Wednesday, August 6, 2014

SUMMER VACATION 2014, DAYS 4 AND 5

Not much to report the last couple of days… we visited Ludington yesterday and had a great time. We even ran into Camille’s Aunt Theresa and Cousin Deb as we were coming off the pier walk. (I know Theresa is reading these, so there’s your shout-out.)

Today was a day where if we had plans, we abandoned them and just lounged. Tomorrow we finish up the “wine scavenger hunt” in Traverse… should be fun.

Until then, I’m just proud that I made a fire to make S’Mores with (by the way, S’More with Reeses Peanut Butter Cup is so good it should probably be a venial sin) and didn’t burn my mom’s cottage down. :)

Monday, August 4, 2014

SUMMER VACATION 2014, DAY 3: “SEND LAWYERS, GUNS, AND MONEY…”

(No need to get nervous from the title, Rabbit Holers… I’m a big Warren Zevon fan and that was the song that was playing in my head earlier today when I ran into a little situation. More on that later.)

Day 3 of summer vacation started blissfully, as Camille and I were thoroughly unmotivated for most of the morning. Since that is the point of vacation, we felt no real guilt.

However, we did want to take advantage of nature, so we decided to go for a hike. Luckily, there’s a great scenic nature trail nearby that we first took advantage of last year, so we definitely knew we were going to repeat the experience this year. One great thing was that due to my weight loss and increased exercise this year (that is, ACTUALLY exercising for a change) the four-mile hike didn’t bother me at all. Sure, I sweated, but I sweat most of the time. To not be out of breath and actually able to go over hill and dale and still have enough energy at the end proved to me that what I’ve been doing this year is definitely worth it.

One thing that wasn’t worth it was the amount of bugs on the hike. They haven’t really been bad around Mom’s cottage, so when we forgot the bug spray this morning, we just shrugged our shoulders and though, “No big deal.” We then shrugged our shoulders and flailed our bodies much more as we went along the hiking trail, as the bugs of the forest sensed fresh meat and went for us with great gusto. Fortunately, no major bites, but I felt as if I was a horse, waving my baseball cap to ward off the flies as if it were my tail.

After a healthy and delicious picnic lunch packed by my lovely wife, we headed back to my mom’s cottage for more R&R. You know, to break the monotony of the usual R&R. I decided to earn “good son” points and take my mom’s trash to the local township dump. That began my adventure of the day, as finding the local township dump proved a bit difficult. Thank goodness for cell phones, as I was able to call up my mom; she was then able to lead me to my destination. Much like Clark Griswold finding Wallyworld, however, I had a similar experience: dump was apparently only open on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

So, faced with the stench of garbage bags in the trunk of our rental car, I did what any good vacationer would do in such a situation: panic. Driving past a local playground, I noticed some tall white barrels that appeared to be trash receptacles. Stealthily parking the rental out in the open field of the playground/parking lot, I looked left, right, and behind me: no one appeared to be watching me. I quickly opened the trunk and, holding my breath, quickly moved all of the trash into the white trash barrels of the park.

Jumping in my car, it seemed to be the perfect crime. However, my short ride back to the cottage then became very Kafkaesque, as I noticed two different county sheriff vehicles on my way back, one parked in the township hall parking lot, presumably to catch speeding summer people, and another on the open road. When the deputy vehicle on the open road did a quick turnaround to then follow me for a bit on the main highway, I felt as if I were now a character in a lesser Poe novel: “It was the trash… the hideous, stinking trash!” My panic subsided, however, when the deputy vehicle passed me and sped away, presumably to catch a speeding summer person who was on the move. I arrived back at the cottage to text my Mom a “LOL” about the situation, using the phrase “Send lawyers, guns, and money…” to start my text to her. And now you know… the rest… of the story.

Next, we headed into Baldwin for dinner at Pompeii’s Pizza, a regular tradition. They’ve been named “Best Pizza in Lake County” for 15 years running, and while the pizza IS good, I’m not sure how much of an accomplishment that really is. Nevertheless, for once the service wasn’t totally abysmal (which is, admittedly, usually part of the charm) and we enjoyed a good pie. Following Pompeii’s was the other Baldwin tradition: Jones’ homemade ice cream. Always good… Mackinac Fudge for me (no peanut butter cup, unfortunately… first world problems) and chocolate for Camille. Properly sated, we returned home for more… you guessed it… R&R.

