Wednesday, December 31, 2008

what brought you here

There's no question that 2008 was a pretty good year for my blog. I won the "Best Local Blogger" award in the Knoxville News Sentinel readers' poll and had a couple of days with big readership spikes. So, which posts were the most read this year? Not surprisingly, a 2006 post about Abby Ham was the number two ranked entry. If I filter out the old stuff that still turns up in people's Google searches, here are my most viewed posts from 2008:

1) Jimmy Kimmel mentioned me when I sent him a funny obituary from the News Sentinel

2) Stacy McCloud's boots will turn up in my search results for years to come

3) This December entry about Julianne Hough's concert in Knoxville made a strong late-year showing

4) Gentlemen's Top Cuts has gone out of business but it got a lot of attention when it first opened

5) Oh and Paris Hilton showed up in Pigeon Forge

6) Fans of Randy Rhoads linked to my post on their message boards

7) Game on! The Osmonds are competing with the Houghs to be the most popular Mormon showbiz family among my readers

8) Fans of American Idol's Ace Young lit up their message boards too

9) Of all my posts about Dr. Bill Bass and the Body Farm this year, this one got the most views

10) Stacy McCloud got promoted to evening anchor but didn't give up the noon news

11) A lot of clicks from Derek & Julianne Hough fans came via the message boards, take that Osmonds!

12) People looking for this post could have been Natasha Henstridge fans, "Lost" fans, WATE news fans or maybe even George Michael fans

13) We're back where we started with a follow-up to the most-viewed post about Jimmy Kimmel mentioning Knoxville

14) I think readers of this post about local news were mostly interested in diamond rings or the lack thereof

15) Mmm... cupcakes

16) Melinda Doolittle may not have as many fans as Ace Young but they found this post

17) Who do you think the readers of this entry were searching for, Chef Walter or Stacy McCloud?

18) Like everyone, I was surprised and saddened by Tim Russert's passing

19) It looks like the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra will have a successful blogger night in January

20) My recent story of a young girl's Christmas wish for a styrofoam penguin got mentioned on the local news

21) Pope Benedict XVI might have ranked higher if he visited Knoxville

22) DSRL!

23) The last Haunted Cave might have inspired people to read about Cherokee Caverns

24) Sam's Club gets me hooked on raspberry chipotle sauce and then cuts me off

25) Wasn't it great when the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Rickrolled us?

Happy New Year! See you tonight?

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

drop it like it's hot

The concept of First Night (Name of Your Town Here) started in Boston in 1976. I don't know if it was on January 1, 1976 or December 31, 1976 but that's not important right now. It has since spread to dozens of cities nationwide. Knoxville climbed aboard the First Night bandwagon a year ago.

First Night's mission
is "to foster the public's appreciation of visual and performing arts." In addition to all the musicians and artists on the First Night Boston schedule, there are two comedy improv troupes performing, Improv Asylum and Improv Boston. First Night Knoxville has followed that model by booking Einstein Simplified for performances at 9:00 and 10:15 p.m. We go on after two shows by ventriloquist Gene Cordova in the TVA West Tower. Somebody from First Night Knoxville asked Paul Simmons if I could plug the event on the radio. Unfortunately I can't because a competing radio station is an official media sponsor. Last I heard, there's a chance we could be on "Live at Five at Four" on Wednesday afternoon to promote First Night Knoxville.

Three of the other First Night celebrations were included on Trip Advisor's list of the quirkiest New Year's events. First Night Bethlehem ranked #2 because of their clever and quirky Marshmallow Peep drop at midnight. An improv group from Philadelphia called The N Crowd is among the entertainers there. First Night Talbot in Easton, Maryland, made the list because of their crab drop. At First Night Raleigh they drop an acorn. Raleigh also has a performance by an improv group called the Transactors.

The Peep drop got me thinking about Knoxville's festivities. At midnight a ball will drop from a crane in Market Square. The ball is okay, I guess. It's good enough for New York after all and could be thought of as representative of our Sunsphere. But why not drop something that just screams East Tennessee? How about a couch? Or a women's basketball? Or a papier-mâché head of Cas Walker? What's your suggestion?

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Monday, December 29, 2008

is this my new TV?

Contrary to popular belief, today is the fifth day of Christmas. In lieu of golden rings, I'm taking a break from holiday themed blog posts to share a podcast with you. Today is also 50 days until the digital television transition. As a cable and satellite subscriber, I thought I was ready until WATE ran a test recently and my cable company failed. Way to go, Knology!

On yesterday's public affairs radio program, I interviewed Russ Manning of East Tennessee Public Television. They had to make the switch early when their analog transmitter broke down last June. You can listen to the show by clicking on the play button below or you can download it by right-clicking here. During the interview, Russ mentions that you can get more information from their website. He also recommends a site called Antenna Web, where you can enter your address to find out about the broadcast towers near you and where to point your antenna to receive their free over-the-air broadcasts. There is still time to get a converter box coupon before the switch.

After the taping ended, we were still talking about local TV. I told Russ about my blog entry on WBIR's local HD programming. And we both wondered why WVLT cannot control the volume on their local commercials.

I had fun with the on-air conversation too, especially since I got to gripe about the way some local stations switch from HD to SD before the late local news. I also talked about a blog post by a woman named Cassie whose mother hated the new digital TV they bought for her on Black Friday. Toward the end of the show, Russ and I reference a very funny viral video that I told you about forty days ago. Whether you've seen it before or not, please take two minutes to enjoy this PSA from "Talkshow with Spike Feresten." And then you'll be up to speed for the thirty-minute podcast.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

prayer palace

The beautiful new church building at St. John Neumann parish opened on Christmas Eve. WBIR got it right in their report however the anchors on WVLT mistakenly called the building a cathedral. I dashed off an email to a couple of people there but unfortunately the same script was used in the 7:00 p.m. newscast that night. A cathedral is the building that houses the bishop's chair, which is called a cathedra.

After seeing the new building with my own eyes today, I wondered if our next bishop could decide to pick up his cathedra and move it to Farragut. Although it's probably just as likely that they would continue to spruce up Sacred Heart Cathedral, which is right next door to the diocesan offices. The religious artwork in the new place looks much better in context than it did in the photos I saw online in August. The more contemporary looking figures inside the ceiling dome are complimented by classic-looking paintings of saints and Stations of the Cross that look like mosaics. They must be relieved to have made the deadline on the cornerstone. I had read that the church was supposed to open last January.

