Friday, October 16, 2009

Kick 'Em When They're Up, Kick 'Em When They're Down

I am very, very happy I was running errands yesterday afternoon. If I hadn't been out and about, I might have been tempted to turn on the TV and watch the dramatic "Balloon Boy" story unfold, against my better judgment. Instead, I was on the bus, making my way from one place to another, when I checked Twitter and saw message after message about this six-year-old kid who was apparently soaring high above Colorado in a runaway makeshift hot air balloon/flying saucer thingy. ?!?!

Upon reading bits and pieces of the story (and then checking for more info), I became totally nauseous. I couldn't believe there were live feeds of the balloon's treacherous flight. EVERYONE THOUGHT THERE WAS A YOUNG BOY TRAPPED IN THE BASKET! What exactly were these media outlets going to do if all of a sudden this kid (named Falcon, oh irony of ironies) peered over the side and tipped out? Seriously, I need to understand what their plan was. Were they going to show a young child falling to the earth? Or were they just going to cut away? Fade to black? It's sickening that I (and most likely others) even need to wonder about this, but this whole episode just underscores the main reason I don't watch any news programs: they're all about getting the scoop, without regard to taste or decency or consequences.

Listen to me, sounding like I'm ninety years old. "Back in MY day... we didn't even have TV... we would just all sit around looking at each other for hours... and we liked it, dammit, WE LOVED IT!" Clearly, something about this Balloon Boy saga has riled me up. I know it's awful and uncomfortable to think about what might have happened if this story didn't have a happy ending, but while all of the various shows are grilling the Heene family this morning (and poor Falcon has already thrown up twice in the middle of these interviews), asking whether or not the entire thing was a hoax, no one's asking the only question I want an answer to: what were they going to do if this kid was in the balloon like everyone assumed he was, and he fell out while they had their live feed going? I want someone to own up to their plan!

I personally couldn't care less if the whole thing was a hoax. It doesn't change the fact that reporters bought it and were all over it like white on rice. It brings to mind the wise and true words of Don Henley in the awesome, awesome song "Dirty Laundry":

We got the bubble-headed bleach-blonde who comes on at five
She can tell you 'bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye
It's interesting when people die --
Give us dirty laundry.

Ugh. Anyway, I'm sure we're going to hear lots more about Balloon Boy (which I feel silly typing, much less saying) over the coming days and weeks. There will be Balloon Boy skits on Saturday Night Live, Halloween costumes, magazine covers, you name it. I'm just glad the kid is safe and that my "What if?" worry wasn't realized.

- e

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

My First-Ever Radio Gig

I posted this on Facebook a few days ago, but I know many of you have resisted the temptation that is social networking thus far and therefore didn't see it, so here's a link to my radio spot on KPAM for redbox:

I didn't make a total fool out of myself.


I'll be back with the KPAM crew on October 23, so stay tuned...

- e

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Hear Ye, Hear Ye... Hear Me!

For those of you who've been reading both this blog and Long Live Locke over the years but have never had the extreme great pleasure of meeting me (I kid), tomorrow (Friday) morning you will at least have a chance to put a voice with my pictures and writing. As part of my work with redbox, I'm going to be on KPAM radio in Portland every third Friday or so (if things go well) starting this week. However, you don't need to be in Oregon to tune in... you can do so by clicking on the "Listen Live" link in the upper-right of KPAM's site. I've tried it out, it works! Fellow redblog writers and film critics James Rocchi and Locke Peterseim will be rotating duties on the other Fridays -- and they are awesome -- so you should check out their spots as well.

I will be going on a few minutes after 9 AM EST (yep, that's 6 AM for the early-risers on the west coast) and will talk for 6 - 8 minutes about the week's theatrical and DVD releases. My first spot tomorrow will focus on Zombieland and Whip It, as well as Monsters vs. Aliens, The Brothers Bloom and Management.

I should be getting an .MP3 of my bit on their morning show a few days afterward, but am not sure if I will be able to upload that on this site. So... regardless of whether or not you're able to catch me live, please please please send me good luck vibes! I'm not nervous now, but I'm sure I will be once I start preparing everything tonight.

- e

PS - On a completely unrelated note, I googled "Hear ye, hear ye!" before writing this post to ensure I was spelling it correctly. The first result that popped up was a blog entitled "Hear ye! Hear ye!" and I spent a few minutes browsing through it. I'm glad I did, because I found some ridiculously cute pictures of guinea pigs!!! I used to own two guinea pigs: one (Piggy -- yep, I'm not that creative) during college and another (Chewie) right after I graduated from Michigan. I loved them dearly, and so I really got a kick out of these pics... as well as these. Check them out -- if you don't crack a smile, you just might not have a heart!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Talkin' It Up with Claire Zulkey, Writer Extraordinaire and Author of 'An Off Year'

Congratulations are in order for 'According to e' readers Laura, KristYn from CALI, helkatmat, Dee, Virtual Jon Daniels and Alisha Rene, all of whom won signed copies of my friend Claire Zulkey's recently published young adult novel, An Off Year. (I've heard from everyone except Laura... so Laura, if you're out there, send me a comment with your email address -- I won't publish it -- so that I can contact you about mailing out the book.)

Now the rest of you need to go buy it! Remember, you can do so here or here or at your local bookstore.

What's that, you say? You want to learn more about the book first? Well, whattayaknow, I just so happen to have interviewed Claire a few weeks ago and have all the background info that you'd ever want.

But before I share our chat, I need to tell you about how I came to be friends with Claire in the first place. In early October 2007, not too long after I had bid adieu to The Man, I attended a panel on freelancing in Chicago, and Claire was one of the speakers. I thought she seemed like a cool chick and so I emailed her a few days afterward to see if she'd be up for having lunch and sharing more of her freelancing know-how with me. I must not have come off as too stalkerish, because she agreed, and has been nothing but supportive of my writing career ever since.

