House of Cards: Season 1, Chapter 3

SPOILERS: Don’t read this review if you have not yet seen, or don’t want to know, details from this episode.

Since Steve suddenly took ill, Frank gets a young new driver/body man, Edward Meecham (Nathan Darrow, who was part of the company of Richard III w/ Spacey).  Darrow has a tough job, communicating w/o saying much, as his position requires.

Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) at the pulpit.

Truth be told, I never really knew him… or what his dreams were.  He was quiet, timid, almost invisible.  …The man never scratched the surface of life.  Maybe it’s best he died so young…  Frank talks about his father (in an aside)

This ep takes us to Frank’s hometown of Gaffney, South Carolina-shooting was still done in Maryland.  (Yes, the peach statue is real!)  We see a different side of Frank, as he talks w/ regular folks: the mayor, town council, a pastor, and the grieving parents of a teen girl (who died while driving and texting about the statue).  The speech in the small, simple church was both self-serving and compelling!

Frank still conducts meetings (via phone) with Marty Spinella (Al Sapienza), lobbyist for the teachers’ union and various others.  The education bill Frank wants to take to Congress needs some revisions.  Controversial issues like performance standards and teacher tenure come up.

Zoe is praised by the owner of the newspaper, much to the dismay of Tom.  He doesn’t like Zoe’s (ungrateful) attitude, plus the fact that she’s becoming a media darling.  

I know what it’s like to be beautiful and capable and ambitious…  What I see in you is a woman I admire, which doesn’t happen often.  I want to enable you.  I want to clear the way, so that you can achieve what you want to achieve, on your own terms.  -Claire says to Gillian

Claire uses a soft sell to recruit Gillian Cole (Sandrine Ho), the founder of her own start-up (World Well).  Gillian is smart, young, and idealistic, but lacks health insurance (coughing through the job interview).  Claire insists that Gillian see her GP.  Though she’s still a bit skeptical, Gillian agrees to a trial run at CWI.

Peter dumps out the little bag of cocaine (great bit of nonverbal acting from Stoll), and gets to work, even on a Sunday.  Christina is surprised, pleasantly.  Though she got a great job offer, Peter needs her more, we can sense. 

What did you glean from the scene with Claire jogging through the graveyard?  That old woman’s comments affected her somehow. 

The Most Epic Blanket Fort and the Nerdy Love Story That Made It So

Love, InshAllah

Ali Nhu An Ali & Nhu-An’s engagement photo

This fall, Nhu-An and I are getting married.

We’ve been together since November 18, 2000, back when we were seniors in high school. Despite a lot of obstacles like living on opposite sides of the country for much of our relationship and the glacial pace at which I completed grad school, we’ve stayed together and continue to be in love. To celebrate our engagement, we made this epic blanket fort.

Here’s the nerdy story that made all of this possible.

A nerdy love story

Nhu-An and I were very different people when we met. She worked hard, wanted to make a big difference in the world, and kept thinking about the next big thing. I only cared about enjoying the present moment with my friends and family. That’s why our senior class voted me “most likely to be out of class” while Nhu-An was “most…

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Update & Few Tips on Health & Beauty

Hey readers,

Hope your Summer is going well!  Life is going great (VERY rare for me to admit) so far this year- it may be my best yet!  I don’t think the 25 y.o. me would recognize the person that I’ve (slowly) become. The confidence factor is key, I feel, b/c I didn’t have much of that as a younger person.  I may be unusual, BUT I think life really starts after age 30.

As you may have noticed, I was VERY busy from mid-March to early July, esp. w/ work.  I have a different role (but w/in the same company); it’s been a BIT of a challenge (at times), and also a GREAT learning experience.  I have MORE to learn, I’m certain.  Since I took on this role, I’ve learned more about my company and dealt w/ many people (including consultants and partners).  I really enjoy that aspect (now); as an older teen/young adult, my part-time jobs helped me slowly get out of my shell and not be fearful of strangers. 

Thanks for reading!



Don’t worry about your looks; worry about your health.

Don’t only change for men, you have to be healthy for yourself.

Above are two of my mom’s fave sayings; I’ve been hearing them over the years.  I must add that my mom has ALWAYS been a moderate eater.  She doesn’t believe in diets, fads, or even spending 2 hours ea. day at the gym; her chosen exercise is walking and yoga.  After several  years of yoga, Mom branched out to Zumba and few other aerobic classes at her (no-frills) gym. 

The few other South Asian women at her gym were happy to see a friendly face; exercise is not often at the top of  our lists.  We want the younger gen to have their heads in books.  (Sidenote: If you can read on treadmill, then you’re not going fast enough.)  Most desi kids, even in the US, don’t grow up playing a sport, which can be benefit when they get older.  Now, we don’t need to be GREAT at sports, but why not attempt it more often?  My little brother and a 2nd (girl) cousin are the only ones I know who played sports after elementary school age.

