TV Diary

In and Of Itself

I usually don’t write about movies in these posts. This is more of a special than a movie as it’s a recording of the off-Broadway production In and Of Itself. I wanted it as part of the DocNYC Film Festival a couple months ago, but it drops on Hulu this week, and I highly encourage everyone to watch it. It’s hard to describe what it’s about. It’s a one man show featuring Derek DelGaudio. It’s sort of a magic show, but not really. There is some magic involved, but it’s so much more than that. It really gets very deep in ways you would not expect and it left me thinking about a lot of things. I’m also still entirely flummoxed about how he could have done the part with the letters. Even though I don’t know the exact mechanics of how he did the other magic things I have a good enough of an idea of how they could be done that I just accepted them, but I still have no idea how in the world he could pull of the part with the letters. The whole thing is extremely moving and I think the fact that you get to see compilations of some parts with the audience over a number of shows makes it even more profound. This is well worth your time.

The Cost of Winning

The Cost of Winning is an HBO documentary show following football players at St. Francis Academy, a private high school in Baltimore. It’s in an extremely poor part of town and many of the students who attend come from very difficult backgrounds, but their goal is to get all of them into college. However, because they recruit kids to the football team from all over the country and have have an excellent team none of the other local high schools will play against them. Thus they have no conference and play a national schedule sending these kids all over the country to play high school football. Being from Baltimore I had an extra interest in this show, but I think anyone would like it especially if you like shows like Cheer or Last Chance U.

The Flight Attendant

I read the book by Chris Bohjalian that this show is based on and it was one of my least favorite of his books, so I wasn’t sure how I was going to like this show. I think they did a really good job of adapting it and perhaps even making me more interested in the tv show than I was the book. I’m always leery of shows that extend beyond their source material as a lot of them don’t do it well, but I think the way they set things up for a second season may be okay. I guess we will see.

Bridgerton

Although I love Grey’s Anatomy I have never thought any other Shonda Rhimes property was as good. Private Practice was okay. I quit Scandal after two seasons. I’ve only seen a couple of episodes of Station 19 but couldn’t get into it. I’ve never tried How to Get Away with Murder but suspected it might run into the same issues I had with Scandal. So I was willing to give Bridgerton a chance, but wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about it. Basically it turns out that it’s Gossip Girl set in Regency England. I never read any of the romance novels it is based on so I don’t know how it compares to those, but it was fine. It was entertaining enough that I finished it in one weekend, but I also can’t say that I’m over the moon about it and dying to watch more episodes. I’ll continue with it when it comes back for another season, but I can’t say I’m super in love with it.

City So Real

A five part documentary series on Hulu about the most recent mayoral race in Chicago. I suspect it was only meant to be 4 parts originally following the race to it’s conclusion but then COVID-19 and all the Black Lives Matter marches happened and I suspect they tacked on an additional episode to look at how Lori Lightfoot, who won the race, was handling these issues. It all felt very familiar. In many cases if they had replaced the word Chicago with Baltimore it could have been about Baltimore instead. There’s also some really insane things that are part of the Chicago mayoral race that seem like a huge waste of everyone’s time and money. It’s a really great processy documentary that also highlights the issues that facing all big cities.

I May Destroy You

This show written by and starring Michaela Coel that is somewhat based on her own experiences after being drugged and raped was pretty much at the top of every best of tv list in 2020. That was not my experience with it. I struggled with the main character. I of course don’t think she should have been raped, but she seemed pretty terrible both before and after it happened. Also, there were multiple episodes that were pretty much nothing but watching people be drunk and high, which I find extremely boring. I’m not sure exactly what everyone else saw in this show, but I can definitely say it was not one of my top shows of 2020.

We Are Who We Are

Another show that got some critical acclaim that did nothing for me. It was created and directed by Luca Guadagnino who also directed Call Me By Your Name, which I liked. This show follows American teenagers living on an Army base in Italy. Fraser, the lead character, is possibly the worst teenager that has ever been in a tv show. This is also another show that spends longs stretches of time just watching teenagers get drunk and high. As mentioned above this is not something I find the least bit interesting. I don’t think there’s meant to be another season of this show, but if there is I won’t be watching it.

New Music Friday: Sanctuary by Hiss Golden Messenger

I have probably listened to more Hiss Golden Messenger since the pandemic started than I have any other artist. His music is like a balm for my weary soul. No matter what he’s singing about, even the tough things, his musical stylings always make me feel like I’m laying in a warm, sunny field. It’s fitting then that the video for the new single he just released this week called “Sanctuary” is in fact set in a field although not a warm, sunny one given it was filmed in winter. With lyrics like

Jubilee, find me
Steady with your hope now
That little light’s gotta last a while
Like an arrow to the marrow
I know it feels like hell now
Till we make it to the other side

it feels like the perfect song for right now. I’m pretty sure we could all use a little sanctuary right now and for the moment this song is mine.

New Music Friday: That’s All by Amanda Shires

I didn’t intend to be back with a New Music Friday post today. I figured I would take New Year’s Day off, especially since I didn’t think I would have anything to write about. But then Amanda Shires dropped a cover of the Genesis song “That’s All”. It’s always been one of my favorite Genesis songs, and it’s something she’s been covering live for awhile. So I’m happy to have an officially recorded version of it. It’s accompanied by a great animated video saying goodbye to 2020. That’s all.

