Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Reef Atlantis -- Our Room and Beach

This year my husband and I were faced with a dilemma: should we attempt to stick with our tradition of going on a vacation in the fall, or skip it because of my pregnancy? (And I do realize this isn't really a true dilemma per se, but rather a really nice problem to have.)

As I alluded to in Monday's post, I haven't exactly had the easiest time with things, so I was really paranoid about being far away from my doctors in Chicago. Yet I also knew it was important to not let all of my fears about something going wrong overpower what should be a happy time, or deter us from experiencing something that a lot of "normal" pregnant couples take part in nowadays—a babymoon.

We eventually made the decision to go ahead with a trip, but I had a ton of criteria that our ultimate destination had to meet, the main points being: 1) We had to be able to get there by taking no more than two short (less than three-hour-long) flights, 2) There had to be a doctor on site, and 3) it had to count as a place we'd never been before on the Travelers' Century Club's List of Countries. (One of our ultimate goals in life is to become members of this club, and to do so you have to hit 100 places on their spreadsheet. I currently have 41 or so checked off.)

The Bahamas immediately became the obvious choice. It's the closest of the Caribbean islands from the US, it's one of the few places in that area I hadn't been to yet, and I knew that the Atlantis resort there was big enough to warrant an on-site medical team. We waited until the ultimate last minute to book the trip (they had an incredible "off-season" deal that expired at the end of August, good for travel during the fall), which did come into question briefly thanks to Hurricane Irene wreaking havoc across the region a few weeks before we were set to depart.

But we ended up going in the middle of September and had exactly the kind of vacation we were hoping for: relaxing days at the beach (with things for Dustin to do while I lounged) and nice dining options every night. We would typically never choose to stay at a monstrous resort like Atlantis, and we'd been prepared for the worst based on online reviews and some of our friends' experiences. In the end, however, we totally lucked out because not only were we there during the lowest point of the low season (there were probably even fewer people around than would've otherwise made it there had the recent hurricane not scared them off), but we'd also randomly chosen to stay at The Reef, which was by far the quietest of the towers on the property. It's the furthest away from the center of the complex and is mostly comprised of for-sale condos, so there just wasn't anyone around. And that's exactly what we were hoping for.

We had a small suite that was just the right size. I couldn't NOT share the picture of our bed with the ten bazillion extra pillows I'd requested to assist with my weird pregnant-chick sleeping positions. The cleaning staff must have thought we were freaks:

To give you an idea of just how secluded The Reef's beach was (our tower had its own private beach, far away from the main complex's beach), here's a picture of all of the empty rows of beach loungers (with our two pulled away from the pack—that's my husband on the left!):

And here's a picture looking the other way down the beach. You can see a cruise ship in the distance:

Can I also just say that the water was some of the warmest I've ever been in? I usually take—no exaggeration—about 30 full minutes to get into any body of water. But I was able to wade right in at The Reef. I swam every day!

More either tomorrow or at a later point about some of the restaurants at Atlantis, as well as its truly impressive water park. Kind of sad to wrap up this post and then look out the window at an utterly dreary Chicago afternoon, though. BOO.

- e

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Once Upon a Time: It's No LOST, But It'll Do

First and most importantly, I want to thank everyone who left a kind message on this site, Facebook, or Twitter in response to yesterday's post. I had mixed feelings about writing out such personal stuff and then putting it on display oh-so-publicly, but now I'm glad I did.

So since you're up to speed on some of the bigger things that have been going on with me over the last few months, let's move on to the #1 question I've been asked by fellow LOST fans during that same time period: "What new shows are you watching now that The Best TV Series Of All Time has come to an end?"

What most people find hard to believe is that I really don't watch TV. I think that since my LOST posts were SO LONG, combined with the fact that, in general, I tend to be well versed in all things pop culture, there's just a natural assumption that I tune in to a lot of shows. But the reality is that since I've typically spent about three nights a week in movie theaters at press screenings since mid-2008, and since I've also had a rotating stack of DVDs begging for attention here at home that entire time as well, it just doesn't leave much room for TV. What's more, I don't have any of the cable channels like HBO or Showtime, and I'm just one of those people that hardly ever has a TV on overall—I refuse to watch any sort of news program (I read the news instead) and prefer silence whenever possible, so I'm not one to have shows/commercials/whatever on for background noise. However, I read a ton of entertainment magazines, blogs, Twitter feeds and sites, so I tend to have a handle on what's going on with all of the mainstream/popular TV series, even if I've never once watched them.

The shows I've chosen to keep up with over the years (and by that I mean that I DVR them and then sometimes weeks go by before I'm finally caught up) would admittedly fall into the "COMPLETELY MINDLESS entertainment" category. I think my brain just needed a rest after LOST. So the only shows I've watched with any regularity are Gossip Girl (yay for Chuck Bass!), The Amazing Race (travel/vacation ideas, duh), Survivor (new shades of deviousness never fail to amaze me, even after a decade), Top Chef (I hate to cook but like to learn about and be able to better appreciate good food), The Office (this one may soon get the boot, but I still love Jim at least), and—as embarrassed as I am to admit this—every recent season of The Real World and The Challenge on MTV (doesn't get more mindless than that, folks). That's it. My husband and I usually DVR all of the late-night talk shows as well, but only so that we can pick and choose to watch a specific interview or band/singer's performance that we're interested in.

But there is one show that I picked up this season, and as you already know from the title and graphic in this post, it's Once Upon a Time. I chose this one because: 1) I love, love, love fairy tales, 2) it's from two of the writers of LOST, and 3) it had gotten the thumbs up in advance of its premiere from many of my TV critic pals, like JOpinionated.

I don't foresee myself giving up on this show, despite some of the major problems I have with it, which I'm about to list out for you. But I'll start with the positive: I'm not going to give up on it because I like its core concept too much. All of the characters are living in the present day in this weird town and have no idea that they're actually all major figures from fairy tales. We see LOST-like flashbacks to their fairy-tale existences and learn how those same experiences have now translated into their current situations. It's unique and creative and I've usually found myself shedding a tear at least once an episode—another thing it has in common with LOST!

