Most Memorable Pop Culture of 2013

It’s time once again for my list of my most memorable pop culture experiences of 2013. As you may recall from last year  this is not a top pop culture list. I’m not ranking anything nor even saying these are necessarily the best pieces of pop culture from any given category. They simply are the one or two things in each category that have stuck with me the most from the past year for whatever reason. You can argue artistic merit until the cows come home on your top 10/20/whatever lists. I’ll be here writing about the things that touched me enough in some way that I want to share them with you.

Movie I Saw in a Theatre

There are still a few movies I’m hoping to see in the theatre before the end of the year if time allows, so maybe I’ll have to amend my choice here before all is said and done. This is the problem with posting these things before the year is completely over I guess. Up to this point though I was going back and forth between 20 Feet From Stardom and Before Midnight, two movies I saw this summer that I absolutely loved. Since one is a documentary and one is a film I feel like I can easily include both without violating any non-existent rules about choosing only one item for each category. 20 Feet From Stardom, which I wrote about earlier in the year, is a delightful documentary about backup singers. I really can’t recommend it highly enough especially if you are a fellow lover of music. Of course I still recommend watching it even if you don’t consider yourself a music aficionado because it is a great film in its own right.

I don’t think I anticipated the release of any movie this year as much as I did the movie Before Midnight. It’s the third in a series of films, the first two being Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. The first two films were so beautiful and lovely in letting us spend a few hours with these characters at certain points in their lives just popping in and out to see where they are and what kind of relationship if any they still have. This film had a slightly different sensibility than the first two expanding the universe of characters slightly such that we spent more time with them in a group setting as opposed to the previous films in which for the most part they were the only two characters. It felt completely perfect for where these characters would be 9 years after the end of Before Sunset. As with each previous film was happy with the time we got to spend with them and don’t necessarily feel like they need another film in 9 years, but I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to it if they decide to add a fourth movie to the series.

Movie I Watched at Home

I either didn’t watch very many movies at home this year or none of the ones I watched were very memorable as I had really hard time coming up with a single movie to list in this category. I finally remembered that I watched Pitch Perfect on the plane home from ALA Midwinter. I remember being extremely delighted by that movie and grinning a whole bunch while watching it. So even though it really is literally the only movie I can remember watching outside of a movie theatre at this point I feel strongly that it is probably also the one I would put on this list even if I could remember any other ones. I wrote a full review of the movie after watching it that you can read if you want. 

Fiction Book

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell was an easy pick for my favorite fiction book of the year. Going back through the list of books I read this year I realized I actually read a lot of really good books in 2013. I can’t always say that. I adored Fangirl though and distinctly remember literally not being able to put it down. I was reading it the same day as my annual Preakness Party and instead of getting ready for the party like I should have been I was sitting on the couch glued to this book. I know everyone is citing Eleanor and Park also by Rainbow Rowell as one of their favorite books of the year, and even though I did enjoy that as well there was something about Fangirl that I liked even more. You can read my full review here if you want.

Non-Fiction Book

Teaching the Cat to Sit by Michelle Theall was the non-fiction book I read this year that I loved the most. I’ve become disenchanted with memoirs in recent years, but this one was fantastic. The writing was some of the best and most engaging I’ve read in a long time. It’s not something you often find in memoirs, which if you’re lucky have halfway decent writing to along with what is hopefully a compelling story. In this case the story itself kept me interested and the writing was superb and left me unable to put the book down. I had a galley of this book, so perhaps it’s cheating a little bit to include it here since it’s actual publication date isn’t until February 25 of 2014. I did read it in 2013 though, so I’m including. Just go ahead and pre-order yourself a copy and get a nice surprise when it shows up for you in a couple months.

TV Show

2013 was the year of excellent shows with the word black in the title. I was unable to choose between Orange is the New Black and Orphan Black. Of the Netflix original programming that I’ve watched, which also includes House of Cards and the new episodes of Arrested Development, Orange is the New Black is by far the best show. Based loosely on the memoir by the same name it begins with a focus on Piper, who is a well off white woman sent to prison on a drug trafficking charge from long ago in her past. The early episodes are about her adjustment to prison, but they quickly shift to focus more on the other characters in the show providing stories for them in prison as well as providing glimpses of their back stories. I flew through the 13 episodes of season 1 and am now eagerly awaiting whenever they release season 2.

Orphan Black was another delightful surprise of a television show. Its first season aired after Doctor Who in the spring. I figured it was at least worth checking out, but little did I suspect how much I would love this show. It revolves around a series of clones all played brilliantly by Tatiana Maslany. The characters have all recently figured out that they are clones and are trying to find out who created them and who is potentially trying to kill them off. The first season was excellent from start to finish. I hope that they manage to keep it up in the second season. I always worry a little with shows like this because plotlines start to get convoluted as writers continue to try and keep of suspense and play out the story. I will give them the benefit of the doubt at this point though and look forward to what will hopefully be an equally as excellent season 2.