My Most Memorable Pop Culture of 2020

It’s that time of year again where I share my favorite things I experienced in pop culture over the past year. As a reminder these are not necessarily things that came out during 2020 though many of them are. They are however things I enjoyed for the first time this year. This year is a little bit different because some of my standard categories I didn’t really have a choice in thanks to the pandemic. It wasn’t a matter what my favorite thing was. It was a matter of did I even get to do any of these things this year. Although I am sad that I didn’t get to do a lot in the way of seeing things like concerts and theater, which are what I love to do more than anything else in the world, there was thankfully lots of excellent pop culture to keep me entertained while I’ve been stuck at home for most of the year. Let’s get to it.

Movie I Saw in a Theater

This was an easy pick because I saw exactly one movie in a theater in 2020. At least I enjoyed the film, though I doubt it would be sitting in this spot had I seen other movies over the course of the year. It was Birds of Prey, the Harley Quinn movie starring Margot Robbie. Who knew I was going to be enjoying so much Harley Quinn this year, since I also loved the Harley Quinn animated tv series now available on HBOMax. I actually appreciated the smallness of this movie. While I mostly enjoy a lot of comic book superhero movies I hate when they are too what I call smashy smashy where you have long 20-30 minute CGI fight scenes of characters just smashing on things and each other. They bore me to tears. There was none of that in this movie. The fight scenes were at close range and a lot of fun. It wasn’t a perfect movie, but I found a lot to like about it and am not sad that it gets to be the lone movie I saw in a theater this year.

Movie I Watched at Home

I probably watched more movies at home this year than I normally do because I couldn’t see movies in theaters. I normally prefer to see movies in the theater as I have a hard time concentrating on them for that long at home without getting distracted by other things. I think my favorites though were two documentaries about collecting, The Booksellers and Vinyl Nation. As you might guess The Booksellers were about rare book dealers and collectors while Vinyl Nation was about record stores and record collectors. I am not a collector. I guess I don’t have that kind of personality, but I enjoyed seeing the worlds of these people who are super into collecting their books and vinyl records. Despite being a librarian and avid reader I have no interest in collecting books. I borrow most of the books I read and am happy to send books back out into the world for others to enjoy. I rarely reread books so I don’t see the point of having shelves full of them. I do often wish I was the kind of person who was into vinyl collecting though. Music is obviously something I consume over and over again and the idea of having a collection of records that I look through, select from, and then sit down and listen to appeals to me. In reality though the record player we have is not even out on the floor and the two vinyl albums I own were WXPN pledge drive gifts. Realistically I am never going to be that person, but I enjoyed living in the world of the people who are for a little while.

Fiction Book

Without actually meaning to or seeking them out I feel like I read a number of books having to do with various wars or people living under the constant threat of violence. Although it is to some degree an entirely different thing I also felt like there were a lot of parallels to our current state living through a pandemic with lots of death, living in a constant state of fear, and not knowing if or when it’s ever going to end. The best of these books and the one that is the best fiction book I read all year is Apeirogon by Colum McCann. I am just going to share my review on Goodreads because I don’t think I have anything better to say about the book than that.

“An apeirogon is a figure with an infinite number of sides and that is actually the perfect title for this book. I don’t even know how to describe it. At its basest level it is a fictionalized story of the real men Palestinian, Bassam Aramin and Israeli, Rami Elhanan both of whom lost their daughters to violence but who come together to try and fight for peace in the Middle East. It also includes non-fiction passages at the heart of the book written by both men. The story if you can really call it that moves and folds back and around itself while weaving in other facts and histories all written in short vignettes ranging from a mere sentence to several pages. It’s masterfully written and creative in a way that compares to no other book I can think of save for maybe Lincoln in the Bardo, which I more admired for what the author did than I actually enjoyed reading it. Here I think everything comes together perfectly. It’s definitely not a book for anyone who needs their books to have a straight narrative story, but this is beautifully written and full of so much meaning that it is a true masterpiece.”

Non-Fiction Book

I have two books that qualify for my favorite non-fiction book of the year. Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of thee Generic Drug Boom by Katherine Eban was the first book I read in 2020 and even then I said this is probably going to be one of my favorite books of the year. I was not wrong about that. It’s the informative and horrifying true story about how generic drugs are made and why there can be so many issues with them. This has made me question everything when it comes to the medications I take.

The second book, which was no surprise, was Caste: The Origins of our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. I was very much looking forward to this book as I loved Wilkerson’s previous masterpiece The Warmth of Other Suns. Caste looks at how the United States really operates on a caste system based on race. She delves into the history and the effects on people and our country. She offers the best explanation I’ve seen as to why it’s important for us to actually address this issue and do what we need to do to repair rather than trying to pretend it doesn’t exist or say it’s not our problem because we’re not the ones who caused it. If you read one of the three books I’ve mentioned here make it this one.

