Monday, February 27, 2012

The Descendants: Movie Review

I try to watch a least half of the Oscar nominated best picture movies before the Oscars are awarded, but I really failed in 2011.  This past weekend I finally got around to watching The Descendants, 2 days before the award ceremony.  It was nominated for 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor for George Clooney, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.  It only left Sunday night with one award for the Adapted Screenplay - and I agree with the award.

The movie was quite unique.  In my opinion, it was a story about family love and how utterly complicated it can be, especially in the face of tragedy.  There was the love between father and daughters, husband and wife, distant family members and in-laws.  Mix all of that in with a wife who was unfaithful in her final months when she falls into a coma after a boating accident and you have one stressed out family.

Basic plot:  Big shot lawyer is a busy father and husband.  One daughter is away at boarding school because of discipline issues at home and the younger daughter is following the same path.  Wife loves extreme sports and is in a coma after a boating accident while out with another man.  When he husband it told that his wife will never wake up it's time to gather the family to say good bye.  This is when he learns from the older daughter that she was having an affair and wanted a divorce.  Meanwhile, his large family owns a giant piece of untouched Hawaiian land that will soon be sold and he's in charge of picking who will be the lucky buyer.  The two stories get mixed up while the family's life changes dramatically.

The acting was fantastic, but I expect nothing less from Mr Clooney, who is playing father, Matt King.  He can play the happy, jokester characters perfectly well because we know that's so much of who he is in real life yet he can move us in very dramatic roles as well.  I'm not sure he's ever made me cry, but the final scene with him and his wife was water works for me.

The two daughters in the move were played by young actresses I've never seen before but I was absolutely impressed by their skill and emotions.  They were dealing with some pretty serious stuff and played it very well.  Amara Miller who played the youngest daughter, Scottie, was fabulous.  It takes a lot for me to be convinced of young actors tears, she did a great job.

The story played out how I would expect to actually happen in real life.  There was some stuff that I agreed with and some that I didn't, but that's life.  I laughed, I cried and I was at peace.

I was moved to tears quite a few times during the show, and I wasn't the only one in the theater crying.

I definitely recommend the movie to anyone looking for a nice slice of life film.  There won't be any singing and dancing, there won't be any car chases or big explosions, but good look at love and family.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Kelly Clarkson: Concert Review

I love Kelly Clarkson.  I love singing along to her songs in the car.  Not just singing along, but belting out the lyrics the way she does, imagining that I sound anywhere near as amazing as she does.  I'm not a fan of American Idol, but I watched Season 1 and even voted for Kelly back in the day.  That was 10 years ago - can you believe it?

I'm a fan of concerts, live music moves me.  I especially love live music when the performer can actually sing and the lyrics are from the heart.  Kelly is perfect live.  She made it into the music industry singing live on air, we know she can actually sing without the help of the studio.  She writes her music and it's all very personal.

Kelly has been with me for 10 years on the radio. She's been with me through some great times and some horrible ones and her songs always seem to fit.  It was great to actually hear those songs live and have those feelings, good and bad, come back to me.  I welcomed the good ones with open arms and was glad to feel the bad ones knowing that as soon as the song would be over I could move on.

Kelly's performance was spot on.  She sounds amazing live.  She didn't miss notes or take any short cuts.  She even sang quite a few songs without a band, just her and the piano, so we could really hear her range.  It was a wonderful experience.  The girl can sing.  Nobody can take that from her.

The Fox Theater was a great venue for her.  It was full and while a large theater, it still felt intimate because we weren't in a huge arena.  The stage was pretty neat, to me it looked like a throw back to the stages in the 50s and 60s.

She sang all the songs that I wanted to hear.  She even covered a Whitney Houston song with a surprise guest - Exhale (Shoop Shoop) - with Tamyra Gray who was also on American Idol.  Man, I'd go to a Tamyra Gray concert!  That girl can sing, too.  The two of them singing together was pure perfection.  I'm sure someone has put a video on YouTube by now - check it out.

The night was just perfect.  I had my man with me in a beautiful theater listening to a perfect voice.  I can't say Thank You enough to Stephen for joining me at the concert.  I know he didn't want to go, but he did because I wanted him with me.  Such a great man.