The former chancellor of the Diocese of Knoxville was elevated to bishop this past Spring. Bishop Vann Johnston now shepherds the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau. The Knoxville native was home for the holidays and celebrated the 10:30 Mass today at St. John Neumann. The bishop told me that the pastor, Fr. John Dowling, was inspired by the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. Coincidentally, that is where my family and I went to Mass a week ago. I told Bishop Johnston that my wife and I had briefly been in his new diocese when we went to Branson this summer.

Fr. Dowling made some announcements before Mass began. They are moving the Saturday vigil Mass from 6:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. He said it would take too long to explain why. After Mass I heard some parishioners speculating that the church could book more Saturday evening weddings after the change. My wife had heard months ago that some families were registering in the parish so their daughters could get married in the new building.

The other big announcement was that the parish would no longer serve communion in both species. Apparently they feel that parishioners sipping from the cup takes too long. Because of the acoustics, they have decided to start singing slower and preaching slower, which will make the Masses run longer. The cavernous space and the hard surfaces create lots of echo.

I've been to several other churches where the problem of slow communion lines was solved by adding more cups, not by removing them. To me, the lack of communion in both species and a few other things made it feel like they were trying to turn back the clock. They rang a bell at the start of Mass and during the consecration. Some parts of the Mass were sung in Latin. When I hear the "Holy Holy Holy" and the "Lamb of God" I know it's time to lower the kneeler. At this Mass they sang "Sanctus Sanctus Sanctus" and "Agnus Dei." I lowered the brand new kneeler only to find that it had a child's muddy boot prints on it, probably from Christmas Eve when the weather outside was frightful wet. After Mass, I brushed it off as best I could with my hand.

The pew where I sat was in one of the transepts, near the ambo. The last person to receive communion in our section was a man carrying a fidgety toddler. A moment or two after the man received the host, I thought I saw the child drop something. I wasn't positive because neither the parent nor the deacon serving communion reacted. The man carried the boy back to their seats and the deacon went off to help distribute communion in the main section of the church. I had an inkling of a suspicion about what had fallen to the floor so I got up from my kneeler to investigate. It was only a few steps over to the spot where the communicants had stood. I didn't see anything until I knelt down to look more closely at the beige marble floor and tilted my head at an angle to see it in a different light. Half a host lay on the floor, barely visible because it was almost the exact same color as the marble. I picked it up and reverently put it in the palm of my hand. I thought about my options for a second and realized that the best thing for me to do in this circumstance was to consume the partial host myself. It would have been terribly disruptive for me to bring the host to the deacon or the bishop and say "look what I found."

I don't know if the deacon had broken the host in half because he was running out of them or if the man had broken the host in half himself, which he shouldn't have done. Either way, the child should not have had the opportunity to take the host from his father or to knock it out of his father's hand. In a situation like that, the man should have received the host directly on his tongue instead of in his hands. I wondered if he was a non-Catholic and didn't know the rules. Catholics believe that Jesus is truly present in the host. We take his words at the Last Supper literally. A fancy church building like St. John Neumann's will attract tourists of all faiths. The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis has the following paragraph on the back cover of their weekly bulletin:
All visitors who are not of the Catholic faith are welcome to join us in prayer but not to receive Holy Communion. Reception of Holy Communion is a sign of unity of faith and full membership in the Catholic community. Together let us pray for the eventual unity of all believers.
After feeling discouraged about the muddy shoe prints and the behavior of the child at communion, I'm glad that as I left the church after Mass, I turned back to read the inscriptions above the three doors. One of them reminds us of Jesus' words in the gospel of Mark: "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them."

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

gifts received

The Christmas gift from my friend Bean is perfect for me. The book "Make 'Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America" by Laurence Maslon and Michael Kantor is filled with chapter after chapter of my favorite comedians. The first random page I opened to had a picture of the Marx Brothers on it. A second flip fell open to a photo of my radio idols, Bob & Ray. My luck held when the third page I saw had Jerry Seinfeld's picture. Thanks Bean! I'll continue to enjoy this for a long time to come.

My lovely wife was thinking of my desire to listen to more podcasts when she got a good bargain on a Sony Walkman. Not only does it hold plenty of audio, video and picture files but my friend Sandy will be interested to know that it has a built-in FM radio too. I listened to a podcast of last week's "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me" while eating dinner tonight.

My kids were thoughtful and generous with their gifts too. My son gave me Stephen Colbert's book, "I Am America (And So Can You!)," which looks like it will be a fun read. My daughter knew that the DVDs of the old "Mission: Impossible" TV series were on my wish list. She also knew that while I would probably be most interested in the episodes with Peter Graves as Jim Phelps, the completist in me would need to have season 1 with Steven Hill as Dan Briggs also. That's why she got me both the season one and season two sets. I'm watching a season two episode as I type this. I love that show. Too bad Tom Cruise defiled it with his movie version.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

gifts given

After the Bijou Jubilee announcement earlier this month, I started walking toward the Mast General Store with the intention of looking for a Christmas gift for my friend Bean. Instead I ended up across the street at J's Mega Mart. I had read about the unusual store and its impending closing in The Bottom Line blog. Unlike the Sunsphere, J's really is a wig shop. In fact, some hair products are visible in the distant background of one of my photos below. Reporter Carly Harrington got herself a wig while she was there. She wrote that the store will stay open until they sell off their widely varied inventory. I saw two unusual Santa figurines that looked like they had been there forever. What a perfect gift for my friend! I bought one of the Santas and cleaned it up with a Q-tip before mailing it across the country to Bean.

When my wife and I went to Branson and Hot Springs this summer, we were unable to find any souvenir Christmas ornaments. Byron Chesney read of my plight and offered to help. His sister lives near Hot Springs National Park and could buy one at a gift shop for me. I wrote to Byron to say that I would gladly repay his sister. After she mailed the ornament to Byron, the following photo arrived in my email inbox.

Byron and I arranged a time and place for me to hand over some cash and for him to give me the ornament. I didn't mind that it cost more for his sister to mail the box from Arkansas to Tennessee than it did for the ornament itself. I knew that my wife would be more impressed by the effort than by the price anyhow. Inspired by this success, I went home and immediately tracked down a gift shop in Branson willing to sell me an ornament over the phone. It would have been easier if they had a website. The patient sales clerk described several ornaments to me until I picked one that sounded like it would be less tacky than the rest. I must have chosen wisely because my wife was surprised, puzzled and pleased by the gift. She was moved by the thought of all those people conspiring to make her Christmas special.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

on the first day of

Merry Christmas! I hope you've taken time to reflect on the true meaning of this holy day. I could try to write a thoughtful blog post (like Rich did) about how I am amazed that of all the ways God could have chosen to come to this earth -- as a fire-breathing dragon or a mighty warrior, for instance -- He instead became a fetus, born of an unwed mother.

