Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Last Minute Hipster Christmas Music 2013

I had every intention of curating a lovely little holiday mix tape for you guys this year. I also had lots of other intentions for the holidays: homemade ornaments for the tree, making gingerbread and Christmas jam for the neighbors, sending out cute and crafty cards and greetings of good cheer, and finding the perfect gifts for loved ones, you know, it is the season for perfection in everything.  But when my little overwhelmed heart was about to the explode with anxiety, I willingly let everything slip through my hands, took a deep breathe and let the season embrace me instead of shaking me silly. I gladly excepted the plates of cookies and homemade lovelies from neighbors and friends all bundled up on my front porch, without the guilt of having nothing to give them in return, I excitingly ripped open cards from far away family and friends filled with happy pictures of chubby kids and kinfolk, I found beauty in fresh snow, even when stuck in traffic on route to some last minute shopping, almost cried tears of happiness and learned the meaning of goodwill as a coworker stayed late to help me scrap layers and layers and layers of ice off my car after a nasty ice storm, and (finally to the point) let others curate the music for me this year.  If I was staring in my own Christmas special this year, the moral would definitely be giving love and goodwill, in all it's forms-big and small, is important, but receiving it openly and allowing it to help grow your heart three sizes, is just as important. 

The soundtrack for my holiday special would also most definitely has a great soundtrack: folksy and peaceful and calm, like how it all, as in everything, should be this time of year, filled with songs and mixes from these wondrous music bloggers and music makers: 

Hang A String of Lights: The  Fuel/Friends 2013 Christmas Mix
I've listen to Carol of the Banjos, 1299857 times, just this morning. Truth.

Cover Lay Down's New Artists, Holiday Songs 2013
Yes, you are completely right. I do have a thing for banjos in holiday music. This fact of my life is not going to change, there is no need for an intervention.

And a couple of stand alone albums

Songs of Christmas by Sufjan Stevens. Always, always, always. Always. I will mention this album every year. It's my favorite, always.  

The Lower Lights Sing Noel (new 2013 album)

And if you want a little more kick and punch in your holiday music, Bad Religion's Christmas Songs album will meet that need. I actually borrowed this album from  my local public library. Never underestimate libraries as a hipster's paradise. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Song of the Season: On TV

I usually don't like Christmas television specials. I guess in the television business, if you stick Christmas or Holiday in the show title, you don't have to worry about plot, or well written characters or acting. I mean, I may be stuffed with tree shaped cookies and good cheer and what not, but geez, I still got standards.   I also don't like to hear about "the true meaning of Christmas" sandwiched in between commercials for  holiday specials and deals on diamonds and cars and stuff and more stuff. 

But what I can get behind is holiday songs being done well on television. Oh yes, let's do that. 

The National + Gregg Allman + Stephen Colbert + Silver Bells = I get *this close* to fainting.

The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Video Archive

Saturday, December 7, 2013

November Reads

I have a co-worker who loves young adult fiction. And while I feel that I read a lot, a wide and current knowledge of teen lit isn't one of my fortes.  Apparently the in-betweeners (not quite kids, not quite grown-ups)  aren't that hip to the tales from Sweet Valley High anymore. So a couple week ago I asked said co-worker, what was it about young adult lit that made her love it so much. She said that YA breaks her heart faster than any adult book ever has, and when she reads she wants to feel. 

I totally get that.  

I want books and music and art and the night sky to make me feel all the feels. In my very demanding nature, I want to be more than just entertained. I want words to move and change me. Half way through the conversation I decided that my reading theme for November was definitely going to be YA and asked for some suggestions, a few realistic titles and a few fantasy/sci-fi titles. My coworker was all too happy to give me list. At the conclusion of November's readings I realized just how behind the times I really am; most of the books that I read are in current production to be made into movies. So along with some good books, let me give you a sneak peek into that what will be hitting movie theaters next year:

If I Stay by Gayle Forman.
One of the quotes on the book jacket describes this book as "heartachingly beautiful," and that is no joke or understatement. Within the first 15 pages Mia, our narrator, and her family have been in a horrible car accident. The rest of the pages are filled with Mia continuing the story as not quite a spirit, not quite a subconscious, as her body lays in a comma in the hospital. She sees family and friends visiting her and reflects on the meaning of relationships and family and love and decides if she wants to stay (alive) or just let go. The book is beautifully written and made me think and feel and stayed with me after I closed the book. Don't read this book in public if you don't like crying in public. It's sad, at times on the verge of an ugly cry sad, but also probably one of the best realistic teen fictions that I have read in quite awhile.  I also loved that music is weaved into the story. Mia is a talented classical cellist, her parents are aging punk rockers and her boyfriend is in a band. So there is a lot of music talk going on, but not just a sprinkling in of band names and music references here and there, but also discussion on the connections that people can make through and because of music. 

