Monday, May 2, 2016

Brief Notes from March and April

This one's for Sam.  

Music Man
Back in April I was introduced to "Take Off Your Sunglasses" by Ezra Furman and the Harpoons on TBTL only to find out that was released way back in 2008. But I didn't care, playing it on repeat constantly, and it quickly landed a place on my Top 25 Most Played playlist (to be fair, my iPod is only a couple of years old). It's a Dylan-esque jam—or maybe that's just the harmonica. And despite it's age and winter scene (ski resort in Colorado), it might just my end up on my playlist this summer.
Then in early April, Glen Weldon on PCHH introduced me to "Hugs Not Drugs (Or Both)" by Brendan Maclean. This one quickly went straight to the top of my Top 25 playlist, and will definitely be a summer banger this year. (For me at least. I imagine one day soon it will be played during a club scene on a zeitgeist-y show and get more than 26,000 views.) Also, this party!

On the last day of April, I bought my first ever Weezer record, their new "White Album." I have been playing it in my car and already having a great time. I'm enjoying the sunny SoCal, guitar-driven 90s rock vibes—and it might just become my go-to summer album. "Jacked Up" is currently my favorite track.

Everything is Beautiful at the Ballet
In which our book club continues to be better than your book club. On that first warm, sunny Sunday of April, we got Baskin-Robbins ice cream and went to the park to discuss how problematic The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Albee is. Forgetting my parasol, I also got sunburned. And then we went to Desert Edge for refreshment. Later that month we met for an extracurricular night at the ballet, because I had never been. Ballet West's The Nijinsky Revolution featured three modern interpretations of short ballets originally choreographed by Nijinsky: "Afternoon of a Faun" (L'après-midi d'un faune), "Games" (Jeux), and "The Rite of Spring" (Le Sacre du printemps). "Faun" was lovely as was "Games" (whose ménage à trois earned the production a viewer discretion advisory. Ballet, so scandalous!), but "Rite of Spring" was breathtaking! I can almost understand why it caused a riot upon it's premiere. Forgetting my hand fan, I was so warm and dehydrated that by the time we had repaired to Gourmandise I was willing to murder a server for a carafe of water. We returned the next night as volunteers at the VIP room (which is how we scored free tickets in the first place), and afterward were paid in leftover food and, more importantly, wine. Our current book selection is Gulliver's Travels which I keep avoiding as it bores me to tears.  

This year the PLA conference was held in Denver, and since I live nearby, I thought I'd go. I did not realize that Denver is actually kind of fa-a-ar. (A 500+ mile road-trip is also the best time to discover that your cruise control does not work.) By the time I got to Denver, I was having a full-on allergy attack, so naturally I overdosed on ALL the allergy medicines, which in addition to all the extra caffeine I had consumed on the drive resulted in a lot of head pain. Lillian and I shared a hotel room, and since we're not particularly adventurous, we mostly hung out at the convention center and our hotel room. But we did visit the Denver public library and the indie bookstore, Tattered Cover, and really what else is there? I attended such conference sessions as Booklist's Book Buzz, Nonfiction: Top 5 of the Top 5, Shhhh! Don't Tell My Mom, From Reading to Learning, and Out at the Library among others. But I was mostly there for the swag, from Tyrion tote bags to free books (I picked up about 18 ARCs). The opening speaker was Anderson Cooper and the closing speaker was Tig Notaro (both having new books published by Harper Collins), so that was pretty cool too.  

I don't have a lot of nerd cred, but as someone who enjoys various aspects of certain pop culture endeavors, and as geek culture has largely been subsumed within pop culture... I think I lost the thread of that sentence. Anyway, I've spent a lot of time with superheroes lately. It started with Glen Weldon's excellent biography of Batman, The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture. It's a largely breezy, yet comprehensive history of 70+ years of Batman's various incarnations, and though I'm not sure it totally succeeds as a treatise on nerd culture, it's quite good. As I'm in luvst with Chris Evans' Captain America (as Mindy says, "Obviously you would marry Captain America. You don't need an app to tell you that."), I rewatched both Captain America and both Avengers films in preparation for Civil War. I also read Mark Millar's 7-issue crossover series Civil War, wherein I learned how many Marvel superheroes I don't know. Told you I'm not a nerd (besides I'm more a DC kind of guy anyway). Speaking of DC, us graphic novel librarians at Davis County are trying to figure out which Wonder Woman book(s) to obtain. So I checked out a couple from the U's library (I highly recommend having access to multiple libraries). Grant Morrison's new Wonder Woman: Earth One has problems with both cohesive storytelling and the male gaze. The one-shot Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia (in which she fights Batman!) is a far superior comic, but it's also a somewhat limited snapshot of Wonder Woman (side note: The Kindly Ones are always terrifying).  

"You Didn't Notice My Awesome Flirting Techniques of Never Speaking to You?" 
I may or may not have a flirtation happening with a certain latte boy, and so Mallory Ortberg has very helpfully compiled a list of flirtatious responses. I highly relate.  

A Game of Spoilers 
In April I finished the fifth (and so far final) book in the Song of Ice and Fire saga which I started back in March. This makes it both the longest entry in the series and the shortest amount of time it's taken me to finish one of these monsters (with the possible exception of the first book). Also, I have been enjoying the current sixth season courtesy of my aunt's HBO Go account (Thanks, Sharee!). The first episode was excellent with the exception of the Sand Snakes. The second episode was slower, setting up various arcs, but the two big moments were Ramsay (at his most dastardly) and Jon Snow (at his only mostly dead)! 

