Tuesday, December 30, 2014

AFI Top 100: #77 "All the President's Men"

Robert Redford & Dustin Hoffman in All the President's Men (1976)

I'm a week late for this review, but I figure that, it having been Christmas and all, no one minded much. The #77 movie on the AFI Top 100 list is our first jump into the political realm. All the President's Men is an overt snapshot of politics as it has always been... and journalism as it once was.

The very true story of Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) as hungry, and inexperienced, investigative journalists at The Washington Post during the Nixon administration (early 1970's, for those less familiar with history). The plot kicks off with the infamous robbery and bugging of DNC headquarters at the Watergate building in Washington D.C., and it continues as the plucky Woodward and Bernstein struggle to piece the intrigue puzzle together.

There are inserts of details we know most about, though not as much as you'd expect. The appearance of history's most famous secret informant, Deep Throat (played by Hal Holbrook), is few and far between, since he serves only to keep our heroes on track. And they hit many roadblocks. As they weave together the scandal, the Editor of the paper, Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards) emerges as the real hero of this movie; for believing in their story and not backing down from the critics that aim to discredit his writers. The benefit of hindsight is knowing what these men don't: the scandal goes all the way to the top, and they are at the forefront of the story of the century.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Geometric Tattoo

I understand now why people say tattoos are addictive. Sure, I knew what all my friends told me about how I'd get hooked, but I didn't experience it that way for a long time. Maybe something happens that moment you get your first large piece. The rest of your skin seems sort of... empty by comparison. It took me many years to commit to getting my "lady" piece (read about the outline here and the coloring here)... but it took about 5 minutes to commit to getting the next one.

Before flying to Cleveland for the holidays, John and I went back to Fura Body Works while visiting my family in the Bay Area. This time, he was getting inked too! And for the first time. Very exciting. Finally, he gets to celebrate his love of math, right there on his arms! I loved getting tattooed back to back, and now he truly understands that "irritating pain" I tried to describe to him before.

I'd been craving a geometric design on my left arm for awhile now. I just didn't have an exact design in mind! I love tattooer Kiki Burghardt's work, and when she posted the Navajo-inspired sketch with some of her 'flash' art last month, that's all it took! It came out beautifully (love the dot work!) and even though it's still healing, I'm completely enamored.

Now, I'm gonna try to cut myself off from tattoos are a little while. With such precious 'body real estate' left, one shouldn't be too hasty, right? Yeah. Right. We'll see how long I can stay away. In the meantime, I'll just have to scour Instagram for new artists to obsess over. I'm working on a list now of some of my favorites to share with you all, but for now, here are a few pics from our recent tattoo session adventure. xx

Music Mondays: Sara Bareilles & Ingrid Michaelson "Winter Song"

It is the coldest day we've had so far in Cleveland during our holiday vacation. And yet, still no snow. It feels like the skies might just send down a flurry when we leave on Wednesday, but we'll see. I'd love to see the city dusted in white.

The holidays are coming to an end, and soon it will be a new year. I'm already looking forward to warmer weather, even if that means the sunny California coast upon our return. On this Monday, I wanted to share a little song of winter, dreaming of spring days to come. Ingrid Michaelson and Sarah Bareilles' "Winter Song" is both somber and hopeful—my favorite combination. I adore this song, and I have for many years now. It's wonderful when random coffee shop compilation albums generate such memorable tracks (and this one isn't the only one—I shared a song by Lenka earlier in the month, which was on the same album).

Today was the first time I'd actually watched the song's official music video. An adorable and sweet animation that I just had to share with you all. I hope you enjoy, and that you are feeling fat and happy at the close of this holiday season. xx

Artist: Ingrid Michaelson & Sarah Bareilles
Song: "Winter Song" | download | stream
Album: The Hotel Cafe Presents... Winter Songs

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

MY TOP FIVE: Christmas Movies

For some people, Christmas is all about enjoying food with family, carols, maybe even some time enjoying the holiday cantata at church. But for me, it's always been a time to hunker down in pajamas, last minute present wrapping laid out on the floor, and my favorite Christmas flicks marathoning on the on TV screen—with my family sitting 'round, of course.