TV Episode

My pick for most memorable TV episode of the year is far and away from anything that would probably ever be considered the best TV episode of the year. If I was going on artistic merit and all out brilliantness I would probably like every other person in the world choose “Ozymandius” from Breaking Bad. Unlike everyone else on the planet I didn’t really care much for that show, but even I recognize how amazing that episode was and would count it as the best of the series. However, I am not a television critic and I don’t have to judge the things I like based on artistic merit or how brilliant they were in the grand scheme of the television landscape. Instead I can choose things that I enjoyed watching, made me happy, and that I’m inclined to rewatch. Based on that criteria I’m choosing “In the Wind”, White Collar Season 4 Episode 16. This episode is still sitting on my DVR and I’ve watched it more than once. I admit of all of Neal’s love interests over the years Sara was my favorite so I love the proposal scene in this episode even though it wasn’t really for real. Or was it? At any rate this episode presumably saw the last of Hilarie Burton playing Sara Ellis, which makes me sad because I liked that character and her relationship with Neal so much. I am not sold on Rebecca his new love interest for this season. So I’ll just keep rewatching this episode and think about what could have been.


A few weeks ago I did a list of my top 10 songs of 2013. If I was forced to choose one song from the list to put here I would probably have to go with “Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Unlike the rest of the songs on my list “Can’t Hold Us” was the one pop song and thus the one song that got played over and over again on commercial radio not to mention the advertising and television shows it was used in. For a song to get so much play such that you can’t escape hearing it usually means even if I once liked it I eventually get so tired of hearing it I can’t stand it anymore. So far that has not happened with this song, which means it has great staying power. Because they are so ubiquitous I can more easily identify pop songs with certain years and events that were going on in my life at the time. When I hear this song down the road in future years it will be the song that reminds me of 2013 for sure.


I knew back in the summer when this album came out that Southeastern by Jason Isbell was going to be my album of the year. Many wonderful albums that I loved have come out since then, but I was right that nothing was able to unseat Southeastern as the album I loved the most this year. I have definitely listened to it more times than any other album I purchased during 2013. Isbell sings what I would probably categorize as alt-country, but musical categories get very fuzzy to me so I could be wrong. He was the lead singer of the Drive-By-Truckers for awhile and has also released some previous solo albums, but none of those are as poignant and as wonderful as this album. Many of the reviews I’ve read of this album over the year say things like Isbell has finally grown up with this album or something to that effect. This is the first album he has written since recently becoming sober and it shows. There is an openness and clarity to it that don’t exist in his previous albums. The songs are beautiful stories that make me well up when I hear them. The whole album is nothing short of a masterpiece in my view. Often even on albums I really like there is a song or two that I don’t care for that much. Not so with this album. Every song is brilliant. I would be hard pressed to choose a favorite song off it, but if I had to I would probably pick “Traveling Alone”, which includes vocals and fiddle by his now wife Amanda Shires. I got to see them play together at the Newport Folk Festival, which was lovely. I doubt she’ll be backing him in January when I see him at the 9:30 Club because she’s touring for herself right now so I’m glad I got to see them play together earlier this year. If you have yet to listen to this album I can not encourage you enough to do so now.


I included this category last year because I had a musical artist that I felt like I need to mention, but who wasn’t behind either my choice of song, album, or concert of the year. I wasn’t really sure who to include here at first, but wanted to stay consistent with the categories I included last year. After thinking about it though The Lone Bellow seemed the obvious choice. They are a Brooklyn based folk rock band that I first became aware of when the Newport Folk Festival started rolling out their lineup one by one towards the beginning of the year. They were either the first or second band announced so I immediately checked them out on Spotify and fell in love with their music. Shortly after that WXPN named them their Artist to Watch for the month just doubling up on the fact that this was a band I should be paying attention to. Then I kept hearing about them on NPR’s All Songs Considered. Soon it seemed they were being talked about in all the places I turn to for new music.

This actually leads perfectly into my next category of most memorable concert of the year. The Lone Bellow is amazing in concert. They are by far the band I saw the most live in 2013 having seen them 4 times over the course of the year. The first time was at WTMD’s First Thursdays concert, the second time they were opening for Brandi Carlile at Wolf Trap, the third time was at the Newport Folk Festival, and finally at Baltimore Soundstage.


I saw a lot of amazing live music this year and of course could easily list either Firefly or the Newport Folk Festival as my most memorable concert since they encompass lots of acts, but that feels disingenuous. Thus I limited myself to thinking about those festivals in terms of individual sets. Once I did that there was no doubt that my most memorable concert was The Lone Bellow at the Newport Folk Festival. Their set was everything I love about live music. They had the crowd completely into it. Parts of it seemed spontaneous. They were obviously extremely excited to be up on the stage. They played some fun covers as well as all of their own music that I love. I wrote a lot more about it at the time, which you can read if you want. There’s really no way to adequately describe the powerful feelings evoked by an amazing live show in words, so just know that it was the best experience I had in live music all year.