Well that's all for now, folks!

Monday, February 29, 2016

February: 10ish Things

Galentine's Weekend 
  • I spent the long holiday weekend with three of my best gal pals. ("Best friend isn't a person, it's a tier.") On Friday, Elise and I got our Will & Grace party on complete with a baguette and brie from Trader Joe's. Delightful.
  • On Saturday (Galentine's Day proper), Sam and I had a full day. First we had an amazing afternoon Italian dinner at Siragusa's. Everything was so tasty and the garlic cheese bread... *nomnomnom*
    Then we attempted to make French macarons. (But first, we had to run to Bed, Bath & Beyond, because even though Sam told me she had pans *lol*, she did not, in fact, have cookie sheets.) It did not go well. I blame part of it on the recipe we used (though I should definitely not have mixed in that egg white in the food processor). Also, the pastry bag we were using fell apart mid-piping. So they ended up looking like this. The ones on the left are ours; the ones on the right are from Trader Jacques. Pinterest fail! They were, however, quite delicious. Then we watched Bridge of Spies (finally caught up on all the Best Picture nominees) and Far from the Madding Crowd (which we originally planned to see back in May). Carey Mulligan and Matthias Schoenaerts: so very attractive.
  • On Monday, I had lunch with Ellen at our favorite Thai restaurant. She's a teacher, so we basically only see each other on school holidays, and most of the time it's at Thai Mano. It's our thing—and they have the best curry puffs! This is us now; after all, we are turning 30 this year! and we'll have to think of something awesome to do to celebrate.
  • It didn't happen over the holiday weekend, as Kristen was then busy in Seattle (without me!), but we finally hung out last weekend at our favorite spot, The Bayou. We also just happened to be there during Firkin Friday, which was delightful. We caught up, cheated on our diets, and got a good buzz going.
More Adventures in the Kitchen
I got into drinking kombucha tea last year, and while it is delicious (and probiotic!), it is also expensive and comes in glass bottles—and we don't have recycling. =( So I decided to follow The Kitchn's guide and brew my own! It did require a certain outlay from obtaining a SCOBY to buying a set of swing-top bottles, but the process is fairly easy and the first batch was quite tasty (and I didn't die!). It was, however, not very fizzy. The Kitchn promised it would be carbonated within 3 days of bottling (which is what I followed), but another website said it could take 1-2 weeks. So we'll see how the next batch goes. And I think I might add hibiscus next time. Ooh.

This Month in Hamilton
The highlight of this month's Grammy Awards was the performance of the opening number "Alexander Hamilton" live from Broadway's Richard Rodgers Theatre. I almost passed out from excitement! (Another high point: Lin-Manuel Miranda's acceptance speech. Adorbs.) The most depressing news from the Grammys was that "Who is Alexander Hamilton?" search spiked on Google ("America forgot him"). In other Hamilton/book news, I checked out a new book that dropped that same time as the soundtrack (fortuitous timing), War of Two: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Duel that Stunned the Nation by John Sedgwick. There is also a book that came out a couple of years ago, Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry that Forged a Nation. And, yes, I also plan on reading Ron Chernow's biography sooner or later. Information I've gleaned from Hamilton is also illuminating my reading of Lafayette in the Somewhat United States. Also, this story about Miranda saving The Drama Book Shop just might bring tears to your eyes. I can't wait for the Tonys! Also, Sam now wants us to go see Hamilton—good luck!
Fun Home
Last year's big Tony winner was the new musical Fun Home (which was nominated alongside Hamilton at the Grammys). It is based on one of my favorite all-time books, Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir of the same name. And while it took me two years, we finally got the book in the collection at the county library this month! Anyway, I listened to the Original Cast Recording last summer, and fell in love. This month I decided to buy the new Broadway Cast Recording. (I actually prefer the original for a few reasons: Alexandra Socha as Medium Alison left the show and was replaced, "Al for Short" was replaced with "Party Dress," and more non-essential dialogue was included. Sadly the original recording is no longer available.) Nevertheless, it's a great coming-of-age musical based on a great book. Check it out!

Game of Thrones
I finally started the fifth book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series after buying the book last March (its thickness intimidated me). I plan on finishing it before the series returns to HBO in April (even if most of what happens in A Dance With Dragons was already included in the last season). I am also re-watching the entire series before the premiere. Another series that also returns in April, but is otherwise complete different: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt! which I am also re-watching.

Hey Marseilles
This a great local band; that location being Seattle. I saw them a couple of times when I lived up there and greatly enjoyed their first album To Travels and Trunks. Their sound is indie folk/chamber pop (sometimes employing an accordion and mandolin!). I missed their second record, but their third, self-titled album came out earlier this month, and I have been enjoying it. While the first album is loose, folk-y (by way of French polka), and full of surprising turns-of-phrase, Hey Marseilles is a tighter, poppier effort. It starts off with a strong driving beat in "Eyes On You." "West Coast" is giving me some Death Cab vibes while "Perfect OK" is throwing me some Paul Simon. And there's a dreamy/trance-y cover of "Heroes." They're coming to SLC in March, and I think I might go out to see them. Anyone want to join me?
High Tea
Our book club met this month at the lobby of The Grand America Hotel for afternoon tea and literary discussion. Unlike most book clubs, our group skews male, and we may have been the only four guys at tea that day. Anyway, we ate delicious sandwiches and pastries whilst contemplating The Myth of Sisyphus and the Absurd. Meanwhile, Elyse and Hadley were quite entranced by the flowering tea. We now have an expedition to the ballet planned. Our book club is classy AF.

