Thursday, February 28, 2008

'Margot At The Wedding' ...

I rented this movie because Ciarán Hinds is in it. I love Ciarán. I see everything he's in. Even Tomb Raider 2.

And he was very good. He's always very good. He's a very good actor. A great actor, even.

But even he couldn't save this movie. Nobody could have saved this movie.

The thing is, all the performances are very good. Nicole Kidman, she's no slouch. Ditto Jennifer Jason Leigh. And Jack Black? He's more than just School of Rock.

But when I see a movie, I ask myself, "Who was this movie made for?" And in this case, I have no answer.

I did, however, get to see Ciarán's cute legs because in one scene, he was wearing shorts. And in another scene, he got to lick Nicole Kidman's neck, so that was probably fun for him to shoot.

Probably wasn't such a bad time for Nicole, either.

Update: OH, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, he's in a play on Broadway that closes at the end of March! Guess who's going to New York?! We haven't seen each other in four years and he's been on my mind a lot lately. Now I know why!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Body Image ...

Glamour is following me. The magazine, not the noun.

A few weeks ago, I started seeing copies of it everywhere. I don't remember the first place I saw one lying around (the issue with Naomi Watts on the cover – it's very pink, you know, for March) but then when I was at Jeff's house a couple weekends ago, there was a copy in the bedroom I stayed in, and then the next day, at Nat's house, post-brunch, I saw a copy, and I thought, "Huh. Why do I keep seeing this magazine?"

I used to flip through Glamour from time to time, but it had been years since I'd picked up a copy.

Until last night. I was at Walgreen's, headed for the checkout, and I passed the Naomi issue of Glamour on a rack by another register. I blew by it. Then I backtracked and grabbed a copy.

The coverline that first caught my attention a while back was, "PSSST! Why guys love your body exactly as is" which engendered this reaction in me: "PSSST! They don't."

I flipped to page 220 to "read their head-to-toe lust list." Uh huh. Yeah, scintillating sidebar, that. But the sidebar's host is an article titled "Why men crave real (not perfect) bodies." All right, I'm listening.

It's written by Gabriel Olds. His shirttail on the story (that little italicized bit that tells you something about the author) reads, "Gabriel Olds has appeared on CSI, Law & Order: SVU and Six Feet Under. He's usually the bad guy (on TV). His most recent film is Life of the Party."

Yeah, no idea who he is from TV and film, but he's a good writer, I'll tell you that. (Presuming he actually wrote the article in question. Oh, and here's a picture of him.)

The premise of the piece is that men might fantasize about the fakey-perfect women they see in movies or on TV or on billboards or – let's just say it – Playboy, but they don't want to actually date them.

Really? Wait, let me rephrase: REALLY?

Huh. Well, that's interesting. Tell me more, Gabe.

"To me, surgery somehow implied a lack of confidence. It was as if something purchased to say, 'Hey, check me out,' actually said, 'I don't like myself very much.' I knew that in some ways, this was a ridiculous generalization. Women get surgery for all kinds of reasons. Who was I to decide that every person with a chiseled nose also came with psychological baggage? But I couldn't help it; that's how I felt."

And here's the big payoff: "But I'm pretty sure the woman for me will deal with her physical peccadilloes with humor and self-acceptance, not surgery. This is the part I think women don't understand. When a guy falls in love, his lover's body parts become bewitching. I'm not going to tell you that our heads don't turn when we see a stacked blond walking down the street. But when we fall for you – really, really fall for you – you hijack our sense of beautiful. What's sexy to us? You – in the 'before' picture."

Well, OK, Gabe, I'll take your word for it because you seem like a nice guy. But my own experiences have often proved the contrary.

Almost every guy's profile on Match.com – back in the days when I waded in those murky waters - listed the body type he was looking for as "athletic" or "thin." Granted, women are prone to classifying themselves kindly and men are often surprised when someone who said they were "average" walks through the door wearing a size 20, but from this female's perspective, those men always struck me as shallow. They were willing to write off an entire pool of women from the get-go because they might wear a two-digit size? Um, OK. That rules me out, because at my height, I'll never wear a single-digit size. Me as a size 8 would be ridiculous.

And then there was the 6'9" guy who told my 6'3"-size 14 self, "You're heavier than I thought you'd be and I'm having a problem with it." He got points for honesty, but as I've said before, he wasn't looking for a life partner, he was looking for a trophy.

I was always the most impressed by guys who included every possible body type in their "wants" section. Good for them. I mean, maybe they were being disingenous. But then again, maybe they weren't. Maybe they were enlightened enough to realize that the love of their life might be a little doughy in places.

After I read the Glamour piece – which I found really interesting, by the way, not at all deflating – I took a good long look in the mirror. I've been working with Brandon since October. He is most definitely keeping up his part of the bargain. (When I flex things, I can feel parts of my muscles. "Separation," Brandon calls it. Right. That's the word.) Me, less so. I show up three days a week and I do what he asks of me – with minimal whining. But I haven't been as diligent with the cardio as I need to be. I have a treadmill – a rather expensive treadmill, actually – but it's just too easy to hop off it and anyone who knows me knows that willpower is not one of my shining qualities. Ditto self-discipline, which, really, is the same thing.

(In anticipation of going to see Bruce next month, though, I've created a calendar grid for the front of my fridge, and every day that I walk, I give myself a smiley-face sticker. I've also created a table to keep track of my progress. So far, I've walked every day. I like giving myself a sticker and I like filling in all those little boxes with higher numbers than the day before.)

But looking in the mirror just now, sucking in my stomach, I said to myself, "You're getting thin!" And then I immediately said, "Fit! You're getting fit! Fitter. Fitter? More fit."

Because it's not about "thin." It really is about my health first.

Back in September, when I was contemplating hiring a personal trainer, I wrote this post entitled "Accountability" in which I promised to write weekly updates about my quest.

Well, I never did, but not because I didn't want to be accountable. No, I just forgot. What? I'm old. My brain, it's often addled.

