Monday, July 31, 2006

High Notes ...

♪ Kelley, work pal, blog muse, gets a two-fer mention this time around. Big, big points for her for turning me on to Damien Rice's album O. Wow. It's an instant favorite. I didn't have to sample more than a couple tracks on iTunes before buying the whole thing. As I IMEd to her that day, "Damn you and your fine music recommendation!" With DSL and a credit card on file, it's way too easy to buy way too much music. But I don't have any other vices, so what the hell, right? And as if that weren't enough of a contribution to my musical life in the past week, today she turned me onto Pandora.com.

♪ Tomorrow, I'm doing a photo shoot to accompany a story I'm writing about holiday cookies (gotta love that publishing lead time!) which means that I spent most of today baking. Baking. In July. On the hottest day of the year to date. I think I could have just put trays of cookies out on my deck instead of turning on my oven. Christmas in July. I thought it would be hard to get in the cookie-baking spirit (I was ready to turn on Christmas CDs), but not only did I bake five varieties (and variations on three of those), I have never been more in the baking zone than I was today. Ideas were coming to me as I was baking that, frankly, are nothing short of brilliant. Yep, the cookie bakery needs to be the next act in the play that is my life. I have some rich friends. They love my cookies. Time to hit 'em up for some VC.

♪ Pausing during the cookie-baking extravaganza earlier, leaning over the sink, I ate the most perfect nectarine of my life. Summer in my hand. Add that to the short list of things I like about this oven of a season.

♪ Brian, my lovely recording-engineer pal, wrote last night to say that we're on for next week to lay down more tunes. And I have more tunes to lay down.

♪ Ethan recommended "Shaolin Soccer" to me after discovering our mutual World Cup fascination. When he recommended it, he had just seen it and was still wiping the tears away from laughing so hard. So, to the top of my Netflix queue it went. It arrived. I watched it. I was baffled. Was it supposed to be funny?

During an IM convo with Eth this morning, somehow the subject of my 3-month picture came up. Specifically, the sight gag that was my hair at that tender age. Here then, for your very much baby-picture enjoyment, is me sporting the hairstyle that prompted the photographer to ask my mom, "Lady, are you sure you want her hair like that?" And that lump you see behind me is my mom's carpet-covered arm, holding me up.

And finally, because it amuses me, even all these years later, I share with you my stuffed alien from "Toy Story." When you squeeze his tummy, he speaks. "The claw is my master." "I have been chosen!" "Oooooooooh!" And his head lights up. He was a birthday gift from my toy-designer brother one year. His wife thought he was nuts. And then, when I was so happy to receive it, she probably thought I was nuts. "Oooooooooh!"

It's Not Brain Surgery ...

Thanks to my blogger pal Steff, this morning I learned that the BBC has created a Sex I.D. brain test that will reveal if you have more of a male brain or more of a female brain, through the use of nifty online challenges. There are six parts to it, none of which take very long, but you can save your test at the completion of each stage and return to it later, you know, if your boss is coming around the corner and might see you slacking off.

I've always thought of myself as rather equally right- and left-brained. If I had to guess about where I would fall on the male/female brain continuum, I would have given the edge to "female," both because, well, I have a nice rack, and because, as many of you know, I will cry at a well-made commercial for soup. But now, thanks to the blokes at the BBC, I know: I skew male. Picture a continuum with 100 percent female on the left side and 100 percent male on the right, 0 in the center (duh). My personal brain score sits right around 25 percent on the male side. The average for men who take the test is 50 percent male. The average for women who take the test is 50 percent female. Because we all have some degree of both traits, eh?

The test is broken down into six sections. My results, copied from my BBC results page, are thus:

Part 1

Angles - This task tested your ability to identify the angle of a line by matching it with its twin. This is a spatial task, which looks at how you picture space.

Your score: 17 out of 20.
Average score for men: 15.1 out of 20.
Average score for women: 13.3 out of 20.
If you scored 13 - 17: You found this test neither hard nor easy. This suggests your brain has male and female traits when it comes to spatial ability.

Spot the Difference (not to be confused with "Spot the Looney" - that was for you, Trac!) - This task tested your ability to identify which objects changed position. You lost points, if you incorrectly identified objects.
Your score: 64%.
Average score for men: 39%.
Average score for women: 46%.
If you scored between 34 - 66%: You may have a balanced female-male brain.

Part 2

Hands
You said your left thumb was on top when you clasped your hands together. Left thumb on top: This suggests the right half of your brain is dominant. Some studies theorise that as a right brain dominant person, you may excel in visual, spatial and intuitive processes.

Part 3

Emotions and Systems

This task looked at whether you prefer to empathise or systemise.

Empathising
Your empathy score is: 16 out of 20
Average score for men: 7.9 out of 20
Average score for women: 10.6 out of 20

What does your result suggest?
Empathisers are better at accurately judging other people's emotions and responding appropriately. If you scored 15 and above, you are very empathic and would be an ideal person to comfort people in a time of crisis. Women in general are better at empathising.

Systemising
Your systemising score is: 14 out of 20
Average score for men: 12.5 out of 20
Average score for women: 8.0 out of 20

What does your result suggest?
Systemisers prefer to investigate how systems work. A system can be a road map, flat pack furniture, or a mathematical equation – anything that follows a set of rules. A score of 15 and above suggests you're good at analysing or building systems. Men in general are better at systemising.

Eyes
This task tested your ability to judge people's emotions.

Your score: 8 out of 10
Average score for men: 6.6 out of 10
Average score for women: 6.6 out of 10
If you scored 7 - 10: Your result suggests you are a good empathiser, sensitive to other people's emotions. Women generally fall into this category.

Part 4

Fingers

We asked you to measure your ring and index fingers. Your ratios came to:

Right Hand: 1.04
Left Hand: 1.03

Average ratio for men: 0.982
Average ratio for women: 0.991

It's thought that your ratio is governed by the amount of testosterone you were exposed to in your mother's womb. The ratio of the length of your index finger to the length of your ring finger is set for life by as early as three months after conception. Even during puberty, when we experience intensive hormonal changes, the ratio stays the same.

Men generally have a ring finger that is longer than their index finger, which gives them a lower ratio than women, whose ring and index fingers are usually of equal length.

Studies have found that men and women with lots of brothers generally have more masculine finger ratios.

Part 5

Faces

This task looked at how you rate the attractiveness of a series of faces. The images you looked at were digitally altered to create slight differences in masculinity.

Your choices suggest you prefer more feminine faces.

Highly masculinised male faces possess more extreme testosterone markers such as a long, broad and lower jaw, as well as more pronounced brow ridges and cheekbones.

Interestingly, women's preferences are said to vary across the menstrual phase. A more masculine face is preferred during the 9 days prior to ovulation, when conception is most likely.

A typical 'attractive' female face possesses features such as a shorter, narrower, lower jaw, fuller lips and larger eyes than an average face.

Part 6

3D Shapes

This task tested your ability to mentally rotate 3D shapes.

Your score: 11 out of 12
Average score for men: 8.2 out of 12
Average score for women: 7.1 out of 12
If you scored 10 - 12: Are you an engineer or do you have a science background? People with these skills tend to score in this range. Past studies have concluded that people in this range have a more male brain.

Words

This task looked at your verbal fluency.

Your score: you associated 6 word(s) with grey and you named 7 word(s) that mean happy. We are assuming that all the words you entered are correct.

