Oops, I did it again

I did another paint-and-wine event with a friend of mine.  She's internet shy, so I blurred her out of the photo, but here are our masterpieces:

In other news, I'm all caught up The Voice and am pulling for Tessanne to win.  I like all five of the semi-finalists, but she's the one I'd most likely listen to on my own.

I enjoyed the premiere of this season's The Sing Off last night.  It's such a fun show, and I like the addition of Jewel as the new judge.  Recently, several friends have posted this video from last years' winners, Pentatonix.  I'm not sure people are aware that this group won The Sing Off last year.  If you like this video, you'll like The Sing Off.  Enjoy!


Maybe I should've had more wine

My friend threw a surprise Paint & Wine party for her husband's birthday last night.  I'd seen these parties advertised on Groupon before, but wasn't really sure what to expect.  Well, it was a lot of fun.  The party was at the MOCA DC gallery in Georgetown.  After we walked in and did the whole "Surprise!" thing, there were about 20 minutes of mingling (and drinking wine) and then everyone was asked to take a seat where we found canvases, paint brushes, paints, water, paper towels, and an apron.  There were about 14 of us.

There were three staff members, and one of them led us in instruction for our painting.  We would all be painting something called "Fall Encounter." Here's the "inspiration photo" we were working from:

So, we began by painting the top half of the canvas.  It was interesting to see how the process worked.  We started by painting the whole top half yellow, and then added in the red and green.  Then we added the trees and leaves.  I took a photo of my progress (before we started adding leaves), and thought, well, this isn't so bad...

Then we took a 20 minute break--the staff cleaned out our water  cups while we mingled some more.  Then it was back to work, and a different staff member led the instruction for the bottom half.  That's when things started to fall apart.  I'd watch the instructor and try to do what she did, but something was lost in translation.  Here's my finished product:

I have to say, the photo actually looks better than the real-life painting sitting here in my living room.  What can I say? I tried, I had fun, and I'd love to do it again.  I had one glass of wine at the party, and two glasses of sangria at dinner beforehand.  I'm just thinking that maybe if I'd had more wine, the results may have been better.  Or, certainly, more interesting. 


So much TV, so little time

I'm way behind on my TV watching and haven't posted anything about the new season, but here are some thoughts on what I've seen so far:

  • Mom - thumbs down
  • The Blacklist - thumbs up
  • Hostages - eh
  • HIMYM - eh (the jokes still aren't that funny to me, but I'm determined to see how Ted meets The Mom)
  • Parenthood - the first show of the season was weirdly shot.  The camera was shaky and it was like it was shot in extra-high definition, yet, it still made me cry at the end.  Every episode manages to bring tears, happy or sad.  How do they do that, even with shoddy direction and camera work?  Great show.


And the winners are...

Amy & Fik-Shun!!!!!!


They were one of my favorite couples from the start, and I'm thrilled for them.  (My other favorite couple was Aaron and Jasmine--the other finalists in the finale.)

This was a great season!  


I just can't do it

I watched tonight's final performance show of SYTYCD and honestly, I love all four of the final contestants so much that I just can't vote for anyone.  I will be thrilled for whomever wins.  All the best to Jasmine, Amy, Fik-shun and Aaron.  They all performed SO well tonight.  It's too hard to choose.  I look forward to next week's finale.

In other news, I binge watched Ray Donovan yesterday...great show.  Jon Voight steals every scene.

I saw The Butler on Saturday.  I thought it was really good, but I didn't come out of there LOVING it.  My biggest issue, I think, was with some of the casting.  Forrest Whitaker, was great, as always.  Oprah did a good job.  But after that, I was distracted by movie stars playing Presidents.  I wish they had used lesser-known actors who could really carry off the roles.  Instead, I found myself thinking, oh, that's Robin Williams.  Oh, look at John Cusack.  I'm having a hard time explaining myself, but the big stars were definitely a distraction for me.

And finally, American Idol may have just made the best move ever.  I hear Harry Connick, Jr. is going to be a judge.  That *might* be just enough to get me to watch again next season.  I LOVE Harry!   But, I love my man Common too, but he wasn't enough to keep me watching Hell on Wheels, so who knows?  I guess we'll see.


Thoughts on SYTYCD Top 8 show

I decided not to blog about So You Think You Can Dance this season because: 1) it's a lot of work and time-consuming, and 2) I don't think anyone was reading the posts anyway.  But, every once in a while I see something that I want to post about.  Right now I'm watching the show featuring the Top 8 performers from last week.  Unfortunately, my man Fik-shun found himself in the bottom four and had to perform a solo.  But, that was actually lucky for the viewers because we haven't seen him dance in his own style in a long time, and here's what he did:

I love this kid.  He's such a cutie. He takes on everything that's thrown at him and he's oh-so-talented.  And my goodness...that smile.


Orange is the New Black (The book, not the show)

Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's PrisonOrange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison by Piper Kerman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this story of a woman's one-year experience/journey in a minimum-security federal prison. 

The story provides a much different view of the prison system than what I'm used to seeing.  (Movies and TV tend to show male maximum security situations.)

The author makes an effort to show that adjustments are needed to the federal prison system.  She brought to light issues I'd never really considered, particularly as it relates to prisoners re-entering the real world after serving their time.

It's definitely an interesting read.

I've heard mixed reviews about the Netflix series based on this book, but I look forward to seeing it.  More on that later!

