Monday, December 31, 2007

for the love of cats

Let's end 2007 on a happy note, shall we?

From time to time, various friends send around those conglomerations of cute animal pictures. I'm a sucker especially for the kitty ones, so I pulled out two of them to show here.






I can't quite figure out how that cat is staying on there. Our cat Orkid likes to sit on the top of the back of my chair, but it's got a little platform area, and it's made of cloth, so she clings with her claws. But this cat is really just sitting there. Too funny.






And for this picture, what really gets me is the expression on the little baby kitty on top. Too frickin' cute.


Hope your New Year's Eve is a good one!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

MyFace, SpaceBook, whatever

I keep hearing about something called Facebook. I don't know anything about it, but I think it seemed to me like it was a myspace sort of thing. I've never done the myspace thing, and I'm assuming the appeal of it is that you don't have to have your own website or pay for your own hosting server, and you can presumably search with some ease for your soulmate or worst enemy or whatever else you might be looking for. Maybe I've never been lured into that because I'm generally not all that social a person by nature. "Social butterfly" has never been a term that's been used to describe me. And my online presences aside, I'm not one to lay open all the details of my private life for a world of strangers to see. (But if you want to call me, anytime, feel free to dial 867-5309. The number is good in any area code.)

So I recently asked my twenty-something niece about Facebook. She tells me that it's like myspace to some degree, but it's more compartmentalized, so you can't just look at random people's info, but rather, it's a place where people apparently meet based on shared interests. OK, I can see how there are a few more restrictions there, but there's nothing to prevent someone from pretending to be interested in a certain subject as a way to get to know people.

The places I hang out most online to chit chat about one thing or another are all on discussion boards run by people I know or people I know of. Topics range from the silly to serious, and some people on the various boards know me in real life prior to my having joined the boards, some people are ones I've actually met in person and/or gotten to know very well online, and others are people with whom I only have interaction on the boards themselves and have no desire to ever have any interaction with in real life. I suppose I'm lucky in that I know people who run sites where I know I'm "safe". If you don't have the luxury of knowing similar people, and you want to be able to talk to people, where do you go? Are places like myspace and Facebook the modern equivalents of newsgroups? Has participation in newsgroups died down with the rise of these kinds of gathering sites? I still participate in one newsgroup and mostly lurk in another, a far cry from the multiple numbers of newsgroups I participated in when I was in college.

I could see if gatherings were restricted to these two sites. But it's not. I've heard of something called "friendster". I have no clue what that is. Yahoo apparently has some kind of group thing, as does Google, and there are also a billion discussion boards out there. And who knows what else. How are you supposed to figure out which site to belong to? Do you do it based on where your friends are? But if you're trying to meet new people, does it necessarily matter where your friends are? Do you join all of them and have the same information/discussions a billion times? I participate regularly on 3 discussion boards, and similar topics always crop up on at least two, sometimes all three, of the boards. I will sometimes participate on the same topic on different boards, but that's only in certain cases and under certain circumstances. Otherwise, it tends to be redundant to have the same conversation multiple times. Doesn't that end up being what happens if you're on multiple gathering sites?

I'm just going to live on this little island by myself. I'm getting closer and closer to being Bean all the time...

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Stu Nahan - goodbye and thanks (oh, yeah, and the Patriots)

I heard earlier this week that Stu Nahan had died. He's someone I haven't heard about in a long time, but he was certainly someone I heard a lot when I was a kid. I grew up with brothers who were really into sports, sometimes playing, mostly watching, so I learned to do the same. There were many, many nights when I would watch Stu Nahan's sports reports. I can't really tell you anything specific about him, but I loved his sportscasts. He just had a way of telling the stories, and he was smart. I missed seeing him as he got older, and then I started watching Fred Roggin. I'm glad to see that Fred Roggin refers to Stu Nahan as a friend and mentor. No wonder I liked Roggin too. He learned from the best.

Nahan was apparently fighting cancer and beat it for a time but eventually succumbed.

My best to his wife and family. Thanks, Stu, for feeding and stoking my interest in sports.

Here's one story about Stu Nahan's death.


And on a related note, I guess I should say that the New England Patriots beat the New York Giants today, completing the Patriots' perfect 16-0 season. The Giants actually played quite well, and they not only scored repeatedly against the Patriots, but they were holding the Patriots offense as well. But in the end, the Patriots pulled through, though I don't think most people expected them to win by only 3 points. In the process of completing their perfect season, they also broke three NFL records - most points scored in a single season (589), most touchdown passes thrown in a single season (Brady - 50), and most touchdown receptions in a single season (Moss - 23). I'm not a Patriots fan, but you have to give credit where credit is due.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Where's the beef?

I heard about this story today, which is a warning to Texans about buying meat from parking lots or roadside sales because a truckful of contaminated ground beef was stolen.

OK, so someone stole a truck. Did they know there was ground beef inside or were they just trying to steal a truck or did they think something else was inside the truck? OK, maybe there's no way for them to know that the beef is contaminated - not sure if there's any labeling or signage or whatever. Maybe they decide to have a cookout and invite the several adjacent neighborhoods, and you have an epidemic of really sick people.

But I'm wondering about the whole "warning people not to buy meat from the roadside or a parking lot because they might be selling contaminated beef". Ummm, ok. Exactly who is it that buys MEAT from some random stranger standing on the corner or from the back of his pickup truck in a parking lot? I know there are people who have very, very tight budgets, and they need to save however they can. OK, so you shop at a discount grocery store or something like that where the meat might not be the BEST quality, but it's still most likely not going to make you sick or kill you. But a streetcorner? A parking lot? Even if you have kids to feed on almost no money, do you risk their health this way?

I personally don't buy anything from streetcorner vendors for a number of reasons, the main one being that I have no idea where the produce/whatever is coming from or what's been done to it. Maybe nothing. Maybe it's perfectly good, just cheaper than at the local grocery store. But I'm not willing to take a chance. OK, oranges have to be peeled, and peanuts have to be shelled, but they can still be tampered with, or they could be just gross quality. I could *almost* see buying flowers since there's less of a chance it could hurt or kill someone, but I still wouldn't do it.

I've never seen anyone trying to sell meat from a streetcorner. Some of the street vendors have their stuff sitting out in the sun, and I can imagine that the fruit melts and wilts and whatever. Some try to be in the shade, but that's not always an option. But meat? Unrefrigerated? Although, even if they pulled it out of a roadside cooler, that't not going to make me want to buy it any more than if it wasn't.

Is this something particular to Texas? I know it's a serious meat state, but I thought they also prided themselves on their beef.

If you're invited to a New Year's celebration barbeque in Texas - just have salad.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Did you know Arby's has cheesecake poppers?

There used to be an Arby's fairly close to where we live, but they closed a couple years ago. There is apparently this abyss in a certain part of the Greater Los Angeles area where Arby's are not allowed to exist. On a recent quest to Arby's, I ended up driving from the westside of Los Angeles to Hollywood, where there's an Arby's on Sunset by Gower, and then onto the San Gabriel Valley, because it was the only "convenient" Arby's.

Anyway, I liked Arby's ok, but when we used to go, I got to like their market sandwiches. Good bread. And decent curly fries, if I remember correctly.

Well, on an outing a few months ago, circumstances arose where a few of us were constantly being told/reminded that Arby's now had cheesecake poppers. We got together with some friends last night, and I just *had* to bring some.




After I placed my order and was waiting for them, I didn't really know how they were going to come out - hot or cold. Well, when I saw the guy making them take them out of the deep-fryer and pour them into a paper container before giving it to me, that answered the question. We didn't eat them for some time after that, so of course, they were cold by then. We could have heated them up in the microwave, but we decided not to. They look kind of like tater tots, but darker. The outside is fried, so it would have to be hot, and it wasn't nearly as tasty with it being cold and having sat around for an hour or two. The raspberry sauce that comes with it was pretty tasty, and the cheesecake bite itself was good. It would probably be fairly good fresh, since I figure the cheesecake part would be kind of gooey, just coming out of the fryer. You get six pieces in one order, which is a good size to enjoy without having too much or too little.

I might have to get some again and try them hot.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

In the mood for a Meltdown?

Do you know anyone who doesn't like cheese? I don't think I do. Everyone I know either likes cheese or LOVES cheese. (I've heard that some people order cheeseless pizza. If you're lactose-intolerant, that's one thing, but barring that, what is the point of cheeseless pizza? Heck, I've got a friend who is lactose-intolerant, and she *still* loves cheese. But I digress.) It can be cheese on a salad, cheese on soup, cheese by itself, or cheese as an ingredient. Recent discussion of cheese (yeah, that does happen) resulted in a friend mentioning a restaurant that he'd heard of that specialized in grilled cheese. And that's how he happened to tell us about MeltDown etc. I decided to try it out for lunch today.




MeltDown is a very small establishment on Culver Blvd. (nearest cross street is Duquesne) in Culver City just across from City Hall and just southeast of Sony Pictures Entertainment. (The picture above of the front of the restaurant is taken from the restaurant's website.) I happened to be very lucky, and someone was pulling out of a metered parking spot right in front of the restaurant, so I parked there. I would assume that this particular week, it's a bit slower (though the restaurant was still quite busy), so parking might not be that hard, but during a normal weekday, I would expect that a metered parking spot might be a bit more difficult to find.

You order at the counter, and if you're eating there, they give you a plastic number that you put on your table, and when your order is ready, they bring it to you (or yell out your number if they can't find you). There are 3 very small tables inside and about a dozen small tables right outside. The ambience is obviously not great outside since you're basically on the sidewalk with the traffic passing by - the blaring sirens of the passing firetruck at one point was particularly jarring. Sitting inside might be a little quieter, but again, there's not much room. Since it was a little cold outside today, they did have standing heaters, which was nice.

