Spring/Summer TV Diary

It’s no secret that I love TV, and in the past I have written entries in the fall about what TV I’m planning on watching that season. I always intend to write something else when mid-season replacements start rolling in and then also in the summer when the cable channels kick their original programming in to high gear. For some reason I never have, but that changes now. The new shows on this list ran in the spring and have either already finished their run for the season (or series) or will be ending in a couple more episodes. That means you have the summer to seek them out and catch up before next season I guess. The rest are all returning shows that tend to air in the summer,  thus escaping my previous recaps of what I’m watching.

Orphan Black

Orphan Black is one of the new series being produced by BBC America. It is not a BBC import, but instead a show specifically produced for the American audience of BBC America. The show stars Tatiana Maslany as woman named Sarah who accidentally discovers that she is one of at least 8 clones after watching a woman who looks like her jump in front of train and then assuming her identity to steal her money. The story is full of great intrigue and great characters. At this point I’m about the last person in the world to actually say it but Tatiana Maslany deserves all the Emmys for her portrayal of the different clone characters in this show. She does an incredible job of making them each believable as individuals. I often forget that the same actress is playing them all. I’m really enjoying this show.

The Nerdist

Speaking of BBC America shows, The Nerdist follows Orphan Black on Saturday nights. It is a television outgrowth of The Nerdist podcast, which I have written about before. It features Chris Hardwick, Matt Mira, and Jonah Ray from the podcast plus 2 guests every week. Each show generally consists of some conversation with the guests, a game played with the guests, some sketch comedy features with Matt and Jonah, and a short stand-up comedy set at the end of each episode. It’s an enjoyable enough show. I have found that who the guest stars are and how well they interact with everyone present really determines how much I like a particular episode, but for the most part it’s enjoyable fun.

Top of the Lake

Top of the Lake was a limited series engagement that aired in the U.S. on The Sundance Channel. It was written by Jane Campion and was filmed and originally aired in New Zealand. It stars Elizabeth Moss of Mad Men fame as a detective returning to the town where she grew up to visit her dying mother and getting caught up in the case of a pregnant 12 year old who it is suspected was raped and who then goes missing. I very much enjoyed it though it is kind of slow and atmospheric so if you’re looking for a hugely plot driven murder mystery you should probably look elsewhere. It’s only 7 hours though, so if you’re looking for something with a limited run I would highly suggest it.


Speaking of slow television, it doesn’t get much slower than Rectify, which is The Sundance Channel’s first foray into their own original programming. The show revolves around Daniel who was just released from prison after 19 years. He was convicted of killing his high school girlfriend, but recent DNA evidence causes the conviction to be overturned leading to his release. He however has not been exonerated of the crime and the threat of a retrial is constantly hanging over his head. This is in addition to the convictions of the small town community in Georgia where he lives. There is some suggestion that they will delve further into who killed Hanna (it may still be Daniel we don’t really know), but mostly the show is about what it’s like to try and reenter life after being locked up for 19 years and the world has gone on without you.  The show just finished its 6 episode first season and has been renewed for a 10 episode second season.

The Americans

The Americans takes place in the 1980s during the Cold War. It centers around Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings who seem like your normal suburban parents to a teenage daughter and preteen son. In reality they are spies for the KGB in a fake marriage (though the kids are real). At the beginning of the series an FBI agent specifically working on fighting the Soviets moves in across the street from them and befriends them. The show is full of intrigue and does a great job of building tension into situations where we already know the outcome because historically the touchstones of the stories on the show have already happened. The writers have also written the characters and stories so well that I forget that in reality I shouldn’t be cheering for the Jennings to win. I should in fact be rooting for the actual Americans.


Based on the book Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, Hannibal explores the relationship between FBI criminal profiler Will Graham and Hannibal Lector. The show is extremely gory and full of images of things done to the human body that you can’t unsee, so use your best judgment as to whether or not it is a show you would want to watch. The show is fine. It’s nothing I’m over the moon about. I’ll watch the rest of the episodes NBC has on tap, but if it doesn’t get renewed for a second season I won’t be heartbroken.


Veep is a half hour comedy on HBO starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the Vice President. It’s kind of a political satire that relies on a lot of humor based on people winding up in awkward situations. I haven’t enjoyed the second season as much as I did the first, which I found to be funnier. Mostly I like it though because it’s filmed in Baltimore and it’s fun to pick out locations.


As I have mentioned on this blog before I have a love hate relationship with Aaron Sorkin. Newsroom unfortunately sets him firmly on the hate side of that line, but I can’t stop watching anyway. Hey, you’re talking to someone who watched Studio 60 all the way to its horrible end. Jeff Daniels plays Will McAvoy, a supposedly Republican television reporter on the fictional cable news show News Night. Despite his supposed political leanings he still serves as a major mouth piece for Aaron Sorkin’s liberal leanings as Will McAvoy apparently hates what the Republican party has become and criticizes them constantly. Sorkin has never done well at writing women, but the way the women on this show are made to be complete idiots (though trust me that’s not how he thinks he is writing them) drives me insane. Also the show is based on real news events approximately 1.5-2 years behind present day, which actually makes the whole show seem less dramatic and kind of silly. I really wish he had created a fictional universe as he did with The West Wing. Honestly it’s worth hate watching this show just to enjoy the Twitter jokes about which news stories Newsroom will catch up to in a couple years and also the hilarious @HBONewsroom Twitter account that creates fake plot lines for the show.