But make no mistake: Once Upon a Time is no LOST. Not even close. Here are the two main reasons why:

1) It might have the worst special effects I've seen on TV in years. Granted, I've just revealed that I don't watch that much TV so I'm probably not a good judge of what is and isn't acceptable, but so much of OUaT looks amateurishly green-screened or horribly CGI'd or just laughably fake that my husband actually refuses to watch it. I know this isn't the writers' fault, but I certainly hope that since the show has done well in the ratings that ABC will give the production team a higher FX budget going forward. It would help my enjoyment of the series immensely to not be so distracted by the B-movie-looking scenes.

2) There's no one character or actor/actress I'm really digging. As you all know, I immediately loved the character of John Locke on LOST, but also personally identified very closely with Jack from the beginning...and also adored almost ALL of the other characters, with Desmond, Sawyer, Sayid, Hurley, Charlie, Lapidus, Ben and Juliet (and Vincent, dammit!) being other favorites. On OUaT, I'm feeling no such love for anyone. If I HAD to pick a favorite, it would have been the character that was just killed off in this past weekend's episode—d'oh. And don't get me started on the kid, Henry (who's trying to convince everyone of their real identities). A child actor has to be REALLY good to not annoy the crap out of me, and the little guy playing Henry is unfortunately not up to snuff.

But the story's the thing, and that's what OUaT has going for it. I absolutely must know how everything's going to turn out for these characters—not because I really care about any of them individually at this point, but rather because the overall set-up is just so intriguing to me. How will they react when they learn who they really are? Will they remain in our world or go back to fairy-tale land? Are people like Henry and Emma Swan recognizable fairy-tale characters or not? Etc., etc.

I know a lot of you are watching Once Upon a Time, too, and so I'd love to hear your thoughts. Do you agree with my gripes above, or am I being too hard on the show? Spoilers are allowed in the comments, of course!

- e

Monday, December 12, 2011

Testing, testing... is this thing on?

I've neglected "According to e" for 4.5 months. What do I have to say for myself?

A lot, actually.

So as to not "bury the lede"—a practice we writer-types tend to frown upon—let me start by sharing my biggest bit of news: I'm pregnant, and this kid is a-comin' next month. Assuming he (yep, it's a boy) decides to stay on schedule, that is.

Didn't my pregnancy go really fast for all of you? Aren't you glad I spared you a bunch of "oh my aching ____ " complaints and posts on stuff that only pregnant chicks care about? You're welcome!

Part of the reason I held off on mentioning this news is that my journey to bring a teeny Lord of the Rings fan into the world has taken four years. Four. Freaking. Years. As you might imagine, that period of time involved many ups and downs, and since the whole experience could very well be the subject of my next book, I'll keep it to myself for now. All that really matters is that my husband and I finally joined the ranks of parents-to-be this spring... and then I felt sick for the majority of the summer. I emerged from the depths of nausea in the fall, and then stupidly proceeded to take on a ton of clients (in addition to my full-time film critic/movie-blogging gig for Redbox) in order to try and make some extra cash before the arrival of "Baba Ghanoush," aka "Baba G," aka The Nickname We Chose Based on a Random Line from Wedding Crashers.

Unfortunately my plan backfired, as I failed to anticipate how incredibly tired I'd be—or that my Feeling Normal Again phase wouldn't last forever. All of this led to me barely being able to keep my head above water. I had no choice but to focus solely on getting my client work done each day, which in turn caused the majority of my family members and friends to assume I'd fallen off the face of the earth for the past few months.

So that's Big Piece of News #1. On to Big Piece of News #2.

As my January due date continued to creep closer and closer, I was forewarned by an increasingly large number of people that my husband and I had no idea what "exhausted" meant... but that we'd be finding out as soon as Baba G makes his debut. We were told this exhaustion would last at least two months, and that I was fooling myself if I assumed that during that time I'd still be able to maintain the level of work (writing an average of two posts a day, in addition to social media responsibilities and attending multiple film screenings per week) I'd been doing for Redbox. Believe it or not, in my 3.5 years of writing for them, I'd only taken off a total of 2 weeks. Not 2 weeks off per year... but 2 weeks off IN TOTAL across 3.5 years. I'd always found way to write during (or in advance of) vacations, on weekends, et cetera, and it just kind of became The Way It Was. I somehow made it work. But I was beginning to doubt that I'd be able to keep up this same pace come early 2012.

As it turns out, a decision on this front was made for me. A week ago my co-blogger Locke and I were informed that the site we'd been writing for (Redblog) was soon going to be managed in-house, and that while we might be asked to help with some one-off projects here and there, our time with Redbox had essentially come to an end. As the company has experienced phenomenal growth and success since we'd been brought on back in 2008, this news wasn't exactly a surprise to either of us, but I'd be lying if I said (speaking only for myself, of course) that the finality of it wasn't a bit of a shock. Even when you suspect something like this is going to happen, you're never really prepared for it to happen, you know, RIGHT NOW.

So I'm currently wading through the Stages of Grief, but I'm also reminding myself that the reason I landed the awesome Redbox gig in the first place is because of the movie reviews I'd been writing on this very site back in the day. The fine folks at Redbox had first been fans of my Long Live Locke blog, and then had noticed that in addition to loving LOST I was also quite a sucker for movies. So they reached out to me after I left the Chicago Board of Trade, and the rest is history. Had I not had the income from my work with Redbox, I probably wouldn't have been able to ride out my three-year quest to become a published author, nor would I have some of the other clients I've been fortunate enough to work with. Nor would I be a proud member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and currently be in the process of watching every last movie made this year in order to fulfill my annual awards-voting obligations (it's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it, as the saying goes).

My point is that while I'm incredibly sad that the weekly movie-screening-and-blogging-centric routine I've enjoyed since I left Corporate America is now drawing to a close, I'm thankful I got to experience it in the first place, and know that my life is about to change in even bigger and better ways. I figure the timing of all this change is probably as perfect as it could ever be, right? And yes, I do intend to once again write about movies on this site, so prepare yourself for a slew of year-end film reviews, Best Of lists, and all that good stuff.