No Dames
Elise and I went to see Hail, Caesar!, and while it was not the Coen Bros romp like the trailer suggested, it was an interesting film. (The folks over at PCHH liked it a lot.) The best parts are the classic, genre movie vignettes that are hung on the rather strange, shaggy plot of the main film. Our favorite bit was the Channing Tatum sailor dance number, "No Dames" which riffs on those Gene Kelly/Fred Astaire sailor films like On the Town and Anchors Aweigh as well as the South Pacific song "There's Nothing Like a Dame." Worth the price of admission.

Oscah Fevah
So the Oscars were Sunday, and they were so much better (and more political) than last month's Globes. Chris Rock made funny yet pointed (and sometimes problematic) observations about #OscarsSoWhite and sold a lot of Girl Scout cookies. Joe Biden introduced Lady Gaga who performed "Til It Happens to You" with sexual assault victims. The Big Short said no to Wall Street candidates. And winners Jenny Beaver and Leonardo DiCaprio brought up climate change in their speeches. I was happy that Leo and Brie won, that Spotlight beat out The Revenant for Best Picture, and that Mad Max: Fury Road cleaned up the technical categories. We ate brie and pecan quesadillas, individual cherry chocolate pies, and drank Brooklyns (made with Irish whiskey) in honor of my favorite film of the bunch. Delicious.

How many things was that? I lost count. See you next month!

Monday, February 1, 2016


Boys for Pele 
 I took a break from repeated Hamilton listening to revisit Tori Amos's album Boys for Pele on its 20th anniversary. The record (which while it was her highest charting, probably based on the goodwill/popularity generated by her first two albums) received mixed reviews and largely ended her mainstream/radio career. But this challenging concept album, which is a journey to Hell and back with a detour to the South (following the wake of her breakup with boyfriend and producer Eric Rosse), has emerged as arguably her most impressive achievement and a fan favorite. Here are three fans' takes: 
Chris Gerard in the Metro Weekly ranks it as her best album: 
"It’s not an album of easily digestible pop songs and it requires repeated listens to “get.” ... Give it time, let it unfold, and you’ll be ready to jump into the fire by the end of the journey. Pele is always hungry."
Reluctant Tori fan Charlotte Richardson Andrews in The Guardian
"While Alanis Morrisette and Liz Phair were trying to hitch a ride out of Guyville, Amos was razing the patriarchy to the ground, serving up vampiric ex-boyfriends to Pele, the Hawaiian fire goddess rumoured to enjoy man flesh. ... What I found were taboo-smashing gospels, potent with passion, trauma, pleasure, destruction and female power manifested in a thousand different ways." 
 Michael Tedder (the rare straight male fan) writing for Stereogum
"Boys For Pele is an album only a rock star would make. It’s way too long, often wildly self-indulgent, and designed to dazzle you with its virtuosity. This, of course, is also what makes it great." 
And Chris Gerard again for PopMatters
"Some of it makes no sense in a literal fashion, but is meant to evoke feelings and thoughts through a word, or a sound, or a flash of imagery. Boys for Pele is a journey, one fraught with elemental human impulses. It’s a catharsis that’s harsh and beautiful and strange and bedeviling and contradictory, but never for a moment less than authentic." 

Joyful Salad 
On NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, Glen Weldon shared his four secrets to weight loss (80 lbs in a year!): 1) Grueling Exercise, 2) Joyless Salads, 3) Self-Loathing, and 4) Denying yourself everything that makes life worth living. Sound advice. I find most salads to be joyless, and I avoid them as often as Lorelai Gilmore does. However, I wanted to share this delicious kale salad from The Pioneer Woman. It involves a fair amount of cooking for a salad. What makes it joyful? 1) lardons, 2) caramelized red onions, 3) sauteed mushrooms in a red wine reduction, and 4) goat cheese (the grocery store was out of chevre when I went, so I picked up some feta instead—which I prefer anyway). The kale itself is not cooked, but instead stripped from the stalks. Ree Drumond did not instruct me to massage the kale which apparently is de rigueur, but whatever. The dressing is a basic balsamic vinaigrette. I am not as in love with kale as the rest of America supposedly is, but this is one tasty salad! (Weight-loss not guaranteed.) 

Fosse Fists 
Speaking of which, Elise, Andrea, Alissa, and I are each pursuing some weight-loss goals for the first three months of 2016. (Down 3.5 lbs since last week!) Our weekly weigh-ins aren't always successful, like that time we went to Sizzler instead of doing yoga. Last Friday we did a Pilates-based weight-loss workout followed by matwork sans mat on a hardwood floor (I bruised my coccyx). And then we drank red wine--for our health! Elise and I are now really into Cline's Ancient Vines Carignane. So good. 

The Reading Life 
I finished several books in January including A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (shortlisted for the National Book Award) which is both very long as well as a generous and devastating portrayal of friendship and love. I knocked out a couple of graphic novels starting with The Sandman: Overture (which I got for Christmas) which is an illuminating look at the events that happened before the first issue. It really makes me want to reread the entire series, and ain't nobody got time for that! I also finished the second trade volume of the new Ms. Marvel series which continues to be an enjoyable YA comics series. And I started a few books including Ruth Reichl's food memoir My Kitchen Year, Lafayette in the Somewhat United States ("Ev’ryone give it up for America’s favorite fighting Frenchman!") by Sarah Vowell and The River of Doubt, which a patron recommended to me. 