Melissa and Joey

Melissa and Joey is kind of a goofy sitcom on ABC Family starring Melissa Joan Hart and Joey Lawrence. Melissa Joan Hart plays Mel Burke, a local city council woman and former party girl, who winds up raising her teenage niece and nephew after their parents get sent to prison for running a Ponzi scheme. Joey Lawrence plays Joe Longo, a man who once worked for their father and lost all his money and credibility in their scheme. Now he works as a nanny taking care of the teenagers. Obviously it has a little bit of a Who’s the Boss feel to it. It feels like a real throwback to 80s sitcoms and seems like something that would have been on TGIF back in the day. That’s probably why I like it. It feels like a little bit of nostalgia. It isn’t entirely unfunny though or I wouldn’t watch it. I just saw yesterday that it got picked up for a full third season (whatever that means on ABC Family) and also renewed for a fourth season, so it will be sticking around for awhile.

Breaking Bad

I tried Breaking Bad when it first came on, but I couldn’t get into it. My husband continued to watch for a little while and then he too stopped watching. I however actually wound up coming back to it and he didn’t. I kept seeing everyone talk about how amazing this show was, so I finally watched it streaming and caught up to last summer’s live episodes. Honestly, this show still really isn’t for me, but you can’t say I didn’t give it a try. I’m not sure what it is. I can’t really put my finger on why I can’t get into this show like everyone else. It’s not like I don’t watch other dark shows or shows with anti-heroes as the main characters, so I don’t think that’s the problem. Whatever it is, I’ll watch the final 8 episodes this summer and will be happy to be done with it. I don’t begrudge anyone else their opinion about the greatness of this show, it for some reason is just not for me.

White Collar

Ah White Collar, home to my TV boyfriend Matt Bomer. I mean really do you need any other incentive to watch? Ok, aside from getting to stare at Matt Bomer for an hour each week White Collar does what USA shows do best. Matt Bomer stars as Neal Caffrey an art thief and forger who instead of going to prison for his crimes is sentenced to working with the FBI’s white collar division while wearing an anklet that keeps him limited in where he can go. He works alongside of the man who finally managed to capture him, Peter Burke. The show is a lot about their relationship. There is always a case of the week as well as overarching stories that go on over the course of a season or longer. I was sorry that they wrote out the character Sarah, Neal’s on-again/off-again girlfriend, played by Hilarie Burton at the end of this last season. I always enjoyed the dynamic between Sarah and Neal. Though the show’s creator said in an interview that their story was done, I’m hoping maybe since Hilarie Burton’s pilot didn’t get picked up there’s a chance for her to recur if only as a guest star at some point. Most likely Neal will just get another love interest. I just realized that for some reason this show isn’t actually coming back this summer like it normally does. It appears USA is holding it for the fall, so boo to that.

Burn Notice

I’m actually rather over Burn Notice at this point and am glad that they’ve announced the upcoming season will be its last. The show follows the adventures of Michael, a former spy from the CIA who got burned and has spent the past however many seasons trying to find out why he was kicked out and who burned him along with the help of his girlfriend Fiona, his ex-Navy Seal friend Sam, and his mom Madeleine. The last few seasons have also added in Jesse, who is another spy who Michael accidentally gets burned during his own search for justice or whatever it is exactly that he’s looking for. There’s always a client of the week who can’t seek help from legal authorities for some reason who turns to this group to solve whatever problem they have going on. Each episode is usually bookended with information about the longer ongoing plot of the season related to Michael being burned, which has gotten increasingly convoluted and ridiculous. This show was a lot of fun in the beginning, but has definitely run a few seasons past its prime.

Covert Affairs

Covert Affairs is another USA show revolving around spies in the CIA, particularly new spy Annie, her partner Auggie, and handler Joan. That’s pretty much it. There are spy stories of the week coupled with other season long ongoing plots. It’s basically good, mindless summer entertainment. This show has actually gotten better in my opinion as it has started focusing more on the ongoing plotlines rather than more case of the week stories. Also it wrote out Annie’s sister who was just a drag on the show as they had to shoehorn her into storylines.

Necessary Roughness

Necessary Roughness is the most recent in the stable of USA summer shows that I watch. It revolves around psychologist Dani, who is hired on by fictional football team the New York Hawks to help deal with issues of some its players, particularly their star player Terrence King. It sticks to the USA formula with Dani having a case of the week often not related to the Hawks players in which she helps some sports figure overcome whatever psychological issue seems to be screwing up their performance. In addition there are season long plot lines. The show also stars Mark Blucas (who was also on Buffy) as Dani’s love interest. I only mention this specifically because I just recently found out that he used to play basketball for my alma mater Wake Forest, which blew my mind. Granted he was there before my time, but still I had no idea. I feel like I should have found this information out before now.


Two weeks ago the long awaited (at least by me) site Previously.tv launched. The site is brought to you by Tara Ariano and David T. Cole, who you may recall me mentioning in relation to their podcast Extra Hot Great. When they stopped recording the podcast they announced Previously.tv as their upcoming new project, and I have been eagerly awaiting its arrival for almost a year. They’ve also gotten the band back together as the site is also being run by Sarah D. Bunting, who Tara and Dave co-founded Television Without Pity with back in the day. I used to love that site and found many of the people whose writing I currently read across the internet via their recaps for TWOP. I still read recaps for Vampire Diaries there, but that’s about it. Most of the writers I loved have moved on to other ventures.

Speaking of writers. Previously.tv has pulled together an excellent stable of writers who if you follow people writing about television you have probably read before. In addition to Tara Ariano and Sarah D. Bunting some of the writers include former TWOP recappers Pamela Ribon and Joe Reid, who was also the third member of the Extra Hot Great podcast team. Also writing regularly for the site is Mark Blankenship, who I have written about previously on this blog. His participation is bittersweet because he has moved on from writing about music to participate in this venture (which I know because I asked him). As it is obviously a site about television, he won’t really be writing about music anymore. I have a ton of people who write about television that I enjoy reading, but I don’t have very many people I adore who write about music. His voice in this arena will be much missed at least by me. Oddly he didn’t base his life and career choices on the wishes of a random girl on the internet who tweets at him occasionally. The nerve, really.

