smiling all the while. We talked for a bit, me leaning in and speaking closely to hear good ear, and she laughed, told a joke or two, and declared that she was hungry.
When we left, my Mom said that the new nurse visited three times a week and changed the schedule for her medicines. She immediately saw that change in how active she seemed compared to just two months ago. I agreed; the medicines seemed to have aged her before, but thanks to the regular nurse, checking and administering the medications, getting dosages changed to smaller, more decent levels, my Grandmother still seemed to have quite a bit of gumption left in her.
To round out the day, we stopped at a park in Dana Point to ride the funicular to a vista point overlooking Monarch Bay. We watched the surfers and the pelicans, gasped at the multi-million dollar homes being built directly upon the beach, and my Mom managed to run into three people she hadn't seen in months. (She's quite the socialite!) It was nice, just the three of us enjoying a beautiful, and somewhat chilly, day at the beach.
But next weekend, the real Mother's Day event happens -- for us, anyway. I'm treating my Mom to a day at the Aquarium of the Pacific, something she's always wanted to do.
Saturday, May 07, 2011
Guess What We Saw Today?
Thor, directed by Kenneth Branagh. Yes, that Kenneth Branagh, from the many film adaptations of Shakespearean plays. I was surprised to see his name attached to the film because I don't picture him as a director of Summer blockbuster/popcorn films. But he did a fine job with this one, bringing a nice touch of humor to the tale as well as a touch of Shakespeare with its feel. Nice special effects bring Asgard to life as well as the domain of the Frost Giants. The film also boasts some heavy-duty acting power with Anthony Hopkins as Odin and Natalie Portman as Jane Foster -- not to forget Rene Russo as Odin's wife Frigga.
(Let's face it, though. We really wanted to see Chris Hemsworth strutting around sans shirt. Which was nice. Though I also liked Fandral played by Joshua Dallas.)
The plot centers around Thor going against the wishes of his father, re-igniting a centuries-old war. Odin, none too happy with his son, banishes Thor from Asgard, casting him through time and space and crashing into the deserts of New Mexico. Stripped of his power, but still holding onto his cockiness, Thor struggles to learn what it takes to be a leader. Thanks to Jane Foster, he realizes what a jerk he's been, and mends his ways. Just in time to battle an Asgardian dreadnaught sent to Earth to destroy him and everyone on the planet.
A little flimsy at times, the story still manages to inject much humor -- the taser scene had the entire audience laughing out loud -- and action to make the film worth watching. Thor was a fun film, perfect for a weekend matinee.
Thursday, May 05, 2011
The Road to Las Vegas : Saturday
Saturday started off quite nicely: waking at a decent hour, listening to the wind rustle through the trees outside, finishing another level of Lego Star Wars on my DS. Once we cleaned up, we headed out for lunch at a local burger place near the University of Nevada at Las Vegas: Smashburger. It turned out to be a neat little gourmet burger joint that offered not only unusual burgers (like the Sin City complete with a fried egg) but intriguing sides: fried pickles, sweet potato french fries, flash-fried vegetables. (Diet? What diet?)
After lunch, we headed to the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino so I could checkin at the House of Blues using foursquare -- one of my badge goals -- then we wandered around, admiring the many shops and pieces of art scattered about the walkways until finding ourselves inside the Luxor. With plenty of time to kill before having to meet up with the birthday girl and the rest of the posse later that evening, we toured the Titanic artifacts which included china, bits of clothing, pieces of steering equipment, and a portion from the side of the ship. The exhibit also provided us each with a data card for one of the passengers, with personal facts and the reason for his/her being on the ship. Near the exit, we scanned a list of the passengers to determine if ours survived or perished in the icy waters. See? Las Vegas isn't all about gambling. (Though we did play the penny slots, and I manage to win a whole 10¢.)
The last stop before returning to the condo to freshen up was Town Square for some window shopping and frozen yogurt. It's a nice outdoor shopping mall with quite a few high-end stores but far enough off the strip to have reasonable prices. Not as many tourists as on the strip, either, which was a definite plus.
For dinner, we meet the group at STACK at the Mirage. I'm not sure where exactly the restaurant was in the casino, but I'm fairly certain we saw every slot machine in the building by the time we found it. And it was worth the trek. The fixed menu dinner started with trees of seafood: a sturdy metal tree with three spots for plates, gradually increasing in size from top to bottom. The topmost plate held the lobster tail; the second, large prawns and crab legs; the bottom, dozens of oysters. They brought three trees to share among the dinner guests, and the food was gone within minutes. The next course was a basic salad, followed by the main course. I chose the petit filet while our friend Chris exuded over a large bowl of penne pasta with prosciutto and truffles. The knife cut through that filet as if it were melted butter, and it tasted wonderful. For dessert, we each sampled the restaurant's jelly doughnut "munchkin" holes which were pretty tasty -- especially when smothered in crème anglaise.
