Thursday, July 31, 2008

Where Does the Time Go?

I found myself gasping this morning at the realization that the calendar has found its way to July 31st. It's safe to say that, for me, June and July flew by, and in what I'm sure will seem like no time at all, I'll be donning my parka and hard-core snow boots again every afternoon when I go out to walk my dog.

But the fact that the summer is charging forward with a vengeance reminded me of something I've been wanting to write about for a while now: what I do with my time day in and day out.

Lately I've been meeting up with friends I used to work with at various firms over the past decade, and all of them are extremely curious as to what my "typical day" is like, now that I have been away from The Man for nearly a year. I have definitely gotten the sense that most people think I sleep until noon, walk my dog in my pajamas, and then flip through magazines and TV channels while eating bonbons in my robe until it's time to sleep again. Now, if Magic Shell counts as bonbons, then yes, there is a little bit of that going on, but otherwise I really have no "typical day." Yet I feel constantly busy, behind in projects and communications (sorry to those of you I have yet to respond to via email or Facebook...) and each night I wonder, "Where in the hell did this day go?" I also have no idea how I ever got any personal errands done when I was in an office for 8-12 hours every day.

There are a lot of really random things that happen each week that eat up time. Let me use today as an example. I had every intention of getting up at 7 AM to get a jump-start on all the things I have to do. But, because I went on a power walk with my dog last night for the first time in two months, I felt all sore and tired and stayed in bed until 8.

At 8, I turned on my laptop, checked emails and Facebook messages and then made a quick breakfast of a half-bagel, cream cheese and orange juice. While making my tea, I called my mom, because a family member went into the hospital last night (nothing serious, thankfully) and I wanted to hear an update. While I talked to my mom (it was now 8:30), I Swiffered our upstairs hardwood floors because my dog's hair sheds ridiculously in the summer and I need to sweep every day. I also unloaded the dishwasher while still on the phone.

I got off the phone with my mom, but then needed to call two other relatives to pass along the update. After that, my brother called, and then I called a friend to tell her what was going on. As soon as I hung up with my friend, my mortgage broker called. We are refinancing right now, and it turns out that the mortgage peeps could find no record of our condo's title being filed. At this point, it was 10 AM.

So my broker relays to me the chaos that will ensue if we can't find the title/deed documents. I think back to five years ago and remember there being some drama about the title, and I tell her I think I was eventually mailed something, but it arrived a long time after our close. She warns that if I don't find the official title document, she's going to have to track down the lawyer of the people who we bought the place from in 2003 and it's going to be a mess.

This leads me to rummage through my laundry room shelves, where I have our various mortgage and closing documents spread throughout several folders and boxes. I cannot find the right document.

Finally, I remember that I put all of my Most Important Life Documents in a Secret Place, so I search that spot, and lo and behold, think I have found the right paperwork.

By this point in time, my mom had called me again with another update, so that took a few minutes. Then I called my broker back to ask if I had found the right thing, but she was no longer in the office. I remained hopeful that I had found what she needed, so I scanned in the three pages of what I thought was the deed and then emailed them to the mortgage company. By this point in time, it was 11 AM.

Several emails had come through over the course of those few hours, so I responded to the ones that needed immediate replies and then put all of the files, boxes and papers that I had torn out of my shelves back in their rightful spots. My stomach was growling because of my mini-breakfast (typically I eat a much bigger breakfast, it's my favorite meal of the day!), so I popped Amy's Organic Cheese Pizza Snacks into the toaster oven, and while they were cooking I loaded the dishwasher with a bunch of dirty dishes that had accumulated in the sink, threw away dead flowers that were in our centerpiece and changed the water in the vase, and then washed a few dishes that can't go in the dishwasher.

When I went to eat the pizza snacks, the phone rang. It was 11:23 and it was my mortgage broker, who was still out of the office but thought, from my description of the paperwork, that I had found the right document. I finished my pseudo-lunch and then began this post.

Four hours have passed since I got out of bed and I feel like I've accomplished nothing. I could've never had any idea when I went to bed last night that I would be doing any of the things that have taken up the first half of this day today. That is why one of my favorite sayings is, "People plan, God laughs."

Anyway, I WILL say that if I were to describe a typical day, it would be that I get up, eat breakfast, have my tea, and attempt to write my "According to e" post as soon afterward as possible. The posts get emailed out to subscribers in the early afternoon, so if I don't get one up in the morning, it doesn't get emailed until the following day, and for whatever reason that stresses me out. No, it is not "my job" to write on this site and no, I don't get paid in any way for anything I put on here (for this reason I hope you truly, truly, TRULY appreciate the lack of ads on both of my blogs!). Why do I do it? Because I am getting paid to write other things that one day I hope I'll be able to share with you all, and I've found that writing a short post every day has helped me to become a better writer and a faster writer and get over my need to think about everything I write for hours on end before I start typing. Plus, I have "virtually" met so many of you over the past few years that I find myself craving feedback, comments and the weird sort of camaraderie that comes from people who share the same interests, even if they never meet in person.

