Saturday, November 30, 2013

Magic Castle

When I was making plans to go to California for the Thanksgiving holiday, my friend who lives in L.A. really wanted to take us all to the Magic Castle in Hollywood, a pretty fancy place where you watch different magicians all night. I was skeptical at first (sometimes I think magic can be kind of corny, unless you're Criss Angel of course), but I was up for the adventure.

The castle itself is beautiful, and this is their 50th year in business! When you get inside, the atmosphere is amazing, with burgundy walls and low lighting, and the rooms are decorated throughout with old books, mirrors, portraits of magicians, and Magic Castle posters from the past. And the guests themselves looked great (there is a strict dress code), with ties and gowns and jewelry everywhere. We were lookin' pretty good ourselves!

We made our way to the Hat and Hare Pub downstairs to start. We were the only ones watching this man who called himself "Fitzgerald." He did a couple of card tricks, but he wasn't much of a showman, so we moved on quickly. Next, we saw Jon Armstrong, who already had a crowd with him when we arrived. He did card tricks, memorizing the order of the cards in the deck or dividing the deck into red and black suits after shuffling them. He also did several tricks with his "tiny plunger," a miniature plunger that could pick up the deck of cards; he made some members of the audience hold it, talk to it, or even have it plastered onto their foreheads (particularly a sweaty man named Ted). Random note, there were four Nicholes/Nikkis in that room, and we brought one of them! Anyway, then it was time for dinner (I'll talk about that later), and onto the main show in the "Palace of Mystery" (i.e. the big room). We saw David Kovac (the MC who looked like a handsomer version of Mr. Bean), who told jokes as well as did magic; we all agreed that his best trick was cutting open a lemon and finding a signed dollar bill from a member of the audience. Then there was Michael Rayner, who balanced shoes on his nose and spun a cheeseburger on top of a spinning umbrella, and had to do so with several VERY annoying members of the audience (it still amazes me how many adults don't know their limits and are perfectly content to make complete fools of themselves in public). Lastly we saw Arthur Trace, who said nothing but rather made magic art to the sound of music; his was the easiest magic to figure out: behind his easel were definitely some hidden levers/etc. After the main act, we knew there would be a rush to the valet, so we thought we'd stick around for one more show. The last act we saw was Ran'D Shine, and he was very good! He pulled eggs out of thin air, made coins disappear, and somehow got a $20 bill that someone had signed into a sealed cookie package! He brought up audience volunteers, and they actually helped make the show so great! He called upon a man in the front row who was very skeptical of magic and turned him into a believer. Taleen, a women in her late 20's (and quite drunk) was next, and whenever he asked her a question, she would give him two answers. "Do you know how I did that trick?" "Yes!" "You do?" "Um...I don't know..." or "Is the card in your hand black?" "Yes!" "It is?" "Oh, I mean no!" She was so silly that you almost wanted him to keep her on stage the whole time. He was our favorite act, so we're so happy we stuck around! The magicians were very talented, and I'm glad to see a venue like this just for magicians and fans of magic.

My only complaint about the Magic Castle would be that they require everyone to order an entrée in their restaurant (i.e. nothing under $28 per person) to see the main magic show. You only have to pay $25 at the door to get in, so let's do the math for the minimum a person would pay. You pay $25 and the door, don't get any drinks, and  pay $30 for dinner (you get the cheapest entrée, but then there's tax); that totals $55. I think from what I've described here, they're really low-balling themselves at $25 to get in. I would easily pay $50 just for the experience: the atmosphere, the magic shows, the idea that I probably won't have that chance to do this again, etc. So let's say they now charge $50 at the door, and you can choose whether you want dinner/drinks or not. If someone doesn't eat or drink anything, then yes, the Magic Castle has lost $5. But let's be honest: most people are going to get at least one drink (all of which cost more than $5), and I think a lot of people would want to try the restaurant. Even if someone only orders an appetizer for $8, the Magic Castle has still made $3 more than they would have originally. The food was good, but not incredible, so I felt silly paying over $30 for food that wasn't amazingly delicious. PLUS, if we could have just ordered what we wanted, no food would have gone to waste. We were a group of four petite girls, and none of us were able to finish our gargantuan entrées. It's such a waste: there are millions of people starving around the world, and here we were tossing out half of our salmon filets and lobster tails because we had to order entrées. The kitchen would save money if it didn't have to buy all of this fish and filet mignon that people don't even eat. In the end, I would much rather pay more at the door for this once-in-a-lifetime experience than pay extra on average-tasting food (with no presentation, might I add) that's just going to end up in the trash.  

Final thought: I had a lot of fun that night, but the Magic Castle needs to rethink their revenue plan, big time.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Joffrey Ballet's "The Nutcracker"

The night before Thanksgiving, I made my way to the Kennedy Center to see a performance of The Nutcracker. I saw it last year (performed by Ballet West), and I was very excited to continue my holiday tradition. The one downside to seeing this ballet is that it is frequently marketed to families, so there are always many children in the audience. And that night, one of them just happened to be sitting next to me. She was sitting on her father's lap, wriggling all over the place trying to get comfortable. While waiting for the show to start, she kept asking when it would begin, then started counting the seconds incessantly. To amuse herself, she played the game of "What's this?" with her father, pointing to different body parts: nose, lower lip, upper lip, etc. She also kept pulling at his tie, and even flat out told him it was ugly. Towards the end of the performance she started tapping her feet making a ruckus because she was becoming antsy. That man has the patience of a god. But onto the actual ballet...