I dare say this post has grown long enough, wouldn't you agree? And to think that I still have to tell you about how I'm finally going to get a home office after four years of writing from my kitchen table. And about our trip to the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas. And about my new MacBook Pro. And about the LOST book I'm contributing to. And about all of the new Pet Peeves I've discovered!

So, um, yeah... there's still much that I need to catch you all up on. Stay tuned for lots and lots of posts in the near future. And thanks for sticking with me. I appreciate it.

- e

Monday, August 01, 2011

No Sleep Till... Manhattan

Is there a place where you sleep better than you do in your own bed?

I have two places like this:

1) The inner chambers of a ship.

I discovered this unexpected awesome-sleep phenomenon during my senior-year-of-college Spring Break when I went on a Caribbean cruise. My friends and I shared the cheapest kind of room you could get -- one with no windows that's situated in the bowels of the vessel. I don't know if it was the hum of the engines' motors, the ever-so-slight rocking of the waves, the utter pitch-blackness that comes from having zero natural-light sources, or some combination of those three, but after taking several more of these types of trips in my 20s, I can confirm that I've never slept better than I have on a cruise ship. Ever.

2) Miss M's pull-out couch.

Although my cruising days are most likely behind me, the good news is that I will be revisiting one of my most cherished sleeping spots this coming Thursday and Sunday. When I used to work for The Man and traveled frequently to NYC, I would stay at my friend Miss M's apartment in the West Village and would sleep on her pull-out couch. Now, most pull-out couches are not that great, I will admit. And it's not like M has some crazy futuristic model that makes it superior to the other hideaway options out there. But for whatever reason, I sleep like a frickin' baby when I am at her place. My guess is that it has something to do with the temperature and sound level in her unit, the bed and pillows, and the fact that even when I was there for work, I still associated staying at M's with "vacation." And this weekend's trip IS DEFINITELY for vacation, yippee!

A close runner-up would be Miss M's guest room at her parents' place in the Hamptons, which is where we'll be Friday and Saturday night. My annual visit out there is one of my favorite, if not my #1 favorite, weekends of the year. It's one of about only three places in the world where I've ever truly, 100% relaxed. (Those reading this who know me are aware that it's pretty tough for me to fully chill, even when on vacation.)

So what does all of this mean? That I have FOUR DAYS OF GREAT SLEEP coming my way in the very near future. After a week of freakish storms that kept my dog pacing and crying all night, followed by a weekend of a dog-sitter staying at my upstairs neighbor's condo and letting their puppy run around wildly from, oh, 1 AM - 4 AM, I'd say I'm ready for some shut-eye.

- e

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Can't Beat the Heat

Ten minutes ago, there were two firetrucks and an ambulance in front of my place. Not for me, but for an elderly woman who'd collapsed across the street. She collapsed because it's too damn hot outside. There's an "Excessive Heat Warning" in effect, and according to Accuweather's "RealFeel" reading, the temperature here right now is 108 degrees. Which begs the question, Why is anyone outside at all? Stay out of the sun, fools!

Before the paramedics arrived, three people—in addition to a worker from ComEd (Chicago's electricity company) who just happened to be driving by—were assisting the woman. I think at least one member of the group had been with her when she fell. She was down on the ground and they helped her sit up and drink some water. They put what I assumed were wet washcloths on her neck, and eventually a bag of ice (the ComEd guy ran down to the diner on the corner to get that stuff, I think). Later a security guard from a nearby building came out to see what was going on. You could tell this lady was totally out of it—she kept looking around in a daze and then trying to stand up. (And yes, I certainly would have gone out there if there hadn't already been a ton of people on the scene. But they had it under control. If there's one thing I'll say about my neighborhood, it's that there's always someone on the street, at all hours night and day, and almost everyone is friendly and helpful.)

The whole debacle was scary to watch... but what was even scarier was seeing ambulances pass by on their way to help other folks who must have called in earlier for help elsewhere. But soon enough the woman in question had more medical services at her disposal than any one person would ever need, and was promptly whisked away. She looked coherent and was able to stand on her own before they left, so I'm sure she'll be OK. But still, why was she walking around in the blazing sun in the first place?

Even my dog is like, "No, thank you." Normally he loves his midday walk and tries to stretch it out as long as possible by waiting to take care of business until we're as far away from my condo as he knows I'll take him. But not this week. This week he did his thing as soon as we hit a patch of dirt-grass. He is smart enough to know that this weather is no joke. He's even trying to seek out the coolest place possible in our air-conditioned condo, despite the fact that it means going against the rules he's been obeying since 2003. See, normally he is not allowed in our lower level because it has white carpeting... and black dogs who shed a lot don't mix well with white carpeting. He's never had an issue staying upstairs on the hardwood floors...

...But this past week he's been sneaking downstairs to chill on the cold-to-the-touch tiles in our bathroom. Yesterday alone I found him down there ten separate times. It's funny how he just instinctively knows where to go (and it is admittedly SIGNIFICANTLY cooler down there). So for the time being I've decided to just let him stay down there when he wants. And I'm staying where I want, too, which is inside. If you're also in one of the heat-stricken areas of the world, I suggest you do the same, lest you find yourself in the hospital bed next to the woman who went down on my block!

- e

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Now That's a Good Neighbor

This past weekend my husband and I were on the road yet again—this time we went to my hometown in Michigan for my cousin's fiancĂ©e's wedding shower. It's a five-hour drive from Chicago, and we arrived at my parents' place around 5:30 PM Saturday evening. The shower was set for 2 PM on Sunday. Alas, I was almost back home in the Windy City by that point.

What happened was that I woke up Sunday morning with a nasty case of food poisoning (I guess I was due after avoiding the worst of it when my husband got so sick last month). Although I was really annoyed/upset/disappointed to have come all that way for nothing, ultimately I decided that it wouldn't be cool if I was running out of the room every five minutes while the guest of honor was opening her gifts. We decided to cut our losses and head back immediately—figuring that it would be better to drive during the daytime hours, especially if I got worse and we had to find a hospital.

Thankfully, I didn't get worse, and slept it off after we got home. I spent most of Monday lying low as well, and then finally felt back to 100% yesterday evening, at which point I decided I needed some fresh air.

