March 31, 2014 in Reflections on Pop Culture


Photo from Lifetime’s Kim of Queens

I am not a TV snob. For every True Detective, Homeland, and Downton Abbey episode I watch, there are a number of sitcoms (Mindy!), reality TV shows (Project Runway!), and cooking shows (anything on Food Network!) that I watch as well.

If it’s a great show that I am passionate about, I will tell everyone about it, and I don’t care where it falls on the critically lauded list or in the ratings. But sometimes I watch shows that I know aren’t very good and I love them anyway. I quietly record them on my DVR, watch them in the privacy of my own home, and don’t say a word about them to anyone. They are my guilty pleasures, just like a box of Pop Tarts or an US Weekly magazine.

Today, that is going to change. I am going to let you in on my secret little world of  bad TV and share two shows that deserve to see the light of day. Yes, they have their flaws, but so do I, and I am still worthy of a little love. These shows are too.

Lifetime’s Kim of Queens is an hour-long reality show about (gasp!) beauty pageants. As a college educated woman, I am at complete odds with the world of beauty pageants. I have made fun of some of the Miss USA’s contestants’ inability to properly frame a coherent response to an interview question. I have been aghast at what some of the mothers do and say to get their six-year-olds pageant-ready. And what good could possibly come from parading around a stage in a swimsuit? So why am I watching a reality show about beauty pageants?

I’ll tell you why: Kim Gravel.


Photo from Lifetime’s Kim of Queens

Kim Gravel is a pageant coach. She’s well qualified: she was one of the youngest contestants ever to win Miss Georgia. But she gives much more to these young pageant hopefuls than big hair and a lot of makeup; she is teaching these girls to be themselves.

How is she teaching young girls to be themselves when she’s making them use tan-in-a-can, false eyelashes, and packaging tape as a push-up device? As Kim says herself, her job is not only to make the girls beautiful on the outside, but to make them beautiful on the inside, although her version is more colloquial: “You can wear a burlap sack, girl; but if you got it on the inside, it shines on the outside.”

Kim has a southern accent to die for, striking blue eyes, a beautiful singing voice, a heart the size of Texas, and she knows exactly who she is. She does more than coach these girls; she folds them under her wing and inspires self-confidence, self-esteem, and a drive to improve. Kim tells it like it is, and sometimes that honesty can be tough to hear, but it always comes from a place of love and a desire for the best for these young ladies.

Kim is larger than life, funny, real, and confidant, and she commands every second of screen time she is in. She is flanked by her younger sister, Allisyn (comic relief), and her mother Jo, who is the very definition of a southern lady. Some of the pageant “moms” are over-the-top to the point where I wonder if some of their antics have been staged, which is too bad because there is plenty of depth to be mined there already. But the heart of the show is the interactions between Kim and her girls. She is a mentor, a friend, an advocate, a counselor, and a believer in her pageant contestants and their potential. “I see things in young girls they don’t see in themselves,” she says, and she is committed to helping her girls discover and believe in their own strengths.

Every hour I spend watching Kim of Queens is an hour filled with laughter, tears, sweet “aaahhhh” moments, and a fervent wish that I had had a Kim Gravel in my life when I was going through those awkward teen years. Honestly, I could use a Kim Gravel in my life right now (she is a life coach), but I’ll settle for the next best thing: watching Kim of Queens on Tuesdays at 10:00pm on Lifetime.

Stay tuned for my other Guilty Pleasure!


March 27, 2014 in Book Reviews

Without meaning to, I read two novels back-to-back that dealt with a similar premise: more than one family member is brutally murdered in the dark of night and someone is in jail for the crime, but a surviving family member has questions about that night that will not go away.

Help for the Haunted by John Searles

In John Searles imagining, these events are set against the backdrop of an unusual family: the parents’ work is in the field of the paranormal. Those who seek them out are struggling with loved ones and inanimate objects that seem to be possessed by evil. Sylvie Mason’s parents try to help the haunted find peace by removing the objects and relocating them to the Mason family’s basement, including a haunted hatchet and an uber-creepy doll named Penny.

