Sunday, November 30, 2008

evenings came and mornings followed

As a former pastor, Michael Dowd is a great interviewee. As the interviewer, all I had to do was ask a few simple questions, reset who the guest was at regular intervals and make sure the show ended on time. Dowd, the author of "Thank God for Evolution", could have easily filled the half-hour without me.

To say that I was extremely enthusiastic about the topic would be an understatement. The idea of The Great Story, or Evolutionary Epic, fascinates me. I have long believed in both the concept of creation and the facts of evolution. Simply put, six of God's days equal about 14 billion of our years.

At the end of the interview that aired this morning, I felt that there was still plenty of ground to cover. I asked Michael if he could stay for another thirty-minute show, which will air next Sunday. I should have used this technique to extend my interviews with Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass, which always seem to end too soon. Since I enjoyed the conversation so much, I thought you might too. Here are both shows, for your podcasting pleasure.

Part 1: Part 2:

Michael Dowd was in town to speak at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church last Tuesday. He and his wife have no permanent address. They live on the road, traveling from one speaking engagement to the next. That's one way to get to all 50 states.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

rambling with Grambling is a website where you send messages to yourself in the future. I have inadvertently done the same thing with my blog. The other day I was looking at my reviews of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade from past few years when I stumbled upon a post that reminded me to record the Bayou Classic this afternoon.

The game between Grambling State and Southern was not the main attraction. As soon as we got home tonight, we fast forwarded right to the halftime show, better known as the Battle of the Bands. The drum majors for both schools began with an incredible limbo-like backward bend. The tops of their hats actually touch the ground.

Unfortunately NBC's audio mix was atrocious. In the background we could hear that each school had an announcer introducing the performance to the crowd in the stadium. Home viewers could not make out a word of it. The television microphones were placed so that only a portion of the instruments could be heard at any given time. Because the band members are constantly switching directions, it would be just about impossible to capture all the sound.

From the letters they formed on the field it looked like both bands might have been wrangling for an invitation to the Inaugural Parade. One of the bands also spelled out the letters BCFX. It wasn't until the commercial break after the halftime show that we saw how it referred to a new video game called Black College Football Experience, the Doug Williams Edition. In addition to the football, the video game has halftime shows and drumline competitions.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

o tannen-boom

Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam and Santa Claus lit the Christmas tree at the Regal Celebration of Lights tonight, the first big event in the annual Christmas in the City celebration. I was expecting the tree lights to come on, however the fireworks from Pyro Shows were a surprise. The fake snow they blasted out over the crowd could have been easily confused for ashes from the exploding shells above us.

The tree is just across Gay Street from the Regal Riviera. There were vendor booths and other activities throughout Krutch Park and into Market Square. Talented 12-year-old Logan Murrell was singing Christmas songs on the Market Square stage when my daughter and I came out of the new Rita's Ice store. I remember being impressed by Logan's voice two years ago when she was only 10. Her performance tonight reaffirmed my feeling that she will be even more successful in the future.

My daughter bought a coffee custard with fudge topping at Rita's. Instead of ice cream, I had a free cup of eggnog from Mayfield Dairy. Members of the Mayfield Mom Squad were handing out samples from the Flavor Force trailer. Earlier in the evening they gave out free Snow Cream popsicles. The Salvation Army offered free hot chocolate and the city gave away free marshmallows for roasting over a fire pit.

A vendor in one of the booths was selling marshmallow blowguns, which are painted pieces of PVC pipe. A miniature marshmallow goes in the mouth end of the gun and gains velocity as it travels through the barrel. A sign above the guns offers sage advice for life: "don't put mouth on blowgun until purchased."

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

never gonna give you up

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade will always be a major part of my holiday. We could vary the dinner menu and I could miss a football game (as long as the Redskins aren't playing) but I cannot miss the parade and have it still feel like Thanksgiving.

Why does CBS bother to cover the parade each year? Better yet, why do I bother to watch? The broadcast is not in high definition, the camera angles are terrible, none of the bands or singers perform and the anchors often give erroneous information. For example, they said that Horton the Elephant was from Whoville, when everybody knows that all the Whos live in the speck of dust on the clover Horton carries.

Actually I do know why I tune in. I always hope to see additional coverage of the giant helium-filled balloons. This year CBS replaced Hannah Storm with Maggie Rodriguez who, like Hannah, referred to the balloons as "floats." She referred to the floats as "floats" as well. When a balloon did pass by, Maggie and co-anchor Dave Price would turn their backs to the camera to get a look. Can't say that I blame them for that.