Average score for men: 11.4 words total
Average score for women: 12.4 words total
If you produced 6 - 10 words: Most people in this range have a female-type brain. (So my 13 words clearly mean I am a genius! : o ) )

Ultimatum

This task asked you how you would divide money.

If you had to split £50 with someone, you said you would demand £10. (I misread the £50. I thought it was 20. So I wasn't being meek, just fair. But it didn't affect my overall result.)

Sunday, July 30, 2006

They're All Relative? ...

So, there's this site called MyHeritage.com, and if you go there (registration is brief and free), you can upload a photo and receive a facial analysis - a la "Looker" - of what celebrities you resemble. (I used the photo that accompanies my profile. See it over there, to the right?)

Nifty! Because I'm one of those people who really doesn't look like anyone. Only three times in my life have people told me that I look liked someone, and I thought two of those people were cracked. Mind you, this site compares facial features and gives you percentages as to how much you have in common with Mr. or Ms. Celebrity, but my list amuses me (and is pretty flippin' cool, besides). It includes, in the order I received them:

1. Gillian Anderson - 62% - OK, she's pretty. Off to a good start, then.
2. Andre Citroen - 61% - Hey, I like cars!
3. Joaquin Phoenix - 56% - Those who know me know how much I adore him. "Am I not merciful?!"
4. Carrie Fisher - 56% - I hope I match her talent as a writer, too.
5. Anastacia - 56% - She has an album titled "Freak of Nature." I use that phrase all the time to describe my height. It bugs my mom. And I wouldn't mind having her vocal range.
6. Sean Connery - 55% - Holy crap! Mom, is 007 my dad?!
7. Al Pacino - 55% - Double holy crap!
8. Carl Nielsen - 55% - Who? I dunno. There's a Danish composer named Carl Nielsen, but that's not who's in the picture in my results.
9. Tom Green - 54% - Eh, they can't all be winners.
10. Edward Norton - 53% - Love him. I mean, "Death to Smoochy"! And he was great in "The Score." "Fight Club." "American History X." Right on.

And what celebrities share your features?

Summer Bites ...

Most days I think, "The only good thing about summer is that it's followed by fall."

On our way to a gallery yesterday (mom is on the hunt for big art for a living-room wall), we spied a limo. "Somone has a hot day for a wedding," she said.

"Anyone who gets married in July or August is insane," I said. "There's nothing more attractive than a sweaty bride."

And then my clock found its way to lunchtime today and I remembered something I like about summer: Tomatoes.

Mom planted a bunch of new varieties this year in containers, among them green sausage tomatoes, which look like a zebra, if zebras were striped yellow and green and shaped like a sausage.

Yellow tomatoes, red tomatoes, green tomatoes. She's already in the throes of tomato over-abundance. She brought some over yesterday before we headed off to the gallery. A few days before, she brought over a bouquet of basil, which sits on my kitchen counter.

Tomatoes and basil. You know what that means: Bruschetta for lunch! Sadly, I don't have any hearty country bread on hand, but I'm happy to make do with the 12-grain sliced loaf in the freezer. (Once, on the phone with English Teacher Dave, I said I had to get going because I was having some friends over for dinner and I had to get busy making the bread for the bruschetta. Dave said, "Beth? Stores *sell* bread." Smartass.)

I love food alchemy. Chop up a few tomatoes, chiffonade some basil, crush in some garlic, top it with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, give it a stir, dump it over toasted bread. Edible gold.

My foodstyling and camera work leave much to be desired, but I had to work fast, before the bread got completely soggy, and you get the idea.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

'Tsotsi' ...

Hugely powerful.

I haven't seen all the foreign-language Oscar nominees from last year, but it's not hard to see why this won.

Some might argue with Tsotsi's sudden transformation from badass to father figure, but the film does a very effective job of telling his backstory in very few frames.

Roger Ebert gave it four stars. I totally agree.

'The Big White' ...

I will watch Robin Williams do anything.

How did I find out about this movie? Maybe I read about it in EW? Maybe it was recommended to me through Netflix? No matter. I rented it and I liked it. It's got a "Fargo" vibe, minus the wood chipper.

Holly Hunter is fabulous Robin's wife, a would-be Tourette's sufferer. Woody Harrelson's role is small but impressive.

It's good to watch a movie set in Alaska when the mercury in the midwest is in the 90s.

I hate summer.

Friday, July 28, 2006

'Miami Vice' ...

Ciaran is in it. I try to see his movies on opening day.

Good American accent from my Irish friend who usually sounds British.

Some of the cinematography made me kinda nauseous.

I never watched the show, back in the day. But I knew the general premise, going in. It's a long movie, nearly two and a half hours. There's some *very* graphic violence. If you don't like the sight of blood, you might wanna skip this one.

It was fine for what it was. Guns, drugs, fast boats, sex.

But really, is the remake of "In the Air Tonight" necessary?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Maiden Concert ...

Tonight I took my eldest nephew to his first-ever concert. He's 15. He's been to Broadway shows. He's been to baseball games. But tonight he has his first-ever ticket stub from his first concert.

We caught Daniel Powter at the Park West, a great place to see a show. We had "dinner" at Ben & Jerry's first. I had a suggestion in mind in case he wanted real food, but hey, if you can't have ice cream for dinner with your cool aunt, who can you have ice cream for dinner with?

He was chatty in the car all the way there, and chatty over ice cream, and chatty in line, and chatty once we grabbed our seats until the show started. I was remembering back to when I was 15, and I didn't remember being that chatty. But then I realized, I wasn't that chatty with my parents. With other people, it was probably a different story.

In a moment of sappiness, I looked at him watching the stage and had a vivid flashback to the day he was born. I remember peering at him through the nursery window, tears streaming down my face.

And now he's practically an adult. Tonight as we waited for the show to start, he was sharing his views on religion with me, talking about books and movies and music, and generally keeping me up to date. (Who knew the kids today are listening to Metallica?)

The concert I really wanted to take him to was Coldplay this past spring, but he was on a cruise for spring break, the poor thing. I would have liked to take him to a bigger, louder, more rockin' show, but tonight was still a good time.

Holly Brook opened. She's mostly a keyboardist. She can play a dulcimer. She adjusted her skirt as she held it on her knees, telling the crowd not to take any untoward pictures (well, she didn't use the word "untoward"). Uh, here's a thought, love: If you're modest and you're gonna have to sit on stage with your legs open, wear pants. She played five songs. She almost forgot to introduce the musicians on stage with her. "I feel so stupid when I forget to do that," she said. Yup. She's got your garden-variety pop/folk chick voice. Her songs are rather sullen. After her brief set, when the lights came up, my nephew said, "Well, she's kind of a downer."

Next up, MoZella. Or, as I said at the end of her set, NoMoZella! We'd had quite enough of MoZella. It's not that she's a bad musician (her album is due out in September; she'll be at Schuba's next month; she's kinda got an urban thing goin' on), it's that her stage banter sucks. I'm no prude, but this was an all-ages show and I'm sure I saw six-year-old girls there tonight. So maybe her stage banter shouldn't be about drinking? "What else is there to do in Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, right?" she said. "You guys drinkin' tonight?!" There were some cracks about whether or not we make our own. Yep, Mo, I got me a still right out back and swig outta glass jars. I mean, the girl is from Detroit, it's not like she's unfamiliar with the Midwest. Whatever. I was glad when she got off the stage.

So Daniel's crew readied the stage for his set, and then the band came out and played him on. And he sat down at his beautiful Roland and launched into his first song. Which no one could hear. Because his mic wasn't hot. Oops. It wouldn't be the first gaffe of the night, but given that the target demographic for this concert was a 14-year-old girl, it didn't really matter.

