Heat: Mother Nature’s Latest Torture Device

Okay, I’m a good southern girl.  One of my DEA nicknames was “Swamp Rat”.* Summer heat and humidity, bring it on.  Hell of a lot better than the bitter winter dryness.  But even I have to call enough at some point.  I imagine most of our readers are probably sick of hearing complaints about the heat; from what I understand if you live in North American you’re probably getting hammered with recockulous heat and have been for some time.

I really shouldn’t complain too much.  Where I am we’ve only cracked 100 a couple times and I know it’s a lot worse in other places.  My Aunt in Dallas has been nearly convinced to brave Virginia winters for the rest of her life just to avoid summers like this.  For me it’s not so much the height of the mercury as the fact it won’t quit.  Where I live it’s not unusual to have hot weather, but it usually cools off at night.  Mornings are usually temperate.  But lately when I leave my not really air conditioned apartment to go to my only slightly more air conditioned office I’m already dripping with sweat.  How am I supposed to look like a dignified editor when I’m soaking wet and stinky?

And here’s what really gets me: it’s that Mother Nature is doing this to us after a bitter Winter full of snow and ice and a Spring full of tornados.  Aren’t we entitled to at least one non-record breaking season?  Can I please, please beg for a reasonable Fall?  You people keep telling me that Mother Nature doesn’t really hate me, but the evidence seems to suggest otherwise.  (I repeat:  If it’s just that she has kinky ways of showing her affection can I please have a safe word?)  Yes, yes, I know this is just her revenge for all the crap we do to the environment, but I didn’t do it!  Please, Mother Nature, I’ll be good.  I’ll campaign to make my county start recycling.  I’ll do anything, just give us a break!


*If you’re wondering why I have a DEA nickname you’ll have to check out the tell all book I’m not actually writing I’m Not that Kind of Intern and Other Useful Spanish Phrases.

Bi-Species Road Trip

If, for some really sad reason, you check this blog desperately every Monday evening waiting to see who we’re going to have coffee with, you didn’t see it this Monday.  That’s because I posted on Tuesday and changed the dates.  Why?  Because Monday I was too exhausted from driving 11.5 hours with Wash.  Yes, I drove cross country with a cat who is barely a year old.  Why?  Well clearly I’m insane.

Traveling with a cat is an adventure.  To be fair, I think Wash is fairly well behaved compared to other cats I’ve heard about.  I give him some homeopathic stuff to keep him calm and generally after I let him out of his carrier he makes one round of the car and curls up somewhere.  On our first trip together he settled in my lap which meant that I was stiff and sore by the end, but worked well over all.  This time he was a lot less cooperative.

This time he insisted on sitting on the floor at my feet.  You know, in that area where the pedals are?  Yeah… not so good.  On the first leg of the trip he kept wanting to put his head under the brake pedal.  Which meant I had to nudge him with my foot while continuing to drive the car.   Clearly that wasn’t going to work.  So on the next leg I created a barricade with my purse which meant I had to drive with my right ankle resting on my purse.  My left foot I kept under the brake to keep anyone else from going under it.  Yeah… not sure that was completely safe.  And it definitely wasn’t comfortable.

The other thing about driving with a cat, especially when it’s super hot, is that it changes your views on breaks.  Because, of course, they aren’t chances to stretch my legs and rest from the road.  They times when I have to run in and pee as quick as possible because I’m worried about my baby in the hot car.  And eating is a big problem since Wash wanted to share everything.  The upside is that I made it the whole way without purchasing any food and the only beverage I bought was a cup of coffee.

I decided at some point earlier this year that musicals make the best road trip music.  I’m not sure Wash liked my rendition of Ragtime based on his response, but he seemed less displeased with my Evita.  By the time I got to Miss Saigon he was too tired to react and I think he just completely slept through Chess.  Such a critic.

Borders Brought Down?

As you may have heard, it’s looking more and more like the remainder of the Borders Bookstore franchise is going to go the way of the Dodo.  After filing for Chapter 11 and closing multiple stores earlier this spring, creditors are clamoring for their piece of the pie which may force a total liquidation by Friday.

This sucks.

I like that there was some competition for the Barnes and Nobles around here, because Lord knows, out here in the American burbs there’s no such thing as a real, independent bookstore (unless it’s a used bookstore–which is cool, but their selection is always hit or miss unless your bent is paperback mysteries and Harlequins).  I have nothing against B&N as a whole, I’ve been to some that are great stores, but  I like a little competition in the marketplace and if the little guy can’t compete, at least multiple big guys can duke it out for my dollar.

