More Than Meh

A blog about the good things of life.

Jason Isbell with Holly Williams at the 9:30 Club January 29, 2014

Filed under: Concerts,Music,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 1:36 pm

Last night I had the pleasure to see Holly Williams open for Jason Isbell at the 9:30 Club. At some point last fall I tweeted that the two albums I couldn’t stop listening to were Jason Isbell’s Southeastern and Holly Williams’ The Highway. So you can imagine my delight when I saw them on the bill together. Holly Williams actually replied to my tweet and agreed that Southeastern was an amazing album and said she was honored to be placed in such company. Obviously I know this isn’t what really happened, but in the bizarre concert fanfic I’m writing about this in my head someone who makes these things happen saw this exchange and made this pairing happen.

In case you somehow still doubt my excitement about this concert the fact that I even went should convince you. It’s been at least a decade since I’ve been to the 9:30 Club. This has nothing to do with the 9:30 Club as a venue other than the fact that I live in Baltimore and it’s in DC. That means it’s an hour drive away assuming I don’t hit bad traffic, which one can never assume when traveling from Baltimore to DC especially at the time of day one would normally leave to get to a concert. If I lived in DC I would probably be at the 9:30 Club at least once a week because so many bands I love play there. Sadly they almost always beat out Baltimore for concerts. (Jason Isbell did actually play in Baltimore last fall, but not with Holly Williams. Also I didn’t find out about it untl the week of and then couldn’t go because of a conflict). I have a hard enough time finding people to go with me to concerts when they’re actually in Baltimore, so finding someone to trek down to DC with me especially on a weeknight is almost impossible. I don’t mind going to concerts in Baltimore alone, but the thought of driving down to DC by myself just means it never happens. Hence why I haven’t been to the 9:30 Club in so long. Despite the fact that it was on a work night, I couldn’t pass up going to this concert. Since my husband doesn’t really care about going to concerts and our musical tastes don’t overlap very much I try to be judicious in the concerts I make him go to with me. I didn’t force this one on him, but he came with me because he knew I really wanted to go. I’m so happy I went because the concert was wonderful.

Holly Williams played a 45 minute opening set. She was up on the stage with another guitarist and someone playing the upright electric fiddle. Most of the songs she played were off her album, The Highway. She did a wonderful cover of John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery”. I love to see artists who are obviously in love with the music, and she obviously is. She spoke several times about how excited she was to be touring with Jason Isbell, and talked about how her song “The Highway” is basically her love letter to being out on the road touring. I also noticed that she had some autographs signed on her guitar, which I found extremely endearing. Best I could tell one of them was from Kris Kristofferson. I couldn’t make out any of the other ones. The whole set was great, but the highlight came with her final song, “Waiting on June”. It’s a song she wrote about her maternal grandparents. It is the first song I have ever heard an artist play at a concert that moved the audience to tears. I know my eyes certainly welled up, and that seemed to be the case for everyone around me as well. I saw plenty of people wiping tears from their eyes and when the song was done heard others talking about how it made them teary. It was just a beautiful moment. I hope I get to see Holly Williams some time again soon.

I have written about Jason Isbell many times on this blog in the past year naming “Stockholm” one of my favorite sons of 2013 and Southeastern as my favorite album. I also wrote about seeing him play at the Newport Folk Festival last year. I think I said at the time there isn’t anything particularly special about Isbell as a performer. He just plays some really great music. That I think held true for this concert as well. He joked around with the audience some and was definitely enjoying playing with the members of his band the 400 Unit, but he didn’t do anything especially noteworthy. That said there were some beautiful understated moments. Little looks between him and his wife Amanda Shires, who sometimes plays fiddle and sings backup for him or his attempt to jam with the keyboard player that resulted in some amusing movements from someone whose instrument is stationary on the stage. Speaking of Amanda Shires, she was a joy to watch. I loved seeing her start singing along to songs even when she was far from a mic and obviously not singing backup at the moment. It was usually just a half a line or something like that, but it was like she couldn’t keep herself from singing along.