The site itself is gorgeously designed by David T. Cole, though I don’t see it that often as I generally read it through my RSS reader (which reminds me I really need to adopt something to take the place of Google Reader pronto). There is a great mix of articles and features on the site that range from oddball recaps/reviews of shows to speculations and hypotheticals about all kinds of shows and everything in between. Even though the site has only been live for 2 weeks, they have been prepopulating it over the past year so there is already quite a bit of content there you can look through.

And in other good news they have also rumored the forthcoming existence of a site related podcast, which I can not wait for. I still miss having Extra Hot Great in my weekly podcast rotation.

It’s a great new site focused on television that isn’t doing quite what any other site out there is doing. If you like television like I do I highly recommend that you go check it out if you haven’t already.


Last fall a new pizza, pasta, and craft beer restaurant named Birroteca opened in my neighborhood. It quickly became so popular that it was almost impossible to eat there, and with good reason. Unless you make a reservation weeks in advance or want to eat dinner at 4 pm or after 9pm then good luck getting a table. I believe it was way back in March that my friend Alison and I started planning a double date. I had been a couple of times, but she had never been (she got sick the night our book club met there). Between their availability and our busy schedules it was Memorial Day weekend before we could get a reservation. We were making our plans over Twitter and apparently not being clear with each other so both wound up with a reservation. After we realized that we joked that we should sell one of them to the highest bidder closer to the date.

Last night 6 of us finally had our long awaited dinner there and it was delicious as always. I’ve been hearing about the calamari appetizer forever in both professional and amateur reviews of Birroteca. My husband is a vegetarian so I did not have someone to share it with on previous visits. I was not going to miss out this time. People were not kidding about this calamari. Birroteca is not messing around. That stuff was amazing. It was cooked with lemon, capers, and garlic and was probably the most tender calamari I have ever eaten. It’s worth going to Birroteca just to eat that. We also shared the wild mushroom arancini, a strawberry salad, and the crispy brussel sprouts all which were delicious. Well at least as delicious as brussel sprouts can be. I am not a fan. I’ve really tried, but I just don’t like them.

For our entrees my husband tried the polenta gnocchi, which he said was good but I never got a chance to try it. Birroteca does a family style special each night designed to serve two or more people. Sunday nights it is spaghetti and meatballs. Two of our friends split that and were pleased. The other three of us ordered pizza and shared it around, which was nice because it meant I got to try several more of the pizzas. The previous times I had gone I had ordered the sausage and mushroom pizza, which was amazingly delicious. The menu changes seasonally so there were some additional pizzas this time that had not been there the last time I was there. I decided to try one of the new ones on the list called the Double D. I have no idea why. It had meatballs, basil, and cherry tomatoes on it. Alison got one that had prosciutto, arugula, fennel, and cherry tomatoes on it. Dave got the Duck, Duck, Goose which has duck confit, fig-onion jam, fontina and asiago cheeses, and a duck egg on it. I had always been curious about that one, but wasn’t willing to order it for my own dinner so I’m happy that he did so I could try it. My verdict on it was that it was really good, but too sweet for me to want to eat as my main meal. One piece was good. I don’t think I would want to eat a whole pizza of it. So far my favorite of the four pizzas I’ve tried there is the spicy fennel sausage I’ve had on previous visits, but really they are all delicious.

For dessert half the table ordered the cherry nutella tart topped with pistachio ice cream. It was amazing. Alison had the strawberry panna cotta, which was good but not a dessert I like in general. Bill had the cannoli of the day. I neither got to try them nor heard him comment on them but I’m guessing he enjoyed them as he ate all 3 that were on the plate.

I’m already looking forward to my leftover pizza for dinner. Birroteca is an excellent addition to the neighborhood. Like many of the super popular restaurants in my neighborhood, I just wish it didn’t take so much work to eat there.

Pop Song of Summer 2013 Round Two

You may recall that a few weeks ago I threw out a couple of songs that I thought were contenders for the pop song of summer 2013. All of these songs are still in contention I think, but I have two more songs I believe are entering the playing field.

First up we have the new song Get Lucky by Daft Punk. Unless you’ve been living under a rock this song has become inescapable over the past few weeks no matter where you get your music from. So we can already see that this song is in prime territory for pop song of the summer. It’s got massive crossover appeal. It’s peppy, and it is easy to sing along to. Not to mention it is feeding into what seems to be a current trend in music with 70s influences (see also Bruno Mars’ Treasure and Jamie Lidell’s Do Yourself a Faver [yes it is spelled faver not favor]).

Daft Punk in general is not for me. I like about maybe 10% of their music and that stands for this new album as well, which I listened to when iTunes was streaming it the week before the album release. Sorry Daft Punk I just can’t get into music that sounds like I’m stuck inside of a video game with people shooting at me. *pew* *pew* Get Lucky, however, is super catchy, and I love it. This song may just have what it takes to go the distance.

Our next entry is a real long shot at this point, but you never know when the dark horse will come from behind and win. Please welcome San Francisco by the Mowgli’s to the playing field. First off let me go on a sidebar and say that the biggest thing this song has going against it my opinion (which in the case holds no actual weight because have you seen the grammar in YouTube comments) is that ridiculous apostrophe in the band’s name. That is correct I did not typo an apostrophe back there. It really exists, and it drives me nuts. What are you possessive of Mowgli’s? Also it makes it impossible to write something like the Mowgli’s’ San Francisco when referring to the song because really that’s what I’m supposed to do? I can’t even. Ok, now that I have that out of my system back to why this song actually should be in consideration.

