Thursday, January 31, 2013

R.I.P. Patty Andrews

I've always enjoyed the music of The Andrews Sisters, so hearing of Patty's passing -- the last remaining Andrews Sister -- was very sad. In honor of her passing and as a small tribute to the Andrews Sisters, here's a classic song: Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Dieting Again

I dread stepping on the scale because I know my weight has gone up in the past few months. My stomach feels like a boulder ready to flop over the edge of an abyss, so I know it's time to cut out the French fries, watch what I eat, and head back to the gym -- especially with our impending trip to Madrid later this year. I need to look good for the Spaniards. With that in mind, I decided to post an favorite music video from days gone by (i.e., when MTV used to play music videos). I present to you Fat from "Weird Al" Yankovic:

Well, I originally meant to post the Fat video instead of Eat It. Oops!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Plastic Crap

So we experienced our fourth Tupperware Fiesta starring the one and only Kay Sedia. And that should hold us over for a while. We have Tupperware in all the cupboards with more on the way. I mean, how many microwavable bowls with pop tabs do we need? (Maybe just one more sandwich holder....)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The End of Alice

After a month or two of off-and-on playing, I finally finished Alice Madness Returns. The game serves as a sequel to the popular PC game from 2000, American Magee's Alice which offers a twisted take on Alice's adventures in Wonderland. I thought it would a nice little game, kinda like Mario Brothers but with a little more action. Turns out, it was one of the more difficult games I've played.

The story begins with Alice being released from a mental ward only to find herself slipping away to Wonderland once more. But the Wonderland she remembers is in shambles, and she must find and stop the Infernal Train before it tears Wonderland apart. As she makes her way through the changed landscape, she picks up bits of her memory, slowly revealing a story about a firs that killed her entire family and whether or not she is the one responsible for it.

Gameplay starts off nice, jumping up rocks and bouncing on mushrooms -- until I had to find the Mad Hatter in a steampunk train station and found myself battling spiderlike teapots. Only later do the samurai wasps, zombie playing cards, and doll-like Bitch Babies (flying dolls that spit a green goo) make an appearance then popup at random points throughout the game. The path through Wonderland cross chasms with invisible platforms or steam vents that raise you high in the air or playing cards that glide into place just when I thought I was about to crash to the ground or those damned slides.... And I played in the Easy mode; I'm scared to tempt Nightmare mode -- one level worse than Difficult.

Plus, the environments are stunning: from the steampunk train station to the decrepit Queen's castle, to the banzai mountain in which the Caterpillar dwells. Also, Alice picks up a variety of interesting weapons along the way: a Pepper Grinder machine gun, a Teapot canon, the Vorpal blade, a Hobby Horse hammer, and a Clockwork rabbit (that explodes). I'm surprised how much I loved the game, and it's probably one of the few that I will go back and try the different levels -- if only to find all the memories and other surprised that I missed during the first go around.

Image from Edge Online.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Live Studio Audience

We just returned from a fun trip to Los Angeles to attend a taping of Chelsea Lately. I will admit, that's one of the neat things about living so close to LA -- free show tapings. In the pat few years, we've attended Dancing with the Stars twice, and now twice also for Chelsea Lately. Sure, we both had to miss a day of work, but I should be okay as in the past 14 years at my company, I believe that I've taken almost seven whole weeks (when it should be closer to 14).

We enjoyed the taping and watching Chelsea interact with Ryan Seacrest, her guest for tonight's show. And, we were able to enjoy some of our favorite comedians during the Roundtable: Chris Hardwick, Gary Valentine, and T.J. Miller who filled in for Chuy. It was totally worth waiting in the standby line (with our tickets) for almost two hours.

Image from GetGlue.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Quickie Book Review: Death of a Pirate King

by Josh Lanyon

Mystery writer and amateur sleuth has finally started to see the fruits of his labors: his first novel has been optioned by Paul Kane, one of the great Hollywood movie producers. But while at a dinner party with many of the people involved with bringing his novel to the big screen, a man named Porter Jones suddenly keels over dead into his bowl of soup. As Adrien was the last person to speak with Jones and also handed Jones the fatal glass of alcohol, he is the prime suspect. Something to which he is not unaccustomed as these types of deaths follow him around like a mischievous shadow. To make matters even more uncomfortable, Adrien's former lover detective Jake Riordan has been assigned to the case.

Once the police leave, Paul Kane approaches Adrien and asks him to do a little covert questioning to find out what happened. He knows of Adrien's reputation as an amateur sleuth and believes that he would be able to get better answers than the police would. Against his better judgement -- and a warning from Jake -- Adrien grudgingly agrees, hoping to find out the truth before he finds himself behind bars. When he begins digging into the case, he uncovers long-held grudges and love affairs gone wrong, and that he and Jake are being manipulated like chess pieces. But will he be able to uncover the truth before he winds up as the next victim?

