Tag Archives: Entertainment

I have a producer!

Beyoncé has a producer. The Kardashians have a producer. The Amazing Spider-Man has a producer.

And now I have a producer, too!

I spent the afternoon reading embarrassing excerpts out of diaries written when I was 14 and 15 to two strangers in a downtown Chicago community coffee shop, and now Connie is my producer. That’s what obsessively writing selfish entries about one’s teenage angst gets you. Ha!

Connie will help me prepare to be part of a live show of “Mortified: Angst Written” in Chicago (date to be determined). “Mortified” is a grassroots storytelling forum for adults to share excerpts of the strange and embarrassing things they did as kids as a way to reveal stories about their lives.

Color -coded Post-It notes: Green for embarrassing junior high stalker, pink for embarrassing kissing references, hot pink for embarrassing menstruation references.

Color -coded Post-It notes: Green for embarrassing junior high stalker, pink for embarrassing kissing references, hot pink for embarrassing menstruation references.

I think it was lines like “Prince Charles and Lady Diana got married today. She was really pretty in her dress. I got my period today. Bummer!” (July 29, 1981), “I have a new walk. I swing my hips from side to side in an easy motion instead of the jerky, unconnected way I was walking” (Aug. 13, 1981) and “FRENCHING IS THE BEST!” (Sept. 7, 1982) that won me a spot in the line-up.

Stay tuned for my world premiere performance!

Horse racing tips for amateur bettors

If you’re serious about finding good horse racing tips, look elsewhere. Over my lifetime, I’ve lost more than I’ve wagered so I clearly don’t know what I’m doing.

But today, I won the daily double!

That’s a whopping $30.40, baby!

Because I’m just that sort of gal, I’m going to share my secret betting tricks with you, my dear Minnesota Transplant readers:

  • Never bet more than you can afford to lose. For me, that’s $2 a race. I figure I easily acquire $2 worth of entertainment from the 10-15 minutes I’m dreaming of the big payout and the scant two minutes I’m rooting for a particular horse.
  • Stick with exotic bets. Oh, some folks recommend personally meaningful picks, like choosing according to a horse’s name or birthday or a favorite color worn by a jockey, and some people like betting on the favorites or the long shots every time, but me? I stick with random choices and wild bets like trifectas and Pick 6s. This is how you win the big money.
  • Never bet on gray. This is advice from my mother I have found to be pretty sound.

So, how did that work out today, a gorgeous summer afternoon at Arlington Park?

Race 1: I bet $2 on Onedayatatyme to show. Betting “to show” is not an exotic bet — it’s the safest, most boring bet there is; I was violating my own tricks though I did sort of like the horse’s name. He come in 4th. The long shot won. No gray horse in this race.

Race 2: I bet $2 on Gran Torine, a long shot, to show. He came in 5th, right behind the gray horse. A horse with 6-1 odds won.

Race 3: I bet a $2 exacta box on long shots with cool names: Zes T Cat and Misty Castle. Misty Castle came in fourth and Zes T Cat was lost in the pack. A favorite won. No gray.

Race 4: I bet $1 on the Pick 6 (meaning I had to pick the winner in this race and the following 5 races). I got two of the 6 right (which, with a quarter, won’t even get me a phone call home). A long shot won this race. The gray horse finished second to last.

Race 5: I bet $3 on a trifecta box of favorites. One of the three placed, and a long shot won. No gray.

Race 6: I bet $2 on a daily double of favorites. My horse in the first race came in 5th (just ahead of the gray horse) so it didn’t matter what my horse in the second race did. A long shot won.

Race 9: [If you’re keeping track, you’ll notice I skipped races 7 & 8, but then, I already told you I won a daily double, so I’m preserving whatever suspense I have left.] I bet $2 on the favorite to place. He showed. And the gray horse won. Darn.

Races 7 & 8: I bet $2 on a daily double of favorites. After I walked away from the teller’s window, I realized my horse in Race 7 — Mr. Mostly — was gray. Ugh! Doomed! Mr. Mostly A Waste Of Money, I thought. But no! Mr. Mostly won. Now all I needed was Let’s Call A Truce — a chestnut beauty and the clear favorite — to win Race 8. He started out in last place and stayed there for three-quarters of the race, but Let’s Call A Truce was a closer and close he did! He won by a length.