Claire is truly an inspiration, not only because she's published a novel (as well as contributed to The Onion A.V. Club's latest and sure-to-be-genius book, Inventory, out October 13 -- pre-order it here!), but she's also written for many of the most awesome publications and web sites around. Some of the biggest include The L.A. Times, The Onion A.V. Club (duh, I just mentioned their book), Glamour, The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post and The RedEye here in Chicago. On top of that, Claire was one of the earliest bloggers -- you know, waaay before everyone and their brother was doing it -- and her site,, rocks the house. Because of it, she has achieved the highest of high honors and my ultimate goal in life -- to be mentioned by none other than Anderson Cooper. You know how I love me some AC!

e: I should probably start off by saying that yours is the first novel I’ve read in a long, long time that doesn’t revolve around magical beings, mythical creatures, or some ridiculously outlandish scenario. So thanks for helping to remind me that there are books about plain ol’ human beings doing normal things that I can enjoy just as much! An Off Year focuses on Cecily, who arrives at college ready to begin her freshman year... but then decides to turn around and go back home, much to her and her father’s surprise. Now, I know you went to college, but I also know that you started writing this book ten or so years ago, so I had to wonder whether or not Cecily’s story was drawn even just a teensy bit from your personal experience. Did you have second thoughts about school back in the day? And if not, where did the inspiration for An Off Year come from?

Claire: The thing that's funny is that my personal experience was so different from Cecily's--my parents would have absolutely locked me in my dorm room and driven off if I tried to do what she did: taking "a year off" is practically against their religion, not that I judge them in any way for that. I applied to ten schools, I took the SAT's twice, I had a private college counselor. So you could say the book is about me exploring an alternate reality but really the whole nut of the book came from Cecily herself and not so much her journey. I read a book a long time ago called "Celine" by Brock Cole and it still stands out to me as having such a strong-voiced, unique, funny, don't-give-a-damn YA protagonist that I essentially started out seeing if I could write a book in a similar tone. I don't know if Cecily is necessarily all those things but I sort of had the character first before I knew what to do with her.

e: So how much of Cecily’s personality was based on your own or perhaps someone you know? I ask this because by the time I finished the book, I felt like I thoroughly understood her character and was impressed by how “real” she seemed. What I mean is — from her witty banter with her friends, family members and various counselors, to her internal musings, to the ways in which she decided to spend her free time — she didn’t seem like a character in a book, she seemed like an actual person who exists somewhere out there.

Claire: On the one hand, while I feel like Cecily embodies a lot of my own insecurities from that age, she's much more outgoing and generally cool about certain things than I ever was. I think I was a lot more neurotic about what people thought of me as a person than she is. I also wanted avoid certain cliches--I decided purposefully to make her a little more jaded about drugs and alcohol and a little less obsessed with body image, just because I thought it would be nice to move past those things, to some extent, that girls her age seem to obsess over and get to another matter. But overall I think Cecily felt a lot more comfortable with the high school experience than I was: she was cool with her social lot in life by and large, and was more worried about college whereas by the time I was done with high school I practically wanted to burn the place down. Well, not really but I was definitely ready to move on to college where I could get to know a new crowd (which was terrifying too). At any rate, I wanted to make sure that I gave Cecily plenty of flaws and even made her a little hard to like at times--I think that makes her much more real, especially since her problems aren't very clear-cut so I didn't want to make her a clear-cut kind of girl.

e: True to its title, the book takes us through a year in Cecily’s life after she decides to return home with her dad instead of starting at Kenyon College as planned. When you came up with the idea for this book all of those years ago, how much of that year did you already have mapped out in your head? Did you know how Cecily’s story would ultimately end?

Claire: I had very little of it mapped out initially since the year off didn't actually hit me as a story until I had been working on it for a while. The only part of her journey that I had established early on was Cecily's campus visit up to Madison to see her brother Josh. I went on a few of those myself and it's just funny that you're expected to get an idea of whether you like a school or not based on absolutely no point of reference. You visit a campus for a day or two, but how do you have any idea what your life would be like there? I'm not exaggerating that it probably helped that I visited Georgetown, my alma mater, on a beautiful sunny day whereas I never felt that bad about not getting into U Penn since it was such a crappy, foggy day when I visited there. As if that's indicative of how life as a student would be.

Spoiler alert! (Highlight the next paragraph with your mouse if you'd like to read Claire's thoughts on the book's ending.) I did know that Cecily would go back to school. I just didn't see her going forward without any college experience, although maybe it was also just me being reluctant to write about something that I know nothing about (IE not going to college). I also did know that I wanted her Dad to be a little reluctant to let her go at the end.

e: I loved the relationship Cecily had with her father. I don’t think it’s spoiling too much to say that when Cecily tells her dad she wants to go back home, he doesn’t flip out... he simply takes her back home. However, when my husband was just a few pages into the first chapter he commented, “Man, if that was my kid, I’d say, ‘You’re here, you’re staying, deal with it!’” My response to him was, “Yeah, but that’s kind of one of the sub-plots of the book... why didn’t Cecily’s dad do that?” Did you ever consider a harsher reaction from Cecily’s dad, or did you know from the outset that the intricacies of their father-daughter relationship wouldn’t allow for him to go berserk on his youngest child?

Claire: That definitely was a part of the story I had mapped out early-on. To me while I love Cecily's relationship with her Dad, it's also a tiny bit odd, maybe just because in my family while there was a lot of love and respect and fun and laughs, there was never any question who was the kid and who were the parents. I feel like Cecily gets both the best and worst of her traits from her father but as she grows older it's just inappropriate to stay so closely identified with him.

e: What was the toughest part about writing An Off Year?

Claire: Oh lord. Sticking with it? It literally took me over ten years from start to finish and it's funny because I used to read that about other authors and thought "Those suckers. I can write faster than that!" Well, obviously not. But I didn't know what it would be when I started it. I started it for fun, tinkered with it, let sit around for a few years, tinkered with it again, toyed with it as a novel, put it away some more, then thought about YA. That's when the ball started rolling more but even then that took another four or so years. The thing was like a time capsule. I remember in an original incarnation somebody looked something up in the encyclopedia and one of my editors was like "Wouldn't she use Wikipedia?" Wikipedia didn't exist, or not the way it does now, when I started it. It's funny because I'm working on the second book right now and draaaaagging my feet on it and the thing that's annoying is that I know the writing is the "easy" part! Let's just pretend it gets so far that my editor works on it--say you designed a building, and she says "I hate the second floor, can you add three more floors, put the fifth floor on the top, tip it on its side and paint it pink?" I'm so happy with the book, half because I'm proud of how it turned out and half that it just happened!

e: Let’s talk about the cover for a minute. It’s totally adorable. I know, however, that authors don’t always get much—if any—input when it comes to book jackets. Were you involved with the creation of yours?