TV Show

I have a few tv shows I want to mention that were the highlights of a year in which I watched a LOT of television and that’s saying something given how much I watched before this. I already alluded to Harley Quinn in the movie section. It’s a fun adults only show that I was sad when I ran out of episodes of.

The first show I watched in 2020 was Schitt’s Creek. I binge watched it over my winter break last year. I had not watched it for a long time thinking it was not something I would enjoy. I was never into all the Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara movies and I generally don’t like shows where people are just awful so on the face of it this show was just not for me. But I had heard so many people talk about how much they loved it that I decided to give it a chance. I’m so glad I did because it is such a delightful show full of so much heart. It is a little rough going in the first half of season one where it felt more like what I was expecting, but eventually the show grows and the characters grow and it’s something that brings me so much joy. If you haven’t watched this show yet please do yourself a favor and do it.

My second favorite show of the year has sadly already met an untimely death after only one season. Thanks Netflix. It’s Teenage Bounty Hunters. I love this show so much! Talk about a show with so much heart. In some ways it shares a lot of DNA with Schitt’s Creek in that it is a ridiculous over the top story with characters that are somewhat caricatures but who have such heart that you just fall in love with them. Everyone I have convinced to watch this show has loved it and I know the many other people I’ve been telling to watch it but who have been resisting my efforts (you know who you are) would love it too. I saw it on a lot of year end best of television lists too. I wish Netflix had let it stick around and grow an audience because get why based on the name and description it wasn’t something people jumped right into when Netflix put it out, but it’s definitely a show that would have grown an audience through word of mouth if it had only been given time. Even though it does end on a bit of a cliffhanger I still highly recommend treating yourself to the one season of this show that we were gifted.

I also fell in love with the show Wynonna Earp this year. It’s not a show I had ever really heard anyone talk about aside from one guest on a podcast I listen to. Apparently her love of the show was enough to get me to check it out and I’m glad I finally did. I tell people if they were Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans than this show is probably for them. It’s got a strong female lead, actually lots of strong female characters, love stories, and supernatural fun. I can’t wait for the second half of the most recent season to air hopefully sometime soon.

TV Episode

I have two episodes to talk about in this category. First Season 4, Episode 8 of Insecure, “Lowkey Happy”. This is one of those pay off episodes that I love from long running tv shows. Season 4 was mostly about Issa and Molly’s friendship and was an excellent season looking at the fading of friendship, but this episode was about Issa and her ex-boyfriend Lawrence. They reconnect over a long night spent together that reminds me of the Before movies. It was lovely and romantic and something that only could have happened with these characters and their relationship being developed over seasons.

Second is Schitt’s Creek Season 4, Episode 9, “The Olive Branch”. This is actually another payoff episode in that earlier in the season Patrick sings an acoustic version of the song “The Best” by Tina Turner to David during an event at their store that David both hates and loves. Then as a romantic makeup gesture after a fight in a later episode David does a dance to the song for Patrick. It’s so wonderful. It’s, no pun intended, the best scene from the entire show and is one of the videos I keep in my arsenal to rewatch when I need something to make me happy. Sadly it seems like the videos on YouTube of just that scene have all been pulled down. So you’ll just have to go watch the show to see it.

Album

I had far too many albums I loved this year to talk about in this post, so I refer you to the separate post I did recently on my favorite albums of 2020.

Song

My favorite song of 2020 was Janelle Monae’s “Turntables”. It’s an amazing empowerment anthem that has kept me going through some pretty dark times in this year.

Also have to give a special mention to the song “It’s Still Alright” by Nathaniel Rateliff. It was the first song I added to my 2020 playlist and it’s a song I came back to a lot. Although the song is about substance abuse and the death of Rateliff’s long time producer Richard Swift, the soothing tones of the song and the lyrics of the chorus repeatedly telling us “and it’s still alright” were a continued gentle reminder in this year full of so much pain and sorrow that there are brighter days ahead.

I will also give a shout out to the following songs that I also loved and listened to a lot this year. “Dreamsicle” by Jason Isbell, “Strangers” by Mt. Joy, “circle the drain” by Soccer Mommy, and “Lockdown on Date Night Tuesday” by Ondara. You can also check out my 2020 playlist on Spotify, which contains all the songs I heard this year that I liked enough to want to listen to again.

Concert

Unlike most years when I would have dozens of concerts to choose from in this spot, this year I only had two. The final concert I went to in 2020 before everything fell apart was Trampled by Turtles at Baltimore Soundstage. It was a fun show and one I would have cherished all the more had I known it was the last show I was going to see for who knows how long.

The concert that was ultimately my favorite and probably would have been in contention for that even if I had gotten to see everything I already had tickets to in 2020 was traveling to Nashville to meet up with a friend to see Brandi Carlile at the Ryman Auditorium. One of my favorite artists in a fantastic, historical venue with a friend and fellow music lover. Who could ask for more? If I was only going to get to see two concerts in 2020 I can’t complain that this was one of them.

Online Concert

I’m adding in this new category this year because in lieu of getting to go out and see actual shows I watched a lot of artists perform online this year. Hopefully it’s one that I will only need to use this year because I want nothing more for 2021 than to be able to see live music again. There many, many online shows I watched from artists playing on Instagram and YouTube from their houses for free, shows I paid for with artists playing in their houses or shows I paid for with artists performing in actual venues with no audience. None of it fulfills the same experience as going to an actual live show and sharing the musical experience with a crowd.

