More Than Meh

A blog about the good things of life.

Why Thanksgiving is the Best Holiday November 27, 2013

Filed under: Life — dwhren @ 6:21 pm

I know this is not a controversial statement, but Thanksgiving really is the best holiday. It has none of the pressure or commercialism of Christmas. I mean these days we start Christmas before Halloween let alone make room for Thanksgiving at stores. In some respects that’s almost a blessing. Though don’t get me started on the fact that there is actually no Thanksgiving anymore only early Black Friday.

Thanksgiving, if done properly, is a great time to stop and remind ourselves about all the things we have to be grateful for. It’s a time to stop work and reflect on all the blessings in our life of which I have many. Some of these blessings come in the form of family and friends, which are an integral part of why Thanksgiving is great.

Thanksgiving is the one holiday that seems replicable over a period of days. People often go to many different types of holiday parties, but there is really only one Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. On the other hand I have celebrated Thanksgiving with friends before the holiday, with family and/or friends on the holiday, and with friends after the holiday. Sometimes it’s with a completely new cooked Thanksgiving meal and other times it’s a potluck of leftovers. Because the heart of Thanksgiving is sharing a meal with family and friends it’s easy to celebrate more than once.

This year I celebrated Thanksgiving last week with a group of friends. We had a wonderful meal together and then lots of fun hanging out and playing games afterwards. Tomorrow I will spend the day with my sister-in-law, her husband, and my niece and nephew, which I am looking forward to.

And of course Thanksgiving is about the wonderful food. Part of what makes it so special is that the foods we eat on Thanksgiving are mostly reserved for that day. For the most part people don’t cook turkeys, stuffing, cranberry sauce, candied yams, and green bean casserole outside of Thanksgiving. It is all insanely delicious that is except for Maryland’s odd insistence that sauerkraut is something that should be served with turkey on Thanksgiving. I do not approve. Luckily I will be celebrating in New York City instead of Maryland so no nasty sauerkraut for me. Just another thing to be thankful for!  I am very much looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow. I wish everyone a happy and blessed Thanksgiving!

 

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Viewing Party November 26, 2013

Filed under: Food,Friends,Pop Culture,Television — dwhren @ 8:50 am

Disclaimer I am not a true Doctor Who nerd. I enjoy watching Doctor Who, but I only started watched with the reboot and have never seen a classic episode. I could not hold an in depth conversation about the minutia or even some of the more common stuff. I am not a good nerd that way. It like many nerdy pop culture things, but I don’t consume them like a true nerd. Chris Hardwick often talks about the mark of a true nerd is their nerdy obsession about something no matter what it actually is. They get into all the minute details of things. I have many friends like this. I could name an episode title of some nerdy show and they would be able to tell me all about it in all kinds of detail. I can’t do stuff like that. It’s just not the way I consume my pop culture. I like much of the same stuff as these friends, but I just don’t geek out about it in the same way they do.

At any rate nerd cred or not I threw a viewing party for the 50th Anniversary special of Doctor Who on Saturday. I thought it would be fun to watch with other Whovian friends. Plus it gave me an excuse to throw a party and make all kinds of fun Doctor Who themed foods. Plus I feel like I was providing a great service since no one who came actually has access to BBC America on their televisions, so this way they didn’t have to wait to watch it.

My friends all came dressed in Doctor Who attire including adorable Tardis dressed babies.

2013-11-23 14.12.31I wore one of my Doctor Who shirts, which I love because it is a play on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. As far as I know no one in my family has ever actually attended Notre Dame, but I grew up watching Notre Dame and rooting for them. I’m guessing because we’re Irish the family adopted them because of their mascot? Notre Dame was the first school I owned any college paraphernalia for, so when I saw this shirt online that combined the Notre Dame mascot with my favorite Doctor I had to buy it for myself. It delights me. My husband also insisted I put on my emergency bow tie (cause bow ties are cool) for the picture even though it was meant to wear on a button down shirt and thus didn’t really work on the shirt. That may be why I’m making the awesome face.