Like everywhere else in the country, Chicago's been in the midst of a miserable heat wave, and so I thought that since I've been slacking on helping out around my condo building, I would spend some time watering all of our plants and front "lawn" (read: small patch of already mostly dead grass).

So I am spraying the hose around our plants for about fifteen minutes and was feeling very peaceful. The sun was going down, and since I actually like to be hot, I considered the ninety-degree evening pretty perfect.

But then out of the corner of my eye I saw a small gray mass move from the sidewalk in front of our place, through our front gate, and onto our lawn. At first I thought it was a bunny, because 1) it was that big, 2) they usually come out at dusk, and 3) I'd seen one chilling among our plants in the recent past. But as this thing darted across our lawn and into our bushes, I noticed its long tail. That's right, a huge-ass RAT had run past me, within inches of my flip-flop-wearing feet, in what was still pretty much broad daylight. After rustling through our plants, it emerged seconds later to run for cover into the stairwell next to our building.

I must have shrieked (although I don't remember doing so) because a bunch of people walking in front of our place stopped and gave me a look like "Are you OK?"

Now, we're no stranger to rats in Chicago. I will spare any weak-hearted readers the gory details of some of my previous run-ins, but I will say that there's only been a few times in my fifteen years of living here that I've been in really close proximity to one of these guys. Usually I see them from afar, in the alley, and in the dead of night when I'm walking my dog. So I was a bit stunned—and yes, perhaps even slightly impressed—by the boldness of this rat last night. (On a related note, when I was trying to find rat pictures for this post, I realized that Chicago rats are way, WAY bigger than normal rats. I really, really, really wish our rats looked like this cute little guy.)

But back to my front-yard drama. The problem was this: there's no way out of the stairwell that the rat ran into. It's a dead-end. I knew that the rat must eventually come out the same way it ran in. And that would be OK... except that the water valve was also in that enclosed area and the water hose was still running.

Normally I am a semi-brave person. (Really, I am. REALLY!) But last night I was like, "You know what... after this food poisoning debacle and driving ten hours to Michigan and back within a day, I am just not in the mood to be bitten by a rat." Or maybe what went through my head was something more like, "Aww, HELLS NO am I going to get bitten by this #*$%ing rat and come down with some deadly rodent disease! That is not how I'm going to go out!"

My husband had just left to go meet friends for a drink and wasn't going to be back for about three hours. I figured that everything was so dry out front that it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to leave the water hose running in the grass and make my husband face the Rat Cave when he returned. But I didn't want my upstairs neighbor to think I'd just abandoned the task randomly. So I called him, explained the situation, and ended with, "I'm sorry, but I've spent the last 24 hours recovering from food poisoning and the last thing I need at this point is to get rabies or some strange rodent disease." Clearly I envisioned the rat not only running out at me, but also actually stopping to bite me.

Now, what you need to know about my neighbor (I will call him "A") is that he is ALWAYS coming to my rescue. It's kind of ridiculous. Since 2003, every time something has gone wrong with our building or inside of my condo, my husband has been gone and I've had to call A to come help me. (My husband swears he doesn't have any sort of sixth sense about this stuff, but I'm beginning to wonder!)

So A confirms that the rat has to run out the way it came in, and that he, too, has had encounters with the little guys back in that same area. But he said that we didn't need to wait for my husband to return—he would come out and face the Rat Cave in order to turn off the water.

Now picture this: A walks slowly into the cubby, reaches the water valve, and turns it off. Then he comes back out, gathers up the hose, and goes back into the cave with it in order to get the coil out of our yard. AND I AM STANDING BEHIND HIM, ARMED WITH TWO SWIFFERS.

In retrospect, I really have no idea what I thought I was going to achieve by having the Swiffers on hand. Did I plan to hit the rat with them? Was I going to throw them? Most likely if I saw the ran run out I would've screamed, dropped the Swiffers, and busted up the steps to our building. But I think the whole debacle provided some entertainment for passersby on our street, that's for sure.

I texted my friend Nerdy P about all of this once I was safely inside, and she wrote back, "You were going to BEAT A RAT, gangsta style!"

And so I would like to thank my neighbor A for helping me out yet again. I'm positive that if *I* would have gone in to turn off the water, the rat WOULD have charged me. Because that's just the kind of luck I've been having lately.

Rest assured I will be buying a little token of appreciation for A very soon.

- e

Monday, July 11, 2011

Close Enough for Now

This past weekend I remembered something that had been tucked away in the back of my mind for a few weeks: An Einstein Bros. Bagels shop had opened just a couple of blocks away from my condo. Longtime readers might recall me mentioning Einstein's before (in the fall of 2007!) because they're the place that sells the pumpkin cream cheese that I stock up on around Halloween each year.

Those same loyal "According to e" visitors might also remember this post from the spring of 2008 in which I professed my love for "Whole Wheat Everything" bagels and complained on and on about how they only seemed to be available in New York.

Unfortunately that's still the case... BUT I'm happy to report that Chicago is inching closer to having a bagel option of the same delicious caliber. When I finally made my way down to the new Einstein's this weekend, I was beyond thrilled to discover that they offer a "Good Grains" bagel which is awfully similar to a "Whole Wheat Everything" bagel. It doesn't have as many types of seeds and salt and whatnot on top, but I was seriously smiling ear to ear nonetheless. This discovery made my day... my weekend... my month! You can bet that I bought a bunch to take home and will be back approximately every 3 days to restock. I am going to keep that place in business, no doubt. They will soon know me on a first-name basis, I am sure of it. (Particularly because you need to tell them your first name with every order.)

I've said it before and I'll say it again: See how little it takes to make me happy?

- e

Thursday, July 07, 2011

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Long time, no write!

I've been running around like a madwoman, but things are finally getting back to normal (for a little while, at least... the summer is always crazy-busy -- why is that?). This past holiday weekend was spent NOT going to the Taste of Chicago with my visiting friend Nerdy P. It was just too hot out, and we weren't feelin' it. It sounds like we weren't the only ones: 2011 marked a 25-year low (2.35 million food-lovers) in Taste attendance, and now its future is a little bit up in the air. Yikes!

But rest assured that we did continue our annual tradition of enjoying the Sea Dog speedboat ride that leaves from Navy Pier and zooms up and down the coast of Lake Michigan. I think Nerdy P's son liked it. Would you agree?