Maggie and Dave seemed to spend more time interviewing random guests than describing the parade. Some of the celebrities who dropped by were Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Broadway star Roger Bart and singer Clay Aiken. A soap opera actress named Julie Pinson brought photos of the European vacation she and Maggie took together about eight years ago. Maggie revealed that she and Julie have blackmail-able photos of each other that were snapped on a beach in the south of France. I think we know what she means.

To truly enjoy the parade, you needed to watch the good-looking HD coverage on NBC and not pay attention to the corny scripted lines that Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer were reading. They deviated from the script twice today that I noticed. Meredith got the stuffing scared out of her when the Keith Haring Heart balloon got too close and brushed their broadcast booth. We only heard her distress because the camera was already focused on the next entry. Later, there was some confusion over what paragraph to read when Andy Williams was about to perform. How come my man Andy didn't get a float or even a car to ride? I doubt they made an almost-81-year-old walk the parade route. If Andy did have a float that broke down, it might explain the mistake in the NBC booth.

Without question, the greatest moment of the parade was when the "Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends" float Rickrolled us viewers. NBC tried to spoil it twice by listing Rick Astley's name in the opening credits and by having Matt Lauer say, "watch carefully, we hear there is a special musical surprise." I had just called my wife into the room to hear the Friends' version of the theme from "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" when Astley interrupted with his '80s classic.

For the uninformed few among us, Rickrolling is an Internet sensation where you expect one thing but get Rick Astley. My friend Bean did a great job of explaining it on March 31 and then executing it on April 1 of this year.

I feel for the guy in the photo below. The good news is that he gets to be in the best parade in the country. The bad news is that he had to wear the most ridiculous costume and ride on the Jimmy Dean sausage float with some country singer. What's he supposed to be, a pat of butter?

Let's "dot dot dot" our way through the rest of my notes... my daughter heard that the Rockettes must all have the same length inseam... James Taylor's electric guitar looked like a really thin acoustic guitar... the NYPD band got ripped off when the network ran a recorded drum track instead of the band's audio... Shontelle almost fell off the Rhino Mountain float twice... the Clique Girlz send the exact opposite message I would want my children to get from a group targeting kids... there's an "Internet phenom" named Charice?... when these same balloons appear in the Macy's Holiday Parade at Universal Orlando Resort, do they get deflated and re-inflated every day?... did Varsity Fanclub take the place of the Cheetah Girls in the line of march?... my wife is happy because the best sounding band in the parade, the JMU Marching Royal Dukes, is from her alma mater... Al Roker apparently pulled some strings to get his kid aboard the Santa float... did I mention that the fools at CBS wasted the first ten minutes of their broadcast talking about nothing?

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

limited time only

Oprah may have cheated her studio audience out of all the usual goodies during her "Favorite Things for a Thrifty Holiday" show today but at least she put some freebies on her website for us all to download. Because I was napping, I didn't watch the show. Instead, I saw an online blurb mentioning that there was a Brian McKnight Christmas song available on for a 48 hour window after the broadcast. I was pleasantly surprised that there were actually eight songs I could download. In addition to McKnight's "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," I grabbed holiday music from Faith Hill, Tony Bennett, Il Divo, Josh Groban, Amy Grant, Harry Connick Jr. and Aretha Franklin. Bennett and Connick also make a free iTunes song available on their websites until Monday.

And, as Ironside would say, "Happy Thanksgiving, Eve."

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

short and sweet

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, it's a fun time to watch Food Network and to click around sites like Cupcakes Take the Cake. Today I watched part of a TV show about desserts that I had recorded over the weekend and looked online at a collection of holiday cupcakes.

Some of the turkey-shaped cupcakes looked great, some were laughable and some were just plain weird. What really struck me as funny was that the turkey cupcakes being held up for ridicule on the very entertaining Cake Wrecks blog looked better than many of the examples on the cupcake tribute site.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

rock me Amadeus

After a successful Blogger Night last year, the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra is doing it again. This time around it will be at the Mozart & Mendelssohn concert (with a little Bach thrown in) on Thursday, January 15, 2009. I like that the KSO has embraced new media. In addition to the podcasts on their main site, they now have their own blog too.

The soloist that night will be Navah Perlman. If you think her name sounds familiar, you're right. When she got married, the announcement in the New York Times mentioned that "her father is the violinist." Not "a violinist" but "the violinist."