His band keyboardist, Kevin Lovejoy, was the bright spot of the set. The guy is amazing. Daniel called him to the front to play a solo. I'll compare him to Paul Shaffer. And I mean that as a compliment. Musically, I mean. Physically, he looks more like Eraserhead or a scientist geek from an '80s flick that's eluding me at the moment. But he's an outstanding keyboardist. Worth finding in a city near you.

So tonight was the first of what I hope are many concert outings with my nephew. I asked him what band he'd most like to see on tour, regardless of whether they're actually touring. Fall Out Boy. I just checked Ticketbastard. No dates scheduled. But I just signed up for the e-mail alert.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Mike Rowe ...

He hosts "Dirty Jobs" on the Discovery Channel.

He was on "Good Morning, America" in his shark suit (shark, not sharkskin; as in diving with sharks, not sleeping with fishes).

I want to listen to him speak for the rest of my life.

And hey, he's single.

How Does This Stuff Get To Me? ...

From: Bernardo lbqqpd@mailme.dk
Subject: hello!
Date: July 25, 2006 9:09:18 AM CDT
To: bethjk@earthlink.com
Reply-To: Bernardo lbqqpd@mailme.dk

Hi,
Hope I aam not writing to wrong addresas. I am nice, prbetty looking
girl. I am plananing on avisiting your town this month. Can
we meet each other in person? Message me back at tfdk@globalmobpost.com


I'm not wondering how spam gets to me. I'm wondering how something that doesn't appear to contain my e-mail address gets to my e-mailbox.

Monday, July 24, 2006

'Edison Force' ...

Uh oh. A movie with Kevin Spacey/Morgan Freeman star power that goes straight to video? How could I not rent it?

The entertainment community has been abuzz, giving Justin Timberlake grief for his big-screen debut. But surely the producers of a $25 million film wouldn't fuck around and cast a pop star in a major role if he was *that* bad, right?

Right. That's right: Right. He's not that bad. He's not the 21st Century's Olivier either, but he's not as bad as he's been made out to be. There's been a bit too much glee and mirth in Timberlake's evisceration. Cut a pop star some slack, whydon'tcha?

I don't listen to his music, and yeah, maybe Hollywood has gotten a bit too consumed with the quest for cash and it's willing to stick anyone anywhere like so many celebrity Colorforms so long as the stunt might make a few bucks, but I've seen bad acting before and this wasn't it.

Is it a good movie? No, not really. It has its fair share of cliches - corrupt politicians, cops on the edge. But is it a bad movie? No. It's not. So why would you watch it? Well, if you love Kevin Spacey (and I do), it's fun to see him with a full head of hair puffing on a cigarette and he really can't turn in a bad performance. And yes, I've seen "The Life of David Gale." Morgan Freeman has become the Everyman Father Figure and he's always fun to watch. John Heard is always good. LL Cool J is fine. (As in "passable," not as in "Mmm, mmm, mmm! Look at the brother without his shirt on!" But he is really ripped, too.) Justin is, like I said, not as bad as everyone wants you to believe, but the biggest pleasure of this film is watching Dylan McDermott, usually Mr. Clean Cut and Dreamy, turn in his version of Denzel Washington in "Training Day." Dylan's a bad ass on the brink who's been steeped in the seedy urban brew for too long.

The plot isn't original - journalist gets a whiff of something rotten in city hall, journalist finds out the rot goes right up to the top, the top wants the journalist rubbed out - but if you have any inclination to see it, do.

(And in the all-knowing iTunes, a cut from "The Life of David Gale" soundtrack just shuffled up.)

Light Reading ...

I just received this from Amazon.com:

"Dear Amazon.com Customer,

We've noticed that customers who have purchased The Penultimate Peril (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 12) by Lemony Snicket also purchased books by Martina Mackova. For this reason, you might like to know that Martina Mackova's Phytoremediation and Rhizoremediation: Theoratical Background (Focus on Biotechnology) will be released soon. You can pre-order your copy by following the link below."

I am so excited! Do you know how long I've waited for a book that covers *both* phytoremediation *and* rhizoremediation?! Finally, some decent beach reading!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

What Is Love? ...

Ah, there's nothing like an easy-to-tackle topic on a Sunday night.

Love.

I spend a lot of time thinking about it. It spends a lot of time eluding me.

You know what I mean. There's a lot of love in my life. My niece called me tonight to ask if I'd like to have dinner at the Kujawski Restaurant. She and one of my nephews are spending the night at my parents' house and they like playing "restaurant." I can relate. When I was younger, I wanted to be a waitress. On Sunday mornings, I'd make little menus with check boxes next to each option, and my parents would check boxes and I'd gather whatever they wanted (I don't think there was ever any actual cooking involved) and I'd take it to them on a tray that one of my brothers had made for them in Boy Scouts.

So I went there tonight and they played their parts and it was sweet. After dinner (as mom and I bussed the table and put food away and did dishes - it's not a full-service restaurant, theirs), they took successive showers and curled up with us on the couch as we watched "Emeril Live." That's love. And it's love that I love. I love them to pieces. It was arresting, when my first nephew was born, to realize that I would literally die for him.

And I love the rest of my family and I love my friends. But love love. That love. That's what's missing. That's what's so hard to find.

In working on the screenplay, writing a scene, I started to think about what love means. Not that I don't ponder the notion at other times, but this particular thought came to me in the context of the movie, and it's this: Love is helping someone become a better version of themselves. Love should enhance a life lived. That's not to say that a person is incomplete without another. If I never meet the man with whom I want to share my life, that does not make me less whole. I am, in each moment, enough. But there's always room to grow. And someone who loves me will, by their very presence, make me become an even better version of myself. More caring, more creative, more loving, more kind. More than enough. Setting a new standard every day, and surpassing that standard every night. Becoming more fulfilled, and being able to fulfill another.

So does that mean, if a relationship exists in which I am not bringing out the best in someone, if I am, instead, causing them to in some way be less true, is that the absence of love? In "The Seat of the Soul," Gary Zukav writes that there is only love and fear. Anything that is not one is the other. Which means they cannot co-exist. Or can they? Can I love someone and be afraid at the same time? Not afraid of them, but afraid of circumstances? Afraid of being entirely vulnerable? Afraid of being entirely true? If I am holding back, is it really love?

Romantically, are there degrees of love or is love an absolute? If I am holding back, I must be holding back out of fear, and in the presence of fear, is love truly there?

People ask me what my movie is about.

"It's a love triangle we haven't seen before," is all I'll say.

But can love exist between three people? No, says the voice in my head. Of course not. Not concurrently. Not fully. Someone will always suffer. Actually, all three suffer. You cannot give away pieces of your heart. It should not be spread so thin.

Love is strong, but fear makes it fragile. Fear is a plague. A cancer. Destructive.

And it takes courage to face fear. To overcome it. And love is the reward.

But how many of us cower on this side of the stream? And cower alone? A mist of mystery floats over the water and we cannot see the other side. So we stay rooted to the assuredness of our bank. Unhappy, perhaps, but sure of the ground beneath our feet. But the reward is on the other side, waiting with literal open arms for those who are brave enough to cross, who step into the water with nothing but faith to guide them.

Faith in love.

And there may be many, many starts. We may turn back many times. But love is always on the other side. And someday, the fear of never knowing it overtakes the fear of the unknown and in we wade.