2013-11-23 13.02.36I can’t take credit for coming up with any of the food ideas. I found them all via Google, but they were still lots of fun to make and were a big hit at the party.

My husband bought some Jelly Babies of course and my friends also brought some Jammy Dodgers though I didn’t get a picture of them.

2013-11-23 13.04.26Those same friends brought a Dalek pizza, which was totally awesome!

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I refused to make actual fish fingers and custard. I never even liked fish fingers when I was kid when you’re supposed to like them. I saw recipes for ways to make cookies that were covered in graham cracker crumbs such that they looked like fish fingers, but I decided to take the lazy way out for this one and bought some Cadbury fingers to go with my custard. I figure they’re British so that almost counts, right?

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I made some delicious bow tie pasta salad from this recipe because bow ties are cool. It was a big hit at this party and the birthday party I took the leftovers to later that night.

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I also made sonic screwdrivers out of pretzel rods

2013-11-23 12.45.28and Adipose babies out of marshmallows. Since a lot of people asked me how I got the marshmallows to stick together I will share that my super secret trick was using some of the same melted white chocolate I used on the sonic screwdrivers to glue the marshmallows together. I did not as was suggested use a hot glue gun.

2013-11-23 12.45.42I also bought some cookie cutters to make Tardis, Dalek, and Weeping Angel cookies. The Weeping Angels are my favorite. Don’t blink!

2013-11-23 12.45.17I enjoyed the episode itself, and enjoyed watching it with a bunch of friends while stuff my face with a bunch of Doctor Who themed food.

 

Behind the Scenes tour of the Library of Congress November 25, 2013

Filed under: Friends,Life — dwhren @ 1:00 pm

I took Friday off work and headed down to DC with some fellow librarian friends to take a behind the scenes tour of the Library of Congress. My friend Sean suggested it and did all the work of setting it up. I’m glad he did because it was a lot of fun.

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The Library of Congress is composed of three buildings named after Jefferson, Adams, and Madison. Within these buildings there are I believe 22 reading rooms organized around different subject areas. The Jefferson building contains the great hall which is the beautifully ornate part of the library and contains the main reading room. There are also some exhibits there. It is open for tours to the general public. If you’re ever in DC I highly recommend taking a tour because it is an incredibly beautiful building. It’s amazing the time, materials, and detail that went into the design. A building like this would never be built today, which I get, but which is also a shame.

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The general public is also welcome to go into any of the reading rooms to do research. You just have to get a researcher card, which is available to anyone over the age of 16 with a photo ID. We only got to see a couple of the reading rooms on our tour, but I would love to go back and check out some of the other ones. Though of course since the Library of Congress has closed stacks what I would really love to do is just be able to wander around in their collections.

We did get to do a little of that on our tour. After our general tour of the Great Hall we met with librarians from 3 of the different reading rooms. First we met with a librarian who works in the main reading room. She was super excited to meet with us. She had even Googled us before our meeting and thought it was great that we were a bunch of young librarians who work at different institutions but who all know each other and took time off to come down for a tour. She was fantastic. She gave us a great behind the scenes look at what she does with her job and took us to areas that we never would have been able to see otherwise.

Interestingly the library seems to be a both a little bit more technologically advanced and a little bit less technologically advanced in fulfilling requests than it used to be. They have replaced the old pneumatic tube system that was used to send request slips with an online system. However the old conveyer belt system that moved books back and forth is broken and is too old to get parts for in an economical fashion and thus can’t be repaired. Now they are back to moving books back and forth between buildings manually on book trucks. We got to see the old equipment, which is still there even though it is not functional any more. We also got to see some of the closed stacks. They are definitely out of room, which is not surprising given that the Library of Congress receives on average 12,000 items per day thanks to the copyright deposit system. Too bad Congress won’t vote to give their own library enough money to properly deal with the issue.

We also got to see a small part of their old card catalog, which they kept for historical reasons even after the catalog was moved online.

Card catalog

Card catalog

The best part of the tour was when we got to use the staircase from the staff area underneath the reference desk in the main reading room to walk up into the reading room right under the dome. I might be acting slightly overdramatic but it was a transcendent moment.

