More Than Meh

A blog about the good things of life.

My Most Memorable Pop Culture of 2017 December 30, 2017

Filed under: Books,Concerts,Movies,Music,Pop Culture,Television,Theatre — dwhren @ 10:24 am

Once again it’s time for my post on what was the most memorable pop culture of the year to me. It’s pop culture I consumed in 2017, not necessarily things that were exclusively released in 2017. And once again I point out that this is the stuff that made the greatest impact on me. It’s not a list of the top anything. Even I acknowledge that there are things on this list that I would not put in a top 10 or even top 20 list. They’re not necessarily the best of anything, just the stuff that I enjoyed the most or which had some special meaning to me.

Movie I Saw in a Theatre

I saw quite a few movies in the theater this year, probably more than I have in a good long while and I enjoyed a great many of them. There were some really great comic book hero movies (Wonder Woman, Spiderman: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnorak) that seemed to bring something different to the table and kept me entertained without being so smashy smashy, which bores me to tears. I also saw a lot of great smaller movies as well including I am Not Your Negro, Lady Bird, and Call Me By Your Name. I very much want to give this category to The Big Sick, which I actually saw twice in the theater, which is something I haven’t done in at least a decade, probably two. I miss rom-coms and this movie was so sweet and funny. I hope it’s a harbinger of more movies like it. If it weren’t for a little documentary called STEP, The Big Sick would have taken this one.

STEP made me feel all the feelings. At a time when Baltimore feels like it is literally falling apart this movie, which follows a group of girls on a Step team at a Baltimore high school, showed what is good and bad about this city. There was so much joy and so much pain. Kids struggling to overcome hardships that no kids should have to deal with in order to help create better lives for themselves. It’s heartbreaking, delightful, and triumphant all at the same time. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it.

Movie I Watched at Home

Every year I threaten to get rid of this category because we so rarely watch movies at home. The only movies I can really remember watching are Mudbound, which I didn’t like and Get Out, so Get Out wins. I heard so many people raving about this movie before I saw it that there was no way it was going to be able to live up to my expectations. I did think the premise of it was very clever, but I’m not much of a horror person. I tend to find horror movies silly and boring, and those parts of it felt, well, silly and boring.

Fiction Book

My favorite fiction book of the year was hands down Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied Sing. As usual Ward creates a detailed world in rural Mississippi that draws you in and makes you feel like you are there. The book deals with important themes like race, death, and family but it always feels real (even when delving into the spirit world). It’s a beautiful and heartbreaking book that continues to bolster Ward as one of the great authors of our time.

Non-Fiction Book

Like with my fiction book, there was no contest this year that my non-fiction book choice would be The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. This is the first and only item on the list this year that was not actually released during 2017. However, there could not have been a more perfect book for this  year. I picked it up because it was the first book club selection for the Make Me Smart podcast (see below). Haidt uses moral psychology to discuss people’s views on politics and religion. If anything it made me feel even more hopeless about the current state of our country, but at least it did help shift my perspective to help see where others may be coming from even if I vehemently disagree with them. I guess that’s something. Aside from that I just found it a really fascinating book. As someone with multiple degrees in psychology this book fell perfectly in my sweet spot.

TV Show

Everyone is calling right now the golden age of television where there is so much excellent tv to watch you can’t even keep up. To some degree that’s true if you are into all the prestige television shows. I do enjoy a good number of them, but in some cases I’m getting tired of them. I don’t need all the television I watch to be capital I important. Sometimes I just want to have something that makes me want to invest in characters lives. I want a good family drama or a good teen or even adult drama with some love triangles or a decent will they or won’t they thing. They don’t seem to make those any more. I have tried and tried to like This is Us, but I just don’t even though I’m still watching it because it’s the only thing remotely resembling a family drama on television now. The CW, which used to be the go to for that kind of show has turned into all comic book hero shows all of which I have given up on (Supergirl excepted) as their plots have become convoluted and the character arcs that were driving the stories in their early years have fallen by the wayside. I feel like I’ve even watched my way through every television show that I missed the first time around so there aren’t even any older shows for me to go back to and fill the void at this point.