Whisting to the Fullest 
I also finished last month's book club selection, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. (Confession, I did not finish the book until after our meeting. Shame!) The book, universally adored by the SLFS staff, was my first Murakami. I was not expecting the novel's elastic realism, but it was still enjoyable. We had a lively discussion whilst eating brunch at the Oasis Cafe. (For next month's selection, we chose The Myth of Sisyphus, and reading it reminds me why I was not a philosophy major.) We then headed to the SLC Library where we attempted to play a hand of whist, though we did not get very far before I had to leave... 

Golden Globes 
...because I had a Golden Globes party to attend! Sam hosted, and we all dressed up very snazzy. [There would be a picture of us except Sam totally dropped the ball here.] The show itself was fairly mediocre this year, but the party was fun. We (or at least Sam and I) booed when The Revenant won Best Picture. Ugh. And then some us drank too much bubbly. And in Sam's words, "The best part about the golden globes was Leonardo's reaction to Lady Gaga bumping into him, Lady Gaga winning for AHS, and Brie Larson winning for Room. That is all." 

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend 
Perhaps the most emotional part the awards show (which happened in the first five minutes), was Rachel Bloom's win for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. And so I went and watched the show, and it is wonderful. Rebecca (Bloom) gets most of her life advice from butter ads and occasionally breaks out into song. What' not to love? The Daily Beast writes, "There is near universal consensus that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has a terrible title. There is also near universal consensus that it’s an excellent show. Only one of those things is true." 

Sam and I (and sometimes others) continued our quest of watching Golden Globe and Oscar nominated films. We saw Spotlight, which would probably be my pick for Best Picture (even though Brooklyn is still my favorite), but it may not be flashy enough to win. Carol is a gorgeous film that I didn't quite love, but I would like to see it again. (I often want to love Todd Haynes films more than I do.) I sweated my way through The Revenant (the theater was SO hot), and no one in the group except Quinci liked it. And finally we saw The Big Short which is a fairly oddball movie. Overall, the crop of Oscar films this year isn't my favorite. 

Will & Grace 
Since Kristen and I ended our Buffy Night Fridays, there has been a hole in my heart. That hole has recently been filled by Will & Grace Nights with Elise (well, we've only had one night so far). We have started with Season One (not necessarily my favorite) and some of the late 90s references are dated, but it's still fun. 

Car, Travel, and Money 
I got my car fixed (and I still don't know how much it cost. eek.) and now it runs much better. Yay! I added another $500 to my Paris fund. Yay! And Lillian and I finally booked a hotel for PLA in Denver in April. Yay! Now we just need to hope that my car can make the trip to Denver and back. *fingers crossed*

Friday, January 1, 2016


Book Clubbing
My book club meet in early December to discuss Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, a futuristic, sci-fi, action/adventure novel centered around 80s pop culture and gaming. It was fun read, but none of us thought there was a lot of "there" there. Perhaps because the back-jacket claimed it would be important for the protagonist to confront the real-world to survive/win, but either that was not the author's intention or that idea was not successfully carried through. Book aside, our club added a new member (yay!), and we decided to become the Brunch & Tea book club and hold high revel and play whist. I am currently working through our next selection, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami which is highly strange and engaging. In other book news, I read Helene Wecker's wonderful historical-fantasy The Golem and the Jinni, and I have spent the last two weeks reading my way through Hanya Yanagihara 720-page, heartbreaking novel A Little Life before it's Monday due date. Less than a hundred pages left!

I passed my second weight check-point this month! (And then I went back over it, and then crossed it again.) Anyway, I have lost 50 lbs (or so, depending on the day) since January 2013 and over 30 lbs just this year. But I would still like to go down another size, so... I'm thinking of joining a gym, but I can't decide if January is the best or worst time to do so.

This means that I was able to fit into my topcoat that I bought way back as an undergrad. (Vintage! Not!) And yet this very old coat, which is missing a handful of buttons, has gotten me more compliments this month than probably any other item of clothing I've ever worn. Except for socks—as Elise said, my sock game is "on fleek" and has won a library award.

Sam and I went and saw Krampus in early December, and it was scary, funny, and ridiculous. with an upsetting, non-fairy tale ending. *spoiler* Later in the month, after the Globes nominations, we went and saw Room. The situation is obviously horrible, but the film is very good and Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay's performances are exceptional. Then I went and saw Brooklyn (without Sam, sorry!), and it's so far my favorite film of the year. Saoirse Ronan gives a quietly beautiful performance of an Irish girl who learns to make her way in 50s Brooklyn only to have a chance to return to Ireland. I was crushing pretty hard on Emory Cohen, so I was of course #teamtony. Okay, maybe that's not a real thing, but I need everyone to see this film and tell me who they would choose: Tony or Jim and why.
So dreamy. ©20th Century Fox
In other cinema news, I have so far been subjected to the Anomalisa trailer thrice, and I can't even (the horror!). I also can't even wait for Carol, whose SLC opening keeps getting delayed (the agony!). I still have a lot of catching up to do with the nominees before the Golden Globe Awards ceremony next Sunday.