I was happy to see that Amanda Shires was there. I wasn’t sure she would be as I know she’s been doing some touring of her own recently. I thought maybe Jason Isbell would have someone else playing the fiddle for him last night instead. At first I thought that was the case when she walked out on stage because she dyed her hair blonde, but it was her. There were two songs in the set that really stood out to me. The first was “Cover Me Up” which just felt incredibly intimate and beautiful with most of the rest of the band off the stage and Isbell and Shires playing together. The guy who I had been chatting with during the set change turned around to me at the end of that song and said “That was amazing.” because yeah it was. It definitely got an extended round of applause from the audience, so we weren’t the only ones thinking that. You can check out a performance of the song they did for Austin City Limits a few weeks ago.

The first song of the encore was performed only by Isbell and Shires and was a great cover of Warren Zevon’s “Mutineer”. Isbell mentioned they had been doing some shows in Europe that sounded like it was just the two of them together and they ended those shows with this song. I would love to see a show that was just them. Not that I don’t enjoy the whole band and the livelier songs because I do, but these are the songs that really stick with me.

Also I would like to give a special shout out to the fans at this show. It is the first standing room only show I can remember where I didn’t want to punch someone by the end of the night. We got there early enough that I was pretty much just one person behind the stage. This did not result in me being shoved into the person in front of me as a crush of people tried to move closer to the stage, which I normally expect to happen at a sold out show like this. I also did not wind up with any people who were not standing around me from the very beginning trying to shove their way in front of me even though they got there later than me. There were no crazy dancing people going way out of their allotted space and knocking into me nor any drunk people falling all over me. There also wasn’t anyone standing there taking a million pictures or videos on their phone such that I was watching the entire concert through their screen. So good on you Holly Williams and Jason Isbell fans for not doing a single one of the things that annoy me so much about standing room only concerts at least in my little corner of the venue.

 

Fun with Friends at ALA Midwinter January 28, 2014

Filed under: Friends,Life — dwhren @ 12:56 pm

This past Friday through Monday I headed up to Philadelphia for the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting. I know I never really write about what I do at these conferences here, but I swear that most of my time is actually spent doing work. Especially at Midwinter, which is all about committee meetings rather than conference sessions. I just don’t have that much interesting to say that anyone else would probably care to read about here, and honestly although I like what I do I’m not that interested in writing about it. If I wanted a professional librarian blog I would write one, so I stick to the more social stuff that I do when I travel for these conferences.

My oldest friends in the world lives outside of Philly. I mean Facebook has allowed me to reconnect with some people mostly virtually that I’ve technically known longer, but Erin is the friend that I’ve known the longest and continuously kept in touch with. We met when I moved to Massachusetts in middle school and stayed in contact even after my family moved to Texas a couple of years later. Then she lived with my family outside of Chicago the summer after our sophomore year in college (My parents moved a lot in the latter half of my childhood). I have no idea how or why we cooked up this scheme, but it was great to have her and our other friend Kim to hang out with since I was spending the summer in a place where I didn’t know anyone. Anyway having the conference in Philly meant that I could stay with Erin which both allowed me to save money by not having to pay for a hotel room and spend some time with her.

I drove up to Philly on Friday morning and got there in time to grab some lunch at Reading Terminal Market first. Conveniently I ran into my friend Alison by the registration booth when I checked in, so I wound up having a lunch date which I wasn’t expecting. After my meetings I headed out to the burbs. I had dinner out with Erin, her husband, and their 5 year old (as of next week) son. After everyone else went to bed Erin and I broke out some games. We spent many hours playing 500 rummy in our younger years. I hadn’t played in forever. My family plays lots of rummy games, but for some reason never that one. We had to remind ourselves how to play, but I think we had the rules mostly figured out. We also broke out real life Scrabble. I think we currently have something like 10 games going with each other online. I decided real Scrabble is too hard now. You can’t cheat by trying out words before you play. Plus you have to do math and add up all your own points.

I managed to score Erin a free pass to the exhibit hall so she could take advantage of all the free galleys that the publishers have. She went in with me on Saturday morning, and did some stuff on her own while I was in meetings. We met up Saturday afternoon and walked the exhibit hall together. We had already made plans previously to meet up with my friend Alison for dinner at Tinto. It turns out it was restaurant week, so the menu was limited but still delicious. Tinto is a tapas restaurant so we made sure to order different things so we could share and try a bunch of the stuff on the menu. Everything was delicious. After getting back to Erin’s house we wound up watching the pilot episode of Chuck for some reason. Even though I’m in the middle of a Veronica Mars rewatch and there are tons of other shows I’ve never seen that I want to watch, now I kind of want to do a rewatch of Chuck too. Maybe when I’m done with Veronica Mars.