But I did indeed find a trainer. Those of you who are regular readers have read about him before. I adore Brandon. (There's a picture of him posing in that post. A little eye candy for the ladies. And the gentlemen, if that's "how you roll," as Brandon would say.) We have a great time together. I often pause in the middle of a set because I'm laughing too hard to keep lifting.

And these days, not only am I diligent about getting on the treadmill, I'm also shoveling several hundred pounds of snow. Welcome to Cardio City, Beth Kujawski!

I'll be in those skinny jeans jeans wore by a person who is fit in no time.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow ... SOMEWHERE ELSE ...

Oy with the snow already.

You know you've had too much snow when you dream about ergonomic snow shovels.

Last night, before I went to bed, I peered out my dining-room curtains into my backyard and what I saw was truly breathtaking. The snow was the wet, heavy variety that sticks to everything and everything was frosted white: trees, power lines, fence, mystery vegetation in my yard that I never got around to cutting back in the fall.

Pretty.

And I went to bed knowing I'd wake up to a large shoveling effort. Which I did. Though, through the magic of meteorologists not knowing what the hell they're talking about, I woke up to less than I anticipated. (What I need to do is simply stop listening to the weatherfolk whose predictions I do not like.)

I didn't have to go anywhere this morning, so I let the shoveling duties wait for a while. I hopped on the treadmill and put in a half hour at a decent pace and incline, then I bundled up to head out into the tundra.

It was stupidly blowy and despite being cold, snow was melting and dripping off my house and onto my head. Lovely. I managed to shovel about two thirds of my shovelable surfaces before retreating back into the warmth of my house to let my hands defrost and to towel off my hair. (Yes, I had a hat with me. It was in my jacket pocket. What's your point?)

Later, I returned to my chore. I was grumpy, trying to heave the heavy snow into ever-growing piles on either side of my driveway and sidewalk. "Seriously, it's almost March!," I groused to myself. "This is insane."

But I shoveled on, because the snow wasn't going to shovel itself, and because I really do like the sense of satisfaction that comes from being able to see your progress on a task like that. Same goes for cutting grass.

And as I shoveled (and shoveled and shoveled and shoveled), I realized that I was shoveling with relative ease. Yes, my back was fussing and my biceps were reminding me that I did arms at the gym yesterday, but cardio-wise, I wasn't winded. I just kept shoveling.

Until I got to the end of my driveway, where I faced the dreaded pile of slushy snow crap created by the snowplow.

It is a cruel irony of physics that water is so damn heavy. No amount of lifting with one's legs makes clearing that slushy snowy icy mess any easier. But I got it all out of the way.

And later, the sun came out.

And then it went away again. I just looked out my office window and it's snowing again. But just flurries this time.

Spring can show up any minute now. I'm ready.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Thrilled! ...

I'm so thrilled for Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova and their Oscar win for "Falling Slowly"!

The first time I heard the song was on a Frames CD, not in the context of the film, and even then, I knew I was hearing something really special.

Kudos to the Academy for recognizing it and them.

See, Hollywood? You can make a great, original movie for next to nothing that's Oscar-worthy!

If you haven't seen Once, now you have even more incentive. You know, beyond just me telling you to see it.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Residual Emotion ...

For the past several months, I've been in recovery, emotional recovery.

There are days – though they now come further apart than they used to – when I am reminded that I am not yet healed.

Actually, I wonder if I ever will be, fully.

If you sustain a wound, one day it becomes a scar. Cells regenerate. Life goes on. But the scar remains. Do those cells regenerate? Why doesn't the scar eventually disappear? Is it because those cells are different than the cells that were there before? What makes them different?

If our lives are the sums of our experiences, do we ever really shed anything that's occurred? I don't think so. I think hurts become less potent over time, but once we've experienced that energy in our lives, it's transformed us.

If we carry those we love in our hearts, don't we also carry those we've lost?

And if we still love them, are they really gone?

I was just watching Martian Child and John Cusack, whose character's name is David – I mean, of course it is, right? – says, "When you love somebody, it's really hard when you can't see them anymore."

My friend Charles died nearly five years ago and sometimes I still get a little weepy when I think of him. Most of the time now, I smile – laugh, even – when I remember him. He was one of a kind. But every so often, out of the blue, a thought about him will come into my mind and I find myself crying. Five years hasn't entirely mellowed all of the pain. There are still twinges.

So I guess it's no wonder that I'm still recovering from something as fresh as a few months ago. My brain tries to trick me into reverting to what feels familiar, but then I stop and remind myself that a lapse – or would that be a relapse? – would be a setback, that I'd just have to recover that lost ground all over again. And as long as I've traversed that time and space once already, why put myself through it again?

But sometimes, it's extraordinarily difficult to be strong. Strong is hard. Right is hard. Weak and wrong are easy. Easy but not viable, not really.

A couple of weeks ago at the gym, as I struggled with a move, I asked Brandon, "Will it ever get easier?"

"Nope," he said. "When it starts to get easier, we'll add more weight."

It's the struggle that makes us stronger.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Bruuuuuuuuuuuuuce! ...

Woo hoo!

I'm goin' to see Springsteen four weeks from yesterday!

My eighth Bruce show since I agreed to go with Doreen to see The Rising tour at the United Center in 2002. At the time, I was on the fence, but I thought, "What the hell? I'll go. He's one of those artists I should see before I die."

And then that show changed my life.

Have you ever been to a Springsteen show? Especially when he's playing with the E Street Band?

If not, I pity you.

If so, you know exactly what I mean.

So I've caught The Rising tour twice and the Devils and Dust tour twice and the Vote for Change tour and the Seeger Sessions tour and this will be my second show on the Magic tour.

I'm not as rabid a fan as Jeff, but I'm hooked good.

And this time, I'm going to a show with a man who knows Clarence Clemons. This could get interesting ...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I Got (Almost) Nuthin' ...

