28 May 2011

Mom Jeans and Mini-vans

After some debate, a little apprehension on my end, encouragement from my mother, and discussions with my husband.... we bought an almost new mini-van!  Now hold on: before all of the jokes, the scoffing, the snobbery of being above Suburbia's #1 Family Transport, let me explain...

Since planning our move to the West Coast, a main concern we've had about traveling cross country was what the heck to do with our two cats.  Where would we put them in our PT Cruiser with the litter box, our luggage, my computer, and our driving supplies?  At first we considered flying them to California-- but that's hella expensive and makes me nervous (an airline just lost a famous Spanish basketball player's dog for 5 days!). Then I thought about bribing my mother with food, gas, and lodging to caravan with us and keep the cats in her mini-van-- this was pure delusional theorizing.  Finally, we concluded sedation and bringing them with us was the only way... and so we were back to square one with the insufficient size of our car.

Several weeks ago, my husband suggested we trade in our cars for a mini-van, thus solving our space problems and ensuring a comfortable drive, not to mention the benefit of having the vehicle for future moves. I was not happy.  Though I've grown up with them, I hate driving mini-vans.  They make me nervous... or at least I thought they did.  Turns out my nervousness was more due to my mom's overprotective attitude toward her van than my actual driving abilities.  Plus I felt like vans are boats, impossible to park, and just not cool.  I'll be honest, the words "soccer mom" and "Girl Scout cookies" flashed across my brain and my immediate reaction was NO.  Then after sharing the idea with my mom-- obviously an advocate for mini-vans and who I thought would disagree with getting a van since we got our PT not even two years ago-- LOVED the idea.  It made sense.  So the seed was planted, my husband and I began discussing the benefits and weighing our finances, and now you know the result.  Sure, in L.A. terms a mini-van is bottom of the barrel cool, but think how useful it'll be to have in an area that has a car pool lane and for hauling film equipment.  The practicality continues to grow. So excited to pick it up on Tuesday.

Oh! And here are some specs: we bought a used 2010 Chrysler Grand Caravan with 4600 miles on it, stow and go seats, DVD player, MP3 player, 30GB hard drive, electronic safety driving features, in-car phone capabilities, wireless headphones, rear camera, and the capability to download navigation & SIRIUS traffic software (we've got a touch screen!). To lower the payment, we traded in our PT for $9000 (they were originally going to give us $7500 but changed their minds when we were about to walk out the door empty handed) and ended up getting a $31,000 barely used van for half the price.  Of course we're financing-- a new adult experience for us-- but they finally dropped the payment to a doable range for us so we couldn't say no.  And we'll be selling our Ford Focus to add a couple thousand dollars to it-- anyone in the market for a cheap car?

I have to say I am pretty excited even though I'm more of a mid-size SUV person. This mini-van lifts a load of stress off my shoulders about traveling, will be great for hauling stuff since I'll no longer have the use of my mom's van on the other side of the country :(  and is perfect for carting our children (YEARS from now people!).  And though I've compromised a bit of style for substance with the Soccer Mom mini-van, I can safely say the Mom jeans will never come into play.

26 May 2011

Farewell: Oprah's Final Show

Unless you've been living under a rock-- or without TV and Internet and Radio and human interaction the last couple years-- you'd know the world watched Wednesday as the Big O ended the 25 year run of the phenomenon that was her daytime talk show.  And what... an ending.  My husband and I watched her last 3 shows back to back.  The two-part, A-list star-studded Farewell Surprise Extravaganza held all of the glamour, excitement, and emotion expected in a tribute to the "Queen of America." Her best pals Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, and the Smiths (that's Will and Jada Pinkett) co-hosted a celebration that included Madonna, Dakota Fanning, Diane Sawyer, Michael Jordan, Halle Berrie, Katie Holmes, Queen Latifah, Rosie O' Donnel, Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil, Nate Berkus, and performances by Rascal Flatts, Patti LaBelle, Josh Groban, Kristen Chenoweth, Usher, and Aretha Franklin.  Did I mention there was an original poem about the Guest of Honor written and read by Maya Angelou and accompanied by Alicia Keys?  This was a big deal.  Thinking about all the travel and security precautions for the array of celebrities and guests staying in the Chicago area is giving me a headache.

Although the tribute seemed a tad over-the-top, I can't deny the impact Oprah and her show have had on millions of people.  Not only has she personally helped millions with charitable contributions, scholarships, her "Favorite Things" show... she has also inspired numerous charities and good works to spring up from the hearts of loyal viewers around the world. Even the Haters (and there are many) have to make allowance for her positive influence on others. Anyway, final shows 2 and 3 were fun, heart-warming, and just what a send off should be for a billionaire celebrity with very important friends.

Then the dreaded day arrived: Wednesday, May 25, 2011.  The Final Show. The End of an Era. Oprah's Farewell to the World.  Unfortunately the episode, in my opinion, was an EPIC FAIL.

You see, the beautiful thing about Oprah is her affinity for "keepin' it real"-- classic reactions to conversations about sex or poop, moving from "Anchor Speak" to "Southern Speak" when topics get awkward, and wearing her heart on her sleeve. I love that she never watched clips or saw makeovers before taping because she wanted her reactions to be in sync with her audience. It definitely added to Oprah's charm and "real woman" appeal throughout the duration of her show. Furthermore, she was great at interviews: asking the hard questions, remaining as neutral as possible, and not fearing the tears in her eyes when the conversations became difficult. What can I say, Oprah is a people person (insert "face palm" here).