If I get done with my "A to e" post early enough, I will work on my "real" writing projects for a few hours. I walk my dog for 20 minutes or so every afternoon, and then typically keep on writing after I get home. But more often than not, phone calls, emails, Facebook messages, and do distract me a bit and take up a few hours each day. I also read a lot for some of the projects I'm working on--a form of research, if you will.

Then there are all the things I now do during the day that when working for The Man I could only do after business hours or on the weekend: laundry, cleaning, a wide variety of appointments (doctor, dentist, hair, vet, etc.), waiting for deliveries for everyone in my building, scheduling repair work for my building, scheduling charity pick-ups, watering plants, and so on. And if I actually schedule a lunch or meeting with a friend or colleague, then usually four hours are taken up between getting ready, traveling to/from the meeting spot and the meeting itself. If I don't have to see any other humans on a given day, then I usually don't take a shower until 4 PM, or after I go on a walk or to the gym, which is usually near the end of the day but before the rush of people coming from the office.

So there you have it. I think a lot of people would not do well with the lack of structure I face every day... but then there are those, like me, who prefer it to an office atmosphere. I wouldn't trade my situation for the world and know how lucky I am to be able to do what I love, so despite the daily dramas that distract me from more productive pursuits, I hope I can keep this lifestyle forever!

- e

P.S. So it's now 12:52. I just got off the phone with my broker, I did not have the right documents. No one can figure out if our title/deed was even ever filed and it is, as she predicted, a complete and utter mess. My dog is pacing to go on his walk. My mom just beeped in again while I was on the other line with the broker. AND I had to cancel an appointment I had scheduled at 1 PM with my tax guy. I have a feeling I'm not going to get much else done today...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Wizards and Vampires: The HP6 and Twilight Trailers

Last night I had a mini freak-out conniption when, just as I was about to shut down my laptop for the night, I saw that the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince trailer had finally been released. Take a look:

First off, I think it looks incredibly dark and my hopes are rising that this film will actually live up to the awesomeness of the book. They found, once again, the perfect kid to cast as Tom Riddle. He has already given me nightmares. I was totally digging Dumbledore's polka-dot scarf thingy, too. But the best parts, to me, were the Harry and Dumbledore voice-overs at the very end. Chills! Now we just have to wait four more months.

A few of you have written me about the movie Twilight that is coming out in December, based upon the best-selling series by author Stephanie Meyer. I had never even heard of these books, and then was shocked to learn that they are quickly approaching Harry Potter status in both sales and levels of crazy fandom. Then an Entertainment Weekly issue arrived a few weeks ago with the two leads from Twilight on the cover, so I realized I couldn't be left out of the phenomenon any longer. The first book is on its way to my house as I type this.

I'm sure the books are great and I'm excited to read them... in fact, I sat next to a woman my age on the bus yesterday who was holding one of the books in the series, and I asked her what she thought and she replied, "I really didn't think I would be that into them, but they are really good!" However, I gotta say, I'm not feeling the movie trailer quite as much. Yes, I am happy that the main vampire kid, played by the same guy who played Cedric in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, can take over for Shia LaBeouf on my Inappropriate Celebrity Crushes list. But the fact that he is so damn pale in the movie is not helping... and something about the acting just seems off to me, especially with the girl playing Bella. I'm hoping after I read the book my opinion will change. But I know I'll see it no matter what.

For those of you who have read the book, is the trailer worrying you or making you excited to see the movie? The majority of fans, according to this article, seem to be hating on the Entertainment Weekly cover, if nothing else...

- e

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Life's Goal Accomplished: Jimmy Buffett at Toyota Park

Yes, believe it or not, one of my life's goals was to get to a Jimmy Buffett concert. You would think, since he's been touring pretty much every summer for the last four decades, that this would be an easier goal to achieve than, say, visiting all seven continents. But yet I'd still never gone to a show. It would've been ideal to have seen him when he held the first concert ever performed at Wrigley Field, just a few blocks from my place... but I was in Europe at the time. Therefore, last Tuesday evening, the realization hit me that I wasn't getting any younger, and neither was Jimmy, so I better get serious.