But I want to get back to having a great time doing nothing with my family, so I'll just share some photos of Christmas treats that I've collected over the past week. Here are some reindeer cupcakes I saw at Food City, some Santas made by Nirvana Chocolates and some awesome gingerbread cookies made by my kids.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

south pole meets north pole

Well, Layci did get her penguin. Thanks to a snowball effect started by my blog post on Friday, the young girl got her Christmas wish today. I wrote about how a mysterious benefactor bought a Styrofoam penguin as a surprise for the girl who had admired it but couldn't afford it. The catch was that only the girl's first name was known. The staff at Carole's Interior and Gifts tried finding Layci, without success. I happened to wander into the store last Thursday and heard the story from Carole Brailey.

As I was writing the blog post on Thursday evening, I realized that the story was too good to not also tell on the radio Friday morning. One caller got upset that I was making such a fuss over a little girl in an affluent neighborhood getting a frivolous gift when there are so many needy people elsewhere in the region. She was in financial trouble herself but turned down offers of help from other listeners. This situation played out during the 9:00 a.m. hour, while WATE's Bo Williams was on the air with us.

The News Sentinel's Michael Silence posted a link to my blog post on Friday morning. The Shopper News ran their own version of the story on Monday morning. WATE picked up on the search for Layci in their newscasts Monday night. Reporter Kristyn Caddell told me that she got the story from my blog after discussing it in the newsroom with Bo and others.

Friends of the family heard the coverage and got word to Layci's sister, who is a college student. The girls' parents, Karen and John, brought Layci back to the store today to pick up her gift from Santa. The man in the red suit told me that in previous years he has been onstage as part of the Sevier Heights Baptist Church's Living Christmas Tree. Layci's Dad said that she had done her part to "pay it forward" in the past. She recently participated in a program to collect and distribute shoes for the homeless.

Kristyn was there with a cameraman from WATE to capture the moment for tonight's 6:00 p.m. news. She was kind enough to mention me in her story and to pose for a photo with Layci. In times like these, Kristyn said she was glad to report a story with a happy ending. Merry Christmas Eve!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

frozen customers

A nearby bank thermometer said 27° but the wind chill made it feel much colder in St. Louis on Saturday evening. The temperature continued dropping into the single digits during the night. Yet that didn't stop some dedicated fans from lining up in the cold to get their concretes from Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. A lot of them were wearing St. Louis Blues gear, no doubt celebrating the team's victory over the Wild. Many were underdressed and shivering without coats. During Advent, the famous custard stand also sells Christmas trees and wreaths in the parking lot. Ted Drewes does actually close in January for the coldest weeks of winter. Given what I saw on Saturday night, they could probably stay open year round.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

sing in exultation

The piece of music that makes it feel like Christmas for me is the "Christmas Festival Overture" by Leroy Anderson. The composer took several popular Christmas carols and songs and arranged them in a medley. The best parts of it were clearly influenced by Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture." My favorite segment is a mashup of "Jingle Bells" and "O Come All Ye Faithful." There's a new BBC recording of Anderson's holiday works that includes the overture. I literally got goosebumps when I heard the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra perform the opus on Saturday night.

The SLSO's home is the beautiful Powell Symphony Hall, a former vaudeville and movie house. Prior to the concert, they projected messages on a screen reminding the audience that photography was prohibited and that ushers would provide cough drops before the show started. Coughing must be prohibited too. I was impressed that at one of the refreshment stands they sold slices of cake and pie, egg nog (spiked and regular) and hot cocoa. Meanwhile on stage, soloist Doug LaBrecque put the broad in Broadway as he sang to the rafters. He thanked his arranger Wayne Barker for working up some nice orchestrations to include the excellent St. Louis Children’s Choirs on "Do You Hear What I Hear?"

All the songs we heard at the concert and the songs we heard on the weekend's long car trip got me thinking about the good, the bad and the ugly of Christmas music. Relient K's version of "Sleigh Ride" is a favorite this year. I also still enjoy The Blenders singing "The First Noel" and the Brian Setzer Orchestra doing "Angels We Have Heard On High," which is downloadable for free for a limited time on Look up pop perfection and you should get "All I Want for Christmas Is You" by Mariah Carey. It is flawless both as a song and as a record. Ask the Grammys if you don’t know the difference between the two.

I've come to realize that "Baby It’s Cold Outside" is really a woman’s song. I don’t like versions in which the female part is a throwaway, for example when Dean Martin sings it with some anonymous chorus girls (sorry, Bean.) I loved the version on the Mark & Brian Christmas album, not because of Barry Manilow but because of the great voice of listener Pamela Holt. Even better is the cover of the song on the "Elf" soundtrack, sung by Zooey Deschanel and Leon Redbone. When Zooey sings the line "my sister might get suspicious," how can you not think of Bones?

My daughter left a comment on Bean's Christmas Music Everyday blog. He posted a song called "Christmas Eve in Washington" that seems to be disliked by everyone I know. As far as I know, it only gets airplay in D.C. That reminds me. Let me air a gripe about all the radio stations that play only Christmas music for the month prior to the holiday. I've already written about the uneven ratio of sacred to secular songs. Now I want to know why you cut us off cold turkey at 11:59 p.m. on the 25th? When you go back to playing the best mix of yesterday's favorites and today's whatever, I'll be listening to Christmas music for a few more days. I think you should leave some Christmas songs on the playlist through New Year's Eve. Oh and one more thing, when you play an instrumental version of "Sleigh Ride," keep in mind that Leroy Anderson was the composer of the piece. You often make it sound like he played all the instruments on the recording by the Boston Pops or another symphony orchestra.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

cane and enable

The simultaneous blessing and curse of being the Internet's first self-proclaimed marshmallowaholic is that generous friends give me more delicious marshmallows than I should eat. After Mass a week or two ago, my friend Mike the keyboardist gave me a package of the new Peppermint Marshmallow Stars made by Marshmallow Peeps. The flavor goes well with the light and fluffy marshmallows. The candy cane coating seemed stickier than standard sugar-dusted Peeps but that won't stop me from enjoying them.