The same rules apply as last time. The first 50 49 bloggers who respond to Stephanie Burdette will get a pair of tickets in exchange for their willingness to post a blog entry about their experiences at the concert. Don't worry if you're not an expert in classical. Even the musically uninitiated will recognize Mendelssohn's "Italian" symphony. Several of the area's many great bloggers posted reviews of the concert last year. Take a look at what Krisha, Byron, Lissa, Tish and Doug wrote after getting exposed to some culture.

The deadline for emailing Stephanie is January 14 at 2:00 p.m. Once again bloggers should consider paying it forward by helping me to spread the word. Write something now and Include a link back to this post. Or you can just link to Stacy McCloud's boots if that's what you want.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

joy sticks

Each year our parish holds a pre-Christmas sale on the weekend before Thanksgiving. This year they offered religious items from The Paraclete, handmade items from Ten Thousand Villages, tins of flavored popcorn from the Boy Scouts, fundraising coupon books from Bruster's and jars of salsa with our pastor's cartoon image on them among other things. As in past years, I made a beeline for the baked goods table in the center of the room.

Last year I wrote about the chocolate covered marshmallows that had the misfortune of resembling a certain "South Park" character. Kathy, the woman who made them, was amused by the attention her creation received here on the blog. This year she and her family set out to make something else that would be blogworthy. Kathy's daughter Karie thought it would be good to try S'mores on a Stick. It was a great idea. Three marshmallows on a lollipop stick, enrobed in chocolate and rolled in graham cracker crumbs. Perhaps she was thinking about the s'mores-related posts I wrote in May and in March. Meanwhile Kathy's husband Keith knows that I often write about my ongoing efforts to maintain my weight by controlling portion sizes. He came up with the brilliant idea for "diet" S'mores on a Stick. Or actually on a pick. The bite-size confections are made with three miniature marshmallows on a toothpick.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

strings attached

Somebody fixed the Wikipedia entry for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. When I looked at it a couple of weeks ago, a contributor had mistakenly written that one of this year's new balloons would be Bolt, the dog in a new animated Disney film. I think they got the idea from a poorly worded press release that has since been rewritten. It's also possible that they didn't know the difference between a balloon and a float. Bolt is part of a new float.

The major balloons that will debut on Thursday are Buzz Lightyear, Horton the Elephant, and a Smurf. I found a good web video that shows some of the steps in creating these giant helium-filled creatures. The returning balloons are Abby Cadabby, Beethoven (the dog, not the guy although that would have been amusing), Dora the Explorer, Energizer Bunny, Kermit the Frog, Pikachu, Ronald McDonald and Shrek. Hmph. Still no Underdog.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

that's just what they'll do

T the R.O.P. has been coming to watch the weekly Einstein Simplified shows lately. He's the same guy who went to Milwaukee with me last year to see the Mets. Since T has been supporting my improv habit, I was more than happy to return the favor by supporting him at the 14th annual Mr. Knoxville Contest, which was held last night to benefit Goodwill Industries. T was the defending champion and earned the crown for a second straight year by collecting the most donations. They're calling it a "T-peat." The event is a parody of a beauty pageant with an emphasis on comedy. T spoofed Michael Phelps, "Wayne's World" and various boy bands in his three appearances on stage. Some of the other guys did skits based on "Zoolander," "Teen Wolf" and Kenny Chesney.

One of my favorite news anchors, Stacy McCloud was there to co-host the event. Another WVLT personality was in the audience. Heather Haley graciously agreed to be in a photo with Stacy and me. When I wanted to get a shot of her fancy leopard-print boots, Stacy said I needed to be in the picture too. Thanks to Heather for taking the photo.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008


The reviews of the new George Mason University mascot are predictably less than enthusiastic. They gave it a human head like New England's Pat Patriot but made it much worse by painting its face green and gold. The new mascot will eventually get an official nickname via a contest. The University briefly referred to it as "The Patriot" in a photo caption, which prompted some rival school bulletin board posters to call it "TP" as in toilet paper. Others have drawn comparisons to William Wallace, the Jolly Green Giant, Jay Leno, the Incredible Hulk, the Demon Deacon and a gangrene victim.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008


The countdown clock to the digital TV transition reads 90 days and 38 minutes as I type this. Most of us won't be bothered by the switch because we get our television via cable or satellite. During our last trip to St. Louis, we stayed at the condo that belonged to my wife's late aunt. My mother-in-law was there too. She asked if I could get the TV to work even though the cable service had been canceled some time ago. I found a piece of coaxial cable in another room and used it as an antenna that picked up most of the regular broadcast stations. We were able to watch "Saturday Night Live" and some NFL action the next day.