That is how I ended up searching StubHub and finding third row seats for his concert this past Saturday night at Toyota Park, a stadium that's a little bit south of Chicago (where the Chicago Fire soccer team plays). Let me tell you, Jimmy did not disappoint. We had an absolute blast and I'm so glad I finally got my act together to see him play live.

As we headed to the stadium, my husband and I talked about the fact that it's actually pretty strange that I'm a Jimmy Buffett fan in the first place. His legion of followers--known as Parrotheads--typically have a few major things in common, and I don't really fit the description. First and foremost, I'm not a big drinker. That right there is almost grounds for dismissal from Parrothead Land. Secondly, I've never even smoked a cigarette, much less other, uh, things that Buffett fans have been rumoured to enjoy inhaling. On top of all that, I've been known to get more than a tad seasick when out on the water. e and sailing don't really mix. AND... it turns out I didn't even know the words to one of his most famous songs, "Margaritaville!" Ever since high school, I thought he was saying, "Blew out my flip-flop... Stepped on a pop tart." Then I saw a guy in front of me on the way into the show and the back of his shirt had that phrase on it, only "pop tart" was "pop top." I said to my husband, "What? What is a pop top? I thought it was 'Stepped on a pop tart?'"

My husband, fearing for our lives, shot me the evil eye and hissed, "Shhh!!! Good God, don't say that around here! These people are SERIOUS!" He then went on to explain what a pop top was. I think I'm going to keep saying pop tart. But anyway, it was just another reason that I didn't fit in with the rest of the crowd.

So why do I love this man? The concert made it crystal clear. The guy is just happy. He is happy to be alive, happy to be doing what he loves, and seemed truly, truly conscious and thankful of the fact that the universe dealt him a winning hand. I like Jimmy Buffett for the exact same reason that Ireland remains my #1 favorite country I've ever visited: both Jimmy Buffett and the people of Ireland know how to enjoy life and have the best attitudes on the planet. Further, the business geek in me can't help but respect the fact that he is a marketing genius. You may remember my visits to his restaurants/bars/merchandising meccas in both Vegas and Orlando. So I love him for those reasons, plus the fact that a few of his songs are about pirates.

Looking around the stadium, I honestly think Toyota Park usurped Disney World as "The Happiest Place on Earth." Everyone was in a good mood. No one was embarrassed at the fact that they had parrot hats, cheeseburger hats, shark hats, leis, grass skirts or coconut bras on. I've never seen so many friendly people in my life. Yeah, a lot of that friendliness surely came from the many beers and/or margaritas consumed in the parking lot before the show, but hey, the world needs positivity in any type of form nowadays, don't you agree? Here's a short clip of the crowd hitting around many, many beach balls at the beginning of the show:

But I need to back up a little bit... here are a few pictures I snapped as we made our way into the stadium. The first is a shot of just one small section of the lot as we were driving in from the highway. Notice all of the tents set up... it was seriously like a tailgating party at Michigan or Notre Dame, times ten thousand.

Here is a "Fins Up!" truck and a mini-luau.

Finally, here's my favorite guy I saw. He reminded me of an older Sawyer from Lost (Jimmy actually referenced Lost during the concert, more on that in a minute). You may want to click to enlarge the picture to get the full effect of his awesomeness.

The concert itself was wonderful. If you're interested in the set list, I found it on another site here. As you may be able to see from this shot we took as we headed down to the field level, there was a huge map as the backdrop on the stage.

At one point, Jimmy asked the lighting guy to zoom in on the Great Lakes. But the Great Lakes weren't actually drawn out on the map... the entire United States was just a big blob. When Jimmy realized this with a bit of embarrassment, he covered by saying, "Perhaps the lakes are like the Island on Lost... they moved!" The vast majority of the crowd seemed befuddled by this comment, but I was in my glory. And THAT is why I love Jimmy Buffett.

This last video goes out to Nerdy P and Crazy Joe-E, who, at a very young age is already a Parrothead and has learned not only the words, but also this dance to the classic song, "Fins":

I've got another life goal now. See Jimmy Buffett in concert AGAIN.

- e

Monday, July 28, 2008

The X-Files: I Want to Believe

You can bet that I was extremely nervous as I headed in to see the new X-Files movie, after having read negative review after negative review in the days leading up to its premiere. As you may recall from my post about the 1998 X-Files Expos last week, I was quite a fan of the television series. From the picture on the right, you can see that I had my mini-Mulder with me for moral support in case the film was awful (and yes, I had him on my lap so that he, too, was able to watch the movie).