Claire: I was! My editor and I both had the same idea at first--one of those magic eraser wipe boards that college students put on their dorm room doors--but then she sent me a mockup of what you see now, except that the initial version had lizard or dinosaur-type slippers. There was a little issue about whether they looked enough like slippers so I had this fun assignment of looking up a ton of silly slippers online. I think I still wanted something like bear feet, something not-typically-cute, but my editor assured me that everyone in the art department went gaga over this particular version and I knew that I am the rookie here and that they know best. I actually wrote in the little detail of the pink carpet into the book since it wasn't in there to begin with. The cover's gotten such good feedback (based on my self-obsessed Googling) that I've even read one comment online from a person who said that the cover is better than the book which kind of stings but hey, at least they like some part of it!

e: Despite the fact that there’s a whole lotta pink on the cover, I strongly believe that Cecily’s thoughts and actions are relatable to guys as well — in fact, I happen to know a few members of the male persuasion who’ve read your book and have enjoyed it just as much as I have. Further, even though An Off Year is classified as a Young Adult novel, I’m thirty-something and could clearly identify with Cecily’s story. Maybe that’s because I found her struggle to make a decision about college very comparable to how I felt when I decided to up and leave corporate America two years ago. My point is, I believe anyone — of any age — who has ever wrestled with a significant life change (and hasn’t necessarily felt comfortable with following the status quo) could sympathize with what goes down in this book. Does that surprise you to hear? Did you consciously set out to write this story for a particular demographic or was your hope that its universal themes might attract an audience outside of the YA genre’s typical readership?

Claire: It pleases me to hear that but if it doesn't make me sound too cocky, I am not that surprised--as I said above, it definitely didn't start out as a YA book. And also, my favorite YA books, like Celine and Island of the Blue Dolphins and so on were about thoughtful teens, not teenage thoughts. Of course I liked The Babysitter's Club and whatnot but I wanted to avoid things that were super timely and trendy. I had an experience a few years ago where a publisher had already sold a YA book--they had everything set in stone, the plot, the characters, everything, but they just needed someone to write it. I tried out for the job and I remember one of the main critiques I got was "Can you work in more name brands?" Now I love that kind of stuff as much as anyone but that's for my closet and my magazines. I honestly can't say that I'll be able to accomplish this if and when I write other books but I do stand behind my book in that it's something I like reading. I credit my editor, Julie Strauss-Gabel, with most of that. She was great at cutting away the unnecessary and helping me figure out what needed to be filled in. Moreover a lot of Cecily's concerns were concerns I had when I was her age, and even though they've diminished as I've gotten older, some of them are still underneath the surface, which maybe is somewhat identifiable to other people too--who doesn't freak the slightest bit with each new life stage?

e: So obviously I’m a fan of the book and feel like there’s something in it for everyone, but I do have to call out one passage that I think is particularly relevant for anyone in their final years of high school or early years at college. At one point Cecily is having a heart-to-heart with her brother’s girlfriend, Angie. Angie (a sophomore in college) relays how she was kind of depressed because everyone kept telling her that her college days were supposed to be “the best time in her life,” but she didn’t feel that way at all. I was so happy that you found a way to cover this fallacy in the book, because I’ve been guilty of saying the exact same phrase to several of my young cousins as they went off to school, and then felt really guilty afterward when I learned that they struggled to find their footing a bit during freshman year. I’d made it out to be all happy-happy-joy-joy... but when I really stopped to think about my first year in college, I recalled being down in the dumps a lot, too. The reality for many people is that it’s not actually until you’re done with school that you can fully appreciate that time in your life. On this note, I saw that a college advising dean was one of the people who provided a quote on the back cover of your book. Did you find yourself needing to do any research with high school counselors or people in similar positions in order to capture the many conflicting emotions teenagers go through during this tumultuous transition period?

Claire: Guess who that college advising dean is? My freshman year roommate from Georgetown. No joke. Of course when we first moved in as strangers I think we eyed each other somewhat suspiciously. She wanted to be a dentist, not a college counselor. If I plotted out Cecily's college life I'd hope she'd have a roommate like Liz, who one day essentially told me "You're so funny but you do know have this thing where you pre-judge people, right?" She helped me appreciate myself more and be a more outgoing person. Now she's a dean at Columbia (where I would have gone if I didn't go to Georgetown) and last year she was in my wedding. Funny how those things work out. Anyway! Other than having Liz weigh in on what it's like to be a college counselor (whose point of view I could trust having been a college student WITH her), I also ran Cecily's conundrum past my friend Nora, who is getting her PhD in child psychology and who is both a very matter-of-fact yet compassionate person. I have a little experience, like Cecily, being the patient in a cognitive behavioral therapy situation but I wanted to make sure that the things she was going through and the advice she was getting matched up--thanks to Nora, Cecily went to work and went to school, which she hadn't done before that.

As to your other point, yes, I feel like that whole "best years of your life" in college thing is a total fallacy and I wanted to put that out there. I think college has way more going for it than high school but things just get better as you get older and get to know yourself and what really makes you happy. I don't trust anyone who says they have all that figured out by the age of 20. That's weird.

You have to go to the site to learn the deal with the kangaroo.
e: What’s next for you? Is there another book in the works? If so, can you give us any hints as to its plot?

Claire: Yes, I'm working on the next YA book, in addition to a bunch of other abandoned projects that I occasionally pick up. I have discovered an unsettling trend wherein I write 50 pages of something and then let it sit around for several years and then come back to it and see how it measures up so it looks like I'll never turn anything out quickly. So I have a couple other things in the works but the next book, tentatively, is a YA book in an office setting, based on my various years of summer jobs, although if it takes as long to get done as the last one did, it might end up being set on Mars or something.

Thanks to Claire for taking the time out of her busy schedule to share insight about her book and her writing process with us... and congrats again to the contest winners!

- e

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Buy My Friend's Book!
Even If You Win One of the Six Copies I'm Giving Away!


To the winners: click on the "e" icon in the upper-right corner of this blog and then send me a message through the email link so that I can get your address and send the book your way!