However, the final show moved away from these classic guidelines and instead to the "Lessons with Oprah" hour, which basically consisted of Oprah Winfrey-- "Silent Leader of the Free World"-- preaching to everyone on how to live.  Actually, if you go to her website currently you will find a link in the center called "What Oprah knows for sure" and it takes you to a video of the final episode.  Condescending, no?  I understand that Oprah couldn't choose between the thousands of guests over the last 25 years to have on her final show, nor could she pick a topic to discuss other than the show itself so it left her in a conundrum. Also, it seemed Oprah wanted to create an intimacy between her and viewers reminiscent of FDR's Fireside Chats. The concept was not lost on me, but the execution was less than successful.  Oprah spent the entire time walking around, standing on the metaphorical soapbox, telling her audience to live the life that makes you happy so you can impact people around you, bring positive energy into your space so you can impact people around you, and listen to God or that Voice inside your head so you can impact people around you.  

Rather than discuss what she's LEARNED over the years, Oprah ministered about what she thinks she KNOWS: like a college professor without a degree lecturing millions of students. Of course her life experience is expanisve (though somewhat different than the rest of us in her later years, wouldn't you agree?) but Oprah could have approached the topic with a semblance of humility.  And yes, I know her final words were "To God be the Glory" but it just felt a bit hypocritical considering almost the entire last season felt like a tribute to Oprah... not God's Glory.  Why not interview crew, document the last day, read more farewells from viewers, or take time to discuss the future of OWN?  How about discuss your feelings on the goodbyes or show a tribute montage over the years? Overall the last episode of Oprah's talk show left me with a bad taste in my mouth and I'm glad it's over; had it continued another few years I sincerely believe it would've become "Lessons With Oprah" and we would have seen one of America's historical icons descend into arrogance and self-proclamation (though some would argue she's already there).

Not to leave you disheartened, I want to say that I agree with a lot what Oprah said about energy and pursuing what ever makes us happy, and being a blessing to someone every day.  She has done many good works over the years, and I believe Oprah's love of people and her desire to help is completely genuine.  Yes she's created a billion dollar industry out of her namesake, but she's put millions of that to good use.  And so, I will miss learning, laughing, and crying with Oprah on a weekly basis and I say God bless her... but I'm ready to move forward.

22 May 2011

Quick Fire Reviews of "Fast Five" and "Thor"

Ever since the 2001 release of "The Fast and the Furious" I have followed the series with fervor and an adoring affection for ridiculous fast car action films. However, when the announcement came about number five in the series, I wondered, "What the hell is there left to do?"  Thankfully, the writing/directing/producing team had the answers, which basically consisted of gathering the best characters from all the films, creating even bigger stunts (car through a train? yes please!), moving to an exotic location, and finally, adding Dwayne Johnson as Vin Diesl's arch-rival. Amazing.
        You can see the two sexy beasts facing off in the photo above-- an awesome realization of a dream as I was such a fan of "XXX" and "The Rock" as a teen.  "Fast Five" is my favorite of the series so far and I can't wait for the sixth. It's a full blown action film with a great cast of B actors that deliver one-liners with all the cheese expected in the fifth film in a series about criminals and cars.  I wish I could make lines like "Let's get some fresh air" sound like I'm about kick ass and take names.
       If you're curious about this film but haven't seen the series, the beauty is you don't have to watch all four films.  To understand who most of the characters are and the back story of the main three, you only need to watch 1 and 4 (those are the good ones anyway), then check out the trailers of 2 and 3. I HIGHLY recommend "Fast Five" for a trip to the theater and a snack of soda and popcorn.  

"Thor" is your typical first-of-the-series comic book film, introducing audiences to the character, his back story, and the initial archenemy.  There are some exciting action sequences, beautiful visuals-- actually I thought it looked better than "Tron"-- and an abundance of funny moments. Kenneth Branagh did a great job bringing the world of Norse mythology and Marvel writers to life in a well-paced and entertaining film.  And Chris Hemsworth has a nice bod. 
    If you liked "Iron Man 2" then you'll definitely enjoy "Thor" since it's much better and overall it's a worthwhile movie to see in the theater.

Tri-color Cupcakes

I meant to blog about this after Mom's Day but I've been neglecting my blog-o-sphere duties.  There are no excuses... just plain procrastinating laziness.
Anyway, since we were spending the day with my in-laws I decided to bake cupcakes I was sure my MIL would like (especially since she's not really into sweets). So I went for multi-colored semi-homemade buttermilk yellow cupcakes with homemade cinnamon butter cream.  Before viewing the photos I need to clarify that this was my first time baking cupcakes and using food coloring in a non Easter egg capacity, as well as making butter cream.

Okay so the colors I chose for the cupcakes were supposed to be Chicago Bears blue and orange with magenta.... next time I'll just stick with blue and orange. Also, next time I will stick with NOT doing multiple colors in each cupcake-- you need to have a lot of patience.  Furthermore, the recipe did not specify how much batter was required to fill each holder so I ended up with only half-filled papers and some that were a bit high.  Ah well, you live and you learn.  I still loved baking them, serving them, and eating them so if you need cupcakes for anything that aren't too complicated, this is a good recipe.

After mixing the batter, I separated it into 3 bowls and dyed each to my specific colors.  You need a TON of blue food coloring to get it that dark, as well as yellow for the orange.  The "magenta" came out "raspberry" and in the photos looks a bit... brown. Coloring batter takes time.

The general effect of all the hard work.

My uneven marble cupcakes. At least they tasted good!

The final product... man that was good frosting.

Hodge Podge's Baking Tips:
  • When choosing a cake mix for the recipe, don't be afraid to spend a bit more on a good brand.
  • Use an electric mixer, either a handheld or standing one will work, it makes for a smooth batter & frosting.
  • Check each cupcake after they've baked unless you have an awesome convection oven.  I don't so the items in the back bake faster than the ones in front.  Adjust according to your appliance.
  • And the food coloring is completely optional-- the batter is delish.