First, the bad news. The movie was not great. My husband called it "crap," but I think he was just jealous that I shouted out "YESSSSS!!!!!" when clean-shaven Mulder appeared on the screen (early in the movie he looked a little rough, so I was worried). But anyway, we both agreed that the pacing of the movie was way too slow, that we were flat-out bored at several points, and that they could've written a much better plot in the six years since the series went off of the air.

The good news is that I'm still glad I saw it, and it in no way ruined my fond memories of the TV show. Mulder and Scully continue to rock the house and all of the acting in the film was fine--quite frankly it just felt good to be reunited with those beloved characters once again. And it wasn't like the storyline was totally lame or anything... it's just that the action was too spread out and they probably could've chopped off at least 20 minutes or so from the 105 minute running time.

While I had been worried about the addition of Amanda Peet and rapper Xzibit (seriously?) as two new FBI agents, they weren't really in it that much and didn't annoy me when they were, so that was a big relief. Finally, there were a few nods to the series (one that made me especially happy toward the end) that helped piece a few things together for long-time fans. Overall, however, it was a "stand-alone" story that anyone could understand, even if they never saw the show.

If you loved the series as I did, though, you should stay seated until the end of the credits so as to leave the theater on a slightly happier note.

The bottom line is that I can, in good faith, recommend the movie to anyone who watched the show religiously--just set your expectations accordingly and know that the movie doesn't even come close to being as good as some of the best episodes in the series' nine-season run. If you never watched the show, however, or watched it on and off but weren't outright obsessed with either Mulder or Scully, then you should probably skip it... at least on the big screen.

The thing I'm most disappointed about is that since the movie hasn't wowed the box office (it made $10 million over its opening weekend, and had a $30 million budget...), I fear that plans for the third movie, revolving around the alien invasion and possible end of the world on December 21, 2012, may be scrapped. I honestly think that movie would be awesome, because who better to handle the extreme paranoia that's going to be engulfing the world that year than Chris Carter? They've got a few years to convince The Powers That Be in Hollywood to still move forward with it. "I want to believe" that it will happen! Hee, hee.

I leave you with semi-relevant pictures of my dog and mini-Mulder--they had never met each other until this weekend. At first my dog appeared upset at the little FBI agent, but then, as happens with most everyone, he grew to love him.

Long Live Fox!

- e

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Shame on Shia

First off, you know I only post on weekends if something really, really gets to me and I simply cannot wait until Monday to comment on it. And that is what has happened on this otherwise brilliant Chicago summer day.

The motivation for this post is my need to vent and mourn over the fact that I'm going to have to find some other twenty-something to replace Shia LaBeouf on my Inappropriate Celebrity Obsessions list. Apparently he was out driving in L.A. at 3 AM this morning, crashed and flipped his car (!) after making a left-hand turn. He was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. Some chick was in the car with him, but so far she hasn't been identified.

I tried to forget his lame Walgreens arrest. I even tried to overlook the fact that he smokes, which is typically a deal-breaker in my book. But I can no longer continue to be in denial that Shia is a bad, bad boy. A DUI is a ticket off of the Inappropriate Celebrity Obsessions list.

He better not end up like freakin' Corey Haim or I am going to be seriously depressed.

Let's hope he gets his act together. And let's hope the rest of my Sunday can be salvaged as I search for other decade-younger-than-me actors to take my mind off of Shia.

- e

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Coldplay at the United Center

Last night my husband and I were lucky enough to have been invited to enjoy the Coldplay concert at the United Center from box seats. If you imagine the stage being set up at the 12 position on a clock, our seats were in between the 4 and the 5 and just above the first raised section of stadium seating. I looked up at the poor souls who were where we were for the previous tour and felt a twang of pity-- three rows from the top of the arena and behind the stage is no place from which to see any concert. I'm glad that those bad memories have now been replaced with last night's experience.

We missed the first opening act, but saw most of Santogold, a reggae-sounding rapper from Brooklyn--she was pretty good. The Powers That Be at the United Center informed everyone that Coldplay would be filming during the show, so they turned off all of the TVs and lights in the boxes and everywhere else. All that did was make you realize how many people had cell phones, PDAs and camera phones, because screens were lit up all over the place for the duration of the concert. Technology: a blessing and a curse.

The other thing I just HAVE to mention before I get into the music itself was this totally crazy woman who was in front of us (in the first normal row of seats below the box) who "danced" non-stop the entire time. Luckily we were high enough that we could still see over her (though it should be mentioned that the rest of the stadium was on its feet for the full 2.5 hours the band played...). But I felt really, really badly for the young guy standing next to her. She was one of those people who had absolutely no rhythm, yet flailed about wildly to every single song, even the slow ones. I mean, she was totally hitting the dude to her left constantly (no one was on her right), and if I were him, I definitely would've resorted to violence. Instead, he kept looking back at us and making faces, as if to ensure we knew she wasn't with him. She appeared to be by herself, didn't have a drink in her hand and didn't move from her seat until the encore, so it's not like she was sucking down alcohol the entire time. All I could figure was that: 1) she just loved the music and wanted to express herself in that unfortunate way, 2) was hopped up on some sort of speed/crack/whatever, or 3) drank a lot before getting in her seat. People like this always seem to sit by me at concerts, I can't figure it out.