Broadway Theatre Production

I really thought that I saw more shows on Broadway than I actually did this year. Partly I guess because one of the times I normally would have seen a Broadway show we saw Sutton Foster do cabaret at Cafe Carlyle instead. Even though its a Broadway actress singing mostly show tunes in New York, I don’t think it really counts. I did love it though. Thus I was limited to choosing between First Date and Pippin. Now I know the easy choice here should be the much acclaimed production of Pippin and while I did love it I’m going to go with First Date here. I went in to that show with very low expectations. The reviews had all panned it, and even before that I wasn’t really expecting it to be anything great. I enjoyed it so very much though. It definitely isn’t high art, but it delighted me throughout. I think it got somewhat of a bum rap so I am here to defend it even though it’s closing so I’m far too late for that I guess. Besides it was great fun seeing my TV boyfriend Zachary Levi in his Broadway debut. Hopefully he’ll do more theatre in the future.

Baltimore Theatre Production

This was an easy one. In the spring of last year Centerstage produced what they called The Raisin Cycle, which were productions of Bruce Norris’ play Clybourne Park and Kwame Kwei-Armah’s Beneatha’s Place playing in repertory. The Tony Award winning Clybourne Park is a response to Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. In response to both of these plays Centerstage’s artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah wrote Beneatha’s Place. Both plays were wonderful and in combination extremely poignant. PBS even did a documentary film based on the production as part of their Fall Arts Festival. Centerstage always puts on great productions, but in large part to the Raisin Cycle I thought last season was one of the strongest I’ve experienced (the only show I didn’t really care for was the one about Edgar Allen Poe).

Podcast Episode

Picking my most memorable podcast episode was easy as well. Hands down it was the return of Extra Hot Great. I loved this podcast and was super sad when they ended it when Dave and Tara moved from New York to LA. They said at the time they didn’t envision a great podcast experience if they tried to do something with Joe remotely. Fast forward a little over a year and despite what the previously said they rebooted the podcast in support of their new website They added a fourth host in Sarah D. Bunting who guested frequently on the original podcast and who is one of the fellow editors. In addition to adding Bunting to the roster the focus of the podcast shifted slightly from covering all of pop culture, which was mostly movies and television, to strictly focusing on television as a tie in to their television based website. That was actually a welcome change to me in some respects given that I just don’t make it to see that many movies, so often in the original version of the podcast they were discussing movies I either hadn’t seen yet or was unlikely to see. I am much more of a television junkie so this shift suited me nicely. The podcast has already changed a little bit with the loss of Joe as a regular member of the podcast team. I’m happy for him in that he now has a regular day job and isn’t piecing together a living doing freelance work, but I miss his regular presence on the podcast. I still love it though, and am super happy that it’s back.

I also feel like I need to mention Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance on the Nerdist podcast as well. I don’t care that much about My Chemical Romance, but there was just something about this conversation with Gerard Way that I loved. I remember listening to it and thinking this is one of the best podcast episodes I can remember. I can’t even really pinpoint why, but I wasn’t the only one. My friend Lindsey, who also listens to the Nerdist podcast, asked me if I had heard it yet shortly after it came out because she too loved it so much.

Songs I Love: Open by Rhye

I first came across the song “Open” by Rhye back around the time of SXSW. It was a song that was making the lists of some of the best stuff coming out of SXSW. I really liked it and listened to it a bunch earlier in the year, but then it kind of fell off my radar. It never got any radio play, at least that I heard, even on the non-commercial radio stations I listen to. Thus it just got lost in my huge collection of music. Then a few weeks ago all the best of 2013 music lists started coming out and this song and/or the album it’s from kept popping up all over the place, at least in the places I look to for music. Obviously it’s not making any pop charts. Now that I’ve been reminded of it I can’t stop listening to it. If I’m not listening to Christmas music, then I’m pretty much listening to this song on repeat.

It’s actually the rare song that both  my husband and I like. If you drew a Venn diagram of our musical tastes the part where our circles overlap would be very tiny. He apparently also discovered this from SXSW. I let other people curate the music coming out of SXSW for me, but he literally downloads the entire multi-gigabyte release of music they put out every year and listens to it all deleting the stuff he doesn’t like. This song apparently made the cut.

The song itself is by the R&B group Rhye and despite what it sounds like is actually sung by Mike Milosh and not a woman. You can count me among the just about everyone who thought it was a woman singing the first time I heard the song. Pretty much every piece of commentary I’ve read or listened to about this song mentions that same experience. It’s an incredibly sexy and kind of ethereal sounding song. It’s wonderful, and I love it.

Christmas Book Club

Last night was the December meeting of one of my book clubs. Normally we try to read a Christmas themed book during December, but that didn’t happen this year. Our assigned month timing got pushed off a month when our fundraiser meeting that was supposed to happen in October didn’t get pulled together until November, which pushed everyone back a month in their hosting duties. The person who was originally supposed to host November and thus wound up hosting December is new to the book club and no one told her that we try and pick a Christmas book. Plus she may not have been thinking Christmas thoughts since she was originally supposed to host in November not December. We wound up reading Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling). Opinions on the book were mixed. I personally didn’t care for it that much and thought it was slow, but some people really liked it. You can look for my full review on my book blog at some point in the near future.