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.
I really, really wanted to like this book. I heard a lot of good things about it, and I know several people who have read it, but I just thought it was OK, not bad by any means, but not life changing either. There are many things that I did like about it. The story revolves around Hazel and Gus who meet in a cancer patient support group and their evolving relationship . So while death is a shadow throughout the whole story, life and what we do with the days we are given is the real moral to the story. Everyone wants know that their mattered, everyone wants a legacy to leave behind so they won't be forgotten by their loved ones and the ages. I also loved how our two heroes went on a trip to bug the author of Hazel's favorite book about the unfulfilling ending to his book. I would totally do that too.  Again, I really wanted to like this book, the writing is witty, the characters are interesting and engaging, but I just couldn't connect to the book, I guess it just didn't break me heart enough. I mentioned to my coworker and she told me not to give up on John Green and that I should read Looking for Alaska by him. 

Divergent by Veronica Roth
I am very late to the Divergent bandwagon.  Usually all the press surrounding this book begins with, "If you like the Hunger Games . . . " There are several similarities between the Hunger Games and Divergent. Both are trilogies, both take place in a dystopian society (I am such a sucker for a good tale of dystopia) where the population has been divided into distinct  factions (in Divergent's case it is 5 groups, based roughly on personality type), both have a strong, bold, young female lead that quite unexpectedly sparks a revolution that might just bring down the social structure, and both have a lot of teenagers training and fighting.  But forget all the similarities. Divergent is a very strong, well written book that deserves any press on it's own merit. When I started to read this book, I told myself that I would just read a couple of chapters and then go to bed. And I did that. I read a couple of chapters, put the book down, turned out the light and went to bed. A couple minutes later I got out of bed, turned on the light and picked up the book again, I just had to keep going, I just had to know what happens. It just pulls you in that much. I loved the message of the book; that we can choose our own path in life, even if that path is different from the path of our families, and different than what is expected of us. That doesn't mean that the right path is easy, said path can beat you down quite easily and regularly, but sometimes that is only when we can start seeing our own potential. Divergent is the first of a trilogy, I am on the library wait list for the second (Insurgent) and third (Allegiant) and even though seemingly everyone has issues with how the story is finally resolved, I look forward to many more late reading nights. 

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Set in a fantasy land that has a feel of Old Russia, Shadow and Bone is the story of a Alina, an orphan that discovers that she has strong magical powers, and those powers not only change her life but they have the potential to change everything. Will she use her powers for good or evil?  It's a classic plot, that veers on being quite predictable at times, but this book has a lot of merit. Oh, and there are flying monsters and a tall dark handsome one called The Darkling, who I am sure will have great abs in the movie version.   I loved the exploration, although very light, of Slavic mythologies, the Greek and Norse usually hog the spotlight, so big Eastern European high five to the author. This is the first book in a series, always a series. . . sigh, so I hope that in the continuing books there is a fleshing out of the different people and cultures in the story, back stories of the main characters and  more world building. I thought it was a good stand alone book, but at the same time I wanted more, which I guess is the goal of the first book in any series.  I have to mention that I felt the same way about Harry Potter, another orphan with magical powers, I didn't get into the books until about the 3rd one. Shadow and Bone has a lot of potential and I am on board with seeing how the story all plays out.  

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
I loved this book. I read it cover to cover in one day during my Thanksgiving holiday. It was definitely, a --don't you dare bother me, I am reading- day, and it was glorious. I couldn't put the book down. Set in the fantastical land of Lumatere, a relativity peaceful, happy kingdom, but then the royal family is murdered and the land is put under a curse. The curse traps some of the population, but others are scattered and exiled. Finnikin, the son of the King's Guards and one of the exiled, and his guardian Topher roam the neighboring lands, searching for other exiles in attempts to reclaim their land and lives. Enter Evanjalin, a young, arrogant, stubborn, mysterious girl who challenges Finnikin and his whole expedition.  Beneath all the fantasy is a firm foundation of truth. It's about community. We all need somewhere to belong to feel safe and whole. We need other people, we a need a greater good outside ourselves, we need things to bring us together and keep us together. And you guessed it, Finnikin of the Rock is the first in a series. 

This is Melina Marchetta's first fantasy book and the first book of hers that I have read. Her writing is fluid and at times stunning. I am amazed at her talent to write from the point of view of a young man (Finnikin) and have it come off as believable and endearing. That is not an easy thing to do. I do have to point out, that although it is labeled as a young adult book, it is definitely is an older teen through adult book, the world portrayed can be pretty dark at times.

Melina Marachetta has publicly said that she has no plans on allowing Finnikin of the Rock, or the other books in the series to be made into a movie. Sometimes it is more than OK for books to just stay as books. 