My wife received a marshmallow-related gift from her "Advent Angel" at work. It's the same concept as a "Secret Santa." The unknown gift-giver gave her a package of Snow Cone Hot Chocolate Mix for two. In addition to the cocoa mix, it comes with chocolate chunks and miniature marshmallows for melting on top.

I suspect that my friends Kathy and Keith enjoy cooking their way into my blog. They are the ones who made S'mores on a stick, the infamous chocolate "snowmen" on a stick and cream-filled cupcakes. On Friday they showed up with a tin of homemade marshmallows in two flavors. Half were of the standard white variety, the others were chocolate. Both taste great. They have a thicker, gummier texture than the Jet-Puffed kind you get in the supermarket. I just got back from a weekend trip to St. Louis and the first thing I did after unloading the car tonight was open the tin and savor some homemade marshmallow goodness.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

death by telekinesis

During a recent remote broadcast from a car dealership, a coworker told me that he was going to an "ugly Christmas sweater party" that night. Although the self-explanatory concept reminded me of a funny scene in "Bridget Jones Diary," I had not previously heard of it. As often happens once something shows up on your radar, I started noticing several pictures of "ugly Christmas sweater parties" on USA Today's Pop Candy Blog.

A few days later, that same coworker saw me wearing one of the Alpaca wool sweaters I received as a gift last year from my wife's brother and his family. They live in Peru, where he is a missionary for Globe International. I felt like I had hit the jackpot when they drew my name in the family Christmas lottery. The Alpaca sweaters are the warmest, softest and most comfortable I've ever had in my life. I wore a light brown one to the Christmas parade two weeks ago. Anyway, my coworker asked if I was going to an "ugly Christmas sweater party." He thought that the llamas on my gray sweater were reindeer.

On Tuesday night I wore the gray sweater to the last regular Einstein Simplified show of the year (not counting our New Year's Eve gig). I kept it on during one of my favorite games, "Story Story Die," but soon got too hot on stage and took it off. Paul Simmons' wife Michelle took pictures throughout the show. I asked her to send me one that I could post here to show that the llamas look nothing like reindeer. Feel free to add your own captions in the comments section.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

make glad the heart of childhood

On Monday evening a young girl happened to stop in at Carole's Interiors & Gifts in Farragut. The fancy gift shop is in the same strip mall as Garde Bien Spa Salon, where I went to get my hair cut yesterday. I also did some browsing at Carole's and heard the story of little Lacey (or maybe it's spelled Lacy), who had spotted a large penguin and fallen in love with it. The bird is made of Styrofoam and covered with a straw-like material.

When Lacey inquired about the cost of the penguin, Carole Brailey told her that it was originally priced at $400 but that she had marked it down to $200. Crestfallen, Lacey said she had only about $100 in her savings. At that point, Carole said she would sell the penguin to the little girl for $100. Lacey went to check with her mother and came back to say they "would have to think about it."

The next day, a mysterious and jolly old man came into the store to ask about the penguin. In fact, he wanted to buy it. Carole explained that she was holding it for someone. That's when the gentleman revealed that he had already heard about Lacey's story from one of his helpers, who had been in the shop the night before. He was still going buy the penguin, not for himself but for Lacey! The gift tag was to simply read "To Lacey, From Santa."

The penguin now sits outside Carole's waiting for Lacey to come back and be surprised. Will she make it there before Christmas? Can you help spread the word so that Lacey's mom will just happen to bring the girl by the store again? Carole has tried calling a few schools in the area, hoping to track down Lacey, so far to no avail. This little story has all the makings of a Christmas miracle, just waiting for the final scene to be written.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

fa ra ra ra ra

Are you thinking about Valentine's Day? Let me explain. Dave and Melanie, the full-time RVing married couple who work at the See's Candies kiosk in West Town Mall, told me something interesting yesterday. They will work here until the day after Christmas, then they will hop in their RV and head to Florida for January. The big news is that they will be back in Knoxville in time to reopen the kiosk and sell you some Valentine's chocolates for your sweetheart. In past years, the kiosk was only open for the month prior to Christmas.

I also went to Dollar General Market yesterday to get some River Ranch Garden Salad. At $1.25 a pound, it costs less than the so-called gourmet salad at Sam's Club. Last week, it was on sale for only $1 a pound, which is cheaper than even the bland, shredded lettuce I've been buying at Sam's. As I was leaving, I passed a guy delivering several cases of Valentine's Day cards from American Greetings. I will have to go back and find out if they put the cards on display before or after Christmas.

In other food store news, today was opening day for a new Asian supermarket on Kingston Pike. The first thing I saw as I walked in the door at the Sunrise Supermarket was a refrigerator case with fully cooked whole ducks, not far from some stacks of preserved duck eggs.

As I passed through the produce section I noticed that they had three kinds of apples: red, green and Fuji. They also had a sign warning "Caution Spiny Fruit" for something called frozen Durian. It's known for its foul odor, which must be why they keep it frozen.


Beyond the produce, I saw plenty of various pork parts. They had ears, feet, kidneys, livers, tongues and stomachs. I also saw large containers of pork blood, trays of beef honeycomb, fresh goat meat and individual chicken feet on ice. Over in the seafood section they had many fresh and frozen varieties of fish. I was fascinated by the things that were still alive. They had live blue crabs, lobsters, Dungeness crabs, catfish and Tilapia.

On my way out, I spied a stack of books in a rack near the door. Who knew there was such a thing as the Chinese Yellow Pages for the Southeast U.S.A?

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

putting the band back together

TNT's annual broadcast of "Christmas in Washington" has become part of my holiday tradition. I found myself looking forward to the telecast for a couple of reasons.

Julianne Hough
opened the show. Unfortunately she sounded nervous. When my wife and I saw her sing at the World Grotto accompanied only by a pair of acoustic guitars, she sounded fantastic. In front of First Lady Laura Bush and singing with a full orchestra and a choir full of backup singers Julianne was, how do you say, pitchy. My wife thought that she probably didn't have a good mix in her monitor speakers or earbuds.

My wife had recently heard about a clever version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." At first she thought her friend was trying to tell her about the old parody song, "The Twelve Days After Christmas." Instead it was a medley of different tunes by a group called Straight No Chaser, who appeared on the show tonight. When Robin McGraw read their introduction, I was interested to learn that they sang together in college, went their separate ways and reunited when an old video of theirs went viral on YouTube. They now have a record deal. I put their CD on my Amazon wish list.