In addition to friends I originally met in real life, library conferences are a great chance for to meet up in person with friends I’ve made with other librarians via Twitter. I thought I had managed to piece my schedule together so that I could manage to see several people, but best laid plans and all that. Apparently making plans with me at this conference was somewhat of a curse. My friend Janel, who I met via Twitter but have since hung out with in person a number of times, was originally supposed to meet me for dinner on Friday night but wound up not being able to come to the conference at all because she wound up having to attend a funeral instead. I was also supposed to meet for the first time another friend I have made via Twitter (who is anonymous on Twitter so shall stay anonymous here) over lunch on Sunday, but she got really sick while at the conference and needed whatever down time she could find to rest up to do the things she absolutely had to do. I was disappointed we didn’t wind up getting to meet in person this conference, but I completely understand. Hopefully they will both have less horrible things happening to them when we’re in Vegas for the annual conference in June.

Speaking of the power of Twitter, after I got the text Sunday that my original lunch date had to back out, I asked if anyone else wanted to take the other half of the reservation I had. Within minutes I had a replacement lunch date with another Twitter friend Jenny, who I had only met in person once before. It was good to catch up with her in person as well even though we originally hadn’t planned to meet up. Because I apparently decided to make it a Jose Garces restaurant weekend, lunch was at Garces Trading Company. It was restaurant week there as well and we again ordered so that we could split our food and try multiple things. Once again everything was delicious.

It was great to see so many people I rarely get to see (plus Alison who I see all the time). I look forward to the chance to see people again in Vegas this summer even if I’m less than thrilled about the prospect of Vegas in general and even less so about Vegas at the end of June.

 

Amazing Songs Playlist January 23, 2014

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

For the past 7 months I’ve been compiling a list of songs in a playlist on Spotify that I dubbed Amazing Songs. It’s a playlist of songs that have stood the test of time in my opinion. It’s not a playlist I sat down and tried to come up with songs to put on. Instead it’s a playlist I’ve been adding to as I come across songs that I love. That is the reason there are so few songs on it at the moment. I will continue to add to it as time goes on, but I was inspired to go ahead and finally put it out into the world by this very topic being addressed in NPR’s The Good Listener column this week, in which Stephen Thompson answers the question: How do you know if you’ll love a song forever?. The publication of this column conveniently coincided with me finally having enough songs that it makes sense to talk about my playlist, so here we are.

There are a couple of rules for songs on this playlist. Mainly the song can’t be anything super recent. You never know when a song you love in the immediate will fall out of favor because it’s overplayed or it turns out it was just of its time and no more. These are the songs that stick with you. The ones that no matter when you hear them you think to yourself wow I love this song. You’ll notice the two most recent additions to the playlist are “Ho Hey” by The Lumineers and “Some Nights” by fun. (Stupid period at the end of their name is making me question whether that last sentence should end in fun..) I finally decided to add these songs because they are almost a couple of years old at this point and I still love them. I actually am shocked that they were way overplayed and still get a decent amount of radio play and yet I’m not tired of them. I figure at this point if they have withstood that level of overexposure and I still listen to them they deserve a place on this list. There is no hard and fast rule about how old a song has to be before it enters this category, but probably at least a year old and it must be past it’s prime radio days.

I’m not going to specifically comment on every song on the playlist, but some comments on a few of them for fun.

I just recently added “Your Love” by The Outfield to the playlist. There is something about the opening line of this song that just gets to me for some reason. I think it has something to with the J sound of Josie in combination with the music or something. Other verses of the song obviously have the same music behind them, but none of the rest of them feel the same way that the line “Josie’s on a vacation far away” does.

I’ve almost considered writing a separate post about k.d Lang’s “Constant Craving” a number of times. This was a song that I did not really like at all when it came out in the early 90s. I was in middle school then so it probably just didn’t speak to me at that age. It sounds like something someone’s mom would listen to. Not that I think my own mother even likes it. Obviously I was also too young to really understand the feelings being conveyed in the song. It’s a song that for whatever reason WXPN has on a fairly regular rotation, so I wind up hearing it every few weeks and it’s a song I’ve really grown to love as an adult.