All that being said the way I choose my favorite show of the year is by thinking of the one I can’t wait to watch when an episode shows up on my DVR or if I’m binging it on a streaming service that all I want to do is stay at home and watch the show. This year the show that came closest to fitting that description was The Bold Type. I will refer you to the full review I wrote about it earlier this year. Happily it did get picked up for another season, though with a new show runner so hopefully it doesn’t change too much. I also want to give an honorable mention to the One Day at a Time reboot on Netflix, which was a sweet, smart, and funny sit-com that brightened my days considerably in the immediate fall out of garbage president taking office. I’m very much looking forward to its second season dropping in January.

TV Episode

Until I looked back at my picks for 2016 in preparation for writing this post I had forgotten that my favorite tv episode from last year was from Halt and Catch Fire, which is appropriate I guess because that show also features my favorite television episode from 2017. As I said last year I am so happy that I gave this show another try or I would have missed out on how wonderful it got. Thank you to every television critic who told me to give it a second chance. My favorite episode this year was Season 4, Episode 8 – “Goodwill”, which I don’t want to say too much about because it does give away a major plot point. It just treats its characters so lovingly and true to who they are. It also uses the Dire Straits’ song “So Far Away” so perfectly that I have a whole new perspective on it. I adore what this show became and I definitely always chose it first to watch when it showed up on my DVR. It’s the loss of another character driven show that I will miss immensely.


No one who has been here long should be at all surprised that my favorite album of the year was Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s The Nashville Sound. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about this album when he first announced it. Southeastern and Something More than Free, which were my favorite albums of 2013 and 2015 were both him solo and had a much more folky sound for the most part. When he brought back his band for the whole album this time I was afraid I might not like the rock sound nearly as much. I needn’t have worried one little bit. He’s still an amazing songwriter whose lyrics drill right down into my soul. With songs like “Hope the High Road”, “White Man’s World”, “The Last of My Kind”, “Cumberland Gap”, and “Anxiety” this album was perfectly written for 2017.


There should also be no surprise that my favorite song of 2017 came from my favorite album of 2017. “If We Were Vampires” is the song that everyone talked about off of this album, and rightly so. It is by far the lyrically and creatively superior song from the album, but “Hope the High Road” was my mantra for 2017. If you only knew how many times I sang the lyrics of this song to myself every time something new and terrible happened over the past year. So basically hourly.

“We’ll ride the ship down
Dumping buckets overboard
There can’t be more of them than us
There can’t be more”


For Christmas last year my husband gifted me with a trip to Nashville to see Dawes play at the Ryman Auditorium. Because I am who I am I have a concert venue bucket list and the Ryman was second on it right behind Red Rocks. I also got to check The Grand Ole Opry off my list on that trip, but seeing Dawes, a band I adore, play in that amazing venue was the highlight of my concert year. For as many concerts as I see every year I just figured out this year that when a concert is listed as “An Evening with …” it means that there is no opening act. This was An Evening with Dawes at the Ryman Auditorium and they played for a good three hours. It was wonderful and everything I hoped it would be.

I also have to say a word about the final Tom Petty concert I will ever see. Tom Petty has meant so much to me over the course of my life. He’s really the first artist whose passing has really felt like the gut punch to me that see other people have for celebrity deaths. I am so happy I got to see him perform one final time in a sing-a-long love fest that seemed like the perfect ending to a 40 year career.

Broadway Theatre Production

I saw a good number of wonderful things on Broadway this year, but my favorite was definitely Come From Away, which is the best thing I’ve seen since Hamilton. Based on the true story of a small town in Newfoundland that took in 6000 displaced airline passengers after 9/11, it mad me laugh, it made me cry, it made me smile with pure joy.