My mother-in-law was thrilled that she would now be able to get the local news and weather during her visits to St. Louis. I tried to explain that my temporary fix would only work until February 17, 2009. When my wife and I asked her if she planned to get a digital converter box for the condo, we realized that she was not familiar with the concept. She subscribes to cable at her home in Virginia and had no concerns about the switch until now. I'm not saying that her reaction was exactly like that of the lady in this hysterical parody video but I will say that there is some truth in comedy.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

settled our brains

There is lots of good news about tortoises and turtles in my drafts folder. As a huge fan of the reptiles, I've collected several stories over the past two weeks. First the turtles. South Carolina has seen a big increase in sea turtle nests on its shores this year. The numbers are almost double last year's and almost quadruple 2004's.

The Knoxville Zoo has a long history of success breeding exotic turtle and tortoise species. The News Sentinel had another article about the program earlier this month. The zoo has over 225 individual turtles, including a one-eyed, black breasted leaf turtle named Willie. Visitors often see his eyeless side and think he's dead.

Meanwhile at a zoo in Ecuador, a 90-year-old Pinta Island tortoise named George has been unable to reproduce. Scientists are trying to figure out if he's doomed to die as the last of his subspecies. There's still a slim chance he could father some hatchlings with a female of a slightly different subspecies.

A family in Carson Valley, Nevada, just added three hatchlings to the ten desert tortoises they already had. The Nevada Appeal ran a nice story about them with a couple of super-cute photos of the day-old babies.

Last but not least, there's joy in Cupertino because Butch is back. The 150-year-old pet had been missing for weeks. He was apparently taken from his family's yard on September 25 and was returned on November 10. His first order of business? Take a long winter's nap.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

light bulb factory

Maybe this week I can clear out a few things that have been sitting in my drafts folder for a while. The clever blog called We Have an Idea and Then We Write It Down came to my attention back on September 27 when they used the words comedy and improv in the same sentence. I have a Google alert for that phrase. They were hoping for a live comedy radio station, just like we were trying to do at the Comedy World Radio Network, which as I've said before, was ahead of its time.

You could spend hours scrolling through the archives at We Have an Idea. I like that they spell idea with an r in their URL. That's the way my dad's old boss, Nelson Rockefeller, pronounced the word. The idea bloggers want a button to bookmark songs on the radio for later download. My friend Sandy recently wrote on her blog that such a thing is on the horizon. I especially liked their ideas for pressure sensitive brake lights and model roller coaster sets.

Tonight's post has me thinking of two different tangents, one about improv and one about radio. You might recall that the members of Einstein Simplified were cast in a partially improvised horror film called "Fish Bait." Our co-director Darby Totten was recently cast as an FBI agent on three episodes of the Fox series "Fringe." And, of course, our live show happens on Tuesday nights at Patrick Sullivan's. Come see us before we take time off for Christmas.

While looking for a link to include with tonight's first paragraph, I discovered that the Internet Archive Wayback Machine has much of the old Comedy World site online. The page that they saved for my show mentions some of my favorite interviewees including Miss Yvonne, the Armenian Comedian and Billy Bob Thornton.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008


Could milkshakes be the next cupcakes? I was clicking around the Internet looking at celebrity news and noticed some pictures of stars patronizing a new shop called Millions of Milkshakes in West Hollywood. The place got noticed by naming shakes after tabloid celebrities.

Cupcakes were made fashionable by "Sex and the City." However it was the success of cupcake shops in Beverly Hills and Burbank that is credited with the proliferation of stores around the country specializing in the single-serving desserts. One key to that success is the variety of flavors of cakes and icing. I tried a Graceland cupcake here in Knoxville a few weeks ago. Today I saw pictures of some Elvis cupcakes that were similar except that they had bacon on top of the peanut butter icing. Seriously, bacon.

Millions of Milkshakes says that they over one hundred ingredients that can be mixed into 75 million combinations. The base is ice cream, frozen yogurt or soy. In addition to the ingredients that get mixed in to the shake, there are several more choices of toppings to get sprinkled on top. Among other things, you could choose from candy bars and breakfast cereals, including Lucky Charms.

As a Baskin-Robbins employee during high school, I enjoyed making and drinking milkshakes. My favorite was made with Jamoca Almond Fudge and chocolate syrup. I would need a spoon to eat the almonds after the shake was gone.