Although I had never seen the Joffrey Ballet perform, their name is famous enough to expect greatness. They were the first dance company to perform at the White House, the first American company to dance in Russia, and the first dance company to be featured on the cover of Time magazine. Of course it isn't very fair to compare dance companies: each is made up of many unique artists with their own creative talents. But, I will say, I preferred last year's performance of this beloved Tchaikovsky ballet.

First of all, this one opened up with a hand-painted screen of the Christmas tree scene, with toys all around the tree and the nutcracker himself front and center. Although I can appreciate the work that it took to create this screen, the colors came out muted, and it looked crafty rather than artistic. The rest of the set was beautiful, giving the impression of a huge room with tall ceilings and a chandelier hanging right in the middle. Why not open right off with that? The Christmas tree was also kind of sad, since it was only two-dimensional (not like a real tree at all!). Although it did grow taller, it looked very unstable, and I thought at any moment it was going to tip over onto the dancers.

But onto the dancers themselves. The first thing I noticed about the company when looking through the program is how diverse the group is. In general, I think most people see ballet as a "white" activity, and I think all in all, that's still true. But there were dancers of all ethnicities and nationalities in this performance. However, I will say that the Joffrey Ballet took diversity a little too far when they included a child in a wheelchair at the Christmas tree party. Putting a child that is physically handicapped in a ballet is like throwing him into a swimming pool: that activity is all about the freedom of movement, which he does not possess. All I could figure is that he was the child of a major donor or something, and that's why he had to be included. I was also surprised that, with such a focus on people of all different kinds, they featured an African American woman as a maid and an Asian-American man as a servant: it's like they were pigeon-holing these traditionally-oppressed peoples back into subservient roles. They also featured a rocking horse wearing a Native American headdress, which seemed unnecessary. Mixed messages, no?

Now on to my comparison with Ballet West. For one, I didn't really care for the costumes in this Joffrey production. The gowns of the ladies during the first scene were fine, but I really liked how Ballet West matched the costumes of the men, women, and children; every family was color-coded in matching clothes, which I thought was really cute. When the nutcracker comes to life, I thought his mask was creepy, and the rat costumes were just thin gray outfits, unlike the adorable rolly-polly rodents of Ballet West. The death of the Rat King was also not as good as last year. I didn't even see him die: he was just carried offstage. Last year, the dancer who played the Rat King was very funny, laying on his back with all four limbs in the air with rigor mortis. I did, however, like how in this ballet, Clara's parents (played by Fabrice Calmels and Kara Zimmerman) were also featured as the Snow King and Queen. It makes sense that in a little girl's dream, she would picture people she knows, like her parents. And this rat army featured cavalry, so that was quite cute seeing rats riding upon pony-rats. But I found it odd that, in this show, there was a curtain call after the first act, as if the ballet were over. The only reason I could think of for doing this would be to let little kids think they had seen the whole show so the families could get home early.

Throughout the performance, I felt that the male dancers were much stronger than the ballerinas, which seems unheard of. The Snow Prince (John Mark Gitagosian) completely stole the show from the Snow King and Queen, and along with the Snowflakes (ballerinas) there were "Snow Winds" which I've never heard of, but that was one more way for the company to feature more men in the performance. And at the end, when the Nutcracker Prince (Dylan Gutierrez) had his solo, he was incredible, barely making a sound when he landed after jumps and such; the music was off-beat when he finished, but I blame the orchestra, not him.

More on the second act. The ballerina who played the Sugar Plum Fairy, April Daly, who looks a lot like Mira Sorvino, has the epitomic body of a dancer. But though her mouth was smiling during her performance, her forehead made her look like she was in pain (which maybe she was). She was quite good, but again, the Nutcracker Prince certainly upstaged her. I did not care for the "Waltz of the Flowers" (the equivalent of the Snowflakes but for the Sugar Plum Fairy). The costumes were more like dresses than actual tutus, and I didn't think they were important enough to call out by name in the program; there were also Cavaliers, again another chance for the male dancers to be a part of the production, who wore colorful tights that simply do not show off the male figure like white tights do. The "Divertissements" were hit or miss, too. First of all, I didn't like that all of the dancers came out on stage all at once before their individual dances. It took away from the surprise of seeing what each costume will look like. But, I thought using a fan while dancing was a nice touch for the Chocolate from Spain, and I usually don't like the use of props in dance. The Coffee from Arabia was BY FAR the best performance out of the entire show. This company made the dance a "duet" if you will, with Mahallia Ward and Calmels dancing together. The dance was extremely sexy and sensual, and both of their perfect bodies made the scene almost erotic. I was very disappointed to flip through the program and see that Ward would not dance as the Snow Queen or the Sugar Plum Fairy. The Tea from China dance was forgettable, and the Nougats from Russia were not nearly as good as Ballet West's performance; this is the only dance that is usually all male, and this time they added a woman, which I thought took away from the performance. The Marzipan Shepherdesses looked like they were missing their lambs (which would have been a cute touch, actually). And I was appalled that Mother Ginger was not played by a man, but rather a large puppet (the puppet was controlled by Francis Kane, who isn't even listed in the program). The only good thing about her part were the adorable Easter-egg-colored costumes that the children wore when emerging from her voluminous dress. The second act was far better than the first, but I wasn't completely in love.