We popped up into the main reading from below that desk you see in the center of this picture.

We popped up into the main reading from below that desk you see in the center of this picture.

Next we met with a business librarian and a science librarian from the business and science reading room. The science librarian has been at the Library of Congress for 48 years. She was awesome. She even brought us in cake and cookies to eat while we met with her. She had a million stories. She basically spent our whole time together going from one story into another.

Our final stop was in the periodicals reading room. They have an amazing collection of newspapers from around the world. I for some reason didn’t take any pictures of the shelves of newspapers we saw, but I did take one of some of the rows and rows of old newspapers they have on microfilm. The librarian we were meeting with there was afraid she wasn’t showing us anything very exciting because she didn’t find out we were coming until the last minute, but we are all completely nerdy librarians and thus were overly excited just to look at an extensive number of shelves full of newspapers and microfilm.

Rows and rows of microfilm

Rows and rows of microfilm

It was a great afternoon, and I look forward to the next time I get to go the Library of Congress.

For more pictures including ones with people in them check out my friend Catherine’s blog.

 

Musical Television Moments November 22, 2013

Filed under: Music,Pop Culture,Television — dwhren @ 8:57 am

On yesterday’s Extra Hot Great Podcast mini-episode they talked about perfect musical television moments. I’ve never watched American Horror Story or Scrubs so I can’t speak to their choices from either of those shows. I loved Everwood and love the song Cathedrals by Jump Little Children, but I have no real recollection of the scene they are talking about. Having seen Arrested Development, I obviously remember Gob’s repeated use of The Final Countdown in his magic act, which is great, but still not something I would probably pick as one of my top moments.

Thus it got me thinking what are my top musical moments from television? As stipulated by the rules in the podcast this can include either music played in the episode or music sung by the characters, but it can’t be a song used in a show like Glee or Smash. I’m sure there are many more moments I could list. I mean I love television, and I love music, so really if I tried I could probably go on forever. These are the ones that sprung immediately to mind when I was thinking about it though.

My Body is a Cage by Peter Gabriel on House

In episode 16 of season 7 of House they use Peter Gabriel’s haunting cover of the song My Body is a Cage to great effect. By this point in House’s run I was no longer enjoying the show at all for the most part and was only watching out of habit or the feeling like I had already invested so much time I needed to watch until the very end. I know that makes no sense, but whatever. This song pretty much encapsulates the entire show though, so it stands out to me as the perfect use of music in a tv show.

Africa by Toto on Chuck

Season 2, Episode 13 of Chuck introduces us to the most wonderful musical creation in all of television history, Jeffster! Their performance of Toto’s Africa is amazing and wonderful and all of the best things about Chuck. It was the first of a number of Jeffster! performances throughout the rest of the series. Some of those are wonderful as well including the epic sequence set to them singing Mr. Roboto, but this was the first and thus the best. Not only is Africa a great song, but this scene is also the best because of the delight that comes from the surprise of it being the first time we ever see them. I didn’t really want to pick two songs from the same show, but an honorable mention also goes the perfect use of The Head and the Heart’s Rivers and Roads during the final scene of the series.

Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper on Parks and Recreation

Another delightful little sequence with the characters on the show singing a song that I love occurs in Season 5, Episode 16 of Parks and Recreation where April and Ann sing Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time. There’s not much to say about it other than that it’s a great moment, and I love it.

Dancing on My Own by Robyn on Girls

I already wrote extensively about the use of Dancing on My Own in episode 3 of season 1 of Girls, so I won’t really say much else here other than to say that of course I had to include it and my love for this scene has not diminished since my initial post about it.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole on ER

Episode 22 of Season 8 of ER brought us the death of Mark Greene set to Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow. I love this song. I know people make fun of it and find it twee or whatever their problem with it is, but even before I knew what it was and only knew it as the background to some dot com site for pets or kids or something during the dot com boom I loved it. It was a beautiful song to send off a beloved character.