In celebration of this joyous holiday, I wanted to share my TOP FIVE Christmas Movies with you all. While there are more obscure ones out there (Mixed Nuts, anyone?), these are the ones that have stuck with me over the years, solidifying their place as the tops in my all-time fav list.

5.  It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

I'm watching this one as I type. Boy, is this movie so much more than most people remember. The life of small-towner with big dreams, George Bailey, as told through the eyes of his guardian angel... or rather, his prospective guardian angel. Christmas is at the movie's heart, but it goes far beyond the holiday. Most viewers remember this movie as the "What if I'd never been born?" fantasy scenario--but that is only the last couple of scenes of this epic story (one that is has legitimately been paid homage countless times on film and TV.)

This is my Dad's favorite Christmas movie, and for good reason. It challenges everyone to remember what the true meaning of Christmas is—not about presents and about what we can buy for our kids... but what we have to offer the world, and how we can sacrifice for others. What always struck me most was that sometimes those sacrifices aren't so easy to make. None of us are saints. In fact, sacrifices can truly do a number on our spirit, and that's what George's story tells us. That is, until we remember that when we are there for others, they may just come through for us. One of the best scenes doesn't have to do with Christmas at all: George tries to keep those investors of his Building & Loan from jumping ship by handing out loans from his own wedding fund. Brings tears to my eyes every time!

The one film on this list that I believe every single person should see before they die. And Donna Reed might just be the greatest wife in cinema history. (oh, fun fact! It's going to show up on the AFI Top 100 list at #20!)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Music Mondays: John McCutcheon "Christmas in the Trenches"

Happy... Tuesday! I know, this is coming in a day late. I was in fact enjoying a full day of airplane travel on our holiday trek to Cleveland, and am finally well rested enough to venture again online. And I didn't want to miss it, because... well, this week's song is incredibly special. It is by my favorite folk singer of all time, John McCutcheon, and is one of his most popular songs, "Christmas in the Trenches."

It is special for two reasons. The first is that John McCutcheon wrote and sings it. I've seen John in concert 8+ times since I was a freshman in high school, almost 15 years ago. For awhile there, I was seeing him at least once a year whenever he strode in through the Freight & Salvage (the old then the new one) in Berkeley (note: he'll be there again on Jan 9, 2015). More songs of his have been on rotation in whatever player I was listening to than any other artist. He and his music had a huge impact on me and my family. So showcasing him here just makes sense.

The second reason this song is special is because it tells a true story about the first Christmas of WWI in 1914. It is a tale of truce recounted and retold over the past 100 years, and this year will be the centennial celebration of the event along what was once the Western Front in Belgium. John wrote the song and released it in 1984 on his album Winter Solstice, and in 2006, it was released as a children's book—with a copy of the song, of course.

By far, my favorite Christmas song of all time. I know you'll love it too.

Artist: John McCutcheon
Song: "Christmas in the Trenches" | download | stream
Album: Winter Solstice

Friday, December 19, 2014

Mushroom for Rainy Days

Last night, John and I packed up our car and one of our furry children (the barky one) and slipped out of Los Angeles, trekking up the California coast in complete darkness. It's a drive I've done countless times, enduring the monotonous 5 Interstate through the central valley, only to pop into the San Francisco Bay Area just in time to crawl into bed at my parents' house.

After noon today, I will be officially on a two week vacation from work. Now, I sit at my parents' counter, wrapping up all my need-to-dos and distracting myself with this post. It's dreary outside, which is actually a welcome sight. Heavy rain up in the area last week left everything seeped in water, and everything is a bit more lively because of it.

My parents' backyard wasn't much more than hard soil when I visited last month, thanks to this year long drought. But all that rain transformed the dirt into an epic wild mushroom playground!

