June 26, 2019

Younger on Hulu and TV Land

My current guilty-pleasure tv jones is the comedy series, Younger, broadcast on TV Land but streaming now on Hulu.

The Broadway triple threat, Sutton Foster plays Liza Miller, a 40-year-old New Jersey mother who splits from her husband of two decades to create a new life for herself in Brooklyn. Trying to get a job in publishing as middle-aged mom, long out of the game, proves nigh impossible, so Miller creates a 26-year-old persona who promptly gets an entry level job at Empirical Publishing. Her demanding boss, Diana Trout played by the hilarious Miriam Shor has her schlepping coffee and dry-cleaning.

Her besties include Debi Mazar, an OWL (older wise lesbian) who lets her crash in her artsy loft apartment, and Kelsey Peters, a twenty-something co-worker at the publishing company played by Disney actress/singer Hilary Duff. The men in her life (besides the ex who just can’t let go), are the tall and handsome Peter Hermann cast as the middle-aged owner of the publishing house, Charles Brooks and Josh, a 26-year-old tattoo artist hipster played by the buff ink-decorated Nico Tortorella.

Her 40-year-old self frequently collides with her new mid-twenties life as she valiantly switches clothing, speech and demeanor to suit the situation. I learn something new about pop culture and slang with every episode. (What IS a meme?) Thanks to interesting side characters and a plot that keeps evolving, this is no one joke sit-com.

The episodes are 21 minutes long so binge-watching two or three episodes in a sitting is a little too easy. Season 6 was made available on Hulu June 12, 2019. You won’t always buy the improbable situations, but this is the perfect fluff when your brain cells don’t need too much of a work-out.

You might also get to see some theater-heavy guest stars like Kristin Chenoweth, Martha Plimpton, Christian Borle, Laura Benanti, Kathy Najimy, Camryn Manheim and Lois Smith.

Game of Thrones Withdrawal Lingers

Nine years ago, I tried to read The Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. I was overwhelmed with strange names, places and vocabulary. In frustration, I threw the book down, yet continued to watch the HBO tv series with avidity.

In my current throes of Game of Thrones withdrawal, my brother-in-law suggested I try reading book one of the series again. Lo and behold, all of the main characters were now familiar to me so I no longer felt like I was reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Book one is actually a page-turner. As in any book versus movie adaptation, the prose allows you to get a deeper sense of character, motivations are clearer and the palette of people and place descriptions is much richer and wider. Book Two, A Clash of Kings awaits on my nightstand.

If you have deep pockets and are a rabid R. R. Martin fan, you may want to consider attending the Carl Sandburg Literary Awards Dinner, an annual benefit for the Chicago Public Library Foundation. For $1250, you will be invited to a dinner honoring Chicago authors with George R. R. Martin as the special guest, along with U of C poet/essayist Dr. Eve L. Ewing. An acclaimed Chicago author will be at every table.

This is one of the yearly highlights of literary Chicago. Plus, you just might get to meet Martin. He has a B. S. and M. S. from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism so this is a homecoming, of sorts for him.

A member of SongShop used to play Dungeons and Dragons with Martin, back in the day. The next time you see me, you can guess who this might be!

For now, reading the books is prolonging my obsession with this fantasy series. Let me hope that a Game of Thrones intervention won’t be necessary. Any ideas on the perfect novel antidote?

For information on the Literary Awards Dinner:
https://cplfoundation.org/events/carl-sandburg-literary-awards-dinner/

Crazy Rich Asians Book and Movie

Book clubs have been caught up in Kevin Kwan fever with his trilogy of novels, Crazy Rich Asians, China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems.

Janet Maslin of the New York Times used the adjectives “snarky,,, wicked… funny” in her review. “Escapist” is the word I would use. Who doesn’t want to imagine what being a billionaire is like with private jet travel, unlimited shopping budgets and eye-poppingly lavish parties for one’s friends and family?

Rachel Chu unwittingly starts dating the fabulously wealthy heir to a Singapore fortune. She thought her boyfriend was merely a fellow middle class college professor in New York. A visit to his home country quickly makes it clear that his family and social set do not consider her “wealthy Asian” enough for their handsome financial prince.

After a successful run in theaters, Crazy Rich Asians, the movie, is currently streaming on several web platforms. The film does a decent job of capturing the humor and lightness of the first book making it the perfect weekend entertainment after a hard week at the salt mines. We get to see the Asian one percent frolic which gives another layer of escapist exoticism.