2-1/2 hours later, our group waddled to the Venetian for a foray into Tao, a trendy night club. The birthday girl presented us with passes which allowed free entry for the ladies, but the rest of us had to pay half the cover -- which still turned out to be $15 each. But that was after the 45-minute wait to get in. Once inside, we shuffled along the main floor, wormed our way upstairs, and squeezed through the over-crowded main room. The ushers or security wouldn't allow us to stand in place for any length of time so we circled the dark bar with the moving throng of people, and somewhere along the way, we lost the rest of our group. We searched for them inside the thumping music, passing by the long line of people waiting to set foot on the jammed dance floor, pressed through the steady stream of folks going the opposite direction, and finally made to to a spot at the bar. It took quite a while to catch a bartender's attention, but we finally ordered our four drinks, being charged a little over $50. I quickly downed my soda as the others gulped their drinks, then we headed back to the first floor where we eventually caught up with the others. We told them that we were leaving, and I think they all left shortly after we did. In all we spent about 30 minutes in there. For me, it seemed like a waste of money.
We headed for one of the newer gay bars in town -- The Garage -- and had a good time just hanging out, talking, laughing. Though, the smoke was starting to get to me by the time 2AM rolled around.
Tuesday, May 03, 2011
The Road to Las Vegas : Friday
The road trip didn't begin as planned: Enterprise picked us up one hour and two phone calls late. Plus, we needed to pick up some luggage for our friends who decided to travel by motorcycle. Eventually, we sped onto the freeways and wound our way across the Mojave Desert to Las Vegas.
The Mojave is a sparsely beautiful expanse: rows of sage brush seemingly planted by hand with the occasional Joshua tree, rocky crags and hills sprouting from the ground and painted in earthy tones of dark browns and purples, sand dunes and dust devils. I enjoyed watching the world speed by from the passenger's side. But poor Caesar! Neither of us expected the heavy gusts of wind that pushed our little car ever-so-slightly onto the should or into the next lane. One motorcycle just in front of us listed to the left, angling toward the highway but held up by the force of the wind. It didn't help us, either, that the car screeched each time the wind nudged us. We thought perhaps the wind was trying to squeeze through a window that hadn't been shut all the way, but when we finally reached our friend's condo, we checked the tires and discovered how near-treadless they were.
We barely had time to rest, unpack and change before heading to our first stop of the night, diablo's Cantina at the Monte Carlo. The Birthday Girl and friends were already munching away at the appetizers by the time we found parking, trudged across the casino floor, and located them. Our streetside table was made for people watching as hundreds passed by along the sidewalks, eyeing our food or avoiding the man in a large chicken suit handing out passes to some adults only bar. One intrepid tourist had her picture taken while pretending to choke him which caused no end of laughter from our slightly tipsy table. We stuffed ourselves with loaded potato skins, queso fondido with tortillas and some spicy beef empanadas and enjoyed chatting and laughing for a few hours. Then 8:30 rolled around, and we needed to make our was to the Planet Hollywood Casino for the night's main event: Peepshow.
Yes, Yours Truly attended a mostly female strip show. Because the Birthday girl wanted to. I was actually surprised that the audience consisted mostly of women; maybe 10-15 years ago, I don't know that that would have been the case. And to be honest, it wasn't a bad show. Impressive dancing, especially from the Mrs. Peter dancer -- she launched herself at that pole, spun circles and performed acrobatics while holding on only with her hands -- and Timber, one of the three male performers in the show. No, he didn't strip -- though the Big Bad Wolf did, and we spied some danglage -- but he magically appeared in a bathtub and performed a tricky rope routine, splashing the entire stage while suspended from the ceiling. Great singing, too, from all four singers. But I think I've seen enough breasts to last me for a few years.
After the show, Caesar and I headed back to the condo, too exhausted from the long drive to hit the clubs with the rest of the gang. Good thing, too, because we were both out as soon as our heads hit the pillows.
. . . to be continued . . .
Monday, May 02, 2011
We spent this past weekend in Las Vegas to celebrate a friend's 40th birthday. A whirlwind weekend -- and not just because of the gusting winds that almost blew us of Interstate 15. While I take a day to recuperate, I thought I'd share the new foursquare badges earned:
I'm surprised my phone didn't explode, considering how many times/places I checked in.