In order to add a little Christmas cheer to book club since our book wasn’t holiday themed I suggested that we do a white elephant book exchange. I thought it was fun at least and will suggest we do it again in future years even though I came home with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, which I read long ago. Hopefully some other people went home with a book new to them that they will enjoy reading. Since we wound up eating at Rocket to Venus, which is right across the street from the big Christmas lights display on 34th Street I also suggested we go walk over and look at the lights after dinner. Unfortunately I think because of said lights as well as the Ravens game the restaurant was packed even on a Monday night and they were not really prepared for it. Service was lousy and it took forever for us to get our food. Then it didn’t come out all at the same time. I apologize to the other Danielle in book club who has apparently acquired my bad restaurant luck by name association. I am always the person whose food goes missing or gets the wrong order. We were speaking as the royal Danielle last night though, so perhaps that was the problem. We were sitting in what we dubbed the Danielle corner of the booth. Also after a discussion of how good the Brussels sprouts are at Rocket and both of us saying we don’t like them, I proclaimed that “The Danielles do not like Brussels sprouts.” I realize all of this probably falls under the only funny if you were there category, but I’m amused so that’s all that matters.

Thanks to dinner taking so long we pretty much lost everyone in regards to looking at the lights because people wanted to get home. Even though they’re only a couple blocks from my house I hadn’t bothered to walk over and see them yet. I know I’ll be down there on New Year’s Eve for their ball drop, but it’s always so crowded it’s not like you can really see the lights at that point, so I figured this was my one chance. My friend Tracie was parked on the other side of them so I walked through with her on the way to her car before I turned around and walked home. There seemed to be a number of new displays this year so I don’t know if new people moved in to those houses or if the people living there just decided to update.

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Pope Francis

I’ve actually thought off and on about writing something about Pope Francis here on my blog, but never wound up doing it. I figure with the announcement this week that Time has named him their Person of the Year now is a good time. For anyone who doesn’t know, although I consider myself a Christian I am not Catholic. Ultimately I have a number of problems with the Catholic Church and the earthly hierarchy of people they place between humans and God. However, as far as popes go so far I have been very impressed with Pope Francis. As I am not a Catholic I really can’t speak super intelligently on the matter, but at least from where I’m sitting he seems to pointing the Catholic Church in the right direction with what seems to be a more inclusive focus towards people who have been shunned by the church as well as emphasizing social justice above all things.

I suppose I shouldn’t be entirely surprised given his Jesuit background. I work for a Jesuit university and have been nothing but impressed by the things focused on here. Jesuits from what I understand are very much into education and social justice issues, and both of things are very much emphasized where I work. I feel like these Jesuit values pervade the institution and I am often proud to be associated with the work they are doing. The Catholic Church is a very visible face of Christianity in this world, so even though it’s not my personal religion I appreciate any efforts that make me think that it might be starting to strive to fulfill Jesus’ mission a little better than I personally think they have been.

Best Christmas Commercial Ever

The past few years I have done a 25 Days of Christmas thing where I’ve counted down my favorite Christmas songs and Christmas movies. I’m not entirely sure what my theme would have been for this year if I had time, but I did not. With Thanksgiving so late this year we are only around for 2 weekends before Christmas and there just didn’t seem to be enough time to get things done let alone dedicate time to make sure there was a blog post to put up every day. Of course spending the first 4 weekdays of December in jury duty and then coming home to do work that I couldn’t do during the day because of said jury duty also limited my ability to think about Christmasy things. Maybe if I had started way ahead and drafted up a bunch of stuff in November I could have done it, but I didn’t so here we are.

I didn’t want Christmas cheer to be totally absent from my blog this year though, so I present to you the best Christmas commercial ever made. I am sure you will agree it’s the Hershey Kiss ringing bell ad. I just looked it up and apparently the ad has been around each Christmas since 1989. I can’t think of a single other commercial that has essentially remained unaltered and returned every year. There’s some other Christmas ads that stick around a few years or get remakes of some sort like the Folgers one that many people think is creepy though I don’t. This ad is perfect though. It’s simple. It completely evokes the season, and it is made such that it can be the timeless classic that it has become. As long as Hershey’s doesn’t change what a Hershey’s Kiss looks like there is no reason this ad can’t run forever. There are no crazy fashions or things that will begin to look outdated. It’s perfect. So kudos to the ad execs that came up with this one. You done good.

The Hippodrome

You hear so many horrible customer service stories that I wanted to take a moment to stop and appreciate the excellent service I have always gotten from The Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore. My husband I have had season tickets there since 2007. One of the great perks of being a season ticket holder is getting to change our tickets for another night if something comes up and we can’t attend a performance on our originally scheduled date. We take advantage of this a lot and the people in the box office have always been super helpful. A couple of years ago I had to change a ticket for Les Miserables, which was a very popular and almost sold out run. The woman in the box office, whose name I sadly don’t remember, wouldn’t change my ticket the night we initially tried to do it because she said she refused to put me in the obstructed view seat that would still result in me paying an upcharge but was the only one she could find at the time for the performance I wanted to attend. Instead she took my information, hunted me down a much better seat and called me the next day to put me in a fifth row center seat.