OK, now on to the real subject of this post! The weekend before last (as in, the final weekend of June), my husband and I drove from Chicago to Pittsburgh for a charity event, and on the way we stopped in Cleveland to check out the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. When we moved back from Boston in 2003, my poor husband drove a huge truck halfway across the country with all our crap in it (while I flew home) and attempted to visit the HoF then... but it was closed. I still remember how annoyed and disappointed he was. And so I was a little bit nervous about this place living up to his expectations.

The good news is that we both really liked it. We spent about five hours there and could've stayed a lot longer, but needed to get back on the road. The first thing we did was watch an hour-and-fifteen-minute-long presentation that covered all of the 296 inductees since the museum opened in 1986. But somehow we missed the big wall with everyone's signatures?!? D'oh.

I had figured that the majority of the building would be filled with rock memorabilia and outfits and props and whatnot, but in addition to all of that stuff, there were a ton of interactive exhibits and films and video clips. Much more than would be present in a "normal" museum. The one I found most interesting featured The Beatles (no surprise), as well as some members of their production team, talking about each of their albums and what they liked and didn't like about it.

Speaking of The Beatles, you may have heard that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame boasts the world's largest collection of items from The Fab Four. So I was kind of expecting A LOT of Beatles stuff... but it was really just one wall of about 70 things -- from jackets, to John's glasses, to handwritten lyric sheets, to Ringo's drum head. Don't get me wrong, it was cool and I loved it, but I guess I'd envisioned some huge room or display space that would take an hour to get through. When I started thinking about it, though, I realized that I can't recall ever having seen any authentic "Beatles stuff," so maybe it's just so spread out all over the globe that it simply doesn't take as much as I would've guessed to be considered "the world's largest collection."

One thing I found kind of funny was that in the special "Women Who Rock" exhibit, there was security guard dedicated to watching over Lady Gaga's infamous "meat dress." Which, by the way, absolutely (obviously) had something done to it to preserve it... but unfortunately it was to the point that it didn't really even look like meat anymore, but rather just a weirdly textured spray-painted-red, plaster-filled dress. On top of that, it was in a fully enclosed glass case. So I thought to myself, "They have a security guard for this, yet no one dedicated to, say, Michael Jackson's sequined glove or Elvis's jumpsuit or any of the other awesome items in the building?" Weird. Maybe Gaga made having a guard a condition of loaning out the dress. Who knows.

I would've included pictures of all the neat stuff that was there, except that -- as in many museums -- you weren't allowed to take any photos. The restriction was lifted in the atrium, though, which was where I snapped the Moby/Gwen props to the right, which were used in Gwen Stefani's Southside video (you can see them here from the 43-second mark on).

One last highlight that's worth mentioning before I wrap up: A wall dedicated to Rolling Stone magazine and its co-founder Jann Wenner. This display has tons of letters that famous rock stars sent to Wenner (as well as his replies), and there are also fascinating correspondences between Wenner and photographer Annie Leibovitz, as well as journalist/author Hunter S. Thompson (who wrote for the magazine in the early '70s).

When I was preparing to write this post and wanted to make sure I was getting my facts straight, I came across this section in Wenner's Wikipedia entry about how he's supposedly kept a lot of groups from being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame... groups including my beloved Monkees! Damn that snob!

Despite that "who gets inducted" controversy, I would still highly recommend a visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame should you ever find yourself in Cleveland. Musicians (like my husband) will probably appreciate all the museum has to offer a little more than plain old music-lovers like myself, but I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't find most of the major exhibits worth seeing.

Rock on,
- e

Monday, June 20, 2011

I'm Afraid This Means Goodbye

At 6:30 PM last night my husband and I had dinner at one of our favorite Italian restaurants. By 1 AM we'd agreed we could never go there again. This makes me very sad indeed, but it's how we've always reacted to bouts of food poisoning -- we cut the offending dish/place off cold turkey.

Our harsh approach first took form back in 2001, when one of two meals we had in Bali led to my husband being freakishly sick for several months (look forward to that full story in a future book!). We'll never know for sure, but we think it was either chicken satay or this crazy beef-heavy Balinese feast that did him in... I partook in the former but not the latter, so I've always been convinced it was the beef feast. Either way, my husband's never touched chicken satay since. Same goes for scallops, which he had a bad experience with on Cape Cod in 2003. And pretty much anything else that makes either of us nauseous afterward. No second chances!

Last night we both ate the same thing: the "avocado crostini" starter (pictured above) -- I had one of them and he had the other three. Then we both ordered the pumpkin pasta -- which is so, so, so good, and is the main reason why we've returned to this place again and again over the years. It's pumpkin-stuffed ravioli with pine nuts and squares of butternut squash and this great, barely there brown-sugarish sauce. My husband finished his plate and I took half of mine home to warm up for lunch today.

That's not gonna happen now... because a few hours after dinner, as Badlands was drawing to a close (we're going through a big Terrence Malick film phase and had popped that DVD in as soon as we got home), I pretty much passed out. Meaning that I literally could not stop myself from falling asleep, it was as though I'd been hit with the proverbial ton of bricks. When I woke up a few hours later, I felt feverish and faint. So I pretty much just went back to bed after telling my husband about what was going on.

The next time I woke up it was to the sound of somebody throwing up in the distance. (Kind of like waking up to the sound of the ocean, or birds in the rainforest... or NOT.) When I came to my senses I realized that my husband had gone to our downstairs bathroom and was sick. Eventually he returned and mumbled, "We're never going to that place again."

So there you have it. I sadly dumped my leftovers into the trash this morning and am kind of mad at myself for insisting we go to that place last night. My husband hadn't been into it because we were just there last week when Miss M was visiting us from NYC. And now we'll never go again. Boo!

Is this how you guys handle bouts of food poisoning? Will you ever try the restaurant and/or meal again or would you rather take no chances?