In other random Christmas music news, I've been hearing a lot about the Trans-Siberian Orchestra lately. When I happened to see affianced bloggers Rich and Lissa in Gatlinburg recently, they told me that they are going to the upcoming concert at Thompson-Boling Arena. The TSO also came up in a phone conversation with a friend who was traveling in the Northeast and thought that the band was playing in his area too. During the course of our chat, I got to wondering if the Orchestra could make more money during the holidays by being in two places at once. A look at their tour schedule confirmed my suspicions. On the night that the Trans-Siberian Orchestra plays in Knoxville, they will also be in Indianapolis. The night before that they will be in both Nashville and Detroit. After they play here, they will be in Memphis and Grand Rapids on the same night. Obviously they use two groups of musicians. Wikipedia says they hire local string players in each city but it doesn't say how the principals are divided up. No offense to Indianapolis, but I hope that Knoxville gets the better show that night.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

how to save $5

Tonight's Einstein Simplified performance was going to be our last for the year. The amount of time we take off for our Christmas hiatus has varied in length. Last year we were off for four weeks, which I thought was too much. This year's plan was for only two weeks off but something suddenly came up. I'm glad to report that we will agree and add once more before 2008 expires.

Don't show up at Patrick Sullivan's on the 23rd or the 30th looking for us. We will still be off those nights. However we have added a gig on New Year's Eve as part of First Night Knoxville. If you buy one of the First Night admission buttons, you can see us on December 31 in the TVA West Tower, adjacent to Market Square. The button gets you in to all the indoor venues affiliated with First Night Knoxville, not just our shows. We'll be slinging some improv at 9:00 and 10:15 p.m. Unlike our usual "barprov" gigs, First Night is a family-friendly, alcohol-free event. The buttons cost $10 in advance or $15 on the 31st.

I hope that you'll come out to see us tonight. We'll be in a good mood because we'll get our annual payout from everything that's been stuffed into the tip jar all year long. And then come see us at First Night Knoxville, and back at Patrick Sullivan's on Tuesdays starting January 6. And don't forget our gig at the Bijou on January 30.

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Monday, December 15, 2008


There was a picture of my wife in this morning's News Sentinel. Actually it's her and about a hundred others in the seats at Thompson-Boling Arena on Sunday. A friend of ours had an extra ticket to the Rock n' Racquets exhibition starring Serena Williams and Andy Roddick.

My wife had a great time at the event. She said that Roddick was really funny, especially when he did impressions of other tennis stars like John McEnroe, Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova. He even stuffed towels in his shirt and shorts to impersonate Serena. My wife said she recognized a couple of the songs by Gavin Rossdale, probably from the days we saw him perform with Bush at various KROQ concerts.

While she was there she spotted WBIR's John Becker in the audience. She also saw Fr. Ragan Schriver, who had a court side seat (see photo) near Dane Bradshaw. Just the other day I was talking with someone about how the former Vol player rode a zipline from atop the Sunsphere in 2007.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

perpetual light skype upon them

In this Internet era, everyone could benefit from having a Google Alert for their own name. I've had one in my name for a while and I've recently suggested that my wife and kids set up some for themselves. This past January, Stacy McCloud got a laugh when a Google Alert showed her name in my blog post titled "local news anchor on pot."

When I first set up my own Google Alert, I would get a lot of links to pages about the late politician and judge Frank Murphy and to news stories mentioning the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice. The famous Michigander turned up recently in a story on George Mason University's History News Network. Sometimes I got news of former NFL player Frank Murphy. Lately there have been even more Frank Murphys turning up on the Alert.

There's a Frank Murphy who is a "streetwise scrum half," whatever that means. In Florida, there's a Frank Murphy who is the president of Catholic Charities, Diocese of St. Petersburg. A Dr. Frank Murphy is vice-president of the South Carolina Animal Care and Control Association. However it was yet another Frank Murphy who gave me reason to write this post.

He's a funeral director in Salem, Massachusetts who has started using the Internet to help grieving families. He sets up video streaming to allow far-off relatives to view funeral services online.
The process requires only a single camera, a laptop and an Internet connection. There is a 40-second delay, but viewers are essentially watching the proceedings in "real time" through a link to a secure page or by logging in to a password-protected portion on the Murphy Funeral Home Web site.

The biggest challenge was practical, not philosophical. The church lacks an Internet connection, and Murphy is not ready to take the service wireless — at least not yet. Fortunately, a benevolent neighbor of the church allowed a cable to be run from his router, enabling the broadcast to happen.
As an aside, I thought it funny that the website for the local newspaper in Massachusetts is called

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

do you know where your children are?

So much has been written about Jay Leno's new deal for a nightly 10:00 p.m. show that I didn't think there was anything left to say about it. Longtime readers of this blog know that my friend Bean suggested that very thing back in March. However, many of the articles about Leno's new show suggest that he and Conan O'Brien will be competing to book the same guests. Conan will move his show from New York to Los Angeles in June.

Other articles have pointed out that Leno's ratings drop off after the first half-hour. In other words, the ratings drop when the guests come on. Leno's people know that many viewers turn off the TV at midnight, which is why they load all the good stuff in the first half-hour and save the guest for later. Leno's strong suits are his monologue and bits like "Jaywalking." He is not a great interviewer. With the exception of Hugh Grant's 1995 mea culpa, can you think of a memorable celebrity guest appearance on Leno's "Tonight Show?"

NBC will need Leno to provide a decent lead-in to the late local news. I think he should run his most popular bits in the final quarter hour of the new show instead of interviewing a celebrity. In fact, he should have more bits and fewer guests. He can let Conan have the guests and prevent a booking war.

Network executives are claiming that the new Leno show will be "DVR proof." They say that as if no one records late night talk shows. TiVo users know that the fastest way to watch any show is to record it even if you start watching minutes after the program begins. I am always pausing, rewinding and fast-forwarding during all the shows I watch. Why should a talk show be any different?

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Friday, December 12, 2008

it would be simply charming

If you see a lot of people in Santa suits on Saturday, blame The Cacophony Society. Apparently even Knoxville is important enough to rate an invasion of Kris Kringles. The event is known as Santacon and is supposed to happen in dozens of cities tomorrow including New York and Nashville. Washington and Los Angeles had their Santacons last weekend.

All of this might have slipped under my radar if not for Susan Olsen. She often talked about the Cacophony when we worked together at the Comedy World Radio Network.

The concept apparently started in 1994 with a bunch of people in cheap Santa suits partying and making mayhem. My guess is that they took some inspiration from the scene in "Miracle on 34th Street" where the real Santa kicks the drunk Santa out of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. It certainly looks like there might be a bit of drinking involved at Santacon. I mean they need to stay warm, right?

