Thursday, December 18, 2008

Iguana vs. Iguana

Don't ever plan to visit the Galápagos islands if you're not a fan of creepy-crawly creatures.

Lizards and iguanas are everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. In a future post I'll include some pictures that illustrate that point, but for now I thought I'd explain the two types of iguanas that we saw over the course of our trip, both of which can only be found in the Galápagos: the land iguana and the marine iguana.

You could always tell where a land iguana might be hiding out; his trail in the sand would betray him.

Yep, there he was, cooling down under a bush.

One of his brothers chose to soak up rays on the beach instead.

Aren't they fascinating? Look at that little smirk, I love it. The prehistoric vibe was in the air -- it was kind of eerie. I'm pretty sure all of the iguanas were thinking, "Yeah, keep taking your pictures, morons... Our kind will be here long after you suckers are gone."

Then there were the marine iguanas, who were extremely interesting to observe because they're the only type of iguana in the world that can both live and eat out in the sea. When they swim, they move their long tails side to side in the water -- they don't use their legs to paddle or anything, so the end result is a very unique type of motion that is hard to describe. They glide along with their heads peeking out above the surface, swaying back and forth. I got a kick out of watching them.

From island to island the marine iguanas looked slightly different (hello, evolution!), but my favorites were what our guides called the "Christmas iguanas." The origin of their nickname is obvious from the shots below.

I thought this picture was funny because it shows how big the marine iguana is compared to the little lava lizards that run all over the place (they're another species that is endemic to the islands). The iguana is like, "Watch out, fool!"

These guys spend most of their days lying in the sun, slowing crawling around the beaches, spitting at each other and fighting. I was lucky enough to catch two males in a showdown on Española island (fifty-three second video below -- none of the voices in it are mine). The head-bobbing move never ceased to crack me up. That's supposed to be threatening?

I saw a lot of iguanas with blood on their heads; fights are pretty common. What else are they going to do? They bite each other and don't let go for a long time -- they are straight-up gangsta! Perhaps that's why many of them were heading down the trail to our zodiac drop-off... they hoped to stow away on our ship and get a break from all of the violence.

Sorry, guys -- humans only.

- e

Monday, December 15, 2008

Welcome to the Galapagos

A few moments ago, I returned from taking my dog on his daily walk, and then proceeded to strip off a fleece hat/face mask, earmuffs, a knee-length down coat, a windproof hooded jacket underneath the down coat, gloves, and the hard-core snow boots I wore in Antarctica. It is a mere ten degrees outside. Needless to say, my trip to the Galápagos already feels like a distant memory.

But it was actually only about 2.5 weeks ago that we touched down in Baltra, took zodiacs out to our ship, the National Geographic Polaris, and made an afternoon landing at North Seymour island. Like typical tourists, we took ten million pictures of sea lions, lizards, iguanas and unique birds... only to see countless more of them over the next seven days. So rest assured that I will post more shots in the future -- especially of the infamous Blue-footed Boobies and other strange creatures that can only be found on the storied archipelago. For now, however, here's a twelve-second video of our first moments in the Land of Darwin.

How's that for a welcome?

The thing about the Galápagos is that it's one of the only places left on the planet where wildlife has no fear of humans. So don't worry, we weren't doing anything to that sea lion to provoke its ire, she and her kind just tend to waddle around honking every once in a while. No one is allowed to touch any of the animals, and generally you're advised to stay several feet away from them -- but if they come up to you then you're just supposed to remain still and most likely they will carry on about their business eventually. No When Sea Lions Attack! here. Also, on each island there are clearly marked paths and naturalists to guide everyone so that the effects of tourism are kept to a minimum (more on that in another post).

For now, I'll leave you with a few shots of the peculiar Magnificent Frigatebird. Here's one who isn't trying to catch a girlfriend...

And here's one who is.

The ol' red balloon trick... works every time for these guys. (A better shot is here on Wikipedia.)

More on the Frigates soon, too. For now I need to work on getting the circulation back to my extremities. And I need to keep reminding myself that while it is kind of depressing to be surrounded by ice and snow once again... it might be better than constantly walking through, um, well... you get the idea.

- e

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Joys of Traveling

When I graduated from college back in the day, I was so looking forward to living the glamorous lifestyle of a consultant. How cool was it going to be to jet off every week, earn a ton of frequent flier miles, have all of my meals paid for and live in nice hotels?

Let's just say that I was more than a little naïve. After sixteen weeks straight of being stuck for hours in the airport during the dead of winter (my top score on "Area 51" in the airport's video arcade lives on...), I finally learned that constantly being on the road wasn't all that I had dreamed it would be. Especially when you live in Chicago and your client is in Minneapolis -- two cities not exactly known for good weather. I might have felt differently had I landed a spot on the Hawaii-based team (as did one of my extremely lucky friends), but alas, that was not my fate.