- e

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

One Day by David Nicholls: Read This Book Right Now Before The Movie (Probably) Ruins It

After finishing One Day during my trip to Belize last November, I immediately granted it a spot on my Top Five Favorite Books of All Time list. So before some of you take one look at its cover to the right and scamper off, hollering, "I don't do chick lit!", let me remind you that I don't do chick lit either. Plus, One Day was written by a dude, so there. Not that a dude can't write chick lit, but the fact that a guy (who's been compared to High Fidelity's Nick Hornby) penned this book that I'm about to sing the praises of and encourage each and every one of you to read might help build my case that it is not really a "romance novel," despite what its cover makes it look like.

OK, so what IS One Day about, then?

It's the story of two people, Emma and Dexter, who we get to drop in on every July 15 from 1988 (when they meet at their college graduation) until 2007. That's right, we spend just one day with them a year... for 20 years. I'm sure a story structure like this has been done at some point in the past, but I'd never experienced anything like it, and I found it so, so clever.

Now, clearly there must be SOME sort of spark between Emma and Dex or else they wouldn't be worth keeping up with for two decades. They definitely do have chemistry, but it's more of an "opposites attract" type of thing, with her being the more serious, practical one and him being the rebellious wild child. So when I say that the book checks in on them every year, I don't mean that they're together together during that time. We learn what each of them has been up to -- sometimes they meet up on that day, sometimes they have a phone call, and sometimes they are completely wrapped up in their own little worlds and have zero communication. To spill any other details would spoil most of the story, so I'm keeping mum.

For the first four or five chapters (years) of One Day, I wasn't into it. I say this in case others have the same reaction -- I urge you to keep reading. I felt, especially in the early years, that it was hard to relate to both characters. I should also mention that they're British, so there were some pop-culture allusions I didn't really get, either. Even by the end, neither Emma or Dexter were characters I liked, per se... but yet One Day is still one of my all-time favorite books, which surely means author David Nicholls is a genius.

After trying to figure out exactly why this book had such a huge effect on me (did I fail to mention how I spent half-a-day in Belize sobbing my head off? But not necessarily out of sadness...), I realized that it wasn't because I cared specifically about Emma or Dexter, but rather because what happens to both of them over the course of twenty years was so relatable and so realistic that I just don't think anyone could keep themselves from comparing how dumb luck, bad luck, good luck, random coincidences, twists of fate, stupid mistakes, and bold decisions have played a part in his or her own life. I also think I liked the story because despite several didn't-see-THAT-coming twists in both Em and Dex's paths, and despite the kind of depressing "Life doesn't always work out the way you want or expect it to" theme, I interpreted One Day's overall message to be one of exhilarating hope. It also reinforced my strong personal belief in making the most of the time we have so as to not ever wonder "What if...?" when we're old and gray and it's too late to do that one thing, apologize to that one person, go on that one vacation, or take that big scary leap.

One Day is up there with The Time Traveler's Wife for me, if that tells you anything. My husband read it as well and also enjoyed it. I've recommended it to several people over the past six months and every one of them has contacted me after they've read it to be like, "WOW." So I am confident that you, too, will thank me for encouraging you to check it out. However, since it is in fact an international mega-bestseller, perhaps you've already read it, in which case I would love to hear your thoughts.

Now, those of you who are up on entertainment news are probably aware that the movie version of One Day is coming out in mid-August. I'm seeing it next week (for my redbox gig) and you can bet I'm nervous. I'm not even going to mention who's playing Emma and Dexter because I don't want you to have any images in your head when you read the book (seriously, don't Google it or look for the trailer). While I certainly hope that the film meets my expectations, I really don't see how it could ever compare to the book. So get going on One Day before mid-August, or just as soon as possible, so that you aren't corrupted by the posters and trailers that will be everywhere very soon!

As always, we're free to discuss spoilers in the comments section below. There are some BIG ones in this book, so if you haven't read it yet, look away from the comments or you will kick yourself!

- e

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Drink Your Veggies

Yesterday I wrote about how we summer-ified our deck on Memorial Day, but there was another big event that took place at our condo that afternoon as well. My husband bought a juicer. Not just any juicer, but a pretty high-end one (the Hurom slow juicer) from Williams-Sonoma that made me yell, "It costs how much???" after he told me of his plans.

"Trust me, I've researched this," he replied, and took off -- returning in a few hours with this space-gadget-looking thing.

That's an action shot, by the way, which I just snapped a few minutes ago as I was trying the thing out by myself for the first time. I will say that it is really easy to both put together and then clean afterward. If it had any sharp parts where there was even the slightest chance I could slice off my finger, OR if there were any parts that need to be cleaned after use yet couldn't be totally submerged in water, I wouldn't even bother. Any type of gadget -- especially one for the kitchen that has to do with food preparation -- must be almost effortless for me to use or else it ain't gonna happen. 'Cause I can always go across the street, order my sweet potato fries, and call it a day.

I'm not exactly sure why my husband suddenly became obsessed with buying a juicer. The idea seemed to have come out of nowhere a few weeks ago. As I mentioned in this post, we are shifting our diet a bit and I'm assuming maybe he thought a juicer would make it easier for us to fit in more fruits and veggies on a daily basis. But I was like, "Why can't we just use a blender?" My friend Nerdy P had recently told me about how she makes smoothies in the morning for herself and her son, and she throws a bunch of spinach in and he's none the wiser. With a juicer, however, it's pretty tough to work with greens (we already tried -- they just don't yield much juice).

I also asked, "Why is this better than a blender when you can't put ice in it and therefore have to put all the juice you make in the fridge/freezer if you want it to be cold?" Then I also asked, "But aren't apple skins and the seeds in berries good for you fiber-wise and whatnot?" (The juicer separates all of that stuff out, as you can see in the container on the left in the pic above. That's also where almost all of the greens we threw in ended up.)

My husband gave some extremely vague answers to my questions, so I'm still not fully convinced we needed this thing. Granted, it's been used more since Monday than the blender and food processor we received as wedding gifts have in nearly eight years, so I'm not complaining. It definitely is nice to just be able to drop fruits and veggies in without having to peel them. I'm not a big veggie eater and this is a very, very slick way for me to "drink" tomatoes, carrots, etc. without tasting them at all. If you simply throw a few raspberries into the mix, all other flavors disappear, so I'm happy about that. Above on the right is today's finished product. At some point I'm going to mix in one of those packets (one's powdered greens, the other is powdered fruit) that I received as samples and see how it goes.