My friend Claire Zulkey rocks the house, and I'm really excited because her young adult novel, An Off Year, came out today. I think you all need to rush out and buy it right now. Or you can do so here... or here! See how easy I've made it for you? No excuses!

Anyway, in a week and a half or so, I'm going to not only explain all of the reasons why Claire is my hero, but also post an interview I did with her so that you can learn a little bit more about her book. In the meantime, however, here's the gist of its story: a girl named Cecily arrives on campus for her first day of college and then is like, "Um, you know what? I don't think so. Dad, take me home!" That's right, she leaves. I'm not spoiling anything because that's what happens right at the beginning. And I'm not telling you anything else!

To honor Claire's huge accomplishment, I'm running a contest starting right... NOW so that six lucky 'According to e' readers will be able to win a signed copy of An Off Year. Now, I still want everyone to go buy the book. If you win another copy you can give the one you bought away as a present and keep the signed one for yourself since Claire will certainly be mega rich and famous one day. Then you can auction off your rare signed copy of her first novel for millions of dollars and retire in luxury. All because you won a contest on this little ol' site. You're welcome, in advance.

(Before I go any further, if you're not into this contest but know someone else who would be, or who might have a teenager who'd be interested in An Off Year, send them thisaway!)

So here's what you need to do in order to win:
Tell me about something memorable that happened during either your senior year of high school or your freshman year of college. I'm not looking for anything serious or personal or deep -- you should know me better than that! I AM looking for funny stories or bizarre anecdotes. And I have an expert BS Detector, so don't even try to make something up that didn't really happen. If I sense lies or untruths or trickery, you're out of the running!

Here's an example of a few things I would submit if I didn't already have a copy of Claire's book for myself that I will be making her sign:

- During my senior year of high school, for some inexplicable reason, my friends and I had an obsession with the color yellow. One day we decided to videotape ourselves going up to people in random places -- like the gas station, Bennigan's, parking lots -- that were wearing something yellow and shouting "HELLLLLOOOO YELLLOOWWWW!!!!" at them and seeing what they did. No, we did not get arrested. No, we were not drinking or on any sort of drugs. We were just weird. Yes, I still have the videotape. No, you will not ever be able to find it and blackmail me with it.

- In 1993 during my freshman year at Michigan, the basketball team made it to the NCAA playoffs. It was the "Fab Five" era with Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson -- before any scandals broke out. The night they won their Final Four game against Kentucky and advanced on to the final championship game, everyone streamed out of their dorms -- I'm talking thousands of people all at the same time -- and headed to a major intersection on campus in front of the student union. It seemed like a very good percentage of the 40,000 undergraduate and graduate students were there. Then, the strangest thing ever happened: everyone -- peacefully, joyously -- started singing the popular song "Hip Hop Hooray" by Naughty by Nature (hey, it was the early '90s) and waving their arms back and forth to the beat in celebration. It was one of the most surreal things I've ever experienced and is now one of my favorite memories from my college years. (I choose remembering that awesome night over Chris Webber calling a time-out -- that the team didn't have -- during the final game, thereby losing the championship to North Carolina. D'oh!)

See what I'm getting at? Just random stories like that.

I will close the contest at midnight on Wednesday, September 9.

An esteemed panel of judges will decide on the six best stories and I will announce the winners on or around September 13th.

Here are other rules that I've learned I better list out:

- This contest is open to U.S. residents only.

- Please keep it to one submission per person. You have some time, so think about it and make it count!

- Only entries on this blog via the comments section below this post will be considered -- Tweets or Facebook comments will not.

- Please keep it clean. I'm definitely not interested in stories about drinking, drugs, sex, yadda, yadda, yadda. And I won't publish any submissions about those things, either, so don't waste your time, dude reading this who had a reaaaalllly cool frat party story!

- Don't send anything you want kept private -- I will be publishing everything I receive (except for the stuff I mentioned above).

Can't wait to read these!

- e

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Not Only am I Alive, but I've also Joined the 21st Century

So, um, yeah.

I haven't kept up with 'According to e' like I thought I'd be able to once Lost went on hiatus. But there's a good reason for my absence -- I've been swamped with freelancing assignments. I could only dream of being in this position two years ago when I decided to stop Working For The Man, so I really can't complain. Plus, my movie-related posts on redblog are available for anyone to read, so hopefully they've kept you from missing me too much.

I wanted to check in today to 1) assure you that I'm still alive and 2) give you the heads up that I'm going to be running a fun contest sometime very soon (as in, within the next week, fo' sho'), so make sure you check back within that timeframe so you can participate.

In the meantime, allow me to share a quick little rant about the fact that, because of said busy-ness mentioned earlier in this post, I had to break down and buy an iPhone. I have been without any sort of crackberry or PDA for two years AND I HAVE LIKED IT, so I was really bummed out about having to make this purchase, believe it or not. I relished being the only person riding on the bus, walking down the street, or waiting in a movie theater before the lights dimmed who wasn't manically thumb-typing away or holding something up to their ear or talking into an invisible mic. Because I used to be That Girl, and it was awful.

Oh, how quickly bad habits resurface. It took about two weeks of iPhone ownership before I was right back to where I was before I left corporate America in 2007: checking messages the moment I woke up, and while out for walks, and while waiting to be seated in a restaurant -- basically every spare second that I was away from my laptop. It's the worst. But the good thing about the iPhone is that there are some really lame -- but fun and free -- games you can download onto it, so if I play some of those then for some reason I don't feel quite as bad about having this device out in public. AND my iPod was on its last legs, so now I don't need to get a new one. AND it really is only safe and smart to have a phone on you at all times. AND... and.. hmm.

I'm sounding like a junkie trying to justify my habit, aren't I?

Anyway, more soon... as long as I can tear myself away from my iPhone. (Just kidding.)

Hope you've all been having a wonderful summer... I can't believe it's already pretty much over. Sniff.

- e

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Dirty Sexy Money Returns... Kind Of

Since I used to follow Dirty Sexy Money and have covered it before on this blog (here, here, here... and here), I figured I should let any other fans of this soapy series know that ABC will be airing its final four episodes this summer... starting tonight.

That's all there is since the series was canceled, but at least we'll get some closure... which is better than nothing, I suppose. I have a feeling that the finale is going to be totally ridiculous, but since the only other thing I'm watching this summer is NYC Prep, "ridiculous" is all relative. Anyway, if you want to see how DSM ends, set your Tivos!