Now that I haven't had to travel for work for quite some time, I had forgotten about all of the fun that comes with attempting to fly anywhere in the colder months. But I was smacked in the face with those memories when returning from my vacation to the Galápagos this past weekend.

Here's a summary of what happened:
1) On Saturday morning, we waited around for a few hours for our flight from the island of Baltra to Guayaquil, Ecuador. We were told that things ran on "Galápagos Time" and that no one ever really knew when our plane would arrive. But we were fresh off of a fabulous week of communing with sea lions, turtles, iguanas and a ton of other cool animals and birds, so no one was too upset by that. We eventually made it to Guayaquil and had a wonderful time exploring the city that evening, so our spirits were still high.

2) On Sunday afternoon we flew from Guayaquil to Miami. Shortly after going through the customs and immigration checkpoints, my husband continued on to Chicago, whereas I had a few more hours in the Miami airport until my flight to Detroit (had to retrieve my doggy from my parents!) departed. I found a chair in the food court near an electrical outlet, paid $7.95 for Internet access and braced myself for the influx of emails that had accumulated since November 28th.

3) The time whizzed by and I realized that I had to better get myself in the absolutely ridiculous line to go through security. I checked the Departure Board to see which gate I'd be leaving from... and saw the Dreaded Word in Red next to my flight number: "Canceled." There were no other flights to Detroit departing that night. Various obscenities flew from my mouth and even more followed when I realized that since my cell phone charger had been fried due to my misuse of the plug adapter I had purchased and used while on our ship, I was essentially without a cell phone (there was hardly any battery power left by the time I realized my crappy Nokia wasn't charging).

4) After talking to four American Airlines employees who all directed me to different lines, I finally found my way to a rebooking agent who told me that I had already been put on a flight out of Miami in the early morning... that went to DALLAS... and then got into Detroit at 7 PM. Since connections are usually the bane of my existence when traveling, I asked if there was any way that I could just go to Chicago instead. Unbelievably, the agent complied and I was put on a direct flight to Chicago, departing at 2:30 the next afternoon. I was given a voucher for the Wyndham Miami and a total of $25 in food vouchers to use between now (7:45 PM Sunday night) and then (when my flight left on Monday). Rest assured that I used them.

5) An extremely nice American Airlines employee who was working one of the check-in lines let me use his iPhone to call my parents and tell them that they would not need to pick me up from the Detroit airport at midnight that night. They decided that they would drive my dog to Chicago the next day, and hopefully we'd all arrive in the Windy City around the same time. I then spent $20 on toiletries at the airport drug store (no vouchers for that!) and waited for the shuttle bus to the Wyndham.

6) I spent the first half of Monday camped out in a restaurant in the Wyndham which had free Internet access and a gorgeous view of a sunny golf course and swaying palm trees. There are certainly worse places to be stranded than Miami! Though it was really bizarre to hear "Frosty the Snowman" and "Let it Snow" over the restaurant's sound system when looking at such a tropical scene.

7) Finally I headed to the airport, made it through security and to my gate, where I randomly saw the actor Josh Brolin. Yes, "Brand" from one of my favorite movies, The Goonies, and current winner of all sorts of awards for his performance in Milk. But I didn't say anything to him, and eventually a woman came out of the restroom and he walked off with her. I couldn't tell if it was his wife, actress Diane Lane, or not... she was wearing a big floppy straw hat that covered most of her face.

8) After the excitement of an unexpected celebrity sighting, there came more excitement -- of a very different kind. The gate agent announced that our plane was essentially "broken," and they needed to find another one for us. I'll spare you the details of the chaos that erupted once that information made the rounds in the waiting area, but needless to say, we were delayed 2.5 hours until a substitute aircraft was located and we trudged to the new gate that was a full twenty-minute walk from where we were originally supposed to board.

9) Any seasoned traveler reading this can already guess what happened next. Since our flight was so delayed, when it finally touched down in Chicago they couldn't find a place for us to disembark -- all gates were full. I felt horrible for the dozens of passengers who had literally minutes to make connections to not only U.S. cities but also international locales. We waited a full forty-five minutes for a gate assignment, and everyone missed their connections. To say that there were a lot of tears, red faces and looks of exhaustion would be an understatement. One little girl sitting behind me summed it up perfectly: "WE'VE BEEN ON THIS PLANE FOR HOURS!!!!!"

10) I finally stepped through my doorway at 9 PM Monday night and had a nice reunion with my dog, parents and husband.