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One thing leads to another...and, "Let there be bass." ~Leo Fender

I was checking in on an old high school friend of mine on Facebook, and he had posted a YouTube video of a young lady (Marta Altesa) doing a bass cover of Paul Young's "Every Time You Go Away." I loved it. (My friend added, "New sexiest woman alive playing one of my favorite 80's songs....Amazing bass and baseline.").

Well, of course, one YouTube video always leads to another, and I found Marta's other bass covers. Bass and percussion are my favorites parts of music and these videos were right up my alley. I really loved this cover of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Dani California."

And then that lead me to young "deppwaswho" and her bass cover of Daft Punk's "Get Lucky."

She certainly holds her own.

I need to get to bed, but here's another favorite from Marta:

I'm definitely a fan!

So glad I checked in on my old friend. Of course, I have no idea what he's really up to because as soon as I saw that video, this is all I've been doing for the past hour. Oh well. I hope he's well.

10 minutes later....

But wait! There's more! She's done a bass AND drum cover! What?!


Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching GodTheir Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was never assigned this in school, and never knew much about Zora Neale Hurston until a restaurant opened in Washington D.C. called Eatonville. I became curious about Ms. Hurston, and why the proprietor would name a restaurant after her home town. (They've got great food if you're ever in the area. There's a porch inside with rocking chairs, your napkins are tea towels, they serve lemonade in mason jars. After reading the book, I understand the decor and the feeling of the restaurant. Based on Ms. Hurston's descriptions of Eatonville in Their Eyes Were Watching God, I can see how the restaurant is a wonderful tribute to Ms. Hurston and her home.)

In any case, this isn't a food review...that was just an observation.

I did thoroughly enjoy this book. The language is so lyrical and the imagery so vivid. For example, this about a sunrise:

Janie dozed off to sleep but she woke up in time to see the sun sending up spies ahead of him to mark out the road through the dark. He peeped up over the door sill of the world and made a little foolishness with red. But pretty soon, he laid all that aside and went about his business dressed all in white.

I admit that reading through the dialogue's vernacular was a bit slow-going, so I decided to listen to the audio version. I'm so glad I made that decision. The audio version is read by actress Ruby Dee. She has such a rich voice, and changes her voice for each character. She's so dramatic and listening to the story, I could picture it in my mind as a play on stage. Ms. Dee makes you really feel Janie's joy and pain. It was just beautiful.

I really loved it.

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Fruitvale Station

I saw Fruitvale Station today and had this exchange on FB with a friend of mine:

If you don't know, the movie is about a young man, Oscar Grant, who was shot and killed by police in the Bay Area in 2009.  He was unarmed.  The story is devastating.  The movie is very well made and the acting great.  I've been a fan of Michael B. Jordan since he was on the TV version of Friday Night Lights, and he really showed his talents in this movie. 

A couple of anecdotes: First, when I walked into the theater this afternoon, I thought I was in the wrong place.  My pre-conceived notions figured the audience would be mostly black, but when I walked in, I saw mostly white people, and mostly senior citizens at that.  I re-checked my ticket and the sign on the door and saw I was in the right place.  A little later, a black couple came in.  I was sitting on the aisle, and when they got near me, they asked, "You're here to see Fruitvale, right?"  I told them yes, and smiled to myself.  I know they were thinking the same thing! 

Next, as I mentioned in the comments above, I had to sit through the credits to compose myself.  I was truly an emotional mess after this movie.  As I was getting ready to leave, some elderly ladies (who happened to be white) were also leaving from my row.  One was holding a walker, and I offered to help carry it down the stairs.  She said no thanks and that the walker actually belonged to her friend, who would be okay holding the handrail to get down the stairs.  Then, she looked me in the eye and said, "Wasn't that story terrible?  I can't stop crying."  I told her I couldn't either, and then she said, "My gosh...your people have been through so much.  I'm so sorry.  It's just awful."  I just smiled and told her I appreciated the sentiment.  It was all I could do not to burst into tears all over again.  She was so sweet and sincere and like I said, I was already a wreck.

I've been thinking about this whole experience all day.  I'm grateful that the audience wasn't all black.  This movie should be seen by all.  I'm glad this audience seemed to have open minds and showed up.  I realize I'm making generalizations about people, which could get me into trouble, but sometimes these are the thoughts that go through my head.

Anyway, here's a little more about the movie...an interview with Michael B. Jordan:


52 Weeks of Dishcloths - Cloth #2

I finished dishcloth #2 tonight, from Being Spiffy.  I used Sugar n' Cream in Lime Burst.  This pattern involved some new-to-me stitches that I had to look up on YouTube (you can find anything on YouTube) and I got it done.  I'm pleased with the result...the fabric is really thick and this will be great for scrubbing dishes.

On to #3!


Manless in Montclair (ugh) by Amy Holman Edelman

Manless in Montclair: Love, Loss, Excessive DatingManless in Montclair: Love, Loss, Excessive Dating by Amy Holman Edelman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Kindle version was cheap on Amazon, and it had decent reviews, so I ordered it. If I could, I'd give it 2 1/2 stars.

I'm really glad I had this on my Kindle because: 1) I hate the title of the book and, 2) would you look at that cover? Terrible! I'd be so embarrassed to be carrying that around in public.

Anyway, the story is about Isabel who is in her early forties when her husband Michael suddenly passes away. After Michael dies, Isabel tries to get back on her feet, and after a request from her daughter for a new daddy, she takes to the dating world.

I really enjoyed the first half of the book which includes flashbacks about how Isabel and Michael met and fell in love. I really liked both characters and their relationship.