In "Moulin Rouge," truth, beauty, freedom, and love are the pursuits. But it all comes down to love. The other traits enable love or embody love. But love is the core.

"All You Need Is Love," The Beatles sang, in which they also sang: "Nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be."

The search continues.

'Water for Elephants' ...

My cousin Patty is a director of marketing for a publisher in New York. She reads a lot of books. It's part of her job. She might mention, in passing, from time to time, the title of a book she's reading and liking, but she very, very rarely raves about a book.

And even more rarely does she insist that I read a particular title. Like immediately.

So it was with some persistent prodding that I got my butt to the bookstore last weekend to pick up "Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen.

I was immediately enchanted.

My reading habits wax and wane. Sometimes, I polish off a book in two days. Other times, a month goes by and the bookmark doesn't budge. Dust jackets collect more than their fair share of dust.

I know I'm experiencing a great book when I want to cancel other plans so I can stay home and read.

I didn't. I went out Friday night, and I'm glad I did, but I was happy to wake up Saturday morning and be able to lie in bed and read for an hour. And happy to sit out on the deck in the late afternoon and read some more. And happy to move inside to the big comfy chair and keep reading, but sad to turn the last page.

I'm always a little sad to finish a good book. I become so invested in the characters and come to really care about their fictional lives that it's hard to say goodbye. But I also love the feeling of getting to pick a new book, to literally start a new chapter.

Writers of fiction - good fiction - inspire awe in me. I can't imagine being able to weave such a story.

There are very few heavy hitters in the literary world, but there are so many writers who deserve my time and attention. I'm always happy to find another.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

'She's The Man' ...

Yes, I'm actually admitting it. I watched this movie. I almost stopped watching it, because, gee, I think I had the ending pretty well figured out, but I stuck with it.

Inspired by Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," which is a pretty big insult to Shakespeare.

But for some wacky reason, I like Amanda Bynes. I'm not a 10-year-old girl, but there's something I find very likable about her.

And she did that movie with Colin Firth, and, well, I mean, Colin Firth. 'Nuf said.

Ebert check: "I didn't for one second believe the plot of 'She's the Man,' but I did believe for the entire movie that Amanda Bynes was lovable."

There you go. Me and Rog, simpatico.

Taking The Reins ...

Damn, today was a good day.

On this rollercoaster that is life, today was the crest of the first big hill and the ensuing plummet. That's a good thing in my book. I mean, I don't like rollercoasters. They scare the bejesus out of me. I've been on a couple in my life, early on. And I've had my fill. But I always found the climb the scariest. The click-click-click as the cars ascended. I always felt like the mechanism was going to fail and we were going to go flying backward. I hate that feeling. Out of control, unable to see where I'm going. Gee, that sounds like a familiar fear. But once you make it past the scary climb, and crest the hill, that's when the fun comes: The rushing forward, hands in the air, screaming with excitement. It's a little scary, but you have the sense that the ride will keep you safe.

So today was a damn good day. I felt like I was in a zone with work, I was handy around the house, I hit a roadblock in securing a location for the 3-Day talk, but then had a brainstorm that panned out and I signed the paperwork to reserve the space, I received a couple of donations for the walk, I shopped for and ate healthy food, I had interesting conversations with friends. Good, good, good.

And I have a freelance story on deck that will involve not only writing but also baking, food styling, and a photo shoot, and I have more time scheduled to record, and I found a few new songs, and in the course of finding one of the songs, I found out about the Nashville jazz and blues festival over Labor Day weekend, which I'm going to attend and at which I'll meet a boy I've been e-mailing with and chatting with on and off for a while now.

It was just one of those days when I felt like I had wrapped my wrists in the reins of my life and kicked it in the flank. It's a good ride. It's all about the posting, finding the mutual rhythm between you and the world.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Wondering Why ...

Talking with mom earlier today, I told her, "I need to cheer the hell up."

"What's wrong?" she asked.

I started to tell her, but it was too big to explain. Because it's not just one thing. It's not like I could just take a day off and eat some mac and cheese and everything would be better in the morning.

I know that problems often seem insurmountable. I know that I just have to take a deep breath (or, well, a lot of deep breaths) and break everything down into steps. The only way to get from one place to another is one step at a time.

So if I'm in a metaphorical "dark" place and I want to get to the "light," I have to turn toward the light and start walking.

It may sound simplistic, but I like to think of it as simple.

Some stay in the dark place and root there. But I'd prefer to thrive in the light.

Mom bought a plant for me this spring that I put in front of my house that does not receive much sun throughout the day. The plant started to yellow and drop leaves. I thought perhaps I was overwatering it, but it was really lacking sunlight.

I moved the plant to my sunny backyard, and today it's more gorgeous than ever.

Why do so many people stay in the dark? Are they afraid of the light? Are they afraid of the journey? Are they afraid of failing? Are they unsure where to go? Maybe some people stay stuck because they're not sure what path to follow.

But the journey we're on is always the right one. There are no wrong steps. There truly are no detours. Every path takes us past things we need to see and learn.

Monday, July 17, 2006

All About Me ...

Today, one of the 3-Day coaches wrote to me and asked me to host a Getting Ready Workshop. These were hatched a few years ago, she explained, as opportunities for experienced walkers to get together with first-timers and answer their questions. Anna, my coach, suggested that I host one. Nice of her. And I readily accepted. Whatever I can do to help the 3-Day.

Truth is, I dig public speaking. It makes me nervous, but nervous is good. Nervous means you're challenging yourself. Actually, I'm not nervous often enough. I play it too safe.

So last week, I was nervous before Brian and I got down to recording tunes. "I should have had a glass of Scotch," I said, in the booth. "You don't need that," Brian said. And he's right. I don't. And I don't want to start equating alcohol and courage. Whew. There's a slippery slope.

L.A. Dave is getting more interest in the book. In addition to Entertainment Weekly, he's also going to be on a gaming network's show (G4 is it, Dave?), and today he wrote to mention that Keith Olbermann called about booking him. Holy crap! This is getting big! Letterman is the brass ring. I'm thinking Letterman thoughts.

Which has gotten me to thinking about success: We all strive for it, but who among us are prepared for it when it arrives? Maybe you are. I don't think I am. I'm uncomfortable talking about myself. In groups, I'm the person who listens, takes it all in. Even one on one, I tend to be pretty quiet. What can I say? I have chatty friends. They're usually happy to talk.

A few years ago, during a very rare family meeting, my brothers hit me with this criticism: "It's always all about you, Beth." They were referring to my father's birthday that year. I had recently recorded a song for Dave's birthday, and mom had heard it for the first time that day. That night, at dinner, with everyone assembled, she encouraged me to play it for everyone else. I resisted. She persisted. I relented. They listened. I wanted to disappear. The attention felt weird.

And then my brothers piped up with the "all about you" comment. Their objection was that I played the song on my dad's birthday, that I should have let the day be about dad.

"Mom asked me to play it," I said, in my defense.

"You could have said 'no,' " they said.

What I told them that night was this: "Look, you each have lives. You have wives. You have children. You have careers. I just have me. I wish I had what you have, but I don't."

So what exactly am I supposed to talk about? When someone asks, "So, Beth, what's up?", it's pretty hard to avoid talking about myself. I guess I could talk about the weather.

A friend once gave me a quote written by Marianne Williamson. It's been attributed to Nelson Mandela, but it's Williamson's. It's this:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

For years, I've held myself back, both consciously and un, for fear of my brothers' very accusation (which came anyway): "It's always all about you." Well, yeah. Who else is supposed to be about?