The next morning, an email from American Airlines showed up in my inbox. It was from a Customer Relations representative, who informed me that they added 3,000 bonus miles to my AAdvantage account to "restore my confidence" in the airline.

What do you think? Was 3,000 miles enough?

All I know is that I'm happy I'm not flying anywhere over the Christmas holiday.

Uh oh... did I just jinx our rental car for our drive to Michigan?

- e

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I'm Getting the Shakes Already...

It's time for my next trip -- I'm heading out at 3 AM tomorrow morning (ugh) and will be back to my normal posting schedule on December 10th. If I don't have a nervous breakdown by then, that is.

I realized that this will be the first time I've been utterly and completely offline for more than three days straight (as in, with no Internet access whatsoever) since mid-2004. Four and a half years?!?! Did you know that my nickname "e" is a shortened version of what my co-workers used to call me -- egrrl? And that they called me that because I am ALWAYS online?

Therefore, I'm positive that I'll start suffering Internet withdrawal symptoms sooner rather than later over the course of my trip. It's going to be ugly. But I know I'm in desperate need of a break from the dear old web and that this experience will be good for me. At least I'll keep telling myself that.

OK, I must finish packing... I hope all of you in the U.S. had a happy Thanksgiving... check back in 1.5 weeks to see how I fared!

(Oh, and lest you think I'm cheating... my posts that will continue to go up daily on redblog were all written in advance!)

- e

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Curse You, Calculating Media Manipulators!

I've never been shy about my disdain for the publicity-hungry Simpson family. Or my lack of excitement over the fact that younger sister Ashlee started dating Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz, got pregnant, and then got married. Now my fears for their child have been confirmed: in their first act as parents, they named their son Bronx Mowgli.

I don't actually have anything against the name Bronx -- I'm more upset by the reasoning that I'm positive went into their choice of baby names. I'm annoyed that:
1) They most likely thought it would be very "Brangelina" of them to have a son whose name ends with the letter 'x.'
2) They also probably figured that they could kill two birds with one stone and blatantly imitate the Beckhams as well, who named their oldest boy Brooklyn. I can just picture Ashlee and Pete's brainstorming session: "I don't know, I think Queens or Staten Island might seem too out-there..."
3) A source told UsWeekly that the couple has never even been to the Bronx.
4) Wentz commented that he thought the name would be appropriate for "either a rock star or a senator."

God help us all if a Simpson offspring ends up having any part in running this country!

OK, enough about Bronx, because it's the baby's middle name -- Mowgli -- that absolutely kills me. My fond memories of the Disney classic The Jungle Book are forever ruined! I can never again sing along to "The Bare Necessities" or "I Wanna Be Like You" without thinking of creepy Grandpa Joe. Why, God, whhhhyyyyyy?

To make matters worse, a few days after the Simpson/Wentz baby made his debut, I sorted through my mail pile and saw Heidi, Spencer and news of their elopement (Is that a word? No? I don't care, I'm too angry to think straight!) staring back at me. If these two procreate, I am moving to the other side of the globe. Please, please hold me to it.

For now, however, I'm trying to calm down about the Speidi marriage news because it dawned on me that it might just be a publicity stunt (since everything else they do is). Remember when Whitney Houston was accused of smoking crack and she demanded that somebody prove it with "the receipts?" That drama came back to me last night because I realized that so far, there's actually been no proof that these two idiots from The Hills actually tied the knot. No one was there to witness it... yet they magically had a ton of pictures from their ceremony preparation in UsWeekly... before Heidi even told her own mother the news? Something fishy's going on.

And so, in order for me to believe that this union is for real (not that I should even care), I'm following Whitney's lead and demanding the couple to "show me the receipts!"

- e

Monday, November 24, 2008

They Got Me.

As the holiday season prepares to smack us all upside the head with its presence (OK, so some retailers have had decorations up since Halloween, I just refuse to acknowledge them), the entertainment industry is doing anything and everything it can to vie for your attention, not to mention your hard-earned cash.

Don't forget to buy our soundtrack!
Don't forget to watch our show!
Don't forget to pre-order your ticket!
Don't forget to read this book!
Don't forget to check out our new album!

I surrender! I'm going to more movies, watching more TV and buying more stuff off of iTunes and Amazon than ever before -- bad economy be damned!

Here are my thoughts on just a few of the marketing blitzes I fell for:

- Coldplay: Viva La Vida - Prospekt's March edition

First off, I'm sure some people out there are going to rip me apart for not knowing this, but I've searched diligently online and cannot figure out what "Prospekt's March" even means, and it's bugging the bejeezus out of me. Do any of you know?