It's the second half of the book, where Isabels starts dealing with online dating, speed dating, arranged dinner parties, blind dates, etc. that lost me. Isabel became annoying and she was trying too hard. It seemed like she barely grieved for her husband and then just had to have a man to complete her life. I didn't like that message, even though Isabel was searching for a man under the guise of providing for her kids.

Still, I do like the author's writing style and wit, and would probably give her another chance. I wouldn't recommend this one, though.

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52 Weeks of Dishcloths

I mentioned previously that I have taken up crocheting.  I really enjoy it.  The other day I was searching for patterns, and came across a blog, Being Spiffy, where the writer (Jill Swensen) decided to knit or crochet one dishcloth per week.  This intrigued me.  Dishcloths are quick and easy projects that are a great way to learn and practice different crochet & knit stitches.  Jill started her first project in March and is up to week 17, but I decided to start now, and start from the beginning.


Week One's pattern was created by Bubblegirl, and I used Sugar 'n Cream yarn in Butter Cream Ombre.  That was fun, and now I'm on to Week Two.  (I'm going to try to catch up to Being Spiffy's schedule, so will make more than one dishcloth per week, as time allows.  We'll see how it goes.)


Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos

Falling TogetherFalling Together by Marisa de los Santos

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'd really give this 3.5 if I could. The story is about three close friends who met in college, but then "split up" some time after they graduated. Before their 10-year college reunion, two of the friends receive an email from the third saying for them to come to the reunion because she needs them. In a nutshell, the book is basically about the quest for the friends to rediscover each other.

The writing is very descriptive and often beautiful, but sometimes there's just too much of the flowery language, which left me skimming and waiting for the point. That made some of the reading a little tedious, but I enjoyed the character development and relationships of the characters.

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Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

Let's Explore Diabetes with OwlsLet's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I listened to the audio version of the book, read by David Sedaris himself, which I think is the best way to experience David Sedaris.  I enjoyed the majority of the stories and often found myself laughing out loud.  I particularly enjoyed the essays that he read to a live audience.  The musical interludes between each essay reminded me of listening to All Things Considered on NPR.  I didn't care as much for the fictional essays toward the end, but some still made me laugh.

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My name in lights...

Well, not lights exactly, but I do have a blog post devoted to me, and that's kind of fun.

A couple years ago, I took up knitting.  I bought a kit with a DVD, and between that, YouTube videos, and books and patterns that I picked up, I figured it all out.  A few months ago, I tried to do the same thing with crochet, but it wasn't as easy for me.  I'm not sure if it had something to do with me being left-handed, but holding the yarn and crochet hook just felt awkward and I couldn't get it.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that a local yarn shop was holding a beginner's crochet class, and I signed up.  I figured it might help to see someone else crocheting and have them guide me in how to do it.

The class was a lot of fun, and I've been crocheting little things ever since.  One of the projects from class was Jackie the Cow, a pattern by Fresh Stitches.  Although we didn't have enough time in the class to get into the details of Jackie the Cow, I was determined to figure it out and finish the project.

When I did, I sent an email with a picture to the instructor, Jennifer Raymond, to let her know I'd completed it.  She, in turn, asked if she could feature it on her blog, and ta-da, here's the post about my Jackie the Cow.

As it turns out, Jackie turned out to be very photogenic.  When I look at her sitting on my side table right now though, I feel like she'd fit right in on the Island of Misfit Toys.

Still, for a first try, I'm pretty pleased. 


Looking for Alaska by John Green

Looking for AlaskaLooking for Alaska by John Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If only we could see the endless string of consequences that result from our smallest actions.

This was my second John Green book, and I'm a huge fan. The story is about Miles who leaves his home in Florida, full of hope, to attend boarding school in Alabama. At school he becomes friends with a cast of characters, including Alaska Young. I don't want to say too much more, but just like The Fault in Our Stars, this is a young adult book with some heavy themes. John Green handles them so eloquently and draws you right in. This one will be on my mind for a while.

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The Voice Finale (Spoilers....do I really need to say that?)

Thoughts about tonight's show:

The bit about Blake's training methods being just as good as Usher's was funny.  Catching the notes with chopsticks truly made me laugh out loud.

Nelly!  He pefformed "Cruise" with Florida Georgia Line.  I've had a crush on him ever since he stopped wearing the bandana and grillz.  So cute.  (I could do without his 3/4"-square earrings, though.)

LOVED the group performance with Judith Hill, Sasha Allen, Karina Iglesias and C├íthia, singing En Vogue's "You're Never Gonna Get It."  All of them are so great.  Judith should be in the top 3, but alas....   (Am I the only one who noticed all the girls of color were in this group, and the girls not of color sang earlier with Danielle?)  (These are things I notice...I can't help it.)


The Voice final performance night

Some random thoughts on tonight's final performance show:

The Swon Bros have a new fan tonight.  I appreciated that they did "I Can't Tell You Why" and a reprise of "Danny's Song."  It wasn't all country, all the time and I do think they're really talented and have the best personalities of the final contestants.

It was just a tiny bit creepy to see Blake singing the duet with Danielle about falling in love.  She's 16! Update:  On Hoda & Kathie Lee today (Tuesday) they said the interwebs were buzzing about this too.  I didn't see that, but I'm glad to know I wasn't alone.

I enjoyed the performance by the judges of "With a Little Help from My Friends" at the beginning of the show, but didn't understand Shakira's sexy dance toward the end.  That doesn't quite go with the lyrics.  Was she trying to channel Xtina?