OK, so onto the band... Coldplay opened with, appropriately, the first song on Viva La Vida, "Life in Technicolor." I will list the entire set they played in the comments section so as to not ruin it for anyone who's catching them later in the tour... but be forewarned that I am going to comment on a few specific performances...

...Such as the fifth song they played, "Viva La Vida." I thought it was totally bizarre that they chose to place perhaps the most high-energy track in their repertoire in between two slow songs, and really didn't have any special effects going on during it or anything. At the end of last week, Coldplay performed VLV outside in some park in L.A.--broadcast live on The Tonight Show--and they had confetti bursting out of the stage to the beat and whatnot, but there was none of that in the show last night for this same song. I had been positive that they would either open or close with VLV, so I thought its placement at the end of the first third of the concert was not well thought-out.

Their stage set-up was pretty typical, but had two jutting "arms" that went out into both sides of the audience on the floor. Throughout the show there were also anywhere from one to six large orbs suspended from the ceiling, upon which various things were projected--sometimes a live feed from the stage and at other times still images or random videos. At other times they just glowed... guess what color they were during "Yellow"? About half-way through the night a huge screen rose up behind the band which greatly helped everyone be able to see the guys more clearly. While Chris Martin did his trademarked hop-dancing at several times throughout the night, the other guys pretty much just stayed in their spots. I must say that Mr. Paltrow was lookin' mighty fine, too... his hair was not too short and not too poofy. Why, oh, why is he married to her?!?!

By far the coolest part of the night, to me, was when all four band members finished up a song, jumped down from the stage, and then continued running through the stadium (followed by spotlights) and up a flight of steps and out an exit, like they were hightailing it to go get some hot pretzels or something. After they disappeared, everyone was like, "What just happened?" Then a few moments later they re-appeared on a small landing right in the middle of the crowd. If I had been in any of those seats nearby I would've been freaking out. They proceeded to whip out guitars, plug them in and perform "The Scientist" right there. I loved it.

I should also mention that between the show I was at last night and the one held the previous night (also at the United Center), they attempted to film their video for "Lost!". As you may remember from my write-up on the Viva La Vida CD, I liked the "Lost?" version of this song much better, but hey, beggars can't be choosers. They obviously plan to release "Lost!" on the radio as they've been performing it on late-night talk shows and now have filmed the video. Look for me when it comes out! I had on a gray shirt. You'll totally see me.

FINALLY we got some confetti (though it kind of slowly floated down from the ceiling rather than shooting from the stage) during the second-to-last number, "Lovers in Japan," which was accompanied by a hectic montage of images that fit the lyrics on the big screen behind the stage. When it was all said and done, the stage and stadium were blanketed with a rainbow of small colored paper bits. I'm sure the clean-up crew cursed the day Coldplay came onto the scene.

All in all, while I thought their arrangement of the set list was not ideal and some of the lighting effects temporarily blinded many people in the audience, Coldplay did put on a great show and I'm so happy that I got to go and observe them once again from a proper angle. Nothing will beat seeing them at the much more intimate Aragon Ballroom in the summer of 2001 before they became really popular... but now they have four albums to pick and choose from and I sang my heart out along with them for 2.5 hours, which I can't say I was able to do seven years ago.

If you see them on tour this year, I hope you enjoy the show as much as I did, and be sure to let me know if they played any different songs in the main set or in the encore.

- e

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The 1998 X-Files Expo: No One Can Ever Blackmail Me with these Pictures if I Choose to Post Them Myself!

My dear friends, the time has come to fully reveal the extreme level of nerdiness that I have achieved in my lifetime. Those of you who have been following my writing for the past few years are already aware that I am quite the strange individual. But now, as the saying goes, I'm going to take it "to eleven."

Ten years ago, a series of conventions for ├╝ber-nerds were held around the country. They brought together a group of people known as "X-Philes," whose common thread was that they had spent the better part of the past five years of their lives (at that point) obsessed with two fictional FBI agents known as Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, the main characters on one of the best TV series of all-time, The X-Files.