I parlayed my $2 daily double into $30.40, meaning I won $14.40 more than I wagered all day. This would be considered good by some. Except I paid $8 admission, $2.50 for a program, $7 for an executive box seat upgrade, $3 for a bottle of water, $9 for a Cactus Cooler, $10.95 for a Snacks & Dips plate and $6 for a glass of Zinfandel. Which means I left $32.05 at the track.

OK, so I’m a big loser.

But if there’s any tricks I’ve learned about gambling, it’s this: Only brag about what you win. And I won the daily double!

Shield your eyes, calorie watchers

Buffalo Chicken Dip

Buffalo Chicken Dip

Here’s a way to enjoy the commercials during the Super Bowl. Get the recipe, here.


Little Graceland is the encore without end

Elvis Presley has the immortality for which the rest of us can only wish.

In the way only America can worship its celebrities, Elvis is a little like Jesus Christ. Almost everyone knows him by his first name alone. His art continues to mesmerize. People dress like him, wear T-shirts with his likeness, hang pictures of him on their walls. Some people believe Elvis lives. Elvis could be bigger than Jesus in that he has his own catchphrase (“Elvis has left the building”) and his own sandwich (peanut butter and banana, grilled; bacon optional).

Graceland is the second most visited private home in the United States (the White House is No. 1), and today I visited what is touted by owner Simon Vega as the sixth most visited private home: Little Graceland (I couldn’t verify this fact on Google, but trust me on this: Anything having to do with Elvis requires a certain amount of flamboyancy).


displayLittle Graceland is an Elvis tribute museum in Los Fresnos, Texas, featuring a vast assortment of Elvis memorabilia including a replica of Elvis’s tombstone and murals of his favorite modes of transportation. Owner Simon Vega served with Elvis in the Army.

Rob Carter as Elvis (he was pretty good!).

Rob Carter as Elvis (he was pretty good, but he didn’t sing my mother’s favorite song, “Don’t Be Cruel.”).

A visit to Little Graceland wouldn’t be complete without seeing an Elvis impersonator, and we were in luck. Little Graceland hosted an Elvis Festival today in honor of Elvis’s birthday Jan. 8; he would have been 78.

Our proximity to the border was evident in the origin of the last names of several impersonators: Carvajal, Salazar, Lucio, Corona, Gonzalez and Vasquez. The population of Winter Texans was evident in the composition of the audience.

Here’s what’s crazy (right, I haven’t gotten to the crazy part yet): I knew the words to the music so well, I could sing along. Yes, that’s right, Elvis died when I was 10, and yet his music is so popular, I didn’t even realize I knew the words well enough to recite them along with the impersonators.


That’s a legend for you.

With the visage of Elvis in the flag, you know he's eclipsed baseball, hot dogs, apple pie or Chevrolet on the Patriotic scale.

With the visage of Elvis in the flag, you know he’s eclipsed baseball, hot dogs, apple pie or Chevrolet on the Patriotic scale. Salute.

‘Clutter’ as entertainment

Making an eccentric millionaire hoarder into a likable character is a trick pulled off magically by Andrew J. Pond in the Madkap Production, “Clutter: The True Story of the Collyer Brothers Who Never Threw Anything Out.”

Pond is also a magician but it’s still an accomplishment to play Langley Collyer, a self-absorbed obsessive-compulsive, with flair. Edward Kuffert is more bombastic and oddly repulsive as the other Collyer brother.

Maybe I like my plays like I like my books: Based on fact. I enjoyed “Clutter” even though it is a tragic story of two men so overwhelmed by clutter it is the death of them.

When I was a newspaper reporter, I interviewed a hoarder. I talked with her in her overgrown, weedy yard because, I suppose, her house was so full of belongings there wasn’t room for me. She was news because the city was trying to evict her from house. She was among the most colorful people I’ve ever talked to because of her ability to articulately justify the abominable condition of her property.

Playwright Mark Saltzman humanizes the Collyer brothers in the same way. Who hasn’t kept some antique tchotchke with the thought, “This’ll be worth something someday?” The Collyer brothers simply took this concept to an extreme, filling their apartment with so many newspapers, musical instruments, car parts and garbage that they had to crawl through tunnels to get around.

“Clutter” is set in the ’30s and ’40s in New York City. Saltzman also artfully pulls off the complicated task of splicing  together two time frames — the back story of the brothers’ hoarding and the primary story of the investigation of the death of one of the brothers by a pair of policemen, also brothers.