Regardless, that's the name of Coldplay's album (released today) that is basically just their old album with a few more tracks -- some of which are remixes of existing songs. I hate when bands do stuff like this. It's just like when DVDs come out in ten million different versions -- each with approximately two minutes of new material -- just enough to trick die-hard fans into buying the same movie they already own once more. How many box sets of the Lord of the Rings trilogy or the Star Wars saga does one really need? The answer: not as many as one wants!

- 24: Redemption

Yeah, I watched this crap last night (stop reading if you have it on Tivo and haven't gotten to it yet - I will be spoiling away...). Ten minutes into it, my husband said, "That's it, I'm done, this sucks," and left the room. But I, ever the Jack Bauer groupie, stuck it out for the entire two hours.

All this "TV movie" was was a blatant attempt by FOX to rake in advertising revenue and ensure that we haven't forgotten about their show that hasn't been on for over a year. Guess what? I would've tuned in for 24 in January regardless; now I'm just bitter about the show for two months before the season even begins. Around the same time my husband threw his hands up in disgust, I had already figured out the entire plot: Jack's going to give himself up to ensure the safety of the African orphans and that's how he'll return to the U.S. to start kicking ass alongside CTU, or whatever the hell it's going to be called, in Season Seven.

I'm going to pretend that I actually didn't see the previews for the new season, however, because I fear that the show has finally jumped the shark and I just can't bear to believe it. When people start coming back to life, that's a bad, bad sign.

- Twilight: The Soundtrack

You can read my write-up on the movie here... the actual film is not what I need to rant about at this point. It's the fact that I was cajoled into buying the entire film soundtrack even though I was only interested in two songs. But it was all or nothing on iTunes. Sneaky.

I gave all of the tracks a chance, and the good news is that I do like a few of the other songs, but the bad news is that I can never fully erase the memory of Perry Farrell's "Go All the Way (Into the Twilight)" from my head. It is awful and he should be ashamed of his transparent attempt to make himself and his music relevant to tweens. I almost passed out when I heard Radiohead's "15 Step" kick in during Twilight's last scene and continue over its end credits -- I'm sure Thom and the boys got paid for that, but at least the song was nowhere to be found on the soundtrack. That would've surely been a sign of the Apocolypse.

I shudder to think what else I'm going to buy, read, listen to or watch between now and January 1 that I'll live to regret...

- e

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Revenge of the Nerds at 'Video Games Live'

You may remember my excitement last month at securing tickets to Video Games Live. The show was this past Saturday, and... um, how do I put this? Let's just say that it was quite a unique experience. Although my husband proclaimed the crowd at the Chicago Theater that night to be "the single biggest gathering of nerds" he'd ever witnessed, even he still had fun. If you have a fondness for video games -- regardless of whether or not you've played any in recent years (I haven't) -- I guarantee that you would get a kick out of this show.

We arrived at the theater about forty minutes early because there was going to be a little pre-concert entertainment -- in the form of a costume contest. That's right, people actually dressed up as their favorite game characters. Don't ask me who any of these guys are below, though:

At least I recognized Link and Princess Zelda!

But EVERYONE not only recognized but also loved the young "Power-Up," who easily won the contest (judged by audience applause) as a defeated Mario and Princess Peach Toadstool looked on.

The show itself consisted of a live orchestra and choir performing memorable soundtracks from video games across the years. As expected, I'd never heard of most of them (Metal Gear Solid, God of War, Civilization IV...), and most of the titles I had heard of, I've still never played (World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy). But it really didn't matter. There was a huge screen above the stage that showed sequences from the games as the live music was performed, and it was nothing short of mesmerizing.

They did, of course, have a few "old school" montages that satisfied the adults in the crowd -- remember OutRun? Joust? Duck Hunt? Punch-Out? Clips from all of them (among many others) kicked off the concert and I was instantly transported back in time, squealing with delight and clapping. I'm sure the teenage boys next to me thought, "Who is this old lady and why is she such a freak?"

My favorite part of the show was the Super Mario montage, simply because those were the games I played the most growing up. It was absolutely amazing how the happy theme song from the Mario series came back to me within seconds. On top of the orchestra playing along with the video clips, they also had "the video game pianist" perform his world-famous lightning-quick medley. I found a clip online below of the same guy (Martin Leung) doing his thing for a smaller crowd (though it's not the most recognizable part of the Mario tune). He kicks it into overdrive around the 55-second mark. The video doesn't do him justice - it was ridiculous how fast he was playing. His fingers were just a flurry of motion, like he had superpowers or something! He is my new hero!