(By the way, for sci-fi/fantasy fans who may be interested, I've also been advised by several people to Tivo Torchwood: Children of Earth on BBC America, its premiere is on the 20th. There's been nothing but awesome buzz on this one so I'm willing to give it a shot.)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bad Purchases

Every time I prepare to do the laundry, I get annoyed. Not from the actual task of doing the laundry (though that's certainly not my favorite thing in the world), but rather from the constant reminder of how I wasted money on a crappy sweater from Gap. This black sweater has been at the bottom of my dirty-clothes hamper for months at this point. The reason I can't wash it is because it has to be laid out flat to dry, and there's just really no place in my condo to do that, unless I don't mind whatever's on the floor getting covered in dog hair.

Perhaps if it was actually a nice-looking sweater I would find a way to make the air-drying work (I could probably lay it on a towel on top of the counter or something). But it's kind of pointless now, because it's all pilly and fuzzy and looks like I've had it for twenty years. It's made of some weird acrylic/wool/polyester/spandex blend and basically started breaking down after the first time I wore it.

The thing is, I knew this was going to be a bad purchase... so why did I buy it? I have no idea. I guess I wanted a black sweater and thought this one would be a fast, quick and relatively cheap option. So -- as with the unflattering gaucho pants of 2007 and the sky-high-what-was-I-thinking-I'm-going-to-break-my-ankle brown heels of 2008 -- I just need to donate my black sweater to charity and be done with it.

I gave it a proper funeral (as you can see from the picture in this post), so now I no longer have to be annoyed by Crappy Black Gap Sweater. May it find a nice home with someone who has the patience to shave the pills off of it and lay it out flat to dry time and time again, because that person is certainly not me.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Another Successful Taste of Chicago Visit

The Taste of Chicago food festival has come and gone from The Windy City once more, and I still don't think my digestive system has fully recovered. This year Nerdy P was not able to join me like she has the past several years (do you recall our '06 and '07 adventures?), but my husband's parents were in town and so it was fun to go with people who had never experienced the craziness before.

Those of you following me on Twitter already know the bizarre combination of meats, starches and desserts I downed this year... but are the rest of you ready for the list? Well here it is... I had: a slice of deep-dish spinach pizza, three skewers of sesame beef, a slice of garlic cheese bread, a HUGE piece of Baklava (forgot to mention that one on Twitter), two mini-brownies and a ton of chocolate-covered caramel corn. No, I did not throw up at any point that day -- over the years I must have developed a stomach of steel! (Which, unfortunately, is very different from Abs of Steel.)

While it wasn't as hot as it's been in past years, I did end up getting freakishly sunburned on my arms, which I'm very bitter about as 1) I was carrying sunscreen in my bag but forgot to put it on, and 2) I won't be able to wear anything but long-sleeved shirts until these weird patterns fade. Grr.

Despite the sunburns, we did have a great time at the festival. The low point was seeing the scary dummy I wrote about a few days ago.

Actually, after I published that post I realized that I never mentioned how completely ridiculous it was that the guy controlling that evil-looking puppet was hidden behind a makeshift shelter. I mean, isn't the whole point of having a dummy to make it look like he's really the one talking when you're sitting next to him? I guess whoever was in the black shack had absolutely no ventriloquial (yes, that's a word, I looked it up) skills. He just wanted to haunt everyone's dreams for the rest of eternity.

If he's there next year I'm going to bust down his hideout and shoo him away. Unless The Frozen S'more returns (it wasn't there this year), then I'll be too busy stuffing my face with those.

Monday, July 06, 2009

My Second Worst Nightmare

Back in January I wrote about my worst nightmare, zombies on the loose. This past weekend at the Taste of Chicago I unfortunately realized what my Worst Nightmare Runner-Up would be: evil clowns, dolls and dummies on the loose.

Allow me to explain. From afar this ventriloquist's booth didn't look too disturbing. Or at least I figured it couldn't be that scary since there were little kids crowded around the set-up.

Since the dummy was turned away from me and I saw his pretty normal-looking Howdy Doody friend sitting off to the side on the ground, I moved closer.

Still not really focusing on the dummy's face, I read his sign, which said, "For a quarter (or change) I will tell you a joke or take a picture with ya."

Then I took a good look at the tiny mannequin's mug. Mistake! I was absolutely horrified. I mean seriously, who creates a dummy that looks like this?

Forget Chucky, this guy is evil!

Needless to say, I didn't sleep well that night. At first I thought it was from all the food I ate at the festival (more on that some other time), but now I realize that I was obviously haunted by the face above. And tonight you will be, too. Aren't you glad I shared it with you?

(On a related note, only a few minutes ago it hit me that perhaps this dummy was meant to look like Michael Jackson, what with the hat, outfit, white socks and all (though they must have been fresh out of stock at the sequined glove store). That's no way to pay your respects, Mr. Ventriloquist!)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood at the United Center

As I sat listening to Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood play at the United Center last week, I started planning out what I might say about the show for this blog entry. But a lot of the descriptions and phrasing that ran through my mind seemed familiar -- like I'd already written the exact same things before. Lo and behold, after searching through my 'A to e' posts I found that I did in fact write about a Clapton concert back in 2006. Sometimes it is really unnerving to have such an awful memory.

Anyway, while three years ago I saw Clapton by himself and he played a lot of his most popular songs, this time around he reunited with his Blind Faith bandmate Steve Winwood and they focused on old blues standards. This probably made anyone who appreciates "good music" and/or superior guitar-playing really happy, but I was sorely disappointed. Over the course of about two and a half hours, I only knew two Clapton songs: 'After Midnight' and the slow, acoustic version of 'Layla' (which I don't like nearly as much as the original version). I kind of recognized 'Forever Man,' and then covers of 'Georgia on My Mind' and 'Sweet Home Chicago' were the only other tunes I was familiar with that evening. That equates to five songs I knew in 150 minutes!