It's not all their fault, though, that I was underwhelmed. Although I enjoy the music of The Nutcracker, and I like traditional ballet/dance, the story itself is not actually one of my favorites. For one, I do not like some of the characters of the ballet, so it is difficult for me to like the dancers who play them. The character of Dr. Drosselmeyer, the Godfather of the main children, Clara and Fritz, always confuses me: sometimes he's old, sometimes he's young, but no matter what, he looks like Kevin Kline playing a creepy pedophile. And Clara annoys me as well. Is she supposed to be a child or a young woman? She's always played by one of the main dancers (not a child dancer), but I do think she's supposed to be a little girl. So then when the Nutcracker prince shows up, he looks like a pedophile, too! I think I just have a hard time with the juxtaposition of ballet and children. To me, ballet is very sexy: it includes people with incredible bodies who are wearing next-to-nothing and touching each other quite intimately. When you add children to that, it just makes it seem dirty and takes away from the glamor of the entire idea of ballet. This particular performance featured WAY too many children. Kids should be in the opening scene, and come out from Mother Ginger's skirt, and that's it. But they played the rolls of dolls throughout the performance, popping up everywhere when I wish they had just gone back stage and taken a nap.

If you thought this review is mean, read what I wrote about Ballets with a Twist. No, I'm not a dancer: I just know what I like (or don't like...)!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Rant

It seems like I am the only person who is not 100% gung-ho about Thanksgiving. It's not that I think it's a bad idea. I really like the sentiment of dedicating a day to giving thanks for all of your blessings: friends, family, health, etc.

But just as Christmas has become all about presents and Santa instead of Jesus Christ, Thanksgiving has transformed, too. It makes sense that Thanksgiving is an American holiday: it is the epitome of the stereotype of the US. We spend the day watching (American) football, napping, and eating. And eating. And eating. It's an obesity holiday! You can show you are thankful for everything you have in your life without force-feeding yourself a humungous dinner at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Americans are already fat gluttons: do we need a day to celebrate it?

I say my prayers every night and thank God for everything He has done for me, my family, and others around the world. I don't need a day to give thanks. I do it EVERY day. And so should you. Besides, God can hear you better when you aren't giving thanks with your mouth full.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Importance of Friends

I saw this Amish proverb on Beliefnet: “The time to make friends is before you need them.”

I have always been the type of person who prefers to have a couple of really good friends rather than have lots of acquaintances. In college, I certainly became a more social person, especially after joining a sorority, but I still always had a few close friends. I was so thankful for those relationships when I was going through my post-breakup-college-no-job phase; they were so supportive and always there for me. I was so glad that I could count on them, and I know they're still there for me now. I've made many new friends since moving to DC, and my social circle seems to be growing by the minute (mainly with other young women new to the city). Perhaps some of them will become new besties; hopefully I can be someone they can count on, too. I count all of my friendships as wonderful blessings, and since Thanksgiving is tomorrow, I just wanted to make a shout-out to all of my friends, both old and new!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Movie Review: Haute Cuisine


I generally enjoy independent/foreign films, so when I didn't see Haute Cuisine at the local independent movie theater, I was excited that I could watch it Netflix. The premise of the movie (based on a true story) is that this woman, known for being an excellent cook, is hired to be the personal chef of the French prime minister. While the P.M. loves her home-style cooking, there is drama between her small kitchen and the main kitchen that serves everyone else. The movie actually starts with showing her in Antarctica; everything in France is a flashback. So you learn that after all of the drama in France, she leaves and becomes the cook at a research base in Antarctica. Although I enjoyed the movie, there really wasn't much action: nothing really happened. Inside you hoped that she was having an affair with the P.M. or something like that, but it never really got that exciting. So I give it three stars: it wasn't bad, but it wasn't amazing either.

PS: It is in French, so you will need to read subtitles, FYI.

Monday, November 25, 2013

American Voices at the Kennedy Center

This weekend, I went to see "American Voices" at the Kennedy Center. I usually go there for more classical performances, like the National Symphony Orchestra or the ballet, but this was something more modern. I was mainly interested to see Josh Groban and Alison Krauss, but I was open to seeing the other performers as well. Here is a list of everyone and my thoughts (in no particular order).*

Alison Krauss:She sang "Ghost in this House," which I had never heard before. It was a very moving song, and I really liked it. I was sorry though that she didn't sing "When You Say Nothing at All" which is my favorite song of hers. And I'm not sure why she was wearing a black trench coat on stage: she looked like she had stepped out of The Matrix

Josh Groban: Same comments for him. His rendition of "Smile" was good, but I really like his most famous song, "You Raise Me Up." I also would have enjoyed it if he had sung something in Italian. At the end of the show, all of the singers got together to sing a song, and Groban barely participated. I know you're cool and famous, Josh, but if everyone else is going to sing in a group, you should, too.

Renée Fleming: She is a big name in opera, and she was actually the hostess for the night. I thought she was a great MC: very funny, well spoken, good all around. At one point she was wearing a silly gold cape; I'm not sure who her stylist is, but he/she should be fired, both for that and the pant suit she wore at the end. But I was there for the music, not the clothes, and she does have a beautiful voice.