There were a few other cool surprises that the Video Games Live team had in store for the audience, but I won't ruin it for anyone out there who may be attending a future performance. What I will say is that I absolutely must haul out my old Atari and my brother's Nintendo when we're home over the holidays in order to play some of our favorite video games again. Forget all of the newfangled, realistic-looking Halos of the world - I'll take Pitfall any day!

- e

Monday, November 17, 2008

Look at Me, Saving You Money

It finally happened last night as I was walking home from seeing Let the Right One In: it freakin' snowed. And then this morning, the cement contractors who were supposed to fix my building's front walkway called to cancel because of today's horribly cold weather and on-and-off precipitation. This swift and extreme drop in temperatures can only mean one thing -- the holidays are right around the corner.

Although Michigan Avenue has seemed slightly less crowded than it typically is at this time of the year, bad economy or no bad economy, people will still get their gift-giving on! If you're one of the many who has friends, relatives, co-workers or others (dog-walker? mailman? hair stylist?) left to shop for, keep reading...

I was recently burned when I bought a few gift cards for family members and then the stores from which the cards came proceeded to go bankrupt (yeah, I'm talkin' 'bout you, Sharper Image). With more and more businesses going under (on my walk home last night I was also shocked and dismayed to see that Linens 'n Things is outta here), you may want to consider pre-loaded debit cards that can be used anywhere instead of gift cards tied to a specific place. Because let's face it, times are tough all around right now, so why restrict where your giftee can shop? Maybe they don't WANT any more clothes from J. Crew! Maybe they secretly despise TGI Friday's! Maybe they're just too embarrassed to put "cases upon cases of Magic Shell" on their Christmas list!

It just so happens that someone I used to work for The Man with, MF, is now at, and he (along with fellow 'According to e' and 'Long Live Locke' devotee JS) are offering the other mega-cool peeps who read my sites $2 off customized photo gift card orders. All you have to do is enter in the code ErikaO when you check out.

Yes, MF and JS are still "remembering the little people" even though their products have received what is perhaps one of the greatest honors known to man: inclusion on Oprah's Holiday "O List" (See bottom-left of the page below.)

If you are interested in making a photo gift card (or if you just do whatever Oprah tells you to do), go to and follow the easy instructions. Just like that, you'll have a Visa debit card in whatever amount you'd like to give away to whomever you deem worthy. You can put one of your own pictures on the card... or choose one of the pre-designed cards by, say, Sawyer on Lost! Yep, a bunch of celebs got in on the action and created cards to help benefit the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation.

So once again, the code to use is ErikaO for a $2 discount up until December 18th of this year. Remember how that freaky kid Johnny said over and over again in Better Off Dead, "I want my two dollars!!!"? Well, you can have it with the discount code ErikaO. You're welcome!

- e

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rants from My TV Marathon

The temperature dropped over thirty degrees (pretty much within the span of one day -- sorry, fall wardrobe!) here in Chicago last week, and therefore my hibernation instincts have fully kicked into high gear. I am not looking forward to the next several months of crappy weather... but to keep myself from getting too depressed, I watched a whole bunch of TV this past weekend. All huddled in my bed under several pounds of blankets, comforters and clothing, mind you.

I have now annihilated my Tivo list, so if you aren't up-to-date on any of the shows below, you might want to skip reading this post until you've watched their latest episodes...

The Hills

My prayers have been answered! Audrina moved away from the flake that is LC and the shrew that is Lo, Heidi was fired, and someone finally told Spencer what time it was! I knew that sacrificing thousands of my brain cells to this show would eventually be worth it.

But wait... Audrina is trying to get Justin Bobby to live with her, it looks like Heidi is going to be given back the job she was fired from a day earlier, and Spencer will continue to slink around LA doing nothing whatsoever of value. Oh, well, I was happy for about three minutes, so there's something to be said for that, right?

Dirty Sexy Money

Ahh, crap. They "went there." They actually had Nick separate from Lisa and run to Karen. I am not liking where this story line is going. I'm actually no fan of Nick's wife -- their chemistry is non-existent, but at the same time, it's totally unbelievable that he would ever actually want to be with ditsy Karen. Aren't we supposed to LIKE Nick?

The Office

Double crap! I was worried before that they were going to make Jim and Pam run into problems before they actually got married. And that seems to be the way it's going, with Pam's friend's speech about Ms. Beesly needing to stay in NYC for the advancement of her career. On top of that, Amy Ryan seems to have left the show, and her character was perfect as a match for Steve Carell's Michael Scott. And on top of THAT, I am getting a really uncomfortable vibe now from the whole Andy-Angela-Dwight triangle. That needs to end. Now.