Baltimore Theatre Production

I had a hard time figuring out what I wanted to put in this category this year. The Center Stage season was short due to renovations on the theatre, and I wasn’t overly excited about a lot of the things I saw during the parts of the Hippodrome seasons that fell in 2017. It was nothing new and certainly not the best production of Rent I have ever seen by far, especially given that I saw most of the original Broadway cast perform in London, but I’m going with the 20th anniversary tour of Rent because it is still one of my all time favorite shows. Every word is still burned into my brain, and it was fun to revisit it after a good long time away.


I have an overabundance of podcasts that I listen to, so I always have a backlog of episodes. Like with television shows I choose my selection for my favorite podcast by thinking about what podcasts I listen to as soon as they drop and which ones I let episodes build up on until I have nothing else to listen to. This year a number of my previous favorite podcasts like Pop Culture Happy Hour, Invisibilia, and Out of the Blocks have made changes in their formats that I am not a fan of and has made me like them less and/or not even listen to everything they drop. However, a new podcast for 2017 topped my list. Make Me Smart with Kai Ryssdal and Molly Wood of Marketplace was by far the podcast I looked forward to listening to the most this year. He’s an economy reporter and she’s a tech reporter so they talk a lot about those topics, but that’s not all they cover. The tagline for the show is “none of us is as smart as all of us”, so they always have guests that they interview about various topics as well as always include feedback from listeners in the form of voice memos that are sent in. When the podcast started out they talked about politics a lot, especially in a segment that often started the show called the news fix. As the podcast went on they got away from doing the news fix, which I do miss sometimes. I don’t know if they’ll bring it back at all in the future now that they’re done with the long series they did on moral capitalism, but that was really great too. They also do book club episodes where listeners vote on a book to read and then they devote an episode to discussing it. My favorite non-fiction book for the year came out of that. It’s also fun to listen to people answer what they call the “Make Me Smart question”, which is what is something you once thought you knew, but then found out you were wrong about? They have a really great rapport and they always make me laugh even while I’m learning a lot. I’m super sad that they’re abandoning me until mid-March when season 2 of the podcast starts up.

Podcast Episode

My favorite episode from a podcast I listened to this year is actually a three part series from NPR’s Code Switch and Education Week called Raising Kings: A Year of Love and Struggle at Ron Brown College Prep. Education Week reporters followed students, parents, teachers, counselors, and other staff at Ron Brown College Prepatory school, a newly opened high school specifically aimed at black boys in Washington, D.C. and staffed almost exclusively by African-American men. It’s a wonderful series full of so much to think on in terms of education, race, and inequality and how even people with the best of intentions can disagree about how to address the systemic issues facing these many of the kids attending this school.


NYC Weekends December 3, 2017

Filed under: Family,Theatre,Travel — dwhren @ 5:39 pm

I spent the last two weekends in New York City. As we often do we went up to the city for Thanksgiving with my sister-in-law’s family. The day after Thanksgiving we did a number of things around the city. We started off by visiting the Intrepid museum, which was my niece’s vote for what to do. We decided she made a good choice because the weather was actually pretty nice, but the museum wasn’t overly crowded.

As a perk from his company my husband gets into a number of New York museums for free along with a guest. This is the first time we’ve really gotten to put that into practice, since a lot of times I go up to New York without him and can’t take advantage of his discounts, or we’re up there with his family and aren’t going to the places where he gets a discount. He got the two of us into the Intrepid for free.

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I feel like we spent a decent amount of time there, but with two six year olds we didn’t really spend much time looking at anything and we certainly didn’t have to the chance to really stop and read anything. This was a good for a first pass, but some day I’ll probably go back and actually spend time looking at and reading the exhibits.

After the Intrepid we took the twins bowling for the first time. With all the back issues I’ve had over the past year I decided to sit out doing any bowling myself because I didn’t want to screw it up any more than it already is. I decided tossing heavy balls around was not the best idea. The kids did pretty good for their first time. My nephew even managed to get a strike in which the ball didn’t even bounce off of the bumpers on the way down the lane.