The night was not without flaws, but they are easy to overlook because none of them were Kelly's fault.  Some people in the crowd were just plain obnoxious.  Kelly would be singing a song, just her and the piano, and the theater would be quiet and some idiot would yell, "I Love you Kelly!" Really, that's what you thought would make that moment better?  Thanks for adding that to my experience.  And maybe it's just our exact row, but the lights from the stage would sometimes catch us right in the eyes.  Quite annoying, but again, I'll look over that because of how great the show itself was.

I'd like to see the pop start of today try to do what Kelly did last night.  I dare them.  Bravo, Kelly.  Bravo.

(No, I don't have any pictures, I enjoyed the show without distracting myself with a camera)  :)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sleeping on the Sun

I've been neglecting the blog, I'm sorry.  Work is so busy lately the last thing I want to do at home is to get on the computer again.

Our bedroom doesn't get the heat that the rest of the house gets which means we sometimes freeze before going to bed.  And if you're on the losing end of the middle of the night tug of war for the covers, you're also going to be cold.  We have a space heater in the room, but they frighten me and it's sooo noisy in the middle of the night when it turns on.

Stephen had a great idea, since I'm always the one who is cold, why not get me a heated blanket.  So we ordered a twin size blanket just for me.  Not too bad, $30 for warm nights, I was willing to give it a shot.  This is where he blew my mind.  Instead of placing it between the sheet and the comforter like I'd done my whole life, he put it under our down mattress pad.  AMAZING.  I got 100% of the benefit from the blanket for a few nights with it folded in half beneath me.  It's so wonderful. I'm warm all night long and I don't have to sleep pressed up against Stephen to be that way.

Last night he wanted in on the action and we spread the twin across the bed, it fits the queen perfectly.  He got into bed when it was warm and said it felt like sleeping on the sun.  Amen to that!  Mabel also loves the new warm bed.  She's now sleeping right smack in the middle of the bed.  Thanks for all the extra room, Mabes.

Bonus nugget of information:  Making your own balsamic vinaigrette is super easy!  Someone at my office was nice enough to eat all of my salad dressing and I never remember to get more at Publix.  So I looked up a recipe and made some myself.  I made enough for the week so I'm set!

1 cup of olive oil
6 tbs of balsamic vinegar
2 tbs dijon mustard
2 garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all of that in a little tupperware container and take it to work!  (Did you know it had dijon mustard??  Me neither)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Operation: Paint the Bedroom

I haven't posted in a while, I'm so sorry!  Sometimes life happens and I'm too busy.  However, I had to share the newest project at the house - painting the bedroom!

When I first moved into the house we discussed paint colors for the bedroom.  We had decided on a coffee-ish color and got a few samples to put on the wall.  UGLY.  The other decor in the bedroom is too bright for any brown and one of the colors we picked looked like we'd rubbed poop on the walls.  Big fail.  Then it turned into the holidays and painting was put on hold.  Yes, we still have a squared of poop colored paint on the wall.

This past weekend we did a major house cleaning and the bedroom was really cleaned nicely and we even put more stuff on the walls.  The room looks bigger already!  When the cleaning was done Stephen joked that now that all of that was clean I'd have nothing to stress over.  WRONG sir!  :)

I was flipping through a Better Homes & Gardens magazine, a bonus of my job, and I saw a paint color that I immediately fell in love with.  It was a True Value paint called Surfboard.  There isn't a True Value paint store anywhere convenient to the house, so I headed over to The Home Depot to see if there was a paint color similar.  Jackpot!

After playing with quite a few samples I narrowed it down to two samples and brought them home.  Paint on the wall always looks so different than in a can or on a sample card so I wanted to be sure.  What's 2 more random paint squares on the wall?

I spent about 10 min painting a section of the bedroom and I'm soooo happy with our color choice!  We don't have big plans this weekend so I have a feeling I'll start the bedroom painting.  Moving the furniture will stink, but that's why I have a big strong man to help me with the moving.

What do you think?

It's a nice blue-green color that works perfectly with our bright, Nice picture and the colorful bedding.  Our bathroom is an apple green and they work well together (it's similar to the green on the bed).  

Can't wait to share before and after pictures!

Monday, February 13, 2012

La Grotta Ravinia - Restaurant Review

It's great to hear about a restaurant with great food and great service.  Stephen's mom raved about her experience at La Grotta Ravinia and told us we had to go.  I was even more excited when we had a $50 off coupon given to us.  We made the reservations for Saturday evening when they have live music and we used it to celebrate our Valentine's Day.

La Grotta Ravinia is located by the Perimeter Mall in the Crowne Plaza hotel.  It's quite a drive for us, but with the raving reviews that we'd heard, we made the drive.