I can’t tell you how much I love the song “Fade into You” by Mazzy Star, but I can tell you that I’ve tried to add it to this playlist something like 4 times before realizing that it’s already on here. I’m always afraid I’ve forgotten it for some reason.

I’ll obviously continue to add this playlist, so if you’re curious to see what songs make the cut you can subscribe to my Spotify playlist or check back here on occasion.

 

Veronica Mars Rewatch January 22, 2014

Filed under: Pop Culture,Television — dwhren @ 8:48 am

I never watched Veronica Mars when it originally aired. I was in graduate school at the time and it was of course back in the age before DVRs were as prevalent as they are now. Pretty much anything I wanted to watch I had to record on my VCR. I don’t know if there was something else in conflict since I could only record one thing at a time back in those dark, dark ages or if I just didn’t have time because I was going to school full time and working two jobs, but it wasn’t something that made it on my TV viewing schedule at the time.

I did remember hearing about how great it was at the time, so eventually when I had time and it was streaming on Netflix I binge watched all 3 seasons and fell in love with it. Sadly Netflix lost its rights to the show and I no longer had access. Then SoapNet started airing reruns of it, which I would watch if I happened to turn on the TV and they were on. Then SoapNet went off the air at the beginning of the year, so no more Veronica Mars reruns that way.

I backed the Kickstarter for the movie and did want to rewatch the entire series before the movie came out because I knew there was a lot I didn’t remember. I thought about buying the DVD set, but it was more money than I wanted to spend, especially since I stopped buying DVDs because I never watch any of the fairly sizable collection I already have. Then I saw that Pivot had picked up the rights to air repeats of it starting this week I believe. I was about to start recording the episodes they aired to rewatch when Amazon announced they had acquired the streaming rights and it would be included in the Prime Instant Watch. Since we have subscribed to Prime for years I was excited I was going to easily be able to rewatch the show.

I’m 16 episodes into the first season in my rewatch, and I’m definitely glad I’m doing it. I really did forget a bunch of things about this show. In my head certain story lines didn’t take nearly as long to come into play. I also don’t remember it taking so long for certain characters to become so integral to the show. Mac has only been in 2 episodes so far and Dick has only put in a few minor appearances at this point. Even the whole Veronica/Logan thing hasn’t really started yet at all.

It’s also been fun to spot actors who I’ve since come to know in other roles. Obviously Max Greenfield who is now Schmidt on New Girl playing Deputy Leo is the most prominent. I’ve also spotted Adam Scott as a teacher sleeping with one his students. There were also people I would have known at the time, but who I forgot had guest starred on the show like Melissa Leo and Paris Hilton (man I do not miss her, though I do kind of blame her for people like the Kardashians).

If you’ve never watched the show before I highly encourage you to start now and to then go see the movie when it comes out on March 14. You won’t regret it I promise. Well I can’t really promise anything about the movie, but I definitely can promise that the TV show is great. Amazon Prime is great just for the shipping benefits. The addition of this show to their Instant collection is just the cherry on top of the reasons you should subscribe to Amazon Prime.

 

New Cat Tree January 19, 2014

Filed under: Cats — dwhren @ 10:06 am

This isn’t necessarily making me happy, but it’s making the cats happy so pretend they’re writing this. Though they are cute, which makes me happy.

We’ve been talking for awhile about getting a new cat tree. The original one we had for the cats is probably about 7 years old. It’s Scout’s primary scratching place so it’s pretty worn out as you can see. We actually replaced the sisal rope ourselves a few years ago, but it still cost about $30 for the rope and was a pain in the butt to do because of trying to get around that little tunnel. So we decided next time it needed to be replaced we would just get a new tree instead. The carpet on the little platforms is pretty gross at this point too from years of the cats lying on them and puking on them.

Old cat tree

Old cat tree

The rope where Scout usually scratches is really falling apart at this point and she doesn’t like scratching there anymore so she decided the furniture was a good replacement while we were gone for Christmas. She luckily didn’t do too much damage, and I immediately bought some stuff to cover the corners on the couches and decided it was time to break down and spend the money on a new cat tree.