The two things that I’m going to talk about here are things that are/were some of the least produced online music experiences but because of the way they are/were done brought at least a little of that communal experience you get from live music. When the pandemic first started Amanda Shires did 30 straight days of shows from her barn, which she called I So Lounging. Most of them also featured her husband Jason Isbell as well as Seth and Kelly Plemmons who were living with them at the time when we thought this would all be over in a few weeks. Seth is a member of her band and Kelly worked on the behind the scenes stuff. It was something that really kept me going those first weeks of lockdown when everything was so new and raw. It was wonderful to hear them play and just laugh and cry together and there was a little community in the YouTube comments for the shows. Although they were up on YouTube for a long time, sadly it seems like they’ve pulled all the videos down now.

The other online shows that I have loved have also been because of their regularity and the fact that they feel a little bit more intimate and personal. Almost every Thursday night since the pandemic started Amos Lee has been going live on Instagram on Thursday nights at 7:30. He hasn’t even been collecting tips. I’m not sure how he’s keeping himself going with no touring income. He’s done a couple of fundraisers for various organizations so whenever he does that I make sure to donate to whatever his chosen cause is. I’ve turned Thursday nights into a little bit of date night surrounding these concerts. We get take out and then I make my husband play a board game or card game with me while we listen to Amos Lee play. He’s even saved a lot of them to his IGTV so you can go back and watch if you want.

Broadway Theatre Production

Even though I had tickets to several shows later in the year I did not get to see any Broadway shows in 2020. My Company tickets were refunded. Who knows when or if that show will ever open. Our Music Man tickets were rescheduled twice and we’re now set to see the show in February of 2022. We thought it was hilarious when we were buying tickets for November 2020 in August of 2019. Little did we know.

Baltimore Theatre Production

I did get to see one show in Baltimore this year before everything shut down. It was Richard & Jane & Dick & Sally at Baltimore Center Stage. Unlike with the one movie I saw I can’t say that this was a show I super enjoyed. Sadly I’m not sure that the new artistic director and I see eye to eye on theatre. After loving almost every show I saw there for many years as a season ticket subscriber, this past season I didn’t really like much of anything. I think most of it was chosen in the interim before she actually started so I’m hoping that I’m wrong and that when the finally do get back to being able to have actual shows there that she selects shows that are more to my liking.

Online Theatre Production

Like with concerts I saw some online theatre productions this year as well. Some were previously taped performances that were released from archives. Some were weird Zoom like things (though not actually on Zoom). And some were live productions in front of no audience. I watched several shows put on at the Old Vic in London that were produced live with no audience. It lead to me watching theatre at some very odd times given the time difference. I think my favorite was Three Kings starring Andrew Scott, who you may know as Hot Priest from Fleabag. Sometimes one person shows where it’s just one long monologue can lose my interest, but I thought he did an excellent job and the story he was telling kept me engaged.

Podcast

I think I’ve mentioned Make Me Smart to some degree in this space every year since it has existed and that is not going to change this year. This year they expanded from their once a week on Tuesday episode to transitioning to a daily podcast after the pandemic started. They still do what they call the big show on Tuesdays, which is usually around a half hour or so. Then the other days they do short 15 minute episodes most of those they each bring a news story and something that makes them happy to talk about. They started naming the episodes at some point: Make Me Smart Mondays, Big Show Tuesdays, Whatta Ya Want to Know Wednesdays (in which they ditch the normal daily show format and spend the whole episode answering listener questions), Hollowed Out Shell Thursdays (because by that point in the week we all feel like hollowed out shells), and Economics on Tap Fridays (their weekly happy hour episode where they would have a drink and would often live tape over YouTube so people could see them and join in in the comments). It’s the first podcast I put on every time there’s a new episode in my feed. It helps me going and I’m so happy they expanded to 5 days a week.

Staying in with Emily and Kumail was a short lived podcast produced by Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani that they put out at the beginning of the pandemic when we were all in lockdown. They basically just talked about their lives and the things they were enjoying and experiencing. Although she is no longer practicing Emily is a trained therapist so she had a lot of great insights to offer about what we were all experiencing and how we were experiencing them. She also is immunocompromised and at high risk for COVID so they were being extremely careful just like my husband and I have been. So it was nice to get their perspective on that as well. It’s not something that would probably make sense to listen to now if you didn’t listen to it when it was first on, but it was super helpful for me in processing everything that was happening and all the feelings I was having at the beginning of the pandemic. I get why it’s not something they kept up, but I do think it would be kind of nice to have a check in episode every once in awhile.

Podcast Episode

My favorite podcast episode of the year was the Song Exploder episode in which Semisonic broke down their song “Closing Time”. I’m not going to give anything away. You should just go listen to the episode. I will only say this, that song has way more meaning behind it than you think and I will never hear it the same way ever again.

A Very COVID Christmas

Obviously like for many of us (though sadly not enough of us), this Christmas season looked very different than Christmases past. Although it’s not one I would necessarily want to repeat, I also found a lot of things to take joy in.