There were a few things on the menu that I wanted to try, but I had decided to have a partial meltdown combo (1/2 sandwich with either a cup of soup or a salad), and the sandwich I had really wanted wasn't available as part of that combo, so I ended up going with the Reuben (swiss, lean pastrami, sauerkraut, thousand island, spicy brown mustard on rye bread). There's supposed to be a seasonal tomato soup and a soup of the day, but the soup of the day was a classic tomato soup this day, so I decided to have that. When I had initially perused the menu, I had noticed "house-made pickles", which had caught my attention, so I had a side of that as well. The person taking my order did let me know that the sandwich came with a slice of pickle, which I thought was nice of him to tell me, but I ordered the additional side anyway. There is also a fairly large assortment of drinks available, all bottled.

I took a seat at an outside table, and my order was brought out to me shortly thereafter. The side of pickles was a bit larger than I had anticipated. They were all cut in spears, but altogether, it was probably two whole pickles. The pickles were very crunchy, but they were only lightly marinated and didn't have much vinegary flavor, so I wouldn't order it again.

The tomato soup was good, flavorful, and a good size portion for being a cup serving, but while the website states that the soup was homemade, it had a pre-made quality to it. That's not to say it was a bad thing. I think most restaurant tomato soups are a bit more on the creamy side, and this was a bit more pure, which I liked and which I guess associate more with canned tomato soup. It had very good tomato flavor, which might sound weird, but some places make their tomato soup very light - I like the bold tomato taste.

The Reuben was very tasty, not too much on the sauces/condiments, and a nice proportion of cheese, pastrami and sauerkraut on nicely toasted bread.

The half-sandwich with the cup of soup and the side of pickles was perfect for lunch. On a future visit, if I'm hungrier and like the soup offering, I might go for the total meltdown combo, where if you order any sandwich, you can add a cup of soup for slightly less than the normal price.

There are a few other sandwiches on the menu that I'd like to try on future visits. The Italian Deli (fresh mozzarella, daily italian cured meat, fire-roasted peppers, basil, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar on ciabatta bread) is what had really caught my attention. Of course, I'd have to try the classic 3 cheese (grilled cheese), probably with the roma tomato, maybe with the bacon or smoked ham. Some of the sweetmelts sound interesting (PBH&B - peanut butter, wildflower honey, banana on egg bread in particular), but I'm not sure if that works as regular lunch since it's sweeter than most things, and it would probably wouldn't work with any soup.


MeltDown etc.
9739 Culver Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
310-838-MELT (6358)
310-838-6359 (fax)
open Monday through Saturday 11am to 3pm

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Presents!

Christmas morning - yep, it's still technically morning, and you're usually talking about gifts you might have gotten. Well, here's the favorite gift I've gotten so far.




The peppermint stars on the right are new this Christmas, and I had wanted to try some. I hadn't had a chance to find them, though I wasn't really looking that hard. If I happened to be somewhere that usually had Peeps, I'd look to see if they had them, but I didn't drive around looking for them. The husband was in more places than me, and he did look for them, but he hadn't seen any either.

But the stars were one of my Christmas gifts from someone else. I'm so excited. I'll probably wait until later in the week to try them. Though I suppose I should really try them sometime today so that if I end up really liking them and wanting more, I can try to find them at the after-Christmas sales.

The gingerbread men on the left are new this Christmas as well, I think, and they're supposed to taste like cookies. I did find a pack of them previously, but I haven't tried them yet.

Nothing makes Christmas more complete than Peeps! ;)

Hope you're enjoying your Christmas day.

Monday, December 24, 2007

"Mamma Mia"

I can't wait for July 18, 2008. What's happening that day? Am I excited because it's the day after Disneyland's 53rd birthday? Nope. Am I just looking forward to the 29th Friday of 2008? Nope. July 18, 2008 is the release date for the film version of the stage musical "Mamma Mia".

I've been a fan of the show for a long time. The first time I saw the show was at the now non-existent Shubert Theatre in Los Angeles, and I loved it. I'm a huge fan of Abba anyway, so the fact that their music was used as the basis for the show was a good start anyway (especially since the two men from Abba were involved in the creation of the show). But after seeing the show, I loved the fact that they did actually create a real story, one that stands alone even if you don't know the songs beforehand. During a young woman's wedding preparations, she decides that she wants to know who her biological father is, and since there are three possibilities, she invites them all to her wedding, hoping to find out who her real father is before the wedding, much to her independent mother's surprise and dismay when the three men show up. And the energy behind the songs really draws you in as well.

We have now seen the show 10 times in 9 different locales: the Shubert Theatre (formerly in Los Angeles), The Ahmanson (in Los Angeles), Mandalay Bay (in Las Vegas), the Pantages Theatre (in Los Angeles), Orange County Performing Arts Center, the Pasadena Playhouse, the Long Beach Civic Auditorium, the Cadillac Winter Garden (in New York), Orange County Performing Arts Center again, and the San Diego Civic Theatre. Some productions have been better than others, but I don't think any of them have been bad. I think my overall favorites have been the original show at the Shubert, the company that we saw in Las Vegas (who had an absolutely fabulous Tanya) and the company that we saw in New York, where every single main cast member was just incredible. (And that was before we found out during the intermission that one of the things they liked to sing during rehearsal as practice was "Once on This Island", which I also love, but I digress.)

When I first heard that they were going to make a movie of the show, I was concerned. You never know how the adaptation is going to work. I was happy to hear that the Abba guys were involved in the movie itself, but having the creator involved doesn't always guarantee that the film will be good. Heck, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber was involved in the making of the film for "The Phantom of the Opera", and he allowed them to hire a guy in the title role who wasn't that great a singer, *and* he let them destroy the "All I Ask of You" sequence.

And then I heard about the first castings. The lead role of the mother, Donna, was going to be played by Meryl Streep. Now, I know she's been nominated a billion times for Oscars, and I was pretty much kind of over her. However, she was amazing in "The Devil Wears Prada" with her completely understated portrayal of the shark boss, so I was at least feeling favorably towards her again. She's not who I would have envisioned as Donna, but I was willing to withhold judgement. And I also heard that Pierce Brosnan was cast as Sam, one of the potential fathers, and I thought that had serious potential. And then I heard about the rest of the cast as the information became available. Colin Firth as Harry Bright is going to be a complete riot, Stellan Skarsgard (who most people might know as Bill Turner, Will Turner's father in "Pirates of the Caribbean") as Bill (hmmm, yet another Bill...) will be interesting to see, Julie Walters as Rosie is dead on, and the most inspired casting is Christine Baranski as Tanya. The bride-to-be is being portrayed by Amanda Seyfried, who I don't know but who apparently is known for her role in "Mean Girls". After seeing the casting choices, I was much more optimistic about the film.

Well, I just saw the trailer over the weekend, and I can't wait for this film. The trailer looks amazing, and it looks like they really did the show justice. The stage production is fairly low key as far as sets are concerned - "The Phantom of the Opera" it's not, so having that transformed into a full-length feature film could be problematic. The setting looks great though, and I've heard the title song, and I'm presuming the lead is being sung by Meryl Streep since it's her character's song, and it sounds great too. I'm pretty sure the movie soundtrack is going to be released before the film, but I'm going to try really hard to wait until after I've seen the film before I get the soundtrack because I don't want to hear all the new versions of the songs before seeing the movie itself.

The trailer for the film is available online. Go to the official website, enter the site, and if the trailer doesn't start automatically, just click on the "trailer" link.

Merry Christmas!

"How can I resist you."

Sunday, December 23, 2007

"Sweeney Todd - The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" - movie review

I like Johnny Depp ok. I mean, like a lot of other people, I thought he was perfectly fabulous as Jack Sparrow in "Pirates of the Caribbean". I didn't think he was quite as fabulous in the second and third movies of the same franchise, but I blame that less on him and more on the writers. And I've liked him in a number of other films, like "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", "Finding Neverland", "Sleepy Hollow" and "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" I vaguely remember him, after the fact, from "A Nightmare on Elm Street", and I don't remember him at all in "Platoon". Most people probably remember him best from "21 Jump Street". I watched the show, and I thought he was ok, but I didn't fawn over him like a lot of others did - Richard Grieco was more my style.

But with his performance in "Sweeney Todd", I am firmly and completely in the "Johnny Depp is an acting god and one of the THE best actors working today" camp. I think what seals it for me is that as well known as Johnny Depp is, he is such a chameleon that he completely morphs into the characters that he's playing, his popularity and fame notwithstanding. My reaction to him in "Sweeney Todd" was much like my reaction to Tom Hanks in "Forrest Gump". I knew Tom Hanks from "Bosom Buddies" and a lot of movies and roles, and I knew that he did not have the personality that Forrest Gump exhibited. But I totally bought into that role because he was just so convincing. Johnny Depp does the same in this film. You know that he has not lived through the cruelties that Sweeney Todd has had to endure - and yet you buy it completely because he plays it with such conviction. If you take the triumvirate of "Sweeney Todd", "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Finding Neverland", where he plays three completely different characters, you can see the depth of his acting genius. I never did see "Edward Scissorhands", but now I'm figuring on going back and catching it. I'd heard great things about it before, but I'm curious to see what he did with the role.

But Johnny Depp gushing aside, the film does work very well, though it is definitely a trial for the squeamish. There are quite a few parts of the movie that I did not watch, when I knew the blood and gore were coming. You can mostly avoid seeing too much if that sort of thing bothers you too, though there is one scene that is a bit abrupt and so you'll likely be unable to avoid the first couple seconds of that.

I'd never seen the stage musical myself and only had a fleeting idea of the general story. Sweeney Todd is a man who has been severely wronged, and he returns to take his vengeance on the man who wronged him. He ends up partnering with Mrs. Lovett, who unsuccessfully makes meat pies, and their dark association leads to a boon to her business when they discover that his killing provides the perfect ingredient to her now-popular meat pies that the town devours, not knowing what exactly it is they are consuming.

I found the opening credits to be a bit more stylized than I generally prefer, especially since it's very obviously CGI. For me, that tone didn't quite fit with the gothic nature of the rest of the film, though it only takes a few seconds of seeing the opening credits to know that it's definitely a Tim Burton film.