They were also great when one year while booking our season tickets online my husband didn’t double check our order and reserved us seats we didn’t want. They easily fixed everything for us and put is the seats we actually wanted. The year we completely missed a performance of How the Grinch Stole Christmas because the start time was different than every other show we’ve been to, which was completely our fault, they didn’t blink an eye about rebooking our tickets for us on another night.

This past Sunday I was sad that we had to miss our performance of White Christmas because we felt that the amount of ice on the roads around our house made it too dicey to travel to the theatre. Their performance still went on, which I get. It was the final performance of the run and it was actually great that they kept it going for people who were able to make it to the theatre to enjoy. I tweeted about the fact that I was bummed that I was missing it, but didn’t expect anything to result from it. It was my choice not to attend and seeing as how it was the last performance of the show in Baltimore there wasn’t any way they could rebook me for another night. There were a lot of people complaining on their Facebook page in idiotic ways about how the theatre was being greedy and irresponsible for not canceling or rescheduling the show. They obviously don’t get that the performance is done by a touring company that probably has another city to be in the next day so they can’t just reschedule it. I was just rolling my eyes at those people, and while sad to miss it was not in any way holding the Hippodrome responsible for it. I was pleasantly surprised then to receive a direct message on Twitter in response to my tweet asking me to send them my phone number so they could call and talk to me about my missed performance. I have no idea if they just reached out to people who said something on social media or if they literally contacted every person who didn’t attend the performance, but either way good on them. Someone called me yesterday and offered me additional tickets to Peter and the Starcatcher, one of the shows in our package, or tickets to one of the performances that were outside our ticket package, Blue Man Group or West Side Story. Though I’m sure I could have found friends to take the additional tickets to Peter and the Starcatcher I selfishly went with tickets to West Side Story because I don’t think my husband cares that much for stuff like Blue Man Group. I’ve seen both before and it didn’t matter much to me. I do enjoy West Side Story though, so I guess I’ll enjoy it one more time come April. The Hippodrome certainly went above and beyond in this instance, and it’s one of the many reasons I am happy to continue to subscribe to their Broadway series every year even though I sometimes have already seen half the shows on actual Broadway.

Pop Culture Happy Hour Live

Last night was NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast’s second live taping. You may recall that about this same time last year they held their first live taping in conjunction with the NPR Sale-a-bration, in which they were selling a bunch of NPR swag at a discount before vacating their old building. My husband and I went down for that one and if you remember my comments on it from last year, though it was super fun the logistics of it were not great. Now that NPR has moved in to their new headquarters there is an actual space in the building for events such as this, so last night’s experience was approximately one million times better than last year’s.

This time I attended with my friends Heather and Karen. Luckily for me Heather was right on top of finding out if I wanted to go when they announced that they were doing this and that tickets were on sale. I was away at a conference at the time and since the tickets sold out in about 10 hours I probably would have missed out on it if Heather hadn’t alerted me to the fact that it was happening and prompted me to get tickets right away. I’m glad it all worked out because I would have been super sad to not get to go.

Luckily the weather cooperated for us too. It seemed for awhile like bad weather might impact plans for the podcast taping, but remember how I was saying the other day that meteorologists in Maryland have no idea how to forecast winter weather? Well that was the case yesterday as well. Instead of getting way more snow than predicted as we did on Sunday, yesterday they were predicting 4-6 inches and we maybe got 1 inch. Mostly it was just melting or turning into a slushy mess so I’m not really sure how much actually fell. The roads at any rate stayed completely fine. Since people in these parts panic over even the forecast of a tiny amount of snow most schools were closed as was the federal government, which was super great for us because it meant the drive from Baltimore to DC close to rush hour was a breeze. So thanks horrible weather forecasters and panicy government for shutting down for the day. You improved my evening immensely.

We made it down to DC in plenty of time to grab dinner before heading over to the NPR headquarters for the podcast taping. They have a very nice lobby area where they were selling food and drink, and they had little tables set up for people to stand around. The NPR shop was open as well for all your NPR swag needs including new Pop Culture Happy Hour swag. I got say hi to my friends Ed and Kate, who were there as well, while we were waiting for the taping to start.

The new studio area for recording events is great. There were just chairs on the floor in the front and then some tiered seating the back. I’m horrible at things like this, but my guess would be it holds a couple hundred people. There was also a stage area in the front where the participants were seated so that we could actually see them this time. They actually wound up taping two separate podcasts last night, so that was a treat. The first one was one designed in their typical format with two topical segments followed by what’s making them happy this week. The second podcast was split into two segments. The first was a series of quizzes featuring a lot of special guests that you will recognize if you have listened to the podcast in the past. I won’t say who here so as not to ruin it for anyone who has to wait to listen to the podcast when it comes out in a few weeks. During the second segment they did a Q&A with the audience allowing people to get up and ask them questions.

