Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 Year In Review – geesh


OMG, it’s literally been 12 mos since my last post.  I’ve treated the year like rehab, but I didn’t mean to give up pop culture blogging.

Personal note, it may help explain:  went to Florida on holiday in February, bought a lake cottage in March, hosted a national trade conference via work in Indianapolis, worked, worked, worked, moved my mom into a condo near me and then took a new job that I will officially start the first week in January, 2014.  All excuses, I know, but my little brain can only handle so much.

Speaking of little brains, I’m not much of a reader.  So, this year, I really tried to read some books.  The lake cottage helped with no cable.  For the past 12 mos, I’ve completed 8 books.  Pathetic for most, impressive for me.  I finished the Andy Cohen book, and moved onto Tina Fey’s Bossypants.  I ready Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg.  God, I turned into a middle-aged woman looking for validation.  The book should have been an article.  Perhaps I should have written about it before it landed in the top 5 of the year’s best sellers….as if my opinion would have mattered.  Then I fell into a comfort zone – British mysteries.  I read a Linda LaPlante book.  She’s the creator of the Prime Suspect series starring my beloved Helen Mirren.  Then I was turned onto Deborah Crombie.  She’s an American, but writes about Scotland Yard detectives.  Oh, they are so yummy and simple.  The main character is Duncan Kincaid and his sergeant is Gemma James.  If you are an anglophile and like modern mysteries, these books are such treats.  Lovely, as the Brits say.

Robson
So, in the midst of reading (slowly, don’t judge), I also started watching (at the cottage on DVD via Netflix), Wire in the Blood with Robson Green.  He’s English and has been in a lot of BBC stuff and evidently is a pop star (or was).  He’s lovely too.  In Wire, he plays a psychologist who assists a police team with solving murders.  I tell you, between the books and BBC, I can’t keep the storylines straight.

Which reminds me of another book (now I’m just bragging) written by David Sedaris.  I read Let's Explore Diabetes with Owles.  More shorts about his life and observations.  But with my obsession with English mysteries, I always think about David’s story of going through customs in England (where he resides).  When the officer asked what he does (or why he’s there), he said he’s a writer/author.  The officer immediately assumed he wrote crime novels and seemed perplexed when David described his type of writing.  It makes me chuckle often every time I read a Crombie book or watch PBS.  I, along with David, don’t want to imply the Brits only like crime stories, but, if it walks like a duck….. 
Sedaris


Monday, December 31, 2012

Year in Review

So, it's been a while since my last post and it's New Year's Eve.  Maybe a weird time to write but I needed to post something and I'm sitting on my couch listening to early 1990's dance music...no time like the present.

Personally, I've had an eventful year.  Went on a vacation to Florida, was promoted to Vice President at work, bought a new house and continue to sing in my quirky duo.  I'm still alive....that should have been the lead.
Cohen's Book 
Working backwards, I just got Andy Cohen's book Most Talkative for Christmas.  I actually like it.  I was worried I couldn't read more than a line of text, so the fact I've read more than 60 page in his book makes me think I still have a necessary life skill.  The book is cute.  I'm almost 43 and close to his age, so this very fluffy memoir of his broadcasting career is striking a note with me.  While I didn't end up in television, all of my interests and career drive almost landed me in the same path as his.  If I'd taken an internship with Sally Jesse in 1992, my life may resemble his.  I've not finished the book yet, but if you love pop culture and you're in your 40's, it's a cute read.

A couple of months ago, I saw a story on CBS Sunday Morning (or 60 minutes) about a singer/songwriter named Rodriguez.  Won't go into too much, but long story short it was about a man now in his 70's who was like the Bob Dylan of South Africa (even though he was/is American).  His music came out in the 1970's and became HUGE in South Africa and he NEVER knew it.  At one point the rumor was he was dead.  He's not.  A documentarian found him living in near poverty in Detroit and now there's a documentary about him.  I didn't do the story justice, but I bought his famous CD and it's WONDERFUL.  It's an amazing story and his music is great.  He's really like Dylan but you can understand his lyrics.
Great Music Story of 2012

Iphones....okay, this is embarrassing, but over Thanksgiving I bought my first smartphone.  Until then I was using a fancy flip phone.  Seriously, I loved my flip phone and took pride in annoying people with my old technology.  Like everyone knows, iphones are amazing.