Mr. Smooth, aka, Usher, turned out to be a great coach.  I love seeing the pride in his eyes when Michelle performs. I love how he even admitted that when he was fighting Adam to have Michelle on his team, he realized "cool" wasn't going to work, and he had to humble himself and let her know he was the right coach for her.  It worked!

Nice group performance with all the contestants from this season.

I decided not to vote tonight because I'm not passionate about any of the acts.  I am slightly pulling for Michelle though because it'd be nice to see Usher get a win under his belt.  I love Blake, but he's already won enough times.  But, like I said, I'm not passionate about it and won't mind whomever wins.  Until tomorrow...


Ooh, another book list!

The folks over at Book Riot have come up with another list of 100 books...I really like the theme of this one:  From Zero to Well Read in 100 Books.  The premise is:  say someone had never read any literature and wanted to be well-read. What should they read? And how many books would it take them to get close?

I like this list because I've read a lot more of the books on it than I have on lists about that tout The Greatest Literature. Ever

The author's assumptions in creating the list are:

1.  That the reader is an alive American who reads English.
2.  “Well-read” for this person then has a number of connotations: a familiarity with the monuments of Western literature, an at least passing interest in the high-points of world literature, a willingness to experience a breadth of genres, a special interest in the work of one’s immediate culture, a desire to share in the same reading experiences of many other readers, and an emphasis on the writing of the current day.

With that said, of the 100 books listed, I've read what's included below.  Using the code my friend Erika used on the earlier post about the "greatest books," books read in school (college or high school) are marked with an asterisk * and may or may not mean my understanding of said book is poor.  If I re-read that book on my own, it's marked with a +.  Books with no markings at all means I read it on my own.  I've only included books I read completely...there are many on the list that I started but never finished.  There are also many I won, but haven't gotten to.

(Note that the original list was presented in alphabetical order.)

1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain*
11. Beloved by Toni Morrison* (even with lots of discussion in class, this was still difficult...I should try again)
15. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
18. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer* (?? I'm not sure if we read the whole thing in school.)
21. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
22. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
27. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
29. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
30. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller*
35. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury*36. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (I'm SO happy this is on the list!)
42. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
45. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens*
46. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald*+ (I can't remember if I read this in school, but let's say I did.  I've read it a couple times since I've been out of school.)
49. Harry Potter & The Sorceror’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
51. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
52. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
58. The Iliad by Homer*
63. The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
64. The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
66. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
73. The Odyssey by Homer*
78. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
81. Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare*
82. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne*
83. Slaughterhouse-5 by Kurt Vonnegut
85. The Stand by Stephen King86. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway*
91. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
94. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
99. 1984 by George Orwell* (time to read this again, it seems)
100. 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James

This list leaves me feeling much better about myself than the list of the "greatest" novels.  I've read 32 of these, versus only 10 on the other list.  (11, really, because I've since read Jane Eyre.) There's a lot of discussion (and arguments) at Book Riot about 50 Shades being included, but it does meet the criteria of sharing a reading experience with many other readers.

Anyone else want to share?


Only the Truth by Pat Brown

Only the TruthOnly the Truth by Pat Brown

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'd really like to give this 3 1/2 stars. This is the story about Billy Ray, an illiterate man who leads a simple life with Big Dog. (His character reminded me a lot of Forrest Gump.) One day he comes across a young girl near the train tracks who asks to go home with him. They live together in happiness for a couple of years until an old man moves in across the street, and then trouble and mystery ensues.

It's a compelling read that kept me hooked to the end. However, I had a few issues with the ending. It was like an episode of Law & Order that wraps up nicely after an hour. There was also a big plot point that was mentioned repeatedly throughout the book, yet in the tidy ending, this one point was never resolved. That was a little frustrating.

All in all, it was an enjoyable, quick read. I'd still recommend it.

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Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked UsSalt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a really interesting history of the processed food industry. I've been reading it for a while and I think about it all the time when I'm at the grocery store or convenience stores. Basically, I was left feeling manipulated, not just by the food companies, but also by our government that's supposed to be safeguarding our health.

Here are just two quotes (of many) that stood out for me and pretty much summarize my thoughts on the whole thing:

The most crucial point to know is that there is nothing accidental in the grocery store. All of this is done with a purpose.

It is, perhaps, not unreasonable...to think of the grocery store as a battlefield, dotted with landmines itching to go off. ...[I]f you accept this, then it becomes all the more apparent why the food industry is so reliant on salt, sugar, and fat. They are cheap. They are interchangeable. They are huge, powerful forces of nature in unnatural food. And yet, for us, knowing all this can be empowering. You can walk through the grocery store and, while the brightly colored packaging and empty promises are still mesmerizing, you can see the products for what they are.


[The author] found that many of the executives I talked to go out of their way to avoid their own products. It got so that I couldn't resist asking everyone I spoke with about their eating habits: John Ruff from Kraft, who gave up sweet drinks and fatty snacks...; Bob Lin from Frito-Lay, who avoids potato chips, along with most everything that is heavily processed; Howard Moskowitz, the soft drink engineering whiz who declines to drink soda. Geoffrey Bible not only stopped smoking his company's cigarettes; when he oversaw Kraft, he works just as hard at avoiding anything that would send his cholesterol surging.

Before reading this book, I had already significantly decreased the amount of processed food I was eating, but this book has compelled me to work even harder at it. I definitely recommend everyone check this one out.

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The Voice - Go Sasha! Go Sasha!