Happy Holidays from Billy Wilder et al.
Sam was very sweet and watched two of my favorite Christmas movies with me while we drank Jack Roses and ate Kouign-amanns (or the Breton plural: kouignoù-amann). We started with the terrible, wonderful Love Actually (which used to be my tradition with Ellen before she had her son). "Eight is a lot of legs, David." Then we watched The Apartment, Billy Wilder's fabulous dark romantic comedy about loners who fall in love between the office Christmas party and New Year's Eve. Before heading out for a NYE party myself, I watched Wilder's fabulous Hollywood noir Sunset Boulevard where William Holden attends two very different New Year's Eve parties in a beautiful tailcoat: "Wonderful shoulders. I love that line." Nobody wears tails to NYE parties anymore. I did not get a lot of other holiday movie viewing done (including my other favorite The Thin Man!), but I did catch Netflix's holiday special A Very Murray Christmas, which I found delightful and it totally got me in the holiday spirit. And finally, Elise, Justin, and I watched Meet Me in St. Louis (which is Justin's tradition) mostly for Judy singing the finest and most melancholy of all Christmas songs (Tori Amos's cover is also near and dear to my heart):

Art Angels
This is the first Grimes album I've bought, and I've found its electronic pop to be both very strange (including the cover art) as well as catchy and likable. iTunes writes that "Art Angels is a Catherine wheel of ferocious pop invention" and that seems to me the perfect description. While we're talking music here, I just want to say that my two favorite albums of the year were Florence + the Machine's How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful and Lana Del Rey's Honeymoon.

Snow Day
On Monday, Dec. 14th we had a massive winter storm which left Bountiful with 23" of snow! It was insane, and even though the U did not close (until late afternoon), I decided to take a personal snow day anyway, and I read my book and drank hot chocolate and napped and made macaroni and cheese casserole for dinner (comfort food!), and it was a mostly good time except that I did pull a back muscle attempting to shovel some snow.

I finished two series in December: Fox's Scream Queens and Netflix's Jessica Jones (which turned out to be three episodes longer than I expected). Scream Queens was hilarious and macabre with cast members dying in every episode. But the best line of the whole season was Dean Munsch (original scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis) in the finale: "Especially since the new Kappa seems to be aligned so clearly with mine and the rest of the student body's almost militant commitment to political correctness and acceptance of different and unusual points of view. As long as they're always left-leaning. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go disinvite Jerry Seinfeld from speaking at commencement. He told a joke about a woman once. Allegedly." Jessica Jones is a decidedly gritty superhero show—or perhaps anti-heroine show. The season's arc was concerned with defeating Kilgrave (David Tennant) who is no ordinary costumed supervillain twirling his mustache, but a real monster who is misogyny personified, "a one-man system of oppression, sexual violence, and domestic abuse." I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to re-watch Tennant's Doctor Who episodes again—what if his companions are really hostages?

Party Central
I started the holiday parties with my college friend set, who are all married except for Ashley and me, and of the four married couples, three have one or more children. So it was all a little crazy, but we had a lovely dinner, and the gingerbread men cookies that I made seemed to be a big hit, if I may say so myself. Then there was a martini cocktail party which was expected to be a raging hootenanny but turned out to be a fairly small gathering. I dressed up in my suit (which fits again!) and had six or seven martinis (small ones). And we all danced to jazz music and had a mahvelous time. There were family parties in which I most certainly did not hide from my family members in the closet of my childhood bedroom with half a bottle of wine! And I ended the year at Quinci's NYE party which was low-key and fun and in which Quentin Tarantino movies played in the background.

Let me be the latest person to fanboy over this musical sensation by Lin-Manuel Miranda. I checked out the Broadway cast recording from the library, and it is most excellent. It's Alexander Hamilton's life story, the cast is mostly people of color, and many of the songs are rap/hip-hop (though there are some traditional Broadway melodies as well). You can read this Atlantic piece about the music, and this Telegraph piece which concludes: "Like most good ideas," Kail says, dryly, "it doesn’t make sense until somebody puts in front of you and you say, 'Oh, of course.'" So go find it and listen to it. It makes me cry and want to read more U.S. history and be a better American. How corny am I?

Bonus: Christmas
Another Christmas has come and gone and I got three pairs of socks! and also many much books. So my Christmas was merry and hope yours was too.

Monday, November 30, 2015


November in Review

1. Who Needs a Movie?
Prior to November, I had only seen nine films in the theater (not counting Brewvies Film Buff Night), and five of those were late 2014 movies that didn't come to SLC til Jan/Feb. So the four 2015 releases I had seen were Mad Max: Fury Road, Inside Out, Jurassic World, and Crimson Peak. But then I saw three more new films this month: The Martian, Suffragette, and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2. The Martian was excellent: compelling, thrilling, humorous, and surprisingly emotional. It was more lucid than Interstellar and less claustrophobic than Gravity. Suffragette was fairly good. Carrie Mulligan was wonderful as always, and I thought it was one of Helena Bonham Carter's better performances of late—not being a Tim Burton or Harry Potter film. Queen Meryl as Emmeline Pankhurst was in the movie for all of two minutes, which was a little disappointing. She's on the poster, but she's not even the one who dies! *spoiler alert* And we were all a little shocked as the credits rolled that women didn't get the vote in Switzerland until 1971! Finally, Mockingjay 2 was better than Part 1, and while J.Law was first-rate as always, I didn't buy her romance with either Gale or Peeta, which reminds me of this parody: "because all my life I was never really into either."