There were not the usual parties and get togethers that happen this time of year, but I appreciate how my friends got creative to come together and celebrate in new and interesting ways. One of my friends hosted an online holiday murder mystery. Having done some of these murder mystery parties in person I wasn’t sure how it would translate to online, but it worked pretty well. I even figured out who the murderer was! A different group of friends did a couple of online Christmas movie nights where we watched White Christmas and Home Alone over text together.

We also had our 17th annual Winter Wonderland party that we have with a group of friends every year. Back in the day we used to rent out the upper room at Max’s. Then once there were a lot of kids in the group meeting at a bar became untenable so our friends started hosting at their house. Then this year we had to move online. Our friends put together a slide show of past parties. It was fun to look back at the early years and see us and all our kids grow up. The other benefit to doing this party online was that some friends who have left Baltimore over the years were able to drop in and join us as well!

I usually bake a ton of Christmas cookies in December and give them away as gifts. I was obviously still able to enjoy this tradition, though due to mail issues I didn’t mail anything out this year worried that the cookies wouldn’t be any good by the time they got there. In the past few years since they moved to Baltimore I’ve also been baking and decorating Christmas cookies with my niece. Obviously this year we couldn’t get together to bake, but we each baked cookies on our own and did a little sidewalk exchange of cookies and presents. She did an excellent job on her own.

I wasn’t expecting to spend any part of the holiday season with my family. We have been super careful the entire pandemic and so were definitely not traveling or getting together with anyone in-person inside. My parents against my preference travelled from Arizona to my sister’s house in New Jersey. Even though I haven’t seen any of them since last Christmas we were not going to drive up and join them. However, on the Monday before Christmas my sister and my mother drove down to surprise us with a quick visit. They only stayed for about an hour and half and we sat outside in masks socially distanced and visited for a little bit before they turned around and drove back. It was a really nice surprise and it was great to see them. I look forward to some day hopefully in the not too distant future when I can see the rest of my family too.

Actual Christmas was quiet with just me and my husband. It’s the first time in my 20+ years of adult life where I have spent Christmas in my own home. I’ve always traveled to somewhere else either to visit my family or my husband’s family. Although I missed spending the holiday with family there was something nice about spending Christmas in my own house and trying my best to continue some traditions while creating some new ones of my own. Though I guess they probably can’t be called traditions if I never do them again.

On Christmas Eve I attended the Christmas Eve service at my church for the first time ever since I’m always traveling, though it was online. My main goal was to continue the tradition of eating shrimp cocktail on Christmas Eve. When I was a small child growing up in Georgia my parents had a Christmas Eve open house party every year. There were always two standard things that they served along with other appetizers, shrimp cocktail and a cheese ball. After we moved away when I was in middle school and they stopped having that party we continued eating shrimp cocktail on Christmas Eve. The cheese ball fell by the wayside, which is fine with me. I never really liked those things anyway. One year when I was first living in Baltimore and working at Barnes & Noble wasn’t able to fly home until after I got off work on Christmas Eve so I missed hanging out with my family that night and eating the shrimp cocktail with them. When I got there my mother told me that my grandma wanted her to bring the shrimp cocktail to the airport for me. My mom said she didn’t but it was in the fridge for me when we got to the house. My husband is a vegetarian so he won’t eat it, but I cooked up 4 little shrimp just for me to eat along with some other little appetizers for our Christmas Eve dinner. We also Zoomed with my family and opened our Christmas presents together and finished off the night watching It’s a Wonderful Life.

Christmas Day was equally quiet, but also was a lovely, peaceful day. I know that orange rolls for breakfast on Christmas morning is a tradition in a lot of families. It never was in ours, but it always sounded like a tradition I wanted in on. So this year I made it happen for myself and made some orange rolls for breakfast. I also discovered that I actually really like egg nog this year. I didn’t really think that I did, but in my quest to be as festive as possible I decided I should buy some and figured out that I actually really like it. I’m definitely going to limit myself to one little quart of it though because it is not good for you at all. My husband and I opened the rest of our presents from each other and from his family. He was even super proud of himself because I made some off-hand comment about there never being anything in my stocking without knowing that he had already stuck a little something in mine for me. So I even had a little stocking present from Santa this year.

My family has never had a set meal for our Christmas dinner, so unlike at Thanksgiving where I wanted to make all our traditional Thanksgiving food for just the two of us I didn’t feel compelled to make anything in particular. I just knew I wanted it to be simpler than all the food I made at Thanksgiving. I settled on making an individual beef Wellington for me, a butternut squash Wellington for my vegetarian husband with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and roasted green beans and almonds. My husband ordered a lovely little floral centerpiece from our local florist and we had a beautiful Christmas table. We finished off our Christmas watching Wonder Woman 1984 while eating popcorn and pecan pie.

While none of this is how I would have expected to spend this Christmas at the beginning of the year it also had many quiet moments of joy and peace. I know for many this was a Christmas of unimaginable loss, struggle, and hardship. I am beyond grateful for all the blessings I have. As we finish out this impossibly hard year I wish everyone a brighter 2021.