I got this song for free several months ago either from one of Amazon’s new artist samplers or from SXSW. I can’t remember which at this point. Perhaps even both. No matter. I immediately fell in love with it. The Californian band consists of eight members many of which sound like they’re singing along on this song, which makes it sound like something you too should be singing along with. It’s another one of those songs that makes me get up and kind of dance spin around while singing it. That’s always a good sign that you have summer pop song potential. Aside from the ridiculous apostrophe the real reason this song is a dark horse at this point is that I haven’t actually heard it on pop radio at this point. I’ve heard it on non-commercial radio and last week heard it on commercial radio for the first time which is why I felt like I could throw it in the ring. I did not hear it on one of the radio stations I consider pop radio stations though. Instead it was one of the more alternative/indie music stations. Even if it gets lots of play there it has no chance of being the pop song of the summer unless it takes over all the pop stations and becomes almost unavoidable. This song will need a breakthrough to get to that point, but it’s not even Memorial Day yet so there’s still time. No matter what it is still an excellent summer song.

The Raisin Cycle at Centerstage

My friend Alison and I are season subscribers to Centerstage in Baltimore. Last night we saw the second of two plays that are being billed as The Raisin Cycle, as they are both examining the history of race in America based off of Lorraine Hansbury’s play A Raisin in the Sun. The first is Clybourne Park, Bruce Norris’ Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning play which takes place in the same house the Younger family moves into in A Raisin in the Sun prior to their occupancy in the first act and then in present day in the second act. The second play was written by Kwame Kwei-Armah, Centerstage’s current Artistic Director, as a response to Clybourne Park and some of the issues he sees in the play. Beneatha’s Place follows the character of Beneatha Younger to Nigeria picking up where A Raisin in the Sun leaves off. The first act examines her husband’s fight to gain independence for the Nigerian people from the British. The second act occurs 40 years later in present day as Beneatha, who is now a dean teaching African-American studies at a university in California, returns to Nigeria with her colleagues for a conference.

The Raisin Cycle is getting a lot of well-deserved good press including from The New York Times. In addition, yesterday they just put out a press release that PBS is going to air a documentary special about the Raisin Cycle productions. From the press release: “The “A Raisin in the Sun Revisited” special will feature scenes from CENTERSTAGE’s productions of Clybourne Park and Beneatha’s Place as well as excerpts from film and television productions of A Raisin in the Sun. Interviews with the Raisin Cycle creative team, backstage b-roll, commentary on the impact of Lorraine Hansberry’s work, newsreel footage, and audience discussions will allow the program to explore the legacy of A Raisin in the Sun and examine current and historical perspectives on race, property, neighborhoods, and gentrification. “

I have never seen A Raisin in the Sun performed, but I wanted to prepare for these plays so a group of friends who also regularly go to Centerstage and I read the play and watched one of the movie versions of it. I suspect you would be fine seeing either of these plays without having knowledge of A Raisin in the Sun, but I think it does add another layer to them. I happened to see Clybourne Park first, but I also suspect you could see the two plays in either order.

I have seen a number of really good plays at Centerstage over the years, but the combination of these two plays was fantastic. They both bring up many issues of race and how we are still dealing with them today. They left me with a lot to think about as well as entertaining me for a total of four hours.

Clybourne Park and Beneatha’s Place are playing repertory at Centerstage through June 16. If you are anywhere near the Baltimore area I would highly recommend taking the time to see these plays.

*Full disclosure, my friend Heather is the Public Relations Manager for Centerstage, but our friendship has nothing to do with my endorsements of these particular plays or the fine work that Centerstage does on a regular basis.

Goodbye to My Not Really Ever Home

It’s one of those polite conversation things for people to ask you where you are from when they first get to know you. When people mean where do I live now I can easily answer Baltimore. However, often this question relates to where you grew up. For that I have no easy answer. We moved a number of times when I was growing up, so there is no single place that I call “home”. I was amused to see my sister update the hometown section of Facebook the other week with one of the places we lived as I wouldn’t even begin to try and decide what I considered my hometown.

That being said the closest thing I probably have to a hometown is not somewhere I’ve ever lived for any amount of time. I lived there for about 8 weeks the summer after I graduated from college, but that is all. The place I’m talking about is Amelia Island, Florida. It is a place I’ve had a connection to since 1989 when my grandparents moved there. At the time we lived outside of Atlanta and could easily drive there so we spent many vacations and long weekends visiting my grandparents there until we moved to Massachusetts in 1991 and then Texas in 1994. We weren’t able to visit as much after those moves, but were still there several times a year. I went to college in North Carolina, which once again put Amelia Island within driving distance. Meanwhile my parents were moving once again, this time to Illinois, so it was often easier for me to drive down to my grandma’s house (my grandpa passed in 1991) than to go wherever my parents were during breaks unless they too were visiting Florida.

My senior year in college my parents decided to buy a second house on Amelia Island (they actually own the house my grandparents lived in) where they intended to move. My sister wound up living there alone while she went to college at the University of North Florida. Then I moved in with her for the summer after I graduated from college before my move to Baltimore. Their house got featured in the movie Sunshine State, which was mostly filmed on Amelia Island. My sister, who was the only one living there at the time, got paid to leave all the lights in the house on. The house looks kind of funny to me now since the movie was filmed prior to my parents adding the pool. You can see the house in this short clip from the movie in the link below.


[Sorry I couldn’t get the video to embed. WordPress won’t let me upload a video to their site unless I pay them, and I don’t want to do that for the rare case I want to put my own video on this blog. I also consider it a fair use to put this short clip on my blog in this context, but it wouldn’t be a fair use to put it on YouTube, so I’m serving it off my own server. The video would easily embed if I was throwing up a link from YouTube, but I’ve tried using all kinds of file types and embed codes and WordPress won’t play nice with my link to the video. Ok, sorry. End rant of the crazy librarian who works with digital media and copyright for a living.]

My parents finally moved to the island in 2001. With both my parents and grandma living there Amelia Island became my defacto home without me having grown up there in the real sense of the word. It is where my husband and I chose to get married. We had our ceremony on the beach by my grandmother’s house and our reception outside at my parents house.