One snowy night, Sylvie’s parents get a call to meet someone at their local church. Leaving Sylvie in the car to sleep, her parents enter the church. The sounds of gunfire wake Sylvie, who gets out of the car and peeks into the church, sustaining an injury of her own.

Sylvie’s story flips back and forth from the events leading up to that night and the present, where she is trying to figure out if the person she accused of the crime really is guilty.

I give this novel high marks for the “creepy” factor: the descriptions of Sylvie’s parents’ work with the haunted is spooky and suspenseful. The relationship between Sylvie and her big sister, who has secrets of her own, is intriguingly dysfunctional, and the stories that unravel about Sylvie’s parents are delicious: do they really believe in what they are doing?

This novel is whip-tight, but the ending stretched too far in a direction that didn’t ultimately satisfy me. That being said, this is a page-turner that will give you chills.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

On a dark January night in Kansas, seven-year-old Libby Day escapes from the slaughter of her mother and her two older sisters in their farmhouse. Libby’s brother Ben is sent to jail for the crime based on her testimony. Now Libby is all grown up, but still bears the scars from that night. Out of money and with no ability to hold down a job, she reluctantly agrees to help out a small contingency of people convinced of Ben’s innocence—for a fee.

This novel is called Dark Places for a reason: it’s dark. The characters are a strange blend of likability with a dark underbelly that Flynn loves to expose to the light. The crime is brutally violent and sifting through those details isn’t pretty. It is also a juicy mystery with a lot of drama leading up to the massacre—Satanism, drugs, a worthless dad desperate for money, the bank about to foreclose on the farm, a pregnancy, allegations of inappropriate behavior concerning a minor—and Flynn is a master at knowing just which thread to unravel when. Flynn alternates between the present and Libby’s quest to find out what really happened that night and the events from the past told from different characters’ perspectives.

I couldn’t put this book down, but it is not for the faint of heart. If you don’t mind a little—or a whole lot of—dark, then you are in for a well-written, suspenseful ride that may give you nightmares…in a good way.






March 24, 2014 in Random Thoughts

The following is a transcript of the phone call I wish I could have with NCAA President Mark Emmert.

Mark Emmert: Hello?

Me: Hi. I have a complaint.

Mark Emmert: Oh? How can I help?

Me: It’s about the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Rankings.

Mark Emmert: What about them?

Me: Well, I’m sorry to tell you this, but the rankings don’t mean anything. I think you need to re-evaluate how to rank these teams in a way that is, you know, accurate.

Mark Emmert: I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Me: I’m talking about Baylor beating Creighton by 30 points! Creighton is a #3 seed ranked #16 on the AP poll. Baylor is a #6 seed ranked #23 on the AP poll. If those are correct, how is it possible that a) Baylor beat them; and b) Baylor beat them by 30 points?

Mark Emmert: Statistics on the court are quantifiable, certainly, but they are not the only factor to consider. (pause) Are you losing your bracket pool?

Me: That’s not important.

Mark Emmert: The system we have for ranking these teams is fine.

Me: Oh really? Let’s talk about Wichita State.

Mark Emmert: I appreciate you calling, but I’ve got a, uh, meeting—

Me: Wichita State is a #1 seed! They are #2 on the AP poll and they were undefeated going into the tournament. Explain to me how they lost to a #8 Kentucky team that wasn’t even in the Top 25 on the AP poll?

Mark Emmert: It’s called a “big upset.”

Me: I’m serious!

Mark Emmert: That game was very close.

Me: But it shouldn’t have been! With the discrepancy in their rankings and seedings, it should have been a blow out by Wichita State. That’s my point: the rankings as they are calculated now don’t mean anything. How am I supposed to predict the Final Four when all I have are useless statistics?