Looking forward to Day 4 tomorrow... I'll try not to do any semi-illegal dumping tomorrow if I can help it.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

SUMMER VACATION 2014, DAY TWO: CAMILLE'S BIRTHDAY IN TRAVERSE CITY

Traverse City and Leelenau Peninsula was awesome... We stopped at Blackstar Farms first and had a good, healthy lunch. Healthy except for perhaps the Cherry Sparkle cocktail (which was cherry wine, riesling, and mint syrup). Yes, I am a manly man... why do you ask? We then toured Blackstar, first checking out the farm animals. Pigs were cute (they're always cute before they're delicious) and the goats were even cuter. I made another request to have a goat at our Wyoming home that was swiftly turned down by Camille. Some day...

After buying a bottle of cherry wine at Blackstar, we then went to Silver Leaf Winery. At the suggestion of some Interlocheners (residents of Interlochen), we purchased a "Winery Passport." You pay $25 and you get free tastings at 10 different wineries. They stamp your "passport" as you go. When you've collected all the winery stamps, you get two free commemorative wine glasses and are entered in a drawing for prizes like a night's stay in a B&B, etc. So it ended up being sort of a scavenger hunt for wine, which we were definitely into. We did 5 of the wineries on the list today and are going to do the other 5 on Thursday.

After stopping for some afternoon coffee and sundry supplies at this local establishment in Traverse known as Starbucks (inside another local establishment known as Meijer's), we then found a place right by Traverse Bay to eat... Harrington's. Good food... service was a bit slow but when you have a view as we did, can't complain too much. Camille had fish and I had a steak. All in all, a great birthday for Camille, if I do say so myself. :)

Back to the "Fortress of Solitude" (my Mom's cottage), which lived up to that name tonight as Mom's annoying WT neighbors seem to be gone after the weekend. Thank goodness for small favors.

Looking forward to more Life of Riley tomorrow... a man could get used to this.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

BRENT’S MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE MOVIE RANKINGS

BRENT’S MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE MOVIE RANKINGS

Since I've seen Guardians of the Galaxy tonight (10/10 IMDB, 5/5 Rotten Tomatoes - it was awesome), figured I would rank the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (Doesn't include the X-Men films, Fantastic Four films, or Spider-Man films because they're not part of the "shared" Marvel Universe.) Feel free to respond with agreement or dissent. :)

1. Guardians of the Galaxy
2. Avengers
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
4. Iron Man
5. Captain America: The First Avenger
6. Thor
7. Thor: The Dark World
8. Iron Man 2
9. Iron Man 3
10. Incredible Hulk (2008)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

406.5

On January 2, I weighed myself on the trusty Weight Watchers scale and the number came back: "406.5." This was the heaviest I have ever weighed.

It wasn't that I was much surprised. I weigh myself regularly, but plentiful holiday eating had pushed me to this new brink. I couldn't ignore it anymore; I was over the 400# mark.

I would like to say that was "the final straw," but I'm not sure it was. Nevertheless, as it was after New Year's Day, the typical New Year's resolution kicked in: lose weight, get healthy. Not that I hadn't uttered that every year for perhaps the past 15 years, but here we were again: me making the usual failed promise to myself.

After suffering a cold, I had some weird chest discomfort, and then some pain/discomfort radiating into my left arm, starting on Sunday, January 5. Since I didn't have any shortness of breath or other symptoms, I just chalked it up to pulling a muscle, perhaps while snow shoveling or something of that nature. (Unfortunately not due to exercise; I haven't lifted weights as exercise in quite a while.)

Still, as the pain persisted, and I had a couple of sleepless nights on Monday and Tuesday, I then decided I needed to go in on Wednesday, January 8, and get checked out to make sure it wasn't anything more serious than the psychosomatic symptoms my wife and I thought I might be suffering from. Stupidly, I went to an Urgent Care center first. I should have just went to the ER, as the Urgent Care center physician, upon hearing my diagnosis of chest pain and looking at my weight and other factors, performed an EKG. The physician said the EKG showed possible signs of an enlarged heart, and there was fear that a myocardial infarction (heart attack for you laypeople) may have occurred or may be on the precipice of occurring. They gave me some baby aspirin to chew down. The physician told me I needed to get to the ER immediately. AMA (Against Medical Advice), I decided to forego the ambulance ride and drive myself the 10 or so miles between the Urgent Care center and Metro Health hospital in Wyoming, close to where I live.

Now, for reference, I have not been admitted to a hospital ER since I was 6 years old. That visit was precipitated by being hit by a tow truck (another story for another time, if you're not familiar with it from knowing me), and I suffered three skull fractures. Since then, I had managed to keep myself out of the emergency room except to visit when a family member or friend had been admitted for reasons wonderful (birth of a child) or not so much (anything related to death and not to life).