I've been sitting here with my laptop – amazingly enough – on my lap, trying to think of something to write about and I keep coming up empty.

My life really isn't this dull. Really, it's not.

I was entertaining myself by poking around the menu for Merlo on Maple. If you haven't gone, you really should. Well, no. Wait. You should only go if you have a real appreciation for fine Italian food. If Olive Garden is how you roll, Merlo will send you into culinary culture shock.

But if you love food and wine and you're looking to treat yourself, I can heartily recommend Merlo. Let's go to dinner – virtually – shall we? Start with the appetizers, make your selections, and leave your order in the comments.

I'm one of those people who can stare at a menu for an hour. I'm just so fascinated by what chefs create and it's fun to try and conjure the perfect meal from start to finish.

The next time I go to Merlo, I think I'll rope my dining companion into sharing a pasta entree as a starter for two. But which to choose? The tortelloni ai funghi porcini? (I'm a sucker for anything with mushrooms.) Or the gnocchi di spinaci al tartufo nero in fonduta di Parmigiano Reggiano? (I'm fascinated by the idea of Parmigiano Reggiano fondue and black truffle carpaccio.) Or the tortellini alla panna? (Tortellini stuffed with prosciutto, Parmigiano Reggiano, and veal tenderloin in a cream sauce? Sounds impossibly rich, which is why it'd be perfect to share.)

Having had my pasta fill, and feeling shank-y, I'll have to decide between the ossobuco (I know, osso buco is usually two words; Merlo's menu spells it as one word) and the lamb shank. The ossobuco is paired with saffron risotto but the lamb shank is paired with oven-roasted rosemary potatoes and asparagus. It will be terribly hard to choose.

I'll be too full for dessert, of course, but I'll have to order the panna cotta because I always order panna cotta and compare it to every other panna cotta I've ever enjoyed (or not). To date, the panna cotta top spot is held by Five Points in New York City. But then again, Merlo's semifreddo di zabaione con cioccolato caldo might prove too tempting to resist. Zabaione with warm chocolate? He'll have to order that.

He'll select the evening's wine, because he's very good at that. And we'll need some espresso, too, no doubt.

With any luck, the temperature that evening will be temperate, because we'll need to walk about five miles after that meal.

Tonight, though, I will dream of zabaione with warm chocolate.

Monday, February 18, 2008

'Once' ...

Back in November, I found myself perusing the CD aisles at Best Buy and found myself in front of The Frames.

I wrote a post about The Cost, the album I bought that night.

But that night, at Best Buy, I saw the soundtrack for Once, a movie starring Glen Hansard, Mr. Lead Frame, and made a mental note to add it to my Netflix queue.

Tonight, I finally saw it. And ohmygosh, it's the sweetest film.

If you're a Frames fan, well, if you're a fan of The Frames, you've probably already Once, but if you're new to The Frames, Once will make you an instant convert.

He's an amazing musician, and his female vocalist and pianist, Marketa Irglova, complements him perfectly.

There's a clip from the movie on YouTube featuring "Falling Slowly." I can't embed it here, but you can watch it here. That tune will knock you out. It knocks everybody out. The first time I heard it, I was completely captivated.

The quote on the cover of the DVD is from Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune. He says, "Once may well be the best music film of our generation."

He may well be right.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

'Hello, Cupcake!' ...

Nearly two years ago, I wrote a post that was really about cookies but in which I spent a fair amount of time blathering on about cupcakes.

For the purposes of this post, here's the part you need to read:

My cupcake memories are of PTA or Cub Scout meetings in my grade-school gym. There would always be a refreshments table, and the kids had turned cupcake selection into a science, and by "science" I mean picking the cupcake with the biggest schmear of frosting. Typically, the moms who cupcaked were pretty stingy with the frosting, but I ask you: What's the point? The frosting is always the best part of a cupcake. Skimp on that, and, well, it's barely worth eating.

And then there are the cupcake liners. We can put a man on the moon (or on a space station) but we can't make a cupcake liner that doesn't retain 20 percent of the cupcake upon its removal? The only thing worse than a frosting deficiency when you're a child is an inability to suck the cupcake endoderm off the cupcake liner, but those obnoxious pastel paper liners seemed to be designed to disintegrate on contact with saliva. Dammit.

As an adult, I'm amused by the by-gone refreshments table. Those were the days when people didn't obsess about nutrition, so it made perfect sense to serve cupcakes and punch to the kids. Here, honey: Have a hunk of sugar, topped with sugar, and wash it down with a cup of sugar.

Ah, yes, those were the days.


As an adult, I can't remember the last time I ate a cupcake. A muffin, sure, but not a cupcake. Cupcakes are big business. Magnolia Bakery in New York seemed to create the craze and then Sprinkles got in on the action and cupcake cookbooks started popping up all over the place.

(I was just thinking about my pal Kelley's birthday party – she had cupcakes, though I did not partake – and the next time I started to type "cupcake," I started it with a capital K, thinking of Kelley, so that it came out "Kupcake," which made me think that it's too bad that Irv Kupcinet is no longer with us, because he could have hopped on the specialty-cupcake bandwagon with a vanity cupcake. But I digress.)

ANYWAY, last year, I wrote a story for a client about cookie decorating (I did not decorate the cookies that appear with the story; that's stock photography) for which I interviewed Karen Tack, a food stylist with some crazy-impressive credentials – Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Martha Stewart Living, and many more ... – who was completely adorable and fun to talk to and full of good ideas, basically an interviewer's dream.

She told me that she was working on a book called Hello, Cupcake!, which I mentioned in the story. (We bakers gotta stick together.) And today, I received an e-mail from her, letting me know that Hello, Cupcake! will soon be in stores.

Included in the e-mail was a link to the Hello, Cupcake! web site with the request, "Let us know what you think!"

I will, at this moment, confess to Karen and you and the world that when she first told me she was working on a cupcake cookbook, I thought it would be so much cupcake white noise on a bookstore shelf already brimming with cupcake tomes.