Kim Burrell: Her specialty is gospel music (she's a pastor!), and I thought she did an amazing job. She actually had the chance to sing twice (most of the artists only sang once), and I was happy I got to enjoy her voice for a longer amount of time. Again, a comment on the clothes: her first outfit enhanced her already large bosom; her second one look like a bedazzled Snuggie (although it was more conservative, which I liked). Anyhoo...All in all my feelings were very positive about her. I'd love to hear her sing Christmas carols!

Sara Bareilles: You may recognize her as a judge from The Sing-off TV show, and her most famous hits are "Love Song" and "King of Anything." She sang Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brook Road" which was fine, but a crowd pleaser would have been one of her own songs. She was dressed as a school girl, with her precious white sweater with a little collar poking out of it and an A-line skirt. She also sang a duet with Ben Folds (see below).

Ben Folds: He also was on The Sing-off , and perhaps that's why he got the chance to sing with Sara Bareilles. Anyway, he's a big name in the music industry, but I think it's more for the business side than the Hollywood side of stardom. He's an average looking guy who always wears these silly sneakers, and I personally think he's better at playing the piano than singing. He engaged with the audience, asking us to harmonize with the song, which was fun. But then he started teasing us, asking us to do harder and faster harmonies, at which point I just started giggling because I got so confused.

Sutton Foster: She is a Broadway actress (and has been on a few TV shows, too). She sang "Anything Goes" which is fine within the musical, but when pulled out of context, it seemed very out-of-place compared to the ballads we heard throughout the rest of the night.

Norm Lewis: He performed a song from "Ragtime" which didn't surprise me at all since that play is about African Americans; the song choice was so obvious it was cliché. He has a very nice voice, but I would have preferred to have heard something more unexpected.

Dianne Reeves: She has a very powerful voice, and I really enjoyed listening to her sing "When You Know," quite a romantic song. Her sparkly red top was very appropriate for the occasion. She had great energy! She also tried to get us to sing along, but most of us were unenthusiastic. We just weren't prepared to sing ourselves in the Kennedy Center!

Eric Owens: He is an opera singer, but while he has a very large voice, I couldn't understand most of the words he was singing. And, no, it's not because he was singing in a different language. He didn't enunciate his words, so it made it difficult for the audience to understand him.

Kurt Elling: He actually was unable to perform that night because he got sick. In his place were two music students, and I was quite impressed! The girl played the bass (my favorite instrument), and the young man sang "All of Me," which I associate with the movie "All of Me" from the 1980's.

*This note is a disclaimer that I am not an expert in any musical genre, and my only real interest in music is singing along to country music when I'm driving in my car. Obviously I don't know much about music because I was just as interested in their clothing as I was in their songs. So, take this post with a grain of salt, and I recommend that you listen to all of these performers and make your own judgements yourself.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Why I'm dating an older man

Recently I've been seeing a gentleman who is much older than I am. I'm not talking geriatric old (I'm no Anna Nichole Smith), but he is about my parents' age. But I have good reason for doing this. Lots of reasons.

1. He doesn't consider playing Call of Duty for a couple of hours a date. He doesn't own an Xbox or a Play Station console. He doesn't play video games at all, actually.

2. He doesn't talk like Borat, saying things like, "Very nice!" in that silly accent.

3. He knows his limits and doesn't have the "I need to be drunk to have a good time" attitude.

4. He doesn't pretend to know about things to seem "cool." I heard some boys (yes, they are still boys at my age) chatting, saying they wished they had gone to the Kanye West concert to listen to him "lay down some beats." white boys don't know what you're talking about.

5. He would never wear plaid shorts slung low on his waist while riding a skateboard (or while doing any other activity for that matter).

6. He enjoys going to see the symphony and appreciates classical music and simply the act of culturing oneself.

7. He has manners. He shows up for our dates on time, he gets the car door for me, he pays for dinner (unless I've specifically said I'm taking him out). Finding a younger guy who can even get the first part right is a stretch.

8. He doesn't play with his cell phone when he's with me. I don't even know what type of phone he has. I've never seen it.

9. He lets me know he likes me in a polite way. Young guys tend to play games, trying to be aloof and act like they don't like you. Or they're the exact opposite and clingy as hell. This man strikes a balance. He lets me know he's thinking about me with a text saying hi, or an email with an article he thinks I'll like. But he doesn't follow up his message with another one a couple of hours later saying, "Did you get my message?" And he doesn't use dirty talk to give me a clue that he's into me. If I had a nickel for every time a young guy said something disgustingly sexual as a come-on, I'd be a billionaire by now.

Need I go on?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Moonlit Monuments Hike

Last weekend I went on a moonlit hike around the monuments in DC. I think the last time I visited the monuments was on a school field trip, and even then I'm not sure if I actually remember the trip or I just assume I went to DC at some point on a field trip because I went to school in Maryland. Anyway, here are a couple of photos from our walk. I apologize that some of them are fuzzy: the lighting just wasn't very good!

We started at the Washington Monument. From there you could see the top of the Capital.

Then we moved on to the World War II Memorial, which has pillars all around the perimeter of this beautiful fountain representing the states (and DC).