Also, I liked Borders generally.  I liked that our Borders had lighter wood, lower shelves and a more open feel, as opposed to the dark wood, high shelved claustrophobic feel of the local B&N.  I liked that Borders Rewards didn’t require a fee (I’ve been bitter about B&N’s fee since I was still a kid and my allowance didn’t allow for that fee AND still being able to buy books…I know that’s more about my thrifty parents, but I’m still bitter at B&N and have never joined their rewards thing because of it).  I liked that I could get coffee at Borders that was NOT Starbucks.  Our Borders had more space devoted to regular ol’ books and less to all the, well, junk and games and toys our B&N keeps around.  And Borders ALWAYS had the latest edition of Piecework magazine (B&N it was  hit or miss).

And, very particular to the locations here in my area, I liked the service and people at my Borders better than B&N.  The Borders hosted community events including spaces in the cafe for community college students to gather for study groups and space for a local writer’s group (which I kept telling myself I should join) to get together.  And the staff was nice and would engage in the “Oh!  You’re going to love this, have you ever read so-and-so???” kind of conversation that you can only get with people who read voraciously and love to share.  Meanwhile (and again, I stress, this is ONE B&N location only–not about the whole chain), the staff at the B&N were rude.  Some of that is, no doubt, due to their being right next to the AMC and getting a lot of obnoxious pre-and-post movie goers loitering around, but that’s no excuse for subjecting me to the stink-eye and a lecture on the money-grubbing uselessness of college educations when true intellectuals only needed to read in order to learn (apparently, this chick at the register really had it in for my W&M shirt).

So if the rumors are true and the bankruptcy court goes the way the creditors apparently want and forces a liquidation, I’m really, really going to miss my Borders.

Coffee with JK Rowling

Would we drink coffee with J.K. Rowling?

Kristy:  I felt it was appropriate that we make some sort of Harry Potter reference this week.  Cammy and I have seen at least three of the movies together and Cammy was the one who introduced me to the books, so I feel like this blog needs to address it.  The answer is, of course, I would drink coffee with J. K. Rowling (and if, being British, she would prefer tea, well that’s okay too).  I feel like we owe her a cup of hot beverage for the hours of entertainment she’s given us.  And not just us, I now have the pleasure of watching my nieces and nephews get entranced by the series.  Also, thanks to her, I got to hear my oldest nephew talk in a British accent when he was about three and it was adorable.  So yeah, we owe her.  But also, she seems to be someone who would be fun to drink coffee with.  She clearly has a sense of humor and I bet she could do some delightful commentary while people watching.  And admittedly, the fangirl in me would like the truth behind the whole Potter writing process.  Did she really know how it was all going to play out at the beginning?  What did she say in her secret conversation with Alan Rickman at the start of the first movie.  And also, it would provide massive fangirl cred.

Cammy:  I feel like I’d be insane not to, but at the same time, I don’t know what I’d say.  I’m strangely intimidated by the woman.  I love the books, I’m delighted she wrote them and saw fit to share them, and I’ve got tons of questions about her process….but I’m fairly certain I couldn’t bring myself to open my mouth and ask for fear she’d think was was dropped on my head a birth.  But I’ll definitely buy the woman her beverage of choice regardless, even if it’s sending the coffee over to her table and leaving her with her notebook and pen to keep writing.  She’s done more to get kids reading actual books than anyone else has done for years.  Even if you don’t care for the Harry Potter story, you ought to be willing to give her props for that.  And if you’ve read the books you know that they are well written and her way of using words is doing a lot more than just entertaining kids.  In a very sneaky way, there are a lot of kids who are being exposed to things like the Latin roots of words, buried in “Magical” terminology, and one day their SAT scores will benefit from this.  For all this along with the hours of personal entertainment many of us have experienced, a cup of coffee is the very least we could do.

Impressive Impressionist

One of the things I always lamented when my family lived in areas further removed from an urban center was the lack of access to museums, particularly art museums.  You’d think that the years of deprivation would have ha td me running straight for the Nelson-Atkins museum the moment I unpacked.

I’m ashamed to admit that my first trip?  Was today.