Someday, when I sell the screenplay or have the opportunity to perform a song, am I supposed to keep that a secret? Am I not allowed to own my accomplishments? We're taught that it's not polite to brag, but is it bragging to speak about achievement?

What's wrong with being proud of ourselves? And if we can't share our triumphs with those closest to us, who's left?

I'm not a religious person, but on my wall of quotes is this: "To whom much is given, much is expected." Yup. I have been insanely blessed. There is much I can do. Some might say that I can simply do it, that there's no need to call attention to myself. But what if what I do is public? What if I went into politics? How do I act as a public servant without people knowing? Stupid question, right? But you see my point.

What I've come to understand is that I can't control other people's reactions to me. That those who truly love me will always love me. That anyone who turns away from me if I achieve any measure of success is simply loathe to face their own unwillingness to take risks.

One of the other quotes on the wall is from Julia Cameron, author of "The Artist's Way": "Expect the universe to support your dream. It will." But implicit with the expectation is effort. Dostoevsky said, "Taking a new step, uttering a new word is what people fear most." He was one smart, tortured Russian. And Springsteen said, "Whatever your abilities and talents are, your time is finite." And Willa Cather said, "The end is nothing. The road is all."

And just now, in my iTunes, Tom Cochrane started singing, "Life is a Highway."

I have spent too much time driving too slow. Or maybe I've been a passenger on my own journey.

But getting in the booth last week and spending time each day since then finding more material has gotten me revved up about my life. Funny how facing a fear will do that. One giant step for Bethkind.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

'My Tiny Universe' ...

Ethan warned me.

I don't remember exactly how many minutes of this film he said he suffered through before he had to turn it off, but it wasn't many. He hated it.

How bad could it be?, I wondered. So I put it at the top of my Netflix queue. Tonight, after a day of being outside in the stupid hot heat, in which the entire country is baking, I popped it in and made a note of the time. 6:34 p.m. How long would I last before I would be forced to choose between gouging out my eyes or hitting eject?

The movie clocks in at 1:34, which means I must have stopped watching it about ten after 8.

Yup, I watched the whole thing. Not because I couldn't take my eyes off the train wreck. Nope, no train wreck here. I liked it. Yes, the entire situation is absurd, but it's set in Hollywood. What in Hollywood isn't absurd? That storyline might be implausible in, say, Dayton, but in La La Land? Piece of cake.

Andy Comeau is the lead, Dickie. On the playground of life, Andy is the seesaw. Watching his performance, I wondered, a la the chicken and the egg, which role came first, this one or the one in "Huff"? Both originated in 2004. Maybe one informed the other.

Ebert didn't review this film. There aren't enough reviews on Rotten Tomatoes to give it a rating. On Netflix, one user gave it four stars, and the other two each gave it one star. Clearly, there is not a lot of love for this film.

I wonder why I liked it. Is it because it's about a life that I contemplate? Do I value it as a window into that world? Do I think Hollywood is full of loons? You betcha. On all fronts. In my tiny universe, anyway.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

"Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks" ...

Remember Saturday mornings when you were a kid? I loved Saturday mornings. Cartoons for hours. If my parents weren't awake when I got up, I'd grab a box of cereal and head downstairs and plant myself on the couch, watching cartoons and eating cereal out of the box. Ah, dry Froot Loops.

This morning, I got a bowl of Rice Krisipies and banana and headed into my TV room. Started flipping channels. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Some kids' program on PBS. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

How can there be so much on TV and nothing to watch? I started the channel cycle again. I stopped on the PBS show. There was a sheep talking about being bored. He wanted his sheep friend to suggest a sport they could play.

"Cricket?" said the friend.

"Cricket? That's the same as being bored!" said the sheep, who, I realized, was voiced by Mel Brooks.

Now I was hooked. What the hell was I watching?

In the next scene, a young cow (well, bull, really; he has little horn nubs on his head) didn't want to go to school. He stood in the doorway of his home with his big bull dad standing behind him and his friends (a pig and a duck) in front of him, explaining that he was sad because his fish died. But the characters were speaking with Irish accents. But Ferny (that's the lil' cow) used the word "Gracias." Spanish-speaking Irish cows?

So Ferny went to school with Piggley Winks and Dannan O'Mallard, but when their teacher, Mr. Hornsby (a goat, if you were wondering) asked the class to tell him some of the things that make Ireland great, everything reminded Ferny of his dead fish, Thor (pronounced "Tor" in Ireland, don'tcha know?), and he started to cry.

His classmates, insensitive animal oafs that they are, started to laugh at him, but Piggley and Dannan came to his defense, and explained that he was sad because his fish died.

Later, Piggley told his dad about the events of the day, and his father asked if they thought about waking Thor.

"Oh," Piggley said in his cute little Irish accent. "We've seen him. He's gone."

His father told him that he's lucky to have not lost any friends or family, but explained what a wake is for. So they decided that a wake is just what was needed to help Ferny say goodbye to his pet. There was a procession through town to the pond, where everyone said a few kind words about Thor and Ferny put his little coffin box onto a homemade raft (the mast is a metal barbeque skewer) and then they all gathered for the usual post-service eating and drinking (Mr. Hornsby supplied cucumber sandwiches, and one of Ferny's friends made him a Spanish treat that he likes; I still haven't gotten the backstory on the Spanish cow family living in Ireland) and Ferny realized that while he's still sad, it was a "good sad" and he thanked everyone for coming and for being his good friends.

Oh. My. God. It's the most charming thing I've seen on television in years. The computer animation is top notch, the voice actors are terrific, and the subject matter of this episode is especially important. My mom's mom died when I was 8, so I dealt with death at a pretty young age. And I think it's important for the process to be demystified for kids.

Jakers!, if you're wondering (as I was), is an Irish expression of amazement and delight, according to the show's web site.

Jakers!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Who Are We? ...

My friend Jeannie is a life coach. One day at lunch, several years ago, talked turned to me and my desire to sing.

"I want to be a singer," I said.

"You are a singer," she said. Her point was that in order to manifest my reality as a singer, I had to live in that place. I couldn't be on the outside, looking in, wishing. I had to live on the inside. I already sang, she reasoned. That made me a singer.

A man named Thomas once told me, "Artists is one of those things, one of the few things, that's not something you do, it's something you are, and you don't stop. You might not express it for 30 years, but you're still an artist."

We all wear a lot of hats, but we define ourselves by what we do for money. By that standard, I'm an editor. An editor who writes and sings. But that means I'm also a writer who sings and edits, and a singer who edits and writes.

Which thing defines us? Should we define ourselves at all? Are we whatever we're doing at the time? Right now, I'm a blogger and a listener of blues (because that's what happens to have shuffled up in iTunes) and a drinker of water.

I am the accumlation of all my life experiences, but who *am* I? I am Beth. But what does that mean?

Tonight, for a little more than two hours, that meant I was a singer. Again. At last. Before tonight, it had been more than three years since I'd recorded anything "professionally." I've recorded plenty of tunes on my computer just to try them on. But to stand behind one of the best mics in the business in a soundproof booth, just me and my voice and the sound in my headphones?

Brian is my angel of an engineer, my friend who was kind enough to stay after work so that I could play for a few hours.

I wore a black shirt tonight and Brian, at my request, turned off the light in the booth, and then turned off most of the lights in his room. One of his colleagues came in as I was singing and since he couldn't see me in the booth, thought Brian was just listening to music on his computer. The cleaning lady who had stepped into his room earlier when we were importing tracks came back to listen. When we finished the take, Brian spoke into my phones and told me that she said, "Wow."