Paul finally went out last weekend to try and buy one but neither the nearest Petsmart nor the nearest Petco had ones on par with what we currently have. Either they just had tiny ones or great big crazy ones. So he came home empty handed. I had told him I couldn’t get one on my own because it would be too heavy for me to deal with based on the weight of the one we currently have. I was going down to run some other errands in the suburbs south of the city yesterday so I told him I would at least pop in to the Petsmart and Petco down there to see if those locations had anything different even if I wouldn’t be able to buy and bring it home. At least we would know.

The Petsmart did wind up have some stuff that was akin to what we already had. I wound up buying one and bringing it home. It’s not as sturdy as the old one nor quite as big so I was actually able to bring it home by myself. I feel a little bad that it’s not as nice as the old one, but the cats don’t really seem to mind at this point. I do imagine this one won’t last as long as the one we’re replacing though.

Scout is very happy to have new rope to scratch on. Charlotte really likes those cardboard scratch things for her scratching pleasure so we have a couple of those lying around. So I figured she would like having one on the new cat tree. So far she hasn’t touched it yet. I’m sure if sprinkle some catnip on it she’ll get excited about it. Though in retrospect I’m now questioning my decision on that one since those cardboard things make a mess. The corner by our bookshelf where we have the regular one tucked away for her always has masses of cardboard shavings lying around it. Now I realize this stuff is going to be lying right out in the main part of my living room. Perhaps I’ll avoid alerting her that it’s there and if she never figures it out good.

As you can tell they seem to be enjoying it so far. They’re pretty much enjoying exactly like one would expect with Scout being the lazy cat and Charlotte being the crazy cat.

Scout sleeping on the new cat tree

Scout sleeping on the new cat tree

Charlotte loves playing with feather thing on the new tree.

Charlotte loves playing with feather thing on the new tree.

 

 

 

 

New Driver’ Side Mirror January 16, 2014

Filed under: Simple Pleasures — dwhren @ 11:02 am

Sometimes there are things in life you just take for granted and never really think about so you don’t have feelings about them one way or the other. I would say for most people the driver’s side mirror on your car would fall in that category. Today though I am very happy to have a functioning mirror back on my car.

On New Year’s Day I got woken up at 5:30 in the morning by a crashing noise, which I now suspect was someone driving home still drunk and hitting the mirror on the side of my car. They of course didn’t leave a note. The housing for the mirror was cracked though it wasn’t super noticeable. I probably would have just lived with it like that but the actual mirror no longer worked for me. I mean I don’t go out of my way keep my car super pristine. It’s a fool’s errand living in a city and parking on the street. I drove my last car for years with a dent in the front bumper where I hit something, and with dents in the side of it where a deer literally ran into the side of my car while I was driving on I-95. I would have driven my car around with a broken mirror housing for the next 10 years if the mirror was still functional.

Although the mirror itself wasn’t actually broken, something damaged the motor or whatever it is that allows the mirror to be repositioned. The mirror got stuck in a position that didn’t actually allow me to use it for its intended purpose. Trust me trying to parallel park, which I do every day, is not something you can easily do without a driver’s side mirror. I am super excited to finally be able to park while using my mirror again.

This was a $250 lesson in actually using the functionality of my mirror folding in so that no one hits and breaks it.

 

Fitbit (Force vs. One) January 15, 2014

Filed under: Life — dwhren @ 8:06 am

I asked my parents to get me a Fitbit for Christmas. I had been thinking about getting one of these types of devices for several months and decided Christmas was a great time to actually get one. I did my research, or so I thought, and decided on the Fitbit Force over the Jawbone Up Band, and the Nike Fuel Band. I was really only thinking about getting a band rather than something like the Fitbit One that you either clip on or put in your pocket so I didn’t do any research on that. Most of the comparisons I saw were actually comparing the Fitbit Flex to the other two bands. I only really read one online review of the Force itself, and it was fairly positive so I wrongly assumed that the other good reviews of the Flex would carry over to the Force, which seemed the same except for the upgrade to include a digital display.