Mark Emmert: Nobody can predict who is going to win. That’s why it’s called “March Madness.” That’s why Warren Buffett can offer $1 billion dollars for a perfect bracket. There is no way to quantify heart, drive, passion, and getting a good night’s sleep before playing in the basketball game of your life. Human beings can’t be reduced to statistics.

Me: So why do you have rankings at all?

Mark Emmert: Excuse me?

Me: Why don’t you just pick 64 teams out of a hat, throw them onto courts across the country in pairs of two, and see who wins?

Mark Emmert: That wouldn’t be fair. You could have a really good team—

Me: Like Wichita State?

Mark Emmert: —blow out a less talented team.

Me: Like Kentucky?

Mark Emmert: No, like…

Me: Like Duke and Mercer?

Mark Emmert: Yes! I mean, no! Listen, I understand you’re upset. March Madness can be a very upsetting time for some. Let me give you a phone number to call.

Me: So I can talk to someone about how the rankings and seedings are so grossly inaccurate?

Mark Emmert: Nooo, this a number for someone who can help you. It’s our March Madness Hotline.

Me: (suspiciously) Hotline?

Mark Emmert: There are psychiatrists on call 24 hours a day—

Me: You clowns rated Kansas 10th in the country in the AP Poll, seeded them at #2, and you think I’m the one who needs a psychiatrist? They lost! They lost to Stanford, and they’re not even in the Top 25!

Mark Emmert: How much money did you lose?

Me: None.

Mark Emmert: And you’re this upset?

Me: It’s the principal of the thing. (pause) I’m a Libra.

Mark Emmert: (gently) I really think you should call the Hotline.

Me: I don’t like injustice. That’s what I meant about the “Libra” remark. You know, balanced scales and all that. (pause) I’m not crazy.

Mark Emmert: Uh huh.

Me: (sighing) Maybe I should call that number.

Mark Emmert: That would be great.

Me: But if there are any more unreasonable upsets next weekend, I’m calling you back.

Mark Emmert: I’ll let security know.





March 19, 2014 in Random Thoughts

I am obsessed with the mystery of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. I can’t stop watching MSNBC and CNN for the latest updates, reading about it online, and discussing it endlessly with anyone who will listen.

I am not the only one. Even Courtney Love is obsessed to the point where she thinks she may have found the missing plane.

For me, it’s hard to imagine that a Boeing 777 airplane laden with 227 passengers and 12 crew members can vanish without a trace in this day and age. With the number of military and civilian radars and satellites operating throughout the world, how is it possible that a 777 airplane just fell off the grid? And if a hijacking incident was in progress and/or the plane somehow landed safely somewhere, how is it possible that all 239 people on board have kept silent for 13 days in the age of cell phones?

There are a lot of theories out there based on precious little fact, but I keep coming back to human nature. Based on my in-depth knowledge of aviation (0%), terrorism (0%), ocean currents (0%), and the inability of human beings to keep a secret (100%), there are 2 theories that I feel make sense.

1)    A catastrophic event of a mechanical nature occurred. It either happened quickly (explosion) or slowly (depressurization of the plane/lack of oxygen), but however it happened, it either killed the passengers instantly or rendered them unconscious and thus unable to send urgent messages of distress with their cell phones. As we saw during 9/11, there is no way a person would not find a way to let their loved ones know they were a) ok; b) not ok; or c) that they were about to die and that they loved them very much.

2)    A catastrophic event induced by a human element occurred (pilot error? hijacking?), quickly rendering the passengers and crew unable to communicate with the outside world.

There have been 13 days of radio silence from the passengers on the plane. I think if they could speak, they would have found a way. The silence, more than anything else, makes me think Flight 370 is now in the ocean.

With the vastness and the depth of our planet’s oceans, particularly the Indian Ocean, it is possible that this plane will never be found. It may just go the way of Amelia Earhart’s airplane, which disappeared in 1937 and has never been found, or the Argentine military plane carrying 69 people that has been missing since 1965, or the squadron of five bombers that vanished in 1945 in the Bermuda Triangle. (Read more about these other aviation mysteries here.)