Tonight, driving home, I popped in the disc of all the songs I'm considering. The first track on it is "Gotta Be This or That," the song we spent the most time on tonight. When Diane Reeves' vocal came in, I thought, "Wait, we didn't burn anything tonight." And then I clamped my hand over my mouth. I'd just confused Diane Reeves with myself.

Wow.

We worked on four songs tonight. We'll continue next week. And the week after. Brian has made this his new project. He wants to finish six to 10 songs.

I need to find more material. To sing. Because I'm a singer.

Who are you?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Day That Will Live In Infamy ...

Let's call this feature:

Today, L.A. Dave, he of the "Snakes on a Plane" book that drops at the end of the month (pre-order it today!) was contacted by Entertainment Weekly for an interview!

The writer becomes the written about.

THIS IS FRICKIN' HUGE! The day you find out you're going to be PART of the magazine you DEVOUR every week?

HOLY CRAP! It's kinda like journalistic cannabalism!

I am SO proud of him!

Yes, and jealous. Hell yeah I'm jealous. But it's good jealousy, motivating jealousy. And anyway, green is my favorite color.

GO DAVE!

Fixin' ...

I am a magazine junkie.

Publishing groups know this. The more I subscribe, the more offers they send. Crack in my mailbox. Free issues, they promise. Come on, they say. Try a free issue. You can always write "cancel" on the bill and owe nothing more.

Sometimes, I can resist with ease. Four free issues of People? No thanks. Not even a moment's consideration. I just don't care about People. I'll read it in a doctor's office if there's nothing else around. I've bought one copy in my life, because I knew someone who was being profiled. But the gossipy rags don't inspire my lust.

No, shelter mags are my downfall. Domestic titles. Cooking included. All things housey.

And Entertainment Weekly, quite possibly the best magazine on the planet, even if I think its new design inside fairly sucks. The content is still as solid as ever. I've been a subscriber for years.

My latest must-have is House Beautiful. I don't remember how they found me. It might have been an e-mail. But the first issue arrived and, at first, as I flipped through it, I thought, "Uh, no thanks." I'd recently let my House & Garden subscription lapse. It was just too absurd. But then I saw Ina Garten's smiling face. The Barefoot Contessa has a column in House Beautiful. I love her. And the rate is stupidly low. A year's subscription for $8. Sixty-six cents a month to read Ina? Sold.

My second issue arrived yesterday. There's a good feature on what to look for in a digital camera depending on how much of a photographer you consider yourself to be. I'm one of five people in America who doesn't own a digital camera. I keep meaning to get one. But, oh, the choices. My photog friends are helpful, but I never take their advice in a timely fashion, and I don't want to keep nagging them. "OK, which camera would you buy *now*?"

HB is a little ridiculous, too, in the same vein as H&G (I won't be spending $8,000 on a reproduction antique bench), but I like it. And I tell myself that for every magazine I subscribe to, I have to let one go. A few months ago, I stopped getting Vanity Fair. Too much pressure, that magazine. Too many pages. And with the stack I receive every month, I never got through most of it, and then I'd feel guilty, as though I were less urbane than the rest of the world (an unarguable fact as it is; I don't need 300-page magazines mocking me, to boot). And I got a sample issue of Health and thought I liked it (and then got the sneaky second issue almost immediately; that pisses me off), but then had occasion during a flight delay at O'Hare to really read it, and decided it was kinda crap.

Oh, and speaking of pet peeves, nothing cheeses me off more than getting a bill for a magazine before I've gotten the first issue. I know mags and bills are often sent from two different locations, but coordinate, people! If I get a bill before I get a magazine, odds are really, really good that I won't subscribe for that simple fact alone.

So, these days, I get:

♪ Cook's Illustrated: The best food magazine ever

♪ Entertainment Weekly

♪ Country Home: Pretty pictures for me to tear out every month and put in my "design" file

♪ Country Living: Ditto

♪ Cottage Living: The new kid on the shelter-mag block, and, I have to say, the best of all of 'em

♪ House Beautiful: Ina! And more!

♪ Better Homes and Gardens: Always a good mix of house and garden features, with projects that don't require a degree in engineering or metallurgy to complete

♪ Ladies' Home Journal: Because I thought I might like to write for them (big-name mags pay well), but I got addicted to "Can This Marriage Be Saved?", not that I'm married. But I might be, someday.

As for food titles, I used to get Cooking Light, Bon Appetit, and Gourmet, but I've let those lapse over time. I never got around to making most of the recipes, and now that Mom gets Cooking Light, she shares it when she's done.

And I've tried Real Simple, but I just didn't need to know so much detail about which white towel I should buy. And I think the TV show is stupid.

I've toyed with Martha Stewart Living and O. I got Good Housekeeping for awhile (another one I thought I might write for), I've picked up BH&G special-interest pubs at the grocery store and fancy food mags when buying books. I remember reading Glamour and I can't always resist the Cosmo coverlines, though I do pretty well. I buy a copy every couple years when I'm feeling PMS-y and go to Walgreens on a cheap chocolate run.

I don't have a vice, really. I don't drink (much). I don't smoke (ever). I don't crave ultra-decadent food. But magazines. I can rub 'em all over me.

You know, cuz they have scent strips.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Pressing Issue ...

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
— The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

"We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it."
— Edward R. Murrow

Last week, standing in my kitchen, as we readied too much food for my 4th of July party guests, Doreen mentioned that I hadn't blogged about the whole Bill Keller/New York Times/SWIFT disclosure brouhaha that had erupted the week before.

I was keeping up with the story. I was just too busy staining my deck and grocery shopping to put words to screen here.

But tonight, I watched "Good Night, and Good Luck." again, this time listening to the George Clooney/Grant Heslov commentary, and then watched the featurette on the disc which contained Murrow's quote, above. And that made me think of the attack Bill Keller has endured from the Right that is grappling for any rallying point as we race toward the mid-term elections.

This isn't a political rant. Not really. This is a discussion about the First Amendment from someone who used to work for the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times and other news organizations. No, my news jobs weren't of the hard-hitting variety, but there's no way to work in a newsroom and not absorb the spirit of the press, the responsibility that comes of being the collective gatekeeper of information.

I remember the night Gacy was executed. The Tribune, ever-mindful of its "Dewey Defeats Truman" gaffe, had a package ready to go but we held the press run until we received confirmation of his death. I remember the newsroom that night, almost in suspended animation. And I remember the phone ringing. And I remember the room coming back to life.

To this day, when a big story breaks, my news pals and I get on the phone to discuss the events of the day. News infects your blood. And time away is no antibiotic. There is no cure. News is chronic.

So, like any good current or former journalist, I subscribe to Romenesko, the compendium of all things news. And today, there were several stories, still, about the New York Times "flap," if that's what you want to call it. Editors from other newspapers coming to Keller's defense. Not all of them agreed with Keller's decision, but as Descartes would paraphrase, they would defend to the death his right to publish.

The GOPers are all circling the wagons, boiling the oil and plucking the feathers. But at the end of the day (or the month, or whenever this story dies down), the Administration's biggest gripe with the New York Times is that it didn't acquiesce to demands to spike the story.

It is no secret to the terrorists that we're tracking their banking transactions. George has been talking about that tactic since the smoke still hung over lower Manhattan.

So why all the presidential blather? Why the actual finger-wagging? I think Bill Keller is a little too old to be scolded.