Oh, how wrong I was. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Wrongy McWrongerson, that's who I am.

This is not just another cupcake cookbook.

Do you want to know why?

Because Karen Tack is an artist, that's why.

That's right, an artist. She and Alan Richardson, her partner in cupcake crime, they're not just smearing a big glob of frosting on an oversize cupcake. (Not that there's anything wrong with a big glob of frosting on an oversize cupcake, other than its ninja-like ability to assassinate my willpower ...)

Oh no. These two are cupcake geniuses. You might look at a cupcake, some miniature marshmallows, and a Tootsie Roll and see a cupcake, some miniature marshmallows, and a Toosie Roll, but not these two. They see this:

Can you freakin' stand it?! Is that not the most adorable cupcake in the history of cupcakes? (I know it's a tiny picture. I cropped it out of a picture that was small to begin with, so you'll just have to go to the Hello, Cupcake! web site to see it, along with all the other cupcake art. Art, I say!)

I'm completely blown away. Truly. She didn't ask me to plug her book, but I'm happy to blog about it. I know when I've seen cupcake genius and this is it.

Anyone can dress up a plain cupcake with sprinkles or some shredded coconut but can they make cupcakes that look like the New York City skyline? Complete with a chocolate-covered, graham-flavored, teddy-shaped cookie standing in for King Kong?

I think not. But Karen and Alan can. And they did. And for that, I love them. Teddy Graham King Kong. Genius!

Hello, Cupcake! is due out toward the end of April. You can get more info or pre-order it from Amazon here. Karen will be teaching cupcake-decorating classes and signing copies of the book at Sur La Table locations across the country. Check out the Hello, Cupcake! web site for locations and dates.

If you go to the Chicago class on May 8th, I'll see you there.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Workin' Hard? Nah. Hardly Workin' ...

I'm in Detroit. I drove here yesterday to have dinner with my friends Jeff and Sherry, to celebrate Jeff's latest book.

Today is like "Take Our Daughters To Work Day," except that I'm not Jeff's daughter. But I did come in to the office with him today. He needs to do some work before hopping on a plane this afternoon and I came along to see where he works.

While he's toiling away at his desk, I'm sitting a few cubicles over, whiling away some minutes, writing this post.

This is most likely the one opportunity in my life to say that I'm writing at The Wall Street Journal. So: "Look at me, everybody! I'm writing at The Wall Street Journal!" Of course, I'm not writing for The Wall Street Journal, but then again, my journalism days are over.

Don't you just love camera phones?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

iTunes, I Ching: Valentine's Day Edition ...

You know how I think that my iTunes is synched to my psyche?

I fired it up this morning, Valentine's Day morning, and the first song up on Shuffle? Out of 5,309 songs?

"Falling in Love Again" by Bryan Ferry.

Next up: "I Choose You" by Tears for Fears.

Now if only iTunes would give me a name.

Happy Valentine's Day, loves. And remember:

Don't eat any Conversation Hearts, because they always seem like a good idea until you get them in your mouth, and then they're like sucking on Lucky Charms "marshmallows," but less tasty. Really, they're like sucking on sweetened chalk. And besides, the Necco people don't use punctuation. I can't eat improperly punctuated candy.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tonight's ABCs Of PMS ...

A is for Austen. In this case, the story of Jane Austen, featuring Anne Hathaway in Becoming Jane. Sadly, I realized in the first five minutes of this film that I have officially met my lifetime quota of Jane Austen-related anything. And I don't buy Anne Hathaway as a Brit. And so, Becoming Jane is Becoming an Early Netflix Return. I should have known this was coming. The other day, I saw a PBS preview for the famed, swoon-inducing, Colin Firth-starring "Pride and Prejudice" and absolutely lacked interest. Though I might still like the Keira Knightley version. If not, who wants my copy of the DVD?

B is for Bridge Mix. I don't know why, but my monthly craving always leads me to crappy chocolate, not fine artisanal confections. So I headed to Walgreen's and was astonished to see long lines at every cash register until I remembered, "Oh yeah. Tomorrow is Valentine's Day." Call me crazy, but when I think "love," I don't think "last-minute gift and a card from the picked-over racks at Walgreen's." Then again, I don't expect floral delivery vans to be colliding in my driveway tomorrow.

C is for Cosmo. Because nothing says PMS like the coverline "Your Va-Jay-Jay: Fascinating New Facts About Your Lovely Lady Parts." I've read the fascinating new facts and can report that they are neither fascinating nor new. I do, however, now hold the key to "The Sexiest Eyebrows Ever." Because that's what's been preventing me from snagging Mr. Right. Go ahead, ask the next guy you see what female body part really turns him on and watch him say, "Brows." There is an obvious pun to be made here involving the word "pluck," but I'll refrain.

All in all, a very unsatisfactory evening (present blog post excepted): A movie that's barely tolerable as background noise (barely tolerable to me, that is), cheap chocolate, and a vapid magazine.

I know better than to expect great journalism out of the pages of Cosmo. And bridge mix never professed to be gourmet. But I had high hopes for Becoming Jane.

Tomorrow, I'll opt for Eastern Promises and Viggo Mortensen's Russian badass.

'No Reservations' ...

I fell in love with Mostly Martha. My cousins recommended it to me because it was a charming movie, sure, but more specifically, because it was a charming movie about food.

But Mostly Martha is a German film, which means that the characters? They speak German. Which means that if you don't speak German (which I don't, despite studying it for four years), you need to read subtitles. The horror, the horror, as Col. Kurtz would say.

And so Hollywood, given that it's largely devoid of any original ideas anymore – The Dukes of Hazzard? – decided it would remake Mostly Martha in its own, more-beautiful image.

So I watched it. The whole thing. Just to see how much I disliked it in comparison to the original. Except that the story lines are almost identical, so I already knew what was going to happen. Then again, even if I hadn't seen the original, I would have known what was going to happen. See: "largely devoid of any original ideas ..." above.