Granted, I’d tried once before, last summer, but went running when the place was jam packed due to a new exhibit opening.

This time I wasn’t to be denied.   All three panels of a triptych of Monet’s Water Lilies were being displayed together (Nelson-Atkins owns one, the other two panels are owned by museums in Cleveland and St. Louis) for the first time since I was born.  And, Water Lilies was the first of Monet’s paintings I ever encountered (in Picture Memory when I was a first grader).  And on top of this, I had to settle something with myself where Impressionists (and Monet in particular) are concerned.

I once had an encounter with a more art-cultured friend who gave something of a derisive snort when I said I liked Monet and several of the other Impressionists.  It was followed with the phrase.  “Not a surprise.  Most average people do.”  The thinly veiled message was that liking Impressionists was something that only the bumpkins would do.  That they existed like pop entertainment for the masses who couldn’t appreciate finer things.  It’s kind of haunted me since.  I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time avoiding the Impressionists, trying not to like them.

I figured this was the test.  I’d go to see Monet, and while checking off the once-in-a-blue-moon experience, I’d look at this thing and make up my mind how I really felt about it.  If I enjoyed it, no more shame about what I liked.  If it wasn’t as impressive?  Well, then my artistic sense would have clearly matured and I could  look at the entire Impressionist movement as another school in the history of Art, no more or less good than the others.

So, I walked into the gallery room and…

I enjoyed the hell out of it.

If this is a sign of my lack of culture in the realm of visual art, so be it.  Because I spent over an hour having a total moment of zen staring at those panels, and I’d do it again.  I’m pretty sure it’s a color thing, especially with this particular work.  Blues and greens and purples and tiny bits of red masquerading as pink, all squished together into something I could stare at like a  semi-catatonic moron for hours on end.  I may have drooled a little.

Maybe it’s a sign that I’m an uncultured lout that I couldn’t get the same feeling about the arrangement of orange acrylic boxes in the modern section, or the million takes on “Madonna and Child.”*  However, I’m pretty much over my self consciousness and I’ve embraced my back-water nature.


*Side note:  While there are a number of reasons for which one could vilify the Catholic church, I’m choosing to call them out for hijacking the art world into several centuries of Madonna, Child and Occasional John the Baptist.  I’m a huge fan of variations on a theme, but that’s just fucking ridiculous.

An Invasive Species Problem

Hello gentle readers.  I am writing to you about a grave environmental crisis that is of special concern to this blog.  I am currently staying in the greater DC Metro area with friend-of-the-blog Mary who, as it so happens, lives in an area of town where I used to reside.  It used to be a lovely area—perhaps a little low rent compared to its neighbors but filled with things its neighbors lacked such as affordable housing, diversity and real people.  You know, the sort who know how to enjoy life and don’t spend their every waking moment networking or trying to move up the corporate ladder.  They’re a rarity in the region.  And at the moment an endangered one.  You see, the real people are getting driven out by an invasive species that normally only lived north of Route 50.  Yes, I am talking about the “dudes in brown flip flops.”

Yes, a couple years ago they started putting in luxury high rise apartment buildings with shiny new store fronts on the lower levels and a whole bunch of gyms and the whole place started going to the dogs.  The Bolivian festival had to move to a whole other town, cute family businesses shut down and the grocery store went all schwanky.  And that was all it took to bring in the invaders from the north.  The sort who really are just the typical corporate/political ladder climbing d-bags that the area is so oversaturated with but who pretend otherwise.  Who like to imitate real people but never quite get there.

Mary and I were discussing the problem earlier and decided that they are clearly and invasive exotic species, which ought to mean we can direct energy towards removing them.  We discussed it with friend-of-the-blog Teapot (who is a bonafide expert on the subject) and we came up with a couple options:

We could try a catch and release program.  We could lure them all in with the scent of organic coffee or something, put them in cages and release them north of Route 50 where they belong.  The downside is there are so many of them it would be time consuming and they might just wander back at any rate.

Teapot suggested we simply concede that they have taken over a certain amount of territory and focus on keeping them out of new areas.  Perhaps we can build a barrier around the land that has already been lost to them by constructing run down ethnic supermarkets with unmapped floors and 7-11s.  The trouble here is that they are so invasive I’m not sure they can be contained.