Also, out the now-twelve films I've seen this year, eight of them have been with Sam. Thanks for being my movie buddy!

2. Winter is Coming
Remember, remember the 5th of November, because that is when the snow started flurrying. This November has been pretty cold with a handful of snowstorms throughout the month, though none of the snow has stuck around for long. Still, I hope this means a White Christmas and a healthy snowpack. (Also, I need to read A Dance with Dragons before the next season of Game of Thrones [and the possible spring release of The Winds of Winter... Ha!].)

3. Midwinter Graces
Six years ago, Tori Amos released a holiday album—and reader, I did not buy it. I was disappointed with her previous album, Abnormally Attracted to Sin which was released only months prior; I was not feeling "Snow Angel," the free iTunes download; and while my two favorite Christmas songs have and always will be Tori's versions of "Little Drummer Boy" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," this was an album of original compositions. Also, the cover art is terrible (and terrifying). But this year I did buy the album on iTunes, partly because it was on sale, and I have to say that I am rather enjoying it. While these are original songs, snatches of familiar carols wind their ways through the new tunes. "Snow Angel" continues to not be my favorite, but I really enjoy "Star of Wonder," "Holly, Ivy and Rose," and "Winter's Carol" (which was totally repackaged for The Light Princess) among others. Midwinter Graces is an album of holiday mysticism with as many mentions of the Holly King as the baby Jesus; also each track corresponds to one of the four classical elements (though I could not tell you which goes with which without looking it up).

4. Treat Yo Self
There was a Friday that was quite disheartening, and I was not ready to go home after work, and I just thought if only there was a café I could go to—and it came to me in a flash, Gourmandise! which is a French-inspired bakery and café downtown. I had a glass of wine, a slice of mushroom quiche, and macarons while I read my book for an hour. It was restorative and humanizing.

5. i iz sick
I got a cold this month (I get about 1.5 colds per year), and while the symptoms were fairly mild, it lasted much longer than normal. (Perhaps that's what I get for using store-brand Cold-Eeze.) However, coupled with the cold weather, it was an excellent time for drinking hot toddies. I start with a hot honey lemon water base, and then I add a generous "tot" of brandy, which, as Alexandra Fuller's father knows, is totally medicinal. I sometimes add spices, but after once mistaking paprika for cinnamon, I have let well enough alone.

6. 25
Here are a few thoughts about Adele's new album. I do think that "Hello," which we have all heard a million times, is the stand-out song which is why it's the first single and the opening track. "When We Were Young" is also a good second single. My other favorites include "Send My Love (To Your New Lover)," "Water Under the Bridge," and "River Lea" all three of which are pretty up-tempo and catchy. Most of the other songs I could take or leave, and I don't think any of the tracks are as good as "Rolling in the Deep" or "Someone Like You," so over-all I give the album a medium. (Also, how pissed do you think Taylor is that Adele waited until she was on the cover of GQ's November issue "T.S. Rules the World" to be like "Hello, it's me!"?)

7. All the Pies
I attended three Thanksgiving dinners. I went to my aunt & uncle's for Thursday, and then I had two Friendsgivings over the weekend. And I made four pies: pecan, two pumpkin, and an apple. I also entertained the notion of making a tarte Tatin, but sanity carried the day. Pies are not as easy as ... pie, they are hard work, and between jobs, traveling, a holiday concert, and continuous pie-making/dish-washing, it was not exactly a relaxing holiday. But it was good to see family and friends, give thanks, and eat butter.

8. Giving Thanks for TV
Some of my favorite TV episodes are set at Thanksgiving, though—due to busyness and pie-making—I sadly did not get to all of them. "A Deep-Fried Korean Thanksgiving" is essential Gilmore Girls viewing. I love both of The West Wing's offerings: "Shibboleth" and "The Indians in the Lobby." I started watching the Friends' T-Day episodes from the beginning, but I didn't get to my two favorites: "The One with Brad Pitt the Rumor" and "The One Where Ross Got High." I also did not get around to "Pangs" from Buffy or any of HIMYM's "Slapsgivings." What are your favorite Thanksgiving-themed TV episodes?

9. Books
I finished many much more books this month, including my book-club book, Ready Player One, which is an enjoyable futuristic, 80s-themed adventure novel. It also gave me anxiety dreams whenever I read it before bed. I read David Mitchell's short haunted-house novel, Slade House, over the break, which was inventive and disturbing. I've almost finished National Book Award winner Challenger Deep, which was actually quite difficult to get into, but is a fascinating YA novel about mental illness. I finished the graphic adaptation of Swann's Way, which was reasonably easy to read and follow, though I can't say I loved the story. However, I still plan to read the novel (eventually...), and I think this will have been a good introduction. I also finished Shadow of Night, the second novel in what I will continue to call the Twilight series for the adult-set. Set in 1590s Europe, it was an enjoyable historical fantasy.

10.  That Moveable Feast
I have set aside my first $500 for Paris. I'm coming back for you! Though I've really fallen behind practicing my French on my Duolingo... I don't really have anything to say about Paris attacks except that it's heartbreaking and that, in all the reaction, Berry's essay "Thoughts in the Presence of Fear" continues to be relevant fourteen years later.