However, the first shots of London define the look and feel of the rest of the film. And with Johnny Depp's first line of song, you are pulled into the film. As a matter of fact, he is so engaging that you pretty much are glued to him every time he's on screen. He doesn't play a caricature of the embittered, deeply disturbed man - he plays the pain and festering anger with complete believability.

As much praise as I have for Johnny Depp, I cannot say the same for Helena Bonham Carter. I am usually a fan of hers, and while I can't quite pinpoint what I didn't like about her, her character and her singing just never seemed to gel with the rest of the film for me.

Alan Rickman is no stranger to playing the bad guy, but boy this bad guy is way beyond all the rest. His singing was ok, but I never felt he was comfortable doing that.

Sacha Baron Cohen makes an inspired appearance as a temporary foil for Sweeney Todd.

And yes, that *was* Giles with the one line.

Never having heard the songs before, I generally liked them. I liked the reprise of "No Place Like London" that occurs periodically, though I didn't much care for "Poor Thing". My favorite as far as staging and just darkness was "A Little Priest".

The overall look of London and one sequence of shots in particular oddly reminded me of the techniques used in "Moulin Rouge" to depict Paris and Montmartre.


HERE'S YOUR SPOILER WARNING. IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE FILM AND DON'T WANT TO BE SPOILED, STOP READING NOW. EVERYTHING AFTER THIS POINT CONTAINS MEGA-SPOILERS. I'D ALSO CAUTION YOU THAT ANY COMMENTS MIGHT ALSO BE SPOILER FILLED, SO DON'T READ THOSE EITHER IF YOU'RE AVOIDING SPOILERS.






















No, seriously, I'm not kidding, spoilers galore ahead.
















OK, you've been warned.

When Sweeney Todd tells the story of the barber who was wrongfully imprisoned and whose wife and child was taken away from him by the evil judge, you can see how that has made its mark on his character, especially after Mrs. Lovett tells him that his wife poisoned herself with cyanide to escape the judge's grasp, not to mention that the judge also now has his daughter. His first kill is also at least understandable since Pirelli was going to blow his cover, and Todd does really kill out of a fit of rage. But it's really Mrs. Lovett who pushes him over the edge. She is at first appalled by the killing, but when Todd explains why he did it, she completely accepts that as reasonable, and it is in fact her idea to use his dead bodies as pie filling. The subsequent killings are a lot less personal, as we later learn that they've been very careful about who to target, and we see that Todd only gives a shave to the man who had brought along his wife and child. But since chance has it that his young friend from the ship is the one who also then falls in love with his now-15-year-old daughter, he is bent on saving her as well as exacting his revenge on the judge. He does finally get his revenge (the judge catches site of his wife and then and there arranges for him to be taken away, and then he takes their child and locks her away and peeps at her and then decides, oh, it's time to marry her? Wow, a true gentleman. But then, he did sentence a little boy to hanging), but in true Greek tragedy style, he also discovers that he has in fact murdered his own wife, not dead from the cyanide poisoning as Mrs. Lovett had led him to believe. You knew that when he was waltzing with her at the end, he wasn't going to forgive what she had done, so it was no surprise when he threw her into the baking oven and locked it shut. He grieves over his dead wife, and poetically, he invites the helper boy to slit his throat, so that he dies while holding his dead wife, his blood mingling with hers. (Yes, I saw bits of this, even though it was pretty gruesome, but it worked really well regardless.) The daughter and her young suitor presumably escape, with neither carrying knowledge of all the horrors that have happened.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

pet peeve

My schedule hasn't changed that much. So let's not start in again with the "you must not like me as much now because we never see each other anymore" crap. Everybody has their schedules and interests. Things happen. That kind of guilt doesn't really work with me. It just serves to irritate me.

Friday, December 21, 2007

"Survivor" - season finale

So the season finale of "Survivor" started with a reward challenge involving their own little version of the Great Wall. Amanda ended up winning, but she had the option to share her pizza, beer and brownies (what is up with them craving pizza so badly anyway?) with either one or two other people. I didn't think she was going to pick any of them, to make it more "fair", but she ended up picking Todd only, which surprised me a little. Maybe she didn't want to show her hand further by also picking either Denise or Courtney, since she and Todd have been in an alliance all along. But I thought it was interesting that she didn't pick him so much because of their alliance but because she wasn't sure about him and wanted time to talk to him alone.

And then the four go on their final journey to remember all of their fallen comrades. Wait, didn't they say last week that there would be three tribal councils? Which would mean they're going back to only having a final two? Maybe there's still another twist coming up.

The last challenge was kind of like an endurance thing of who wanted it more, but it had the added element of having to balance the plates and such. It was interesting that Amanda decided to flip her one bowl around, which seemed to perhaps steady a bit more. And she almost got distracted by Denise's attempt to make a deal with her, but in the end, Amanda won the final immunity. Yep, Jeff said final immunity and Amanda would be in the final tribal council, but everything was still worded strangely that it made me wonder if something else wasn't up. Maybe they'd have a regular vote off to three, and then Amanda would get to pick who goes with her to final two, so her immunity would end up being a double-whammy.

As Amanda was going back and forth about what to do, whether to vote for Todd to force a tie (since she apparently couldn't persuade Courtney to vote for Todd) or to just vote off Denise, Courtney threw in her two-cents to the camera and made a comment that Denise shouldn't win because it's not a welfare gig. Wow, that was pretty harsh. Loser at life? Denise seemd to be doing ok for herself, and I'm not sure what kind of position Courtney thinks she's in that she feels entitled to look down at Denise. Because Denise is a lunch lady? That's ridiculous. Courtney herself has said that she's pretty much been a tagalong to get where she is, and Denise has had to fight. Courtney's comment really irritated me, on top of everything else Courtney has done/said.

In the end, Amanda chose to vote with her alliance, and Denise was voted off. I did think Denise's comment about Amanda having her back was a little deceiving because Amanda was right in that she'd made that comment a little while ago, not that day. And Denise has it confirmed to her that she in fact did make the biggest mistake in not voting with P.G. and Erik earlier, when they could have kicked off Todd, and Denise would have had a real shot at final three. And for Denise, Jeff said she was the final member of the jury. So what's going on? Is it still going down to final two, and the one not selected doesn't even get to be on the jury?

The three had a bad final night at camp because Amanda was upset with what Denise said and Todd's reaction and her perception that Todd threw her under the bus. But all was well the next morning, especially since they enjoyed some breakfast treats.

So we get to final tribal council. Yep, it's final three again, not two. Hmmm, but maybe this council ended in a tie, so they had to have a run-off. After all, they already know who wins once the votes have been cast since they're all doing it on camera. There is a chance there could be a tie, and if so, they couldn't very well break a tie on the live show, so they'd have to have a run-off right then and there. Maybe that's the twist.

The questions from the jury were pretty much what you'd expect. I did think it was funny that Todd's answer to Jean-Robert left him literally speechless, and James was just simply cracking up about it. I thought it was interesting that James said twice that he didn't want to be a Bitter Betty. I'm wondering if that was directed at Denise, who we find out is obviously very bitter, but her wounds were the freshest. Everyone else had some time for thought and perspective, but for her, not much time had passed at all. You could tell by Denise's questioning, or rather, commenting, that she was really just ticked off at Amanda and Todd, and she ended up voting for Courtney because Courtney was the one she wasn't mad at because she had never promised her anything or broken her word, really because she was never in a position to do either. The most surprising to me was Jamie's questioning. Easy-going blondie had the most direct, pointed, biting, combative questions, and she wasn't letting them off easy.

And in the end, Todd won with four votes, with Courtney getting two votes and surprisingly to me, Amanda only getting one vote. I think Amanda really tanked herself in her answers to the jury. Yes, Todd had lied and cheated as well, as much if not more so than Amanda, but he completely owned up to it, that it was strategy, part of the game and he meant to do all of it, while trying to keep the personal relationships separate. Amanda waffled entirely too much, and she did play it off as if none of the betrayals were her fault, at one point even saying she had no choice but to vote someone off. She didn't want to be blamed for the bad stuff, but in the same breath, she also wasn't then going to claim the credit, though she tried to claim her rightful credit for James' ouster. But she played both sides, so I think she really just made people angry, whereas Todd might also have made people angry, but you could at least respect his game play.

I can't even say how much it irritated me that Courtney came in second. I wasn't too fond of Todd after a while, but he definitely deserved to win after all his machinations.

And since there was no tie whatsoever, I don't know if they just made a mistake when they had Jeff do the promo about there being 3 tribal councils or if they just deliberately lied about it.

Denise ended up being the key to the game. (Jeff tried to talk about Courtney's "welfare" comment, but both she and Denise seemed to blow it off, with Courtney saying she had apologized and Denise saying it wasn't a big deal, so Jeff just moved along. I was really surprised that Denise was that blase over the comment.) And her decisions in the game were motivated by what she talked about all throughout the game. She kept saying that she wasn't ever the popular kid in school, and that she was always the one who got picked last or never got picked at all. And her holding onto that hurt is what cost her final three and ultimately, it turns out, P.G. winning it all as well. Denise had been taken in, to some degree, by the "cool kids", aka Todd and Amanda and their alliance, and Denise couldn't abandon that. She said she was never picked as a kid - but she was picked in the game eventually - by P.G. and Erik. But P.G. and Erik were outcasts as well, and Denise's fixation meant she would rather reject the outcasts who were trying desperately to gain her favor and try to stay with the "cool kids" (which is probably why she refused to vote off Todd) in the hopes that their acceptance of her was real, that she could really and truly be included in their group. And in the end, when they did ultimately reject her, like we saw coming for weeks, she was angry that yet again, she was tossed aside by the "cool kids". Jeff made a comment about how it was nice that James was able to put aside his feelings and vote the game because some people just can't let the personal feelings aside. I wonder if that was directed at Denise, who clearly voted her emotions at the end.

When Jeff announced the fan favorite, I wasn't surprised at all that James won. The added twist came at the last break when Jeff announced that, because of the story Denise told about having been fired from her job when she returned, Mark Burnett had decided then and there that she would get $50,000 to help her out.