A literary devotee sniffed that the writing was not very good, but I say, that is not the point. A soap opera plot, interesting characters and a foreign setting are the selling points in both the three books and the one film. There will always be high demand for movies and novels that don’t take themselves too seriously.

Bring on the caramel corn and fizzy blush wine.

HBO – More than just Game of Thrones

Just when I was about to cancel my HBO subscription after the Game of Thrones final season, I discovered a few other worthy things to watch on this premium cable channel.

For those of you who have read one or more of the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante, HBO’s treatment of the first book in the series, My Brilliant Friend may be your small cup of espresso. The eight episode season, in Italian with English subtitles, depicts the friendship between Lila Cerullo and Lenu Greco, two young girls living in 1950s Naples. We get a snapshot of the entire Italian neighborhood including parents, children, teachers and business owners.
Rivalries between families, romantic attachments and even gender discrimination are seen through the eyes of Lenu as she manages her relationship with her brilliant but troubled friend, Lila, in this literate mini-series.

Even darker is the five episode series, Chernobyl which gives an account of the infamous 1986 nuclear reactor accident that occurred in the former Soviet Union. Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgard and Emily Watson give stellar performances as some of the professionals who try to discover what happened and what actions to take to limit damage to the area and its inhabitants.

The Soviet Union itself is the “bad guy” as officials try to cover up details, sacrifice workers knowing that radiation will kill them and search for the least politically damaging ways to contain the catastrophe.
This is a real life cautionary story that hardly seems 33 years old and has much to say about the current treatment of our environment today.

I give a guarded recommendation for Barry, a very dark comedy vehicle for the singular talents of Bill Hader (8 seasons on SNL) and Henry Winkler (the Fonz on Happy Days). Hader plays Barry Berkman, a contract killer who discovers a love of acting when he is tasked with murdering one of the acting students. Winkler is acting guru, Gene Cousineau who takes Barry under his wing. Stephen Root as Monroe Fuches, Barry’s murder pimp is outstanding, as is Sarah Goldberg as Barry’s actress girlfriend. Anthony Carrigan, he of the bald head and no eyebrows is hilarious as a Chechen crime lord wanna-be.

My reservations in heartily recommending this program stem from the amount of violence seen in every episode. This is the Three Stooges with lots of guns and bloodshed. If that does not put you off, this may be your gallows humor show for the acting alone.

HBO is trying to keep us watching and for now, it just may be succeeding.

PUR PFM4505 Stainless Steel Style Horizontal FM with Mineral Clear Filter

For years, I have had water delivered to our residence. The big jugs of purified H2O were a challenge to lift onto our dispenser, but I loved the taste of the water and the convenience of ready chilled clean-tasting liquid.

A PUR attachment on someone’s kitchen faucet got me thinking. How much money could I save if I switched to using the water from my own city tap?

Finding a poor selection of faucet models in brick and mortar shops, I turned to Amazon for purchase of the PUR PFM4505 Stainless Steel Style Horizontal FM with Mineral Clear Filter. My husband, who is decidedly not a plumber, was easily able to attach the device to our kitchen faucet.

Happily, the resulting PUR filtered water did not have the odd taste of regular city tap water.

The faucet attachment and 3 replacement filters were under $100 so we are well on our way to saving money on our monthly water delivery service.

Please read the companion article on Voss water bottles. Perhaps, like me, you may want to examine your water consumption and ways to make your behavior more green.

Studio 54 documentary on Netflix

If you are intrigued by New York night life of the late 1970s, check out Studio 54 on Netflix. Half buddy flick and half documentary, the film portrays the business and personal relationship between Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager.

The pair opened the famous mid-town Manhattan dance club in 1977 and attracted celebrities such as David Bowie, Bianca and Mick Jagger, Calvin Klein, Michael Jackson, Bette Midler, Elton John and Liza Minnelli, among many others. It was the place to go for disco dancing and liquor, and for those so inclined, drugs and public sex.

The house of cards came tumbling down in 1980 as Rubell and Schrager were sentenced to jail for tax evasion. Rubell subsequently died of AIDS, but Schrager continues to this day to be an entrepreneur, hotelier and real estate developer. Interviews with Schrager are the heart of the film as he talks about this storied time decades ago.

The documentary features archival footage of the interior decor, the extravagant production effects and the array of revelers disco-dancing the night away.
Ah, for a time machine to take me back one night to Studio 54. The documentary is the next best thing.