I believe he did the right thing. And I don't believe he made his decision lightly. But Murrow's quote is an important one: When we all begin to blithely follow (or are silenced), the soul of America dies. The American Revolution happened for a reason, remember? And even then, there were those in this country who were aligned with the British, causing civil rifts.

I shudder, I truly do, that we're headed toward the same fate. Now, more than ever, we need the press, all press, to keep the public informed of the goings-on in the White House and Congress. And I would assert that no matter what animal, elephant or donkey, held the highest office. It's not about being anti-Bush, it's about being against any politician who abuses his office and attempts to wrest too much power from the delicate system of checks and balances.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Whoo Hoo!

Yeah, baby! Italy! Italy! Italy!

Now, I'm not Italian. The closest I come to being Italian is through my sister-in-law, but it seems like a lovely country, I once briefly dated an Italian guy, and hey, who doesn't love the food? My rooting for Italy at the beginning of the match was much more a function of rooting for the non-French team, but by the end of the match, I was genuinely thrilled for our compadres who hail from the country shaped like a boot.

Yep, I wasn't rooting for the French team for reasons that have nothing to do with the French team, but then Zinedine Zidane head-butted Marco Materazzi, and that clinched my distaste for the French in this World Cup.

My nephew Nick had plans to watch the match today with some of his other soccer pals. He's been very invested in the World Cup for the past month. And when Zidane was ejected, I thought, "Well, this is a good teaching moment for Nick." But it's a good teaching moment for all of us.

At the end of the day, all you have is your name, your honor. Zidane might be one of the best players to ever take to the pitch, but today, the world isn't remembering his career so much as it's clucking its collective tongue and saying, "What a shame." No, I can't understand the emotion he was feeling, the fever pitch of a World Cup on the line, his last professional match. But if everything is a choice - and it is - no matter how angry or tired or sad he was, he could have chosen to walk away.

He stood there and made a decision. He made a choice, and he chose poorly. What a shining example of poor sportsmanship. What a sorry footnote to a storied career.

But enough about France's bad boy. (Though I noticed one of the French players, after receiving his second-place medal, taking it off as he walked toward the camera. Petulant ass.)

As for the World Cup trophy, itself, I might just be an ostentatious American who's used to the Stanley Cup and the World Series trophy, but the World Cup, well, it kinda looks like an MTV Movie Award, no?

Watching The World Cup Final ...

GO ITALY!

'Syriana' ...

Well, it kinda made my head hurt. The gist of the movie is that we're all too reliant on oil and there are some pretty unsavory types in the world who will go to great lengths to keep big oil big. But the non-linear thing is kinda tough. Though, as Roger Ebert points out, we're not supposed to follow the story so much as be surrounded by it.

All that aside, the best part of the movie (for me) can be summed up by two words: David Clennon.

I adore David Clennon. (Yes, his name is David. No, that's not why I love him.) I've adored David Clennon from his days as Miles Drentell on "thirtysomething." He has such presence. He did then. He does now. There are very few people who appear on a screen who take my breath away, but David Clennon is one of them. I have also always had a thing for Michael Nouri.

You know that I try to not know too much about a movie before I see it, but I had no idea who was in this film beyond the much-touted George Clooney (and good for him and his Oscar) and Matt Damon. William Hurt, also another long-time favorite, has a small role, and Chris Cooper, one of the coolest men on the face of the planet (he was genius in "American Beauty"), plays a man who may be lacking a conscience, or might just be a son of a bitch.

Amanda Peet's performance surprised me and her son who wants "pig bacon" not soy "bacon" packs a lot of power into his few scenes.

Financially, it broke even, costing and earning about $50 mil. But it's heartening that it earned $50 million, that enough people cared about the subject matter to take the time.

Friday, July 07, 2006

'The Matador' ...

And here we have, I believe, yet another case of a movie with the wrong title. Mind you, I don't have a better idea, but "The Matador" just doesn't say much about the film without further, lengthy explanation. And so from the perspective of a couple of pals trying to decide on which movie to see, throwing out "The Matador" for consideration would fall flat, because you'd also have to tack on, "You know, that Pierce Brosnan movie? He's a hitman? There's that scene in the trailer where he's walking through a hotel lobby in his underwear?" And even then, you're not left with much.

But I'd heard nothing but good things about this film, so I put it at the top of my Netflix queue with a bullet (hitman, bullet, heh heh) and it arrived yesterday. Today, I watched it. Then I watched it again with the commentary featuring Brosnan and Greg Kinnear and the director (and writer) Richard Shepard. Then I watched the "making of" featurette. Then I watched all the deleted and extended scenes.

So I guess you could say I liked it.

I never devote that much time to a DVD. Especially not a rental. Especially not all in one sitting. But this movie really is something special. The acting is fabulous. I'll echo every sentiment I've heard that this is Pierce Brosnan's finest performance. The cinematography's very cool. The locations are amazing (for the fact that they're all in one location). But the most charming thing about this movie is the movie. The script. The words on the page. Shepard didn't think this movie would ever get made. He sent it to Brosnan's production company in search of a writing gig, and lo and behold, people loved the script. And Shepard, who'd only directed small movies with miniscule budgets, was awarded $12 million to make this movie, which contains dialogue like "Margaritas and cock."

There are, of course, actual matadors in the movie. And their pants are very, very tight.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Independence ...

(Right. Forgot to publish this yesterday. Pretend it's still the 4th of July.)

Flippin' off the British, we are!

Today's high temperature was 78 degrees. Ohmygosh, it was *perfect* weather. Sunny, not a cloud in the sky this afternoon, a bit of breeze. My sister-in-law actually needed to borrow a sweater. Usually, the weather options for the 4th of July are 95 and humid or thunderstorms. But today was sensational. I couldn't have paid for weather that good.

As much as I bitch about how exhausted I am leading up to a big party, I really, really love throwing them. Maybe what I love is the chance to exercise my obsessive attention to detail. But no, I love helping people have a good time. Oh. That sounds kind of lewd!

Doreen arrived a bit early, which was helpful in the end, as she artfully arranged all the veggies as part of the appetizers. "God's crayons" she called them, which I thought was cute, even if I'm agnostic. English Teacher Dave and his wife Gail arrived next, and Doreen, who likes to live her life in acronyms, dubbed him STD. "It's ETD," I said. "English Teacher Dave." But she likes STD better. As does he. He informed her that he'll be claiming that as his own. School Teacher Dave doesn't have the right ring to it, but STD is funny.

People started arriving in a steady stream, and most all of them were kind enough to offer to help, but my kitchen is not laid out for multiple people, and really, unless you're intimately acquainted with someone's kitchen and can take matters into your own hands, it's just easier for the host to do things herself. I kept consulting my list, taped inside a cabinet door. (What's it called, Doreen? A BEO?) And then, when I went to consult it again, it was gone. "Where's my list?!" I said to no one in particular. STD, he of the quasi-Bono glasses, grinned and reached around to peel it off of the side of the cabinet. He'd hidden it to see my reaction when I found it missing. Har de har har. He's funny, you know, like an STD.

But it really was kinda funny. But I was also glad to have my list back.

I'm half Serbian, which means that it's practically a mortal sin to run out of food, which means we (my mom and me) always cook *way* more than is humanly possible to eat without recreating the scene from Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life" in which the obese guy explodes.