Gossip Girl

This used to be the show I could count on for pure entertainment that wouldn't annoy me in any way, shape or form. But Serena's new flame is a total loser and not cute at all. And Little J's lame drama is taking up way too much air-time. And while I was of course excited to see The Princess Bride's Vizzini ("Inconceivable!") as Mrs. Waldorf's romantic interest, I need WAY more Chuck Bass to be satisfied!

Powers that be at The CW, please make a spin-off show solely about Chuck. Pretty please?

The Amazing Race

Unfortunately, I'm not really rooting for anyone this time around. Nick and Starr are obviously the most competent team, and I have no problems with Dallas/"Teen Wolf" and his mom, either. But those frat guys have GOT TO GO. As does the chick with the eyebrows that are giving me nightmares. At least the bratty and ultra-stupid divorcées are gone -- I was getting way too riled up shouting at them through the TV screen. Seriously, how many times did they just straight-up NOT read the clues carefully?

Survivor: Gabon

I can't believe I'm about to say this, but Survivor has actually been my favorite show this fall. I was watching it on the treadmill last week and literally gasped out loud when it was revealed that Marcus -- and not Susie -- had been voted out. As in, the dude on the machine next to me looked over to see if I was OK. I even yelled "Yay!" when nerdboy Kenny made his comment about how in comic books, everyone roots for the underdog to triumph over the bully. I hope he wins the whole thing -- he's my favorite player by far this season.

As a side note, I was equally as shocked when I watched the previous week's episode where Ace got the boot. I wouldn't have counted on Sugar to follow through with it. Even though they're regretting it now, I think it was the right move.

Real World/Road Rules: The Island

Yes, it is totally unacceptable that I watched this show. At least it's over now, right? I actually sat through FIVE episodes in a row the other night, so I was in a Stupid Stupor for hours afterward. I will say, however, that the final few installments were absolutely riveting. Ev -- who I hated in Rookies Vs. Veterans -- became my favorite player this time around because everyone else was certifiably insane. Her move to save Johhny in order to secure a spot on the boat that would surely make it to the treasure chest first was pure brilliance.

And that reunion special? Yowza. Talk about drama. KellyAnne needs some meds -- that chick is NUTS. What's with throwing gang signs when you're shouting at everyone?

The Future

Tonight, Top Chef returns. While I doubt I'll enjoy it as much as I did when it was in Chicago (remember my millisecond of fame?), my hopes are high that this season will provide a lot of entertainment.

And hopefully you've heard about the upcoming two-hour TV movie "24: Redemption," airing on November 23, which will serve as a set-up for the seventh season of the Jack Bauer Power Hour. 24 will (finally) return to us with back-to-back episodes in January. American Idol is back at the start of the new year, as well. Now that Simon's broken up with his girlfriend, you can bet that he's going to be extra-snooty!

I better stock up on hot cocoa -- there's lots of TV-watching ahead!

- e

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Next Made Me Cry, "NEXT!!!"

I'm not really sure what compelled me to rent Next, but I should've realized that it was a bad sign when I couldn't even remember the film being out in theaters last year -- despite the fact that it stars Nicolas Cage, Julianne Moore and Jessica Biel (among other recognizable names). However, although I always try to deny it, I just can't get enough of Nic Cage's hair, so perhaps I was feeling the need to see it again, who knows.

On the surface, Next seemed like it should've been right up my alley: a man (Cage) can see two minutes into the future and therefore continually changes his actions in the present so that things go his way. I'm all about time manipulation -- bring it on!

Alas, when they said that this thriller was loosely based on sci-fi master Philip K. Dick's short story "The Golden Man," they meant really, really loosely. In place of the mutants that dominated the original story, there's a goofy and totally unbelievable love story between Cage and Biel's characters. Yes, I can believe that a dude could possibly be born with the power to see two minutes into his own future, but I cannot believe any attempt Cage and Biel could ever make at feigning romantic chemistry.

If a movie motivates ME to complain "that would NEVER happen," then it is truly ridiculous, because as you all know, I can suspend disbelief with the best of them.

I can't recommend Next in good conscience, which makes me truly sad, because its premise is extremely cool. Maybe someone will make a TRUE adaptation of "The Golden Man" one day and not screw it up with the lovey-dovey crap.

Here's the trailer for the film, which smartly plays down the romantic angle:

Ah, Nic. I'll just have to wait for National Treasure 3 to see that hair again.

- e

Monday, November 10, 2008

Back to Reality

I've been back from Hawaii for a full week now... so why haven't I been posting?

The good news is that while on a day-trip to Oahu, I ran into my favorite actor of all time, and then spent several days back in Chicago perfecting my write-up of the experience, which I've since posted on Long Live Locke. It's a must-read for Lost fans!