I had the honor of seeing Oprah and David Letterman in person in Muncie, Indiana.  Dave is a Ball State Alum and hosts a series each year wherein he lures a famous person to Muncie to be interviewed in the university theatre.  He's interviewed Ted Koppel and Rachel Maddow....this year is was Oprah Winfrey...in exchange for her in person interview in Muncie, he appeared on her show.  So, Dave interviewed Oprah...it was amazing.  He was so lovely and personable, but Oprah was larger than life.  Gail was even in the crowd.  Oprah answered all questions about her childhood and Dave was amazed with her candor.  In fact, the live interview went long.  The weird university president came on stage twice to try to rush them....who rushes Oprah and Dave?  What a surreal afternoon with two iconic media giants.

Oprah at Ball State University....awesome
I can't remember the rest of the year.  Being the holidays, we see recaps of the year constantly.  We see all of the famous people who died....I hold onto Whitney Huston, Etta James and Dave Brubeck.  Whitney is especially upsetting for so many reasons.....really, Whitney? Also this year we saw a presidential election, a devastating hurricane along the eastern seaboard and recaps of deadly shootings.  The shootings are especially puzzling...our country has so much to be proud of, but these shootings at a movie theatre and elementary school should shake all of us.  I wish I didn't have to include such news in an annual recap....didn't even mention the war in Afghanistan.

So, to close...Gangnam Style.


Sunday, August 5, 2012

Ann Curry, what a shame


Curry
It’s been more than a month that we learned Ann Curry was losing her job with the TODAY Show.  It’s taken me this long to watch her speech on her last day.  As usual, I don’t document things well or check my dates, but my recollection was that her leaving was leaked.  We learned she was being let go from the Today show and then the next week, she announced her last day.

I had heard she’d given an emotional goodbye.  I just watched it and was so annoyed with Matt Lauer’s arm around her.  Al and Natalie looked like corporates in an army knowing it was wrong, but their ranks didn’t allow for their opinions.

Morning news shows are weird.  They cover the news and other light fluff, but they become a part of our morning routine like brushing our teeth and eating cereal.  We choose our morning TV for very personal reasons and stick with it.  I’ve been watching TODAY for years.  The last time I was disgusted was when Bryant Gumble forced out Jane Pauley and was mean about Willard.  When this happens, it’s like they are taking pot shots at family members.

Anyway, after Katie decided to leave, the talk was all about who would replace her.  I never thought Ann was in the running and though Natalie Morales was the obvious contender.  Nope.  They chose Meredith.  While she seems nice, I was shocked they picked her…she seemed over-exposed and not fresh.  Her chemistry with the group was questionable, but she made it work.  Then she announced she was leaving and Ann Curry would replace her.

Guthrie and Matt
Now, some folks don’t like Ann.  She’s emotional, awkward and real.  She’s also a gifted and brave journalist.  I was happy for her.  I started to like it when she literally touched people….I liked it when she would make a mistake or spend too much time with someone in the crowd.  I liked that she erased the magic of produced television at times.  While Matt would be sent to gorgeous parts of the world and flirt with young journalists or chefs, Ann would go to war-riddled countries and put her life in danger.  That’s what is special about Ann.  She can be over-emotional about a small story but risk everything for the news.

I think Matt didn’t like her.  I think Matt just signed a big contract in the winter and part of the deal was getting rid of Ann.  I think the story leaked and it didn’t play out the way corporate was hoping.  I also think Savanah is the new Deborah Norville.

So, what can I do?  I can watch another show and I have.  I now watch CBS in the mornings with Gail King and Charlie Rose.  They are good.  I also realized that I like 60 minutes and CBS Sunday Morning and the daily morning program is much the same.  It’s much better than TODAY.  Who knew?

Rose and King
I hope Ann is fine.  I would have left NBC had I been her, but I hope she still is making lots of money.  She’s a good lady and a great news correspondent.  I don’t know if others have jumped ship, but sometimes you have to separate from your family if it’s not healthy anymore.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Idiot Abroad


Gervais
Idiot Abroad is a travel show on the Science Channel.  I just moved and now have AT&T U-Verse and am exposed to more cable…lucky me.  I knew about this program from my brother and mother, big Ricky Gervais fans.  I know, what does Ricky have to do with travel?  Let me explain….

Ricky is a brilliant talent known in the US mainly as the creator of The Office.  He’s English and has created many shows in addition to the global phenomenon of The Office.  He’s funny, but I wouldn’t call him a comic.  He’s been in film, but I don’t consider him an actor.  He’s a humorist with business savvy and has a penchant ffor the uncomfortable.  He actually had a hit song in the late 80’s and/or early 90’s.  Talented guy.  

Stephen, Karl and Ricky
So, as Ricky has become more powerful in the entertainment industry, he’s been able to create projects.  His business and writing partner is Stephen Merchant, who is visible in most Gervais projects.  They have a mate, co-worker and friend named Karl Pilkington, who is now the “idiot” star of a travel show.  If you watch the show, you would assume Karl is some normal chap plucked from the streets of Manchester, England and thrown into a whirlwind travel escapade.  He’s all that, but he knows Ricky and Stephen from producing their radio show and does have some entertainment industry savvy.  