Here is the Washington Monument from the WWII Memorial. There is still a lot of construction going on with the Washington Monument from the 2011 earthquake.

Next was the Lincoln Memorial (you know, that thing on the back of every penny). It looked spectacular in the dark!

Inside is the statue of Abe himself. He looks good as new after some crazy woman tossed green paint all over him earlier this year.

Then we saw the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, which is quite new. You walk through this large stone (actually cubes of stone all put together; the rock came from China), which represents his quote, "Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope."

His statue is HUGE! Around the memorial are more quotes from King; very moving!

Then we walked to the FDR Memorial, which I didn't even know existed! This one is very large with several different areas. It's like a maze walking through there!

This part of the memorial is really interesting. There are impressions of faces, hands, people, etc. along with braille. The community of people with disabilities really relate to FDR, hence this section.

There were several waterfalls throughout this memorial. And I'm not sure if it was jasmine or gardenia, but there was a LOVELY floral smell throughout the memorial! Mmm!

Here is FDR with his little dog!

Last but not least was the Jefferson Memorial. I actually took this photo from the MLK statue.

And I feel silly admitting this, but I didn't know there was an actual statue inside of this memorial! He's so tall that no one can reach up to wipe the cobwebs off of his face! This memorial has special meaning to me because it's where my dad proposed to my mom!

I know at some point we did see the Korean War Veterans Memorial, but because it was so dark out, none of my photos came out. But that one is really amazing! There are 19 statues representing soldiers, and then on the wall behind them are engravings created from real photographs of real veterans.

I recommend checking them all out! They each are unique and have something different to offer!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fashion Trends Guys Hate

I recently read this article in the Huffington Post: Because I'm a woman, I clearly have different ideas about this. But here's what I think:

I agree with a lot of these. The pockets-out-of-shorts is definitely silly because your shorts should never be THAT short; the wedge sneakers and any hats besides baseball caps are dumb. Shoulder pads have not made a comeback like other trends (ex. crop tops), and I'm not sure they will. The same goes for high waisted jeans: some people are trying it, but in general, I don't think that's a trend that will last. I'm more of a mid-rise person myself. Bows should be left for Minnie Mouse; hammer pants should be left for MC Hammer. And shirts where you can see the bra are silly because they are clearly too big. Just buy a smaller shirt! Fold over ankle boots don't look good on anyone, and fake nails are SO impractical (I let my natural nails grow a little out so that they make my fingers look long and thin, but I don't let them grow SO long). 
 And I am amazed by how many women still think men like lots of make-up. I have NEVER met a man who liked getting foundation all over him, and if you wear a lot of make-up, and then the morning after have no make-up on, that man is in for a rude awakening; if she needed that much make-up to begin with, she's probably not that pretty. I've always preferred natural-looking make-up (though a dark/red lip every once in a while can be sexy for special occasions). Embrace your natural beauty!
Some of these trends only look good on certain body types. Mullet dresses work for very tall women, but would make me look like I'm drowning in the dress (hence why I don't wear maxi dresses). Pant suits can look very flattering if they have a feminine cut and fit LIKE A GLOVE; a suit that isn't tailored to your specific body is never going to look good. Bandeau bikini tops sometimes look good; sometimes they don't. I have a couple, and I'm a fan, but I like my bikinis with straps as well.

But I like a lot of these even if boys don't. Peplums are definitely a hot trend right now, and I actually just bought two peplum tops! Leggings can be very sexy when worn the right way (and if you have a cute butt!), and while I can see why men don't like over-sized sweaters (since they hide a woman's figure), I like them because once the sweater comes off, you realize you have a thin girl under there! I love bangles for summertime, and in general jewelry is just an easy way to add a little something to an outfit. Super-high heels are very sexy, IF a woman can walk in them. I agree that a girl teetering on her shoes about to fall over is not hot. But if she can walk in them, I love it (and I'm talking stilettos here. I don't like platforms or really chunky heels). High waisted skirts actually are very flattering because they accentuate a woman's curves. All of these low-rise bottoms just aren't as flattering to a woman's natural shape (i.e. muffin top). I will say I prefer pencil skirts that are high waisted than A-line, so maybe that's what this article means. And pointy-toed shoes are like the finger nails: they give the appearance of length, and therefore make things look thin. I do prefer pointy-toed go-to black pumps: they make me feel tall!

What are your thoughts? What trends do you like (or hate)?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Christmas Shopping

It may seem like this post is a little premature, but just like with everything else in my life, I'm a planner, and I like to get things done early. So I've already started my holiday shopping, both for my friends and family as well as for myself; I can't spend a whole day shopping without finding some goodies for me! So here are some of my tactics for holiday shopping:

1. Make the gifts  personal. This is #1 for a reason. I HATE receiving body sprays or bath salts or anything along those lines. You could give that to any girl. It has no sentimental value and is not related to me; this shows me you put absolutely no thought into the gift. I always try to give people something that shows that I specifically picked it out for them: something about their favorite animal/color/food, something they mentioned in passing, etc. It makes your friends feel special!

2.  Buy things on sale. This is not to sound cheap, but when there are so many sales going on this time of year, it seems silly to pay full price on anything. Plus, then you can get people multiple gifts for the price of one!