The unfortunate news is that my aching back went from bad to worse while on vacation... I don't know if it was all the time spent in planes, in cars or hunched up writing in a less-than-ergonomically sound set-up... but regardless, my back, shoulder and neck started hurting so intensely that I put in a call to my doctor immediately upon my return home. Hence, I've been trying to limit my typing over the past week.

I now have my first physical therapy session this afternoon -- wish me luck (and thanks to everyone who wrote in with other options for me to try... I will explore some of them if PT doesn't work out...)! I've only got 2.5 weeks before I go on yet another long-distance plane ride, so I hope that the six appointments I have scheduled between now and then help me prepare for some cramped quarters and long stretches of sitting.

I've got tons of things to write about from my Hawaii trip (and still need to finish recounting all of last year's Antarctica antics, while I'm at it), and also have lots of commentary for you from my marathon of TV and movie-watching over the past few days -- the Tivo list is now clear! But for now, I leave you with the picture of me in the kiddie pirate ship play area at the Marriott Ocean Club in Maui. I almost killed myself climbing UP the slippery slide (in the back of the structure). But what a way to go that would've been...

- e

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Greetings from Paradise


My sporadic posting last week was due to the fact that I was running around like crazy making last-minute preparations for my travels to one of the most beautiful places on Earth -- Maui.

Between my actual vacation and another short trip to Michigan to get my doggy back early next week, I do not anticipate posting here again until Wednesday, November 5th (fear not, fellow U.S. citizens - I voted early... and still stood in a half-hour-long line!).

In the meantime, I will continue writing for redblog -- if you would like to get those posts fed into your reader, you can do so here (if that doesn't work, try the text link in the upper-right corner of redblog).

Until my return, here are a few pictures from Hawaii... the first is the view from my balcony... and the second is my favorite place on the hotel grounds!

You know I'm going to scare all of the little kids away so I can have the ship all to myself!

- e

Monday, October 27, 2008

Into the World of Billy the Kid. No, not THAT Billy the Kid.

Last week I watched Billy the Kid, a documentary -- out on DVD tomorrow – that provides a glimpse into the life of, umm… a kid named Billy.

I didn’t know anything about this movie before watching it, and after popping it in my DVD player, not too much time had passed before I started wondering what exactly the film was trying to achieve. My husband didn’t just wonder, he asked out loud about twenty minutes in, “What’s the point of this?”

But, unlike how we handled Be Kind, Rewind, we stuck with Billy the Kid to see what was going to happen over the course of 85 minutes or so. During that time, what I realized was that I had become so accustomed to “reality TV” -- which, as you probably know by now, isn’t all that real – that I almost didn’t know how to process something that was completely unscripted and lacked a forced plot. As soon as I stopped fretting about whether or not the movie was going to end up having a “story line,” I actually felt myself physically relax and started to appreciate getting a look into a life that was very different from my own.

Billy is a fifteen-year-old living in a small town in Maine and going through all of the typical teenage drama that everyone experiences during those hormone-fueled years. He has dreams of becoming a radio personality (like his stepfather), an actor or a rock star, yearns for a girlfriend, works on his guitar skills by playing along with music videos, and loves (and often quotes) movies. He unknowingly drops hilarious one-liners, like when he promises to stay away from trouble by following the advice given in his martial arts class: “Run away… and live to fight another day!”

What’s different about Billy is that he has a behavioral disorder that makes him prone to angry outbursts and obsessive thoughts, and requires him to be part of a special class in school. (Interviews with Billy’s mother are interspersed throughout the film and allude to his issues, but the specific name of his condition is never mentioned. Filmmaker Jennifer Venditti explains her reasoning for this decision in one of the bonus features).

Billy the Kid’s “point” was simply to explore a brief period of time in its subject’s life… but I think anyone who watches it will not only be reminded of how thankful they are that they’re out of high school, but will also have an appreciation for people who, are Billy put it, are “not black, not white, not foreign – just different in the mind.”

If you have a thing for documentaries and are intrigued by what you've read so far, check out the trailer below:

Did you get the sense that Billy the Kid has a rockin’ soundtrack? It does… well, if you’re like my husband and enjoy KISS, that is.

While Billy the Kid might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I did find it intriguing and hope that at some point down the road, Venditti checks in again with Billy and his mom so that we can find out where the next chapter in their lives took them.

- e

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"The Host" With the Most

I feel like I'm repeating myself over and over again every time I say that I won't include spoilers about a book I've read or a movie I've seen... but here I go again for the benefit of new visitors: I'm not going to give away any details about "The Host," the only Stephenie Meyer novel (so far) that has nothing to do with vampires.