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

fine time to leave me, loose seal

Larsen Jay, his wife Adrian and their son Henry were all at the Bijou Theatre yesterday for the announcement of the 100 Year Jubilee. Larsen is chairman of the four-day celebration. As a fundraiser, they are asking people to sponsor a light bulb in the new Bijou marquee. The Jay family will buy all the light bulbs for the letter J in Bijou.

For their day job, Larsen and Adrian run a production company called DoubleJay Creative. I've mentioned them before, when their telecast of "Tennessee Shines" aired on WBIR. They also made news this summer when the movie they produced, "I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down" was filming in Knoxville.

When I saw Larsen, I kidded him a bit about the free toilet he gave me four years ago. He was a producer on a home improvement show called "Ed the Plumber," which aired on the DIY Network and starred Ed Del Grande. Larsen brought the crew to my house to shoot an episode on toilet replacement.

photo from 2004

I got a fancy Sterling Dual Force toilet out of the deal. It has one button for small flushes and another for bigger flushes. It worked fine until this past summer. I could hear water leaking from the tank into the bowl. To save money, I turned off the water valve. My wife and son and I got in the habit of turning on the water when we needed to flush and turning it off afterward. We finally decided to get it fixed before Thanksgiving. The plumber we hired found the problem. The flush valve seal had gotten blistered. The air bubbles in the o-shaped ring allowed water to leak past. Unfortunately none of the local plumbing supply stores carried the part. It had to be special ordered from Kohler. Of course it didn't get here in time for Thanksgiving either. As I told Larsen yesterday, my "free" toilet has now cost me $48 for parts and labor.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

news centennial

The Bijou Theatre opened on March 8, 1909 in downtown Knoxville. It escaped the wrecking ball about 35 years ago and was beautifully renovated in 2006. The Bijou 100 Year Jubilee will celebrate the venue with four days of performances at the end of January, including an appearance by your favorite improv group!

I attended the announcement of the Jubilee this afternoon. WBIR sent a crew and News Sentinel reporter Amy McRary was there asking questions. Mayor Bill Haslam, Ashley Capps and Larsen Jay all made some remarks, followed by Marshal Andy who sang a little bit. The Marshal will recreate the Saturday morning children's shows of old on January 31. He plans to screen The Three Stooges and The Little Rascals during the hour-long presentation. In between films, he will sing, do some rope tricks and teach the kids in the live audience to yodel.

Of course, the highlight for me is that Einstein Simplified will perform on the main stage at the Bijou. We will do a one-hour set on Friday, January 30 at 5:00 p.m. Tickets are only $5, despite what it currently says on the Jubilee site. I am psyched about being on the same stage where the Marx Brothers once did a live show.

If you've never come to our regular Tuesday night show at Patrick Sullivan's because it runs too late or because you have to work the next day or because you don't want to be seen coming out of a bar, here's your chance. No excuses!

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

fertile crescent of imagination

Farragut High School was the scene of comical murder and mayhem this past weekend. My wife and I were invited to attend a performance of "Broadway Babylon" on Saturday night. We had gotten to know the school's drama teacher, Lea McMahan, when she used to come to see Einstein Simplified shows. Lea directed the play, which starred her talented students. She correctly thought that I would enjoy seeing the partially improvised production.

As the Farragut Press reported last week, I was asked to arrive in a limousine. What they didn't tell you is that my wife and I got into the limo in the loading dock area outside the backstage door. The car only drove us around the building. Students playing paparazzi photographed my wife and me as we got out of the limo and walked the red carpet into the high school.

Radio production whiz Gene Wooten did the sound for the production. He does an incredible job of hiding tiny microphones on the actors. They had flesh-colored mics on their foreheads, with the wire hidden in their hair or under their wig.

The play is an interactive murder mystery that the audience is encouraged to solve. The printed program had spaces to write down the clues uncovered throughout the night. They changed the ending at each performance to make a different character the murderer. The reviewer from the Farragut Press was there the same night as me. While they were changing the endings, I felt that they could have also changed a few outdated '80s references to Oliver North and Fawn Hall. However, the actors were great. Most of them were better than the cast of a college musical I saw recently.

I was surprised to find that they made me and another audience member suspects in the murder. We were brought up on stage and questioned as to our whereabouts during the crime. I said that I was in the fourth row, aisle seat when it happened. Later, the detective character suggested that I had reason to want the victim to be dead. I said, "I may have had motive but I didn't have opportunity." In addition to all the other fun, they had cake at intermission! Mmm... cake.

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Monday, December 08, 2008

full of grace

Several Baptist churches around the country present Living Christmas Trees but few, if any, do so in as spectacular a fashion as the Sevier Heights Baptist Church in Knoxville. Their presentation outgrew their sanctuary and then the Tennessee Theatre years ago. Five performances of the Knoxville Living Christmas Tree filled Thompson-Boling Arena this weekend.

My wife and I had never seen the LCT, as those in the know call it. It is actually a gigantic choir riser in the shape of a Christmas tree. A segment on the noon news one day last week got me interested in going although our previous commitments didn't make it easy. We already had plans for Saturday. Tonight, my wife and I went to Mass at our own church for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation and the national feast of the USA. It comes nine months before the celebration of Mary's birth. There was only one performance that fit our schedule, Sunday at 3:00 p.m. I went to the website to request a pair of free tickets only to find out that they were "sold out." I gave up my plans to attend and started thinking about going to the Knoxville Nativity Pageant next week instead.

After the Julianne Hough concert on Friday night, my wife and I went to Rita's Ice to share a dessert. As we paid for our Blendini, I saw tickets to the Living Christmas Tree on the counter. There were a few tickets for each of Sunday's two performances. Nancy, the store owner, told me that she had gotten the tickets through her church and that they were free for the taking. I grabbed a pair for the matinee. Call it fate, karma or good luck.

We got there about 45 minutes early. I dropped off Jere at the door and went to park the car. As I got out of my car, I realized that I had parked next to Matt Hinkin. He said that it had been a couple of years since he last saw the LCT. I found my wife in section 105 and sat down. I had brought my copy of "Thank God for Evolution" to read while waiting for the show to start. As the singers began to fill in the 16 levels of the tree, I noticed that their choir robes were just drapes that only covered their shoulders and upper bodies.