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore

During our recent tour, Claudia Hommel and I stayed with a wonderful couple in Pittsburgh. The husband had worked for years in the air brakes division of Westinghouse. As luck would have it, I had recently finished a book entitled The Last Days of Night, a delightful historical fiction account of the electric rivalry between Edison, Tesla and Westinghouse of Pittsburgh.

The author, Chicago-born Graham Moore, has used many real life characters and woven fictional adventure and romance into the engaging plot.

While Erik Larson’s Devil In the White City gives an historically accurate account of the battle between Edison’s direct current and Tesla’s (backed by Westinghouse) alternating current, Moore imagines how this rivalry played out in their personal lives.

If you are interested in late 19th century America, The Last Days of Night will be an illuminating reading experience. Owners of Teslas will surely be tickled to know more about their car’s namesake, a decidedly eccentric but brilliant inventor.

Chicago Architecture Center, new location on Wacker Drive

I finally got to check out the new Chicago Architecture Center (CAC) on Wacker just east of Michigan Avenue.

Architecture buffs will rejoice that Chicago architects get their due in this modern museum between the Hyatt Regency and One Illinois Center, the Mies Van de Rohe office center at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive.

Current exhibits include the stunning “Building Tall” on the second floor which contains models of famous skyscrapers throughout the world. Chicago architects came up with several building techniques that allowed ever higher structures including the Hancock and Sears/Willis
Tower.

Not to be missed is the Chicago City Model Experience in the lower level. A short, but comprehensive film on Chicago architecture informs both the tourists and the locals. The exhibit features 4,000 building models of downtown and environs.

Walking and boat tour tickets can be purchased at the CAC entrance. A gift shop is located in back of the ticket area.

As an added benefit, the CAC boat tours board just below at river level. The Chicago Architecture Center’s address is 111 E. Wacker Drive while the Chicago’s First Lady Cruises Dock is 112 E. Wacker Drive.

http://www.architecture.org/

The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story Season 2 on Netflix

I am giving a guarded recommendation for the FX incepted true crime drama, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story Season 2. My only reservation is the graphic images of violence that linger in the brain long after the nine episodes have been viewed,

The acting is outstanding with bravura performances by Glee-ful actor Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan, Edgar Ramirez as Gianni Versace and Penelope Cruz as Gianni’s sister Donatella. Judith Light, Ricky Martin and Michael Nouri are some of the supporting actors that turn in solid performances.

The production team has opted to tell the story of Cunanan’s murder spree backwards with Versace’s demise in Episode 1. Going back in time, we see him gruesomely dispatch Chicago real estate mogul Lee Miglin and Minneapolis friends in Minnesota. We are introduced to his deceptive Filipino father, his overwhelmed mother and previous sugar daddies. By the time we reach his final chapter in the ninth episode, we have a fuller understanding of what created this monstrous personality.

The scriptwriting, cinematography and general production values are of the highest order. If you can handle the gruesome subject matter, The Assassination of Gianni Versace currently streaming on Netflix might be right up your back alley.

Lily’s Chocolate Bars, sugar-free

Here is a reprint and update of an article I wrote about this delicious and healthy treat.

I have a major jones for chocolate but the sweeteners contained in bars and chips send my blood sugar to the moon. Finally, I found a commercial chocolate that doesn’t cause that familiar sugar spike and ensuing dip. Lily’s Chocolate Bars and Lily’s Dark Chocolate Premium Baking Chips and Bark fill the bill.

Sweetness is provided by stevia and erythritol, supposedly safer sweeteners than aspartame or saccharin. Lily’s has come up with a recipe that balances healthy fats with sweetness, with all products being gluten-free and several dark chocolate flavors vegan as well.

Cynthia Nice started Lily’s Sweets in 2010 as a result of starting a sugar-free lifestyle. Diabetics and other health-conscious people have been enjoying these products ever since. Ingredients are non-GMO and harvested using Fair Trade practices to boot.

Now, the chocolate still has fat and caffeine, so this is not something you can eat like popcorn, but 60 little mini chips are 55 calories with 4 grams of fat and 5 carb grams.
Not bad for the occasional splurge.

Some the 70% Dark flavors include Blood Orange, Salted Almond and Sea Salt. There’s even an Extremely Dark with 85% Dark Chocolate. Over the holidays, someone served me a Lily’s Gingerbread Chocolate Bar, and let me tell you, I plan on keeping an eye out for that seasonal version next December.

Check out some of the delicious sounding sweet recipes at their site.

https://lilyssweets.com/