To Metro's credit, I was taken back immediately to be hooked up to another EKG and have bloodwork performed. I also would have a chest x-ray performed. Being wheeled through the ER, shirtless, on the way to the chest x-ray, was certainly a surreal experience and perhaps the main reason I'm clinging to my newfound determination. However, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Admittedly, justifiably (perhaps), I was freaked out, to say the least. Trying to contact any of my family members, I used the wonders of the Internet age to Facebook message my mother, brother, and sister regarding the situation. I couldn't find my wife. Camille has a cellphone but rarely turns it on. I wouldn't have the clarity of mind to try her work number; when I eventually did, I left a message for her to call me on my cellphone as soon as the message would allow.

I did reach my father, and at that point, I broke down in tears. Scared that something incredibly significant was going wrong with my health, I had the frightening feeling that 39 would be it for me. Overreacting? Sure. I have the tendency to do that from time to time. Still, as I mentioned before, this was my first time being admitted to an ER in 29 years, and for a moment I thought it might be the last.

The EKG and chest x-ray apparently came back clear, and since they were able to get my blood pressure under control, they released me under my own recognizance, with the instructions to take a baby aspirin performed until a cardiac stress test could be performed. (Wonderfully, a nice nurse at Metro did provide me a pre-warmed blanket at some point to cover up my top level nakedness. The pre-warmed blanket is definitely a luxury to be had, though I certainly didn't need to go through this type of experience to receive one.)

I may have been physically cleared, but mentally, I was on the ragged edge. Wednesday and Thursday brought only fitful sleep. Friday and Saturday, I maybe got 3 hours (if that) each night. Finally, we got to Sunday and Monday, January 12 and 13, where I slept absolutely no hours at all. I still had the weird chest discomfort, and in reflection, I probably had an anxiety/panic attack. Understandable considering what I had gone through, but again something I had never experienced before in my life.

So, here we are. My typical New Year's resolution to "lose weight, get healthier" has been crystallized by this incident. It's no longer a resolution; it's a necessity. I want to be around for at least 39 more years. I have many more goals in my life to accomplish. I need to be around to take care of my wife and have her take care of me. She and I are going through the process of possibly adopting a child. I want to be around for that child to grow up. Hell, I want to be around for me to grow up.

I am using Calorie Count to record what I eat, trying to stay under 2000 calories a day if possible. I found a nutritionist plan online on what to eat, health wise, besides the calories. I have tried to exercise, getting on the treadmill for 30 minutes and walking at a reasonable pace. One naturally warm January day since the incident, I actually took a 20-minute walk outside. The results have been good so far. I am down 16 pounds since January 2 (at least back under the #400 mark, thank God). I have much more to go, but I am setting my goals 10% at a time. That is, lose 10% of my current weight, then another 10%, etc. My "BHAG" (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal) is to get under 200# eventually, but 10% at a time at first. I will make it. I have to make it. It's not a matter of empty promises and "resolutions" anymore. Not to use too much hyperbole, but it's do or die.

The stress test is scheduled for January 28. It's a two-day affair, and it should be an interesting experience, of which I will blog further. My personal care physician Dr. Koepnick thinks it will come back clear. I am still having the weird chest tightening from time to time but the symptoms are not debilitating, just bothersome. Dr. Koepnick gave me some alprazolam (Xanax) to take to help sleep at night. That, along with taking melatonin, seems to be doing the trick for the most part. I still wake up sometimes and have some anxiety, but overall, at least I've been able to sleep.

I will continue to use this blog to document my process as I move forward. Hopefully, we continue to see positive results. However, 2014 has started out in a very interesting manner for me, to say the least, and I expect it will only get more interesting as things go along. We shall see. However, I can guarantee you one thing: I will never be 406.5 again. One way or another.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

MAN OF STEEL (2013) – WARNING: SPOILERS!

One of the first movies I watched on VHS when I was a kid was the original Superman. I was already a budding comic book geek back then, but that movie certainly pushed me over the edge into fanboy-dom. As a kid, you don’t necessarily recognize all the flaws, and Superman 1 and 2 are certainly flawed movies but, again, as a kid, they were awe-inspiring.

Then you had Superman 3, which was embarrassing in its attempt to shoehorn Richard Pryor, who absolutely did not match the tone of what a good comic book movie should be. We’ll barely mention Superman 4, which was cheaply made and it showed. Even good ol’ Christopher Reeve disowned that abomination.