Like many others, I was highly pissed last week when both Judith Hill & Sarah Simmons were kicked off The Voice.  In a conversation on my friend Kerri's FB page, I mentioned that I think voters figured those two were okay, and got complacent and didn't vote.  Heck, I didn't vote either.  Plus, there are SO many country artists this year and someone else pointed out that the country fans are voting in force.  No doubt.  I also mentioned that even though I'm not a country fan, I do like all of Blake's team--they're very talented.


After watching tonight's show, I'm completely over the country thing.  I voted in force for Sasha, who worked it out on both of her songs...she did Aretha's "Ain't No Way" and a rocked-out version of Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats."  (Smart move on Shakira's part to choose ANOTHER country song to show Sasha can hang with the rest of them.  But, Sasha truly made that song her own.  I watched the performance five times!)  I also voted for Michelle on Usher's team tonight.  I want her and Sasha to be there at the end.  If it's an all-country finale, I probably won't watch.  So, I tried to do my part so that doesn't happen.

We shall see.


What can I say? My memory sucks.

I recently came across a little journal I used in the past to keep track of books I read.  This was before I discovered Goodreads.  As I flipped through it, I realized that my note taking was terrible.  I don't remember reading many of the books, and even when I do remember the book, I can't exactly remember what it was about.

For example, in June 2005, I apparently read a book called The Lady & the Unicorn.  It was recommended by a friend of mine, and I have absolutely no recollection of it at all.  Look, I didn't even write down the author's name. 
Read June 30, 2005.  My thoughts:  Recommended by Laura.  I enjoyed it but don't think I'll read any others by this author (i.e., Girl with a Pearl Earring).  It was interesting to read how the weaving was done in the 15th century and about the class and social ways of the time.



When Boyz n the Hood came out in (gulp) 1991, I had a lot of friends who were all gaga over Morris Chestnut.  I was like, eh.  He's a'ight.  I wasn't too impressed.

But now?  22 years later, he joins the cast of Nurse Jackie and I'm like, ooo la la!


Another comment on HIMYM

I'm sitting here watching another not-that-funny episode of How I Met Your Mother.  The only reason I'm commenting on it again is because Ralph Macchio is a guest star.  According to IMDb, The Karate Kid was born in 1961.  He's FIFTY-TWO years old!  Jason Siegel is 33.  Josh Radnor is 39.  Neil Patrick Harris is 40.  Ralph Macchio looks their age.  Seriously...he looks about 40 years old.  How is that possible?! 

For what it's worth, tonight's show had a pretty decent ending.  (I won't spoil it.)


Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor and ParkEleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. Just wow. I don't even know where to start. It's too easy to say this story is about two misfits who find each other and fall in love, because it's so much more than that. The story takes place in 1986 and Rainbow Rowell completely me took me back to that time, and those days that I was in high school in 1986 and had my first love. The story is sweet, charming, even heartbreaking...but so wonderful.  I definitely recommend this one.

Side note:  The story takes place in Omaha, Nebraska, which is where my whole family is from.  My sister & I never lived there, but we visit each summer to see everyone.  I had to laugh when Park took Eleanor to the Old Market.  Ms. Rowell writes: [Eleanor had] never been to the Old Market, which was practically the only place to go in Omaha.

So true!  Every year, my sister and I try to hit the Old Market as often as possible, and we always say that if we were to live in Omaha, that's where we'd have to live. 

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The Voice should have just stopped here.

First, I'm several episodes behind on The Voice and just saw this battle from April 15:


The show could end here with these two as co-winners. Wow. Best battle I've seen on this show. Fantastic!


The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter

The Financial Lives of the PoetsThe Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Aw man. Beautiful Ruins was the first Jess Walter book I read, and it was one of my favorite books of 2012. I really looked forward to reading another of his books, but was ultimately let down with The Financial Lives of the Poets. I give it 2.5 stars.

I still think Jess Walter is a great writer, but the main character in this story, Matt Prior, is an idiot who makes horrible decision after horrible decision. Horrible isn't even the right word...more like preposterous. The one thing I could never get with is that after losing his job as a newspaper reporter, he decides to start a website to dole out financial advice in poetic prose. See? Preposterous! That decision, plus the excessive spending habits of his wife, lead to the website failing and he and his wife falling into financial ruin. His life just gets worse from there based on more stupid decisions. It'd be one thing if Matt had any redeeming qualities, but he doesn't, so I found that I wasn't even rooting for him.

I'll give Mr. Walter another chance. I've seen some good reviews for some of his other books that will hopefully be more appealing.

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Divine Misfortune by A. Lee Martinez

Divine MisfortuneDivine Misfortune by A. Lee Martinez

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A friend showed this book to me while we were browsing at the bookstore and when I read this small excerpt from the inside cover, I knew I was going to buy it:

"Maybe you should get a god"
"We have one."
"Oh really?" Janet raised an eyebrow. "Is he hot? Or is he even a he? Did you go the goddess route?"
"No, he's a he."
"Cool. So is he hot?"
"He's a raccoon."
"Like with the striped tail and the cute little paws?"
Teri nodded.
"Very retro."

A young couple, Phil & Teri, who are a little down on their luck, decide to find a god to help bring a little prosperity to their lives. They find Luka, aka Lucky, on an online deity matching site. They don't need to sacrifice any animals for him...all he asks is for a small cut of their fortune and that he stay at their house. My favorite character was a friend of Lucky's: Quetzalcoatl, who was nicknamed Quick.

This book reminded me a lot of Neil Gaiman's American Gods but it's not as dark, (though there are dark moments) and it's a fun and quick read. American Gods took a little more concentration.