Wren0061 Wren0205 IMG_7447

Amelia Island holds a very dear place in my heart. It is the single place I’ve had a connection to the longest in my life, but today that changes. As this posts movers are moving the stuff out of my parents house as they sell their house and move across the country to Arizona to be close to my sister and her kids. Technically they still own my grandma’s house, but they rented that out last year to long term renters and have just renewed the lease so for the foreseeable future there would be nowhere for me to stay on the island if I went down there.

Aside from the fact that my parents have taken away my annual free (except for the price of an inexpensive plane ticket) beach vacation, I’m sad that this place that has been a kind of constant in my life since I was 10 years old in a way that no other place has is no longer really going to be part of my life for the time being. I had no idea when I went down there for my grandma’s funeral in January that it would be the final time I would be there at least in the short term. Usually I would be thinking about which week in July or August I wanted to go down there to visit my family and go to the beach. It feels odd to think that I won’t be doing that this year.

I have so many great memories of going to the island to visit my grandparents and my parents. I’ve taken so many friends there over the years. I have fond memories of all of those vacations. The island and especially its surrounding areas have changed so much since we first started going down there. I’m sure they will continue to grow and change, and hopefully one day in the not too far off future I’ll be back to see how Amelia Island has grown.

Mad Men Madness

If you watch Mad Men then I assume you’ve seen Sunday night’s wackadoo episode. I pretty much felt like I was having a fever dream while watching it because that seemed to be the only explanation for what was happening on my screen, which felt totally unrelated to any other episode of Mad Men. My general impression of the entire episode was whuh? However, there are a couple of things in regard to the episode that are making me happy.

First of course is Ken Cosgrove tap dancing. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time you should know that I am fond of the tap dancing. Out of all the craziness that happened in that episode that was the single most WTF moment for me, and of course I just liked the dancing too. I of course am not the only one who had that reaction as there are approximately one million gifs of that scene floating around the internet.


It’s harder to find the actual scene because obviously YouTube is pulling any of them that are uploaded. I found this. I make no promises for how long it will be up, so by the time you read this it may be a space containing a pulled down video.

If you watch Mad Men, you also know that the “Next Time on Mad Men” scenes that appear at the end of each episode make no sense and give nothing away at all about the next episode aside from which are some of the characters that are going to appear because Matthew Weiner is spoiler adverse to a ridiculous degree. At the end of the episode I tweeted “That episode of Mad Men was kind of like watching a whole hour of their “Next time on Mad Men”. #madmen”. After all these years that I’ve been on Twitter that is the first tweet I’ve ever had go kind of viral with tons of favorites and RTs. I don’t expect it to happen again any time soon. I’m generally not all that clever on Twitter or if I am the tweet is not attached to a hashtag that hundreds of people are monitoring. So that was kind of fun for a day. Now I’ll return to my regularly scheduled humdrum social media existence, which is fine too. I’ve never set out to be a social media star. If that was my goal I have failed miserably at Twitter, Facebook, and blogging. Luckily for me I do it all for my own enjoyment, and right now I’m having a good time. I hope you are too.

Annual Preakness Party 2013 (Plus the Most Insane Cheesecake Ever)

As I have previously mentioned, my husband and I throw a party for the Preakness every year. This year was no exception.  We had one of our smaller crowds in recent memory this year, but it was still fun. We served up two different versions of Black-Eyed Susans: a recipe from the Washington Post and the previous official version served at Pimlico. This year they had a new official version, but my husband didn’t want to buy/make the appropriate ingredients for it so he improvised. I believe four people tasted the test glass of that said it was gross and it was never to be spoken of again. I’m sure it would have been better if he actually made it appropriately.

I also whipped up a batch of pulled pork which is always a hit. This year’s big draw though was the most ridiculous cheesecake ever. Someone I know posted a link to the recipe on Facebook several months ago. I decided I really wanted to make it, but needed an occasion to do so. I decided to make Preakness that occasion. Despite the long sounding list of ingredients and recipe, it only wound up being slightly more labor intensive than making a regular cheesecake. The cheesecake is made with a brownie on the bottom as the crust. As soon as the brownie comes out of the oven you sprinkle it with chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, and cut up Reece’s peanut butter cups. Then top with the peanut butter cheesecake batter. Once that is all cooked decorate with a chocolate/peanut butter ganache and halved peanut butter cups. It was delicious.

A couple comments on the recipe. As mentioned in the blog post the recipe is found in, the recipe for the ganache makes way more than needed. I would go ahead and halve that and you will have more than enough. Second I used a 9-inch springform pan as suggested, but I had a ton of cheesecake better left. I wonder if it might not work better in a 10-inch pan. The crust would obviously be thinner and you would need to adjust the baking times to account for the larger pan, but it might work better to fit all the batter. Also although I’ve heard about the trick before this is the first cheesecake recipe I have ever used that specifically called for it to be baked inside a pan of water. Supposedly that helps the cheesecake from cracking. This is the first time I’ve ever actually tried it, and it is also the first cheesecake I have ever made that didn’t develop a large crack down the middle so I’ll probably try that again in the future with other cheesecake recipes.

Chocolate peanut butter brownie cheesecake
Chocolate peanut butter brownie cheesecake

In addition to eating we of course enjoyed the race as well. Some people got into the spirit with fancy hats. Tracie and Abby win for the cutest outfits. Apparently all they win is getting a mention in this blog post, but at least that’s something I guess.

Tracie and Abby
Tracie and Abby

We did bet on the races as well. I’m not a bookie so there was no real betting, but you could throw $2 in and draw the name of a horse out of a hat. As there were only 9 horses in the race we had two pools going so there were two winners. Obviously no one went home with crazy winnings, but it was still fun. Sadly it was yet another year with no chance for a Triple Crown winner. I’m always disappointed when that happens as are the people who run The Belmont Stakes I’m sure. I’ll be hoping for one again next year.

Utah Vacation: Zion National Park Edition

Previously on Adventures in Utah…Salt Lake City and Bryce Canyon.