My enthusiasm for Millions of Milkshakes was brought back to earth by a review on Chowhound. The milkshakes aren't really milkshakes at all. They are more like Blizzards from Dairy Queen, which aren't all that different from the mashed in scoops you get at a Cold Stone or Marble Slab. The reviewer found the "shakes" to be not blended enough and to be way overpriced.

I found it interesting that all the press coverage highlighted on their website is focused on the celebrities who have visited. I didn't see any articles talking about the quality of the product.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

stench fry

Fans of the Body Farm books will be glad to know that the writing team of Jon Jefferson & Dr. Bill Bass have finished their fourth novel and that the publisher has added two more books to their contract. A story in today's News Sentinel adds some detail to what we learned in the Oak Ridger article that I told you about in May. The story, set in the Secret City, will involve Dr. Arpad Vass and his work to identify the chemicals in the odor of human decomposition. The release date of "Bones of Betrayal" is February 3, 2009. Go ahead and add it to your Wish List now.

Last month I wrote about the Body Farm's appearance on the BBC series "Stephen Fry in America." I was disappointed I couldn't see the show on these shores. But thanks to YouTube, I don't have to travel to England to see the footage after all. The episode was divided into six segments and uploaded by a Fry fan. The Body Farm visit spans two of the six clips. The first part picks up during Stephen's haircut in London, Kentucky. Freshly shorn, he takes in some bluegrass music in Blount County before driving his cab to Knoxville and meeting up with Rebecca of Body-brook Farm, I mean Rebecca Wilson of the Forensic Anthropology Center. The remainder of his tour is in the next clip, which also contains the beginning of his balloon ride over North Carolina as he tries to forget what he smelled here.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

classic roq

A former colleague from KROQ recently emailed me to say that he was digging through some old stuff for his Facebook page and found an archived copy of on a floppy disc. Can you imagine an entire radio station website fitting on a floppy disc nowadays?

Gary Cohen was the computer whiz kid in the KROQ engineering department. He's gone on to bigger and better things, of course. You can read more about him at LinkedIn and IMDB. Gary put much of the old KROQ site on his own server. Clicking through it brought me back to the early days of the World Wide Web.

Gary wanted me to see a photo on one of the Kevin & Bean pages. It shows the late Calvert DeForest posing with Kevin & Bean and Jimmy Kimmel and me.

I remember being present when most of the other pictures were taken too. I was the one holding the camera for some of them. The photo of Air Supply reminded me of the story I told here about the concert they did for us. I submitted this same picture to the trades with the caption: "Kevin & Bean with either '80s pop icons Air Supply or Mark & Brian, we're not sure which."

I wish I could remember exactly why we needed to make a video of Kevin & Bean on the beach with Jenny McCarthy and Ed McMahon. It might have been for an awards ceremony that they couldn't attend, perhaps at a radio convention or a Starlight Foundation banquet. Because nothing says helping the kids like Jenny McCarthy in a bikini.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

see bond

Early reviewers said "Quantum of Solace" was more like a Bourne movie than a Bond movie, which was okay with me because I like the Bourne movies. Now that I've seen the latest in the 007 series, I can understand that they were mainly referring to a chase sequence that goes over rooftops and in and out of windows. I felt like the action sequences used fast cuts as short cuts. They used to choreograph those scenes better, making it easy to see what was going to happen. An old-fashioned Bond boat chase would have used long shots and less edits to show the vessels moving closer and narrowly missing obstacles. In "Quantum," they used more close-ups of things crashing into each other. During hand-to-hand combat, it was difficult to tell who was killing whom. I just had to assume that James Bond was winning all his fights, which of course he was.

The lukewarm reviews lowered my expectations to the point that I could easily enjoy the movie. Rather than stress over the unexplained plot points, I let myself relax and take in the pretty pictures. Speaking of that, a secondary Bond girl named Strawberry Fields, played by Gemma Arterton, deserved more screen time. Much has been made about the lack of some standard James Bond-isms in the latest film. However those of us who remember staying up to watch our first Bond movies on ABC on Sunday nights during sweeps months will appreciate a certain visual homage to "Goldfinger."

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

goodness gracious

Here's a safe prediction: Derek and Julianne Hough could become the greatest brother and sister act since Donny & Marie. Their jive to "Great Balls of Fire" was the best performance in the history of "Dancing With the Stars." Even the music was better than normal. I loved all the horns in the arrangement. I've watched it several times and have not tired of it.