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Paul giving our nephew some sage bowling advice.

Friday night Paul and I headed out on our own. We ate dinner at Chai Thai. I’d eaten there with a friend before, and knew Paul would like it so I decided that would be a good place for us to grab dinner before our show. After that we had time to kill so we wound up walking over the Schmakery’s for cookies.

Our show this trip was The Band’s Visit. I had been waffling on what to see because I wasn’t super excited about anything, and there were several things that were possibilities but hadn’t been reviewed yet because they were just in previews. This show got a rave review in the New York Times when it opened a few weeks before Thanksgiving, so I finally decided on it. By that time tickets were few and far between, so Paul and I actually didn’t sit together. We sat in mirror image seats on the right and left sides of the theatre.

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I’m not actually sure how I felt about the show. I think Paul liked it more than I did. I know the New York Times reviewer definitely liked it more than I did. I didn’t dislike it, but I also didn’t love it. Even weeks later I’m trying to even figure out how to describe it. It’s a very sedate musical about an Egyptian Police Band that winds up accidentally stuck in a small town in Israel overnight. The experiences the band and the townspeople share that night seemingly both affect their lives while changing nothing about them.

Saturday before we headed home we took advantage of Paul’s work discount again and went to the New York Historical Society museum. I’m definitely glad we got into this one for free because I didn’t see anything aside from the children’s area in the basement.

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My niece’s favorite part of the museum was reshelving all the books in the kids’ part of the museum. A future librarian in the making perhaps?

I headed back to New York again a week later just for a day trip to meet up with my sister. She just moved to New Jersey, and while she’s waiting for the rest of her family to join her, she asked if I wanted to meet up with her to see The Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular. As many shows as I’ve seen in New York, I’ve never been to the Rockettes so I said sure.


We had lunch at Brasserie Ruhlman down the street from Radio City Music Hall. The food was really good, but it was definitely a splurge as it was quite pricy. I don’t know if they’ve added new security to Radio City Music Hall since I’ve never been before, but I suspect that may have been the case and they didn’t anticipate how much it was going to slow down people getting in. They do 4 shows on the weekends and there is definitely not enough time in between them to turn the theatre over. We had tickets to the 2 pm show and after 45 minutes in line just barely made our seats right as the lights were going down. There were still a ton of people in line behind us, which was annoying because for the first part of the show you still had lots of people blocking your view as they found and got into their seats. I would have been even more annoyed had we had been one of the people who didn’t get inside before the show started. They definitely need to space the shows out another 30 minutes.

I can now say I’ve seen the Rockettes. I enjoyed it well enough, but I don’t think I probably ever need to see the show again. I mean if my nieces or nephew wanted me to go with them, I would. It’s definitely aimed at kids, but as an adult without kids I see no reason to go again.

After the show we just wandered around the city. Since we were right there and it was almost unavoidable we saw the tree in Rockefeller Center, which is something I once vowed I would never do again. Luckily this time it was a much less terrifying experience. The first time I went to New York with Paul after we started dating it was this same exact weekend, which is the first weekend the tree was lit. The crowds were insane and I got smashed in between so many people I literally got lifted up off the ground and was being carried along by the crowd. I had no control and had I fallen I would have been trampled. This year we were there before dark, so I suspect it was slightly less crowded than it might have been a couple hours later. At any rate, it wasn’t nearly as crowded, and I got to see the tree without thinking I might die.

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We did give up on walking down Fifth Avenue though because it was just too stupidly crowded full of people. Same with the Christmas Market in Bryant Park. We sort of looked at the Macy’s windows from a distance over the heads of the crowds of people. So basically we sort of did all the touristy Christmas things that the movies and tv make you think are so great, but are really terrible because they are way too crowded.

The weather was pretty good for this time of year though, and it was a pleasant day to walk around the city and catch up with my sister. It will be really nice to have her and her family so close by so that I’ll be able to see them more than the once, maybe twice a year I normally did when they were all the way out in Arizona.