For December's readings, I decided to be a grown-up again, my theme is biographies and memoirs. Many of the ones I wanted to read, probably aren't going to come in time, so I'm now taking recommendations. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Song of the Week: Patrick Dethiefs

This year daylight savings time has hit me hard. It get dark so early now and seems to stay dark long after the rooster should be crowing, as they say in these parts. And maybe it is because I am less big city, big city lights bound as I was this time last year, but the early and late night darkness seems slightly different this year, a little deep darker, a little heavier. But it is not just the sunless hours. On some days, I swear I can feel winter approaching, and it is mighty and it is heavy to the bones.  It's just not the dropping temperatures, or the stashing of extra mittens and gloves everywhere, because like a young child, I always, always lose my gloves. It's something else this year, or maybe it's the sum of everything else. The year is quickly coming to a close and pretty soon we will send the last 365 days into judgement as we start thinking about goals and resolutions and new, clean, blank pages.  It is these days where there is a whisper thin line between excitement and anxiety, a seemingly no man's land in between conclusions and new beginnings.

The beauteous "Where You're Caring the Weight," by Patrick Dethiefs is the perfect kind of song for these days, days where you are fighting off the chill and seeking for warmth, physically and metaphysically speaking.

Monday, December 2, 2013

5/10 Things

1. I may not have become a Thanksgiving convert this year, but when my sister made homemade profiteroles (cream puffs) with homemade pumpkin ice cream with homemade maple caramel sauce, I may have warmed up a teensy bit to the idea of this holiday of thankfulness. I also warned up to the idea that she is the better sister.  In other Thanksgiving breaking news, I made a pie (duh):
Pear Rosemary Pie with a Cheddar Cheese Crust (recipe) to be exact. The crust didn't taste cheesy, the cheese, aka the extra fat,  just makes the crust extra flaky. I'm not tip top on doing lattice tops, I'm more of a crumble top girl, but the pie turned super good, I say completely unbiasedly. Also, the highest of high fives to Miranda for keeping the Pie Day tradition alive!

2. A bunch of cable channels are premiering a new biopic about Bonnie and Clyde. It looks awful. Awful.  One of the channels is the History Channel. I am starting to question the History Channel's working knowledge of the word "history." To tie into the film, Project Runaway on the Lifetime Network asked the fashion designer contestants to created outfits inspired by the romance and glamour of the 1930's.  I guess I missed the day in history class where the romance and glamour of The Great Depression was discussed. Sheesh. But here is a true for real fact:  most of the iconic images of Bonnie and Clyde, them posing with guns and cars and stuff come from a roll of film that was found at one of their abandoned hide outs in (wait for it . . . . . . .) Joplin, Missouri. Never underestimate Missouri's love for classic outlaws. 

3. A little boy came into my work a couple of evenings ago wearing Superman pajamas. He confidently came up to me and declared, "I'm Batman!" I first thought that I was witnessing the cutest identity crisis ever, but then I thought that pretending to be another superhero might be the best secret identity ever. No one would ever guess. He, our little Superman/Batman totally fooled me. Also, total props to the kid for remaining within the same comic universe. DC Comics and Marvel crossovers usually cause a crack in the cosmos.

4. A couple of my favorite reads from the Interwebz:

  • A very thoughtful piece on how to support independent music during this season of giving.
  • There is a bleak difference between how our  culture treats those with physical illness and those with mental illness, can you guess which group get cards and casseroles? "What can I do to help?" is a welcome phase no matter if the wounds are easily seen or not. 

5. I saw this sign in a store:
I don't need a boy on clearance.  I need a reasonably priced gentleman. Put that on my Christmas list, Mr. Santa. 


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Currently Listening to . . .

Holy smokes kids, it's been awhile since I've done a "Song of the Week" post, so let's all get caught up with what is currently filling the space in between my ears and breaking my heart.

Oats in the Water by Ben Howard. This song is so haunting it still gives me the shivers, even after the 1398th listen.

Lord Huron. Every single Lord Huron song I can shove in my ears.

Penitentiary by Houndmouth. You can hear 1000 lives lived in their music.

The Last Pale Light in the West by Ben Nichols. Ben Nichols, of the band Lucero put out a solo album not too long ago inspired by Cormac McCarthy's book Blood Meridian. It's music that soaks deep in your skin and kind of hollows you out, but you don't mind, it feels fine.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Words: Wisdom

I like flaws and feel more comfortable around people who have them. I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.
--Augusten Burrough, Magical Thinking

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Here is a picture of a cow.

It's been a nerve wrecking week or two, but I think it has all turned out ok. And just so you don't do a vagueblogging eye roll at me, nerves have been wrecked because of, but not limited to: getting to work only to find out that work is in lock down (suspicious mail that turned out to not be so suspicious), throwing out my back, but not like throwing it out with the garbage, but hurting it baaaad, waiting for plumbers, planning the first real American style Thanksgiving dinner that I had in years and trying (insert grouchy face) to be happy and helpful about it (Thanksgiving isn't one of my favorite holidays and I try to avoid it most years by traveling to faraway places) and last but  not least, I've been also trying to parley my current job back into a career.  So even though it has been pushed to the back burner by life lately, this blog does help me organize my chaos, and I hope to be back to somewhat regular posting soon. I've even started to work on this year's Hipster Christmas music mix, so I am serious. Mostly.  But definitely on Wednesdays. 