I liked Denise for some time, but her stubbornness in not seeing the game started to annoy me. And then I felt sorry for her about having lost her job. And then I saw this story, where it turns out that Denise's tearful confession wasn't entirely truthful. Her boss at the school district says that she was promoted, at her own request, to custodian, which included higher pay and more benefits, before she went on the show. When she returned, she wanted to go back to being a lunch lady, but the position was no longer available. This is a far cry from the sob story she told on the show.

So the next season of "Survivor" will be in Micronesia. (OK, yeah, I'm geography-challenged, but where the heck is that?) And this time, it's going to pit a team of returning contestants (all-stars) with rabid fans who have studied and know every aspect of the game. That's a nice twist that sounds like a lot of fun (depending on who the returning people are) - looking forward to seeing it, wherever they are...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bristol Farms - where's the loan officer?

I was working late tonight, and then I had to run an errand after work, so I decided to stop into the nearby Bristol Farms to pick up some dinner. Nothing fancy - I got a lemon fried chicken breast, a side of Greek salad and a container of watermelon. Handing the cashier a $20 bill resulted in me getting a couple of coins back - and not big denomination coins either. Wow, $20 for a fairly simple dinner. Now, I will say that it was a fairly substantial chicken breast. There were no bones at all, so it was just a hefty hunk of meat - a tasty hefty hunk of meat, I might add. And I know that fresh fruit is expensive anyway, especially this time of year, especially from some place like Bristol Farms. But as much as I like to browse high-end markets like Bristol Farms (and Whole Foods Market), I can't bring myself to shop there much because the prices are just so steep. For specialty items, I think it makes more sense, or maybe for special occasions, but as a regular grocery store, it's not exactly the most affordable place to shop.

I know that banks give loans for remodeling a house or starting a business or whatever. I wonder if they give loans to help finance dinner?

Monday, December 17, 2007

"The leader of the band is tired"

"Leader of the Band" is the song that Dan Fogelberg wrote to honor his father. But Dan can now talk directly to his father, as Dan Fogelberg lost his battle with cancer on Sunday, December 16 at the age of 56, just three years after discovering he had advanced prostate cancer. I've always loved Dan Fogelberg's music. It was something about the combination of the tone and feel of the music and his amazing, soothing voice.

Whether it's a song about deep, abiding love ("Longer") or love gone wrong ("Hard to Say"), you could feel every word that Dan was singing. You could even feel the caress of his voice when he sang about horses.

Yep, horses. "Run For The Roses" was a song that I loved, but for whatever reason, even though I knew the words, I guess for the longest time, I didn't really pay attention to exactly what I was singing. Great for a guy whose lyric-writing ability I claim to love, huh? (Yeah, ok, so I'm lame. But I also sang Rod Stewart's "Young Turks" umpteen times before the full significance hit me of what exactly it meant for Patty to give birth to a 10 pound baby boy!) But as I actually paid attention to what he had written on this song, I learned that it was an amazing tribute to the horses that run the Kentucky Derby.

But the song that Dan Fogelberg is probably most know for is "Same Old Lang Syne". It's played a lot at the end of the year, for obvious reasons, but you'll also hear it at other times, on certain stations. I've always loved story songs when they tell a great story, and the story that Dan tells in this song is amazingly vivid. (And, yes, Dan has confirmed that the events of the song actually happened.) For me, it's not any one thing about the song that gets to me, bringing me to the brink of, and even past, tears. It's the melody, the honesty of their exchange, the moment captured in time, the bittersweet chance meeting and the feeling that Dan conveys with his amazing voice.

OK, I had no idea that Bean of Kevin and Bean wrote about Dan Fogelberg today as well. Here's a direct link to that particular blog entry, which has an embedded link to play the song "Same Old Lang Syne".


Growing up in Los Angeles, I'd seen the periodic ads that would appear in the newspaper announcing his various tours that came around, and it would occur to me to go. And I didn't. And life went on. A few years ago, I found out that a very good friend also liked his music and had had the opportunity to see him a few times on his acoustic tours. And I decided that on his next trip nearby, I'd go. And that was when he announced that he was going to stop touring because he'd been diagnosed with cancer. And I regret never having taken advantage of the opportunity to have seen him live in concert.


My condolences and best wishes go out to his wife and family.


Here's the official website for Dan Fogelberg, which includes lots of good information, as well as a link to where good wishes, prayers and condolences can be posted.


"And as I turned to make my way back home
The snow turned in to rain..."

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Oedipus had it easy

So when you were born, your parents gave you up because they were married/involved with other people and lots of other drama going on. As an adult, you finally track down who they are, and their relationship is on and off and still also involving other people. You're still angry that they gave you up, so you concoct all kinds of schemes. Even though you're a man, your features are feminine enough that you can also pass for a woman, so dressed as a woman, you seduce your father, and then you get pregnant by him. He has no idea you are his son, but your mother knows what you've done and is urging you to come clean with him.

Sounds like a fun time, doesn't it?

I've been watching soap operas for most of my life, and yes, soaps are home to a lot of outlandish stories. Usually, their forte is bed-hopping, mate-switching, infidelity, paternity issues and the like. "Passions" has always included a supernatural element in their show, which isn't my thing but which apparently some people like. But when you get into these convoluted incestuous relationships, exactly who are they trying to appeal to? And people wonder why "Passions" has been cancelled twice (two different networks) in the past year?

No, I don't watch the show myself. Everything I know about it, I've learned from reading Soap Opera Digest.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

"Kitchen Nightmares" and "Survivor"

"Kitchen Nightmares"

This episode was about a restaurant called Secret Garden in Moorpark, CA. It's apparently so secret that Gordon had a hard time finding the front door - not a good omen to start with.

Another pattern I've noticed - the owner of the restaurant is in complete denial about their circumstances. Maybe they just don't like being confronted, and their egos take over. Michel says that he's in debt at the restaurant for something like over $200,000? And they've obviously applied to have the show and Gordon come in. But when Gordon confronts him about it, he says the restaurant is doing just fine? Ummm, ok, whatever.

And then Michel references having worked for Thomas Keller. I have recently learned a lot about and become quite enamoured of Thomas Keller, and if Michel had managed to work for one of Keller's restaurants, he must not have been there long. Michel's restaurant was filthy. Thomas Keller's restaurants are immaculate, and he's a stickler for cleanliness, much like the quick glimpse that we were given of the kitchen of one of Gordon's restaurants earlier in the season. Keller would have been appalled to have seen the state of the store room at Secret Garden, not to mention the inefficiency at getting the food out, making his customers wait so long before they're brought anything they've ordered. And Michel doesn't realize that he's dropping Thomas Keller's name, but Gordon is a name that could be equally thrown out in that vein, and yet Michel is completely dismissive of him.

It was funny to see that Gordon had arranged to have the restaurant boarded up. I guess that was the most extreme example he could give Michel. I thought it was funny that Michel was mad because he said people would see the signs and it would be broadcast on the evening news that he was closed. Does he really think his restaurant has garnered enough attention that its closing would actually make the news, even in a small town like Moorpark?

Gordon's new menu specials are a hit, but that only solves one problem - there's still no one really running the restaurant. There's zero communication between the kitchen and the servers - the kitchen has run out of some food items, but no one bothers to tell the servers, who then get yelled at because they're taking orders for food they didn't know had run out? Michel is also making things worse by not even letting his sous chefs help him. There's "hands on", and then there's an inability to delegate. What's the point of having all those people in the kitchen if you won't let them do anything? No wonder it takes so long for food to be prepared.

I did think the bit with the bus of 24 people arriving was a bit ridiculous. Most restaurants wouldn't even agree to accommodate something like that with zero notice.

But in the end, Michel does learn his lesson. He's still skeptical of Gordon's changes, but he decides to let his customers be the final test. And when they tell him how much they love everything, he finally lets it all sink in. And we were really happy that he promoted Jane to manager!

This is the last episode of the season, so it's another show to cross off my list of shows to watch. With the writers' strike still in full swing and the regular holiday hiatus coming up, there will be fewer and fewer things to watch.


"Survivor"

The reward challenge was fun because it wasn't just a matter of winning or losing on your own. You could potentially have done horribly on your own but still won because of other people. I did think it was interesting that Courtney got the most arrows. I can't believe that it was because she was all that popular. I'm wondering if so many people gave her so many arrows because they figured she wouldn't do well, so she was the least dangerous. Todd did a great job, but in the end, Courtney was responsible for Denise winning the challenge.

Denise picking Courtney to go with her made perfect sense as payback, and while there's a part of me that understands P.G. getting upset that Denise didn't pick her to go, it wouldn't have made any sense strategically to pick her. Denise's refusal to vote off Todd the week before pretty much cemented that Denise was sticking with her tribe, and as grateful as she might have been that P.G. took her to the Shao Lin Temple, that wasn't going to obligate Denise to return the favor. I understood Denise's comment about not wanting P.G. to get stronger, but I was surprised that she said it loud enough for P.G. to hear. I can't remember how close they were to each other in proximity.

I was really surprised at how completely lost Denise, Todd and Courtney were with the hot pot cooking. OK, so there's raw meat and vegetables and a boiling hot pot. It's not obvious that you cook your own food in there? Not a single one of them has had any experience with anything remotely like that? All that food, and they thought it was confusing? No wonder Amanda and P.G. were later annoyed by their comments. I thought Courtney's comment about just having pizza was pretty stupid. Ummm, hello, you're in China - they've already fed you American food a few times. Why would you expect that you'd be having pizza at the Great Wall of China? I thought Courtney's comment about Amanda being less likely to stir up trouble was pretty stupid too. Did she completely forget that it was Amanda who had engineered blindsiding James by voting him off?

It was nice to see the scenes of P.G. and Amanda bonding. I can see how demoralizing the whole experience can be for P.G., so at least she had some time of fun.