New Music Friday: Notes from the Archive by Maggie Rogers

Today for new music Friday I have some new old music for you. Maggie Rogers decided to subvert the whole sophomore album thing by instead of putting out an album of new music compiling music she created with various bands and at various times in her life before she hit it big and released her first album. Notes from the Archive covers music she wrote from 2011-2016. It moves backwards in time on the album with the newest music appearing first and moving back to the earliest written songs when she was 16. It’s definitely an interesting exercise and you can definitely see her changing over time and trying to figure out her sound. Oddly my least favorite stuff are the newest songs that she would have created just before the songs that wound up on Heard It in a Past Life. While I appreciate the ability to have this look back at her music, I am definitely looking forward to whenever she puts out an album of actual new music.

My Morning Walk

I don’t even know who I am anymore. This pandemic has turned me into a person that gets up early to go for a walk before work. The exercise part is not new. I have always exercised on the regular. I just tended to mostly do it at the gym because I like things to be climate controlled. Actual pleasant weather in Baltimore where it’s not too hot and not too cold is rare most of the year so in the past I haven’t exercised outside that frequently.

Obviously that changed with COVID-19. I could no longer go to the gym every day. I would normally go after work because I am not a morning person. I’m sort of a middle of the road person as I’m not a super night owl either. I think my ideal sleep pattern if I didn’t have to get up for work would be midnight to 8 am, but I digress. When the pandemic first started I was still walking after work and some on my lunch breaks. Turns out it’s an effort to get the same number of steps I used to get when I went to work because I no longer have all the incidental steps I used to get going about my day just doing stuff like walking to meetings and between parking lots and buildings, etc.

That worked fine for awhile, but eventually it got too hot to realistically and comfortably exercise after work. So I started dragging myself out of bed before work to exercise in the morning before it was stupidly hot, and even then some days were pretty uncomfortable. I got used to doing my long walk in the morning so even when it turned cold I still kept going for my walk in the morning. I like being out in the morning when it’s quiet and there aren’t too many people out yet. I still go out for shorter walks during my lunch break or after work to help make up for those incidental steps I’m not getting working from home and it’s always a challenge to avoid people. I’ve also seen some really incredible sunrises on my walks, which is not something I ever really experienced before either because I was still asleep or just inside my house and not out looking at the sunrise.

I spent a stupid amount of money on cold weather exercise clothes and the face mask does double duty in protecting me from COVID and helping keep my face warm, so it hasn’t been as bad as I thought exercising outside in the winter yet. The snow and ice is going to be the biggest impediment to that because I’m not interested in breaking any limbs slipping on ice. So outdoor exercise might be off the table for awhile until the snow we’re getting right now goes away.

Of course don’t get me wrong. Once this pandemic is over and life gets a little more normal I’m likely to go back to my old ways. I might be a little more liberal about what I consider okay outdoor exercise weather, but I’ll probably return to the gym and after work exercise. Right now since I have no commute and don’t have to do things like make my lunch I’m really not getting up much earlier than I did pre-pandemic. While getting up at 6:30 hasn’t been terrible, I’m not willing to get up before 6 am to get a walk in before getting ready to go to work when I no longer work from home. I’ll continue to try and make the most of my outdoor morning walks while I’m still doing them though.

Favorite Albums of 2020

At some point in the next couple of weeks I’ll be writing up my annual Most Memorable Pop-Culture of the year post, but as I was thinking ahead to what is likely to go into that post I realized that I was going to have a hard time narrowing my album choice down to one or two things that I wanted to talk about. So I figured I would write up a separate post with my favorite albums from this year that I will just refer back to in that section of my larger look at pop-culture for the year.

I was trying to come up with a nice even number for this like Top 5 or Top 10, but I finally decided that was an arbitrary limit and I could choose as many albums as I wanted to. When I was trying to stick to just 5 I felt like I was still leaving some albums out, but when I tried to get to 10 then I felt like I was putting in some albums just to pad things and that they weren’t really favorites. So here you go. Here’s my Top 7 Albums of 2020.

  1. Expectations by Katie Pruitt

This album was an early favorite for me and it stayed there. It came out back in March. I was already in love with the title single, “Expectations”. I had tickets to see Katie Pruitt in concert in June before the pandemic put a kibosh on that. The title track has a very Fleetwood Mac vibe to it that I love, but I also feel like it is not representative of the rest of the album which I don’t think has the same vibe. I love all the vibes though. It contains several songs off an earlier EP, so there are songs that are at least 5 years old on here in addition to newer stuff. So you get a range. There are songs about mental illness, about her working through her sexuality with her religious parents, a dangerous former relationship, as well as some lovely love songs. As one might expect for my favorite album of the year

2. Total Freedom by Kathleen Edwards

This is Kathleen Edwards’ first album in 18 years. She had left the music business and opened a cafe in Canada where she is from. I’m so happy she decided to return to music because this album is fantastic. It feels like wrapping yourself in a warm blanket. It’s definitely going to help carry me through this long, dark winter.