But in the meantime, here is a picture of the cow in my backyard. This makes my little bio there on the side bar, totally legit. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

October Reads

When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.” --You've Got Mail

All my favorite reads from October were children's picture books, the effect of a project I am working on at, well, work. 

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce
I love, love, love this book. If I had unlimited, free trade, wealth I would give this book to every single person living on the planet. It celebrates reading and books and writing and sharing stories. It makes me, unapologically, tear up every time I read it. Within its pages and beautiful illistrautions, we find the sweet story of Mr. Morris Lessmore who loses his personal library in a very Wizard of Oz like storm, but finds great meaning in caring for books in a new library. This story inspired an Academy Award winning animated short film, by the same title, which you can watch here (it's about 15 minutes long). 

Favorite passage: Morris liked to share the books with others. Sometimes it was a favorite that everyone loved, and other times he found a lonely little volume whose tale was seldom told. "Everyone's story matters," said Morris. And all the books agreed.

Gawd, my face is leaking just typing that. 

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown
Mr. Tiger lives in world were all the animals wear top hats and uncomfortable shoes and have very proper Victorian era type manners. But Mr. Tiger is bored with all of it, so he decides one day to go a little wild. The moral of this story, told with lovely illustrations that play with pops of color and muted tones, is that we don't have to live life in the extremes. A little bit proper and a little bit wild can lead to a life well lived. 

Favorite passage: He wanted to loosen up. He wanted to have fun. He wanted to be . . .wild.

Oliver by Birgitta Sif
Oliver is another "being different is ok," story. I love the fact that more books about all different kinds of kids are getting more attention, hopefully emphasis in little minds that being different does not equal being bad, or unwanted or that there is something wrong with you. Oliver is a young boy who is happy to play by himself quietly when everyone else is at the party. He has plenty of adventures with his toys and his imagination. But one day, a chance meeting with someone else who is different changes everything. 

Favorite passage: Oliver was a bit different. But it didn't matter. Olivia was a bit different too. 

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems
This is not a new book, but it is such a fun book, that I reread it, and push Mo Willems on people, as often as I can. This book, which is the first in the pigeon series, has a super simple premise: DON'T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS. He will be sneaky, and pout, and stomp his little bird feet and do everything he can think of to try to get you to let him drive the bus. Don't fall for it. Mo Willems started his career working on Sesame Street, so he knows how to keep the kids entertained without completely boring the grownups. 

Favorite passage: {from the pigeon} I have dreams, you know!

That Book Woman by Heather Henson, pictures by David Small
This book is a tribute to the Pack Horse Librarians who in the 1930s would bring books to remote regions, mainly in the Appalachian mountains in Kentucky, where there were few schools and no libraries.  Being paid very little, these librarians, mostly women, would travel the rough trails up and down the mountains either on foot or by pack mules every couple weeks, no matter the weather to bring books and reading to those seemingly forgotten by the outside world. The narrator of this picture book is Cal, a boy who never really saw the need to read, but curiosity about the Book Woman and the books she brings to his sister finally gets the best of him, and he learns, not only to read, but also of hope of a wider world.

Favorite passage:  I pick a book with words and pictures, too, and hold it out. "Teach me what it says." And Lark, she does not laugh or even tease, but makes a place, and quiet-like, we start to read."

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Movie Night: Mystery Science Theater 3000

Last year, I shared some of my favorite classic horror movies for Halloween. This year, I thought I would share some of my fun favorites, and you can't get anymore fun than Mystery Science Theater 3000, or MST3K if you're one of the cool kids or a lazy typer. If you aren't familiar with MST3K, then Whoa Nelly, you are in for a treat. Or a trick. Halloween jokes, y'all. 

The premise behind this now canceled, yet still beloved series, is a lowly janitor has been kidnapped by a mad scientist,  shot into space, and forced to watch bad movies, all in the names of SCIENCE and experiments and stuff. The janitor, Joel or Mike--depending on the episode/season, builds robot friends out of random parts found on his spaceship and together they add snarky and hilarious commentary to the movies, make up little skits, and of course, general merriment ensues.  And before you ask, no it's not based on true events, NASA would never spurge on a countdown door.  And again, no, it is not based on my life, even if my snarky commentary is legendary. And by legendary, I mean, some people refuse to sit by me during movies because I can be "chatty." And by chatty, I can only assume they mean "adds great insight and wisdom to the movie."