The immunity challenge with the revisiting of challenges was fun. It was seriously surprising that Todd did so poorly and was the first one kicked out. You could see the complete look of shock on P.G.'s face. The second person out was, not surprisingly, Denise on the balut challenge. She couldn't do it last time, so I'm not surprised she couldn't do it again. Jeff made a comment about it being a $1,000,000 decision, but honestly, it's really just about money. If it was something else, like her daughter would be killed if she didn't eat it, you'd bet she'd be able to get it down then. It's a matter of what's enough motivation for you. On the bouncing ball on a drum competition, Courtney lost, so it was down to Amanda and P.G. P.G. came close, but in the end, Amanda was faster, mostly because she chopped through the ropes faster.

P.G. fought a good battle, but in the end, she lost the war.

So I guess there's going to be no car challenge this time? I don't remember it coming this late. And it sounds like they're going back to having final two, not final three like they've had the last few times. I still want Todd out. I'd be ok with either Denise or Amanda winning, so that's who I want in final two. I am absolutely going to scream if it comes down to Courtney and Todd. I would pick Todd as more deserving, but to have Courtney in at the end? NO FRICKIN' WAY!

Season finale is on Sunday, and then the reunion episode!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Shopping

Shopping on weekdays shortly before Christmas is so much nicer than shopping on weekends shortly before Christmas. Fewer people, more parking, less time spent.

I'm mostly done with the Christmas shopping. There are just a few more things I have to get, which will be done tomorrow or Sunday. They're not at malls, so it shouldn't be too bad.

And then comes the wrapping. But because I didn't buy 400 little things for each person, that won't take days and days to do!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

What flavor pickle do you want?

OK, I love pickles. I do. I like different kinds of pickles. I generally like whole pickles, though spears can be ok. I generally prefer pickle chips on hamburgers - they're not my preferred choice for just eating pickles. I like kosher dills, I like regular ones, and I even like the butter pickles. Sweet pickles are ok but not as much my thing. I don't like pickles when they're too vinegary, but I don't like them when they're not very flavorful either. I generally like them to have a tart kick, and they need to be crispy. Soggy pickles are so not worth it. And generally, I prefer pickles cold. That keeps the crisp in.

I like pickles in my hamburgers, I like pickles in the pastrami sandwich that I get from Togo's, I like pickles in the sandwiches that I get from Subway, and I even like a pickle spear (or relish) on a hot dog. I've never had deep fried pickles. I think I'd be willing to try that.

But marinating pickles in Kool-Aid? I don't know about that. I get the sweet and sour thing (Sour Patch Kids are great, but they have to be the old ones - the newer ones aren't nearly as good), but maybe I'm just a pickle purist in that respect. I probably wouldn't be against trying it (heck, I've tried pickle-flavored potato chips), but I think it would take some getting used to.



Here's a good New York Times article about the growing popularity of Kool-Aid pickles.

Here's an article from the Dallas News that includes a recipe for making your own Kool-Aid pickles.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Christmas tree would just be a multi-layer cat toy

About six years ago, we bought a beautiful new Christmas tree. (Sorry, I don't do real trees.) It was the "fancy" kind, with the lights already woven into the branches. We had an older tree, but it was too small for our collection, and we wanted something newer and nicer. So we put our beautiful tree up, our beautiful tree skirt, and our various wonderful ornaments, many of which were Disney themed, some of which had different sound and motion features to them. Brilliant.

And that was the last time I saw that tree and most of the ornaments.

Because about five years ago, we adopted our cat Orkid. She's very playful and very mischievious. And we had to redecorate various parts of the house to thwart her curiosity and exploratory nature and sometimes amazing jumping ability. And we knew that we couldn't put out the tree. OK, maybe the tree itself would be ok - she'd probably still climb it and try to chew on the branches and lights, and if the tree came crashing down, it probably wouldn't hurt her and hopefully wouldn't set the house on fire since the lights wouldn't be turned on when we were home. But what would be the point of putting the tree up if we couldn't also put up our nice ornaments? But she'd have a field day with those, and I know she'd destroy them. We definitely couldn't have them moving, and the twinkling lights would probably attract her attention even more.

When I was a kid and we had cats, they would generally eventually break a few of the round ornaments around the lower parts of the tree. Every morning when we woke up, we'd generally find one broken against a wall or something, after they'd yanked it off the tree and then batted it around. I know what cats can do to ornaments. And I wouldn't be able to help being upset with Orkid if she broke any of ours. So the only solution is to keep the tree put away until she's old enough that she's not interested any more. We thought maybe a few years would be enough time. Well, she's not really showing any sign of slowing down, which is good, I guess, since she still loves to play. It just means we can't have a tree up in the house. And it also means I don't get to see most of our beautiful ornaments. We've pulled a few out, and they're currently sitting on the mantle. The plan was to have them plugged into a string of lights along the mantle, since they were the more spectacular motion ornaments, and we'd at least get to see them. The boxes sit there, but I haven't gotten around to actually setting them all up yet.

But there's one ornament that I absolutely love. I can't even really remember why I have it. I think I bought it as opposed to being given it as a gift, but it's the cutest little mouse.



We call him "little fat mouse". He's just too adorable sitting there having eaten some of the cookies left out for Santa. I pulled him out about a year or so ago, and he sits in our curio cabinet so I can see him any time I want.

I miss having a tree and other Christmas decorations, but it's worth the trade-off to have Orkid. And I still get my little fat mouse.

However, other people have been much braver about putting up a Christmas tree with cats in the house. And it makes for hilarious pictures. Check out this link.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Romano's Macaroni Grill - Italian restaurant chain

I first went to Romano's Macaroni Grill a couple years ago. I'd never been before, and there was one near where we were, so we decided to stop by. We don't generally go that often, partly because it's usually crowded, partly because there are other Italian restaurants that we go to, and partly because their portions are fairly big so I'm bound to have leftovers.

Romano's is similar in some ways to Olive Garden, but I think the entrees tend to be a bit more expensive, and some of the menu items are a bit more upscale. The tables have butcher block paper on them, and when your server comes up, he/she will write their name with crayons - they're actually writing upside down and backwards so that their name is positioned correctly for you to read it. OK, I've only been there when it's been just the husband and me, so the server is always on the other side of the table from us. If you're there with more than a party of 2, then some people will see his/her name upside down as well, but it will still be written upside down and backwards.

One drink that I've had there a few times is the Leaning Bellini - "our signature bellini blended and frozen with Bacardi rum, peach nectar, white wine and champagne" - it's very tasty.

My one complaint though - given the name of the restaurant, you'd think there would be some kind of dishes with macaroni. Well, if you thought that, you'd be wrong. The only thing they have with macaroni is a macaroni and cheese dish that's on the kids' menu. False advertising!

I decided to start with the house salad with the fat-free Italian dressing, and for an entree, I ordered the penne with oven-roasted chicken - "penne pasta, oven-roasted chicken, asparagus, fresh buffalo mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes, sauteed in a light olive oil garlic sauce". The husband decided to start with the small serving (it comes in a larger serving size as well, presumably if you're sharing among several people) of the mozzarella alla caprese - "imported buffalo mozzarella, vine-ripened tomatoes and basil with balsamic vinaigrette" - and for his entree, he ordered the marsala chicken ravioli - "ravioli filled with sliced chicken and Parmesan, then sauteed with fresh asparagus, savory mushrooms, smoked Italian prosciutto and a Marsala wine cream sauce".

Olive oil is available on the table, but you need to ask if you'd also like balsamic vinaigrette for your bread. We enjoyed our bread before they brought our starters.

The husband really enjoyed his caprese. Romano's version presents the mozzarella as little balls whereas some other restaurants serve them as slices. I generally prefer the slices because I think it goes better with the slices of tomato, but it looked good all the same. I enjoyed my house salad. It was more than just iceberg lettuce, and the dressing had a nice light flavor.

The husband enjoyed his entree, although he said some of the flavors didn't really seem to match what they had named the dish. I liked my penne as well, though as I mentioned before, they have fairly large servings, so I only finished a little less than half of it, and I took the rest to go. The chicken was very good, and maybe it's because I happen to really love asparagus and sun-dried tomatoes, but I thought both of those were cut too small so that you could barely really even taste the bites. I tend to like them a bit more prominently in my dishes. I had the leftovers for dinner a few nights later, and after a few minutes in the microwave, it was warm enough to taste good again, but once I was done, I was surprised at how much oil was at the bottom of the plate. I hadn't noticed that when I'd originally had the meal in the restaurant.

Our server this evening was quite nice and informative and was very sociable. On previous visits, servers have always been professional, but some have been a bit more aloof.

On my next visit, the mission will be to find an entree that isn't so big that I have to bring leftovers home.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Happy Hamukkah!



A friend forwarded the picture to me, and she thought the culprit store was Balducci's in New York, but she wasn't entirely sure that it wasn't a made up story and the picture photoshopped.

Well, it wasn't in either case. Here's a story from the New York Daily News about Balducci's menu recommendation. Note that they had the sign on three different kinds of pork products.

I think it's funny that they blamed some low-level stock clerk for the error. OK, I've never worked in a supermarket before, but do the stock clerks make up the signs too? Someone had to go through the trouble of making what looks like a laminated sign that has the holiday and the product printed on it. And how long were the signs up, and no one who worked in the store noticed it? I would think that whomever was working in the meat department would have made a eye-ball check of the area and noticed the problem, but again, I've never worked in a supermarket so I don't know if that would be customary.

I don't really see an issue with having ham for Hanukkah. As long as it's Kosker Ham, what's the problem?



BTW, I've noticed for some time now that there seem to be two different spellings of the holiday - Hanukkah and Chanukah. I have no idea what the "correct" spelling is. I don't see one more dominant than the other - either spelling seems to be used half the time. So what's the reason behind that? Does a certain sector like one spelling while another sector prefers the other? Was there some big rift in the Jewish community brought upon by a failure to agree on the spelling? I'm going to have a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch to ponder that some more.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

hot and cold

It's been a weekend of absolute dichotomies, and I'm too tired physically and mentally to begin to deal with any of it.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

"Survivor" and "Law and Order"

"Survivor"

My husband had noticed this a couple weeks ago, but this was the first time I actually watched it for myself - they've changed the way they do the "opening credits". Usually, they just continue to show all the members of both original tribes. This go-around, though, once they got to the merge, they changed the opening credits to only show the people who were still on the merged tribe and then also the people who had then moved to the jury. (Before the merge, not sure if they took people out of the intro once they were voted out.) I think that's an interesting change, and it actually makes a lot of sense. The other people really don't matter anymore, and with no more than 10 people to show, it makes the opening credits shorter. As it was, in previous seasons, once they got toward the end, I would periodically watch the roll-call, and I wouldn't even really remember half the people they were showing.