Both episodes were great fun. I laugh a decent amount at the podcast even when I’m listening to it on my own at the gym, which I sometimes feel like makes other people at the gym think I’m slightly crazy, but adding in lots of other people laughing with you and the energy of a live event made things even more hilarious last night. It was also fun to be able to actually see everyone instead of just hear them and see all their faces and gestures that you obviously don’t know are going on when you’re just listening at home. It makes me wonder how much we’re missing out on every week with only an audio track and no video track. Not that I’m advocating turning it into a vidcast as I would have no time to consume that.

After the show Linda, Trey, Glen, and Stephen stuck around to sign things and meet people who wanted to meet them. Heather and Karen stood in line to get some stuff signed and say hi to everyone. I chose to spend that time perusing the NPR shop because I am no good at things like that. I would definitely fail at attending any kind of con. I sometimes feel like I barely know what to say to people I’m friends with let alone trying to strike up a conversation with people I only know from podcasts or whatever. I totally side with Glen Weldon on this one. I am showing my support by buying tickets to your thing or buying your book, album, or whatever. I have no idea what I would say to you in actual person other than dumbly saying I like your thing. I did once strike up a horribly awkward (on my part) conversation with Trey Graham at a wedding we were both at, which strengthened my resolve that I am super lousy at being a fan of people. I suspect he was super happy that they started the toasts and he could walk away without seeming like he was trying to escape from talking to me. I’m sure he would graciously say that isn’t the case, but I wouldn’t hold it against him if it was true because I know I’m no good at things like that. This is also why I have never despite his encouragements to do so gone up to Stephen Thompson and said hi at the Newport Folk Festival. I’ll be the happy introvert over here in the corner enjoying your thing at a distance.

Anyway, it was a super fun night and I look forward to going again in the future assuming they hold more live tapings.

Picture of 3 women in front of a Pop Culture Happy Hour sign
Karen, Heather, and I. They make me look like a midget.

Holiday Weekend Fun

This weekend was supposed to full of holiday fun. Saturday definitely was, but lousy weather conspired to ruin my Sunday plans. Every year for the past 10 years one of my groups of friends has held a “Winter Wonderland” party at some point during December. For the past 9 years we have rented out the upstairs room at Max’s Taphouse, a great beer bar in Baltimore. Alas, times have changed. We have all gotten older. We don’t drink as much, and many of my friends now have kids so continuing to hold the party at a bar wasn’t really a good option for us anymore. After we had such great success at holding our friend’s surprise 40th birthday party at the Women’s Industrial Kitchen we decided it would make a fine replacement venue. We had a great time with lots of delicious food. Though the main food of the party was catered several us brought desserts. In my continued efforts to bake my way through my Booze Cakes cookbook I brought eggnog cream cupcakes. They were delicious.

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This party also always features a white elephant gift exchange. Paul and I managed to be the last two people choosing gifts so we got our pick of the lot and thus came home with some actually pretty decent presents as opposed to some of the crap we have brought home in the past. I often just stuff it away in a cupboard and wrap it back up to bring the next year. The gift I brought this year was definitely recycled from last year. This year I got seasons 1 and 2 of The Shield and Paul got four of the Harry Potter movies, so not too shabby.

Since we were already downtown I decided it would be fun to walk down to the Inner Harbor to check out all the holiday fun going on there. This year for the first time they have a German Christmas Market set up, which I wanted to check out. I have never been to an actual Christmas Market in Germany, but I have been to one in Chicago and this was pretty pathetic in comparison to that. I’m sure it is laughable compared to the ones actually in Germany. There are some outdoor stalls you can visit for free, but if you want to go to the indoor area you have to pay a cover charge on the weekends. It’s still free during the week. I think it’s normally $5, but when we were there they were doing dollar days for attractions in the Inner Harbor so it was only $1. I would say it was worth $1, but I’m not sure it would have been worth $5. There are more stalls on the inside as well as some tables for you to enjoy your food and drink at. There was also a band playing. One would expect they would either have been playing Christmas music or German music, but one would be wrong. As my friend Darra said nothing gets you more in the mood for Christmas than the listening to the song “Doin’ the Butt”. I’m not sure what was up with that. I imagine they have different bands cycling through though so perhaps if you go you’ll get someone a little more festive.

The past few years they have also done a light show on Power Plant buildings in the Inner Harbor at the top of every hour in the evenings. We rarely go to the Inner Harbor and had not been down there to see it. It’s definitely not worth making a special trip for as it only lasts about 5 minutes, but I’m glad we were down there to see it once. You can kind of see the fireworks shooting off one of the buildings in this picture. We were watching from across the harbor closer to the German Market. It probably would have been better if we were closer and could have heard the accompanying music.