The major difference between the two films? In Mostly Martha, the female chef has light hair and the male chef has dark hair. But in No Reservations – wait for it! – the female chef has dark hair and the male chef has light hair!

See?! They're completely different! 180 degrees!

Cute Abigail Breslin can conjure up tears like a little Tammy Faye Bakker. Aaron Eckhart is good, but he's better in Thank You For Smoking. Catherine Zeta-Jones actually allows herself to be filmed with minimal make-up in a couple scenes. Good for her.

In the end, it's not a bad movie. If you haven't seen Mostly Martha and therefore are comparing this movie solely to other romantic movies, it's not so bad. I mean, it's no An Affair to Remember but it won't make you want to poke yourself in the eye.

If you haven't seen either version, I'd encourage you to watch Mostly Martha.

But if you have seen Mostly Martha, I think you'll agree that this remake didn't improve on the original.

The most fascinating aspect of both movies, for me, is getting a glimpse into a working kitchen. When I go to a restaurant, I don't think about the frantic pace behind the scenes, whipping out dishes all night long.

Years ago, I spent two days in a professional kitchen, a catering operation, not a restaurant, but I got a taste of what it would be like to work in that environment.

Which is why I opted not to go to culinary school after all.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Film Conversion ...

Today, on the phone with L.A. Dave, we were chatting about the passing of Roy Scheider. Most people associate him with Jaws but not me. When I think of Roy, I think of All That Jazz. (He seriously should have won an Oscar for his portrayal of Joe Gideon.)

I own All That Jazz on VHS. Remember VHS? In fact, I have the movie on right now.

Dave and I started chatting about my VHS collection. I've been mulling over which movies are worthy of buying on DVD and which I can skip. Which led to a discussion about must-have movies.

It wasn't hard to come up with a very lengthy list, some older, some newer.

The Philadelphia Story and North by Northwest are immediate must-buys for me, as I do not own them in any form. But there are lots in my VHS collection that are worthy of the purchase of the DVD version: Raging Bull, The Wizard of Oz, Arthur and so many more.

And then I start wondering how much longer DVD will be the standard and if, in a few years, I won't be wondering about what DVDs I should be converting to the next format.

Between DVDs and VHSs, I think I own a couple hundred flicks. I won't bother to list them all here, but what are your must-have movies?

Souvenir Spectacular ...

I popped over to Ali Thinks earlier and noticed that she has a new banner on the site. It was easy to notice for two reasons: 1) Because it's different, and 2) Because she wrote a brief post about it.

Ooh, nothing gets past me, huh?

I commented to her about the hot pink Eiffel Tower keychain in the banner which led to a little e-mail exchange about our mutual love of, in Ali's words, "tacky tourist shit."

You betcha. Tchotchke crap rocks.

I wrote to her about one of my favorite souvenirs: My brother Paul went to France and returned with a miniature Eiffel Tower for me. My French former sister-in-law was aghast at its tackiness, but I really dug it. (I snapped a picture of it for your very much illustration enjoyment, and love that it came out unfocused.) Note the faux-marble base and the askew "Paris" sticker, for those who are unfamiliar with where the Eiffel Tower is located.

A few years ago, when I took my second trip to London, one of my self-created tasks was to find the cheesiest souvenir available for my brother Brian, which wasn't hard to do, as London is littered with garish souvenir shops. I like to think I I hit the mark with this gem. Yesirree, nothing says tchotchke crap like a poorly painted Big Ben bottle opener.

What's the best crappy souvenir you ever received? Or bought for someone?

Hugh Laurie Lust ...

Y'all know how much I love me some Hugh Laurie.

He's a somewhat-frequent fixture in this blog. It all began with this post in which I first professed my love, all the way back in September 2006.

And I posted this little gem, thanks to YouTube, of Hugh singing.

And there was this recent post in which I rave about his novel The Gun Seller which I can't believe you haven't read yet.

And then there was this post last summer that detailed a dream I had about Hugh.

And today, I can add this post to the tally. The overall dream was very long and involved, featuring many people and many locations, some of which made absolutely no sense, as is common in dreams, but in this particular scene, I was sitting in a restaurant with Hugh, next to him, to his right. We were sitting in chairs that make me think of Long John Silvers, even though I've only been to a Long John Silvers once in my life and I think I was, like, 6. It was a family vacation. The point is, the chairs were those nautical-y sorts.

But dinner was winding down and our server suggested the goat cheese and ice cream. Now, I'm a pretty big fan of goat cheese in the waking world, but even I'm not sure I'd eat it with ice cream. But in a dream? Bring it on! Some woman appeared (she kind of looked like Laura Linney and I think she was supposed to be Hugh's sister) on the other side of the table, plopping down in one of the weird chairs, as dessert arrived. It was a round of blue cheese in a pool of melted ice cream. Interesting. The server brought balsamic vinegar if we were of a mind to drizzle. She also brought a cruet of port.

Ooh, port. Nice.

So I asked Hugh if he'd like some and filled his little glass and filled my little glass and filled Hugh's sister's glass, even though she was now gone. (I figured she'd gone to the restroom.)

I was sitting low in my chair, slouched down a bit, and leaning up against Hugh. Perfectly sated and happy, I tilted my head back and turned it to him and he kissed me. A very nice kiss. Not too long, as we were in public, after all, but certainly very, um, kissy.

The kind of dream moment that makes waking up to a Monday OK.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Grammy-rama! ...

Back in December, I said that Robert Plant and Alison Krauss would win a Grammy for their album Raising Sand.

Not that it was any great feat of prognostication. The album is brilliant. Their voices together are brilliant.

I didn't watch the Grammys (I'm not much for award shows), but I was pleased to see on Grammy.com just now that they did indeed win.

I'm also pleased to see that Springsteen went home with three trophies, even though Magic was snubbed in the nominations for Album of the Year, which it surely would have won.