3. Shop early. This just makes sense so that your stores aren't out of everything and you don't have to deal with the stress of waiting until the last minute.

4. Re-gift. I see nothing wrong with re-gifting as long as you do it politely (ex. don't use the gift and then try to give it away; don't give it back to the person who gave it to you, etc.). Maybe one of your friends loves the scent of lavender, and you just happen to have received a lavender body wash for your birthday (see rule #1). There you go!

What are your holiday shopping rules?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Dos and Don'ts of Dating for Men

There have always been social normative rules for dating. Yes, they change over time, but in general, I think the rules for a man wooing a woman are essentially the same. The main sentiment should be that the man wants her to feel special. That's the gist. So here are some dating rules to do that (or things that will NOT make her feel special).

1. Old Fashioned Chivalry: Open doors. Pull out chairs. Help her into the car. These are certainly not necessary, and I usually don't notice if a man doesn't do these things. But when he does do them, my mind is blown. These little things can make a big impression!

2. The morning after: If she stayed the night last night, even if nothing happened in the bedroom, you should still be nice to her. Offer that she can use your shower (and your blow dryer). Ask if she'd like breakfast, or if she'd like to go to breakfast. If not, you can offer to walk or drive her home, or at least walk her to the metro. Notice that all of these are "offers." Even if she doesn't take you up on any of these, the fact that you asked means a lot.

3. Make plans: Nothing ruins a date from the get-go more than you showing up and saying, "So, what are we doing?" Unless she suggested an idea already, the girl is figuring you've got something up your sleeves. So when you straight-up admit that you didn't think ahead, you're telling her, "You're not worth thinking about unless you're right in front of me." The girl wants to be in your mind all the time! She wants to know that you like her! So when you don't try to make plans ahead of time, you're just resting on your laurels, which doesn't impress anyone.

4. Paying the bill: Since the feminist movement, this is probably the main game-changer in dating. Going dutch (or splitting the bill) is becoming more popular so that everything is fair/equal. And some women feel like if they planned the date (ex. it was their idea to see a comedy show), then they should pay. But most women still really appreciate it if the man pays for dinner/what-have-you. I always make sure to say "thank you" more than once when a man treats me on a date. It's a big deal!

5. Punctuality: One of my biggest pet peeves is when people show up late (not just dates, but friends, family, etc.). Tardiness is a smack in the face that says, "My time is more valuable than yours." When a man shows up late on a date, he's got to spend the rest of the date digging himself out of that hole. You want to show a woman respect? Show up on time. Show up early? She already wants to take you home.

This list could go on and on. What would you add?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Eli Young Band at Rams Head Live!


Last night I finally made it up to Rams Head Live! in Baltimore. I've been to many of the well-known concert venues closer to DC, like the Fillmore in Silver Spring, the Strathmore in Bethesda, the Kennedy Center, the 9:30 Club, etc. So I branched out and headed up north.

Rams Head Live! is nestled in the Power Plant, where many restaurants and bars are located, so that makes it easy to grab dinner and drinks before a show. The Power Plant is a go-to hang out spot in Baltimore, so it is easily accessible, and there is plenty of parking around the area. Inside, the concert venue is similar to other places, with a large open standing area surrounded by balconies around the perimeter higher up. There are several bars throughout for convenient drinks. I've already bought tickets to see Panic!at the Disco there, so clearly I enjoyed the venue enough to go again!

Now for the musical acts I saw. The opener was Eric Paslay, whose hit "Friday Night" easily gets stuck in my head. He did a great job, and I respected him even more when I learned that he wrote his own songs, even Jake Owen's "Barefoot Blue Jean Night." Following him was our headliner, the Eli Young Band. The crowd went crazy when they played "Drunk Last Night," but everyone also enjoyed their old favorites like "Crazy Girl" and "Even if it Breaks Your Heart." I will ashamedly admit that I didn't realize that "Eli" and "Young" are the last names of two of the band members; I just assumed the lead singer's name was Eli Young! Does that make me a bad country music fan?

The venue is cool, the bands were great, the crowd wasn't rowdy at all (granted, it was a Wednesday night...), so definitely a good night!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Favorite Fall/Holiday Foods

There are some foods that I just don't eat (or can't even get) until the fall/holiday season. Here are a list of my favorites:

1. Pumpkin: This really should go without saying. I LOVE me some pumpkin everything: Starbucks lattes, pie, scones, ravioli,the list could go on and on. Here is a recipe for my favorite pumpkin cookies from Nestlé:


  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 can (15 oz.) LIBBY'S® 100% Pure Pumpkin
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • VANILLA GLAZE (recipe below)


PREHEAT oven to 375° F. Grease baking sheets.

COMBINE flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Beat butter and sugar in large mixer bowl until creamy. Beat in pumpkin, eggs and vanilla extract. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto prepared baking sheets.

BAKE for 15 to 20 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely. Drizzle or spread with Vanilla Glaze.

FOR VANILLA GLAZE:  Combine 1 cup powdered sugar, 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons milk and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract in small bowl; mix well.

2. Sweet Potatoes: Sweet potatoes are under-rated. They are not nearly as popular as pumpkin, but I think they are very tasty! Sweet potato pie, sweet potato hash, mashed sweet potatoes with brown sugar and marshmallows...Heck, I'll even just bake a sweet potato in the microwave as a snack!