We could introduce some other species to keep them under control.  We’re having trouble determining the natural enemy of the dude in brown flip flops.  Hipsters were suggested.  I suggested hippie stoners.  The obvious downside here is of course that this new new species could also take over, so it would need to be handled very carefully.

So what say you readers?  What are your suggestions for stopping this blight?

Cammy vs. Netflix

I’m sure by now, the news of the 60% price increase coming in September to those of us using Netflix has already reached your ears.  I swore loudly when the message popped up in my inbox earlier this week, and I’ve been drawn into the hue and cry in comments adjacent to an inordinately large number of blog posts on my feed reader dedicated to the subject.

I’m pissed.

I joined Netflix after the previous price increase, so I don’t have quite the room to be offended as many who’ve already seen their bill go up, but, at the same time: 60%?  Are you shitting me?  Raise it a buck or two, but this is over-the-limit, and as long as Netflix keeps rotating stuff off the streaming list (I had several German movies queued that I didn’t get to in time….damnit), that’s not worth it alone, and likewise, the 1 DVD out at a time is less appealing when there’s a delay in turning around the exchange.

So, come 1 September, I’m cancelling.

It won’t be permanent, I’m guessing.  Up until this price hike, Netflix was to be the savior that helped me to break the shackles of an over-priced satellite bill.  I was going to cancel satellite in favor of my cell phone data plan and Netflix with a side of good ol’ rabbit ears.

I’m still cancelling the satellite, but at least for a while, I think I’m going to let Netflix lose a user.  In part, it’s making a statement.  Granted, it won’t be a drop in the bucket as most people–even the ones bitching loudly in the blog comments–are probably just going to pay the increased price and keep going with life.  But, it will ease my conscience.  And, it makes sense.  That will come at the height of when my job assignment is going to get hella busy, including a fair amount of travel.  The crazy is going to last at least through the New Year, so there will be a good 2-3 months where paying for Netflix would have been a bit of a waste at any price.  Once I get back, I can always grit my teeth and start using it again, if I want.  Heck, in January, Downton Abbey should be entering a new season on PBS, and I have faith that my obsession there will be such that I won’t be interested in watching much else, so it might be into February before I consider going back…

It’s a little bit freeing to think about, actually.  Like a junkie finding the power to kick the habit, I’m going to take the one eye’d monster out of the equation (mostly–I’ll still have a fairly extensive list of over-air channels through rabbit ears and I’ve got plenty of DVDs in my collection).  To the extent that the job leaves me much time, I’ve got one less distraction to keep me from making better use of that time sewing, writing, reading, or just keeping the damned house clean.

We’ll see how this little experiment goes.  I may be thanking Netflix for their crappy decision.

Sassy Gay Time Vampire

I strongly suspect that many of our readers are already familiar with this week’s time vampire.  It’s even been linked in our comments once.  But I discovered a few days ago to my great horror that friend of the blog Mary had not been introduced.  I felt like I had failed as a friend.  So lest we fail any of our other readers here’s a delightful little Time Vampire:

The Sassy Gay Friend

In a nutshell it’s a series of videos focusing on moments in literature and history when characters make really bad decisions and hypothesizing how things might have ended different if said character had a sassy gay friend.  (spoiler:  Sassy Gay Friend always makes things better).  Yes, recent videos are sponsored by Mio (I haven’t tried Mio, but it contains sucralose and is therefore evil), but they are still amusing.  I love them because not only do they bring the funny, they bring the smart funny.  They poke fun at absurd moments in literature which people never talk about (SGF to Juliet:  You took a rufee from a priest!).  Also they are full of allusions to other literary works (I don’t want to remember that night I spent with Bob Marley).  They’re the kind of videos that simultaneously amuse you and make you feel smart because you actually did your English homework.

The nice thing about this Time Vampire is that it’s not going to suck away too much of your time.  There aren’t that many videos and (sadly) new ones aren’t released that often and none of them are more than a few minutes long.  But warning:  watching one will probably result in you needing to watch them all.  And even once you’ve watched them all they may become a minor addiction.  Not so much an addiction as that thing you turn to when you get down.  “Man, I’m sad.  I’m going to have to watch some Sassy Gay Friend.”