It’s a quick 90 minute drive from Bryce Canyon to the East entrance of Zion National Park. Once you are in the park though it is still a 12 mile drive along the Mount Carmel highway to the Visitors’ Center. It is an amazingly beautiful drive though. The difference between Zion and places like Bryce Canyon or the Grand Canyon is that the park itself is actually down in the canyon so you are staring up at these amazing rocks instead of down into them. It’s a whole different experience. I found the scenery along the Mount Carmel highway to be the most breathtaking in the park. There’s a 1.1 mile tunnel along that highway. Most likely you will have to stop and wait to drive through it. The reason for that is because the tunnel was built back in the late 1920s before vehicles were so big. The tunnel can’t accommodate two-way traffic when buses or RVs are driving through it, which is quite frequently so they stop the traffic going the other direction when drives through.

Though Zion National Park is amazing and I would highly recommend a trip there, I liked it slightly less than Bryce Canyon essentially because it was more crowded and more touristy. Bryce Canyon felt a little bit more off the beaten path. Zion is definitely the place to go though if you aren’t big into hiking (but also if you are), have mobility problems, have small children, etc. I will say that I was impressed by the fathers I saw carrying their babies/toddlers in hiking packs on their backs and doing some of the trails that we did. I was trying to imagine my brother-in-law doing that with my niece and gave myself a good laugh. There are a lot more paved areas of the park and the rating scale for the trails is way different in Zion than in Bryce. I doubt almost any of the trails we did in Bryce would have been ranked on the Easy scale according to the rankings in Zion where the easy trails were almost all paved and had relatively little elevation change.

Unless you have a special pass (which as far as I can tell you can only get if you’re staying in the Lodge) you can’t drive on the main canyon road in the park. You have to take a free shuttle from the Visitors’ Center which will then stop at many places along the road where you can get on and off. There are also free shuttles into the park from Springdale, and I gather during the busy season that unless you head into the park bright and early you will have to take one because the parking lot in the park will be full.

Food and Lodging

The town of Springdale is right outside the South Entrance to the park and is where most people stay if they are not camping inside the park or staying at the Lodge there. There are also campgrounds and RV parks in Springdale in addition to some motels and a lot of little bed and breakfasts and inns. I tried to stay at one of the small little places, but couldn’t get a reservation anywhere so we wound up at the new La Quinta Inn. It was so new in fact that some of the buildings are still being built. The area, like in Bryce Canyon, is growing as evidenced by the new hotels being built. There was also a Hampton Inn that looked like it wasn’t too far from opening.

View of the mountains from our hotel room.
View of the mountains from our hotel room.

You have a lot more restaurant options in Springdale than you do at Bryce Canyon. We ate lunch after we got into town at a place called the Flying Monkey which had pizza, sandwiches and salads which was pretty good. Dinner that night was at the best place we ate while there. It’s a Mexican restaurant built into an old gas station called The Whiptail Grill. It was absolutely delicious. If you ever find yourself in Springdale, Utah do yourself a favor and eat there. We decided to pack our lunch into the park on Thursday so we grabbed some bread, cheese, and fruit from the little grocery in the town. That night we ate dinner at Oscar’s Cafe which has a wide variety of American and Mexican type foods. It was decent, but definitely not as good as the Whiptail Grill.


After we got to the Visitors’ Center we decided to do one of the hikes that starts from there. We did the Watchman Trail which is 2.7 miles with an elevation change of 368 feet. The one nice thing about hiking in Zion is that since you’re starting at the bottom of the canyon generally you’re hiking up on the first half of your hike and then get to do the easier part of the hike on the way back. I wasn’t overly excited by the views from this trail. None of the trails that leave from the Visitors’ Center have super great scenery comparatively. I did get a couple of nice pictures of some flowers along the trail though. Also I apologize if not all the pictures are segregated to their appropriate trail. I had a lot harder time figuring out which pictures went with which trail compared to the ones I had for Bryce Canyon, where the trails were a bit more distinctive.

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The second hike we did in Zion turned out to be my favorite. It was the one hike that was off the Mount Carmel highway and not off the main canyon road. In addition to the many easy trails in the park, Zion also has a number of very harrowing trails including Angel’s Landing, which has a steep, narrow climb to the summit. Something like 6 people have died on it since 2003 or something like that. I’m pretty sure that all the trails that have the icon of a person falling next to them in the guide are trails that people have died on. So you know, that’s comforting. The Canyon Overlook Trail is not one of those trails, but it felt like the most dangerous trail we did. It’s probably safer than some others though because there are railings up. I really would not have wanted to go around some parts of that trail without the railings there. The trail is 1 mile with an elevation change of 163 feet. It had some great up close views of beautiful rock and over the Mount Carmel highway. As you can see I took a lot more pictures of from this trail than almost any other on the whole trip.

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On Thursday morning we started off with a loop trail that you can create by combining 3 different trails (the Kayenta Trail, the Lower Emerald Pool trail, and the Grotto Trail). You can also add the Upper Emerald Pool trail on as a spur, which we did. There used to be a Middle Emerald Pool Trail as well, but it must have washed out or something because it is closed and no longer shows on the trail guide though you do run into it if you’re doing this loop. Doing the trails as a loop with the spur is about 3.1 miles if I’m doing my math right. The elevation changes range from a small 35 feet on the Grotto trail to 200 feet on the Upper Emerald Pool Trail, but you also have to add that to the 150 elevation change for the Kayenta trail which is also pretty much straight up and leads into the Upper Emerald Pool Trail. The Lower Emerald Pool Trail is paved and was thus a lot more crowded than the other parts of this loop. There were some pretty views along this combination of trails as water always makes things more interesting. We also got to see some wildlife along this trail. Spot the frog and the wild turkey in the photos.