I went to the Living Christmas Tree expecting a musical performance. I didn't know it would also include a Nativity pageant, a Passion play, a sermon and a passing of the collection plate. The show was so entertaining that even I was moved to toss in a couple of bucks. In addition to all the other elements, there was a contemporary Christmas story, reminiscent of a schmaltzy TV movie. Hollywood producer Garrett returns to his hometown to expose what he thinks is the hypocrisy of their Christmas celebration. He has a change of heart after his assistant prays for him.

The best parts of the event were the singing and the sermon by guest speaker Scott Dawson. I could have done with slightly shorter talking scenes and more songs during the drama portion. However the show did have first class production values. In a way, it was like a slice of Pigeon Forge right here in Knoxville. In fact, the comic relief characters, Bobby Earl and Skeeter, were a lot like some I saw at the Dixie Stampede last year.

Before the performance, Shannon Leigh from Love 89 welcomed the crowd. She said that they were playing only Christmas music this month. On the way home, I switched back and forth between Love 89 and B97.5. The religious station beat the commercial station on each song I heard. The tunes that gave them the win were "Jingle Bells" by Denver & the Mile High Orchestra and "Sleigh Ride" by Relient K while the B was playing "Do They Know It's Christmas" yet again. You can compare the two station's playlists yourself here and here.

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Sunday, December 07, 2008

some will win, some will lose

The Tennessee high school football world was rocked yesterday. A team that has dominated its division for the past several years did something they didn't do last year or the year before or the year before that. They won the state championship. Obviously I'm not talking about the end of Maryville's remarkable winning streak. Knoxville Catholic High School's Fighting Irish got the monkey off their back this year by making it to the Blue Cross Bowl and then winning it. With all the publicity for the football team, you might think that it was the first state championship in the 75 year history of KCHS. Actually, the school's first ever state championships came earlier this year with victories by the tennis and soccer teams.

The game was telecast on CSS. I watched the first half live and recorded the second half to watch after work. Some friends from church happened past my remote broadcast. As they got out of their car, they were bursting with the news that Catholic was winning. I put my hands over my ears and told them that I was TiVoing the game at home.

There was much to enjoy including a successful onside kick and an incredible deep pass by Catholic's quarterback Tyler Williamson. It was not all good news. An Irish field goal attempt was blocked and almost run back for a touchdown. Michael Bonfini and Evan Sanders both left the game with leg fractures. With only seconds to go and the game won, Catholic went into the "victory formation." As the quarterback took a knee, my wife and I noticed that Zach Vann was one of the players on the field. He had suffered a season-ending injury on the first play of this year's first game. Last week Vann dressed out for the coin toss. My wife and I especially liked seeing Mr. Football award winner Daniel Hood carrying the championship trophy over to the fans in the stands. WVLT had a reporter on the field after the game. WATE sent a reporter to interview the team as they got off the bus at KCHS. The players warbled "Don't Stop Believin'" for the camera.

It's not over for two of the Irish. Will Coulter and Jordan Howanitz, were selected to play in the Toyota East-West Football Classic this coming Saturday at Carson-Newman College.

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

ebony and ivory

A small crowd of country music fans found themselves in the audience for a Poetry Slam on Friday night. Of course they weren't there for the poetry, they were waiting to see Julianne Hough, the true star of "Dancing with the Stars."

I had tried to catch a glimpse of Julianne at the WIVK Fowler's Furniture Christmas Parade along Gay Street. The sidewalks were packed with people who had gotten there a lot earlier than me to reserve their spot. After barely seeing Julianne's float pass by, I made the tough decision to bail on the parade and head over to the World Grotto, where my wife was waiting with our Tele-buddy Terry Morrow. He had interviewed Julianne earlier in the day and joined us for dinner on Market Square. The three of us got good seats on the cushioned benches along the wall near the stage just as the Poetry Slam began. Others sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the stage.

The Poetry Slam is a regular event produced by Black Sunshine Arts and Entertainment. As we waited for Julianne, we heard recitations from local poets RheaSunshine, Dawg, Jump Drive and Black Atticus. We also heard the evening's featured poet Carlos Robson, who had traveled from Charlotte to perform. Most of the country fans listened politely to the poets' left-leaning monologues. However the woman seated behind me spent most of the time chatting with her friends both in person and on the phone. Carlos was quite good and was able to command the audience's full attention. The emcee, RheaSunshine, repeatedly entreated the crowd to stay for more poetry after Julianne's concert. On the whole, t
he experience made me think of an improv game called "Performance Art" and a new variation we've recently started doing at Einstein Simplified shows called "Beatnik Coffeehouse."

As Rhea began to wrap up their first set, I went to the bathroom, thinking that I might catch a glimpse of Julianne's entourage in one of the other Grotto rooms down the same hallway. Instead I saw County Commissioner Mike Hammond, who greeted me warmly and allowed me to step in to the area reserved for WIVK's meet and greet with Julianne. After Mike introduced me to Julianne, I spied Jimmy Holt, who I knew to be a good guy from my time working at WOKI. I offered to take a picture of him with Julianne if he would return the favor. I told Julianne that I used to work with her former dance partner Adam Carolla.

Julianne was in good voice as she sang selections from her self-titled album and her "Sounds of the Season" disc. I thought she sounded better than she did on the various television shows where I've seen her sing. We had a good view of the stage until Julianne sang "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and asked everyone to stand. Those who were seated on the floor were very happy to get up and stretch their legs.

I've been a fan of Julianne since she first danced with the stars. I now have both her CDs and have already programmed the DVR to catch her on the annual "Christmas in Washington" special on the 17th.

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Friday, December 05, 2008

ort report

For several days after each Thanksgiving, all my meals include leftovers. The cranberry sauce is always the first thing to get used up while the turkey lasts the longest. I've discovered that my new favorite condiment makes a great replacement for cranberry sauce. After I reheat four ounces of turkey for lunch or dinner, I pour some Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce on top. Its sweetness and spiciness give an extra zing that takes the boredom out of leftovers. I've been going through the stuff so fast that while at Sam's Club yesterday, I bought two more bottles without remembering that I still had one in the pantry.

I found some interesting Internet leftovers too. My friend Sandy posted some of her Thanksgiving recipes last week. While tracking back a link to my post about free symphony tickets for bloggers, I happened across a cute story about a kid who thinks sweet potato casserole is called "marshmallow basagna." Byron Chesney posted a picture of Thanksgiving cakes and pies that had me wanting to take a bite out of my screen.