Why We Need Writers ...

So, the writers' strike appears to be coming to an end. Hallelujah, I say! Not that I watch tons of television, but contemplating a world without House makes me sad.

Yesterday, though, I was firmly planted on my couch, flipping channels, when I happened across an episode of Family Guy. I continue to be astonished that that show is shown in syndication during a dinner hour. I mean, I'm no prude, but some of the color is awfully blue.

But last night, I laughed out loud while watching the show. Not just a little chuckle, but an all out laugh that lasted even as I walked into my office to e-mail L.A. Dave about it.

And here's what I wrote to him:

On "Family Guy":

A bully steals Stewie's tricycle. Later, the bully is sitting on the curb, reading "Bully Weekly" when Stewie's head cast a shadow across the pages. Stewie ends up shooting him with a net and dragging him back to the house, where he ties him to a chair in the basement to interrogate him about the tricycle's whereabouts.

Just as Stewie's about to torture the bully with a homemade torture device of kitchen utensils, Lois comes downstairs with the tricycle. "What's going on down here?" she asks.

Stewie says, "Uh, we're playing house."

"But that boy is all tied up."

"Roman Polanski's house."


I bow to Seth MacFarlane.

Johnny Depp Two-Fer Weekend ...

I like Johnny Depp. I'm not a rabid Johnny Depp fan, but I think he's a great actor with tremendous range.

This weekend, thanks to Netflix, I ended up watching to JD movies. The first one, well, let me just qualify everything I say from this point on by mentioning that I don't remember adding the movie to my queue. I watched the trailer on the DVD and didn't recognize any of the scenes. I'm a big fan of previews on DVDs. More often than not, I think, "Oooh! I want to see that!" and pause my DVD player and hop into my office to add movies to my queue right then and there, because I am terribly, terribly old and will forget to add them later. Actually, I'll not only forget to add them later, I'll forget the titles.

But this movie rang no mental bells. FYI, if you've been thinking about watching The Man Who Cried, I can tell you that while Johnny Depp is indeed a man and at one point does indeed cry, the movie is yet another victim of poor titling. The movie is really about Christina Ricci's character. She cries, too. So the title could have gone either way. But I guess it's more interesting to point out a crying man than a crying woman, because you know us: We cry all the time.

The cast is an indie-film dream team: Depp, Ricci, Cate Blanchett, John Turturro, Harry Dean Stanton. And while the central focus of the film is about Ricci's journey, it touches tangentially on the Holocaust, which made me think, "How many more period pieces do we need with a connection to the Holocaust?" I understand that it was a huge event in world history, but really? Do we need to keep making these movies? Isn't Schindler's List pretty much the final word? No film will ever do more justice to that cataclysm.

But my gripe isn't about the Holocaust connection so much as general bafflement as to why this movie was made. Who was the audience for this film? It was only ever released in a handful of theaters. It made a pittance at the box office. I know not all movie making is about money, but I didn't come away from this film feeling as though I'd just witnessed great art for art's sake, either.

Cate was amazing, as she always is. Is there an accent she can't do? Johnny (and his jaw line) was handsome and brooding, as usual. But it felt like a movie that was made without any thought as to who would see it in the end.

However, I can say this about it: It became a good foil for Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, which I didn't see in the theater, but which I should have, because damn, some of those scenes at sea would have rocked on a big screen.

Jack Sparrow is a brilliantly drawn character. (Though I would have liked to have seen Keith Richards on screen for more than the total minute that he appeared.) And I can't think of anyone other than Depp who could have pulled it off.

It did indeed feel like a nearly three-hour movie, but it was a fun three hours. And it was nice to see Bill Nighy's face for a few seconds, instead of that creepy tentatacled beard. Eeesh.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Available Love Update ...

Ah, the universe is a funny, funny place.

As I've written before, one of my mantras for 2008 is "Available Love." I sent College Boyfriend David's jacket packing last month, and while I haven't been trolling any bars of late, I'm open to meeting someone, sometime, somewhere, in some way.

Maybe a little too open.

Maybe I need to more finely tune my order for Mr. Right.

Why, you ask?

Well, let me give you a couple "for instances."

On Wednesday, I received an e-mail from someone I don't know. The subject line read, "I have to know" and the body of the e-mail read, "if you have a boyfriend or lover at this point?"

Ooookay.

Needless to say, I have not replied to this person. Though Angela suggested that I respond with, "No, but I'm ready to get married and I want to have 10 babies" just to see if I'd hear from him again.

That made me laugh.

But seriously, folks, and by "folks" I mean "guys": Does this strike you as a particularly effective method for finding love? E-mailing women randomly, supplying no background information on yourself, and simply stating that you have to know if they have a boyfriend or lover? Would you really want to date the kind of woman who would reply to that?

And then last night, I received an e-mail from a guy I had a brief e-mail exchange with back in my Match.com days. My Match.com days are long behind me. To wit, this guy writing to me as a reply to an e-mail I had sent. His note said, "Hey Beth, How are you? Longtime no talk!"

Um, yeah, it's been a long time. The last time we wrote to each other was 2003.

2003.

Now, I know some people never delete e-mail (which I don't understand, but that's not the topic at hand), but seriously, digging up an e-mail from five years ago and resurfacing in my e-mailbox?

It's worth noting, for your edification, that back in the day, I replied to his e-mails to be polite but I never thought of myself as being in any way encouraging (though I suppose that any reply can be seen as encouragement to some).

But really? Five years? I could understand it if we had dated or even had an involved e-mail relationship that seemed to be leading somewhere to maybe attempt a reconnection five years hence. But we didn't.

I get that love is a numbers game, but this is just weird.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

This Is Fabulous ...

I love Grand Central Station. No matter how many times I go to New York, I still get a thrill from walking through it.

it would have been fun to be there the day this happened.



Thanks to Doreen for forwarding the link.

Completely Unscientific Poll Having Nothing To Do With Politics ...