When I was in grad school and after a lot of hard work and determination, I finally got myself embedded in a group of friends that loved MST3K. It didn't matter how late at night it was, or if it was a school night, or well, nothing else matter when one of us got the MST3K bug.  Ridiculous movie is definitely a group activity/sport, it can be a tie that binds, in an endearing way, not creepy tied up in the basement way. 

The Movies:
I have listed a handful of my favorite episodes below. There are 25 MST3k episodes streaming on Hulu, and a load more available for rent on Netflix. Most of the Netflix offerings are on DVD and not streaming, but they are worth the wait. 

MST3k: Manos:  The Hands of Fate (1966/1993)
Plot: A family gets lost on the road and stumbles upon a hidden, underground cult led by the fearsome Master and his servant Torgo.
Force yourself to keep your eye on Torgo, it can be like watching a trainwreck, be he is totally the star of the show.  He even has his own theme song. 
Available on Netflix (DVD)
MST3k: Eegah! (1962/1993)
Plot: Teenagers stumble across a prehistoric caveman, who then goes on a rampage.
And then there is a dune buggy, WEEEEEE!
Available on Hulu (streaming) and Netflix (DVD)
MST3k: Teenagers From Outer Space (1959/1992)
Plot: A young alien falls for a pretty teenage Earth girl and they team up to try to stop the plans of his invading cohorts, who intend to use Earth as a food-breeding ground for giant lobsters from their planet.
I always associate Dr. Pepper Lip Smacker with the movie. . . .and my fear of lobsters. 
Available on Netflix (DVD)
MST3k: The Final Sacrifice (1990/1998)
After finding a map that belonged to his murdered father, a teen searches for the truth behind the crime and discovers that Zap Rowsdower, a man helping him escape members of an ancient cult may be connected to the killing.
In case you missed that, let me repeat, there is a character named Zap Rowsdower. And of course, of course, he has a mullet. 
Available on Netflix streaming

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Song of the Week: Lou Reed

For so many people his work provided some of the earliest glimpses of another world that existed beyond the safe and colorless margins in which they felt trapped and penned and the opportunity of escape they revealed offered hope to both those who needed it most and to those who didn't need it at all but felt a little better knowing that it was out there. (The Awl)

Monday, October 28, 2013

10 Things

1. You know how when you are at a Halloween-ish event and everyone keeps asking what you are dressed up as, but you aren't dressed up as anything? So, with a shrug and after making sure that your clothes and shoes do indeed match, you just start saying you're a hipster librarian, because well, you just came from a very librarian job and honest to gravy, there is a mason jar (a small one for portable snacks) and an Arcade Fire CD in your bag. You know? 

2. Speaking of Halloween, I am never clever enough to come up with a costume, obviously--see above, and I don't have children, but these literature inspired children's costumes are so equally awesome and adorable that they got me to break my ban on Buzzfeed (I'm so over 25 things for everything). 

3. Still thinking of Halloween/Fall events; can we somehow get Chinese food into the "Fall Foods" category? This eating, or pretending to eat, chili at every single gathering lately is getting a little lame. Who makes and presides over seasonal foods? Is there a petition I can sign?

4. I know that it shouldn't annoy me as much as it does, but none of the grocery stores in my area have self-check lanes. Not all lanes should be self-check, but c'mon give us a few 10 items or under express lines. In and out, and chitchat free. 

5. I have a new name for my imaginary rock and roll band: BARN  GYPSIES. Thank you very random sign along the side of road in middle of nowhere Missouri.  You are truly an inspiration. 

6. About once a month, for one of my jobs, I go out on what is basically a mobile computer lab:  a converted school bus with computers. We go out to schools, lower income apartment complexes and other places around the community, to give folk, especially children, access to computers and the internet. One of the educational computer games that I like to play with the kids is a castle game. The castle has been invaded by barbarians and to defeat the barbarians and retrieve the king's shield, the player must answer questions about the different parts of speech. Obviously, proper grammar is mightier than the sword, and even the evilest of foes shake at the power of conjunctions. I get pretty competitive with this game, I try to be patient with the kids and help them figure out those crazy tenses and what not, and but my insides are all-- come on, come on, WE HAVE TO SAVE THE CASTLE!

7. In other, how I am molding future leaders of the world, news, with my activity girls last week we had an international night:  we made little passports and talked about different countries (did you know that Canadians are the world's number one consumers of mac and cheese?) and I tried to convince them to become wanders and travelers when they grow up. Half way through, one of the little girls sighed and declared, "I feel like I'm in school." But at the end of the activity we ate croissants and strawberries (with chopsticks!), and the same little girl declared, "THIS IS BEST DAY EVER!" Moral of the story: croissants can turn any day around.

8. Time for Walking Dead talk! For the first couple episodes of this new season, I was like, WHERE IS CARL'S HAT? It was making me really nervous. Then on Sunday, we, I mean he, got his hat back, and I was, oh no, I'm glad its back and all, but it also probably means baaaaad things are coming.  None of my friends are really into the Walking Dead, and I can only hold in my commentary for so long, before it leaks into the blog. So messy. I actually really miss having running commentary about TV shows with roommates. Anybody watching Castle? Kate's hair is looking good this season.