3. Hot Chocolate: Although I sometimes drink hot chocolate at random times in the year because my office at work is quite chilly, I usually only have it when it's really cold out. My favorite kind is the Ghirardelli white chocolate mocha. And if I've got marshmallows on hand (maybe extra from the sweet potatoes, hmm?), those are definitely goin' in there.

4. Peppermint Bark: I like mint-flavored desserts, from Andes mints to ice cream. One time in high school, a friend of mine bought me a tin of Williams-Sonoma peppermint bark, and I've never looked back. Every Christmas, I have to have it.

This list could go on forever, so I think I better stop. What are your favorite holiday foods?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Ralph Lauren Fashion

I love those days when my outfit looks like it came right out of a Ralph Lauren catalog. It looks like I'm supposed to be riding a horse or walking along the countryside or watching a polo match.

The only thing that is actually from Ralph Lauren is the wool sweater. The shearling jacket is from L.L. Bean, the Bandolino boots are from DSW, the skirt I found at Current Boutique, and the belt was from my mother (since she doesn't wear it anymore). This is sort of the girly version of what I wore to the Gold Cup horse races. I just love the preppy look (and this kind of preppy rather than the bright kelly green or bubble gum pink polo shirt with shorts that have lobsters or whales sewn on them paired with Sperry boat shoes). This look is perfect for the fall when it's not too cold out, so get out there now before the snow falls and we're all stuck in puffy coats!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Miss Universe Pageant

I'm not sure if you were able to catch the Miss Universe pageant last night, but I wouldn't miss it! Anything that has to do with beautiful women, I wanna watch it: the Victoria Secret's fashion show, America's Next Top Model, you get the idea. I think this is because I'm a perfectionist, and these women are "supposed" to be the epitome of a beauty. I will admit that I'm quite critical, and I definitely enjoy "standard" forms of beauty. So I wasn't all that impressed with our contestants this year: even just a slightly long nose will make you lose my vote. I was also surprised to see several contestants with short hair cuts (I don't think I had ever noticed that before at Miss Universe!), and to see brunettes representing Denmark and Norway! I couldn't even come up with a top 5 because that's how few of the women I thought were truly exceptionally beautiful. However, only one of my top 5 made the top 15, so obviously I don't know what I'm talking about! The one who made it was Amy Willerton, Miss Great Britain. She is the love child of Gisele Bündchen and Blake Lively. Or Cindy Crawford without the mole. I also really liked Miss Israel, Miss Belgium, and Miss Bolivia. (Photos are from From left to right: Great Britain, Israel, Belgium, and Bolivia.)

And of course it's not just about the women themselves, but the fashion! The costumes from their native lands and the ballgowns are so amazing! Rhinestones, feathers, and sequins, oh my! I couldn't even pick out a favorite because they were all so gorgeous! Most women will only get to dress like that on their wedding day (and even then, the dress probably isn't as extravagant!). It's like watching celebrities on the red carpet! Below are some of my favorites of their country-land costumes. Latin American contestants always seem to go all-out for this part of the competition; those are the bottom four photos. (All pictures are from

But then I contradict myself when I think about pageants. We still have pageants in the 21st century? Really? It seems so archaic, judging women on their beauty and volunteering activities. It was sad last night how few women mentioned jobs, probably because a lot of them don't have them: doing pageants is what they do for a living. Now, I realize that if you want to win a lot of pageants, and big ones like Miss Universe, you really do need to dedicate your life to it. But in this age of feminism, when there are so many choices for us and what we can do with our lives, why not strive for more than beauty and grace? Many of them spend their free time reading to blind children or building houses for the homeless, which is very admirable. But it's hard for your average audience to relate to the lives of these women: You look pretty and help out your community...while we're working 40+ hour work weeks at a desk or outside and barely have time for ourselves, let alone time to help others. And maybe that's why we like watching pageants: it's a whole other world outside of our reality, where the women are stunning and wear sparkly dresses everywhere, like Disney princesses come to life.

Who were your favorites? What did you like or dislike?

Friday, November 8, 2013

Ethiopian Food

I just tried Ethiopian food for the first time. All I knew about it was that they use a lot of spices and that you have to eat with your hands. And that's still all I really know about it. Yes, there were spices, but all of the flavors ended up merging together. In the end, lentil paste, chickpea paste, and split pea paste all taste the same. Even the chicken and beef plates tasted identical because the meats were in the exact same sauce. What really confused me was why we were eating pastes in the first place when you can't use your hands. Wouldn't solid foods be easier? You have to eat everything by ripping off little pieces of bread (called "injera") and pinching the different foods between the bread and quickly shoving the bite in your mouth before it lands in your lap. I mainly went for the most solid foods (pieces of cabbage, baby carrots), and I will say the bread is tasty (and has quite an interesting texture!). But, I don't like messy to begin with, and eating in this manner has messy written all over it. I swear, the next time I eat Ethiopian food (if there is a next time...), I'm sneaking in a fork (or a spoon rather).