Josh Lanyon's Death of a Pirate King is the fourth title in his great series of mysteries featuring Adrien English. Adrien is smart, funny, and what I like most, is a struggling writer. He has his problems, like the broken relationship with Jake and his own heart condition, and that makes him even more likeable. He seems more like a next door neighbor rather than a hard-boiled gumshoe. The story is nicely paced, deftly combining Adrien's sleuthing with trying to reconcile his romantic past. And it has a sense of humor and sarcastic wit about it without being campy.

It's a great addition to the Adrien English series, and I highly recommend both this book and the series.

Death of a Pirate King
by Josh Lanyon
MLRPress
trade paperback, 235 pgs.

purchased book

Image from Goodreads.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Baby, You Can Drive My Car

Back in October, my Dad pulled me aside at a family dinner and told me that he didn't feel comfortable driving anymore. He'd lost his balance and tumbled again in the shower, resulting in a bruised right arm and a sore leg. He'd experienced difficulty trying to get to his feet while sitting. Most times, he held onto the edge of the counter while walking through the kitchen to make sure he didn't teeter over onto the tile. He told me that being behind the wheel of a car wasn't something he could do anymore.

I told my brother this, and we both sighed with relief. The doctor continually told him that driving was not a good option for him anymore, but unfortunately, it took a little fall to force him into that reality.

Fast forward to a week before Christmas, and my Mom whispered to me, while my Dad watched Jeopardy in another room, that she came home from her book group to find the Saturn gone and my Dad nowhere to be found. She frantically called his cell, and almost read him the riot act when he told her that he drove to the pharmacy to pick up their prescriptions. Then today, I learned from my Brother that my Dad decided to drive the 20 miles to his friend's house in Huntington Beach.

My Brother was livid, frustrated, pissed of when he told me. And my Dad deflected every attempt to convince him that he shouldn't be driving. Slow reaction time: What do you mean slow?! I dropped the soap in the shower this morning and was able to catch it before it hit the floor. I'm sitting down in the car so I won't need to be standing or walking anywhere. That's when I have my balance problems. So many other ways to rationalize getting into a car, slipping a key into the ignition, and driving away.

But I understand why he wants to drive so badly. When my Mom isn't home, my Dad is housebound. None of his friends live close enough for them to stop by for a visit, so all he does it sit around watching TV or napping. Boredom is the message behind his desire. Taking away his ability to drive traps him at home.

At the same time, my Brother and I worry about what would happen to him if he got into an accident, needed to get out of the car quickly, needed to slam on the brakes. Or worse, what would happen if he hit someone else?

We bandied about the ideas of taking his keys or drivers license away, but he would react like one of his former kindergarten students and pout and sulk, tell us that we had no business butting into his life. I suggested getting him to take a driving test at the DMV. My Brother thought of buying my parent's other car so that they would only have one. Anything we do will only upset my Dad further, but at what point will he finally understand that his not driving is necessary? Will he ever understand of even believe it?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sausage

Saturday afternoon, we decided to do a little exploring and try a new (to us) eatery in Los Angeles called Wurstküche. The restaurant specializes in one thing: sausage. Any kind you can imagine: from traditional kielbasa and bratwurst to pheasant, duck & bacon, and rattlesnake & rabbit. Caesar tried the chicken apple sausage while I decided to be a bit more daring and taste the alligator and pork andouille sausage. Before you get all grossed out, the alligator was pretty good -- a little earthy and strong, but it tasted great when smothered with mustard and carmelized onions. The Belgian fries with sun-dried tomato and chipotle aioli dipping sauces hit the spot, too.

Wurstküche is located in the Arts District of Los Angeles, so after lunch, we wandered along the street, taking snapshots of the murals -- many from an artist named Kim West. Walking back toward our car, we picked up some dessert at The Pie Hole for later: an apple pocket pie and a Mexican chocolate brownie. (I don't think that's what they called the brownie, but it had a touch of cinnamon to it that was very tasty, so we dubbed it that.)

From there, we walked and shopped at The Citadel Outlets, which I had never visited, though I grew up on the area. Well, in Orange County. And I surprisingly didn't spend much money -- maybe $25 on a pair of Champion sweat pants. At least I can check that off my "Must Do" list. The Citadel, that is.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Les Hobbits

I haven't posted much about movies during the past year. Yes, we do make our way to the cinema every so often, but we're being pickier about which films to see. Mostly because neither of us wants to waste money on what might be a bad film. After all, $22 can buy a decent meal for two with drinks and dessert or two tickets to a movie (plus another $15 for drinks and candy).

But with it being the holidays...and both of us on vacation...we did break down to watch two films.

On Christmas Day, after surviving Caesar's nephews and nieces tearing through all their gifts within 30 minutes, we headed for the theater to see The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey. Good thing we purchased tickets the day before because I believe all of Long Beach was at the same theater. The wait for the ticket windows must have been a good half hour. We, however, sauntered passed the mob and made our way into the theater. And what an enjoyable film it was. Fine acting by everyone, lots of humor, and good special effects. The best scenes by far were those involving Gollum and Bilbo, when Bilbo discovers the ring. I can't wait to see the next part of the story, but must admit that I'm wondering how the producers and director plan on squeezing three movies out of it.