2013-12-07 19.02.20The other fun thing going on in the Inner Harbor on Saturday night was the annual Lighted Boat Parade. We tried to watch it one year from Fell’s Point and it was not enjoyable. I’m not sure what happened that year. The boats seemed to be few and far between. I’m not sure if we just didn’t wait long enough for them to get close to us or if they had gotten too separated from each other, but it was freezing cold and I was tired of waiting to see what only seemed to amount a couple of boats with lights sailing by at quite a distance. I assume it is actually a viable place to watch normally given how many people were down there waiting to watch, but based on this year’s experience the Inner Harbor is a much better place to see it from. This year was much, much better and I’m happy that our time down there coincided with getting to see the boats. Based on this year’s experience I might actually try to go again in future years. Here are some pictures of some of the boats.

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I wouldn’t necessarily say that any of these events was worth making a special trip to the Inner Harbor for, but in combination it was a great evening activity. Also if you’re already in the Inner Harbor for some reason you might as well check out the light show or Christmas Market. Obviously you missed the boat parade for this year, but there’s always future years for that.

Sunday was supposed to continue my holiday fun with Baltimore’s Mayor’s Christmas Parade and tickets to see White Christmas at the Hippodrome. Sadly stupid snow and ice ruined our plans for both of those activities. My friend Carissa had a pre-parade brunch planned, which still went on despite the lack of the parade itself. It was a hot dish (i.e. casserole, in case you too are not from the midwest and had no idea what a hot dish was until it was explained to you) brunch, so everyone brought a delicious hot dish to share. Since I’m more of a baker I decided to bring a chocolate cherry croissant bread pudding. I had a lot of the cream that went in the cupcakes, so I’ll be honest and let everyone know that I cheated and instead of making the bourbon sauce that was supposed to go with the bread pudding I just brought the leftover cupcake cream. Everyone thought it was delicious and would never have known my secret if I wasn’t outing myself here.

2013-12-08 10.56.44Since there was no actual parade we went out and walked around the neighborhood and played in the snow for a little bit. Then we came back and the ladies worked on a puzzle while the gentleman watched football. I stuck around long enough to finish the first puzzle, but left before they started working on the second puzzle. I saw on Facebook that they finished that one too. It was fun, but I’m still sad that they canceled the parade for the first time in 41 years. It’s the best parade ever because it is so random and so fun. Macy’s has nothing on this parade. I’ll just console myself by looking at pictures from past years and thinking about what might have been.

As I mentioned we also had tickets to see White Christmas as part of our season ticket package to the Hippodrome in Baltimore. I gather that the show did go on, but looking at the sheet of ice that our street was at the time we were supposed to head out to the theatre we made the hard decision to stay home. As much as I wanted to see the show it wasn’t worth us getting in an accident over. It was the disappointing, but smart move.

Stupid winter weather of the worst kind. Winter weather is only good to me if it doesn’t ruin any fun plans, doesn’t occur on a weekend, and gets me out of work. This storm did none of those things for me, so it was the worst. Now I’m just hoping this second round of snow they’re starting to predict tomorrow doesn’t ruin my plans to go see a live taping of Pop Culture Happy Hour tomorrow night. Then I will be really mad. I’m not putting too much stock in forecasts just yet though. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the 13 years I have lived in Baltimore is that our meteorologists have no idea how to forecast winter storms here. I get that it’s very difficult because we’re usually positioned right along the rain and snow dividing line, but it does make their predictions seem laughable when we routinely get no snow when they’re predicting a lot or way more than expected. Take for example yesterday when we were told to expect about an inch of snow before it changed over to sleet and freezing rain. At our house we wound up getting about 5 inches of snow and those north of us got 8 or 9 inches. So I take all forecasts for snow and ice with a big heaping handful of ice melt.

The Sound of Music Live

If you have ever read this blog before you have to know that I watched every minute of NBC’s live production of The Sound of Music on Thursday night. I live tweeted some of my thoughts as well as shared something on Facebook at the time, but I decided I wanted to give it a more thoughtful analysis here on my blog. The ratings are now in and it was a big hit for NBC, which means maybe they’ll do something like this again in the future. I certainly hope they do as long as they learned a few things from this production. I don’t really think they will learn the things I want them to, but one can hope.

Obviously the biggest problem with this production were the leads in Carrie Underwood and Stephen Moyer. Neither of them were the right people to cast in these roles. Despite some of the snarky things I myself said on Twitter ultimately I feel bad for her. She was out of her element, and should not have been cast in the role. I think she knew it too, so I hope she somehow manages to avoid all the stuff people were saying about her. She is not an actor. She is a fine country singer, but too often she was not properly acquitting herself of the songs in this production. Broadway show tunes are just not designed the same way that pop songs are and you can’t sing them the same way. This was the same problem I had with Katherine McPhee on Smash. She’s a fine pop singer, but she doesn’t really know how to handle a Broadway song. For half the songs I felt like Carrie Underwood was just shouting at me. Not everything she sang was that way though, and when she calmed down and didn’t try to be overly belty she did a decent job.