Friendsgiving November 20, 2017

Filed under: Food,Friends,Life — dwhren @ 8:31 am

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. The food is delicious and feels special because it’s really the only time of year that you eat it. There’s no pressure for figuring out gifts like there is at Christmas. Instead it’s a time to give thanks for all the things we already have.

One of the things I’m very thankful for is my friends. And one of the other great things about Thanksgiving is that it does lend itself to large gatherings of friends over a delicious Thanksgiving meal. I’ve participated in these Friendsgivings in various forms. Sometimes it’s like this year getting together with friends I don’t always get to see that often anymore over a delicious meal prior to the holiday. Sometimes it’s gathering together a group of Thanksgiving orphans who aren’t spending the holiday with their families on the actual holiday to share a Thanksgiving dinner, or gathering together with friends and having a potluck dinner with everyone’s Thanksgiving leftovers.

It’s always fun to see all the variations on the standard Thanksgiving food recipes that people have. Also there are always the random things people have that for some reason whether cultural or family tradition always show up on their Thanksgiving table. I’m still not ever eating that sauerkraut weirdo Marylanders think is Thanksgiving food though.

This year I had the pleasure of attending three different Friendsgiving meals over the last few weeks leading up to the holiday. They were all wonderful gatherings with friends, some of whom I definitely don’t get to see nearly enough anymore. I loved getting the chance to catch up on each other’s lives, share food, great conversation and laughter, and remember that these are all the things I’m thankful for. It’s been hard to focus on the good things this year, so it was nice to have some great reminders that there are still lots of simple good things in this world.


The One Off November 5, 2017

Filed under: Blogs,Random — dwhren @ 8:41 am

For years, every time I had something I wanted to write about that did not fit the theme of this blog, which is dedicated to talking about things that make me happy, I thought about starting another blog where I could talk about non-happy things. I never did it because I wanted to try and stay positive so didn’t want to open up a space for negativity which tends to be more my mindset anyway.

Then 2016 and 2017 happened. Over the past 2 years my ability to find things to write about in this space has greatly declined. I don’t feel happy most of the time. I just feel beat down, and I know I am not alone in that. That’s not to say that nothing makes me happy, but even if they do they are overshadowed by all the terrible or I just don’t have the energy to write about them.

This week I again felt the urge to write about something weighing on my heart that decidedly does not belong in this space, so I finally bit the bullet and started a third blog (my other one is my book reviews blog, which I am also terrifyingly behind on). The One Off is now up with my first post, Elegy for Baltimore. I don’t plan on writing there a lot, but now I finally have a space to talk about the not-so-great things too.


Happy 9th Anniversary to My Husband October 18, 2017

Filed under: Family,Life — dwhren @ 7:52 am

Nine years ago today I made one of the best decisions of my life and said, I do to my husband Paul. I am grateful every day to have him in my life, and not just because he cooks dinner and does the laundry. That certainly doesn’t hurt though. I love how he makes me smile, and how we share the same clever sense of humor that may amuse only us. I appreciate that he puts up with me and lets me drag him to tons of concerts he doesn’t care about because he knows that I love them. He’s the best husband I could ask for and the perfect mate for me.

Unfortunately, due to a family emergency we aren’t spending our anniversary together this year, but I raise my glass to our nine years of marriage and look forward to celebrating many more in the future. Cheers!




Charm Kitty Cafe October 15, 2017

Filed under: Baltimore,Cats — dwhren @ 8:16 pm

Last night I went with two friends to check out Charm Kitty Cafe, the new cat cafe, that just opened in Baltimore a couple of weeks ago. Perhaps the best thing about it is the name. If you’re not aware, one of Baltimore’s nicknames is Charm City, so I’m a huge fan of the clever play on that to call the place Charm Kitty Cafe. I’ve never been to any other cat cafes so I don’t know if the way this one works is comparable to others. It’s not so much of a cafe as a place to go hang out with some cats. You can get a cookie or a cup of coffee, green tea, or hot chocolate, but that’s it.