Fast forward to New Year's Day, and we once again braved the tremendous crowds to see Les Misérables. It definitely deserves all the hype. The creators kept most of the music from the stage production, and the story is sung through -- with only one or two spoken words peppered here and there to move the scene along. Having the actors sing their parts instead of pre-recording them was a great idea, and it added to the immediacy and emotions of each scene. Hugh Jackman's performance as Jean Valjean was fantastic, but Anne Hathaway blew us both away. As for Russel Crowe, while I enjoyed his acting, I've always heard the part of Javert from someone with a stronger, more commanding voice, but Crowe wasn't too bad. The Thénardiers, however -- what a disappointment. In the stage productions, both Monsieur and Madame are larger than life characters, very colorful and bawdy. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham-Carter gave very lackluster performances, which surprised me as I liked them both in Sweeney Todd.

A few movies from last year still appear on my "must see" list: Life of Pi, Argo, and Lincoln -- and I know they're in theaters around here somewhere....

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Quickie Book Review: Children of the Night

by Dan Simmons

Dr. Kate Neuman spends most of her time trying to help the children struggling to survive in orphanages scattered throughout post-Communist Romania. Unwashed, unfed, crammed into rooms like sardines, almost no medical attention -- Kate has just about reached her limit of the abhorrent conditions until she discovers one particular child who, against all odds, begins to flourish in the wake of a botched blood transfusion. Examining the child using what limited tools she can find, she realizes that the child's immune system may hold the key to curing other disease, but without the proper equipment, she won't know for sure. With the help of Father Michael O'Rourke and a local medical student named Lucian, she adopts the boy and manages to sneak him out of Romania and brings him home with her to Colorado where she can run more tests at her lab in the CDC.

News of the child's flight doesn't go over well with billionaire Vernon Deacon Trent. Trent comes from a very old lineage, dating back to the 15th Century and that has lived in the are surrounding Transylvania. But back then, Trent was known by a far more sinister name: Vlad Dracul (a.k.a., Vlad the Impaler). Trent recently arrived in Romania to live out his remaining days and to name a new Prince to take his place as head of the family. That new Prince is to be Kate's child, so the family tracks Kate to Colorado and abducts him, destroying her home and believing her to be dead.

With the help of Father O'Rourke, Kate returns to Romania, determined to find her son and those responsible for the death of her friends, and to bring her son back to the U.S.

Author Dan Simmons takes the mythos of vampires and attacks it from a wholly different angle in Children of the Night: what if the need for blood turns out to be a genetic defect, affecting a particular family or families that live in the same geographic region? Those affected still require blood in order to prevent dying due to the defect, but rather than neck-biting and morphing into bats, others ways were found to bring flesh blood. That throws a new light on Vlad the Impaler's reign of terror. Simmons also mixed that history with the political atmosphere in Romania after Ceausescu, painting a dark picture of the inner workings and manipulations of the government as well as the countryside itself.

But the book also presents a fast-paced adventure story of a woman who finds herself well out of her element and determined to do whatever it takes to find her son and to bring him home. Kate turns out to be even stronger than she thought possible, and watching her focus on her son and battle against an entire family of vampires is quite exhilarating.

A fantastic book to read, and I think even die-hard vampire fans will like the different take on the mythos.

Children of the Night
by Dan Simmons
Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Griffin
trade paperback, 433 pgs

received book from publisher

Friday, January 04, 2013

Epic Finish

I finally finished Epic Mickey -- two years after starting the game and almost 7 months after frustration forced me to move on to other games. I collected 76 pins, completed most of the missions and side missions, discovered all the missing parts of the mechanical characters hidden throughout the various lands, and defeated the Blot! I'm a bit disappointed that the game doesn't end with an open world in which you can go back and complete unfinished tasks or find more badges, as you can with other games. But, I'm just glad to have painted my way to the conclusion.

My attention now focuses on Alice: Madness Returns and the steampunk version of Wonderland in which Alice is stuck. It's much more difficult than I thought. Also, I was under the impression that I was halfway through the game, but have since learned that I am almost near the end of Chapter 2 -- of 6 chapters. Maybe I'll finish this one by next Christmas. If worse comes to worst, I can always start Epic Mickey 2....

Image from Console Gaming Reviews.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Happy New Year!

I hope you enjoyed ringing in the New Year!

We decided to be low key this year, inviting our friend Clark over for some great Chinese take out, a cheesy movie (Casa de Mi Padre), some Kathy Griffin making poor Anderson Cooper blush and protect his taffy, and some homemade banana and nutella bread pudding. When midnight rolled around, we watched the Queen Mary fireworks from the warmth of the apartment -- a nice, clear view from the big living room window. And now, we're going to see Les Misérables. So let's get this New Year started!!

Image from Christmas Stock Images under a Creative Commons License: CC BY 3.0.