It should come as no surprise that I was one of those people, and that I went to not one, but two of the X-Files Expos held a decade ago. In Chicago I went with my friend BP, fellow Internet geek and conspiracy theorist. He brought a yo-yo to the event, held at Navy Pier, and was the subject of intense jealousy when none other than Assistant Director Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) asked him for it during his speech in front of the huge crowd.

In Detroit, the convention was held at Cobo Hall, and I went with my friends JH and the infamous Nerdy P. The highlight of that one was most definitely a talk by Cigarette-Smoking Man, a.k.a. Cancer Man, played by William B. Davis. The newspaper at which I worked during college, The Michigan Daily, actually still has an article up about the Detroit X-Files Expo.

Besides hearing some of the smaller players on the show speak (others I saw included "X" and a few of the Lone Gunmen), we got to look at tons of props that had been used throughout the years, choose from more merchandise than you could ever dream of (I got the "I Want to Believe" poster, naturally), and watch a sneak preview of the upcoming movie, The X-Files: Fight the Future.

In addition, we got to take some crazy pictures with sets they had worked up for the event. The first two below were scanned from the physical photographs I've been saving since 1998, but the third picture, which is probably the funniest, was given to me on an old-school floppy disk and was never high-quality in the first place. So I apologize for its graininess, but hopefully you will still get the idea. All three of the pictures below can be enlarged when clicked upon so that you can see the details a bit better.

So without further ado, here we are with the car used in the first X-Files movie, fearing the approach of the alien mothership!

Below, I am taking over Mulder's office (notice how they even got all the pencils in the ceiling!).

And finally, I was stuffed into the trunk of a car by none other than the Men in Black! I totally missed my calling as an actress, don't you agree?

Ah, such great memories. I can't wait to be reunited with all my fellow X-Philes this Friday for The X-Files: I Want to Believe. It's been six long years since the series ended, and even I had to read back through a synopsis of all nine seasons to prepare for the movie.

I am SO ready to see Mulder's smirk again, it's not even funny. My enjoyment of the film will be directly proportional to how much screen-time Mulder has. And yes, I will be bringing my Mulder action figure to the theater with me. Pics on Monday!

- e

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

e's Favorite Things: Magic Shell

As you may remember from a post I wrote last summer about my love of Peapod's home grocery delivery service, I rarely go into a grocery store. Recently, however, we had a rental car and therefore made a quick stop at our local Treasure Island to pick up a few things.

That experience made me all the more certain that physically shopping for food is bad for your health! Because what did I spot in one of the displays at the end of an aisle? Magic Shell ice cream topping. I immediately picked it up and showed it to my husband, with a big smile on my face. "No," he said. I put it back.

But I could not deny that the desire to be reunited with one of my favorite childhood treats was overpowering my will to eat healthier.

I. Had. To. Have. It.

So I tacked a bottle on to my Peapod order last week and haven't looked back. I've eaten Magic Shell every day, sometimes twice a day, ever since. And I'm not going to stop.

If you've never had this most wonderful of inventions, it's basically just chocolate syrup that you pour over ice cream... but after a few seconds it hardens. Just like some of the toppings they have at Dairy Queen for soft serve cones. Anyway, Magic Shell just flat-out rocks. The chocolate is actually a little bitter tasting, but I love it. I used to eat it by the spoonful. I used to be a master at making designs over my ice cream with it. I am sure I will be again at the rate I'm going.

I was talking about my renewed obsession with my friend DY, and she informed me that Hershey's got into the game with these toppings that harden and offers not only a chocolate flavor, but also a Reese's Pieces and a Heath Bar flavor, which you can see at the bottom of this page. For now, however, I'm sticking with Magic Shell (made by Smucker's), because it has not failed me yet. But I did look to see if Smucker's made any other flavors, and lo and behold, they also have Caramel, S'mores and Turtle Delight in addition to two types of the traditional Chocolate topping. Good God, I need to get some of the S'mores kind RIGHT NOW.

Anyway, I don't mean to be a bad influence on all of you, but I highly recommend trying Magic Shell if you never have, because if you like chocolate, it is a great addition to the typical boring bowl of ice cream. Just don't tell your doctor on me... unfortunately they haven't made a low-calorie, low-fat version just yet...

- e

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Does the World Really Need Another Dark Knight Review?

No. No, I dare say it does not.

But I will write one anyway.

As I mentioned last week, I got tickets for the 3:45 PM Friday showing at the megaplex in downtown Chicago. When I arrived on site at 3 PM, a HUGE line for my theater was already being let in--I couldn't believe it. Every show that day had been sold out with the exception of the 2:15 PM time slot, from what I could tell.