I had mentioned about last week's episode that I thought it was weird that Todd was so mad when Denise told him that P.G. was gunning for him. So this week, he says that it would be smart for the others to vote him out, but he wasn't going to tell them that. Ummm, ok, P.G. already not only thought about it but tried to pull it off several days prior, and you got all mad about it.

The family challenges are often fun to watch, and it's especially touching to see the reunions. I noticed that Denise was the only one who had a spouse as visiting family. And it really shocked me that Courtney's father was British. With the way that she is, I just completely didn't expect her father to be English. I loved the look on his face when Jeff explained what the challenge was.

When they first showed the maze, I thought they were going to have one person talk the other through while blindfolded. I don't remember a challenge before where both people are blindfolded, and they have to find each other *and* find a particular location. That was pretty cool. Amanda and her sister with their bird-calling sounds were cracking me up. Courtney seemed irritated with Jeff's play-by-play. Ummm, that's what he's supposed to be doing. I thought it was cool that Denise won. I wasn't terribly surprised that she picked Todd and Amanda. At that point, it's about alliances. Even though P.G. had chosen her to participate in the last reward, I didn't think that necessarily obligated her to pick P.G. in return, though P.G. apparently did.

So, something else I noticed - what is with Amanda's butt? I've noticed over the past few episodes that either during a challenge or even when they're just walking around camp or something, the area around Amanda's butt is blurred. No, I'm not staring at her butt - the blurring actually catches my attention. This time, I noticed it particularly when they were getting on the boat for the reward challenge, I think. I'm presuming that her underwear or bikini bottom or whatever she's wearing is showing too much of her butt to be aired on TV without being blurred. Just seemed odd to me.

When they came back from their reward challenge, and they had chocolate on their hands that the others licked off - ewww. I thought that was kind of weird. I guess I wouldn't know unless I was in that position, but the thought of licking food off of someone's hand just strikes me as icky. I don't think I could do it. Maybe I just don't like chocolate enough.

So P.G. wins a do-or-die immunity again. In this case, I didn't think the challenge was skewed towards her like I thought last week's reward challenge was - the questions seemed a lot harder this time, and it was only because Todd missed the last question that she ended up winning.

Having to do with nothing, there was some point when Todd was doing a sort of diary entry to the camera, and his hair was just sticking up and all weird. He reminded me of a chia pet.

So Erik and P.G. try their best to turn Denise, but they fail, and Erik is voted off. It was interesting that Denise's testimonial during her vote was that this was probably the biggest mistake she'd make in the game. If she thought that could be the case, then why do it? I do think Erik and P.G. had a very valid argument. Denise has gotta know that she's fourth in her alliance, even without hearing what Todd and Amanda said with their siblings around. Unless she can win an immunity challenge, she's gone when final four rolls around. If she had voted with P.G. and Erik against Todd, she was guaranteed to get to final four since their three votes would control at the next tribal council. And she at least had a shot at final three since because if either she, Erik or P.G. won the immunity idol (and Erik and P.G. have had recently great track records at winning challenges), it would be them as final three. But she stuck with her alliance, relying on her trust, though I'm not entirely sure what that means. OK, next round, if P.G. doesn't win immunity, she goes. If she does, then Denise would go. P.G.'s win would only prolong Denise's stay by one week. In either case, her alliance wouldn't be breaking their word to her by voting her out. Once the "outsiders" are gone or at least not able to be voted out, they have to vote someone off from their own alliance, and I don't recall Todd or anyone else in her alliance promising her final four or final three.

With Erik out, that leaves four women and one man. I would actually like to see Todd voted out this week, so that would leave all women in the final four and beyond. That would be fun. I think this week is when the car challenge would be, so we'll find out who wins the car and subsequently, according to tradition, not win Sole Survivor. Maybe Todd can win the car as a consolation prize and then be kicked out.

If the women do make final four, I'd want Courtney out next. Hmm, I'd also be ok with her going next and then Todd going the week after that. I want final three to be Amanda, Denise and P.G. I'd be ok with any of them winning, though I think it would be great if Denise ultimately won.


"Law and Order: SVU"

I thought this was a bit of a weak episode, not to mention quite politically correct. OK, tribal customs for female circumcisions, and crimes being witnessed and then the black crime lord that has the whole neighborhood scared to do anything against him. But he was really a one-note character, and a red herring at that. I don't know if Method Man is a good actor, but if he is, his talents were wasted here. It was definitely not the intriguing character that Ludicrous had to work with. Turns out the black 15 year old was actually killed by the white wife in the polygamist relationship - and the surviving black husband testifies against the black crime lord to finally stand up for himself and his family put the guy away. OK.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Senator John Kerry seriously needs more to do

So you're a Senator in the United States Congress. A pretty big job with a lot of responsibilities, right? There's a lot of major issues going on in the country right now. So what do you take a stand on? Football. Professional football.

Senator Kerry apparently thought that the on-going standoff between the NFL Network and major cable companies, causing several games to be unavailable to large amounts of cable subscribers, was such an important matter that he took the time to write a letter and issue a press release about it. Seriously, dude, you're a Senator, and you've got nothing better to do than say, "Come on guys, can't you just get along?" You don't think lots of people have already said that? You think adding your voice in is really going to make a difference? You think that once they got your letter, both sides were going to say, "Wow, Senator Kerry is really concerned about this. We wouldn't want to disappoint him. We haven't been able to come to terms all this time, but now, we'd better make a deal pronto." Uhh, yeah.

OK, so I was bummed that I didn't get to watch the Cowboys/Packers game. And many people are going to be bummed that they won't readily be able to watch what could potentially be the record-making game if the Patriots do manage to have an undefeated season, and their last game happens to be scheduled to be shown on the NFL Network. But as groundbreaking as it is, and as much as I love professional football, seriously, do we really need a Senator throwing in his two cents, especially when his two cents are going to do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING and serve ABSOLUTELY NO PURPOSE other than to get his name out there? Yeah, ok, so I'm helping to perpetuate that, but since only four people are going to read this, it's not that big a deal.

Here's an article from the Baltimore Sun about the matter.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

my new best friend

I made a new best friend recently. It wasn't something I was looking for or expecting. It just happened. The potential has been there for some time, but I just didn't recognize it, so it just lie there dormant. And then, the friendship sprang to glorious life, and I expect it to blossom.

Here's my new best friend.



I happen to love lychee - fresh better than frozen, but frozen is ok too, and I like desserts and such scented of or tasting like lychee. I had a lychee sorbet a couple years ago. Mmmm, it was delicious. I also like various lychee gummy candies. So when I saw the little bottle of lychee liquer at BevMo (Beverages and More - love that place), I had to get it to try. And then it sat in our cupboard for a while. And then recently, I saw it at BevMo again when we were there on a shopping trip. And the husband reminded me that we had some at home that I'd never tried. So circumstances arose the other night that I tried it. I don't much like the taste of alcohol, and it's not too strong on that, but it's got a nice lychee flavor. So, on our next trip to BevMo, I'm going to get a big bottle of the stuff. I really want to get a bunch of little bottles as well so that I can keep them at work for when I need them, but I'm not sure I'm willing to get fired for drinking on the job...yet.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

"Heroes" - half-season finale

Overall, I was happy with the episode in that they resolved a number of things. There were some questions that I would have preferred they answer, but I have to remember that this wasn't a season finale, so it really wasn't that much more than a regular episode. It just gained more significance because there are no more episodes coming until after the writers' strike ends.

Maya - I didn't mind her in the beginning and was ready to see where they were going to go with her character, but they pretty much didn't go anywhere. She was entirely too gullible when it came to Sylar and as much as she had relied on her brother, she pretty much just stopped listening to him as soon as her infatuation with Sylar took hold. OK, so she finally found out about Sylar. I would have preferred it to be a bit more clandestine as opposed to just having Sylar holding a gun to Mohinder. And given my indifference to her, I didn't care that much when Sylar shot her. It only mattered to me because Molly witnessed it. So, I wasn't all that pleased when she was brought back to life. I would actually have preferred that Alejandro had been left to live (at least she found out that he's dead), but since he really only had a negative power to hers (it appeared that he could bring people back to life that she had killed, but there was no hint that he could bring just anyone back to life), and she doesn't need him to stop her killing power anymore, there wasn't that much that could be done with him, though I think he was the more interesting character. What Maya needs to learn is to focus her power, so that it doesn't affect everyone in her vicinity, just who she aims her power at. That would make her a major adversary indeed.

Adam/Peter/Hiro - That was the triangle where the demon (Adam) and the angel (Hiro) are basically fighting for the sole of the innocent (Peter). Adam has fed Peter enough lines to get Peter to believe him, but Peter still has his old attachment to Hiro. But nothing can get through to Peter because Peter saw Adam heal Nathan - so the only one who *can* get through to Peter is Nathan himself. Adam's been using Peter as a weapon to get into the holding facility, and it's only Nathan who can help Peter see what's really going on. Peter manages to catch the vial of the deadly virus strain that Adam drops and destroys it for good.

Elle - Her story is at least getting a little more interesting, but I think they either need to make her a better hero or a better villain. At the moment, she's waffling between the two. She seemed fallen when she was dressed down by her father, but then she went to Noah for more information, and Noah told her that her father was willing to push her beyond her limit to test her powers. However, that didn't seem to affect her devotion to her father, nor did finding that her file was completely empty. In the end, it's to win back his approval that prompts her to step in when she sees Sylar in the lab with Mohinder. I expect we'll find out more about her story later.