Now, excuse me while I go eat leftover pie and watch Dan in Real Life. And may everyone have a very merry December.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

October: Take Ten

1. Vampire Diaries
In early October season six of Vampire Diaries dropped on Netflix, and I binged it hardcore--watching all 22 episodes over the course of eight days. and it was glorious. It is for sure an over-the-top, CW teen soap, and I love it. I exchanged hundreds of texts with fellow Diaries enthusiast Sam as I watched the season following Bonnie who was trapped in a pocket universe, Elena who lost all her memories, Caroline who switched off her humanity, and the season's Big Bad, Kai, who ruined EVERYTHING! and much more. I can't wait to binge watch the current season next year.

2. Scary Movie Nights
It's decorative gourd season, and what is more festive than watching some terrifying flicks? When I was a child I hated horror films which didn't change until college. But I was somehow present when my roommates watched The Grudge, and it wasn't all that scary. Then Slarue and I watched 28 Days Later and The Shining which were for sure scary, but in a fun way, and now I'm a fan. So this year Sam and I got together every week to get our fright on. Here's a list of what we watched:
The Haunting (the original thank you very much)
The Watcher in the Woods (Disney was very strange in the 80s)
The Others
The Exorcist (this is the one I was most reluctant to see--possession! gah!--but Sam was insistent. in the end it was pretty interesting and not as scary as I thought it would be)
The Orphanage (still super scary the third or fourth time around and it reduced Sam to a quivering puddle)
The Amityville Horror
The Conjuring
Sam and I also went to see Crimson Peak which turned out to be not so scary. though very beautiful but also a bit meh. and Jessica Chastain was giving me some serious Eva Green vibes.

3. Book Club
My book club met in order to discuss Henry James's ghost novella The Turn of the Screw. (We were also supposed to compare and contrast it with James's friend Edith Wharton's ghost story All Souls', but nobody else read it.) The Turn of the Screw seems to be popular (at least in academia) because it is short, lends itself to close reading, has a (potentially) unreliable narrator, and is a useful example of James's second period. Following Edmund Wilson's seminal essay "The Ambiguity of Henry James" we were divided into apparitionists (Devin) and non-apparitionists (Elyse and I). We then watched the excellent film adaptation The Innocents (also very scary), and I started to rethink my non-apparitionist stance while it firmly cemented Elyse's viewpoint.

4. Fall Baking (i.e. Pumpkin Everything)
Two of my favorite things to make in October is this Pumpkin Roll and these Pumpkin Cookies. I served the roll at book club and it was a big success esp. with Alex. The cookies were also a success when I brought them to work where several coworkers demanded the recipe. Because it uses melted butter instead of oil and no egg, the cookies have dense, chewy texture instead of the cakey/muffin-y texture common to pumpkin cookies. 

5. The Light Princess
Tori Amos co-wrote a musical based on George MacDonald's fairy tale, and the original cast recording was released in October. (The musical premiered two years ago at the Royal National Theatre, but no album was produced at that time.) The Light Princess a coming-of-age story of Althea, who, becoming weightless after her mother dies, must learn how to feel to find her gravity. It's an empowering musical about growing up, parents and children, and facing the world. It's my favorite thing she's done since 2007's American Doll Posse (an album that's fallen sharply in my estimation). It's a good, operetta-leaning musical (and while it lacks big, showstopping numbers, several of the tunes have wormed their way into my earholes), but it won't replace Into the Woods as my favorite musical or even Fun Home as my favorite new musical this year. 

The HBO Now monthly service f i n a l l y came to the Roku player in October, and it was the best day ever. However, after catching up on Game of Thrones (so many deaths in the last episode! *spoiler*), I am not sure I love it. It's not quite as user-friendly as I would have hoped, and it has constant buffering problems. So I may not continue my subscription at this time, but I will def return when GoT does.

7. Debt
I finally paid off all my credit card debt this month! All I have left is a residual interest payment of 3 and some odd dollars. With my undergrad loans and credit cards paid off, all I have left is grad school--for the rest of my life. Now I can start saving for Paris! 

8. Adulting
Back in September, I got a flat tire on campus, and as I didn't have a car jack, my dad had to come rescue me. and he bought me a car jack! Well, less than a month later I had to use it as I got another flat. The lug nuts were rusted on pretty well which caused a lot of cursing, but, eventually, I changed my very first spare tire all by myself! and was only 30 minutes late to work. Continuing to adult only slightly more successfully than New Girl's Nick Miller. 

9. Books
All that Vamp Diaries and GoT interrupted my reading time which means that the only book I actually finished in October was the first trade issue of the new Ms. Marvel series--which is pretty good (and short). I got about 70 pages in The House of the Seven Gables before dropping it and only 18 pages in to The Witches of Eastwick before stopping. I am currently about 80 pages in Seven Ages of Paris and halfway through Night of Shadows. I have also made it halfway through Stéphane Heuet's graphic adaptation of Swann's Way which is more accessible than but does not come with the same bragging rights as the original. And in November I finished Nimona, a web-comic-turned-book that has been shortlisted for the National Book Award in the Young People's category. Nimona is a shape-shifter who teams up with moral villain Lord Blackheart in his fight against the nefarious Institute and spurious hero Sir Goldenloin where science mixes with magic and medieval and modern technologies coexist. I hope to finish more books this month.

10. Frightmares, Halloween and Hook
Gramantha had their last Lagoon day of the year during Frightmares where we only went to one haunted house because that enough for Kristen, thank you very much. and I think Sam was more scared of the swings and the Ferris wheel than the haunted attractions. For Halloween the rest of the crew went as Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back characters and I went as Hook from Once Upon a Time. It was a fun night even though I was ready for a nap by the time we got to our first party. 