Everywhere I looked, there were clusters of mushrooms, all different variations (or the same, but different ages? I don't know, I need to learn more about mushrooms!) My uncle is a mushroom expert, and I remember being a kid and he would take me and my sister on hikes. His favorite time to go was right after it rained, because mushrooms would have cropped up everywhere, and he delighted in pointing out every single one, telling us its name, whether it was toxic or not... I wish my little brain had retained it all!

I stomped around through the dirt in the early morning, poking the mushroom heads and looking underneath them for little mice families hiding from rain. That doesn't just happen in cartoons, right?

I assume I just missed them.

Along with the large groupings, there were little new ones popping up out of the dirt. Look how cute, little baby mushrooms!

There was some active "keeping the dog away from the mushrooms" handling that was occurring during all this, but thankfully, she didn't seem interested in eating them. She was probably looking for mice families, too.

I'm so happy to be spending a few days with my family before heading off to Cleveland for 9 days to visit with John's. It will be my first Christmas holiday away from the Bay, and I anticipate a little bit of homesickness. But I'm excited to explore a new city with a Cleveland native and test my tolerance to the cold.

Have a happy Friday, everyone, and I hope that if you're traveling today, your travels are safe and your journeys are uninterrupted. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going off to search for more mushrooms.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

AFI Top 100: #78 "Modern Times"

Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times (1936)

Nowadays, silent films are a hard sell for audiences. There tends to be an anticipation of boredom associated, so many people just write them off. I've been guilty of this myself. I love heavy dialogue and witty scripts, and silent films usually lean more towards the physical to tell the story. But over the years, I've grown an appreciation for artists like Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, and the star of this week's AFI Top 100 film, #78 Modern Times: the incomparable Charlie Chaplin.

Chaplin's characters were often derelicts, drunks, wayfarers, or--his most famous--tramps. The Tramp character became iconic, first in his early short films, and then were the center focus of films like The Kid, The Circus, and #11 on the AFI list, City Lights. He was always a kind-hearted, but accident prone, buffoon, and his appearance as The Factory Worker (again, as his Tramp persona) in Modern Times is no different.

The story is set in a not-so-distant future (a future for 1936, anyways), where Chaplin is employed at a factory where he does monotonous labor day in and day out. He consistently can't catch a break, and mucks up the works at the factory, and eventually finds himself accidentally leading a socialist union strike. Over and over again, he gets tossed in jail for some absurd misunderstanding, only to get out and cause ruckus all over again.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

TV Showings of the AFI Top 100

I posted a few weeks back about a handful of ways to watch the AFI Top 100—and I forgot the easiest one of all: your own TV!

The popularity of most of the AFI movies means that they are ever-present in TV listings, especially on channels like Turner Classic Movies and AMC (remember when American Movie Classics only showed... movie classics?) The former is my absolute favorite source for not only for movies on the AFI list, but classic movies in general. It's how I managed to see most of the Oscar Best Picture nominees over the past 10 years, and even some random favorites that I might never have seen otherwise.

Moving forward, I'm going to try to provide a monthly TV listing on this blog's sidebar ————————————————>
Hopefully it'll help any of you interested in kicking off your own AFI Top 100 journey!

For the purposes of space, I'll be posting the monthly listings on the sidebar, but a multi-month listing can be found here. Obviously, due to the flux-y nature of TV listings, the schedule is certainly subject to change. But check back every month to see if channels like TCM are screening any of your "still need to see" films! Just this coming February, during TCM's annual "31 Days of Oscar" celebration, they will be airing 26 out of 100 on the list!

Note: All listings will be posted for the US/Canada, specifically in Pacific Standard Time (PST), so be sure to adjust based on your location!

{image via Walter Dukes}

Monday, December 15, 2014

Music Mondays: Guster "Tiny Tree Christmas"

Happy Monday, everyone! Another December week, another holiday song. This time, an upbeat, addictive track from one of my sister's favorite bands (and a huge sound staple of my childbood), Guster. Their song, "Tiny Tree Christmas" is filled with a fun rock beat and a festive horn section perfect for rocking out to during our holiday travels.

Is anyone else stocking up their playlists with new jams so as not to go stir crazy in the car or on the airplane during travel next week? I know it can't be just me!