Right off the bat we were questioning the good service that we were told so much about.  There was a line to check in at the host desk and the hostess looked like the was absolutely lost and terrified by the 6 people standing in front of her.  We had an 8:30 reservation and I'm not sure we were sat until close to 8:45.  I'm not sure what time the other people's reservations were for, but our table was definitely not ready when we got there.  They should work on their hostess, she's the first impression that customers have of a restaurant.

From there, sadly, our night didn't get much better.  We were sat at a nice table by the window and we could see the dance floor and the "band".  Our waters were filled pretty much immediately, and that's where the good service stops.  With our water came a plate of olive oil, no bread for 10 min.  Also, for at LEAST 15 min nobody came by to tell us about any specials, to see if we wanted anything else to drink besides water, or to even tell us he'd be right with us.  We were probably 3 minutes from getting up and heading across the street to Maggiano's at the mall.  When the waiter finally he came by, he said "are you ready to order?"  No apology for the wait, no explanation of the menu or the specials, just a question.  Olive Garden does it better than that, and the only have ONE person waiting on a table at a time.  We ordered our food and we didn't see our waiter again until it was time to get the check.

While the service was horrible, our food was outstanding which makes the bad service hurt even more.  I want to love the restaurant and recommend it, but not after the experience we had.  I ordered Veal Marsala and it was probably the best I'd ever had.  Stephen had Grilled Chicken and enjoyed every bite.

When we were done with our food, I actually spoke to the Saturday night manager.  He apologized for the service but tried to explain it by saying that each table has 2 waiters so it was understandable not to see our 1st waiter too often.  Well, that front waiter didn't do his job.  I would have loved a glass of wine while I waited and I would have loved to hear about the specials.  I saw another waiter at another table talk about specials (I couldn't hear) for quite a long time.  Disappointing.

The manager did give us two desserts on the house (one was accidentally put in a to go box, so they brought another one for the table.)  It made it all a little bit better, but we didn't really want dessert, I would have like a good dining experience.

I'm sure our experience was out of the norm.  All the reviews I've seen have been positive, but I couldn't ignore our horrible service and having a blog, I had to share.  We'll never go back to La Grotta Ravinia again and we won't recommend it to our friends, those in town or those closer to the restaurant.  We have plenty of great restaurants in town when we feel welcome and like they are glad we are there to dine.

Final review - 2 out of 5 stars.  So disappointed.  The 2 stars are for the food.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Downton Abbey - Series Review

Did you know that one of the best shows on television is on PBS?  And guess what PBS doesn't have - commercials.

I'm not quite sure how I heard about Downton Abbey, I think it was from a news article that talked about how visits to the house where it is filmed has doubled since she show has started to air.  I'm a sucker for historical fiction so my interest was peaked.  I knew nothing about the show but saw that Season 1 is on Netflix watch instantly one night when I had the house to myself so I hit Play.

I'm hooked!  I've watched the first 4 episodes of Season 1 and I'm tempted every night to stay up until 1am so I can watch the next episode.  I haven't looked to see if Season 2 is streaming, I don't want to be disappointed or tempted to look at any of the season plot lines.  (I did see that Season 2, episodes 1-5 are on the PBS website.)

The story follows the Crawley family and their lives in the fictional country house, Downton Abbey.  The  family has three daughters, both parents and a very involved grandmother played by Maggie Smith (Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter movies).  The first episode opens with the announcement that the Titanic has sunk and on the ship were two family members, the next heirs to Downton Abbey.  There is a law that prohibits the eldest daughter, Lady Mary, from inheriting the fortune.

Not only is the family interesting and a show on their own, there is also the house staff.  There are more of them then the family who own the house.

So far in just four episodes there has been quite a few twists and turns and shocking moments.  The show is like a period, British soap opera, without all the swapping romance partners and bad acting.  The wardrobes are to die for and who doesn't love a British accent.

I know I'm only early in the show, but I can tell it is only going to get better.  Ratings for the show are beating out some paid cable programming, which is unheard of for a show on PBS.  I love that it proves that you don't need the sex, scantily clad women, bad language and drugs to get viewers like so many shows on MTV, HBO and Bravo have been doing lately.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sip and Stroke - Painting Class Review

Painting classes aren't new to me, but Sip and Stroke in Alpharetta was when I attended a class Saturday evening as part of a birthday party.