This one kept me smiling throughout.

My version of the book also included an excerpt from another of A. Lee Martinez's books, Chasing the Moon. I'm hooked, and will be reading that one too at some point. Mr. Martinez has a new fan.

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The Crooked Branch by Jeanine Cummins

The Crooked BranchThe Crooked Branch by Jeanine Cummins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Crooked Branch is the story of two mothers: one is Majella, a new mother in current-day New York, who is finding motherhood much more difficult than she expected. The other is Ginny, a mother living in Ireland during the potato famine in the 1840s who is doing all she can to help her family survive.

Jeanine Cummins, once again, shows off her fine skills for storytelling. Her descriptive words have a way of transporting the reader so they are there. During the famine scenes, I felt like I could actually smell the rot. I cared for both struggling mothers in this story that is ultimately about a mother's love.

Here's a great interview that Jeanine did on NPR about her book. Without spoiling the book, you'll get a good idea of what she was thinking as she wrote the stories of Majella and Ginny. I think it's interesting to hear where the stories came from. (Note:  there's some language in the interview that might not be safe for work.)

Jeanine's previous book, The Outside Boy, completely stole my heart (my review).  While I truly enjoyed The Crooked Branch, it'd be difficult for a book to affect me like The Outside Boy did.  I do think the new book will resonate strongly with mothers, especially new moms.  I don't have kids, so I couldn't go all the way "there," but I've heard stories from friends about postpartum depression and can only imagine how your life would change after bringing a baby into the world.  Jeanine does a great job describing those feelings and experiences.

Also, full disclosure, Jeanine is a friend of mine. I'm happy to recommend her work because it's damn good. (Wouldn't it be awkward if I didn't like her stuff? I would just stay silent about it if that were the case...)


*Gulp* That was 30 years ago?!

Thirty years ago today, this happened:

And, as my friend posted on Facebook, the game changed.

I was talking with my mom about this--she asked what grade I was in when the show aired. I was in 8th grade. And then we realized my mom was 41 at the time. And guess what? Now I'M 42! When did that happen???

I wish that Barry Gordy and the powers that be at Motown would put Motown 25 on DVD and re-release it. Right now, you can buy it on VHS for anywhere from $40 to $117 according to Amazon.com. Motown could release it on DVD for their 55th anniversary...they would make a killing, I'm sure. It was SUCH a great show.


There's just something about that song

After all the news over the summer about the shenanigans being pulled by Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj during the American Idol tryouts, I decided once and for all that I would not watch this season of AI.  (I was already leaning that way when they announced Mariah was a judge.  The girl can sannng, but man, she no personality.)

Anyway, my sister and my friend Amy are still watching and are trying to convince me to join in.  I told them that if there is anyone really, really, really good on the show when they get to the Top 10 to let me know and maybe I'd tune in.

This week, my sister posted the following in our Facebook conversation:  

Watching last night's show now. They had a sing-off between 2 contestants who didn't make it into the top 10. Whoever wins the sing-off gets to join the tour. Aubrey should so make it! I wish she had made the top 10. She's awesome! And so beautiful!

So, I watched it, and here's how I responded:  

She was a'ight. Actually, I'm surprised we don't hear this song more on AI...it's a good song to show your range. I just can't compare Aubrey's version to Irene Cara though. Anytime I hear Irene Cara's version, my eyes get teary when she sings, "When I'm down and FEEEEEEELINNNGGG blue..."

Every time. (I just tested it.) Aubrey didn't make me cry.

(Deb's right though...she is beautiful.)

Now here's Irene Cara (tears come around 1:10 and 2:06):

I was only 10 when Fame came out, so I didn't see it in the movie theater (it was rated R), but I had the soundtrack, and even when I was young, "Out Here on My Own" made me cry. Why is that? There's something in Irene's tone, I think, that just gets me right....there.

(I'm definitely going to be watching Fame again this weekend.)

Meanwhile, the following conversation also took place in our FB conversation about American Idol:

AMY (in reference to Nicki Minaj showing up late to a live show): As far as Nicki is concerned..it was unprofessional of her. Did you notice how Ryan made jokes at the beginning, but after she slipped in, nothing else was said about it? I wonder why. I actually like to hear what Nicki says about the singers but sometimes she can be really inappropriate. I want to have your baby, you woke up my sexual appetite ?? a little too crazy for me. And children are watching this show. I think she should tone it down.

AMY: Oh Debbie-I don't know what you've seen yet so I won't be specific, but did you see when Nicki got up and almost walked out? Seriously?!

DEB: haha! i have not seen that part yet. but agree, she's acting like a total diva. and also agree that some of the things she says is inappropriate. i also hate when she praises a couple of folks for losing weight - what kind of message is that for kids? i did notice that she didn't like a joke ryan made which i think referred to her lateness. and there was another part when they were teasing mariah about not standing up and she was saying it was too hard in her dress and laughing it up. nicki DID NOT like that attention on mariah and totally did the "i'm going to do an extreme straight face to show you all that i'm completely ignoring this woman." then there was another part i think before nicki got there and they made a joke about nicki, and mariah did a funny face like "i couldn't care less." you can tell they don't like each other but i still can't figure out who has the right to be annoyed with whom. i guess at the end of the day they are both immature divas.

ME: umm....you're not exactly making a great case for me to watch the show with these stories of nicki & mariah. ugh.


Why, oh why, do I still watch Glee?!

This was on this week's episode.  Jane Lynch doing Nicki Minaj.