Niki - I was surprised when she didn't know that Micah had the power to control electronics. Thinking back on it, his father knew, but we never saw Micah telling Niki. I think I figured that during the time that passed when we didn't see them, Micah would have told her or it would have come out in conversation or something. I wasn't entirely happy with the storyline about DL's medal and Micah going back for it and Monica helping. It seemed a bit contrived and out of nowhere and served really to just kill Niki. At least, I presume that Niki is dead. Nothing suggests she would have been able to survive the blast. While I'm kind of sad to see her go, I don't think her character was really going anywhere, and they didn't seem to know what to do with her. I never really understood what her power was. Being a split personality isn't a power. Maybe it was just her super-strength, but that wasn't really all that clear. We'll have to see what the fallout is because now, Micah is an orphan.

Noah - Not really sure what the deal is with him. Obviously, Bob agreed to let Mohinder save him. But why? What purpose does he serve? Eventually, he was used to control Claire, to stop her from exposing her power, but it didn't seem like Bob had that in his mind to begin with. And Noah traded in staying with and helping the company for a normal life for his family, but I'm not sure that's really going to work. One weird thing about the scene between Noah and Bob in Noah's cell - what was with the weird camera angles? At one point, it's like the camera(man) was lying on the floor shooting straight up at them, making Bob even taller, and then right after that, the camera(man) is hanging from the ceiling, looking down on both Bob and Noah.

Adam and Hiro - We knew this showdown had to happen. Adam likens himself to God at the time of Noah's ark (which is an interesting connection since Noah, Claire's father, has basically built an ark just for his own family to save them from the company while the rest of the people are being subjected to what the company will rain down on them), where God decided to start over by destroying everything and everyone with a flood, and Hiro is appalled by Adam's god-complex, probably moreso as he's just learned from his father that sometimes, things just have to happen and you have to not try to change them. I did think it was a serious plot problem, though, when they were in the vault together and Hiro can't really figure out how to stop Adam. Why doesn't he just stop time like he did last time, take the sword and whoosh, Adam is dead? It didn't work last time only because Peter intervened, but Peter wasn't there this time to stop him. Of course, that wasn't the resolution the story was supposed to take, but it seemed like a sloppy bit of writing to me. And in the end, Hiro imprisons Adam in a grave, burying him alive for all of eternity. I wonder, though - OK, so Adam can regenerate, but presumably, he's like a human in that he needs to eat. If he's not able to eat, does his body degenerate over time and will he eventually die? Or even without nourishment, will he still be able to live? If he does live forever, one would expect that he could eventually be set free. Sure, he's in a graveyard, but 100, 200, 300 or more years later, who's to say that ground won't be dug up, and Adam set free with it?

Nathan - I'm not entirely sure I understand why Nathan decided to go public with his power. But obviously, it wasn't something the company wanted to let happen. When Nathan was first shot, and I saw the figure of the man walking away, I thought it was Sylar. But we see later that it wasn't. The husband figured out it was Noah, which seems to be the case since Angela's scene later shows that she knew it was going to happen and that she allowed it, and since Noah is a company man, he had to protect the company. I just didn't think the figure of the man looked like him.

Sylar - So we find out that he has the same virus strain as Niki, which means the company injected him. That means that at the beginning, it was the company who saved him and was taking care of him, but it still doesn't explain how he became his human body again. It also doesn't explain why the company brought him back to life. OK, so they injected him with the virus to take away his powers, but with as evil as he was, why even have him live? But, like all good villains, he does regain his powers, and you know he's going to wreak havoc again. You have to figure he's going to go gunning for Maya, as he's going to want her power. Since the title of the chapter that starts with Sylar regaining his powers is "Villains", we can probably expect his rise and to see what other opposition comes along.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Welcome to Whole Foods city! (passport not required)

I have an affinity for Whole Foods Market, though I admittedly don't shop there too often. We had recently heard of a new location opening up in Pasadena (there's already a branch in another area of Pasadena) on Arroyo, which is the street that the 110 freeway ends up at, which the website touts as "the largest Whole Foods Market west of the Rockies", so this past Saturday, we went by to have a look.

Oh.My.Goodness. This place is indeed HUGE. One of the things that the builders nicely thought about is that with as many things as there are in this "market", people aren't likely to just pop in and out, so they included a three-story underground parking structure.

The main entrance lets you into the produce village. There was actually so much to see everywhere that it was like going through a mall - the husband and I had to map out what we'd already seen and what we still needed to see. I think most of the time, we went around the edge of one section and then looked at the middle stuff before moving onto the next section. The produce section alone has all manner of fruits and vegetables that you could possibly want, including a large section of organically grown produce. The seafood bar is nearby, and they have lots of different items available, lots of different kind of shrimp and even calamari steaks. They also had pre-cooked whole dungeness crab ready to go. Most of the major sections in the store have areas where you can buy prepared foods to eat on the premises. There was even a little two-table cafe near the seafood bar.

There's a nut roasting section with all kinds of nuts roasted with every manner of seasoning or rolled in some manner of chocolate or cinnamon or something else or even plain. They also do special order roasting. The roasted chestnuts looked really good. There's also a juice bar where you can order from a selection of items. In the back is a section that has clothes, shoes, lotions, vitamins and other items. Behind that is a seating area complete with a number of nice tables, a flat-screen TV set on ESPN (that day anyway) and plastic silverware as well as a microwave that you can use.

The website mentions a "Take a Break Massage Room". What kind of market has a massage room? OK, it wasn't as much as I thought it might be, like a spa or something like that. I did see the entrance to the massage room, and it looked like there were four of those "sit and rest your body and head forward" things that you might see at the mall. There looked to be a sort of receptionist, but I didn't go in to see what they actually offered. But still, given how big the market is and how much time it takes to go through the market, you might just need a massage in the middle of your shopping trip!

OK, so far, that's only been the first floor. There's a whole second floor to the market. They have one of those cart lifts next to the escalators (as well as an elevator) so if you have a cart, it can ride up next to you. There's an employee there to help people with that.

Immediately off the escalator is the baked goods section. They have all manner of bread and bagels and danishes and cakes and cookies and pies and other desserts. Many of these are made sugar-free as well. They also have a chocolate section where a multitude of flavored truffles are available, as well as other sweets, and there's even a flowing chocolate fountain. Not sure if you just choose from a selection they provide to dip in the chocolate or if you can buy things from elsewhere (like fruit, for instance) and bring it up and have them cover it in chocolate.

They also have an entire cheese section with more cheese than I've seen in one place at one time. There are a few stations where you can sample a few of them, and I did end up buying a bit of a cheese that I sampled. Next to the cheese section is a very small Wine and Tapas Lounge, which basically just had a couple of sofas put together. We had a look at the menu, and there are a few items on there. The most interesting to me are a couple of cheese plates. That would seem ideal - try the cheeses there and if you like any of them, you can presumably buy more in the store.

Next to that is the meat counter. They mostly had a huge selection of different cuts of beef, and then ground beef, chicken and turkey as well. They also had duck available. There were a number of roasts and other items which were already seasoned and prepared, so you would just have to take them home and cook them for the appropriate amount of time. They even had a turducken available and ready to be cooked! It's the first time I'd ever seen one before. (The husband and I joked that it really had to be made that way because stuffing a turkey into either a chicken or a duck was probably not going to happen. However, we did decide that if physics could be defied and you could reverse it and stuff a turkey into a duck and then stuff that into a chicken, you'd have to call it a chuckey [CHickendUCKturkEY], and given how deformed and wrong this creature would look, naming it after a killer doll would be entirely appropriate. But I digress...)

There was a dairy section, and a wine section, and sections of other boxed goods and other normal things you'd find in supermarkets. The center section of the upstairs, though, is where the really good stuff is.

There are a number of stations where different prepared foods are available. There's a salad bar that has three different sections (including an olive bar), and there's a hot food bar as well. This day, the specialty items were Indian food items, and they smelled wonderful, just like in an Indian restaurant. There's a section when you can order sandwiches. There's a section that has Japanese food - some kinds of sushi, udon, tempura and teriyaki. There's also a section with hot mediterranean items. There are also a few seating areas in that section.

Because the market is so huge and has such an amazing selection, they also offer a lot of items for those with dietary restrictions. There were whole walls of gluten-free items and sugar-free items and dairy-free items and things like that. I would expect anyone who needs to find those kind of specialty items would appreciate having the varied selection that this store offers.

I loved wandering around the store (though it was definitely a tiring effort), and I do plan to go back sometime to try some of the prepared foods, but I think the peasant in me will always have trouble doing too much shopping there. For some of the specialty items, or for something where I'm looking for better quality or more selection, I can see going there, but I can't imagine ever shopping there on a regular basis for everyday items. It's obviously more expensive there than in a regular market, and I just can't see paying those kinds of prices for ordinary items. They had fresh cranberries and whole roasted plain almonds and cashews, three things I wanted, but since I can get all of those items at other places and there isn't anything particularly spectacular about those items, I wouldn't be able to justify paying their prices for those items. I'd probably be more inclined to buy things like wine and cheese and certain cuts of meat or seafood or special produce items, things that aren't easily available elsewhere.

Here's a link to the Pasadena (Arroyo) branch of Whole Foods Market.

Monday, December 3, 2007

writers' strike - the effect on primetime television

Anyone who watches primetime television either has already been or will be affected by the writers' strike. The strike means that no new scripts are being written or rewritten, so the production companies only have what scripts were completed before the strike started.

Someone on one of the discussion boards I participate in posted
this link to a TV Guide article that details how many episodes there are left of various network television shows, as of November 30, 2007. It's not yet a comprehensive list - he's still trying to track some information down. Have a look, and you can see what to expect from the shows you watch.

I had already heard that "The Big Bang Theory" had exhausted all of their shows, so I wasn't expecting any more. However, I had also heard that "Back To You" was out of episodes, but according to this chart, there are two left. That depends on whether the two episodes have already been shot or if they still need to be shot. Sitcoms were being hit the hardest initially because they tend to need more rewrites, which obviously wouldn't be going on now. If the shows were already shot, we'll likely see them. If they weren't actually shot yet, we might not, if they need any kind of significant work on the script.