This song, along with many other awesome ones (like Jenny O's "Get Down for the Holidays") were compiled for a free Christmas album from Target back in 2010, titled The Christmas Gig. Full playlist for the release can be found here, and even though Target doesn't have the album on their website anymore, just thank the lucky stars someone had the foresight to save the direct link. ;)


Artist: Guster
Song: "Tiny Tree Christmas" | stream
Album: The Christmas Gig

Sunday, December 14, 2014

2nd Annual Eat Like a Kid Day!

Last weekend, John and I celebrated our 2nd Annual Eat Like a Kid Day! This tradition is new, but started when he and I first began dating. I would share with him about when I was a kid, I always ate *this* for lunch, or how I would snack on *these* all day long. He would do the same.

It got to the point where we decided these nostalgic food-times warranted a whole day of recognition--and maybe it wouldn't hurt to do some of the things that kids do, too. ;)

So this time around, I threw on my celebratory sweatshirt right when I woke up and got to making breakfast!

And duh, it was Pop Tarts! You know, the real Pop Tarts. Not the fancy-schmancy homemade ones that recently put me in the mood to eat these delicious treats. And look! They're healthy, and a good source of vitamins and stuff! Or, er... whatever, they're amazing!

I'd love to say that both of these beauties were for me (which would have been very much like what my breakfast looked like as a kid), but alas, I had to share with the boyfriend. =\

I'm kidding, I'm kidding, this was just the pre-cursor to a day of--essentially--over-eating too much salt, sugar, and cheese! I had to save room.

Can you guys even with this? So simple, so yummy, so cinnamon-goodness-y.

While chomping through our tarts, we sat on the floor in front of the television (like you know, kids do) and enjoyed some '90s cartoon classics: Dexter's Laboratory and a perfectly timed holiday episode of Rugrats!

After breakfast, John and I put on our adult pants and trekked to the grocery store in search of items for the rest of the day's meals. We came back with a plethora of fixins, just in time to start lunch!

For me, you're not eating like a kid unless you make yourself at least one box of Blue Box Mac-and-Cheese. Every summer between the ages of 7 and 11, my sister and I probably ate Blue Box M&C every single day. So healthy, huh? It was also the first thing I ever learned how to make on the stove! I think it was where my love affair with cheese began--because the powdered packet stuff is the real thing, ya'll.

Even though the ingredients and prep are sooooo complicated (not), John volunteered to be the chef for lunch, since I planned on taking care of dinner!

And just like when we were kids (especially me) the portions had to be exactly even! Result of having a twin sister... she could never have more mac & cheese than me! ;)

So John carefully poured the bowls...

The perfect, balanced kids meal! I wish I could say that I didn't drink soda as a kid, but that would be a bald faced lie! Diet Coke was my very favorite thing, and I decided it would be alright to have my first soda in forever just to pair it with this cheesy, blue box deliciousness.

Yum! It took everything in my power not to just hoover this down. I did make one little modification to my original kids lunch recipe: Sriracha!

You guys! This may be my favorite thing in the world to add Sriracha to - maybe with the exception of scrambled eggs. It just kicks that mac & cheese up a notch, and you can actually kid yourself into thinking you're eating an adult meal. Almost.

If you've never done this, I suggest you make it for yourself tonight. But share with someone! Otherwise we all know you'll eat the whole box. 'Cause we all would.

After scarfing down our lunches as slooooowly as we could, it was over before we knew it and we were grabbing our things and scrambling out the door. Because if I did anything when I was a kid, it was spend an afternoon in the darkness of a movie theater.

And it just so happens that there is a fun, animated movie playing right now! We arrived at our local theater and purchased our tickets to the new Disney movie, Big Hero 6!

I used to work in a movie theater (my first job, which I had for 4 years!), and there's just something about the treats at the movies. The colors, the sweetness, and the saltiness... it brings back so many memories! My whole family has a weakness for movie theater popcorn, and while I try not to give into the urge all the time, today was special.