As if my review of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade weren't complete enough, let me point you to somebody at NPR who wrote a blog post about the great Rickroll at the parade. Another blogger did a "live blog" of the event. I've thought about doing that but I ended up sitting back on the couch and jotting a note on a legal pad when something struck me as noteworthy.

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

what exit?

A highlight of NBC's holiday schedule is their annual broadcast of "Christmas in Rockefeller Center." I thought that this year's telecast was considerably better than last year and the year before. There were still some things to nitpick though. Al Roker said the tree lighting was the "official start of the holiday season." I'm almost positive he said the exact same thing about the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade last week. C'mon Al, pick one.

The "miracle tree" came from 74-year-old twins Bill and Bob Varanyak of Hamilton, New Jersey. They explained that their late mother fertilized the tree with a mixture of manure and water for many years after planting it in 1931.

"America's Got Talent" winner Neal E. Boyd got to sing during the 7pm hour, which is shown only on WNBC in New York. His performance of "O Holy Night" had too much vibrato for my taste. For the nationwide broadcast, all they let him do was introduce "American Idol" winner David Cook, who did a good job on John Lennon's "Happy Xmas." I like David Cook's voice but his version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"on the pre-show wasn't that great, mostly because of his guitar playing and the way he "made it his own" by leaving out parts of the song. His guitar sounded like it was playing a different song than the one he was singing.

Faith Hill and Rascal Flatts made appearances on the telecast. I generally find country artists to be tolerable when they are singing Christmas standards. Faith did justice to "Little Drummer Boy" and "Joy to the World." Rascal Flatts was okay with "White Christmas." In fact, I preferred it over Harry Connick, Jr's jazz arrangement of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." My wife says I'm biased because it was too different from the way good old Andy Williams sings it.

I may be in the minority but I thought Miley Cyrus sounded good on "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." It was the right song for her voice and was way better than the non-holiday song she did on the pre-show. It was fairly obvious that Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers and Beyonce pre-recorded their segments. Otherwise why would NBC stick them on a rooftop, away from the fans? Plus, the Jonas Brothers were on CBS minutes later in a live telecast from Los Angeles. I did like seeing St. Patrick's Cathedral in the background as Beyonce sang a song with a hint of "Ave Maria" in it. Co-host Jane Krakowski called it "her own personal version" of the hymn. As of last night, there were some comments on Beyonce's website complaining about her low-cut dress and the differences between her rendition and the actual "Ave Maria." After Jane Krakowski said that Beyonce's stage persona is "Sasha Fierce," Al Roker said that his was "Sir Gay Mild." Oh wait, maybe he meant "Sergei Mild."

The network did a good job of concealing Rosie O'Donnell's participation in the show. Britney Spears did less yet was promoted more. It was a surprise when Rosie showed up playing a bongo drum while her "Broadway Kids" lip-synced a song about Santa doing the mambo. Britney got a few seconds of screen time as she opened the show and teased the actual tree lighting prior to a commercial break.

Tony Bennett continues to make it sound easy when he sings. I can't believe he's 82 years old. I was also amazed to hear that "A Swingin' Christmas" is his first holiday album in 40 years.

I mentioned that the Jonas Brothers were in Los Angeles, not New York last night. They were present for "The Grammy Nominations Concert Live" on CBS. Mariah Carey opened that show with "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." That song is one of my all-time favorites, especially the cover version by U2 and the original by Darlene Love. I wonder if Mariah has got a cold or if the song was not quite in her range. She didn't sound as good as usual. I think I'll click over to YouTube to see Darlene Love do the song on David Letterman's show.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

and party every day

There's an old joke that says Jews don't recognize Jesus, Protestants don't recognize the Pope and Baptists don't recognize each other in the liquor store. Which is why it's funny that two former Baptists I know both sing the praises of a liqueur called Rock & Rye.

The two women do not know each other. Both are very active in their respective church choirs. They take a little Rock & Rye if they have a sore throat the night before they have to make their joyful noise. I thought that maybe it was a Southern thing but I found a reference to the use of the liqueur as a cold remedy in a 1934 New Yorker article.

My wife bought a small bottle of the drink a few years ago. I never tried it until recently when I had a mild cold that didn't respond to Nyquil. I finished off our old bottle which meant there was none left when my wife needed some a few days later. That's how I found myself in two liquor stores, looking for a replacement bottle.

I couldn't remember the brand name of the bottle we had at home. I just knew that it had an orange rind in the bottom. The first store had small bottles of Leroux Rock & Rye, which had no orange rind. I drove over to Bob's Package Store and found a small bottle of Leroux and several large bottles of Mr. Boston Rock & Rye. It had the rind but I didn't think I needed a bottle that big. I got the bigger bottle not only for the rind but because I recognized the picture of Mr. Boston. However I didn't see any people I knew, Baptist or otherwise.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

see's the moment

The smell of chocolate would often fill my nostrils as I got out of the car and walked into the building at KLOS. The studios were just up the street from a See's Candies plant on La Cienega Boulevard.

See's has stores in most California shopping malls and kiosks at many of the gates at LAX and other airports. For the past few years they've also put kiosks in malls all over the country prior to Christmas. The kiosks sell prepackaged candy only. If you want to get a custom assortment, with extra Scotchmallows for example, you have to order it. We get the See's catalogs in the mail several times a year and I still like to read them cover to cover.

Dave, the guy working at the West Town Mall kiosk, has a slight resemblance to my old friend Loo Katz. He told me that he and his wife used to live in Glendale, California. They moved to Maine before becoming full-time RVers. Now they travel the country, usually staying at campgrounds where they do some work in lieu of paying a site fee. At one of these sites they met a guy from See's who suggested that they had the right personality to work for the company too.

Just the other day I talked with an evolutionary evangelist who also travels the country rather than keep a permanent home. I do want to get to all 50 states but I'm not sure that I'm willing to give up the comforts of home for a life on the road. Besides, I wouldn't want to end up like the characters in "Lost in America."

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Monday, December 01, 2008

cyber is the new black

Several news shows over the weekend had advice on how to shop on Cyber Monday. They mentioned comparison shopping sites like PriceGrabber and PriceSpider and other helpful sites like WalletPop, CouponMountain, DealNews and Shopzilla.

Just in time for Christmas, my mother and some other relatives have purchased some beautiful hand-crafted jewelry from Lillydaisy Boutique, a new online shop run by another one of our family members. In addition to making the earrings, necklaces and bracelets shown on the site, they can make custom pieces to order. I got a kick out of the cleverly named "Hooked on Onyx." The set in the picture has already been sold but don't worry. They'll make more.

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