The legendary Buddy Guy came out for the encore and sang along to 'Sweet Home Chicago' and then helped draw the show to a close with 'Drowning on Dry Land' (the entire set list is here, if you're interested). I've seen Buddy pop up at a few other concerts before (like with John Mayer at the Taste of Chicago in 2007) and he always steals the show. Clapton and Winwood's voices were cracking and fading a bit and I chalked it up to the fact that they're both in their sixth decade, but then along comes Buddy Guy, who's 72) and blows them both out of the water with his loud, commanding, powerful-as-ever pipes.

Although I'm probably giving off the impression that I didn't enjoy the show, let me be clear that I did -- I simply wish that more of the Clapton and Winwood songs I know and love had been played. Hell, the concert was free, we had box seats, and I got an awesome chocolate and caramel-covered apple from the infamous "dessert cart" on top of getting to relax for once, so I'm not complaining.

And even though Steve Winwood played absolutely none of his solo hits from the '80s, this concert helped remind me of all of them, and so the next day I downloaded 'Valerie,' 'Back in the High Life Again,' 'Roll With It,' 'Higher Love,' 'The Finer Things' and 'Don't You Know What the Night Can Do' -- a song which I absolutely loved back in the day but had completely forgotten about -- from iTunes.

Since I didn't get to hear DYKWTNCD live, the next best thing is its video from 1988, so I'll leave you with that. Extra points to anyone who can remember the Michelob commercial set to this song in that same year!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Best Stain Remover for Slobs

I have a pseudo-confession to make: I'm no domestic goddess. That's only a pseudo-confession because everyone who knows me is already very much aware of this fact. If I wasn't so lazy I might take and upload a few pictures of the mess that is my condo right now for proof. But since I have no motivation to get off of my chair, find my camera and then snap photos of my "work space" (read: kitchen table) you're just going to have to believe me.

Here's how I roll: unless someone comes to visit or there's a major catastrophe that requires an immediate clean-up, this place pretty much does not get dusted, vacuumed, or sprayed/scrubbed down in any way, shape or form.

My lack of knowledge and interest in all things housekeeping is probably why I didn't learn about Fels-Naptha miracle soap until a few months ago. I was at my Aunt Sue's house and was worrying aloud that I might have ruined one of my favorite tops because of yet another spill (did I mention I'm really clumsy?). She busted some Fels-Naptha out of her linen closet and told me to use it on my shirt before throwing it in the wash -- she guaranteed the stain would come out.

Lo and behold, it worked. And it has since annihilated some other really nasty stains. Who would've ever guessed that this cheap, unassuming bar of yellow soap is way more effective than all of the high-tech intensely marketed whiz-bang sprays and sticks lining grocery market and convenience store shelves?

Since my aunt gave me her bar, I'm not really sure where you can buy it and test it out for yourself if you're curious. I did some quick research online and it seems like it's pretty hard to find in physical stores nowadays -- but Ace Hardware may carry it.

What I do know is that I'm totally sold on this stuff. On a related note, I was really worried that it would cause some sort of allergic reaction because my skin is ultra-sensitive and will revolt if the wind so much as blows on me the wrong way. But I haven't had any problems with FN so far -- though granted, I just rub it into a lather on the stained clothing item, it's not like I'm doing anything to add it into the mix of my normal detergent. (And for the record, I am aware that FN is not to be used as a normal soap for the face or body.)

Now that I'm near the end of this post, the realization hit me that everyone and their brother probably already knows about Fels-Naptha, and therefore you're most likely all laughing at the fact that I just caught on to this decades-old household staple. But what can I say? I'm excited that I don't have to keep tossing all of my stained clothes into the trash any longer. (I truly am that messy -- it's a problem.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Wearable Towel: The Next Snuggie

I hardly ever watch live TV, so I didn't hear about the Snuggie phenomenon until after its infomercials had been on the air for months. And if it hadn't been for some downtime during a vacation last year, I wouldn't have ever known about the ShamWow. (I also was introduced to The Aqua Globes during that same trip.)

But now there's a new phenomenon hitting the nation, and I'm happy that I learned about this one right away. Recently I was at my parents' house, the TV was on, and I caught the ad for The Wearable Towel. If you haven't seen it yet, here it is:

My knee-jerk reaction was "I want one." But upon watching the commercial again, now I'm embarrassed that I ever considered paying $20 for such a ridiculous invention. Why in the hell do I need to run around the house in a towel with armholes in it? When I get out of the shower, I dry off and immediately get dressed. And if for some reason I don't want to put on an outfit right away, there's this little thing called A ROBE that works wonders.

Maybe I'm in the minority and there are a ton of people out there who keep their towels wrapped around them for a significant period of time after they bathe. So if they want to use The Wearable Towel in the privacy of their bathroom while they're getting ready, fine. But the ad had to go one step further and show people casually sauntering down their driveways to pick up the newspaper in this ridiculous toga-looking contraption. And don't even get me started on the preposterous "beach scenes."

If I see someone in a bright red terrycloth towel along the shores of Lake Michigan this summer, I am going to go up to them and ask if I can take a picture of them and post it on my blog because I think what they're wearing is soooooo trendy, cool and futuristic. And then we can all have a good laugh at their expense.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Mysterious Purple Blob

Over the past few months, I've been saving up post ideas for this long-neglected site and have a bunch of fun topics that I plan to write about now that Lost has ended its fifth season. But I realized last night that -- as things are still really busy for me over the next few weeks -- I shouldn't kill myself by trying to publish any of the longer pieces in the near term. So I'm going to ease back into my daily "According to e" schedule with short, but hopefully still interesting, commentary about really random stuff.

Which brings me to one of the many road trips to Michigan that my husband and I took earlier this year. We usually stop at Arby's if we have to choose between any of the fast-food options (mmm, curly fries), but for whatever reason, on this particular journey we pulled into a McDonald's drive-through for the first time in a long time. With our order we were each given a tiny bag of McDonaldland cookies.

I have not had McDonaldland cookies in forever. In fact, I wasn't even aware that they were still on the Golden Arches' menu -- and maybe they're not. Maybe the bonus bags they doled out for free were made of all of the leftover cookies once the product was discontinued or something. Who knows... but what struck me as I ate the little shortbread treats was that I had no idea what Grimace -- the bloblike creature featured on one of the cookies -- was. I guess when I was younger I thought that he was supposed to represent a milkshake or something -- those drinks were kind of purplish and certainly would be kind of blobby if you poured one out of its container.