Julianne's triumphant return from surgery was made all the more impressive by the way she appeared from behind the lid of a grand piano. In fact the piano was a great prop, especially when Julianne danced on top of it and Derek slid under it. At least two people have posted the dance on YouTube (here and here) until ABC has it removed. The network does have the entire episode online in HD. I wish they would put up clips the way NBC does with "Saturday Night Live."

Julianne has become a celebrity in her own right. I think she's a bigger star than her dance partner this season, Cody Something. My guess is that Cody avoided elimination because viewers wanted to give Julianne another chance to dance. I felt similarly about her partnership with Adam Carolla.

I'm not a fan of country music but I will make an effort to swing by Target soon to pick up a copy of Julianne's Christmas CD. And yes, I am thinking about going downtown to the Christmas parade in which Julianne is scheduled to appear.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Gunston checks out

Gunston, the oft-maligned mascot of George Mason University, is being put out to pasture. He looks like a giant Muppet that's missing a couple of chromosomes. Rather than disappear, he will still represent the University at some events for children.

Although Gunston was far from perfect, I'm worried that I might like his replacement less. The DC Sports Blog and the DCist report that GMU's new mascot will be more human looking. I hope the GMU Patriots don't try to copy the New England Patriots mascot. To me, the creepiest mascots are the ones that have giant human faces. I would prefer an animal mascot, like the ones competing in the Capitol One Mascot Challenge (including UT's Smokey).

When I was a student at Mason, there was no foam-covered mascot. Instead we had a face character. He was an older man who wore colonial garb, which would have been better for a candle-making demonstration in Williamsburg than for rallying a crowd of basketball fans. In subsequent years, the scary-looking Mason Maniak replaced the stately statesman.

Two of my friends have worn the mascot costumes for GMU. I emailed both George and Mike to get their take on the news of the impending change. George started in 1991 as the puffy Patriot. He also wore a gorilla suit and the Green Mask outfit before debuting the Gunston costume. George still works for the University. He went to fix something at President and Mrs. Merten's residence the day after they had attended their first GMU basketball game:
She introduced herself to me and I told her we had met last night. She looked puzzled when I told her we even danced on the court during a time out. When I told her who I was, she ran to the stairs and called out, "Alan, Alan, come here!" She was so excited to find out who I was.
Mike was the last to wear the original Gunston costume and the first to wear the new one. He overlapped with George in 1998 and continued through the school's 2001 NCAA appearance. Mike says:
Gunston was always misunderstood. I was once told that the aim of the athletic department was to appeal to families and kids, but I always thought that as the University's mascot, it should appeal to the students and alumni. It would never fail that at a game I would be asked "what are you?"

Who knows why Mason is making the change. There was talk about this back in 1998 and there will be talk of changing from whatever they chose in the future. Mason is funny like that. It longs for tradition and I think forgets that tradition takes time and stability.

Once I was asked out for Valentine's Day by a couple of sorority girls and went on a date to dinner and a movie with them. The great thing about Gunston was that people forgot that there was a person in there. That's how I knew that I did a good job. I would surf on top of police cars in parades, rollerblade behind vans around Patriot Park and the cops would smirk and shake their heads. Orientation was always fun too. I was the first college guy that hit on many an incoming freshman. I know... kind of impure, but they needed it, Frank... they needed it.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

bids and squids

The March of Dimes Signature Chefs Auction has become one of my favorite events to attend. My wife and I got to experience it on Sunday night. As I wrote last year, it's up there with Feast With the Beasts as a great night of food and fun.

While all the other guests headed to the various serving stations around the room for roast beef, lamb and seared tuna, I went straight to the Sugarbuzz Bakers table and grabbed a slice of their Chocolate Toffee Cake. Why not have dessert first? The Caramel Apple Cake looked good but I waited too long to get some. There were only crumbs left when I returned to the Sugarbuzz table later in the evening.

The cakes from Sugarbuzz got third place overall from the judges. The Crown & Goose came in second with a duck cake (think crab cake) with pickled fall root vegetables. Sapphire rightfully took first place with an outstanding Ika salad -- ginger marinated squid with Asian vegetables and a sweet eel sauce -- and Caribbean tuna nigiri -- sashimi tuna served with pineapple calypso sauce and topped with toasted coconut.

Although they didn't make the top three, my wife and I agreed that the chicken Marsala and lobster ravioli from Carrabba's Italian Grill were excellent. We eat a lot of chicken and know a delicious chicken breast when we taste one.

Chef Walter was one of the judges. I was very impressed by his successful weight loss. He's been following a dietary program through the UT Medical Center. We caught up with him as he was leaving with some takeout containers for his wife, Miss Anne.