I just love that we can add our own butter now. Maybe you don't remember, but you had to ask for butter on your popcorn before, and you had to trust that the person behind the concession stand would spread that butter around evenly! Haha, clearly I have a bit of a control problem, no?

We scurried into the theater and took our seats. The movie was such a joy! Predictable in a way that kids movies are, but it certainly made my heart grow three sizes. I recommend it if you haven't seen it already. :)

We sped home to get into our comfy clothes, and now it was John's turn to pick his favorite childhood activity to do! Surprising no one, he pulled up his collection of Super Nintendo video games, and fell deeply into The Legend of Zelda...

I watched him move around his 32-bit Link for a while, marveling at the nostalgia of it all. I slipped out while he was gallivanting around Hyrule to start the dinner prep.

My very favorite meal in the entire world... Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup.

Now, arguably, this isn't a kid's meal. It is an everybody meal. But as a kid, teen, and young adult who would would hardly expand my horizons beyond anything other than this, it is a quintessential part of my childhood.

Sourdough bread is a must. Even as a kid, my parents rarely used white bread in their grilled cheese prep. As a San Francisco Bay Area family, sourdough was our go-to. I still maintain it is the best bread to use.

I also made the grilled cheese a bit more fancy by collecting some fresh basil leaves from our balcony garden, which currently looks like an overgrown bush! It's so easy to just spill the leaves over the cheese and cook them between the bread.

It makes a huge difference in the flavor, and adds that little bit of texture that keeps me from eating this meal too quickly. Especially when you add the tomato soup into the mix. It's like basil and tomato soup were meant to be together.

And since I like to make things easy in my meal prep, I used Campbell's Soup at Hand, which happens to fit perfectly in little bowls I have.

I swear, I didn't even color correct that picture above. Those colors really are that vibrant!

The meal came together perfectly, and I called John in for dinner. The spread looked so delicious, and the smells were even more satisfying. Typing this now, I'm this close to making the exact same meal again for lunch today! Are you not craving it as much as I am?

Notice the stack of pickles in the back? That was John's only request, that we include bread and butter pickles so he could pile them on top of every bite of grilled cheese. It was his favorite thing as a kid, and I had never tried it! Turns out, it's friggin' delicious! It may be part of my staple grilled cheese fixins moving forward!

By this time, I had retired my camera to enjoy our last meal of the day together. In front of a good movie, of course! John picked The Princess Bride, which felt just right. We toasted each other with glasses of iced tea and settled in for dinner, and then cuddled under a blanket for the rest of the movie.

It's nice every once in awhile to share the things you loved as a kid with someone you love as an adult. It says so much about one's upbringing -- whether they grew up with food made from scratch, or food straight out of the box (like me!) And I'll admit, I'm already thinking about what the menu for next year's Eat Like a Kid Day will be!

If you had your own day, what would you eat??


Thursday, December 11, 2014

AFI Top 100: #79 "The Wild Bunch"

The Wild Bunch (1969)

The Western genre has always been a bit of an enigma to me. The movies are special and unique in the way that war films are uniquethey qualify for the genre simply because they take place in a certain place and time. They also stand out because of the fact that they're really not that unique at all. Like war movies, plots are allowed to be generic because the real "special touches" come from the varying degree of graphic violence or nudityor both! And when the grip of censorship began to loosen in the late 1960's, there was hardly anything filmmakers didn't try to get away with.

This weekend, we explored the birth of the modern Western (if there is such a thing), screening #79 on the AFI Top 100 list, The Wild Bunch. It was my first time seeing this Sam Peckinpah-directed classic (aside from the opening 5 minutes we studied in film school), and I only knew one thing about it: there was an insane amount of gunfire from beginning to end.

What I didn't really know was the plot. It is about a group of old-timer outlaws in the early 20th century struggling to come to terms with both the expansion of the "civilized" government into the lawless West, as well as the advance in technology (transport, weapons, etc.) that is obliterating their way of life. They're thisclose to retirement, and after a botched bank robbery, decide they have enough left in them for one last job. 

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