One word:  Disturbing


Bruno and the Bob Marley tribute

The Grammys were on several weeks ago and I'm still watching and re-watching the tribute they did for Bob Marley.  It featured Bruno Mars (and his beautiful band...how can everyone in a big band be so good looking?), Sting, Rhianna, Ziggy Marley & Damian Marley.  This was my favorite part of the show and I haven't tired of it yet.  I must've watched it 50 times by now.
After this performance, I downloaded Bruno Mars' album, "Unorthodox Jukebox." I love it. With one little caveat. There are two songs on the CD marked as "explicit." The first one is a song called "Gorilla," which is about wild sex...doing it like gorillas, etc. The lyrics are crazy...he mentions being high on cocaine and at one point, his girl tells him "give it to me mother f***er!" My ears! My ears! It shocks me every time I hear it! Bruno reminds me of Prince on the song (the song actually reminds me of "Beautiful Ones"). I just didn't see why those lyrics were necessary, though. The next "explicit" song is called "Treasure"--I ADORE this song. He reminds me of Michael Jackson on this one...it has a "Rock with You" feel to it, and its lyrics are really not explicit at all. But, there's this tiny intro where a computer voice says, "Baby Squirrel, you's a sexy mother f***er." What's the point of that, except it does bring to mind Prince's "Sexy M.F."? Anyway, after listening to the album non-stop for two weeks, I finally decided to download the clean versions of those two songs so that I can play the whole CD while I'm at work or in the company of my parents, for example. "Treasure" is fine without the explicit intro, but I find that "Gorilla" is just missing something without the raw nastiness of the lyrics! And now I miss them! (This revelation is kind of a relief because I was feeling like a prude before.) I'll just have to remember to play the clean version when other people might be listening. And now, for your viewing (and dancing) pleasure, here's "Treasure." Check out that good-looking band again. Especially Mr. Trombone Man!


The Book of JoeThe Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A friend of mine recommended Jonathan Tropper to me. It wasn't until after I bought "The Book of Joe" that I realized she only rated this particular one with two stars. She didn't feel it lived up to his other work. Since I didn't have anything else to compare it to, I liked this book.

It's the story of Joe, who left his home town and became a famous author after writing a scathing fictional account of his childhood and teen years that pissed off the whole town. He then has to face everyone 17 years after he left town, after his father suffers a stroke. The story is pretty predictable, but I enjoyed it and enjoyed the writing. I look forward to reading more from Jonathan Tropper.

The ONE thing that really bothered me is that there were excerpts from Joe's "book" throughout the book, and although Joe's book was published as fiction, it seems that he used the townspeople's real names and then exaggerated their worst flaws. OF COURSE they were pissed off!

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It's Oscar time!

Since I've seen all the nominees for Best Movie and most of the nominees for the other major categories, I've decided to make some predictions (and wishes) for tonight.

Here's the key:
bold text - I saw the movie
S - what I think *should* win
W - what I think *will* win
I'll come back later and indicate what *did* win in green italic text.



"Life of Pi"
"Django Unchained"
"Zero Dark Thirty"
"Beasts of the Southern Wild"
"Argo" W S
"Les Miserables"
"Silver Linings Playbook"

I was talking with my sister about this.  Although I was completely mesmerized by Lincoln, and Daniel Day-Lewis' performance, Argo is the movie I enjoyed the most this year followed by Django Unchained, Silver Linings Playbook, and Beasts of the Southern WildLincoln's in the middle of the pack.  The least enjoyable was Life of Pi.  The CGI throughout was too distracting to me.  They shouldn't have made the movie and just let the book stand on its own.

Update:  Woo hoo!!!!!  I feel so proud of Ben Affleck.  Very well-deserved!!  He gave a great speech.  Aww...I'm all verklempt.


Michael Haneke, "Amour"
Benh Zeitlin, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Ang Lee, "Life of Pi"
Steven Spielberg, "Lincoln"  W S
David O. Russell, "Silver Linings Playbook"

Well, since Ben Affleck wasn't nominated, I think Spielberg will get it.  If Ben was here, it'd be his.

Update:  Meh.  Mr. Lee gave a gracious speech.  The orchestra definitely let him go longer than anyone else.  No Jaws music for Ang Lee. 


Jessica Chastain, "Zero Dark Thirty"
Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Emmanuelle Riva, "Amour" W
Quvenzhane Wallis, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Naomi Watts, "The Impossible" S

This is a tough category.  My favorite nominee is little Quvenzhane Wallis, who was only 6 when she filmed this role.  She is the youngest person ever nominated and Emmanuelle Riva at 86 is the oldest person ever nominated.  I think that's pretty cool.  I think each of these performances deserve to be nominated, but I really think Naomi Watts should win based on the sheer physicality and emotions she displayed.  She was fantastic.  Meanwhile, Emmanuelle Riva, as I said, is the oldest to be nominated, and her performance and role was devastating.  I'd be happy if she won too.

Update:  Oh no....Jennifer Lawrence fell going up the stairs.  Where were the ushers to help her?!  Good for her on winning the award.  This is the only category I got completely wrong, where neither my "will win" or "should win" won.  That's pretty good, I'd say.


Daniel Day-Lewis, "Lincoln" W S
Bradley Cooper, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Hugh Jackman, "Les Miserables"

Joaquin Phoenix, "The Master"
Denzel Washington, "Flight"

I don't think there's any question that Daniel Day-Lewis will (and should) win this one.  His transformation into Lincoln was incredible.  The Master comes out on DVD on Tuesday, so I'll have to catch that one soon.