After getting the Force set up it was immediately apparent to me that it was not logging my activity correctly. Most days I walk either at the gym or outside on routes that I know the mileage for and the Force was logging  only about 60-70% of the mileage I was walking (a little bit better if I ran). Because I hadn’t entered my stride length in the settings at first I thought perhaps that might be the problem. I figured out my stride length and hoped that the problem would be resolved, but it wasn’t. There was no appreciable change in the mileage the Force was recording for me, which I then gathered was a result of it inaccurately counting the number of steps that I take. I did a number of tests in which I counted the number of steps I was taking and compared it to the number the Force was recording. Again at best it was recording about 75% of the steps I was taking.

The sleep function seemed to work pretty well, but I realized after a few days that I wasn’t really learning anything from that. My sleep patterns are pretty consistent at least at home, so there isn’t really any reason I need to monitor this all the time. It is kind of interesting to see it all laid out on the screen and see when I woke up, which I usually have recollection of anyway if it involved enough movement to register on the Force.

Apparently I should have done my research better because once I started looking into it more I saw that the Amazon reviews and comments in the forums on the Fitbit site were not very flattering for the Force. A lot of people actually had the opposite issue in that theirs were recording far more steps than they were taking due to arm movements. I did see a few other people complaining of my problem though.

I have a couple friends plus someone I follow on Twitter who all provided me feedback on their Ones. They all seemed to think that they were fairly accurate, and the reviews for the One online were much more favorable. Though I had initially wanted a band I decided I would give the One a try for myself and return either it or the Force if I liked the One better. (Though the Flex might work better than the Force, I wanted something with an integrated display so I can check on my steps throughout the day without having to get on a computer or my phone thus going for the non-band One instead.)

Testing for both mileage and step count on the One confirmed that it was much more accurate in keeping track of my steps and mileage. I haven’t tried out the sleep band with it yet because I actually haven’t added it to my dashboard yet given that I was just testing it. Some people in the reviews indicated that the One was registering extra steps when they were driving and hitting bumps. I specifically monitored to see if that happened, and it didn’t. The One read the same number of steps when I got out of the car as when I got in, and I live in Baltimore where the streets are crap so I think I’m good on this one.

I really wanted the Force to work for me, but it just didn’t. I am going to be keeping the One instead because it is far more accurate for me. I don’t know if my Force is just defective, the product itself doesn’t work as advertised, or if the way I move is just not compatible with the way it operates, but no matter what the reason I don’t want to keep a product that doesn’t really work like it should.

I think I do prefer the form factor of the Force over the One, but it’s a moot point given its inaccuracy. It’s much easier to just wear the Force all the time as opposed to remembering to move the One around from various articles of clothing. I will not be at all surprised if it winds up going through the wash or I lose it somehow. Though hopefully neither of those things will happen. I also doubt I will wind up using the sleep band with it. In order to monitor sleep with the One you have to take it out of the clip you normally wear it on and put in an arm band. That seems like a lot of work to do every day just to find out what I already know about my sleep patterns.

That being said I did start wearing the Force during the winter when it’s cold outside and I’m wearing long sleeved shirts. The Force isn’t exactly the most stylish or attractive thing to be wearing on your wrist, so I may be happier being able to clip the One to my clothes or throw it in my pocket as opposed to wearing the Force on my wrist once I start wearing short sleeved shirts. Also, the plastic of the Force might also become more uncomfortable on my wrist once we hit summer and it’s routinely 95 degrees with 100 percent humidity here in Baltimore. I can imagine it feeling especially gross when I have to wear sunscreen.  I do also find accessing the display on the One slightly more difficult than just easily pressing a button on my wrist and glancing at it, but that’s a minor complaint.

Despite the issues I’ve had with the Force, I am happy to have the Fitbit. It’s definitely been making me move more. I’m more conscious about moving while I’m at work. So far it has been especially effective on weekends when I normally don’t make a trip to the gym. I’m determined to get my steps in now, so in the few days I’ve had it that I haven’t gone to the gym I’ve moved a lot more than I normally would have. This may or may not have involved me walking back and forth in front of TV while watching basketball and Veronica Mars.

I will be returning the Force this week and officially setting up the One so it starts providing a more accurate account of my activity to my Fitbit Dashboard. I might have to up my step goal per day as I was managing to meet 10,000 steps every day even with the Force only registering a fraction of the steps I was actually taking.