In 2006, we had Superman Returns, and considering that was directed by Bryan Singer, who had acquitted himself well with the X-Men movies, I went into the theater very hopeful that I was going to recapture some of that boyhood magic I had when I viewed the original two Supermans. Unfortunately, Singer was TOO reverent of those movies, and so we had an awkward attempt to continue the Superman from the 70’s into the 2000’s, and it just didn’t work.

So, I went into Man of Steel tonight with some trepidation. Would it be another letdown like Returns? I am happy to say it is not. In fact, and this may be blasphemy to the 8-year-old Brent Alles, but I think it’s the best Superman movie ever made.

That’s not to say it’s perfect. It has flaws. However, on the whole, this perhaps best captures the essence of Superman and not once makes you roll your eyes at corniness or anything of that nature.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: Henry Cavill. How did he do? He did fine. Christopher Reeve remains the best Superman ever. Sorry, but you’re never defeating that icon. Brandon Routh did fine as well, but anybody playing Superman will always have to be in Reeve’s shadow. Heck, Reeve himself couldn’t really get out of the shadow of Superman! However, Cavill is a good actor; and he does a good job here at conveying the uncertainty of being a “stranger in a strange land,” so to speak.

Michael Shannon is also a good actor, but he also has a shadow to step out of, that of Terrance Stamp as the original General Zod. He also cannot quite escape that original shadow. Stamp was just so memorable, uttering lines like “Why do you say this to me when you know I will kill you for it?” Shannon definitely has intensity, but his performance as Zod is a bit one note, all things considered.

Amy Adams also doesn’t quite work as Lois Lane. She does all right, but I think the chemistry between her and Cavill just isn’t quite there. I do like the fact that they removed the silliness of Lois Lane not being able to figure out that Superman is Clark Kent right off the bat. Fortunately, there was no silly “memory removing kiss” in this movie as there was in Superman 2. Adams is definitely better than the cardboard Kate Bosworth, but Margot Kidder still remains the best Lois Lane.

Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are PERFECT as Ma and Pa Kent, though. Especially Costner. This is perhaps one of his better performances in a LONG time. You really get the struggle that Pa Kent has to let his son run free or hide in order to protect himself.

Russell Crowe also does a great job at Jor-El. He’s actually better than Brando was at it, no lie. He brought necessary depth to the role that really helped move the story along.

Now, after the nitpicking above, why do I still say that it’s the best Superman movie ever made? Because of the sheer scope of it. We’re given a full-blown Krypton, with mystical beasts and science fiction galore. We’re given truly epic battles in Smallville, Metropolis, and elsewhere that aren’t just mindless battles but mean something to the overall point of the movie. I was riveted the whole time, unlike Returns, where I had fits of interest but overall had that gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach much as I had when watching The Phantom Menace.

No post credits scene, but I really wish they would have had the following: Show the back of a certain bald-headed individual and just hear a voice saying, “We’re going to have to do something about the alien.” THAT would have been awesome. Oh well… maybe in the next sequel, which I think is going to struggle to match the impact that this movie has. After defeating Zod and all his minions, where do you go from there? It will be interesting to see.

GRADE: A-

Friday, March 8, 2013

SPRING VACATION 2013: THE REST

As usual, my procrastination (and, in my defense, lack of wi-fi in certain areas on our vacation) leads me to summarize the rest of the trip today.

TUESDAY

Our travel down to Norco, CA, home of Bill and Mary Koster (Uncle and Aunt to me), was not as fraught as yesterday's journey. We started out with Mexican Breakfast at a small place in Morro Bay. If you've never had chips and salsa as part of your breakfast, I say that you're missing out. I had huevos con chorizo (or something something), which was delicious when placed in tortillas.

Thus Mexicanated, we set out for Norco. Our halfway stop today was Santa Barbara. We walked the pier and took in the general sights as much as we could. You really could spend a week in any of these cities... we, of course, crammed several into one week. C'est la vie.

We arrived in Norco and had a great time catching up with Uncle Bill and Aunt Mary. They took us to a place called the Wingspot for some awesome boneless wings - garlic parmesan was to die for. (The healthiness quotient occasionally got away from us this week, but again, it's vacation.)

WEDNESDAY

Onward to San Diego today, to take in the zoo and anything else that caught our fancy. The San Diego Zoo is awesome but tiring. We started with a guided bus tour to get the lay of the land, and then we walked the entire length of the zoo anyway. We got to see many animals up and around this time as compared to two years ago; the polar bears swimming around and playing for the audience was a real treat at the start of the day. While many other animals were napping, the big cats seemed restless for some reason - wonder why.