If you want to lose weight, cut down on the following foods:

  • Bread (white) – I can’t even recall when I ate white bread; I like flatbread now. 
  • Candy/Desserts – We now know that (a BIT) of dark chocolate can be good for us.  However, the I feel that MOST of the US indulges too much in sugary foods.  We must (slowly) train ourselves to get out of the habit of turning to sugar; try some different fruit instead (if available).  Save desserts for rare/special occasions. 
  • Pasta (white) – I used to be a BIG fan of pasta, but rarely eat it now.  Wheat pasta is not bad tasting, IMO. 
  • Potatoes – I eat potatoes RARELY; I do like fries.  Mom suggests baking sweet potato fries; she did that before it became popular.
  • Rice (white) – This is a tough one for me (as well as MANY South Asians)!  Since I hate brown rice, I choose couscous instead.  My family liked brown rice, for the most part.  Good for them!
  • Soda (esp. dark-colored ones that are worse for health and teeth) – I have a love of Coke (trying to cut back to once a wk); Mom does drink Sprite and Ginger Ale (on rare occasions). 

The BEST tip- don’t beat yourself up for having a bad meal… or even a bad day! 


I don’t like that stuff [makeup].

Don’t use so many different brands. 

These are my mom’s thoughts on beauty.  Everyone says that Mom has natural beauty.  Growing up, she would use Ivory soap, Oil of Olay (face cream), and Ponds (face cream for the Winter).  On rare occasions, she would (reluctantly) put on some eyeshadow and lipstick.  Things that looked fake were NOT for her; the inner self was reflected by her outer self.

Is Mom’s idea of staying as natural as possible old-school?  Hmmm… maybe not!  After all, many of us see more breakouts when we use foundation.  And NOT all mascaras last ALL day; it’s not good for Spring allergies either.  Many surveys have shown that a clear, fresh complexion will get you noticed than ANY type of makeup.  I feel that makeup is good for dates, weekends, and special occasions.  The key is to know your skin type, what colors suit you, and how to apply the makeup.  I suggest talking w/ a few makeup artists (Ulta, Sephora, etc.)- they can guide the total newbie (like I was a few yrs back).


House of Cards: Season 1, Chapter 2

One of the House of Cards Season 1 ads

I recently listened to the commentary tracks (now available for all S1 eps); I recommend the ones w/ producer David Fincher, director James Foley (note: British accent) and Paris Barclay (one of the few African-Americans directors working regularly on various TV series).  Barclay directed several eps of HBO’s In Treatment, a series I loved (for the most part).  You can skip the commentary by director Joel Schumacher, which are less substantive. 

Did you know House of Cards is shot primarily in the small town of Joppa, MD?  Yes, DC is the back-drop, but they don’t shoot much there.  Zoe’s crumbling little apt. is set in an ethnic ‘hood of DC, but that street is actually found in Baltimore.  The same is true of Freddie’s BBQ joint.  (It’s much cheaper/easier to shoot in Baltimore.)

Like AMC’s drama series, Mad Men, House of Cards is very good at setting tone and creating an atmosphere (we can relate, though we’re not power players in the federal government). The color palette also sets the mood; red is a color rarely seen on the show- we see white, beige, gray, dark blue, and a lot of black.  At first, I didn’t notice much about the music (by Jeff Beal; he worked on HBO’s Rome); it’s a seamless part of the show.

What may put off some (potential) viewers- the lack of a typical, heroic protagonist.  However, if you liked Edmund (King Lear), Iago (Othello), and/or Richard III, you’ll be fascinated by Francis Underwood.  I did feel sympathy for Peter (“he’s a hot mess,” Fincher commented) and Christina; both of these actors have expressive eyes. Corey Stoll is just pitch-perfect in his role; I’d never seen his acting before.  Claire is a tough cookie, but not totally unlikeable (she has her moments later on in this season.)

SPOILERS: Don’t read further if you have not seen, or don’t want to know, details from this episode.

The 2nd ep starts right after we left off from the pilot.  After his early morning rack of ribs at Freddie’s (a common ritual), Frank goes to have breakfast w/ the House Speaker and Majority Leader.  Yes, Frank is a Democrat!  We also meet Remy Danton (Mahershala Ali from Crossing Jordan), a tall, dapper lobbyist at Glendon Hill.  He now handles the SanCorp account, so stops by to say hello to his former boss.  Remy, who’s African-American (an unusual casting choice for a lobbyist), was Frank’s press secretary for several years.  Later on, the two men speak in the lobby. 