The premise of the show is to send Karl off to see the Seven Wonders of the World and view his discomfort.  I’ve not been tuned into all of Ricky’s entertainment portfolio, but I do know Karl has been elevated to notoriety through various projects.  Karl is funny because Ricky and Stephen think he’s funny.  In short, they think Karl is a typical Englishman and has rather simple views on life and the world.  As Ricky states in the show intros, his goal is to see Karl completely uncomfortable and that makes him laugh.

The show is well produced and we get to see parts of the world not familiar to most (unless you live in those parts of the world). Instead of staying in posh hotels, they make Karl stay in the more “grim” areas of famous cities and travel in more rustic modes (i.e. camel’s across a dessert in Jordan).  There are several episodes showing Karl’s jaunts to see the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal and the pyramids of Egypt.  None of these impress Karl.  The wall in China has been reconstructed in the twentieth century and he didn’t appreciate being on a tour bus with non-English speaking Chinese.  He thought the pyramids were big, but noted the base of them are much larger than the pinnacles.  Additionally, there was a lot of rubbish and garbage around the site. 

Petra
Karl is funny.  He isn’t impressed with what we all think we should be impressed with.  He does, however, make some profound comments on cities and the general vibe.  When he visited the holy land, his trip started in Israel and when he had to go through the wall/checkpoint to Bethlehem, he was more moved by the sobering experience of the wall rather than the birthplace of Jesus.  In Jordan, he visits Petra, an ancient city carved in massive rocks.  It’s truly amazing to see, even from television.  Ricky and Stephen inform Karl he needs to travel to Petra on camel.  After 8 hours one day, the camels break down.  Literally, they just stopped walking.  The next day, Karl refused to get back on a camel and travelled the rest of the journey by auto.  Once he’s there, he admits it’s neat.  The next “order” from Ricky and Stephen was for Karl to spend the night there, but in a cave.  Initially he’s totally annoyed with the concept.  After sitting with residents of Petra, who live in caves, he’s amazed they can receive mail.  Honestly, he was more profoundly affected by the efficiency of mail delivery to caves than the wonder itself.  Once he nestled in for the night, he was quite pleased.  He said he could live in a cave and is amazed with how civilization even occurred in the first place.  He ponders if he were a caveman, not much progress would have been made.  This is an observation I’ve made about myself over the years.

The entire series is like this.  While the concept is somewhat cruel, we see Karl live up to initial expectations while making some valuable observations at the same time.  It’s as if he’s learning, but reluctantly.  The viewer is uncomfortably amused while learning about remote corners of the world.  I loved my marathon afternoon of watching the show.  It’s hard to watch Karl’s discomfort and not personalize a reaction.  How would I feel?  Would I eat what he’s forced to eat?  Would I secretly be disappointed with the attractions or love the experience?

I’ve started watching Bordain’s No Reservations again.  Great exposure to travel and food, but it lacks the raw honesty of Idiot Abroad.  I can’t wait to see more.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Million Dollar Listing New York


As always, I’m attracted to yet another Bravo series – Million Dollar Listing New York is in its first season.  This is the second of a Bravo franchise – the first originated in Los Angeles.  I watch for a few reasons  -- I like the premise, I like decadence and I really love real estate.

Hand Model, Rich Kid, Porn Star
The premise of this show (and the franchise) is following young realtors and their very expensive house listings.  The show has only showcased young, male realtors so far.  In New York, we follow three guys – Fredrik, Ryan and Michael.  Fredrik is gay and a former porn star; Ryan is a former actor/hand model and Michael is just super wealthy thanks to a successful father.  They sell real estate in Manhattan, some of the most expensive property in the world.

I am in the process of selling my home as I’ve purchased a new one.  I thought I would take this opportunity to showcase the pro’s and con’s of learning about real life from a reality show.  Full disclosure, this is my third home purchase and I have a real estate license, so I’m not 100% stupid on the topic.