A final warning to our readers:  There are a lot of imitators out there.  And to some extent, who can blame them?  I mean, just yesterday Mary and I were speculating on how Eowyn might have benefited from the help of a Sassy Gay Friend.  (Though just now we have decided that Boromir would have benefitted from one even more)  The difference between us and them is we respect the SGF enough not to make a poorly done and not all that funny Sassy Gay Friend:  Lord of the Rings on our own.  So we strongly recommend that you not watch any Sassy Gay Friends that do not work for Second City.

What, what, what are you doing?

Musikalischer Mittwoch: Held “Captive” By An Earworm

I’ve been “held captive” by yet another song on repeat.  It’s one I should have known about much sooner, but was only introduced to earlier this month as I’ve been re-establishing my quality time with CBC radio 3.

Sarah Harmer’s “Captive” is poised to become the song of the summer for me.  Within just a few listens, I was out buying the album (“Oh Little Fire”) because I had to have this tune.  It’s catchy, upbeat and just plain fun.  It’s going  into my road-trip mix and is already on my playlist for working out.

After all my usual go-to Sarah Harmer songs like “I Am a Glow” and “Escarpment Blues” and “The Hideout”, “Captive” is a departure.  Where the others are definitely heavy to the acoustic and folk side (which I love), “Captive” is refreshingly pop.  If you want something to dance around the house and sing along with, it’s tailor-made for the occasion.  That’s not to say the other Harmer pieces aren’t just as good (if you are in the mood for some great acoustic folk, check out any of those others–“I Am A Glow” is a particular favorite of mine).

The music is definitely the draw here.  Lyrically it’s a fun love song (“I wanna be held captive/Forget the way I acted”….”As long as there’s a view to look to/Fence me in and keep me close to you”), which is all well and good, but the real fun is in the beat and the “Oh-oh-oh-ohs” (ever notice how songs with things like that are automatically more fun to sing along with?).

And, bonus, there’s a fun video.  A whacky visual piece with late 1800s/early 1900s costumes, some trampoline-style acrobatics (without the trampoline) and streets turned into canals.  It’s nice to know people still make music vids, even though the crappy cable channels never play them.  In this case, you get the fun of watching AND it gives me an easy (and legal, since this is posted by the record company) way to share the song* with you, gentle readers:


Have a look, have a listen and let yourself be held “Captive.”

*You can also listen, as usual, on the CBCR3 Page.

Folklife Festival Worth the Sensory Overload

For those on the internet who are stalking me (I’m sure there’s at least someone out there) who are wondering where I’ve been, well I won’t tell you where I am, but I’ll tell you where I was.  Yesterday to be more precise.  Yesterday I managed to squeeze in a last minute trip to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.  It was the last day and some of the exhibits were looking a little worn and some of the participants were looking a little tired and some of the presenters were looking a little sad.  But still a treat to visit.

If you’ve never been to the Folklife Festival it spotlights the traditional cultures of various places or groups.  Usually, but not always, it’s divided into three segments—generally a country, a US state and some separate theme.  This year it was Columbia, Rhythm and Blues, and the Peace Corps.  It was a lot to see in one day.  Too much to be honest.  I’m personally someone who goes into sensory overload very easily and when you add in all the sounds and smells and images my brain starts going wonky after about an hour.  Fortunately it wasn’t a weekend so that cut down on the craziness a good deal.

Nonetheless it was an awesome time.  My favorite parts are always the cooking demonstrations.  Maybe because I once worked at one of them and maybe because I love food. Either way I got to see a woman from the Columbian Amazon make stew, see Peace Corps workers recreating Zambian dishes they learned in the field, and a man from Mali making a traditional dish with lots of substitutions because of a lack of available ingredients.  And in one of the most fun cooking demonstrations I’ve ever seen I learned the difference between how rich people and slaves made manjarblanco in Columbia and while the rich stole the slave method because it tasted better and was more fun.  By the end there were probably ten people crammed behind a tiny booth and someone explained, “This is what always happens in Columbian kitchens too—everyone congregates in the kitchen.”

Also particularly enjoyable was the fact that one performance tent in the Columbia section specifically focused on workshops rather than static performances.  Thought I was too tired and too shy to participate in any, I did enjoy watching instruction on counterpoint dance, tango columbiano and circus arts.

Particularly moving were the large boards that were set up to help former Peace Corps volunteers and people from their host communities get in touch.

What I love most about the festival is its ability to bring together so much variety.  At one point I was standing on the Mall and could simultaneously hear music from the Columbian Caribbean and “I want to Sex You Up.”  Where else does that happen?