You have to make a reservation to go. It’s $10 on weekdays or $12 on weekends for 70 minutes with the cats. They get the cats from the local SPCA, so all the cats are 100% adoptable. Most of them were super sweet either letting you play with them or pet them a lot. There were two that were not really interested in anyone at least by the time we were there, which was the last session of the day.

My only complaints were that they didn’t have enough toys that you could actively engage the cats with and the kids. There were plenty of toys around that were more like things that cats would chase on their own like the little toy mice or balls, but there was only one dangly feather thing for humans to really use with the cats. That seems very short-sighted. Also having kids there was not great. They allow kids over the age of seven. There was one family with 2 while we were there. They were probably both under 10 years old. It’s a nice treat for them because apparently their father is allergic so they can’t have pets of their own, but also they were kids so they were doing what kids do with animals. They were chasing them around and being more aggressive than the cats really liked, thus making it less than ideal for everyone else there trying to interact with the cats. They left from the session early, so we did happily get some time with things being more chill.

It’s not somewhere I’d probably go on a super frequent basis, especially since I have a sweet, adorable cat at home, but I would definitely go back again at some point.

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Tim McGraw and Faith Hill Concert at Capital One Arena October 14, 2017

Filed under: Concerts,Music,Pop Culture — dwhren @ 1:34 pm

A year ago tickets went on sale for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s Soul 2 Soul tour at what was then Verizon Center. It was so long ago the arena even changed names since I bought the tickets. I was super excited to finally get to see them in concert and together. I’ve been a fan since they both popped into the country scene in the mid-90s. In the early years of their touring I was a poor college student, then a poor grad student so I didn’t go to many concerts. Thus I missed out on seeing them during that hey dey. Then Faith Hill pretty much quit the music business for the most part to raise their kids. I get it, but if I had to have chosen one of them to stop making music for a couple of decades I would have gone the other way around.

Even though Tim McGraw has been around this whole time I haven’t loved any of his music as much as I loved his first few albums, so I never felt compelled to go see him by himself in the past 15 years. Plus I feel like I have never seen him have a Baltimore date in all that time, and that his DC dates have always been at Jiffy Lube Live. An ex-boyfriend took me to a Peter Gabriel concert there for my birthday one year, and while the concert was good I did not care for the venue or the fact that it’s ridiculous to get in and out of. There has yet to be a concert there that I’ve wanted to see enough to go back.

They opened the show covering the Aretha Franklin and George Michael hot hit, “I Knew You Were Waiting”. I adore that song. It really deserves a blog post of its own at some point.  Honestly that probably wound up being my favorite bit of the concert. After that they took turns sing songs with each other on stage with a couple of other duets thrown in between. Then they each performed a short set of their own songs before coming back together to sing “It’s Your Love” as the final song of the regular part of the show. It was backed by a lot of pictures of their family from over the years, which was cute.

For the encore they each sang one song while walking through part of the audience. Faith was not super great at being able to interact with the audience while continuing to sing. That happened a few times from the stage, but a lot during that song. They finished with a final duet together alone on stage.

For something called the Soul 2 Soul tour, it unfortunately felt a little soulless to me. Part of it is that arena shows in general just don’t do a whole lot for me. It’s kind of weird because you would think that as someone who really likes theatre that I would like the theatricality that goes into arena shows, but I just don’t. I like my live music to feel at least a little unscripted. This wasn’t at all. I was kind of surprised that they didn’t incorporate their new single that they just released on their anniversary, but the show is highly scripted, so they didn’t.

I also felt like the stage design was really weird. It sort of had two wings coming out on the sides of it where each of them stood to sing for the most part. I guess it maximizes the amount of the audience you’re singing to, but with them being so far apart even when they were sharing the stage it felt like they weren’t even part of the same show.

I’m still glad I went, but I can’t say that it fully lived up to my expectations. Moreso it was a reminder of why I tend to shy away from arena shows for the most part.

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