9.  The newest phrase I am trying to make happen: Stay Frosty, Solider. It's kind of like a little pep talk. Say it. Share it. Know it.

10. Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson gave a rare interview recently to Mental Floss magazine. Eeeks! were heard throughout the land. One my favorite quotes from the released excerpt of the interview: "Personally, I like paper and ink better than glowing pixels, but to each his own." 

And as always: Good night/day and if the apocalypse comes, good luck.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

My Missouri: Hannibal, MO

I'm sure that Hannibal, Missouri has plenty of other fine qualities and historical strengths. In fact, charming curators at a little historical museum located in the equaly charming downtown will love to tell you all about the interesting and colorful past of this little town along the Mississippi River. Did you know that it is named after THE Hannibal, like the general that crossed over the Alps with elephants hundreds of years ago. Many of the little rivers and streams in this part of Missouri are named after ancient generals. Hooray for classical history! Says the girl that got a minor in classical civilizations and doesn't mind at all using that education to reenact scenes from long ago toga wearing times at random times and places. This is true fact, I got witnesses.  Did you also know that THE Unsinkable Molly Brown was born and raised in Hannibal? I didn't know this, but upon learning it, I beamed with Missouri pride and might of declared to my fellow museum goers: WE ARE UNSINKABLE. Ohh, that would look good on t-shirts, no? 

But, really. Really. Over the years, Hannibal has almost become synonymous with one other particular hometown hero; a Mr. Mark Twain. Or if you are being technical, a Mr. Samuel Langhorne Clemens. I love saying his full name and drawing out the Langhorne with a slight twang, Samuel Lannnng-horne Clemens. That just sounds so right, and if you got a middle name like Langhorne, it just gots to sound right.

Although, not born in Hannibal, Twain lived out most of his boyhood years in the small town, and was heavily inspired by not only the town itself, but also it's people. The motto of The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum is, The Stories Started Here, and truth is truth. I am very strong in my opinion that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the greatest American novel, it a beautiful story of human worth and discovering your own identity and beliefs amid, and in some cases despite of, social and cultural norms. The part where Huck tries to pray, is one of my favorite in all of the written word. But I won't quote it all in full, so you will feel some sort of curiosity, which well hopefully get you to go and read the whole book, but somewhere in the midst of it, Huck declares "All right, then, I'll GO to hell."  I am sure that there are some that question Huck Finn's place in the American cannon, but I am also sure that they have their own blogs to lobby those points.

 Huck Finn was based on, or at least largely drawn from, a childhood friend of Twain's named Tom Blankenship. In his autobiography, Twain wrote: "In Huckleberry Finn, I have drawn Tom Blankenship exactly as he was. He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had a good a heart as ever any boy had."  And also true to Huck, Tom was the son of the abusive town drunk. The Blankenship house has been rebuilt closely behind the Twain home (there is debate on whether that is exactly where the original Blankenship house stood, but for tourists it is super convenient), and it is so small and cramped, that life out on the river and whatever freedom that may bring seems to be a very reasonable alternative. 

Becky Thatcher, of Tom Sawyer's swooning heart fame, was also based on a real person, the girl next door, or well, across the street, Laura Hawkins. The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum are in the final stages of restoring the Hawkins home, which is often referred to as just, "The Becky." 

Also restored are the Twain/Clemens home, the jail where the senior Clemens served as a justice of the peace, and a drug store with the family lived briefly. And of course, for your picture taking pleasure, a white washed fence.

But even if you are just passing through and can't spare the time for the full tour of a piece of American Literature fame, at least, take a moment to stop at the Tom and Huck statute and maybe, if you can allow me to bossy,  think of one of my favorite Mark Twain, the man from Missouri,  quotables:
“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”  

Downtown Hannibal:

Mark Twain keeping a watch over his mighty Mississippi River:

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Song of the Week: Elliott Smith

10 years gone and the remarkable soul wrenching genius and talent of Elliott Smith has not diminished one bit. Not one bit. Pitseleh is my absolute favorite song of his, a testament that music can break your heart and heal it back up again, all at the same time.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Mandatory Fall Post

My favorite joke right now is: Say pumpkin spice latte three times, and a white woman in yoga pants will appear and tell  you her favorite things about Fall.

I find this hilarious and so so true, if truth is based on the all the blogs that I read. 