I want to know what happened just as much as the next person because I am curious and it makes me feel safer knowing we have the technology to possibly rescue anyone on this planet no matter where they are, or in the worst case scenario, to provide closure to the passengers’ families.

But my curiosity is but a drop in the tidal wave of grief and despair the families of the passengers and crew are facing. Misinformation, a lack of information, and deep-seated worry about their loved ones is taking its toll on the family members, and will only going to get worse as the length of time increases without any trace of the missing plane. The families and loved ones cannot function now, but how will they function in the future if the plane is not found? It was a headache wrapping up the threads of my dad’s life when he passed away and I had a certified death certificate in my possession. How will these people collect the life insurance or retirement funds of their loved ones if there’s no body, let alone the wreckage from a plane?

My sincerest hope and sympathy go out to the families of the passengers and crew of Flight 370. The plane needs to be found, and not  just to satisfy my own curiosity. For those waiting desperately for any information about their loved ones, this plane needs to be found.


March 17, 2014 in Book Reviews, Chocolate! (and other less exalted food experiences), Random Thoughts


I’m not Irish, but sometimes I wish I was. Marian Keyes and Maeve Binchy (immensely successful Irish authors) are my idols, and I’ve read every one of their novels more than once. I am in love with the way the Irish speak, with their “your man” and their “fecking” and the lovely lilt at the end of their sentences.

Over the weekend I was delighted to find myself sitting by a large Irish family from the opposing team during my son’s lacrosse game. It was like being surrounded by a bunch of chatty leprechauns! I spoke in an Irish accent all the way home, to the absolute delight of my children.

Kids: “Mom, come on! Stop it!”

Me: “No way! It’s almost St. Patrick’s Day. I’ll be talking this way all weekend. Now stop your fecking complainin’ or your man won’t be getting a Shamrock Shake.”

(I’m not entirely sure how bad a swear word “fecking” is in Ireland. Perhaps I should look into that.)

So it should come as no surprise that I love St. Patrick’s Day. A holiday centered around the color green, clever little leprechauns, vibrant rainbows with shiny pots of gold at the end, four-leaf clovers, lots of booze, and Shamrock Shakes from McDonald’s—as a holiday, St. Patrick’s Day is magically delicious!

Here are a couple of things Irish that I love and I hope you do too!

Marian Keyes is a master at blending despair with humor. You can’t go wrong with any of her novels, but my personal favorite is Rachel’s Holiday. Rachel’s “holiday” is actually a stint in rehab after a near overdose. It may sound heavy, and it is, but just like real life, there are shining moments of humor, humanity, and triumph.

While Marian Keyes loves a modern Irish heroine, Maeve Binchy’s heroines are firmly planted in the past, trying to balance their strict Irish Catholic upbringing with the passion they feel for the boy next door. Unwanted pregnancies, alcoholism, and forbidden love are some of her favorite themes. You can’t go wrong with any of her novels either, but Light a Penny Candle, a poignant tale of two girls and their enduring friendship, still stands out in my mind as one of her best.  

“Fiddle-de-fizz ‘tis magic, it is!” Ten Lucky Leprechauns is a charming counting book filled with the magic of leprechauns, rainbows, and friendship just perfect for your wee ones.

How cute are these? These mini brownies with a surprise pocket of gold sprinkles inside will definitely be part of our St. Patrick’s Day’s festivities! If you haven’t visited Courtney Whitmore’s yet, you are in for a treat! She has loads of wonderful desserts and decorating tips for any event.

I am in love with  Martha Stewart’s Leprechaun Trap! It is eye-catching and I bet it tastes delicious. It also looks like it would take all day to make. The jury’s still out on whether or not I will make this or take a nap instead.

Need more ideas? Check out my St. Patrick’s Day Pinterest Board!