My wife and I also had nice conversations with Maestro Lucas Richman and Russell Biven. We especially enjoyed talking with former WBIR reporter Jim Ragonese and his wife Jaime. She said that I really need to read a book about cadavers called "Stiff." I recalled that the same author had written a book with a one-word title about sex and that it wasn't called "Stiff."

In addition to the live auction for big-ticket items like an emerald and diamonds ring from Lamon Jewelers, there was a silent auction in the lobby before dinner was served. My wife bid on a basket full of Thanksgiving items but was outbid. I was temped to place a bid for a custom website package until I saw that they offer "professioanl graphic design."

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

rocka top

If the management for Rockapella had asked me, I might have requested that they schedule their Knoxville concert for any night besides a Tuesday. Last year I wished that I could be in two places at once to see the renowned a capella group when they performed at George Mason University. This year they are coming to the University of Tennessee on the one night of the week that I am always booked.

While I wish that all of you would show up at Patrick Sullivan's this and every Tuesday to see the comedy improv of Einstein Simplified, I know that most of you won't. Perhaps you can go see Rockapella instead. They're so good that I'm kicking myself for not making any progress on bilocation.

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Saturday, November 08, 2008

long distance dedication

Neither the folks at Cupcakes Take the Cake nor I realized that tonight's episode of "Food Network Challenge: Cupcake" was a rerun from 2005 when writing our posts about the show. A comment posted on their site revealed the truth, which was verified with a few mouse clicks. I was also reminded that the contestant from Knoxville's MagPies Cakes used to be in a band called The Judybats.

Two weeks ago, when I programmed my DVR to record the Challenge, I got the idea to order a half-dozen cupcakes as a surprise for my daughter. They were delivered to her today. Before that could happen, I had to search online for bakeries in the Washington, DC area. The Washington Post recently rated the best cupcakes in their area.

The currently popular Hello Cupcake doesn't yet offer delivery service. Lily Lane Cakes had a nice website but the proprietor told me she was totally booked for the weekend. Signature Cupcakes eliminated themselves from contention with their steep $13 delivery charge and one-dozen minimum.

I eventually ordered from CandyCups Cupcakes. Their delivery charge was only $5 and the cupcakes were reasonably priced. Best of all, they could decorate the tops with floral designs my daughter would like. I expected the flowers to be drawn on with icing from a pastry bag. As you can see in the photo below, they used gum paste to make some nice three-dimensional flowers instead.

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Friday, November 07, 2008

two minutes for icing

Knoxville will be represented on "Food Network Challenge" on Saturday. Six teams from all over the U.S.A. will compete to bake and decorate the best cupcakes in the country. MagPies Cakes will take on bakeries from New York, San Francisco, Dallas, Anchorage and Annandale (Virginia).

Maybe one of these days I will finally get to MagPies, although they've moved away from the storefront I used to pass regularly. They had a grand opening of their new location earlier tonight. Their website promised menu sampling, which I've heard is something they do once a month. Until I get there for a free taste, I'll have to settle for watching "Challenge: Cupcake" on Saturday night.

Oh, if anyone I know happens to get some cupcakes as a surprise from her loving parents, I hope she takes some pictures and sends them along for a future blog post.

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

it's the economy

Film critic Betsy Pickle sat behind me at the screening of "Role Models" tonight. She showed up even though she found out today that she was a victim of staff cutbacks at the Knoxville News Sentinel. 13 people lost their jobs in the newsroom along with about 40 more in other departments. I didn't hear all their names but the ones I remember are style writer Kevin Cowan, arts writer Doug Mason, and travel editor Linda Lange.

Some of those names have turned up on my blog in the past. Kevin Cowan wrote about my makeover and Doug Mason sat next to me at the circus. I've mentioned Betsy many times, usually after seeing her at a promotional screening. In the midst of expressing my condolences over the loss of her job, I forgot to offer my sympathy to Betsy for the loss of her father, who died last month.

I don't know if the stock market being down in the dumps the past two days had anything to do with the staff reduction. It was probably in the works longer than that. The News Sentinel does seem to be shifting more focus to its online products. I suspect that the remaining staff will be expected to write more blog entries and to shoot more web video. Betsy didn't know if her old blog and archived reviews would remain online or disappear.