It's been a little hard for me to celebrate the seasons this year. It's nothing against the seasons themselves, I like them all about equally. Well, except Winter. I don't like Winter. I'm sorry/not sorry.  I didn't see this magical thing falling from the sky that the townspeople call "snow" until I was 12 and for the most part, past the "fun in the snow" stage of life. I've never built a snowman, never pranced in the snow, or went sledding or any other fun snow stuff. So while I agree that fresh untouched snow can be a beautiful sight, winter in my head means shoveling snow, hazardous driving, always being cold,  super dry skin, my car doors frozen shut, and weeks and weeks and weeks of no sun. Winter also finds me shuffling through dark cold days muttering, "Now is the winter of our discontent," 'cause nothing emphasises "woe is me" like quoting Shakespeare.  

But enough of all that, let's talk about the other other 3 seasons. I don't know if I fully celebrated the seasons until I moved to the East Coast. Now, I am not talking all hippie dancing at the equinox type celebrating. But for the almost 7 years I lived there, I built fun traditions based on the seasons: Spring meant waking up early to see the cherry blossoms at sunrise (before the swarms of tourists), Summer meant beach trips, lots o' beach trips and Fall meant going to the Shenandoah Valley to see the leaves change and The National Book Festival and Pie Day.  And ok, I'll even throw Winter a bone, Winter meant waiting in line for Messiah Sing-a-long tickets at the Kennedy Center, then eating breakfast at that hole in the wall place in Georgetown, and then, I guess, actually going to the sing-a-long, which I don't think is even free anymore. Apparently, Winter also means run on sentences. But I tied the seasons to these geographical specific traditions so tightly, that now that I am no longer living there,  I'm a little lost on what to do. 

This is when you would smack me the head and tell me that I can make new traditions and stop being one of those people who are constantly being the grass is always greener somewhere else. And to that I would say, "Ouch, don't smack me in the head, and I'm trying." I admittedly let Spring and Summer slip away pretty unnoticed, but Fall, I am trying, for realz.

Here is proof:

Pretty Leaves
This dogwood tree in the my backyard changed so much earlier then any other tree, that I thought it was a burning bush ala Moses, which made me close up my ears, because I can't deal with talking shrubbery right now. 

Fresh Apple Cider
I went to a cider mill and saw apple cider being made, and partook of some fresh apple cider and there were pumpkins, bales of hay, and mini blackberry pies. So, that is 90% of Fall right there, right?

More Apples!
Speaking of apples, pretty soon I won't have to go waaaay out to Kansas for fresh cider, due to some shinny red apples appearing on the trees here at the Homestead. I am hoping we can keep the apples away from the pesky little deer family that has become frequent visitors in the orchard. And if you are wondering, the deer are named, Johan, Elisa, Liesl, and Wolfgang, those names just felt right. 

All that is left of these pumpkins is this jar full of roasted seeds. Don't ask. Also, pumpkin flavored anything is pretty much off the menu for the rest of the year. 

The Kakfa postcard is from my friend Miranda. She always sends the best postcards from her adventures. I have such global trotting friends.

Old Barns.
I went into this old barn but then decided that this is how a horror movie would likely start, and that is not the kind of Fall tradition that I would like to start, so I walked away. 

Lovely Luna
I found this picture of the moon while going through the pictures on computer for this post. I have no idea how to fit  it into a Fall tradition, but it sure is pretty.

There is still two months left of Fall, so I guess I still have time to try out some more things to see if I can get Fall in the Midwest to feel right and to help brace myself . . .Winter is coming.*

  *GoT reference intended. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Song of the Week: The Head and The Heart

Let's be honest, when you have a blog, it--meaning everything--really is all about you. So, let's talk about me.

I am a December baby. My birthday is just close enough to Christmas and the whole holiday season, that the remembrance of my entrance into this world  usually gets lost in the all the holy and not so holy celebrations. It is also nearly impossible to get people together for dinner, a party, and/or cupcake fight. People usually already have holiday plans, or are traveling for the holidays, or its snowing or icing, etc. For many years I would pull out my calendar and try to rearrange my schedule and my birthday, so people could come and you know, honor me, but then after awhile, it got to be all too much and not fun.  Hey, it's my birthday, I am going to do what I want, when I want!  And honestly, I've gotten to the point in my  life, where 9 times out of 10 I really don't remember how I old I am, I know I am in my thirties, but anything more specific than that requires me to do math, and what is this, school? And then when I do figure out how old I am, which tends to happen on a day that kinda is all about  knowing how old you are,  there is this heavy recollection, of OMG, What Have I Done With My Life?, which leads me to stuffing my face with red velvet cupcakes and going to bed early.

So. . .  thanks Mom and Dad.

But this year, the Universe has decreed that I deserve a whole weekend of happy celebrations and what not, and has went ahead and planned it for me. If the Universe can get on planning other events in my life, that would be super duper. My birthday is on a Sunday this year, but on the Friday before, the next installment of The Hobbit comes out (I'm going on an adventure!), and the day before my birthday, one of my bands de jour, The Head and The Heart, comes to town.  On Sunday, I will probably still stuff red velvet cake into my face, because you know, tradition.