Therefore, there's not a heck of a lot I CAN say about the plot of this book -- I hadn't read its jacket or any reviews or even a description of it before I turned the first page. All I knew was that it wasn't part of the "Twilight" saga and that it had something to do with aliens. What is safe to mention, however, as it is evident from page one, is that "The Host" takes place on Earth, though aliens have all but taken over.

Since I didn't know the story line before I jumped into this 600+ page behemoth, I was instantly captivated by the concept it put forth from the outset. That's why I strongly urge you to not seek out any information about the novel if you have even the slightest desire to check it out. I think that my enjoyment of the book was directly related to that fact that I didn't know what to expect as I made my way through it. Now that I'm done, I read a few reviews and was amazed that they all mentioned things that happened well into the story. Having that knowledge beforehand would've absolutely ruined it for me.

OK, so I'll stop my "avoid spoilers!" rant now and continue with my overall thoughts on the book because I know a few of you out there have already read it. First and foremost, I was very impressed by Meyer's writing this time around (until the end, but I'll get to that in a second). If I hadn't known it was penned by the same woman who dreamed up the now infamous human-vampire love story in "Twilight," I wouldn't have guessed it. Gone were the repetitive descriptions and the whining and the predictability of how everything would turn out. Instead, I found a truly imaginative tale that didn't succumb to "genre stereotypes," a compelling look at what it means to be human, and a complicated premise that I couldn't imagine being made into a movie (although I'm sure they'll find a way). Too many times in the "Twilight" books, I felt like a scene was written solely for the benefit of an eventual adaptation, and that bugged me. I didn't feel that way with this one -- it really made me think.

In Meyer's own words, "The Host" is "science fiction for people who don't like science fiction." I would agree with that description (even though I actually like "normal" science fiction as well). While I did enjoy the book overall and would definitely recommend it, I was disappointed to see some of the writing pitfalls that plagued Meyer's other works emerge in the last handful of chapters. She was doing so well... and then, as the song goes, "feelings... nothing more than feelings" became the focus near the end. Thankfully, there was enough action to outweigh my annoyance at the Bella-ish-ness of it all and keep me reading until the grand finale (which didn't necessarily surprise me, but was one of many endings I thought could have panned out, so it was by no means predictable).

It will be interesting to see what Meyer does next, especially now that she's scrapped plans to write "Midnight Sun" ("Twilight" from Edward's point-of-view). I was truly impressed by the creative ideas she came up with in "The Host," and I would think that if she could just wean herself off of the tendency to get all mushy with her characters, she will continue to churn out well-received novels far into the future.

Unless, that is, aliens really do take over the Earth. Then we're all done for.

- e

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Best of Fall, All in One Weekend

I packed a lot into my Michigan trip this past weekend: 16 hours of of bus/car travel, multiple assaults by the cutest kitties in the world, a trip to an apple orchard -- complete with a ride in a magical pumpkin coach, a pontoon boat cruise around several gorgeous lakes, a few movies, and a few more glasses of wine. I even finally caught up on all of my Us Weekly magazines, phew!

The long weekend started at my friend Nerdy P's, where her two young cats, Buzzy and Daisy (named by her four-year-old son), just couldn't get enough of my attention. Aren't they awesome?

Above is Daisy... notice the super-cool Pirate Island behind her that Crazy Auntie e (that's me) bought!

Below is Buzzy, who can leap through the air and cling on to your leg before you know what hit you.

Friday, we drove to Nerdy P's parents' place. They live in a gorgeous area, and we got to take it all in as we set out on their pontoon for an hour or so. The pictures below really can't capture the crazy colors of the leaves. Some of the trees looked neon red -- it was beautiful. Though there are many trees along the lake here in Chicago, it's just not quite the same as how they're packed in everywhere in central Michigan.

This trip also confirmed my lifelong goal to have a place on the water one day.

Saturday brought us to an apple orchard. I was so excited because I love love LOVE donuts and cider (forget the apples!) and I didn't think I would get a chance to have any this year. I inhaled three donuts as soon as we got there and then secured myself a big cup of hot apple cider. Content!

The orchard was actually more of a fairground and had a ton of activities for children and adults alike.

I was mad that the cut-out thingy above didn't have a thicker base for the tree - it totally ruined the illusion that Nerdy P and I were really in the branches! Yes, this kind of stuff makes me mad.

Below, I am milking a cut-out of a cow. Now THAT was more realistic because some sort of liquid actually came out of the fake utters! Or maybe that's just gross, I'm not sure.

But the highlight of the day was getting to ride on the pumpkin train. This thing was pretty elaborate!

You are jealous, aren't you?

It was a great weekend and I was thankful to get some time to just rest, think, and relax -- that doesn't happen too often. And I did finally finish "The Host," so expect my write-up on that one tomorrow...

- e