My mother and father arrived with arms full of food. She was in charge of a few things on the menu, including the brats because she owns a grill and I don't. (On purpose. I need grilled food one day a year. I don't grill meat. And I'm not gonna own a grill to grill veggies.) My mother is a purebred Serb. I don't have to tell you how much she brought. We'd agreed on 18 brats. And we'd agreed on two pans of lasagne. (Yes, lasagne. I figured, by the end of a long holiday weekend, people would have had their fill of hot dogs and hamburgers and fried chicken was served at my niece's birthday, two days before, so since my Serbian mother makes the world's best lasagne, lasagne it was.) And baked beans. My Serbian mother also makes the world's best baked beans. To feed a crowd, she picked up one of those warehouse-club sized cans. I was with her. I looked askance. She added another can to the cart that day. Today, she arrived with three serving dishes of baked beans.

The counters and the stove were disappearing under the serving pieces. There was a lot of food. My sister-in-law's sister-in-law Michelle arrived with her husband and daughters. Arriel, the older of the two at 4, is the cutest thing on two feet and as I scooped her up to give her a hug, she surveyed the laden counters and asked in her cute little voice, "Whatcha makin'?"

So everyone started piling up their plates and the three dishes of baked beans? We ate half of one. But everyone loves them, so most everyone took some home. Along with potato salad.

I didn't use a whole 10-pound bag of potatoes, but it was close. There was a lot of potato salad. And as I sat down on the ottoman in the living room, joining Doreen who was comfy on the loveseat, and dug into my plate of salads, I said, "This potato salad rocks!" I don't usually compliment my own cooking, but really, I'd outdone myself. Usually, food tastes better when someone else prepares it (my mother also makes the world's greatest sandwiches, for example), but that potato salad deserved a pat on the back.

For John, who likes it when I write about food, the menu was thus: Ham and cheese roll-ups (Krakus Polish ham spread with cream cheese and, duh, rolled up; my nephew, as a little guy, dubbed them "meat and cheese on a stick" because of the frilly toothpicks mom stuck in them; the name stands today, unofficially), shrimp and cocktail sauce, veggies and blue cheese dip for starters. Lasagne, garlic bread, salad, brats (with both diced raw and caramelized onion), potato salad, grilled and chilled veggies (thanks to STD), baked beans, Sibley Boulevards (a sandwich named for the street on which the deli sat, made with roast beef, turkey, Munchee cheese, shredded lettuce, thinly sliced onion and Thousand Island dressing, on French bread), and chips. Michelle brought grapes. Her mom brought corn on the cob. Like I said, you couldn't see the counters.

The parade was about to get underway, so everyone filed outside to take their seats. I watched about 10 minutes total. The rest of the time I was inside, putting lunch away and getting dessert set out. Dessert, for those keeping score, was brownies (they're kinda legendary), apple slices (like apple pie, but in a half sheet pan), Rice Krispie Treats (with sprinkles, because I like them), and watermelon.

I'd made little handle bags for the kids to use to collect their candy and other swag from the parade folk. "Designer bags," my neighbor called them. I told her I clearly didn't make enough crafts as a child and was making up for it now. I love doing stuff like that. This year's bag featured a firecracker. I made a template to cut out the firecracker shape (with rounded ends, to create a 3-D effect) and used notary seals as the lit end of the wick. They were awfully cute, if I do say so. And I do.

By the time the last person left, I'd had guests for six hours. Part of me wanted to collapse on the couch. Part of me wanted to put my house back in order. The countersful of food were now countersful of dishes. And there were many other chores to be done. So I did them. And I stopped about 9.

And now I'm on the couch, my lovely couch. And I have to do actual work tomorrow. I kinda miss having a party to plan. Hmm. Maybe that's one of my callings. Uh oh! Not another one!

But in keeping with the theme of the blog, I'll mention that Brian, my engineer, for lack of a better word, called yesterday, and I have tentative studio time scheduled next week Thursday! The selections, as of today, are "Gotta Be This or That" and "Pick Yourself Up" from the "Good Night, and Good Luck" soundtrack, and maybe one other (not sure how much time we'll have), which I'll keep quiet about for now, cuz if I do it, and if I like it, someone who reads this blog will eventually get to hear it, and if I know him as well as I think I do, he's gonna flip out.

As for the rest of you, well, I have no idea how to post audio files. I use a Mac. If anyone has any tips, let me know.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

'The Dreams of Sarah Breedlove' ...

One of my New Year's resolutions is to go to more theater. I love theater. I love the energy, the excitement of actors creating art right before my eyes.

A few weeks ago, Doreen e-mailed a link to me about this play at The Goodman Theater. The lead is the woman who plays Rose on "Lost," one of the best shows on television, if you're not watching it. Which is to say, if you're not watching it, you really need to check it out. In a world of "According to Jim"s, "Lost" is the Mensa of television shows.

But I digress. We had fantabulous seats. The theater is rather small, much like the Steppenwolf. An intimate space. Not thousands of seats in an acoustic cavern. But when you're on stage and your voice has to hit the back wall, I guess you're glad that the space is small. My theater in high school was round, which went a long way, I'm sure, toward carrying our voices to the back of the room. But if the guys running the sound board couldn't hear us, we had to up our volume. Oh, but I digress again.

The entire cast of the play is black, and much of the audience was, too. They understood the play in a way I never could, I'm sure, but my pasty white ass was blown away. L. Scott Caldwell, the lead, has a soliloquy in the last act that brought me to tears. It was gut-wrenching to watch. She is an exceptional actress. When she stepped out on stage during the curtain call, people - myself included - literally leapt to their feet for what turned into an extended standing ovation.

Definitely worth your time. It runs through July 23.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Breather ...

Sheesh. Now I know why I only have one big party a year. And I'm now more convinced than ever that I suffer from selective obsessive-compulsive disorder. Yes, I know that's not the name of it. I made it up to suit me.

I'm not Jack Nicholson in "As Good As It Gets." I don't have to lock and unlock the door a certain number of times when I get home. I don't have my M&Ms separated by color. I don't need a new bar of glycerin soap every time I wash my hands. But when I get an idea in my head, it's really hard for me to let it go.

It all started with cleaning a window. Which made me think that I should clean all the windows. But since I had to take out the screens to get to the windows, I cleaned the screens, too. But since I had to take down the curtains to really get to the windows, I washed and dried and rehung all the window treatments. Mind you, I didn't do that just because people are coming over for the 4th, but because it really needed to be done. My timing is just sort of absurd. In the throes of it the other day, Doreen called. She asked what I was doing. When I told her, she said, "Oh, Jesus, Beth." Well, it's not like I'm washing curtains every time she calls. Some of them hadn't been washed in - this is embarrassing to admit - a couple years.

I dig the frenzy, in a weird way. Yeah, it wipes me out, but it's so satisfying to accomplish all these things. My newly stained deck looks fabulous. It's green, my favorite color. And the railings, very Craftsman-style, are crisp white. I can't wait to get my furniture back out there and start living on the deck again. I've decided that I need to spend much more time out there this year with friends. I have outdoor speakers. I have one of those mosquito-deterring lanterns hanging near the deck stairs. I have a freezer full of vodka and gin. Bring on the tonic and limes!

So I haven't been spending much time in front of my computer for the past few days, and by the time night rolls around, I'm too damn tired and uninspired to write anything. But today, after a morning full of grocery shopping (so I can start cooking Monday for the 30 people who will be here on Tuesday), I planted my butt on the couch to watch the second half - and the overtime - and the second overtime - and the sudden death - of Portugal v. England.

There's nothing like watching a bunch of guys running themselves to the point of exhaustion to make me feel less tired.

Time to go scrub the bathroom floor.