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Next we stopped off the shuttle to do the Weeping Rock Trail, which only has an elevation change of 98 feet, but it rises that much over only .2 miles (making the trail .4 miles round trip), which means it is pretty steep. It is also paved though. It takes you up under an overhanging rock where water seeps through and drips on you. The other trail that starts from that same location is the Hidden Canyon Trail, which is a 2.4 mile trail that rises over 850 feet in elevation. It is listed as strenuous on the trails guide and has the scary picture of the guy falling off the cliff next to it. We weren’t originally planning on hiking it because I had automatically ruled out any of the strenuous trails, but after zipping through the short Weeping Rock Trail I decided we should give it at least a partial go. We only made it about halfway before turning back for a couple of reasons. One the hike was steep and rather killer in that respect, especially on top of the hikes we had already done that morning. Second it was apparent a storm was blowing in and it was not a trail that I would have wanted to be hiking in the rain. Too steep and too slippery. We pretty much made it back down just in time because it started raining after we got onto the shuttle after making it back down. The temperature probably dropped 20 degrees from when we boarded the shuttle to when we got off.

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Our next stop was the trail at the end of the shuttle run. When we got off it was raining, but there was a shelter with benches for people waiting for the shuttle so we sat down there and took the opportunity to eat our lunch. We probably waited another half hour or so after that for the rain to let up before starting the Riverside Walk. That trail ends in the Narrows trail where you actually hike through the river. It’s recommended that you have appropriate gear for that (i.e. either a wet suit or dry suit–we saw people in both though the guy on our shuttle back said he wouldn’t have wanted to do it in a wet suit). Needless to say we did not do that hike. The Riverside Walk itself is normally a completely paved trail that runs for 2.2 miles round trip with an elevation change of 58 feet. I say normally because they were doing maintenance on part of the trail and thus forced you off the paved path onto a dirt path that ran right along the river for a portion of it. I actually preferred the way we wound up having to do it because it got us much closer to the river and felt like more of a hike than just walking on a side walk. It also got us close to some ducks in the river. I did feel bad for the number of people I saw in wheelchairs going up the trail on our way back though because there wasn’t much of a trail before they would have to turn around and go back thanks to the trail closure. This was the most crowded trail that we were on and thus my least favorite. Pardon my pictures from this trail as I smudged my camera lens without realizing it.

The final trail we did in the main part of the park was the Archeology Trail, which is a short .4 mile hike rising 80 feet in elevation. You start it off the parking lot from the Visitors’ Center. We had a bit of a problem finding the trail head, but we eventually got there. Supposedly you can see the outlines of some prehistoric buildings on the trail, but even with the sign I can’t say it looked like anything to me.

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We did our final trail of the trip on Friday on our way back to Salt Lake City. Kolob Canyon is about an hour away from the main portion of Zion National Park. It is still part of the park though. There are three trails there. One is a strenuous 14 miles trail with an elevation change of over 1000 feet that we never would have done. If we had more time we would have done the 5 mile trail. As it was we just did the Timber Creek Overlook Trail, which was 1.1 miles round trip with an elevation change of 100 feet. This was a fairly easy trail, but I was happy I put back on my hiking boots just because it was super muddy. There were some great views from this trail. We had a super clear day so supposedly we were supposed to be able to see all the way to some plateau on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. I must have seen it, but your guess is as good as mine to what far off thing in the distance it actually was. Even if you don’t want to do any hiking, if you happen to be driving this direction the scenic 5 mile drive through the canyon is really pretty. (Note this is still part of Zion National Park so you are expected to have paid the national park fee to enter though it’s kind of on the honor system since there’s nothing forcing you to go into the visitors’ center to pay or show that you have already paid the park fee though we did).

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That brings us to the conclusion of this trip to Utah. It was absolutely beautiful and a wonderful vacation. There are a number of other parks out there that we didn’t get a change to visit during our short time there, so maybe I’ll be back one day.

Utah Vacation: Bryce Canyon Edition

Previously on Adventures in Utah

We headed down to Bryce Canyon on Monday morning. It’s about a 5 hour drive from Salt Lake City to Bryce Canyon. It is also kind of a boring drive. Once you get out of the Salt Lake City area there is a long portion of the drive before you get to the Bryce Canyon area where you’re just driving along interstate 15 and aside from some mountains in the far off distance it feels like driving along an interstate. It gets very rural so there isn’t much to look at in the way of anything but some scrub brush and some occasional little towns. As a city girl, I am always fascinated by the people who choose to live out in these places in the middle of nowhere. Let’s just say I was really happy our rental car had satellite radio.

Other highlights from the road trip include watching two sheriffs chasing a calf that escaped from somewhere down the side of the road with a lasso. Also we passed the end of interstate 70 in Cove Fort, Utah. Well technically the town is about 10 miles away from there, but there is nothing at that point so I guess that land is incorporated into that town. At any rate this is only interesting to me because the opposite end of interstate 70 is in Baltimore and I drive on it all the time. There is a sign in Baltimore that lists the mileage to Cove Fort on 70.

I know, I know you’re saying get on with it. I don’t care about your lame road trip stories. Fine. Let’s move along to actually getting to Bryce Canyon.

2013-05-07 09.57.47Food and Lodging

First let’s just say there is not much around Bryce Canyon. There’s two hotels, a couple of little old motels, a lodge inside the park and if you don’t manage to find somewhere to stay at one of those there are plenty of campgrounds and RV parks. If you don’t want to camp or stay in an RV I would suggest booking your lodging early, especially if you’re going during prime season.

I hate people so I like traveling on shoulder season. It usually means the weather isn’t too bad and there are far fewer people to deal with. In this case we didn’t see too many Americans, but I think all of Europe must have been traveling to Bryce Canyon while we were there. I’m pretty sure I heard more people speaking French and German than I did English the entire time we were there.