Pleases Note - this review is not on Sips n Strokes with locations all over Atlanta, this is on Sip and Stroke with one location in Alpharetta.  I'm a pretty loyal person and when I heard about the new company who is obviously trying to use the branding that's already been built by Sips n Strokes to pull in customers, I was quite shocked.  It's a pretty blatant coping of the name and business.  Regardless, I'll continue with my review.

I bought a coupon for me and Stephen on SweetJack so our class was $25 each instead of $35 each - a great deal.  The class was to start at 7:00 but we didn't start painting until well past 7:30.  We did a lot of sitting around.  There was also a big group at the studio for an office party, but they weren't painting the same picture we were painting.  Absolutely annoying.  It's hard to hear instructors in a regular class, with 20 people talking while you're trying to get instruction was very difficult.  It also meant that we were pushed to one side of the studio and had a difficult time seeing the instructor. All of the other painting studios I've been to have had a stage for the instructor to stand on so they were visible to the class, not at Sip and Stroke.  It was very hard to see and I spent most of the class standing during instructions.

In other classes I've been to, the instructor makes it easy to follow her directions and tips. I found the class on Saturday to be very difficult to follow especially when the instructor wasn't even painting along with us.  She'd give instructions then walk away to do something else or have a smoke break.  That makes it very hard to ask questions.  She'd also cover the original painting that we were painting so we couldn't see what our end result should be.  I was pretty unhappy with the instruction.  We seemed to be an inconvenience rather than guests at her studio.  After a time I started to paint how I wanted to paint.

I will say, the instructor was helpful when Stephen and I were starting out to make sure our paintings could be displayed together.  We wanted our paintings to look like one large painting on two canvases, two of the same painting wouldn't have done us good in the same house.  She helped us get started and reminded us to make sure our horizon lines and mountains matched up.  We also had to remember to keep our painting styles similar and to make sure our colors could flow from one painting to the next.

I also think the quality of acrylic paint wasn't as good as what you'll find at other studios.  I'm a very heavy painter and with the paint that I was given I found it hard to get good coverage of the canvas.  It seemed to pull off the canvas easily, even after dry.  It also went on very thin.

At the end of the night, the class was fun because of the people I was with.  It's always great to have a big group of people in this type of class because we're all working from the same original picture, but at the end of the night, all the paintings are different.  I'm very happy with the end result of our paintings and I can't wait to hang them in the house.  I'll definitely attend another painting class, but I'll stick to the original.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

One Whole Year!!!

Today marks my blog's 1st Birthday!  I've been writing about my new experiences for a full 365 days.  I can't believe it.  I have 168 posts under my belt.  That's 168 new things that I did in the past 12 months.

When I started my blog I thought it would be a huge undertaking and a challenge for me every day.  It became just the opposite.  My habits have changed when I cook, I now take pictures as much as possible mid-recipe.  I enjoy new restaurants far more than I ever thought I would.  I love to share my personal thoughts and learnings with total strangers.

168 new things in 365 days.  My goal was to do one new thing everyday.  You can see by the number of posts that I didn't exactly hit that goal, but I was pretty close.  Some of my new things weren't just a one-day event.  I visited new cities, I learned to ski, I started a new book series.  If I take into account the number of things I did that took multiple days, I'm well over 200 days of new things.  Not so bad.  Some of my posts would recap an entire weekend, too.  I'm in no way discouraged with only 168 posts.

I'm lucky to have been able to share my experiences with so many people.  Nearly 3,000 visitors have checked out the blog from 10 different countries.  Some are coming to the blog based on some of the photos I've taken, others for restaurant reviews, some for movie reviews and others are close friends and family.  I'm pretty lucky.

Since February 1, 2011 I've learned to ski, seen 3 of my closest friends walk down the aisle, I've met the man of my dreams, moved into a new neighborhood, became a gun owner (not related to the move!  The gun came before the move was even discussed), I've taken on new roles in the office and I've found new restaurants all over the city that I love.  And that's the tip of the iceberg.   I've learned to cook so many new dishes and learned a lot about myself along the way.  Who knew I loved to craft as much as I do?!

While I achieved so many things, I also didn't do some of the things I had wanted to.  I didn't read Gone With The Wind, I didn't get a bikini wax, I didn't take an international trip.  But I'm not discouraged.  I still have the rest of my life ahead of me.  I'm going to keep blogging and keep trying new things to share with readers.

Cheers to another 12 months!  Thanks for reading.