Anyway, I still lucked out and secured great "middle-middle" seats before the gigantic mini-stadium filled up. Fifteen minutes of previews played before The Dark Knight began, and let me tell you, as each trailer ended, I got more and more depressed. They were ALL about the destruction of the Earth or epic fights for survival. It was unbelievable. Where are the romantic comedies? Where are the slapstick adventure flicks? Between the somber previews and the even more unnerving main feature, I think I need therapy.

So... the movie itself. What is there to say that hasn't already been said? I'll give a brief statement on the major points:

- Running time: It's 2 hours and 40 minutes. It didn't seem like it. There was never a dull moment.

- Heath's performance: I will admit to being cynical and assuming that all the hype was simply out of love for a great actor who is no longer with us. But I'm pleased to say that you should believe the hype--it is warranted. I'm among the ranks who think Heath will get a posthumous Oscar nomination. He was indeed incredible. And while I can't lie and claim to have been a "fan" of Heath's from any of his previous work, there were definitely a few times over the course of the film that I caught myself tearing up when remembering that he is gone. It's a damn shame.

- The "dark" tone of the movie: While I have read reviews from many people who were seriously disturbed after the credits rolled, I wasn't so affected that I lost any sleep over it (perhaps I would've had I seen a later show, though... I had dinner and several hours before bed to get things off of my mind). That being said, this was not a happy movie in any sense of the word. I commented to my husband when we left, "This movie was way better than say, Iron Man, but I enjoyed Iron Man more." And he said, "Yeah, but you're not supposed to "enjoy" this movie."

What would've made me a lot happier is if Christian Bale were in the film a bit more as Bruce Wayne rather than as Batman. When he's Batman, his voice is just so ridiculous. When he's Bruce, well... he's quite a sight for sore eyes.

What stuck with me after I was back home was a moral question raised in the climax of the film. This is a movie that, at several points, makes you wonder, "What would I do in that situation?" I'll talk about it in the comments section (as well as a few other things that thoroughly surprised me) for those of you who have already seen it. My guess is that there are a lot of you, since The Dark Knight apparently broke every record known to man on its opening weekend.

Overall, I DO recommend the movie, but I caution you to be prepared to be depressed. I was glad that there were no nasty gory scenes, which there easily could've been. But then I realized that the movie didn't need blood and guts to be thoroughly disturbing.

The only question remaining is, will there be a third installment?

- e

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Cooling Off with More Memories of Antarctica

When it's been 92 degrees out for the past few weeks in Chicago, with absolutely no sign of the heat letting up, what better way to cool down than to write another installment about my Antarctica trip, complete with pictures of huge icebergs?

For those of you who haven't been reading this site for that long, you can catch up on the past entries about my Antarctica trip with National Geographic in November 2007 here.

We last left off on November 24th. The ship was moving south again and on its way to Useful Island. The very cool thing that happened on the way was that a pod of about ten killer whales started swimming in formation around the boat. At one point they even swam straight at the ship, under it and then continued out the other side. There were a few calves with them, which could be identified by yellow/orangeish patches on their eye area, rather than the white patches we're all more familiar with.

Here's one picture of an adult killer whale by itself, and then a wider shot of a few of them swimming away from the boat.

Then it was time to disembark the ship for more exploring. They have a very organized process of getting everyone on their way... they'll call certain floors, or even vs. odd cabin numbers, etc., to have everyone line up in order rather than jostle for first position. They will check all of your gear in a little holding room as the Zodiac in front of you leaves, and then you just wait on this small platform by an open door to climb into the next raft (it is pretty bouncy, so they have two guys grab your arms and lead you to your seat. Here is one Zodiac leaving, and then me waiting anxiously for my turn in the shadows on the right.

The crazy thing, as you can see from the pictures above, is that you're just sitting on the edge of this inflatable Zodiac, and you only have a rope that is BEHIND you to hang onto. I seriously am still amazed that I did not fall overboard backwards, because I have NO balancing skillz and am totally clumsy. There were a few times when we would hit a wave where I thought I was a goner. To add to the fun, the wind can get pretty vicious as you are motoring toward land, so I usually looked like Michael Jackson while on the Zodiac.

Once we made it to Useful Island, we were of course greeted by more penguins chasing each other around.

My husband and I then followed one of the naturalists up to the tippy-top of this small mountain to have a look out at the bay. The reason I look unhappy in the picture below is that I am actually standing on a very narrow ledge... all that snow to the left is just covering a huge cliff. Once again, since I am clumsy, I was positive that I was going to fall off.

But we made it up there alive and stood by a few stray penguins taking in the view. It's a rockier area so it's not quite as pretty as the other places we visited, but it gives you a sense of how different the landscapes can be across the region. See how small some of our fellow passengers are down there by the shore?