What to glean from Million Dollar Listing if you’re looking to buy or sell:
  • You really should listen to the agent regarding listing price.  The show highlights numerous buyers wanting more than what the agent first recommends.  While it appears the agents are greedy (and they kind of are), they really do know what the market will bear.  It’s their job to run comps and they know what is selling and for how much.
  •  Just because you think it’s great or special, doesn’t mean the buyer will have the same emotions.  Again, goes to what the market will bear.  If you put a ton of special features into a home, doesn’t mean you will get all of that investment back.  If you want your home a certain way, realize you’re spending the money for your comfort, and not necessarily for investment.
  •  If you have a low ball offer from a buyer, don’t get mad at the agent for presenting it…they have to.  It’s their fiduciary responsibility to disclose all offers, ever if they are slightly insulting.  That’s why you see scenes where agents get annoyed and dramatic with each other, it’s part of the dance.
  •  Staging matters.  If you are like me, you look at the bones of the house to see if it works.  Sadly, many buyers are into cosmetics and don’t always have a vision.  There are dozens of reality shows revolving around staging and home decorating and while most of the homes in this show are gorgeous, they still have to deal with clutter and d├ęcor.
  • These guys are cut throat when trying to get a listing.  If they appear to jump through hoops, it’s a good thing.  You want an agent who will be honest with you and work hard for the sell.  In other words, if the agent is hungry (even greedy), they should work harder on selling your home.

What not to absorb:
  • In the Midwest, I’ve never encountered some of the outrageous broker listings.  While the properties in Manhattan are stunning, most of us need to clean, declutter and just simple prepare to have the house listed.  Realtors will invite brokers, but for normal folk, it’s work just making the place look nice for the MLS photos.
  • Offers and counters.  On these shows, you’ll see two brokers exchanging offers with calls to the client.  We can see a deal close within 12 minutes of programming.  For my experience (and probably everyone else), a written offer is sent to your agent.  Your agent then calls you to discuss.  You then decide to accept or counter and more paperwork ensues.  Even then, you give people a certain amount of time to response.  In other words, it takes longer than 12 minutes and there’s lots of signing of paperwork.
  •  You don’t see earnest money exchanges on this show.  Real Estate is different in each state, but typically when you write an offer on a house, you need to give a check – earnest money, which then goes into escrow.  It’s basically saying you are for real and mean business.  The amount of earnest money is typically dictated by the price of the purchase. I recently wrote a $2000 check…not a lot, but in Indiana, you need to have some liquid dollars for this.
  • You also don’t see home inspections and loan financing on this show.  I guess we are to assume all buyers and sellers are flush and it’s too boring to go into these details.  However, in our current economy, it’s not as easy to buy a house for normal people.  Our economy crashed in 2008, largely in part to the housing market and people not being able to fulfill their mortgage commitments.  Lenders were too lax, sellers were too grandiose and the American Dream included home ownership.  In other words, people borrowed more than they could chew in a housing market bubble.


It’s totally fun to see the personalities on this show and imagine how much money they are making.  At the same time, we get to see amazing New York properties.  When we watch, we need to remember this is not the reality for most of us.  The American Dream is shifting, or it should.  Folks need to have some cash in the bank and good credit and a desire to own a home…it’s no longer an entitlement.  Renting should not be shameful for our fellow citizens.  Property values and tax revenues are vital to local economies, but we also need our neighbors to work, pay bills and not be overwhelmed with all that comes with home ownership.

I’ve done something I would NEVER recommend…buy without selling my current property.  I am doing this because I’ve done the math and know I can swing both.  This is not bragging as both investments are humble.  Here are my tips for home ownership:
  • Don’t buy until you can sell or can afford both
  • Don’t buy unless you have cash for a down payment which will cover mortgage insurance         – typically 20% down.
  •       As Suze Orman says, have an 8 month emergency fund, even after you’ve put 20% down. If you have a duel income home, don’t max out your debt.  In other words, make sure one salary will cover your expenses in the event one person loses income. 
  •  If you buy an older home, pay attention to the bones of the house, not the paint colors.  Paint is cheap, but new roofs, windows and plumbing are expensive.
  • Pay attention to the neighborhood and schools.  Even though I don’t have kids, I care about the school options (when you want to sell).
  • If you don’t like maintaining things – yards, home improvements, etc., make sure you’re not putting too much pressure on yourself.  If you don’t like it now, you won’t like it once you move in.
  • Don’t be greedy when selling and listen to your agent.  The longer the house is on the market, the more people will question why.
  • Even though you list and know you’ll negotiate, consider the expenses that come with an inspection report.  You need to build all of this into your budget.  Once the inspection comes back, you may have to fix things or offer money, so be prepared.
and jackets

Plainly stated, buying a house is a big deal for people.  When you watch the show, we see folks grumbling over millions or hundreds of thousands.  If you can remove some zeros, we’re all the same.  While our agents may not look like models or appear to be sharks, it’s important to work with trustworthy, hard working agents.  Even if they are friends, it’s business, so stay focused and try remove the emotion.  And when you do get stressed, watch Bravo shows for escape!