If any of you out there own a juicer and want to help further convince me of why it's better than/different from/needed in addition to a blender, I'm all ears!

- e

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

And, Just Like That, It's Summer

It had been SO miserable, rainy and crappy here in Chicago the past few months that not even my SAD lamp could pull me out of my funk. But then on Memorial Day it was like Mother Nature finally decided, "OK, y'all've had enough," and summer instantaneously arrived. Seriously, we went from lows in the 40s to highs in the 90s in one day. I gave up on trying to figure out this sort of thing long ago.

But now my husband and I had no excuse to continue putting off the work we needed to do to beautify our deck and clean up our back yard (I use the word "yard" loosely, remember -- it's basically just a concrete path lined by a few clumps of weak-looking bushes).

He loaded up on flowers and whatnot at Home Depot while I braved the scary under-deck space into which the wind blows leaves, trash, and god-knows-what. This area is where our building's gas and electricity meters are and so we need it to be clear because we go back there every once in a while, but during the winter and spring this little cubby gets filled with a ton of debris. I'm always convinced I'm going to find a dead rat (it's the city, folks, these things happen) or a severed finger (that's just my morbid imagination) or a Black Widow spider (again, the imagination) or something horrible when I'm down there. But I sucked it up, put on some plastic gloves, armed myself with a few brooms, a dustpan and a trash bag, and cleaned it out. Thankfully there were only leaves and a few random balls of cat hair (who knows?) that I had to contend with.

My husband did all the hardest work. Here's our deck before:

Above you can actually get a glimpse of the four plants I wrote about here that I've miraculously kept alive for several years. See how the one in the corner is like twice the size of the others? Here's another view but with the sun in the back they're kind of hard to make out. (We decided not to transfer it into a new planter just yet -- we're too afraid we'll kill it in the move.)

And... the end result:

Last night we celebrated a second warm night by reading on the deck in our lounge chairs with our dog spread across both of our legs. (It seemed comfortable to him but kept cracking us up.) Now the question is, how long will this summer last? After waiting so long for it to arrive, the answer better be: Until December.

- e

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pet Peeve of the Week: One-Uppers

Over the past few weeks I've been attending more social events than usual, despite the fact that I prefer to be alone or with a small group of friends. I do this every once in a while because if I didn't, there's a good chance I'd lose all social skills. I also do it because even though I usually dread meeting new people and/or having to be "on" for a few hours, once I'm actually in the situation I've been dreading, I do enjoy myself, and afterward I'm always glad (and proud) that I stepped outside of my hermit-like comfort zone.

But there is a downside to these little outings, and it's dealing with "one-uppers." You know exactly who I'm talking about. The people who -- no matter what you or anyone else involved in a conversation might be saying -- feel the need to top it somehow. Kristen Wiig plays a classic one-upper ("Penelope") on Saturday Night Live. One-uppers HAVE to say something more impressive, or outlandish, or even unrelated to the topic at hand... just so long as they get the spotlight back on themselves. If you pay attention, you can actually see them squirming in their seats and approaching a near-panicked state when they're dying to regain control of a conversation by way of a comment that's sure to blow everyone listening away with its sheer awesomeness. They cannot take it when someone less worthy has the floor. This behavior would completely push me over the edge if it wasn't so pathetic, and therefore kind of funny.

I admittedly still get worked up by attention-seekers, though. About 10% of the time I'm not mature enough to just let people like that get away with acting like they're God's gift. I think the reason why is because I've met some truly impressive people in my lifetime, and they're the ones who would absolutely NEVER toot their own horn. Let's take my friend KG, for example. I went to grad school with her, and our class was full of extremely accomplished twenty- and thirtysomethings. Some of those students felt like they had to make sure that everyone knew just how special they were, whereas others hardly ever shared information about themselves. KG was in the latter group, and as the years went by (I've known her now for over a decade) and I slowly but surely learned more about all the places she'd traveled and lived and everything she'd done before coming to school, I simply could not comprehend how she'd be able to just smile and nod when in a conversation with crazy one-uppers who'd brag about some place they'd visited in a tone that suggested the rest of us were country bumpkins. Once I knew KG's background, I almost wanted to jump in and knock the one-uppers down a few pegs on her behalf!

I guess some people just don't feel the need for validation from others -- they're confident and secure in their accomplishments and that's it. Whereas the one-uppers aren't really as impressed with themselves as they may seem to be when they're blabbing on and on. They need others to be like, "Wow, that's so cool!" and fawn all over them in order to be at peace. So they surround themselves with people who do just that. Whereas the most successful people I've met
(and I don't mean that in merely a financial sense) seek out other confident, interesting people who they can learn from. They also tend to listen more than they speak, no matter the situation. And they're not above realizing that everyone has knowledge or interesting tales to dispense -- from C-level executives to barbers to bartenders to cab drivers.

The reality is that the day will probably never arrive when one-uppers no longer faze me. But hopefully it will get easier not to sink to their level and say something snarky to put them in their place. I'll just have to perfect the art of smiling and nodding -- or maybe I'll go the totally opposite route and start lavishing praise and adoration on any one-uppers I encounter. That could be kind of fun, right?

- e

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Out with the (Really) Old

Those of you who are connected to me on Twitter might have caught a message this past weekend about how I'd discovered cans of soup and vegetables with 2005 expiration dates in my cupboard. Yes, I am embarrassed about this.

The full story is that my husband and I decided to do an overhaul of our diets and went on a crazy-big shopping spree at Whole Foods on Sunday. (Remember that I normally get our groceries delivered from Peapod, so we're rarely confronted with aisles and aisles of food options. It was overwhelming, to say the least.)

When we returned home I emptied out all levels of our sole kitchen cupboard... which was when I was met with a few surprises. On top of the several cans of stuff that had either expired in 2005, 2007, 2009, or earlier this year, a tin of jam had leaked god knows when, and as a result there was a thick layer of black and sticky goop surrounding it. It took quite a while to clean that mess up, and involved a knife, a lot of paper towel, and several combinations of goop-be-gone sprays.

I went through my fridge as well, but I'm happy to report that aside from a tub of cottage cheese that was past due, most everything in there was still edible.