3. Reunions by Jason Isbell

This is the first Jason Isbell album since Stockholm that is not my favorite album of the year. It comes in at number three, so that’s still not bad. I’m apparently not the only one though because his past several albums have always wound up high on all the year end lists, but this year I’ve only seen it on one. I don’t know exactly why because it’s still a great album and full of the typically brilliant and insightful Isbell lyrics. The opening line to “Overseas” is one of the most brilliant lyrics I can think of “This used to be a ghost town, but even the ghosts got out.” Also, it contains one of my favorite songs of the year “Dreamsicle”, which people seemed to be high on when it came out but I haven’t seen it on any year end lists either.

4. Fake It Flowers by beabadoobee

This is the first album by 20 year old Filipino-British singer. It has a super 90s female rock vibe. Weirdly that wasn’t something I was super into during the actual 90s when I should have been as a teenager, but now I guess the sound is super nostalgic for me and I really love it.

5. Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers

I have adored everything Phoebe Bridgers has done in the last several years. This is her sophomore album and it is just as wonderful as her first album and the two side collaboration projects she did with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker as boygenius and with Conor Oberst as Better Oblivion Community Center. She just got nominated for Best New Artist by the Grammy’s which cracks me up because she already has so many things under her belt, but the Grammy’s is gonna Grammy’s. I shake my head at that category every year.

6. Autonomy by Stephanie Lambring

This album was a late edition to my favorite albums of the year as it didn’t come out until October and I didn’t learn about it until some time in November when NPR Music did their podcast episode on their favorite music out in October. I wrote about it for one of my New Music Friday posts, and I don’t know that I have anything else to add to what I already said about it.

7. Pauline by Ashley Ray

This is a wonderful country album that will sadly never get any play on mainstream country radio. It’s full of beautiful story songs that weave a lovely tapestry. Many of the songs are very autobiographical including the title song “Pauline”, which is about her grandmother, and “Just a House” about her mother’s refusal to leave her house as it’s falling down around her because it’s where she lived with her now deceased husband.

TV Diary

Britain’s Best Home Cook

If you’re lamenting the fact that you’re all out of Great British Baking Show episodes have I got the show for you. There are two seasons of this show on Hulu. It is very much in the vein of the Great British Baking Show though it involves both baking and cooking. Mary Berry is even one of the judges! It has the same sort of gentle rhythms of the Great British Baking Show with watching pleasant British people cook and be encouraging and helpful to each other. There are three rounds. In the first one, the Ultimate, the cooks have to cook their ultimate of something that they get to plan and practice ahead of time. In the rustle up round they get presented an ingredient that they have to use as the highlight of their dish on the fly. Then the final round, the eliminator, only the cooks who have not done well enough in the first rounds participate. It’s a little bit like the technical challenge in GBBS in that they’re given a recipe and whoever cooks it least well is eliminated. A woman named Claudia Winkleman is the host and I like her more than all of the hosts that have ever been on GBBS. They made some changes in the show between seasons 1 and 2. Most of them were for the better, though I liked the original parameters of the rustle up round better.

The Queen’s Gambit

The Queen’s Gambit is a quick 7 episode series on Netflix based on the book of the same name. It’s about an orphaned girl in the 1950s and 1960s who is taught to play chess by the janitor at her orphanage and turns out to be a real prodigy. She also deals with addiction issues that were created by pills given to her during her time in the orphanage. It’s a really engaging show that I liked a whole lot even though there are long sequences of people playing chess which I know next to nothing about. It has a lot of real fashion porn too. Once she starts getting money from winning chess tournaments and ups her wardrobe I want like everything she is wearing. My book club has decided to read the book this is based on for our next meeting, so I’ll be curious to see how they compare to each other.

Dash and Lily

This was a cute Netflix Christmas show based on a YA novel. Dash and Lily are teenagers that are both alone for Christmas for various reasons. She decides to leave a diary with dares in it for someone to find in the Strand Bookstore. You just have to go with the hand wavey part that would result in a teenage boy being the one to pick this book out and take up the challenge. They then correspond with each other back and forth through the book and encourage each other to grow and expand their horizons. It’s exactly the kind of show I’m looking for this time of year.

Over Christmas

Over Christmas is a 3 episode German show on Netflix about a guy who moved out of his small town to pursue a music career in Berlin, but it’s not going as well as he had hoped. Now he’s returned home for Christmas where he discovers that his brother is dating his ex-girlfriend and his parents have been keeping a big secret from him. He also winds up connecting with his brother’s high school girlfriend so it’s a rom com too. Given how much of a jerk he is at the end, things probably get resolved a bit too quickly and neatly but overall I enjoyed it and would recommend watching if you like this kind of thing and don’t mind subtitles.

How to with John Wilson

It’s hard to figure out how to describe this HBO comedy show. The six season first season just finished and I really liked it. John Wilson tackles a different topic in each episode including things like scaffolding, how to split a check, how to make small talk, and how to make the perfect risotto. You never see his face, but the whole thing is dry voiceover over footage, mostly of New York City, that is created in a dry, humorous way. The last episode which was obviously mid-filming when the pandemic hit took a whole different turn because of that which made it really interesting. I’ve never watched the show Nathan for You, but I’ve heard other people compare this show to that so maybe that bit of info will mean something to you and help you decide if this show is for you.