Bonus: October Babies 
I seriously think that at least half of the people in my life were born in October. Seriously, what is going on in January? Oh, right, nothing. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

10 Things: September

Here are ten things I did this month. I'm hoping to make this a regular monthly post.  

1. Labor Day Party
For the past four or five years now, I've had friends over to my house to swim and barbecue while the rest of my family goes to Lava Hot Springs. It's great because I don't love camping, but I do love having the house to myself. I didn't actually barbecue this year instead making ratatouille, macaroni and cheese, and peach pie, and only a few people swam because it was frickin' cold! I also made my own orgeat syrup so we could make Mai Tais which were delicious. It was great to see a bunch of my friends, including Dain whom I rarely see since he lives in New Mexico now. 

2. Buffy Finale
Three Septembers ago, Kristen and I started watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and we finally watched "Chosen," the final episode! It took us a while to get through the series--mostly because Kristen kept moving (first to WA, then to CA). But I've always enjoyed our (somewhat regular) weekly Buffy nights. I don't what we're going to do now.

3. The Greek Festival
Kristen, Sam, and I went to the annual Greek Festival in SLC and had a good time. I ate way too much food. It was delicious--and heavy. Then we got frappes and toured the Orthodox church. And then we went to the mall to drink Starbucks and buy things at Barnes & Noble.

4. Scandal
I started watching the television show Scandal at the end of August or beginning of September, and I am now halfway through the fourth season. I am addicted! (I probably watched the entire second season during the Labor Day weekend.) Season three took some turns I didn't care for, but I am still watching it compulsively. 
In other TV news, I just watched the premier of Scream Queens which is gruesome and darkly funny. The Serial joke was so good. I will definitely keep watching for now.

5. Wicked
I have loved the musical Wicked since college when all my friends were obsessed with it. I've always been curious to read the Maguire novel, and so Sam lent me her copy (it's one of her favorite books), but I did not care for the book at all. It was a deeply frustrating reading experience from the character of Elphaba to the story itself. The creators of the musical made some excellent choices in their adaptation. 

6. Fall Reading List
I love to throw in some books with thrills and chills during the fall. For book club (meeting next month), we decided to read some ghost stories with The Turn of the Screw by Henry James and "All Souls' " by Edith Wharton. Currently I'm reading Hawthorne's gothic The House and the Seven Gables and the second book in Harkness's All Souls trilogy Shadow of Night. I also want to get to Updike's The Witches of Eastwick next month. Perhaps I shall share my thoughts on what I've read next time. 

7. Books Books Books
This month I went to two library book sales. The first at Davis County where I found nothing that I wanted. Sayud. Then next at the U, where I picked up five nice paperbacks: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley, The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon, a Norton Critical Edition of Gulliver's Travels and a Penguin Classics copy of The Custom of the Country (my favorite Wharton novel). I also picked up Janson's The History of Art (sixth ed.) for $2! I am pretty pleased with my selections. A couple weeks later, the U had its Employee Appreciation Day which always includes a FREE books table. The pickings were slim, but I grabbed two hardbacks in good condition: Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe and The Letters of Lytton Strachey. (My favorite book so far this year was Priya Parmar's historical novel Vanessa and Her Sister about the Bloomsbury Group, and Lytton Strachey was one of my favorite characters.) I also just liberated about sixteen books from the boxes in the shed from when I moved back to Utah four years ago, and it feels so good to be reunited. On the other hand, I have no shelf space for all these books.

8. Fall Hike
A couple of Sundays ago, I went hiking with Elise up Mueller Park Canyon which is a very easy, moderate hike. Only a few of the leaves had turned, but it felt properly autumnal nevertheless. After the hike, we enjoyed a bottle of Amontillado with some Manchego cheese, and it was delicious!

9. Honeymoon
I picked up Lana Del Rey's third album Honeymoon upon its release, and I have been enjoying it very much. The NYT writes "She’s been angry, and then bored of being angry, but now she’s just bored, and her boredom is entrancing." Opening with the line "We both know that it's not fashionable to love me" and closing with a cover of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," it's a languorous set of retro, cinematic soundscapes for Del Rey's art project persona of a world-weary femme fatale. "Truly there's nobody else for you but me," she sings, and nobody else is making this kind of pop music, and perhaps nobody else even could. It's the Full Lana and won't win any new converts, but it may be her most cohesive work yet (though the Paradise EP is still my favorite). In closing Billboard writes, "Under the cover of midnight, Del Rey has been exploring big ideas about eroticism, drugs, myth, the empty promise of YOLO, what it means to be a woman, and the American soul. But sure, keep writing her off as 'sad.'"
In other music news, I also picked up CHVRCHES new album Every Open Eye which is the kind of shiny, ear candy pop that Lana is NOT making, and it's great, but for some reason the disc won't read in my car's tetchy CD player, so I will keep listening to Honeymoon

10. Oktoberfest
Over the weekend, Sam, Kristen, Brandon, Vicki, Quinci, and I made our way to Snowbird for Oktoberfest. It was a day full of drinking beer (Wasatch's Pumpkin Ale may be my favorite pumpkin beer) and eating German food and it was wonderful. 

11. Paris
I have decided to travel to Paris next year. I'm hoping Sam will come with me. Right now it's just the fun fantasy of planning a trip, and now I'm reading Alistair Horne's Seven Ages of Paris and brushing up on my French on Duolingo.