Now let’s talk about Stephen Moyer, who I was whatever with on the singing. I wasn’t overly impressed, but nor did I have any huge problems with it. What I did have a problem with was the fact that he seemed overly angry throughout the entire production. The combination of that with Carrie Underwood’s poor acting gave them negative chemistry, and I never for a minute believed that they were possibly in love. There’s a scene where Laura Benanti as the Baroness stands at the top of the stairs watching with jealousy as they dance, and I was thinking this looks ridiculous. She is giving a great performance and acting like she’s supposed to, but there is not one single thing on display here that you should be acting that jealous about. See also when whichever kid it is (I can’t remember) tells Maria that Captain Von Trapp is in love with her I was like oh really? I hadn’t notice because literally I had not.

As expected though Laura Benanti as the Baroness, Audra McDonald as the Mother Abbess, and Christian Borle as Max Dettweiler were fantastic. The day I saw that Christian Borle was cast as Max I said I hadn’t thought of it myself, but I could not think of a more perfect person for the role. Their scenes were what made the entire show worth watching. I mean Audra McDonald’s rendition of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” alone was worth watching all 3 hours of this not-so-great production.

The real problem in my opinion is the need to cast people with some kind of star power outside of the theatre world because as much as I wish it wasn’t true being famous in the theatre does not mean you are a household name in probably 90% of America. Thus you end up with actors who can’t sing or singers who can’t act in major roles in movie and tv musicals. See Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia! (My ears still hurt) or Russell Crowe in Les Miserables for further examples beyond Carrie Underwood and Stephen Moyer. You throw them alongside a bunch of veteran theatre actors playing the secondary roles in these productions and you wind up with your stars just looking even worse. I understand the conundrum, but I often think there has to be better people who have both some modicum of talent for both singing and acting and have a big enough name to helm one of these productions.

I saw a lot of people saying things like no matter what it’s a win for theatre, and it’s exposing people to things they would never experience otherwise. They will see the fantastic performances from people like Audra McDonald and Laura Benanti and maybe fall in love with them and seek out more theatre or something like that. Maybe that’s true. Maybe some kid somewhere is now watching every video of Audra McDonald that he or she can find on YouTube. My fear is what might happen instead is that people did tune in either because they love The Sound of Music and wanted to see what this was going to be or because they like Carrie Underwood, but saw how not great it was and will now think this is as good as it gets and never bother to watch another theatre production again. I do hope it’s the former.

Also if NBC ever does try this again I beg of them to hire a different costume designer because really there are no words. The costuming may even have been worse than Carrie Underwood’s acting. The costumes were ugly and did not stay consistent. Why did Maria go from wearing an ugly dirndl to looking like a flight attendant in the 1960s back to a dirndl? And what was with all the shorts on the men? Egad!

The final issue I think was that many people based on what I was seeing do not understand that the original theatrical production of The Sound of Music and the movie version are not the same. NBC went with the theatrical production and I saw a lot of people complaining that they were screwing it all up. Ultimately I personally believe that NBC made the right call, but they probably also lost some people on any future productions they might try because of it.

This was an ambitious production on NBC’s part and I applaud them for it. I really do hope the ratings inspire them to try something else but with better casting.

I can’t embed it, but head over to NBC’s site to watch Audra McDonald’s incredible performance of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”. You won’t regret it. I promise.

Jury Duty

I spent the last 4 days of my life serving on a jury. This blog is dedicated to things that make me happy, so trust me there’s a lot about this experience that I will not be writing about it. This could definitely be a long ranty post about a fairly miserable experience, but instead I am going to focus on the few bright spots of the whole thing. For people who know me in real life I will be happy to talk all the details now that I’m free to talk about the case. I won’t be discussing case specifics here.

I have been summoned to jury duty before, but this is the first time I have ever actually been placed on a jury. The only trials I have ever seen are the fictional ones on television, so it was kind of interesting to actually see a real trial. Now that I’ve seen one I don’t really feel compelled to ever see another one, so feel free to never call me for jury duty ever again Baltimore City. As if I would ever be so lucky. I am also happy that the case though criminal was for something that was pretty straightforward and literally had no victims. I think it took some of the pressure off.

I am also happy about the other people who served on the jury with me. For reasons I won’t get into, partly because I actually don’t know the real answer as to why, this trial that was supposed to be done on Tuesday dragged on into Thursday with much of our time not actually in the trial but instead cooped up in a tiny jury room that the first two days was the approximate temperature of the sun. Despite the inconveniences everyone stayed very positive. There was minimal complaining, and actually a lot of laughter. One of the women there said she has served on 9 trials and this was by far the best group of people she has served with. One of my fellow jurors even brought in doughnuts for everyone Thursday morning.

There were six charges we had to decide on and we very quickly came into agreement on the 5 minor ones. The larger one we discussed for awhile, but in the long run pretty easily agreed that there was a reasonable doubt on that one. I felt like we gave the defendant a fair trial, and I am happy with the outcome. Now what would make me even happier would be if I never have to do this again.