Traveling at non-peak time was definitely also beneficial for eating on this particular leg of the trip as there are also only a handful of places to eat. The first night we ate at Ruby’s, which the restaurant in Ruby’s Best Western. They had a buffet or menu you could order off of. I wound up eating off the buffet, which stood about on par with eating off a Shoney’s buffet. Sorry middle America but my palate is slightly more refined than that, and I can’t say I really enjoyed anything I ate there.

My recommendation for anyone who is discerning about food is to eat at the Lodge inside the park. We had both lunch and dinner there our second day and they actually served fresh food, so it was a vast improvement over the previous night’s dinner even if it was more expensive. They do a sandwich, soup, salad buffet for lunch or you can order off a menu. I enjoyed the buffet there and was happy to eat some soup for lunch as it was snowing outside (Yes, snowing. More on that later). For dinner they start you off with some nice warm rosemary bread, which was delicious. I had the swordfish special for dinner, which was fantastic. I didn’t want to stop eating it despite the fact that they of course gave me way more fish than I needed to eat.


If you like to hike I would definitely recommend Bryce Canyon. It is incredibly beautiful and there are some great trails. It’s also a park that definitely behooves you to hike down into the canyon. There’s some great views from places on the rim, but I really liked the experience of being down in the canyon. If you aren’t in shape or have any kinds of mobility problems for whatever reason I wouldn’t say it’s a great park for spending much time in. You can still drive through the park and stop off at the 13 viewpoints, which are all beautiful, but there aren’t many flat or paved trails. One of the flattest trails we hiked was at the far end of the park and at over 9,000 feet in elevation so you still have to have some stamina to do it. If you’re planning on hiking any of the trails I would highly recommend hiking boots for most of them. Even most of the more level trails aren’t paved and can be rocky. The support around your ankles in addition to the treads is key as you really wouldn’t want to sprain an ankle on the uneven terrain. Not to say that I didn’t see some people hiking in ridiculous shoes. I saw a woman hiking the hardest trail we did in the park in loafers.

After we arrived on Monday afternoon we did the Queens Garden Trail, which is supposed to be the easiest hike into the canyon. I actually thought it was slightly more difficult than the one we did the second day because parts of it felt steeper even though overall the elevation descent and climb is smaller. This was also my favorite of the 5 trails we hiked in Bryce Canyon. I thought it had the best views.

The weather while we were in Bryce Canyon was all over the place. We pretty much experienced every kind of weather possible. During this hike we got thunderstorms and hail. Luckily for us it was tiny little hail. It was actually ideal because it was pretty much only hailing. There was not much rain. As all of this started just as we were getting to the bottom of the trail, there wasn’t much to be done but hike on through the storm. The fact that it was hail meant we didn’t get soaking wet, and the fact that it was tiny meant it didn’t really hurt when it hit us.


Enjoy some additional pictures of the Queens Garden Trail.

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Tuesday morning we started off with a short hike outside the main gates of the park. It’s about a 3 mile drive from the main entrance to the Mossy Cave trail, but it’s worth going a little out of your way to hike. It’s the one part of the park with a river running through it and it has a waterfall, so there’s some nice views. There is a fork in the trail. One side takes you up to the titular mossy cave, which is moss covered in the summer and filled with ice during the winter. It wasn’t much of either while we were there, though there was evidence of both. The other side of the fork takes you over to the waterfall. It’s a short trail, only .8 miles round trip. The elevation change is 300 feet, which now that I see it seems crazy since the Queens Garden trail is a 320 foot elevation change but seemed way harder than this one.

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We then drove to the far side of the park and hiked the Bristlecone Loop, which is a short 1 mile loop with an elevation change of only 195 feet. This one is fairly level though there is a bit of climbing. It’s not just steep up and down like the hikes into and out of the canyon though. You are at over 9,000 feet elevation for this hike though so if you have trouble breathing even this hike probably isn’t for you. Bryce Canyon is also part of a national forest, and this hike takes you into the forest. You do get some views out into the canyon at some points, but this was my least favorite trail because most of it was just looking at trees, which I can do on hikes at home.

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Just as we were finishing up our hike of the Bristlecone Loop it started to snow oh and thunder too. It was also really windy so it was not a nice gentle snow. It was a frigid pelting you in the face snow. Even more so when you tried to look down into the canyon and the snow was flying out of the canyon at you. As we were at the far end of the park when the snow started our plan was stop at the various lookout places along the drive back. We still stopped at most of them, but gave a couple a pass because we couldn’t bear the thought of getting out of the car and out into the blowing snow. My pictures don’t really do the snow storm justice, but you can see the snow in some of them.

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As I already mentioned we stopped at the Lodge for lunch and decided we would see what the weather held for us once were done. Happily it quit snowing while we were eating so we continued on with some additional hikes. We started off with the Navajo Trail, which is normally a loop trail, but one side of it was closed down while we were there. We were still able to hike down one side and back up that same side though. This trail was the one trail categorized as moderate. It was about 1.2 miles the way we did it and with a descent and climb of 550 feet. The trail has a lot of switchbacks though so I never felt like it was as steep as the Queens Garden Trail was. You can see two parallel natural bridges near the bottom of this trail. I did hear someone who had done the trail before say that she liked the other side of it better, so I wonder what we missed due to that part of the trail being shut down.

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After we finished the Navajo Trail we finished off our hikes with a quick jaunt on the Rim Trail. The Rim trail just as the name would suggest goes along the rim of canyon. The entire trail runs for 11 miles, but we only did a small part of it. We had done about a mile or so of a different section the first day after finishing the Queens Garden Trail. The Rim Trail is the only trail in the park that is partially paved. That is the part we did after finishing off the Navajo Trail. It’s a short 1 mile round trip trail. It’s definitely not a very exciting trail, but is probably the only trail many visitors to the park see.

Bryce Canyon was absolutely beautiful and if you ever get a chance to go there I would highly recommend it, especially if you like to hike.