If you could only watch one movie for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Mine would be The Shawshank Redemption. And yours?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Other Story ...

Try not to drool.

Because at some point during this story, you're probably gonna go slack-jawed.

When last I wrote, I alluded to another post that I would write another day.

Today is the day. Or rather, tonight is the night.

Just keep reading.

So Steve and I were in the cab, headed back from Kelley's party to the hotel to grab some late-night grub. I don't remember the arc of the conversation, other than stumping him on something when we were on the Ohio feeder ramp. He was trying hard to come up with a comeback. It wasn't working. "Damn!" he was saying. "This almost never happens." He kept trying, the wheels in his head kept spinning.

"The retort window has closed," I said and patted his hand sympathetically.

It was sometime after that exchange that I suddenly found myself listening to him telling me about a friend of his. A name I recognized. If I had been drinking, I'd have done a spit take. Because the friend Steve was naming was Clarence Clemons.

Some of you may be plotzing right now.

Some of you may be saying, "Who the hell is Clarence Clemons?"



Clarence is the guy with the sax. Recognize anyone else in that picture? Like Max Weinberg and Steven Van Zandt and Patti Scialfa? And some guy, goes by the name of Springsteen?

Steve is friends with a member of the E Street Band.

So we're headed up to my floor and I keep saying, "You're friends with Clarence Clemons?!" and he's going on with his story and we get off the elevator and he says (if you happen to be reading this standing up, you'll want to sit down right now), "Yeah. And Bono."

BONO.

At which point I said something really indelicate, which I won't reproduce in this here family blog.

BONO. Steve, my perfectly lovely friend who anyone would be lucky to know but who has a background in IT and publishing not in music, knows Bono.

Lead-singer-of-U2 Bono.

Right. OK then.

The hows aren't important here. other than to mention that Steve met Clarence through Billy Joel. Well, of course he did.

"OK, anyone else I should know about?" I asked.

"Well, just Morgan Freeman."

WHAT THE HELL?!

Now, as Steve says, it "ain't no thing," knowing these guys, as they're just people, after all.

And I can relate to that. Interviewing Kurt Vonnegut when I was 19 taught me the valuable lesson that famous people are people first, famous second. And Steve's great. Anyone would want to hang out with him, and Clarence and Bono and Billy and Morgan fall under the "anyone" umbrella.

Still. It all left me shaking my head.

I have friends who are friends with well-known people. Dave is friends with Eddie Vedder, but that makes sense to me because they're both musicians. Even though Dave met Eddie when he was just a teenager.

But it was way more out of left field for Steve to tell me he's friends with Clarence Clemons. And Bono.

Anyway, the final kooky twist to this story is that Steve made a comment that night, as we were listening to my CD, that sounded remarkably like he was thinking that Clarence should hear my songs. But my brain might have been racing ahead into some wine-induced fantasy. Or I could have been dreaming. Because that's just crazy, right? Clarence Clemmons listening to my disc is crazy, right? That's not something that happens in real life. That's something that happens in an after-school special or a movie of the week.

Right?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Get Away ...

Sometimes, you just gotta grab a little extravagance.

Is it prudent? Hell no. Is the money better spent on something else, say, debt? You betcha.

But in the midst of a humdrum winter, heavy with snow and slush and salt and more slush, when days are hazy and you try and try to focus and then realize that no amount of squinting is going to sharpen the fog-softened edges all around you, when the sun is almost terminally cloaked behind a thick layer of soggy grey clouds, you realize it's high time for a little treat.

Friday night, I had a play at The Goodman, "Shining City," set in modern-day Dublin, a lighthearted bill of theatrical fare about a lapsed priest and an adulterer whose sure he's being visited by his wife's ghost. Ah, those Irish, always up for a chuckle.

Saturday night, I had Kelley's birthday party, for which she wanted me to make brownies and Russian Teacakes.

So I thought to myself, "Self, it's February in Chicago. You should get yourself a lovely hotel room for the weekend."

I poked around online, looking at a wide range of hotels. Some were too over the top (damask and ornate gold frames everywhere!), some were too out of my price range (The Penisula), some were too austere (I want more to a hotel room than a bed and the vague idea of a chair), some were far too boring (I do not want a hotel room that looks like a hotel room: ugly floral bedspread, cheap-looking art prints in even-cheaper-looking gold frames, the sink outside the bathroom), but then, Goldilocks-like, I found a hotel that was just right, a hotel that I'd never before considered, a hotel in a great location with rooms that looked modern yet comfy.

I found The Hard Rock Hotel.

I know. I was surprised, too.

But through the magic of the off-season, I scored a lovely little suite for a ridiculously reasonable rate (compared to what I've been used to paying given that most of my hotel stays in the past year were in New York City), a lovely little suite on a high floor with amazing views to the west (overlooking the Chicago River) and to the north (overlooking Michigan Avenue). This photo is from the hotel's web site, but it's a perfect representation of my room. The vantage point of the picture is from behind the desk. The bit of wall that's partially obscuring the bed houses a very nice bathroom with a big glass-walled shower and separate soaking tub. There is, as you might expect, rock-star-themed art in the rooms. John and Yoko hung out in my bathroom. Bowie kept watch over my bed, not that he had anything much to see.

So Friday after the play, I made my way back to my room, changed into comfy clothes and crawled into bed to watch Oprah, who was featuring a matchmaker who was going to tell all we single women of the world what the hell we're doing wrong in our quest to find love.

I didn't learn anything new. I might want to start shopping for a few cats.

I turned in at a reasonable hour and woke up at a reasonable hour and started reading Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, which is easily one of the best book titles in the history of titled books. Apologies to my readers who count themselves among the faithful. I don't mean to offend, but seriously, you've gotta admit that it's funny to think about a Bible that features a kid named Biff.

Eventually, and despite the do-not-disturb doorknob hanger I put in place the night before (which said something more clever than "Do Not Disturb," something much more rock 'n' roll), I decided I should get myself together and make my way out of the hotel at some point.