SanCorp helps me purchase loyalty, and in return, they expect mine.  –Frank explains in an aside   

Such a waste of talent!  He chose money over power.  In this town, a mistake almost everyone makes.  –Frank comments about Remy

In his office, Doug Stamper points out a 1978 editorial written in the Williams College Register; Michael Kern was editor of that newspaper.  Frank doesn’t see the big deal about this article, but Stamper thinks it can be used to bring down Kern (who has been nominated for Secretary of State, but not yet confirmed).

Then Frank gets called over to Linda Vasquez’s office.  She’s very concerned about the leak- it happened on Walker’s first day!  Frank assures her that he can handle the education bill; he’s worked w/ 4 different presidents, after all.   

In his conference room, Frank has gathered together 6 of the “best minds on education” (LOL- they are aides in their 20s) who will be working on another first draft of the education bill.

You know me, I’m no wheeler-dealer.  I can put my mind to policy, but I’m no good at this brand of politics.  -Blythe admits to Frank

When Frank meets Blythe, he dramatically says that Linda (and therefore, Walker) is “furious” at Blythe for the leak; we know this is a lie.  Blythe, who Franks deems a “martyr,” concludes that Frank should be managing the Education Reform Act.

 How very Deep Throat of you.  -Zoe comments when she meets Frank (at night)

Frank gives that editorial to Zoe and points out one line in particular; it’s about the “illegal occupation” of Palestinian territories by Israel (always a hot-button issue).  But Kern probably didn’t write this himself.

Everything is a story.  -Frank says to Zoe re: Kern’s nomination

I’m not saying there’s a story.  All I’m saying is there’s a question that needs to be answered.  -Zoe tells Lucas, her editor

We know that Lucas and Tom approved Zoe’s article; on This Week w/ George Stephanopoulos (the newsman plays himself), Senator Kern gets questioned about the editorial.  He says he doesn’t recall that article.  When he laughs and calls it “ludicrous,” that’s just the ammo Frank needs!  He has Nancy call the “ADL” (Anti-Defamation League).

Late at night, Peter is sent off to the boondocks to interview one of the guys who wrote for the Williams College paper.  Stamper has the info and tickers all ready.  Michael Kelley projects confidence, a strong, (disquieting) presence, and a lot of mystery; his character will slowly be revealed over the season.

Peter meets w/ Roy Kapeniak, a left-wing conspiracy blogger, in his trailer home in a small town.  To get Roy to open up, Peter presents him w/ liquor and coke. Back in DC, Stamper presents $10,000 to Rachel (Rachel Brosnahan), the young pro that was pulled over w/ Peter.  All she needs to do is be silent about the matter.

Can a corporate sellout roll a joint like this?  -Peter asks Roy

Roy admits that he wrote the editorial, not Kern, though Kern was even more radical than him in college.  But eventually, Kern sold out (in Roy’s opinion) and began studying for the bar.  Peter convinces Roy (when he’s high) to pin the article on Kern. 

Back in their DC office, Christina is very upset to see Peter’s drunk/high state.  He waves off her concerns, telling her to cancel all his appointments for the day.

 …I think the way you’re handling this is… cruel.  -Evelyn, Claire’s assistant of 10 yrs tells her re: the mass firings

After having Evelyn fire 18 employees, Claire asks Evelyn to leave, too.  This is a shock to the older woman, who proclaims “no one hires anyone my age.”  The firings didn’t come easily to Claire, we guess, as she pauses and thinks about it.  However, she’s not one to show her emotions so easily.

This is where we get to create.  -Frank explains to Zoe

Zoe interrupts a senior staff meeting to tell Tom that she has a guy willing to go on the record and say that Kern wrote the (now controversial) editorial.  Kern denies it to the media, saying Roy wrote the piece, but we realize that it’s the end of his bid.  Frank tells Sen. Cathy Durant (a Republican)  to get ready for her turn, then feeds her name to Zoe (late at night in the metro).

Linda is very impressed by the new draft of the education bill, which she’ll soon present to the president.  Frank mentions Kern, and wonders who’ll be the next Secretary of State nominee. When Linda says rumors abound re: Durant, Frank casually lists her merits.  Smooth operating there…

Zoe goes on live TV to discuss the nomination; Janine looks on w/ jealousy, Lucas with admiration.  Kate Mara transforms from a overeager “metro scrub” to a poised young lady in this scene. 

As Frank leaves his office for the night, we see cleaners working in the conference room (where the 6 young aides wrote the education bill).  Remy says that SanCorp likes Durant, too, in the hallway.

I liked the scene w/ Claire and the older cashier struggling w/ the computerized system at the coffee shop; it brought to mind Evelyn’s earlier words.  Claire looks at the woman sympathetically for a brief time.  In the last scene, we see Frank using the rowing machine that his wife bought for him (b/c she was worried about his health).  See how Claire admires him from the stairs?  It’s a nice moment that sheds some more light on their marriage.   