March 13, 2014 in Book Reviews

I like to keep tabs on the Newbery and Caldecott winners for my kids. They are always looking for a new author or series to fall in love with and as much as they love Captain Underpants, I would like to offer them up some, ahem, other choices too.

Every year, there is only one Newberry and one Caldecott Award winner, but here are a host of other awards given out as well, so in the end there is a lovely compilation of beautifully illustrated picture books, enchanting beginning reader books, and well-written books for children up to young adults. For the complete list of the 2014 Winners and Honors books, click here.

In reading the blurbs, I became enthralled with the Michael L. Printz Award Winner for excellence in literature written for young adults given to Marcus Sedgwick’s Midwinterblood. (I won’t lie: in no way did I think my young adult son would be interested in this book. I wanted to read it for me.) It is a series of seven short stories all interconnected in some mysterious way. Set on an unusual island called Blessed located far, far north, and spanning time from ancient civilization to 2073, Midwinterblood is a mystical tale of love, secrets, sacrifice, and ancient rites.

I absolutely loved this book. Sedgwick sets a tone of mystery early, and the threads are woven through each short story, pulling you in and wrapping you up tight in details that become familiar despite the complete change of scenery. The further back in time he takes you, the more the mystery of what’s happening in the present begins to unravel. It is not your average mystery/ghost story with a vampire thrown in. Instead, it is mystical and magical and otherworldly with plenty of chills to go around.

On one rainy day with my son and his friend locked in my car on the way to school, I tried to sell them on Midwinterblood. They looked at me with blank, teenage boy stares. I don’t know if they’ll ever voluntarily pick this book up, but they should, and so should you. Seriously. It is a wonderful escape into seven different worlds, all linked in an extraordinary manner.


March 10, 2014 in Random Thoughts

Every year, my sons’ elementary school hosts an Art Walk. It is an art gallery-like show where every class and every student showcases an art project they’ve created during the year. Considering the diversity of ages (kindergarten to fifth grade), art mediums, and elements of art represented (line, texture, color, form, etc.), there is a delightful variety of vibrant and creative art to see. Here is a treat for your artistic sensibilities:


March 7, 2014 in Chocolate! (and other less exalted food experiences)

My mom and I recently attended Seattle’s Wine and Food Experience at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall, which, by the way, is not mentioned on any map on the Seattle Center premises.  But that’s ok. Thanks to a string of helpful (and equally perplexed) employees, we made our way to the entrance. Our reward? A wine glass of our very own! Yes, this was going to be a very nice afternoon indeed.

Hailed as a showcase of food and wine from the Northwest, this tasting event featured wines, spirits, and beers of the region, cuisine from local restaurants and hotels, and specialty items from regional businesses. (It also inexplicably featured Stella Artois which originated in Belgium, but I guess if you are prepared to sponsor the event, they don’t care where you come from.)

It didn’t take long for me to figure out two things:

1)    You could get hammered at this event in the blink of an eye.

2)    My mom and I could not be more different in our food/wine tastes.

Unless you were planning to spend the night under one of the vendor booths, there was no way you could try all the wines. There were 38 different wineries representing Washington alone (not including Woodinville, the featured wine region), and each winery had multiple wines to choose from: Cabernets and Pinot Noirs, Rieslings and Chardonnays. I’m a red wine person, so my strategy was to only taste award-winning red wines from vendors that didn’t have long lines. My mom basically drank every Riesling in sight because she wasn’t driving. It worked well, until we got to the Spirits aisle.

Skip Rock Distillers were making honest-to-goodness cocktails with their vodka! My mom went for a Bloody Mary while I had a Moscow Mule, made with potato vodka, lime, and ginger beer. It was tasty. I also tried a shot of Pacifique Absinthe. I was feeling great in the Spirits aisle!

I also had to drive us home, so I needed to eat. Luckily, at the end of the Spirits aisle stood a little booth called Top Pot Doughnuts which launched us into a new aisle: Desserts! I had come home. My mom, however, was full.