So I headed into John-and-Yokoland and proceeded to wash my hair with the Aveda shampoo and conditioner left for me by housekeeping and quickly decided that the tingly herbiness of Aveda's mint and rosemary hair-care products was leaving my hair feeling icky. I made a mental note to pick up shampoo and conditioner while I was out for the day. Which I did.

I wandered up Michigan Avenue, stopping wherever I felt like stopping. I was in the mood to spend money, but money was not to be spent. Don't you hate that? I did buy a couple birthday cards and a little notebook to tote around in my purse. It's the kind Hemingway used. I expect that this little book will either inspire me to: a) write great novels about tortured souls or b) move to Cuba.

Lately, I've reverted back to my weird food predilection for "something," as in, I know I want something, but for the life of me I can't figure out what. So I wandered to Whole Foods, which has a fabulous array of ready-to-eat stuff, and I looked and looked and ended up with minestrone soup. Which was exactly as uninspired as it sounds. It was also $5, which seemed like a lot for a little cup of soup, but Whole Paycheck didn't earn its nickname by being reasonable.

Later, some hot chocolate seemed in order (only $3). My friend Qusai had called while I was meandering through Nordstrom and I called him back after scoring my hot chocolate at Starbucks, but the guy sitting next to me was clearly too involved in my conversation, so I headed outside where it was far too noisy to talk, so I headed into the Tribune lobby, where it was far too quiet to talk, so I told Qusai I'd call him back when I got to the hotel.

On my way, I detoured into Fannie May for a turtle. A Pixie, in Fannie May parlance. "Milk or dark?" asked the girl behind the counter.

Holy mother of God, when the hell did they start making dark-chocolate Pixies?!

"One of each," I said. "I'll have a little taste test." What? They're small.

I called Qusai from the comfort of my room's sectional, catching up on the past few years, a conversation that amounted to "We don't understand men."

After 30 minutes of not understanding men, I hung up so I could get ready to meet my friend Steve for "a drink," which is Stevespeak for "several glasses of wine and why aren't you drinking more?" The man bests me on wine consumption 2-1.

We met at 4. He had dinner plans at 7. I was due at Kelley's at 7 to set up desserts for her party.

So at 7 p.m., we were still sitting in eno (the fab wine bar at the Hotel Intercontinental, if you haven't been). Oops.

We shared a cab up north. I got desserts set out at Kelley's before her guests arrived. Steve met me there after his dinner. (Kelley had lots of wine on hand for the party. Steve's a total oenophile. Horse. Water. Drink.)

Later, he and I were in a cab headed back to the hotel where we were going to get a late dinner, because my day's food consisted of a South Beach bar, the aforementioned dull minestrone, and a slice of baguette with a smear of Brie at Kelley's party.

Lemme tell you: A suite at the Hard Rock is a nice place to hang. I opened up the drapes to reveal the fab views and put on my CD of tunes in progress which I had given Steve earlier. (There's a whole other companion story to this blog post which I'll get around to some other time and which I'll recommend you read in a carpeted room because your jaw will hit the floor.)

Room service arrived with our selections (a chicken quesadilla, made with spinach tortillas, for him, a mushroom-Swiss burger for me). We toasted with sparkling water.

Later, he headed back to his place and I got ready for bed and managed to sleep for a few hours. If I go to sleep too late, even though I'm extra tired, I have trouble sleeping. Weird.

Sunday morning, I loafed around a bit, hungry for "something," which was not featured on the room-service menu. I rooted around my purse, knowing full well that I the only things in there that even approached edible were cherry-flavored Halls. Hardly the breakfast of champions. And then my hand landed on the little white paper bag from Fannie May.

Pixies for breakfast!

Sad to say, though, the dark-chocolate Pixie was a great let-down. The caramel was not the caramel of Pixies past. The milk-chocolate Pixie was what I remembered, but I was still recovering from the disappointment of its dark sibling, so it wasn't as enjoyable as it should have been.

I showered again, using my new shampoo to erase the previous day's Aveda calamity and eventually called in my checkout sometime before 11 a.m.

So there it is: The Hard Rock Hotel Chicago. God is in the details, you know, and the HRH has a keen eye. Turndown service results in a comfy robe splayed across the bed with a bottle of Fiji water on the bedside table, and propped against it a little card with a dream-related lyric to ponder as you drift off to sleep. And a red-foil-wrapped, lips-shaped chocolate, which made me think of Valentine's Day but which L.A. Dave thinks is a nod to the Rolling Stones' logo. There are fresh flowers in the room and bathroom, single artful blooms in small cube vases filled with flat black stones. A professional-grade hairdryer is tucked into a black drawstring bag and hung underneath the sink. Every bathroom amenity you might have forgotten beyond the usual shampoo and conditioner is waiting: mouthwash, lotion, toothbrush, toothpaste, cotton swabs, cotton balls, emery board, sewing kit, bath gel.

The next time you need a little luxury, book a Studio Suite. Absolutely worth your time.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Get A Life (Coach)! ...

If you've ever wondered about life coaching, whether it's really for you or just a bunch of feel-good hooey, this is your chance to find out.

My friend Jeannie is a life coach and circulates a monthly newsletter. The one I just received includes this offer:

In honor of International Coaching Week, February 3-9, I am making a commitment to help the world learn about coaching by conducting one complimentary coaching session for every day in February. If you’ve never coached with me before or know someone that would like to try this thing called coaching, give me a call or email and take one of my 29 spots: (919) 928-9292, jeannie@imaginethepossibilities.biz Your only obligation is to enjoy the session!

Jeannie is an amazing woman. It's worth reserving a spot with her just to talk to someone interesting for an hour, because, let's face it, we all spend good portions of our days talking to people who are less than fascinating.

She left a very high-powered gig in advertising to become a life coach. She really, truly believes in helping people realize their potentials. You could be one of them.

Not that I'm pushing. : o )