Coming to America and more by Neil Diamond on The Big Bang Theory

Amy and Howard singing Neil Diamond’s Coming to America in Season 7, Episode 3 of The Big Bang Theory is my most recent musical television delight. I love me some Neil Diamond. He was the first concert I ever went to. My sister and I had an interpretive dance we made up to this song that I’m pretty sure wasn’t too far off from the one in this scene, so I can not tell you how much these scene delighted me when I saw it.

Breathe Me by Sia on Six Feet Under

The closing scene of the series finale of Six Feet Under is by far the best one currently in existence. It will take a lot for another show to usurp its place in that regard. Part of what makes it so wonderful is the perfect choice of music in Sia’s Breathe Me. The combination of the song and the footage of all the characters we’ve grown to love over the course of series aging and dying is extremely powerful. Well done Six Feet Under.

What are some of your favorite musical moments on television?

 

Serendipity November 21, 2013

Filed under: Pop Culture,Simple Pleasures — dwhren @ 7:19 am

It was recently announced that the SoapNet channel is going away at the end of the year. I haven’t watched any real soap operas for a long time, but they have blocks of reruns of Veronica Mars, Gilmore Girls, and One Tree Hill which I will often watch if I happen to turn the TV on when they’re airing. It got me thinking about how much I enjoy serendipitously coming across my pop culture.

Even though I own every season of Gilmore Girls on DVD and One Tree Hill is streaming on Netflix I’m not very likely to put an episode of them on on my own. Partly I think because it’s too overwhelming to choose which one, but also I just like the happiness of turning on the TV and finding out that one of my favorite episodes is on.

It’s the same way for hearing a song I love on the radio. I may own that song and can listen to it any time I want, but somehow it’s better when I hear it without choosing to play it myself. I guess it’s a bit of validation that someone else likes the song enough to play it.

Ditto for coming across a movie I like on TV and stopping to watch it. I have a bunch of movies on DVD that I would never sit down and put in my DVD player at this point, but if I happened to turn on the TV and one of those same movies was playing I would stop and watch it.

Some programmer at Netflix really needs to take advantage this phenomenon and make it so that I can tell it to shuffle me up an episode of a specific TV show or an episode from a queue of TV shows that I have already watched. Ditto for my movie queue. I would love to for Netflix to randomly throw an episode of one of the TV shows I’m inclined to rewatch at me. As it is I leave them in my Instant queue and then never watch them because I feel overwhelmed at the thought of choosing which one to watch. Get on it Netflix.

 

Top 10 Songs of 2013 November 20, 2013

Filed under: Music,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 8:47 am

Normally I would say it’s far too early to start posting best of lists for the year. I won’t do my full run down until after the new year, but WXPN is taking votes for their Top 200 songs of 2013 countdown right now. They obviously have to tally the votes before the countdown starts running December 31, so voting is going on now. I figured since I put my vote in there I might as well throw my picks up here on my blog. I’m listing them in the order I filled out my votes on WXPN, but really they are not in any real order. Not surprisingly you will have already seen most of these songs posted on my blog over the past year. Obviously if I liked a song enough to put it in my top 10 for the year I was probably inspired to share it before. That’s not true for every song though. There are of course many other songs that I loved in 2013, and this was a hard list to whittle down, but here’s what I came up with. One thing I did notice was that about half the songs I chose were not the singles being played on the radio from the albums these songs came from. I was more drawn to other songs by many of these artists than I was to the singles they released for some reason.

1. Stockholm by Jason Isbell

I can not say enough amazing things about this song or Southeatern, the album it came from. This is one of those songs that just gave me a big grin every time I heard it because I love it so much. Consider this a sneak preview because you will be hearing much more about the album, Southeastern in my full top pop culture of 2013 post.

2. Teach Me to Know by The Lone Bellow

As I recently mentioned “Teach Me to Know” is one of my favorite songs off of The Lone Bellow’s self-titled first album. I love so many of the songs on that album it was hard to choose just one. This one tips the balance I think because of how much I love seeing them play it live. They turn it into a great sing-a-long every time and that is always something I can get behind.