I attended the performance with members of the Chicago chapter of NAPO, the National Association of Professional Organizers. A few of them found the humor of the tragicomedy to be misplaced. These people see the ugly side of having too much stuff and they devote their professional lives to mitigating the effects of piles of junk in our lives.

Whatever your opinion of hoarders and humor, “Clutter” will make you reconsider the volume and organization of your own belongings. I’ve gotta go clean my purse.

“Clutter: The True Story of the Collyer Brothers Who Never Threw Anything Out” plays through March 11 at Greenhouse Theatre Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.

We capitulated: We’re back on the TV grid

The Great No-Cable Experiment has ended.

We dumped Dish Network in January when the company that leaves no money-making stone unturned demanded a monthly rental fee for the equipment that had been in our house for nearly four years; we had wanted to suspend service for three months while we were RVing it down south and restart when we returned. My Beloved told them they could keep their expletive equipment, and we left for Texas. We saved $75 a month, added a few DVDs to our Netflix queue and happily enjoyed less celebrity news and pace-quickening weather reports.

When we returned in March, the only thing we missed from network TV was baseball. OK, I was the only one missing baseball. So I subscribed to mlb.com for $25 a month — still a deal.

But then the millionaires  in charge at the NFL decided to kiss and make up, and the NFL doesn’t offer games via the internet. My Beloved started hyperventilating when he realized he couldn’t see his Bears every weekend unless he made a sojourn to the neighbor’s garage.

And Netflix, taking a page from Dish Network’s handbook on “How To Squeeze Every Last Cent from Your Consumers,” raised its rates and co-mingled … or merged … or morphed with Quickster. Buh-bye, whatever you’re calling yourself.

So now we’ve gotten into bed with DirecTV, which has yet to betray us (it’s probably coming, I know). Yesterday, DirecTV installed their equipment, and now my Beloved gets NFL Sunday Ticket — which includes all the NFL games — for “free.” We got a smokin’ deal, thanks to a referral from my brother-in-law, so at $40 a month, we’re still paying less than we did to Dish Network. My husband asked why he has to put up with commercials on television for which he’s paying. Why? This is America and Americans are capitalists, that’s why!

Alas, after a nine-month hiatus, we discovered last night that even with 240 channels, there’s still nothing on TV.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

Stuffed animals. Dinosaur bones. A 3D movie theater. The Field Museum in downtown Chicago has something for every kid.

With bare breasts on a few of its statues and depictions of the male member in Egyptian hieroglyphs, it even has something for 16-year-old boys.

At least the ones I was with.

My Beloved and I checked out the famous Field Museum yesterday with my stepson and a friend of my stepson’s for the first time since we came to live in Illinois. We should not have delayed so long.

Sue, the largest T. Rex fossil ever discovered

The architecture of the building alone is impressive, as is its location on Lake Michigan right next to Soldier Field. Right after paying admission, you’re presented with Sue, the largest, most complete skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex ever discovered. There are dozens more dinosaur fossils upstairs in the Dinosaur Hall, and you can even watch experts prepare newly excavated fossils for study. We saw the “Waking of T. Rex” in the 3D Theater which showed how Sue was discovered and how she might have lived (be prepared for some blood when a life-like animated Sue behaves like one of “the most aggressive carnivores the world has ever known”). Besides Sue, Caswell’s friend and I agreed the most impressive skeleton was the 18-foot giant ground sloth.

If you’re OK with seeing stuffed animals as opposed to live ones, you’ll get a lot better look at giant pandas, Bengal tigers, rhinos and more in their natural habitat dioramas than you ever will in any zoo.

I also enjoyed the limited engagement Horse exhibit and, to a lesser extent, the Underground Adventure about soil and the creatures that live in it. We missed hundreds of square feet of the museum that surely have other interesting displays. Many parts of the museum are interactive and hands-on which is great for kids (and teen-agers for that matter).

The Field Museum is one of those must-see Chicago sites for good reason. If you have any interest in science and culture, check it out.

Eight seconds of glory

The cowboys cry, “Ki-yip-pee-yi,”
deep in the heart of Texas.

When in Texas, do as the Texans do. And as the rodeo clown opined, “A bad day at the rodeo is better than a good day at work.”

I am quite sure many rodeos occur on a regular basis deep in the heart of Minnesota, but this former Minnesotan has never attended one.