We bid adieu to Useful Island and pulled up anchor once again. The next day of the trip was probably my favorite... it was brilliantly sunny out and we actually kayaked around a calm harbor. But until that post, here are two stunning pictures of ice--one of a massive iceberg that floated by, and the other of an "extreme ice close-up."

Ahh, I feel cooler already.

- e

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Ah, the Memories of Working for The Man, Courtesy of The Dark Knight

So I finally got my tickets to see The Dark Knight on Friday. I was supposed to go to an IMAX sneak peek of the movie tonight, but those plans fell through (hello, bitterness!), so I had to scramble. Guess what? The show was already sold out from 5:30 PM to 10:45 PM Friday night! Yikes. It's going to be crazy.

Watching the final trailer for the film, however, I was reminded of days gone by when I used to work for The Man (11 months and counting...). That's right, not one but TWO of my old office buildings are featured in the movie, much of which was shot in Chicago. For those of you who are familiar with the city, just like in Batman Returns, many of the chase scenes were filmed on Lower Wacker drive.

And several of the "Joker confrontation" scenes were filmed at the end of the LaSalle Street corridor, where I used to work. The Chicago Board of Trade building, my most recent place of legitimate employment, can be seen at 21 seconds, 35 seconds, 1 minute 42 seconds, and then again about ten seconds after that when the truck blows up. Along that same stretch of city blocks is also the office where I used to work for JPMorgan Chase. I must admit, these buildings make great dramatic backdrops for a Batman/Joker showdown!

Unless you have been living in a hole, then you already know that the movie has gotten great advance reviews, and there is much buzz about Heath Ledger receiving a posthumous Oscar nomination. I still think it's going to be hard to watch him on the big screen, but I have faith that his performance will be incredible. Expect my recap on Monday!

- e

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (except the one about how Nic Cage gets his hair that way)

Every time I see Nicolas Cage, the first thing I think is, "He was engaged to a girl I went to junior high school with?!?!" (Her name was Kristen Zang, and she left Michigan to become a model in LA.) The second thing I think is, "What in the hell is up with his hair?" The third thought is, "He should be punished for naming his kid Kal-El." And lastly, I wonder, "Is his wife like 19 years old, and does she even speak English?" Seriously, this woman does not talk, it is freaky. She is just always seen standing next to him, smiling... like she's being forced to do so. He's kind of a shady dude, when you think about it.

But that didn't stop me from watching National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets. I am all about conspiracy theories and hidden symbols and treasure maps and all of that kind of stuff, and I liked the first movie, so I knew I would enjoy the sequel. And I did. It wasn't outstanding, but it was just what I expected.

The premise this time around was kind of weak, though. Cage, once again playing the modern-day Indiana Jones-ish Ben Gates, is desperate to clear his great-great-great-great-great-great-great Grandpa's name, after new evidence comes to light that he might have been involved in Lincoln's assassination. OK, so it was really just his great-great-grandfather... but my point is that what transpires in the movie seems like an awful lot of trouble to go through to clear one's family name, but I guess maybe I'm simply not that noble. I just can't believe there wouldn't have been an easier way to go about proving that the Gates family has always been comprised of a bunch of upstanding citizens, than to start flying around the world solving random cryptic puzzles hidden in famous statues and artifacts.

But anyway, for reasons I no longer remember, if Gates and his band of merry adventurers (made up of his way-too-good-looking-for-him ex-girlfriend, some computer geek who can magically hack into ANYWHERE, and his dad, who is much too old to be running around searching for hidden treasures) can find some long lost City of Gold, that will prove great-great-Grandpa's innocence. But to find the loot, they need the Book of Secrets, which is a book that is passed from President to President, which includes basically everything any conspiracy theorist ever wanted to know the truth about... like Area 51, the Kennedy assassination, etc., etc.

As I said before, I believe in all of this kind of stuff, and I do honestly think there's some sort of book like that in existence in the United States. The information in it may be a little bit more boring, but priceless nonetheless. So the idea of that kind of book and all of the cool things the group was able to find because of it more than made up for the lame "wronged ancestor" premise.

If you liked the first movie, you'll like this one, too. The trailer is below in case you're interested.

What I was disappointed about, however, is that we got no enlightenment as to how in the world Nicolas Cage keeps his hair in that weird mini bouffant 'do he's been sporting for years. He should just shave his head already, seriously. Maybe in National Treasure 3 they will realize that there is a secret map contained within a birthmark on his scalp and they can use that as an excuse to make him finally go bald. It could happen!

- e