So I decided to do some quick research and found out that not only is Grimace simply an "anthropomorphic purple being" rather than a milkshake, but he was also once a bad guy in McDonald's commercials way back in the day. He also used to rock four arms!?! Here's proof:

As time went on, I guess somebody realized that the shapeless character would work better as one of Ronald's goofy friends. Here's how I remember Grimace:

Wow, I totally forgot about the pirate Captain Crook who would steal Filet-o-fish sandwiches! (He's shown at the very end of the commercial, sitting at the table on the left.) And I definitely have no memory of that crazy professor dude. Watching these commercials as an adult, I'm now pretty sure that everyone involved in creating the McDonaldland characters was taking some serious drugs.

Finally, I learned that Grimace has a crazy Irish uncle who tended to pop up whenever it was Shamrock Shake promotion time. His name is Uncle O'Grimacey... no lie.

I'm happy to have learned that Grimace is nothing more than a big purple globule who happens to like milkshakes... but now I want some answers about Ronald McDonald himself. Who ever thought that a scary-looking clown would make a good mascot for a kid-friendly hamburger chain? I've never seen a not-horrifying version of Ronald. I think Evil Grimace needs to resurface, kidnap Ronald and hide him away in a cave. Down with clowns!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

But I Don't WANT to be Reincarnated

Last weekend I was home in Michigan to celebrate my dad's retirement. One of the gifts he received was a book about making the most out of this next phase of his life. I flipped through it and paused at a section that discussed how many people have to come to terms with their fear of dying once they stop working, as "getting older" and "retirement" obviously go hand in hand.

The authors said that they have psychologist friends who have helped thousands of people get over their hang-ups about death through the power of hypnosis. They explained that these thousands of patients often speak about their past lives while in a trance-like state. I can only assume their point was that once you realize death may not be "the end of everything," but rather just one experience in a never-ending loop of lives, you're more likely to stop worrying about kicking the bucket and start enjoying your golden years.

However, I had exactly the opposite reaction. I don't think I'd want to live any more lives. Don't get me wrong -- I actually believe in the concept of reincarnation... it's just that I'm not sure I like it. Let me be very blunt: if you're reading this web site, that means 1) you can read (duh) and 2) you have access to a computer that's connected to the Internet. That puts you in a very, very small percentage of the earth's living population. Odds are, if you come back as someone else, you're not going to have it so good. In fact, compared to what you've got going on right now, your future life is probably going to be pretty darn crappy.

So thanks for thoroughly freaking me out, retirement book! I've got a few more decades until my husband and I can stop working, and now I get to spend them fretting about coming back as some unlucky soul without a supportive family, wonderful friends and a cool dog.

Great. Just great.

- e

Monday, April 27, 2009

Look at That Face!

As some of you know, I was in Las Vegas recently. This time around, my husband and I stayed with our good friends, DP and LHP. They have an absolutely beautiful home, but the king of their castle is clearly their English bulldog, Bruno. We'd gotten to know Bruno before he moved out west with his family last year, and the warmer temperatures seem to be agreeing with him. You can tell from his smile that he's thinking, "I am one lucky dog!"

That one big tooth that sticks out just absolutely kills me!

Anyway, Bruno had me laughing all weekend, but his most interesting quirk is that it is nearly impossible to get him to go outside to go to the bathroom. And I don't mean that he isn't house-trained... he is. He just simply doesn't want to be bothered to go out to do his business.

I was absolutely stunned to see D and L commanding him over and over again to go #1 in their backyard before we headed out on the town for the night. If we so much as rattle my dog's leash or whisper the word "outside" within earshot, he starts jumping around like a freak... and he pees approximately every ten seconds once he's out of the house. But Bruno? Nope, he was having none of it. He would just stand there and do nothing, peering up at his owners with a look of defiance, challenging them to somehow make him go pee. It was unbelievable. As you can see from the picture below, he's gotten pretty good at holding his ground.

Lest you get the impression that Bruno is simply lazy or doesn't want to move around too much, I should probably mention that he gets into lively battles with his brother Jack (a spry cat), will run all around the place chasing his toys, and will back his behind into you so that you can scratch it as soon as you sit down. But for whatever reason, he may be the only dog on the planet that doesn't feel the need to, uh, make his mark every time he's outside. That's just how he rolls, I guess!

- e

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Pirates: Real and Fake

While in Aruba last month, I was looking out at the Caribbean Sea from a pier-turned-bar when this cool boat pulled up to dock.

I was pretty excited by its name, of course...

However, believe it or not, I didn't end up purchasing a ticket to sail with The Jolly Pirates. It's just better for everyone if I purposefully avoid situations where I'm bound to get seasick. 'Cause that's not very pirate-like.

Fortunately for me, there's another way I can live out my pirate fantasies... on land, and here in Chicago. When my husband and I were leaving the city a few weekends ago, I was almost too stunned by what I saw draped over The Field Museum to take a picture. (Luckily, traffic was moving slowly so I recovered before it was too late.)

Yes... I kid you not, there is currently an 8,400-square-foot exhibition called "Real Pirates" just a few minutes away from me. Its web site promises that I'll "get the chance to experience pirate life by hoisting the skull-and-crossbones, tying pirate knots, learning how to fire a cannon, and more."

This is almost too good to be true. You can bet that I will be going to this exhibit at some point before it ends in October... and you can also bet that, if allowed, I will take pictures of me acting a pirate fool while there. And then of course I'll post them here so you can all laugh at me.

But it will be a jealous laughter... don't deny it.

- e

Friday, March 20, 2009

Pet Peeve of the Week: Phone Book Deliveries

As you could probably guess from the lack of entries on this site over the last month or so, I've been pretty busy. The good news is that I now have a long list of things I want to write about, so I hope to return to a semi-regular posting schedule soon. And what better way is there for me to get back into the old swing of things than to complain about something?

About a half hour ago, I was heading home from the vet with my sick (again) dog, and what did I see but a huge truck parked outside a nearby apartment complex, and two guys taking out stacks and stacks of new telephone books to drop off at each entryway.