After I'd toss all the bad stuff and set aside a few cans of things we don't eat anymore (to give to a food shelter), my challenge became trying to figure out the best way to arrange all of our new purchases in the cupboard. You see, my husband is one of those people who does not think something exists unless he can see it. He's the guy who opens a new carton of OJ if the not-nearly-empty/already-open one is, say, hiding behind the water pitcher. He fully admits to this, but it makes it tough when there's literally no way to display everything we bought at the front of our shelves. Some things had to go in the back, and therefore he's going to have to remember that 1) we bought them in the first place, and 2) he has to spend a few seconds figuring out where they are. He's been traveling ever since our shopping excursion and is back tonight, so we'll see how he does with it all this weekend.

Here's how the cupboard look now. The shelves are pretty deep, and lots of goodies are hiding in the back. Let's hope it's not 2017 before we see them again.

- e

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

User Error

When I worked for The Man, I used to head up a bunch of different types of customer research projects and usability tests for web-based products and sites. We'd do one-on-one interviews, we'd have a research firm videotape customers while they used our banking applications, we'd run focus groups where we watched and listened to people discuss our company and its products from behind a one-way mirror, and then we'd also hold usability tests in this same fashion. For a usability test, a computer at the research facility would be loaded with a beta (think "draft") version of one of our web sites -- something we hadn't yet launched and that usually included a new type of feature or functionality -- and the moderator would ask the interviewees to perform certain tasks. Time and time again, a hyperlink or tab that WE all thought was completely obvious on the site (usually something like "Log out" or "Pay bills") would be missed by almost every research participant. The site's designers and coders would get defensive and blame it on "user error." Which is a polite way of saying, "That person's an idiot."

"User error" is a real term, which was originally meant to diagnose or explain technical difficulties that weren't actually the fault of the computer system in question. Let's say you called in to your bank because you're POSITIVE you're using the right password for their online banking site, but it keeps blocking your access. You have a customer service rep on the line and you're going through every step with them... and then you realize you've had the caps-lock key on. That's an example of user error. Another classic one is when there's a message that reads "Touch any key to continue," and people call in to tech-support lines because they can't find the "any" key.

"User error" came to take on a snide and sarcastic meaning over the years, however, and is something that those in the tech field say when they want to lightheartedly insult each other. Like suppose I accidentally hit "send" on a half-written email to my boss and had copied five of my co-workers... I might hear someone a few cubicles from me holler "User error!" over the wall. (If you get a kick out of this sort of thing, you should check out the stories behind PEBKAC, PICNIC, and the Army/Navy slang ID-TEN-T.)

The reason why I'm writing about all of this is because yesterday I fell victim to perhaps one of the most embarrassing types of user errors. I could not -- could not -- figure out how to turn my husband's computer on.

So here's the situation: On Sunday night, I downloaded Skype (a computer-based call and video application) onto my husband's Mac because my laptop's operating system is too old to run the version that supports video calling. I needed to do this because on Monday at 1 PM I'd been invited to have a video chat with the fine folks at the MTV Movies blog about the one-year anniversary of Lost's season finale. So I got everything working just fine on Sunday night and thought I was ready for Monday's interview.

My husband had shut down his computer Sunday night and then on Monday morning he went to work and I had a 10 AM film screening. I returned home a little before noon, walked my dog, and then went downstairs to my husband's "studio" (he somehow got one of the three bedrooms in our condo for himself) to make sure Skype was still running OK. This is my husband's setup:

As you can see, he's got a LOT of crazy music-related equipment and digitizers and god-knows-what all over the place -- which is why I hardly ever step foot in this room. I don't want to mess anything up or break something. It's all interconnected, including speakers that run out of something that's not the computer itself. Sunday night I had tested Skype to ensure the audio input and output worked. But on Monday, with about 50 minutes to go before my interview, I realized I wasn't exactly sure how to even turn my husband's Mac on. Every time I'd been on it before, it was already booted up.

There was no Power button or switch that I could see on the front of the monitor or on the keyboard. And the computer IS the monitor -- there's no other piece of hardware for it. I reached around and ran my hands all over the back of the monitor (which, as it's situated, is impossible to physically turn around, so I was kind of working blindly) but felt nothing. I figured that maybe a power switch on one of the music-related gizmos was what I needed to use, but didn't want to touch anything unless I was sure. So I left my husband voicemails on his cell and at his office, sent him a text and an email, and hoped he'd get back to me quickly.

But he didn't.

The minutes ticked down and I started getting nervous. I Googled "How to turn on a Mac G4" ... which is actually NOT what his computer even is (it's an iMac). So that's probably why none of the sites that came up provided any guidance. D'oh!

When it hit 12:30, I gave in and sent an urgent message to both the work and personal email addresses of our friend CH, aka The Mac God. Within 10 minutes he'd written back and explained that the power button was in fact on the back of the monitor, but easy to miss if you couldn't actually see it. He included these pictures.

I went down to the studio again and finally found the "button," which I put in quotes because this thing was hardly indented on the back of the monitor at all. I mean, it's ridiculous. Yes, I'm an idiot for not knowing how to turn the computer on in the first place, but it really is a bad design. THIS WAS NOT A CASE OF USER ERROR! Don't even try to tell me that it was.

Then I had another problem: It's now 12:45 and the computer is booted up... but the Skype application is nowhere to be found. (I do know how to search for files, applications, etc... trust me, it had vanished). So I had to re-download the entire app, redo all of the settings, email and leave voicemails for my MIA husband to tell him NOT to call me because the sound of the phone ringing would interrupt my video session, and then had approximately 1 minute to spare before MTV contacted me through Skype.

So that was my afternoon yesterday. The good news is that the video interview went well and was really fun. I think they're going to post it next Monday (May 23 is the anniversary of the Lost finale) and I will include it on Long Live Locke at that point.

The lesson I learned through all of this was to not wait until the last minute to ensure anything having to do with technology is set up correctly. I shudder to think how lame I would have looked at 1 PM if MTV had called me because they couldn't find me on Skype and I had to say, "Um... I can't figure out how to turn the computer on."

Three cheers to CH for coming to my rescue!

- e