The one I enjoyed today was an official National Professional Bull Riders show. The men who ride those enormous angry beasts are either very brave or very stupid. In any case, the show was entertaining. This neophyte found many analogies:

  • Bull riding is like car racing in that everyone says they’re there because they admire the talented men aboard the scary machines, but they’re really there to see an accident.
  • The rodeo is like the circus because of the announcer is like the ring master and the rodeo clowns are like, well, the clowns.
  • Scoring in bull riding is like scoring in ice skating, the nuance of which escapes me.
  • Intermission was like the between-inning stunts of a minor league baseball game. The rodeo clown lined up a couple dozen kids ranging in age from 5 to 12, and then let loose three calves in the ring. The kids chased the little cows around attempting to snare the flags on their butts. I don’t know which little creatures were more terrified, though three of the fastest two-legged ones did manage to come up with the flags.
  • The bull riders are like bantam-weight wrestlers with the strength and courage to take on the heavyweights.

The National Professional Bull Riders' slogan: The hottest 8 second of the year."

All the energy and excitement of the day was expended in 8-second increments. Time was elastic. If the rider couldn’t hold on for at least eight short, little seconds, they didn’t get any points. And when they did hold on, those eight seconds lasted an eternity.

All this was enjoyed in a roofed, open air arena under sunny skies with 80 degrees temperatures. A hot ticket, the rodeo. No bull.

‘Contagion’ movie is set in snowy Minnesota but filmed in snowless Illinois

Blockbuster film director Steven Soderbergh (“Traffic,” “Ocean’s Eleven,” and following) is directing a new thriller called “Contagion” about a deadly virus outbreak.

 A story in this morning’s paper caught my eye because the movie is set in Edina, Minn., where my stepson now lives with his mother. And the reason it was news in the Chicago Times? Because film buffs were camping out to see a glimpse of the film’s stars, Matt Damon and Kate Winslet, in Glencoe, Ill. With an Edina setting, Soderbergh needed a snowy backdrop, so film crews were spraying lawns and bushes with ice shavings on Monday.

Te, he. Fake snow. Because we don’t have real snow here in Illinois yet. Ironically, more than a foot of snow has fallen already in Edina this season.

Why, of all places on earth, would the writer, Scott Z. Burns, choose the posh suburb of Minneapolis for his action-packed bio-threat?

I’m thinking maybe the weather plays a role in “Contagion.” Think about it: The flu season whips into a frenzy in the wintertime and goes into hibernation in the summer. Maybe the deadly disease is subdued by the arrival of summer in Minnesota. Or maybe it’s ironically overpowered by the incredible cold in Minnesota that forces auto owners to plug in their cars overnight and anglers to drink beer over holes in the ice of frozen lakes. Or maybe the outbreak is finally stopped when every resident of Edina is homebound by a blizzard that lasts three weeks and shuts down every school, business and mall in the vicinity; health authorities uncover frozen corpses in frozen beds, stricken when Xcel Energy halts electrical output for lack of employees.

Or maybe not. If they’re not filming in Edina, maybe it doesn’t play a crucial role in the movie. We’ll find out when the movie comes out in October 2011.

Let’s hope the virus outbreaks in Minnesota are like the snow so far in Illinois: Fantasy.

Unrealized fashion designer relives her heyday

Does anyone remember Fashion Plates?

It was an artsy toy from the late 1970s that allowed you to “design” your own fashions with interchangeable plates embossed with outlines of shirts, skirts and pants. The young artist, or designer, would rub the embossed shapes to get the outlines, then color in the clothes with fashionable colored pencils. Voila! A new fashion design!

I loved that toy!

I loved it so much my mother (bless her heart) bought me a subscription to Women’s Wear Daily for my birthday one year (because all aspiring fashion designers read Women’s Wear Daily).

Unfortunately, I liked drawing fashions, but I did not like sewing fashions. If you watch the reality show “Project Runway,” you know how crucial some skill at sewing is to an aspiring fashion designer.

By the way, Season 6 of “Project Runway” premieres Aug. 20 on Lifetime channel. Bravo lost the legal battle, and the revamped show is being shot in Los Angeles instead of New York City.

I was reminded of Fashion Plates because of a project at did at my Stampin’ Up class yesterday. I made a really cute card with a sleeveless dress on the front, adorned with a ruffly top and ribbon-belt (with rhinestone brad). And a cute little purse. I wanted to make 10 more of them, with different printed papers and different colored ribbons, just to see what combinations I could come up with.

I found a set of Fashion Plates on e-Bay. Maybe I’ll bid on them.