I have played The Head and The Heart's 2011 self titled album too many times to count;  it was a favorite commuting soundtrack when I lived in our nation's capital city. I can remember listening to the song, "River and Roads" as I changed trains at Metro Center and thinking, "Wow, this song is about my life."  And  "Down in the Valley" will always be attached to the walk to my office on Capitol Hill from Union Station. Lord have mercy on my rough and rowdy ways. These songs and others from the album also found their way onto many mixed cds slipped to and traded with friends, knowing that these songs are exactly what those friends need in their lives. The band's rich harmonies and delicately poetic lyrics are some of the things that help make the mundaneness of life, like changing trains and walking to work, a little easier.

Yesterday, The Head and The Heart released their new album, Let's Be Still. High fives all around. 

It's going to be a good birthday.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Sights & Sounds: The National @Starlight Theatre, Kansas City, MO

The National's music catalog is filled with emotionally raw songs;  mostly about relationships--broken relationships, imperfect relationships, and broken and imperfect life.  Let me tell you, their concert on Friday was like a therapy session, a therapy session under the stars.

Matt Berninger completely embodies the genius of the songs as he sings them. He doesn't play any instruments, so when he isn't singing, he paces the stage, building up a not so much as nervous energy, but more of being so filled with emotions of both the songs themselves and the roots of all those songs and words, that standing still is impossible. At times his baritone is rich and clear, other times it is strained under those words that were not easily earned or penned.  Seeing bands such as The National makes you realize the music can be much, much more than just something to listen to as you run errands in your car. It can be art. It can be cathartic; a purification and purging of emotions both for the creator and the admirer. 

Also, thank you Starlight Theater for being a better venue than Sandstone in every single possible way.

Set List: The National, Starlight Theatre, Kansas City, MO, October 11, 2013
I Should Live in Salt
Don't Swallow the Cap
Bloodbuzz Ohio
Sea of Love
Afraid of Everyone
Conversation 16
Squalor Victoria
I Need My Girl
This Is the Last Time
Slow Show
Pink Rabbits
About Today
Fake Empire

Mr. November
Terrible Love
Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks (acoustic)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Song of the Week: The National

I've been listening to The National pretty heavy the last couple days to get myself ready and excited to see them this coming Friday. Good gravy of heaven, their newest album, "Trouble Will Find Me, " is so, so good, like record of the year good, like sink into the floor good.  Why did I wait so long to get myself lost in it?

Monday, October 7, 2013

My Missouri: The 18th & Vine Jazz District

If you were a jazz musician or fan or a curator of cool, in the 1930s and 1940s, and were lucky enough to be in the Kansas City area, you mostly likely were hanging out at the crossroads of 18th and Vine, it was definitely the place to be.  These downtown streets housed not only row after row of jazz clubs, but also hosted some the most influential and talented musicians of the day. 

Kansas City Jazz is historical known as the blues brimmed bridge between the more structured big band orchestra music, like, say, Count Bessie joining with Bennie Morton's Kansas City Orchestra and the play what your hearts tells you, more free forming style of Bebop, championed by Kansas City's own Charlie "Bird" Parker. If you take a look at a map of the USA, Kansas City is almost dead center, and being the geographic heart of the country made it a very common stop while transversing this fine nation, no matter what form of transportation. This constant coming and going of people also meant the constant coming and going of the culture, and lifestyles of those people. This time, the early to mid 20th century, was also the time of the political boss Tom Pendergast in Kansas City. Under his control of the city, liquor and nightly curfew laws were largely ignored allowing the clubs to financially prosper but also for jam sessions to frequently last until sunrise, birthing the age of amazing, extended, improvised and competitive solos from the musicians. All this was the perfect storm for some glory days, some jazz filled beautiful glory days. 

But glory days never last forever. In 1940, Pendergast was jailed for tax evasion, and a crack down on the clubs began.  With nowhere to go, musicians stopped coming, adding in WWII and social and cultural issues of the days . . .  the music eventually stopped.  There were attempts to revitalize this historical area of the city, but by large, 18th and Vine became a ghost town, full of empty clubs and urban decay.  It always made me ridiciously sad to visit the Jazz District. You just knew that there was so many stories in those walls and streets.  So much music and life still imprinted there, if only you could just hear it. But true music lovers, never give up on the music that never gave up on them,  in 1997 the American Jazz Museum opened and the area seemed to be alive once more. 

I visited the Jazz Museum, which is in the same building as the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, with a visiting music loving friend. The museum is pretty small, but filled my heart. From a fantastic intro video (I love, love, intro video at historical sites), to swoon worthy artifacts, including one of Louis Armstrong's trumpets and signs from some of the original jazz clubs, to a whole room dedicated to jazz on film, to so many listening stations, it is all just perfect and easy to take in without feeling overwhelmed. I believe that jazz, as well as most music, is to be felt, and walking around the museum and all around the Jazz District, I felt jazz, and like the Bible says, it was good.