3. The Glow by The Kopecky Family Band

“The Glow” definitely falls under the category of choosing a song from an album that is not the single it is known for. In fact I really am not a fan of the song “Heartbeat”, which was the big single off of their album Kids Raising Kids. That was the first song I ever heard by them and just figured they weren’t a band I was that interested in. Luckily for me they played Firefly the day I went, so I decided to check out more of their music on Spotify to see if they were a band I was interested in seeing while I was there. It was then that I found out that even though I still could take or leave listening to “Heartbeat”, I love the rest of their music. Thus “The Glow” makes it onto my top 10 list. I love this song and think it perfectly conveys the feeling of being on the road trying to get home, which is what it’s all about.

4. Joy to You Baby by Josh Ritter

This is the one song that makes in to my top 10 because of the lyrics alone. The music is great too, but it’s the lyrics of this beautiful break-up song that really make “Joy to You Baby” the amazing song that it is. It’s a lovely song about wishing joy to your ex even though things didn’t work out. Knowing that you’re both better off without each other, but not wishing away your time together either.

5. Dust to Dust by The Civil Wars

“Dust to Dust” is a beautiful and haunting song off of The Civil Wars sophomore album, A Place at the Table. It is sadly probably their last album as well since they broke up long before the album was even released. I’m happy to have a second album from them at all but will be forever sad that they will no longer be creating music together.

6. Can’t Hold Us by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

You may recall that I predicted “Can’t Hold Us” as the song of the summer. Though it was definitely up there it eventually got eclipsed by Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” with Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” as a close second. I loathe “Blurred Lines” and quickly got tired of “Get Lucky” even though I did like it. Despite its heavy radio airplay as perhaps third in the summer song lineup I never tired of “Can’t Hold Us”. I still listen to it every time it comes on and love dancing around to it. It’s a great song with a great beat and the one real pop song that makes my top 10.

7. Another Story by The Head and the Heart

“Another Story” is a late entry into my top 10 songs of the year as The Head and the Heart’s sophomore album Let’s Be Still, which this song comes from, wasn’t released until mid-October. Although I also adore “Shake”, the first single off of the album, I ultimately chose “Another Story”. They wrote the song in response to the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut which makes the song horribly heartbreaking once you know that’s what the lyrics are about. It’s a beautiful response to a horrible situation.

8. Tether by Chvrches

I knew I wanted to include a Chvrches song in my top 10 picks, but I wasn’t sure which one. I love their album, The Bones of What You Believe, but I don’t think I have a stand-out favorite song from it. I sort of played eeny-meeny-miney-mo between “Tether”, “Gun”, and “We Sink” and came up with “Tether”. So here you go.

9. If I Loved You by Delta Rae

I love the story in this song of a woman who wishes she could love someone as much as he loves her, but she just doesn’t. My mom said she thought it would make a great plot for a romance book. She’s a romance writer so I told her to get on it.

10. Young Fathers by Typhoon

A hugely wonderful song from a huge band. When I say huge I am in fact referring to the number of people in the band, which fluctuates somewhere between 12 and 14 people. When I originally wrote about this song I talked about how I love the juxtaposition of the happy music with the depressing lyrics. I stand by that. This song brings me much joy despite the fact that the lyrics should probably make me want to throw myself off a building out of hopelessness.

 

If/Then at the National Theatre November 19, 2013

Filed under: Pop Culture,Theatre — dwhren @ 8:27 am

Saturday night Paul and I headed down to DC to see If/Then at the National Theatre. We got enjoy dinner with our friends Ed and Kate, who live in DC, prior to the performance. We don’t see them that often so it was nice to get a chance to catch up with them in person rather than social media for a change.

If/Then is currently in an out-of-town tryout run in DC prior to heading to Broadway where it will enter previews there starting in March. The show stars Idina Menzel, who was in the original Broadway cast of Rent and who won a Tony for her performance as Elphaba in Wicked. If you aren’t familiar with theatre, but watch Glee you may also know her as the woman who played Rachel’s mom. The show also stars Anthony Rapp, who co-starred in the original Broadway production of Rent with Menzel. I saw Rent during its run in the West End in London. Many of the original cast members went over for its initial run including Rapp, but Menzel wasn’t one of them so I was excited to finally see her in a live performance. I was not disappointed in that at all. She was amazing as I expected. In fact I would say that most of the cast was good and doing the best with what they had to work with, which is where there are issues. Many, many issues. This show definitely needs some work before it transitions to Broadway. I doubt anyone involved with the show will read this post, but just in case I have some notes for you.