Jacki Weaver, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Amy Adams, "The Master"
Sally Field, "Lincoln"
Anne Hathaway, "Les Miserables"  W
Helen Hunt, "The Sessions"  S

This one pains me.  I LOVE the Broadway version of Les Miserables, and have seen it several times, so I think I went in to the movie with high expectations, and they were dashed.  I thought Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe and Amanda Seyfried sang WAY out of their range, and it was grating after a while.  I thought Anne completely overacted her small role, and the more I see her now doing her acceptance speeches and interviews, the less I like her.  She's trying to be humble, but comes off completely fake.  I'd hate to see her win another award for this role, but I think the writing is on the wall that she will.  Meanwhile, I watched The Sessions last night, and Helen Hunt was great as a sex surrogate hired by a quadriplegic man who spends much of his time in an iron lung.  It was a quiet, sweet performance and she was great.  (The only issue was her on-again/off-again Boston accent.)


Alan Arkin, "Argo"
Robert DeNiro, "Silver Linings Playbook"

Philip Seymour Hoffman, "The Master"
Tommy Lee Jones, "Lincoln"
Christoph Waltz, "Django Unchained" W S

Entertainment Weekly thinks Robert DeNiro will get this.  Knowing Oscar voters and how they often give awards to make up for omissions in the past, EW may be right; however, I think his role in Silver Linings Playbook although good, was not Oscar worthy.  Christoph Waltz is an amazing actor and deserves this win.  I love the twinkle in his eye, even as he's about to kill somebody.  He has a way of being playful and menacing at the same time.  I love that. 

Update:  I knew EW had that one wrong.


Mark Boal, "Zero Dark Thirty"
Quentin Tarantino, "Django Unchained" W S
Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola, "Moonrise Kingdom"
Michael Haneke, "Amour"
John Gatins, "Flight"

Another tough category.  I think Django Unchained, Moonrise Kingdom, and Amour are equally deserving of this award.  They're all so different so it's hard to compare them.  I think Quentin Tarantino has momentum on his side.



Tony Kushner, "Lincoln"
David O. Russell, "Silver Linings Playbook" W
Chris Terrio, "Argo" S
David Magee, "Life of Pi"
Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"

It's hard for me to judge this category since Life of Pi is the only book I read.  I can say that Life of Pi should not win.  I'd like to see Argo win, but think the Oscar voters might give it to Silver Linings Playbook.


"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"
"Les Miserables"

Not making a prediction here, just wondering why Lincoln wasn't nominated??

That's it.  We'll see what happens tonight!

UPDATE:  Final show wrap up:
1.  Halle Berry looked spectacular!
2.  Jennifer Hudson tore it up with "And I Am Telling You..."
3.  I was hoping the Les Miserables cast would lip sync, but no such luck.  I went to watch this video to wipe the movie cast's version from my mind:

4.  Seth McFarlane was....okay.  The bit at the beginning with Captain Kirk went on WAY too long.
5.  Yay Adele!
6.  Using the theme from Jaws to play people off the stage was awesome.
7.  The final song to the losers was okay.  I just have to wonder--how did they write that...were they just taking bets on who would win?  Were there several versions of the song?
7.  Ultimately, it was a pretty dull show, but that's nothing new.  Still, I'm so happy about Argo winning best picture.  Adele sang.  Jennifer knocked it out.  I still like Seth McFarlane, but not necessarily as an Oscar host.  All hosting gigs should be given, here on out, to Billy Crystal or Neil Patrick Harris.


Black History of the White House by Clarence Lusane

The Black History of the White HouseThe Black History of the White House by Clarence Lusane

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had the pleasure of hearing Clarence Lusane speak about his book at a work seminar last year.  

As the author writes, this book features "the stories of real people who have challenged the racist dimensions of U. S. power and privilege that convey the history and experience of African Americans and their shifting relationship to the White House.  For too many years, their experiences have been ignored, their voices silenced, their history absent from the public classroom."

Mr. Lusane does an excellent job of bringing these stories to light.  A different story serves as a prelude to each chapter.  My favorite story was about Oney Judge, a slave owned by George Washington, who escaped from right under his nose.  These were fascinating anecdotes that I'd never heard before.

However, the book, at times, is a bit tedious to read.  I'm afraid the author tried to put too much into it.  It's not well organized and the timeline is all over the place.  I often found it difficult to keep track of what place in history I was reading about. 

My other main gripe is that Mr. Lusane often inserts his judgment and opinion into the narrative rather than just presenting the facts.  I didn't mind this when I saw him speak because his comments served more as an aside and helped personalize his talk, but in the book, it seemed out of place.  For example, when discussing the McCain/Palin presidential campaign, he wrote that McCain selected "ill-prepared, ignorant, and vapid Alaska governor, Sarah Palin." Whether or not you agree with that statement, it doesn't belong in a history book.  It shows the author's bias and cheapens his credibility a bit.   

Still, I definitely recommend that everyone pick up this book and at least read each chapter prelude.  I think these are important stories that everyone needs to hear. 

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Good news, bad news

The good news is that How I Met Your Mother is finally going to end.  The bad news is that it's not until next season.  I've been ready for this story to end for a while, and I'm not sure I can watch another full season waiting for the mother to be revealed.  It's gotten to be too much.

I've loved the show (with the exception of this season), mainly because of these two:

Love that, and will always love Neil Patrick Harris and Jason Segel no matter what happens to HIMYM.