"Survivor" is obviously going to be completed, as would "Kitchen Nightmares", for whatever they can produce, since those shows aren't governed by the WGA.

"Desperate Housewives" should have one left, since an episode aired last night. However, after last night's episode, there was no preview of the next episode, and there's no new show this coming Sunday, so not sure when the final available episode will air.

"Heroes" is airing their last show tonight.

"Law and Order: SVU" has five episodes left, plenty for the rest of the year.

"24" - It's already been announced that while they have completed something like 8 episodes, they're not going to run any of them until they know they can run them all consecutively. This is the show that I'm going to miss the most because of the strike.

"Lost" - I know a lot of people watch this show. I haven't heard what they're going to do, whether they're going the "Heroes" route and showing what they have or if they're going the "24" route and holding them until more can be made. I don't personally care. I've already given up on the show. Last year was the final straw for me.

I'm waiting for the return of "Law and Order" itself. Not sure if episodes were already shot before the strike started, so we'll see if it comes back in January. I'm also looking forward to seeing "The Sarah Connor Chronicles", so the same story with those new episodes.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

"Law and Order", "Kitchen Nightmares", "Survivor" and "Desperate Housewives"

"Law and Order: SVU" - I didn't think this was as good as some of their other ones, though it did give Mariska Hargitay a chance to shine some more. The main story seemed a little more personal than they normally are, especially given how hard it hit Elliott. We don't usually get quite that much about their lives. And I'm not happy about how they never resolved the issue of what would happen to Tommy. His mother's dead, his father's going to jail for life for killing his mother, and he saw both his dead mother and his dead nanny. And now, he's probably going to be awarded custody to his biological father, who his mother was having an affair with, and who is a complete stranger to him. Think all that might scar him a bit? There had also been a build-up last week about Olivia and Kathy getting hit while in the car, and the baby's life hanging in the balance. OK, I had thought that might be interspersed a bit in the regular story, but that was just the story at the end. And while the scenes with Olivia and Kathy, and the rescue workers trying to get them out and Olivia having to do all sorts of things for Kathy and then basically taking Elliott's position while Kathy gave birth, were all good, there wasn't that much time when the baby was really in danger. By the time Elliott gets there, it's all good. I liked the hug that Elliott gave Olivia, presumable for all that Olivia did for Kathy and the baby, but I really would have liked just a simple "thank you" from Elliott to Olivia before they went back to normal. You got the look, but for me, it wasn't enough. Next week, you have the stunt casting of Method Man. I hope he's as good as Ludicrous was.


"Kitchen Nightmares" - OK, so you don't know anything about running a restaurant or about cooking really, and so you decide to open a restaurant? Ummm, ok, why? I'm amazed they were open for 18 months with the way things were going, but he was seriously in debt by that time. It's kind of interesting that even if you don't know anything about the business, you apparently can't figure out that having a "fun" working atmosphere is detrimental to your business. Yeah, you want to make it a pleasant place for people to work, but not at the expense of your customers. One of the things I don't get about a lot of these people is that they can't see some of the obvious problems with their restaurants, that they can't put themselves in the shoes of their customers and know that in their position, they wouldn't put up with certain things. A few of the people in this restaurant said it's known for people having to wait for their food. And the owner can't figure out that's a bad thing. He'd sit in a restaurant and wait a really long time for food and keep going back? It took Gordon to come in and see that their "fun" environment was entirely too loud for the customers, and maddening on top of that when you hear people goofing around while you sit there waiting endlessly for your meal? It was also amazing that there was so little business in the restaurant, but there were so many people on staff. As Gordon was counting them, it seemed to me that there were way more people working the restaurant than were eating in the restaurant.

One curious technical part for me - when Gordon was at their house and interviewing the wife, there's one scene at the end of that segment where Gordon and the wife are what looks to be in another room, and the cameraman was peering at them through a slightly open door. What was up with that?

I also found it odd that Gordon decided to take on the woman who was complaining about the food. I didn't think she was making a scene or anything, and Gordon really cussed her out. Seemed a bit odd to me.


"Survivor" - I thought this was a terrific episode all around. So the big twist was that they did an immediate reward challenge after tribal council, with the winner and two people going to the exclusive Shaolin temple. I was actually very happy that PG won that one. You could see the look on her face when Jeff announced the prize. I think she would have been crushed if she hadn't won or hadn't been chosen to go. The only Chinese contestant actually wins the most cultural award to date on this season. Interesting that the subject of the challenge was about the culture itself. Did they engineer this for her to win, since she would have had more of a background, other than Jean Robert, though they were probably all given stuff to read? I thought she was going to pick James and Todd to try to play game, but it was actually nice that she picked Eric and Denise, more so once we found out that Denise had some training in karate. It was interesting that the outcasts got to go on the reward challenge while the main alliance all stayed at camp. There really wasn't that much game to discuss, though Amanda showed that she had other ideas.

The karate demo was pretty cool to watch, but as soon as they mentioned Denise's training, I knew that was going to show up some time. It was cool that she got to demo to the kids. Being able to perform at Shaolin temple is probably going to be something that Denise never forgets, though when she thanked PG for choosing her, I was figuring that meant she would probably vote her off at the next tribal, since that's how it happens a lot.

Courtney is still bugging me. When outcasts came back and PG was talking about the reward, it wasn't like she was just volunteering. She was asked. And Courtney is going on about "her" cave. Ummm, when did she become master of the cave?

I was also annoyed at Todd for being mad at PG for trying to play the game and suggest voting him off. Ummm, yeah, he's one of the strongest players, and she's on the chopping block. Of course she's going to try to stir it up to save herself and target him. I don't get when people think it's fine when they have to do this or that to play the game (considering Todd was going to try to blindside James previously), but if the game is played on them, then they're mad and it's not right, blah, blah, blah.

So Amanda now embraces and even implements the plan to blindside James that Todd had previously advocated and that she didn't like. Maybe they just haven't showed footage, but it's about time more people are seeing exactly how big a threat James was, both in his actions and with his two hidden immunity idols.

I liked the flying stars challenge - culturally related and fun to watch. Nice that Eric came out on top. I also liked in the machinations before tribal when Amanda had to finally convince PG to stop stirring the pot and just act as if she was going home. I know it must have taken a lot for PG to believe her.

And then we got to one of the best tribal councils ever, second to one from last year, imo. Everyone played the role they needed to play, especially PG emphasizing her being voted out and being on the jury and people needing jury votes. Even after they voted, and before Jeff started reading the votes, Amanda and Courtney were looking back and forth at people, rather guiltily. OK, you're not out of the woods yet. Until Jeff has read the first vote, James can still play an idol. Stop looking and acting guilty. But even though James later admits that he was suspicious, he doesn't play either of the idols - and he is completely blindsided. You could see Todd trying not to laugh, and when it all became obvious, we were busting up at the look on his face, and his pulling his cap down, the look of sheer joy on PG's face as she realized she was not in fact going home, and the laughter of the jury members at what was happening.

And to top it off, major kudos to James for accepting his position graciously. He wasn't angry about being voted off. He understood why it happened and that it was his mistake not to play an idol. Very classy.


"Desperate Housewives" - A tornado (or other natural or created disaster) hitting the major members of the cast is a staple in daytime soaps, but it's usually accompanied by a lot more drama. Given the catastrophic nature of the disaster and the hype for the last couple weeks, I thought it was a fairly ho-hum episode. Yeah, there were a few major revelations, but they've had those without the added fury of Mother Nature. I get the depiction of the literal and figurative tornado as goes through, shredding and changing lives, but a lot of it fell flat for me.

Gabrielle and Carlos - OK, still don't really care. OK, so Gabrielle and Edie called a truce, more or less. Victor was conveniently killed by Mother Nature herself, so that frees up Gabrielle, though I thought that was a little too trite. I would have liked to have seen Victor torture Gabrielle and Carlos for a while. She and Carlos now no longer have to run, and their secret regarding Victor is now safe, but now that Carlos' millions of dollars is literally lost in the wind, they'll have to find something else to do.

Susan and Mike - Again, it's another soap staple - throw the pregnant lady down a flight of stairs. It's usually a rival that does it, but in this case, it's to show us the decline of Mike. Too bad since he's been actually a pretty good character. Didn't much care about that either, except that I wondered about a doctor prescribing pain meds to a pregnant woman. I wouldn't think she'd be allowed to take something that strong.

Bree got herself much more than she bargained for when she invited psycho-Chicago lady into her home. I also wondered why she had to take Benjamin out with a stroller when she was only going a couple doors down. She couldn't just hold him? In the increasing winds, wouldn't that also have been safer, rather than a buggy that is hard to handle and can blow away? I did love the scene when Bree inadvertently confirms to Katherine that her husband did in fact have an affair with psycho woman. Can't wait for the fallout of that.

And then we get to Lynette. She's usually the reasonable one in the bunch, but I had a serious problem with her. OK, so they're not prepared for the tornado. I understand that she wants to keep her family safe, so I can let go her basically bullying Mrs. McCluskey into letting her entire family into the basement for shelter. But after inviting herself and her clan in, she can't believe that Mrs. McCluskey won't also agree to toss out the cat? Yeah, ok, it's a cat, but it's also someone else's home, someone else who didn't invite her or her family to begin with. And then on top of that, she surreptitiously takes the cat out while they're not looking? (And that wouldn't really have helped anyway, since the cat's hair and dander would still be in the basement, so Tom's allergies weren't going to get any better anyway.) Wow, talk about breach of etiquette and courtesy! And even the ending, when Lynette is screaming because Mrs. McCluskey's house has been levelled. OK, well, she's just lost her entire house, but Lynette is the one freaking out. I mean, I would think that since the family was in the basement, that would mean they're ok.

The opening of the show said someone would lose a husband (that would be Gabrielle, since Victor's now dead) and someone would lose a friend. Who's the friend? The cat? Mrs. McCluskey's friend? Did I miss something?

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