House of Cards: Season 1, Chapter 1

Ad for Season 1 of House of Cards

SPOILERS: Don’t read this review if you have not yet seen, or don’t want to know, details from this episode.

The opener, w/ the wounded dog, introducing House Majority Whip Frank Underwood  (Kevin Spacey) could’ve put many viewers off!  However, this show drew me in from the first ep (I began watching it last Summer); I later watched the ’80s UK series.  I was intrigued not only b/c of Spacey, but b/c of Robin Wright (who plays Frank’s wife, Claire), and producer David Fincher (who first worked w/ Spacey on Seven).  The creator of the show, Beau Willimon, is still in his mid-30s- wow!

Frank has been compared to Richard III- the role that Spacey played just before doing this series.  (There are Shakespearean asides to the audience from Spacey, making the viewer an unwilling confidant.)  And Wright is a far cry from Buttercup (The Princess Bride).  Claire has become a style icon, too.

We meet ambitious young reporter (The Washington Herald), Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), who asks her editor, Lucas Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus), to move her from Fairfax city council to real politics.  She looks scrappy and hungry, saying that she wants her own blog (what people read currently).  However, Lucas refuses her, saying that she can work on whatever in her free time.  When Zoe tries to connect with White House reporter, Janine Skorsky (Constance Zimmer; recently on The Newsroom), she’s quickly shot down again.

We also meet the young, charming Rep. Peter Russo (Corey Stoll from Law & Order), who’s assisted by the smart/beautiful Christina (Kristen Connelly).  They are also very much in love, though it began as “an office fling.” 

Frank is “livid” after Senator Michael Kern (comedian Kevin Kilner) is picked for Secretary of State.  This had been promised him by Present-elect Garrett Walker (Michel Gil), but Chief of Staff Linda Vasquez (Sakina Jaffrey- daughter of noted actress/chef Madhur Jaffrey), says that Frank is needed too much in the Congress.

Claire has her own career- she runs a charity, Clean Water Initiative, which she plans to expand internationally.  Since SanCorp has cut down their corporate donation, Claire will have to cut jobs, much to the shock/dismay of her long-time assistant, Evelyn (Maryann Plunkett).  

We see the enigmatic nature of the Underwood’s marraige after Frank comes home late that night, disappointed.  Claire says that he should’ve called, instead of avoiding her.  They are partners first and foremost.

My husband doesn’t apologize… even to me.  –Claire says to Frank

Frank wants revenge, but he’ll need others to take down Walker.  We meet Frank’s secretary, Nancy, and his right-hand man, Doug Stamper (Michael Kelley).  Another player: Catherine Durrant (Jayne Atkinson, wife of Gil), who’s Frank’s choice for Secretary of State.  (I esp. liked the little bit where they dance at the ball; Spacey is a good dancer/singer, as we know!)

You may very well think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment. -Frank says to Zoe

Before an opera at The Kennedy Center, Frank checks out Zoe, who’s wearing a tight white cocktail dress.  (FYI: This scene was inspired by a similar with President Obama.)  A photographer from her paper sends her the pic, which she uses to her advantage. Steve (the driver) warns Zoe to get off the doorstep, but Frank lets her into his brownstone.  Zoe explains to Frank that she “wants someone to talk to;” we can see that he’s intrigued.  She says that education is the issue Walker will tackle first upon entering office.

Don’t worry, there is also humor (albeit mostly dark) in this series: 

Frank & Claire say goodbye to Zoe

Does that work on anybody? -Claire asks Frank, as Zoe leaves

Does what? Frank replies

The push-up bra and the v-necked tee. -Claire explains

Well, if it does, I don’t know who they are. -Frank replies flatly 

Peter lands in jail after being pulled over for drunken driving; the young woman w/ him is a pro.  Frank has Stamper bribe the police commissioner to get him out.  Later that week, Frank explains how it’ll be, getting in Peter’s face (reminiscent of LBJ’s move).  Thus, Peter becomes a pawn in the game.

Zoe was right- Frank is asked to work on an education bill w/ idealistic Rep. Donald Blythe (Reed Birney), the most-respected man in that field.  Frank gives the draft to Zoe, knowing that it’s “far left of center,” so will not be passed.   When she shows the (nearly-shredded) copy to Lucas and Tom Hammerschmidt (Boris McGiver), The Herald‘s editor, both men are surprised.  Janine is pissed off when she has to help ready Zoe’s article.  Tom declares it’s “more important” than the inauguration.

Near the end of the ep, we learn that Frank hails from South Carolina, when he stops by Freddie’s BBQ Joint for some grub.  (Freddie is played by Reg E. Cathey; he’s know mainly for The Wire.)  In the morning paper, we see Zoe’s article (front page).