After a tiring but enjoyable day, we took in a little of Balboa Park before heading back to Norco, stopping along the way in Temecula, which has a great "old town" and also a burgeoning winery community. Since it was too late to visit the winery community, we took in "old town" and ended up at a biker bar/restaurant called Texas Lil's. Great burgers there. The waitresses were dressed up like... uh... loose cowgirls, shall we say? I only make these statements as observations, Dear Readers. I was focused on the burger.

Back home for more QT with Bill and Mary and then to bed.

THURSDAY

Today was "LA Day," as we headed into La La Land to catch a taping of "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson," which is one of my favorite television shows. The tickets were free, but we had to arrive at CBS Studios at least 30 minutes ahead of check-in time (3:00 p.m.). However, not being confident in the traffic being anything but hellacious, we chose to arrive even earlier, which was good because there was a student group of about 27 waiting for the taping. The studio only holds 160, so between those students and the rest of Craig's fans who were in attendance yesterday, I don't think we would have gotten in, which would have meant a wasted trip to LA.

We had a healthy lunch at some place called Freshii (no, really, it was healthy!) in the Farmer's Market, which is a combination of shops and restaurants. It's a bit of a tourist trap, but it gave us a good place to park, since the CBS Lot was not surprisingly full when we arrived.

We then stood in line for about an hour (Camille's patience was sorely tested; while she likes certain elements of the Craig Ferguson show, it's certainly not one of her faves, and she didn't have my undimmed enthusiasm to get her through the long wait). After that, they let us in to pass through the security check: no cellphones, cameras, etc. We left our technology in the car (and Camille's purse in the trunk) to make the process easier. We then got to sit on a bench (fortunately the predicted rain held off while we were there) while the 1iota people (coordinators of the tapings) gave us the run-down of how to act, that we were "show enhancement," etc.

We then went up four flights of stairs to the studio. We actually got prime seats, middle of the third row up, so we could see over the cameras and the whole studio, including the "stable" of Craig's pantomime horse Secretariat (Camille's favorite "character" on the show). While the current studio is larger than Craig's previous studio (butt of much of his jokes), it still appeared much smaller than it does on television. The wonderful tricks the cameras can play, don't you know.

The warm-up guy Chunky B was slightly annoying (especially to Camille), but energetic enough to get us primed for the show. He told some pretty corny and off-color jokes, if only to ready us to laugh at anything that happened on the show. That wasn't too difficult for me, as I think most of what goes on "The Late Late Show" is funny.

We had a double taping, since Craig tapes Friday's show on Thursday. It was interesting to see how they shot things slightly out of order; I'm curious to see how the final product comes out. The first guest was Zach Braff, formerly of Scrubs and now the voice of a flying monkey in Oz, the Great and Powerful, I kid you not. Zach was there to promote the film that premieres today, but the humor in his interview mostly came from the fact that he apparently shot a television pilot with Craig back in 1989. Much laughs were had at the corniness of Craig's televised amazement of Zach's character using a 1989-era Game Boy.

Alison Brie from Community was supposed to be the next guest, but she was apparently ill, so Gillian Jacobs from Community took her place. Gillian was absolutely adorable and was game to play along with Craig's usual "improvisational style" interview. She even tried to play the rusty trombone! (Don't ask.)

It was surreal to be there live and in person, to watch Craig have quick conversations with Michael the producer, etc. I had never been to a television taping before, so I'm glad that this was my first (if only).

The second taping's guests were Chi McBride (you'd recognize him from a lot of stuff; he's currently starring in CBS's new show Golden Boy). He was very funny and also played along well with Craig. Also present on the second taping was Laurie Holden, "Andrea" from The Walking Dead. Considering she's usually dressed down on the zombie apocalypse show, she cleaned up real well, as they say, for the taping, dressed in a very attractive red dress that definitely caught Craig's eye, if you catch my meaning.

The taping wrapped up and we headed back to the car. The only negative was that the CBS pages wouldn't let us use the restrooms after the taping wrapped, so after 3 1/2 hours, our bladders were sorely tested. We also tried to get out of LA at rush hour, which is a delight. Fortunately, we were able to find some facilities in Azusa, and all was well.

FRIDAY

And so we reach the end of our fabulous trip to California for 2013. We crammed many sights and sounds in during this week, and we definitely look forward to returning when we get a chance. I hope that you've tolerated my written ramblings about our journey as well. Until next time...