Now, I don't know how it is where you live, but here in Chicago it seems like we get two HUGE phone books -- the yellow pages and the white pages -- about every other month. Thankfully, people on my block now have a recycling program, so I'm hoping that everyone's making use of it when they chuck out their old phone books. But that doesn't change the fact that a ton of paper's being wasted and countless trees are being mowed down to print these directories in the first place. I seriously don't remember the last time I cracked open a phone book... I just Google-search any place I want to eat or visit or whatnot, and up pops its address, phone number and (most likely) web site URL.

Do you still use and phone book, and if so, why, for the love of God, WHY?!?

Everyone's talking about the death of newspapers and the decline of printed media, yet there's no end in sight for these freakin' twenty-pound monsters. Why are they still being printed in such quantity and with such frequency?

Unlike junk mail or telemarketing calls, I don't know of any way to "unsubscribe" from getting the phone book. So I guess for now I'll continue to build a bit of arm muscle every time I take one from my doorstep to the recycling bin in the back.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

My Worst Nightmare

It's a good thing I don't live in Austin. I'm a bad enough driver as it is, but if I had seen this sign during my morning commute, I would've surely caused an accident (you don't even really need to play the video):

Apparently someone hacked into Austin's roadworks system and changed the electronic billboard that usually posts traffic advisories. A spokeswoman from the city said, "Even though this may seem amusing to a lot of people, this is really serious."

Damn straight it's serious!!!

Now when the zombies DO attack, no one's going to pay attention to the warnings. Didn't this hacker ever hear about "the boy who cried wolf?" I hope the person responsible realizes what he or she has done. The zombies totally have an edge in Texas now.

- e

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

e's Favorite Things: The Thera Cane

This should come as no surprise to Lost fans and readers of Long Live Locke, but over the past week I've been spending an unhealthy amount of time in front of my laptop. In fact, since I last posted here on 'According to e,' pretty much all I've been doing is writing.

The good news is that my back and shoulders are no longer suffering (as much) because of the ten physical therapy sessions I've completed since December. I've learned to be conscious of both my posture and how I tend to tense up throughout the day. I'm armed with tons of stretches and weight-bearing exercises to help build my scrawny upper body muscles. And perhaps most importantly, I now have the Thera Cane.

Everyone who's seen this thing in my apartment has been like, "What the HELL is that?" But once they experience the wonder that is the Thera Cane, they are jealous and want one, too. Basically it is a strange-looking device that helps banish tight knots in your back (or elsewhere, I guess, but I just use it on my back).

At my last PT session I asked my therapist if she had any recommendations for things I could buy to use at home to help ease the pain of when I inevitably do something to pull a back or neck muscle again. Out came the Thera Cane. She said that when something is pressed against a tight muscle, the body's reflex is to loosen up in that area. So when you apply pressure on sore spots with this easy-to-use contraption that has small knobs jutting out from a cane-shaped bar, they dissipate much more quickly than they would on their own.

I LOVE THIS THING and would highly recommend it to anyone who doesn't have a live-in masseuse. It was around $40 on Amazon and it's the best money I've spent in a long time. Yes, it is totally goofy looking, but who cares? It works. This thirty-something has a cane and is not too proud to tell the world about it!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Good Riddance, 2008

Yeah, yeah... I know it's already five days into 2009 and a little late to be reminiscing about how great it was to kick 2008 to the curb, but I'm still going to write about how I spent the end of last year if for no other reason than it will explain my lack of posting for the past few weeks.

On December 22, I woke up at 6 AM feeling like I was going to spontaneously combust. I'll spare you the gross details, but let's just say that I either had some bizarre case of the flu or food poisoning or a little of both. I did nothing all day except sleep and lie in bed feeling sorry for myself and growing increasingly bitter that I left all of my holiday errands to the last minute. Needless to say, none of them got done.

The next day I continued to feel like crap, but the heavy snow that had begun to fall the night before was only going to get worse, so my husband and I decided to stick to our plans and make the five-hour drive to Michigan, where we'd be spending the holidays with my parents and extended family. That was all fine and good... if we were able to get out of our back alley. We had rented a mid-sized car for the trip, and it just wasn't cutting it in the wild terrain that exists behind our condo. We immediately became stuck in the trenches of snow that had piled up around everyone's parking spots.

After taking the wheel while my husband attempted to push the car forward (all as my dog looked on excitedly from the back seat), we gave up and called our neighbor, who came down with a repairman that happened to be over. The three of them rocked and rocked and rocked the car back and forth until finally I was rolling down the alley. Despite the fact that my husband was running like a madman behind me and waving his hands wildly like I was actually going to forget him, I continued on until I reached a clear side-street. I wasn't going to risk getting stuck again!

We then drove back to Hertz and exchanged the car for an SUV. Screw fuel efficiency -- we didn't want to die! My dog got a kick out of this, too; it was a pretty big deal for him to jump from one car to another in the Union Station parking garage while the security guard quizzed us about what in the heck we were doing.

Our five-hour journey turned into eight hours as pretty much NONE of the expressways in Michigan were plowed. Guys, I know the state is hurting and all... but come on! We're talking MAJOR highways where you couldn't even see the pavement and everyone was just sliding all over the place.

Thankfully, we arrived at my childhood home safely and had five days to rest before heading back. While I didn't have any more flu-like symptoms during that time, I was pretty much unable to eat. You know I'm sick when I don't use the holidays as an excuse to scarf down ten frosted sugar cookies every night! It was depressing.

In the earning morning of our return to Chicago, my parents -- and 300,000 other people in the area -- lost power. No electricity whatsoever, and they didn't have a back-up generator. It was still out twelve hours later... and then when it finally came back on, there was a surge that fried my dad's brand new flatscreen TV. Yes, my dear friends, it was a Christmas to remember. (My dad has since returned the TV and miraculously received all of his money back. )

Since my return home I've been buried in writing projects, and things are going to remain pretty intense on that end for the rest of the month. So, posts will probably be pretty sporadic here on According to e for the next few weeks (though I'll still be writing for redblog two or three times a day... and have a few more Long Live Locke entries to finish before Lost's Season Five premiere on January 21).

In the meantime, let me leave you with a picture from New Year's Eve. We were at a friend's party and they had all of these old-school games that I used to love, like Don't Spill the Beans and Don't Break the Ice. I don't mean to brag or anything, but I pretty much rock at Don't Break the Ice.

I hope that your holidays were healthier than mine... here's to a wonderful 2009. (Hey, that rhymed!)

- e