Deaf U

I thought this show about students at Gallaudet University would be more akin to shows like Last Chance U and Cheer, but it was not anywhere near as good as those shows. Those other shows brought you into a culture in a way that helped you understand it more and felt like a realistic look into the lives of the kids they were following. Deaf U was more sensationalistic. It was like look at deaf college kids. They drink and have sex too! There were a lot of conversations that felt like they were very set up for the camera too as people would just walk up to each other and jump right into these huge issues without any preamble. I could be wrong, but it seems like the filmmakers found out about these things and then told the kids to talk about them on camera. It felt very forced at times. It also gave me very little information that would help me understand deaf culture of life at Gallaudet. There was a little bit about “deaf elites”, but even that wasn’t explored that much. There was nothing about Gallaudet as school. There were no scenes inside the classroom or talk about what makes Gallaudet different from other universities or why someone would want to go there. It was a very disappointing show.

Doom Patrol

Since Doom Patrol moved from DC Universe to HBO Max and it stars my tv boyfriend Matt Bomer I decided to give it a chance. Unfortunately most of the time his pretty, pretty face is covered in bandages. What is even the point? There were some things I liked about it, but by the end of the first season it had a hard time keeping my interest. The episodes were too long and the first season was three episodes too long. I’m not sure I’m going to bother with the second season or any additional seasons that are made beyond that.

B Positive

B Positive is the newest Chuck Lorre sitcom on CBS this season. It stars Thomas Middleditch as a sort of schlubby guy who is recently divorced and has just found out that he needs a kidney transplant. Annaleigh Ashford plays the high school acquaintance he runs into at a wedding who drunkenly promises him a kidney. For reasons she actually agrees to go through with it which means he has to help keep her clean from drugs and alcohol for three months so she can actually donate it. There’s a lot of side characters too with Sarah Rue as his ex-wife, a teenage daughter, the people he sees at dialysis, and the people in the old folks home where Annaleigh Ashford’s character works. It’s not a great show, but I like those actors and it keeps me entertained enough. I doubt it’s going to see longer than this season. I’m not really sure how the premise goes on longer than that.

Truth Seekers

This is a Simon Pegg/Nick Frost comedy horror show along the lines with what they’ve done previously in movies. Simon Pegg is only in about 1 minute of every episode as Nick Frost’s boss at an internet company called Smyle. Nick Frost plays a network installer/repair person for the company. There always seem to be some sort of horror mystery involved in whatever job they’re on and eventually it ties into a larger story. It was fine. If you like other Pegg/Frost projects you’ll probably like this well enough.

Moravian Love Feast

Wake Forest holds a Moravian Lovefeast every year on the first Sunday in December. It was started by some Moravian students back in 1965 and has become one of the longest running and most beloved traditions at the school. It was always my favorite event of the year when I was a student there.

There are Christmas carols sung by the choir, played on brass instruments, the organ, and played the handbell choir interspersed with short scripture readings and a very short reflection sermon. Towards the end of the service everyone partakes in the feast part of the Lovefeast which consists of a Moravian Lovefeast bun and Moravian coffee. The bun is a potato roll spiced with nutmeg and mace and citrus rind. The coffee is a super sweet and milky coffee. I don’t like coffee and even I didn’t mind drinking it. The feast is followed by the passing of candlelight with the beeswax candles everyone is given when entering. It was always so beautiful to stand there and sing together in a sea of candlelight

They’ve been livestreaming it for years, but I’m usually always so busy at this point in the year that I have never tuned in for it. This year I’m obviously not enjoying all my normal holiday fun, so I decided it would be the perfect year to finally participate. I had the idea that I would bake some Moravian Lovefeast buns, make some coffee, and order some of the beeswax candles online. I had no idea that the red wrap on the candles to catch the wax is actually a Moravian candle skirt. I always assumed it was a generic wax drip catcher and that it would be easy to find. It was not. I had to order them from a Moravian candle shop in Old Salem, NC.

I was going to take a little Lovefeast kit with all the stuff to my friend who also lives in the area and is a fellow alum. Great minds apparently think alike because she also bought some candles and sent them to me. She wanted to bake her own buns, so I didn’t wind up giving her anything. Hopefully next year we can celebrate it together. We texted each other during the service this year instead.

This year’s feast was obviously a bit different than normal due to COVID. There was a not a crowd of people gathered together inside Wait Chapel for the service. Instead everything was pre-recorded with only the people participating in putting on the service present, but not at the same time. Everyone was wearing masks and was well spaced out. The choir was spaced out in the audience part of the chapel rather than up on the stage. There was obviously no live serving of the feast or passing of the candlelight. Instead they interspersed some footage of those things from previous years with the choir singing.

It was not the traditional Lovefeast, but it was still lovely and it reminded me of what a wonderful tradition it is. I am hopeful that next year it will be able to return to normal. I’m thinking I would love to make some time in my always full December plans to invite some friends to my house next year to celebrate it with me. It would be wonderful to have friends share in the experience and to be able to pass the candlelight to someone rather than me just yelling at my cat to not jump in my lap while I’m holding a lit candle.