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Definition: Gamification

noun: gamification
  1. the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g., point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service.
    "gamification is exciting because it promises to make the hard stuff in life fun"
    I heard this word the other day, and though I may have heard it before, I didn't really understand what it was until now. It's actually a pretty clever idea, especially in today's society when young people spend a lot of their time playing video games on Xbox, Candy Crush on their smart phones, and Farmville on Facebook. This is how people like to spend their time. So how can we get young people to do something useful with their time? By tricking them into thinking it's a game! Many companies are starting to reward customers with "badges" and the like to encourage them to buy certain items, or take a certain action, etc. I just think this is a very interesting way for businesses to engage with our technology-inundated society. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Movie Review: Trishna

Photo from

I'm into foreign films, and Netflix has a lot of them. The last one I watched was Trishna. Now, I'm going to preface this post by saying that I am not from India, nor do I know much about the culture. So anything I say here is from a Western point of view; I am not trying to offend anyone: I'm just coming from an outsider's perspective. And there are spoilers!

At first, I was really enjoying the film. The title character was played by Freida Pinto, who is gorgeous; I could watch her all day. I was taken in by the loving family, the beautiful saris, the dedicated daughter who works hard to provide for her family. She even moves away from home to work at a hotel, and soon starts taking classes to learn more about the hospitality field. Up until this point, I'm enjoying myself and really like the protagonist. But then it all went downhill.

Of course there's a romance aspect to this movie, and that's fine. I expected it. But I didn't expect such a seemingly strong woman to turn into a stupid girl and that her man friend would turn out to be a complete asshole. He seduces her, and since she's a "good girl" she of course feels ashamed and dirty afterwards. A couple of days/weeks later, after she has left the hotel to get away from this man, you see her vomiting, and immediately I'm thinking, "She's knocked up." So she and her parents go to the doctor; I'm not sure whether that was to confirm that she's pregnant, or because they really don't know why she's vomiting and not menstruating (really?). Anyway, she has to get an abortion, and now has brought shame to her family (or at least her father can't look at her the same way).

Weeks/Months later, her lover shows up, asking her why she left and saying that he couldn't reach her by phone. HE KNEW WHERE SHE LIVED! If he really cared about her, he would have gone to her house, taken her back, and married her! And even though I can clearly see he's a jerk, she agrees to move to another city and live with him as a kept woman. So much for being a good girl...

Now she's no longer working, and it seems like the only things she does is go to dance classes and have sex with this man. One evening they're in bed, and he confesses to having slept with some of the girls they hang out with (duh). So she fesses up to the abortion (which, by the way, how come she isn't pregnant now that they're having sex all the time? He usually uses a condom but forgot that one time?). He gets very angry with her and leaves the apartment the next day, so she's all alone. Eventually she finds out that she has to leave because he stopped paying the rent (what did he think would happen to her?).

He does come back, acts all surprised about the apartment thing, and then asks her to move with him to work at another hotel. She agrees, and essentially becomes his sex slave. She serves coffee and food to hotel visitors, but every time she comes to bring him something (picture this: he's lounging around the hotel reading the kama sutra pretty much every day), he has to fuck her. And it gets more demeaning as time goes by: he makes her dance for him; he makes her strip for him in broad daylight; he makes her sleep with him when she says no.

Finally, she can't take it anymore. She goes to the hotel kitchen, gets a HUGE knife, and stabs him in the stomach over and over again. She then washes off the knife, tucks it in her bag, and goes back home. I'm thinking, "You were an idiot to be with that man in the first place, but at least you finally stuck up for yourself!" But soon after, she stabs herself with the same knife; whether this was because of the guilt she felt, or if she knew she'd get caught, or something else, I don't know.

So in conclusion: I can't stand movies that feature dumb female characters. You thought you could sleep with a man and not get pregnant? You thought a man who doesn't bother looking for you for some time after sleeping with you would actually be good to you? You thought leaving your family to live with some strange man and sleep with him all the time was a good decision? Really? Really? Stupid girl.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Being a Bridesmaid

Next year, I will be in one of my friend's weddings. I assume the next ten years of my life will be full of weddings, but since this is the first one, it's a big deal for me.

This couple has been dating since forever (they dated all through high school AND college), so we all knew it was only a matter of time before they tied the knot. But now that the big day is only a couple of months away, everything is so exciting! I am so happy to be a part of their big day! And I'm glad that my first friend wedding is with such an easy-going bride. No bridezilla to deal with! I'm thinking this will be a super-fun, no-stress occasion, which makes being a bridesmaid quite easy. I know I may not be so lucky with all of my friends, so I'm happy to ease into the whole bridesmaid thing.

Here's a photo of the dress (but it'll be in a different color that's not available online). We're all going to look so pretty and fabulous!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Crisp fall days

This weekend and today in the Maryland/DC area, it has been GORGEOUS! I know some people aren't looking forward to the cold winter (and don't get me wrong, I prefer warm weather), but I really can't complain about a beautiful fall day. Even if it's chilly out, as long as it's sunny, I am a happy camper. I was outside all day on Saturday, and it was just so pleasant out! I even wore a dress on Sunday! And this morning, when I was walking to and from the gym, my first thought was, "Brr, it's cold out!" but then I immediately changed my mindset to, "It is going to be a wonderful, sunny day. You can't beat that!" So, if you don't like the cold, just try to stay positive! Because, really, how can you be grouchy when it's so bright outside?! And with the time change, we get to see a little more sunshine (for at least a little while...). Get outside and enjoy!