By the way, the movie was pretty good. It has a few gross-out moments but it isn't as shocking as some of the other movies Paul Rudd has been in recently. There are times when the jokes take a back seat to the plot, which isn't a bad thing. Rudd and Seann William Scott play court-ordered big brothers to kids who need a friend. The film builds to a satisfying conclusion at an event I thought they made up. However Laire appears to be an actual event where people pretend to be someone else.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

cookin' with gas

The new Christmas lights are on in Gatlinburg. By switching to LED bulbs, the four-month display will use the same amount of electricity as only three nights of the old incandescent bulbs. The Smoky Mountain city held its 19th annual Winter Magic Kickoff and Chili Cook-off this evening.

The headline entertainment was an incarnation of The Coasters. I doubt that there were any original members among the four guys we saw but they put on a good show nevertheless.

I was there to shoot some video for a feature called The Frank Files on the radio station's website. Inspired by the "Mascot Mondays" that I wrote about here over two years ago, I even tried dancing with a few of the costumed characters at the festival. With any luck, it will look funny on camera.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

see you at the dipping cabinets

There was only a short wait for the free Ben & Jerry's coupons they were handing out at Bearden Middle School today. The little slips of paper also contain a code that lets you operate a voting machine. Seriously though, the people with opposing viewpoints are out there casting their ballots, so you may as well go cast yours.

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Monday, November 03, 2008

duck and cover

Let's assume for a minute that the results of Tuesday's election leave half the population unhappy and worried about the future. What will they think when the U.S. Department of Energy's Public Warning Siren System is activated on Wednesday near the Y-12 National Security Complex?

Don't panic. The Oak Ridge sirens are tested on the first Wednesday of every month. Oh by the way, in the event of an actual emergency, go inside and close all your windows and ventilation systems. Unless of course the actual emergency occurs during the test. Then how would you know?

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

na na hey hey

The Olympics and our road trip to Branson and Arkansas must have distracted me from the interesting Catholic news that was released in mid-August. The two local priests I asked about it hadn't heard either. Maybe if the Diocese of Knoxville had a bishop, the information would have trickled down to us. My wife and I finally got tipped off when Fr. Gary Braun mentioned it after Mass last Sunday while we were in St. Louis.

The Vatican has decided that we are to no longer use the name Yahweh in prayers or songs during Mass. Or as one blog put it, "Ixnay on the Yahweh." The four Hebrew letters that represent Yahweh, YHWH, are known as the Tetragrammaton and are meant to be unpronounceable. Fr. Ragan Schriver explained to us tonight that the four consonants were combined with the vowels from "Adonai" to create the word "Jehovah" (or Jahovah).

Upon hearing the news, my wife immediately thought about all the times she sang "You Are Near" at funerals and other Masses. The hymn begins "Yahweh, I know you are near." That song was also part of my father's funeral all those years ago. As we walked to the car, we tried to think of a few two-syllable options to replace "Yahweh," including "Father" and "Abba." My wife soon came up with a better idea: "O Lord."

Dan Schutte
, the composer of "You Are Near," has written about the process of revising his famous hymn. After he "jotted down pages of possibilities" and consulted with friends and colleagues, his official revision is... "O Lord, I know you are near."

The first verse of Schutte's "Sing a New Song" now says "Shout for gladness! Dance for joy!" instead of "Yahweh's people dance for joy." The change for his "Yahweh, the Faithful One" will be more challenging, if not impossible.

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

ooey gooey

The enticement of sweet treats was all it took for me to accept an invitation to judge a chili and dessert cook-off at Pleasant Ridge Elementary School’s PTO meeting on Thursday night. I almost didn't get there because the directions I was given didn't account for the long-term lane closure on Pleasant Ridge Road.

The other media judges were Michele Silva, Alison West and Brad Allen. It was the second time I had seen Alison in two weeks. We both showed up to judge a chili cook-off for the employees of AAA on October 16. As it worked out, Brad judged the chili along with two representatives from Food City. Michelle, Allison and I picked the dessert winner. The ladies preferred a Butterfinger Delight made with angel food cake. I liked the spice cake treats even though they were covered with a white chocolate bark. Its taste blended well with the cake inside, unlike the Halloween Oreo Balls I showed you yesterday.

The other judges and I had no problem agreeing on the Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake. It was almost as moist as actual pumpkin pie. I was pleasantly surprised to see it on the dessert table. My wife had recently told me about the recipe, which Paula Deen once featured in a cookbook. At the end of the instructions there are variations for pineapple, banana and peanut butter versions of the cake. My wife made the Peanut Butter Gooey Cake and brought it on our trip to share with our son and other family members just last weekend. She improvised by putting chocolate chips on top instead of chopped peanuts, as suggested on one site.

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