The premise of the show is kind of a Sliding Doors-esque story in which Menzel’s character Elizabeth makes a choice that sets her life on one trajectory and in an alternate storyline makes a different choice and sends her life off onto a different path. Even though I knew that was the premise going into the show I totally did not pick up on when the split in the stories happened right away and kept waiting for that to happen only to realize a song or two later that it had happened. Then I spent much of the rest of the first act trying to figure out what pieces of the story went with which timeline. Did she meet this guy in the same timeline as this job or not? Is her friendship with this other guy possibly more than that with this other job? It was all very confusing for awhile. If your audience can’t figure out what you’re doing even when they’re expecting it, then you have a problem. And I definitely wasn’t the only one. I overheard many conversations during intermission indicating the same thing. At least I was better off than the person sitting behind me who apparently only figured out that there were two story lines during the final song of Act I. Yikes!

They did try to differentiate the two story lines, but obviously not well enough. First, in one story line Menzel’s character is referred to as Beth and the other one as Liz. Since her name isn’t used all the time and I wasn’t necessarily thinking this is super important to keep track of at the beginning, I missed it. Each scene when the timelines changed there would be some backlighting at the start of the scene in red for one timeline and in blue for other. I honestly would never have caught on to that except for the guy behind us mentioning it at intermission. I then was able to notice it during the second act, but had it not been for that guy’s comments I never would have picked up on it. I think they need to do something a bit more obvious with her character like pull her hair back or put her in different colored blazers based on which timeline she’s in to make it more obvious. I think the other problem is that the split occurs in the middle of a song that then goes back and forth between the two stories that at that point were not differentiated enough for me to pick up on that was what was happening. I literally thought we were just in different days in the same timeline. It would be more helpful I think if they had a single song or scene for one timeline and then made it abundantly clear that she made a different decision that sent her off into another direction in an entirely different scene.

The inability to follow the story is only one of this show’s problems though. Aside from one or two songs I thought that many of the songs in the show sounded too much alike and they were pretty much all very forgettable. Additionally, for a show with two former Rent cast members there were too many things that felt like they were drawn from Rent. Hey Anthony Rapp’s character is a squatter fighting off the building of some commercial building and fighting for the rights of people who can’t afford to live in New York City. Wonder where I’ve seen that before? Also there were multiple conversations between two of the secondary characters who happened to be lesbians where one of them cheats on the other and claims to love the other one but also really likes having sex with other people. Hmm, sound familiar to anyone else?

With a running time of 2 hours and 45 minutes including intermission the show is also just too long for what it is. I was getting antsy about 20 minutes before it ended, and I wasn’t the only one. I saw someone in front of me pull out their phone and check the time at about the same point. I could certainly recommend some scenes that could easily be cut without changing the story too much. It needs to be tightened up a little bit.

There was also a set malfunction during our performance. One scene is set in Idina Menzel’s apartment which has multiple rooms on a stage that can rotate as she moves through them. At one point she moves from one room into the bathroom except that when she moved and started to sing the next song she got about half a line in and realize the stage wasn’t actually stopping and thus she spun right past the audience and was singing into the wings. She just started cracking up and walked back around to the front. She handled it all with aplomb. She kept the audience entertained for a couple minutes while they figured things out and then jumped right back into character to continue on with the show. I was highly amused that as she was about to start she decided to reset the scene for the audience by saying now imagine I was just kissing a really hot guy who wasn’t my husband, totally referring to her actual husband Taye Diggs, who is indeed a really hot guy.

For as much criticism as I’ve thrown at the show in this blog post I didn’t hate it. I think it has some potential, but it’s definitely not there yet. I enjoyed Menzel’s performance immensely, and if nothing else I hope they figure things out to give the show a decent run on Broadway just so people can enjoy her in live theatre again.