What? Full? But there’s always room for dessert! And these desserts were sublime (except for the bacon topped cheesecake). Herein lies the big difference between my mom and I foodwise. She could have camped out at the potato entrée booth the entire afternoon, or at Tim’s Cascade potato chip display where they were giving out bags of chips, or at the Washington Beef exhibit where she nearly swooned over a Beef Bourguignon. My swoon moment came from J.W. Desserts (previous owner of Amazing Cakes), where they were giving away these rich, creamy chocolatey squares of ecstasy. My mom wouldn’t eat hers! I couldn’t decide whether to be aghast or thankful that she gave me her sample. There are just some things I will never understand.

Our tastes did overlap in one crucial area: cheese. No one had a better, more comprehensive cheese display than good old QFC. They had mounds of cheese samples on elevated tables spread around their display area. Not only was it beautiful, it was delicious. Plus they had water! Boy, did I eat a lot of delicious cheese.

Next year when this event comes around again, I highly recommend it. It was a fun and filling afternoon and I have a whole new list of local businesses and restaurants I can check out further and new recipes to try.

Next time, though, I won’t be driving.


March 5, 2014 in Adventures in Parenting

Photo from

I can power through a lot of things. A bad cold or an allergy attack can’t keep me down, although it does change my exercise routine from an exhilarating sweat-fest into a medieval torture device. I can—and have—found ways to keep up with my regular schedule despite a badly sprained ankle, a never diagnosed but possibly badly sprained/strained IT band, six weeks of intra-oral stitches, sleepless nights, and general feelings of viral-induced malaise. But there is one thing that will shut me down completely and that is the flu, and I don’t even have to be the one with the flu!

On Sunday I woke up feeling nauseous and tired. As the day progressed, I felt worse and worse. By 1:00pm, I had to concede: the flu had me in its grip and my day ground to a halt. On the plus side, I got to watch the Oscars in its entirety, uninterrupted, in the comfort of my own bed, swaddled in comfy blankets, with a cup of ice water nearby because that’s all that I could fathom putting into my body.

I felt like crap, and I can’t tell if my inability to understand what Kim Novak was saying was due to the medications I was on or the ones she was on, but there were certain moments that made me feel better. Ellen. Jared Leto’s acceptance speech, which brought tears to my eyes. Matthew McConaughey’s acceptance speech. The elegance and beauty of Lupita Nyoung’o. The copious sightings of Brad Pitt in the audience and on the stage when he won as producer for Gravity. Pharrell William’s Happy and Idina Menzel’s Let It Go. The glamour, the humor, the great Bill Murray remembering his friend Harold Ramis…what a wonderful way to spend your time when you are feeling absolutely miserable.

Luckily, it was only a 2-day flu (one day of complete misery followed by one day of recovery), so by Monday night, I was ready to tackle Tuesday with a vengeance. I desperately needed to go to the store and had a bunch of errands that I needed to run. But my big plans got thrown out the window when my youngest son woke up at 3:00am with the flu. We were up making the trip from my bed to the bathroom from 3:00am-9:00am…poor kid! I could do nothing but shadow him in his misery, and he could do nothing but throw up. Our worlds had ground to a halt.

My older sons complained:

a)              “We have nothing good to eat!” meaning “We have no chips, candy, or other acceptable junk food.” But there was no going to the store.

b)             “It’s raining. Can you give me a ride to school?” But the car would not be leaving the garage.

Bills would not be paid, laundry would not be folded, and the broken oven would not be dealt with. About the only thing I could promise was that I would follow my youngest son around with a spray bottle of 409 and that we would watch way too much Spongebob Squarepants.

Today is Day 2 of his flu and we are both ready for him to go back to school! If all goes well, I’ll be able to tackle Thursday with a vengeance. And if someone new happens to wake up in the middle of the night with the flu, I just might lose my mind.