31 December 2009

It's about that time... Maggie's Top 9s of '09

Because anyone can do a top 10, I decided to compile my top 9s.  When I look back on the year, here's the stuff I'll remember, or want to remember.  These are my personal top 9s in no particular order ('cept maybe chronological here and there), so yours may be completely different.  What's on your list?

Here goes:

Top 9 Songs of '09
  1. "Sleepytime" - Blitzen Trapper
  2. "Fresh Air" - Brother Ali
  3. "40 Day Dream" - Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes
  4. "Universal Mind Control" - Common
  5. "Help I'm Alive" - Metric
  6. "The Mountain" - Heartless Bastards
  7. "Sleepyhead" - Passion Pit
  8. "The Devil and Maggie Chascarillo" - Lucero
  9. "Dance Anthem of the '80s" - Regina Spektor

  • Honorable Mention: "Carpetbaggers" - Jenny Lewis feat. Elvis Costello (came out in 2008, but I didn't hear it until this year), and "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked" - Ida Maria

Top 9 TV Episodes of '09
  1. "The Incident" - LOST, 13 May 2009.  Effectively, their last chance at a season finale cliffhanger, as next season will be its last.
  2. "Meet Jane Doe" - Dollhouse, 11 December 2009.  This episode took the show forward in leaps and bounds, explored the relationship between Echo and Ballard, showed the genius of Topher, the evils of Rossum, and the cutthroat ruthlessness of Adelle DeWitt.
  3. "Mr. Monk and the Foreign Man" - Monk, 14 August 2009.  I've seen all of this final season save the finale, which is probably fantastic, and I'm saving it up for a Monk Marathon with my mother.  However, this episode was absolutely heartbreaking, and really shows the depths of the character as well as how far he's come over the course of the show.
  4. "The Window" - How I Met Your Mother, 7 December 2009.  Best episode in a long time.  Does a great job of getting back to the fantastic cold openings of the first couple of seasons, and lays the groundwork for Ted meeting his kids' mother soon.  Also, includes my name as an acronym (Make Adjustments; Go Get It Energized!), and Jason Segal with a rat-tail.
  5. Episode 2 - The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brian, 2 June 2009.  What can I say - the first appearance of "Twitter Tracker," seemingly-coked-out Tom Hanks is interviewed and later hit by a meteor (which he then signs), and Conan's shopping spree on Rodeo Road.  FANTASTIC.
  6. Episode 57 - Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, 2 June 2009.  Yes, normally I hate this show because Jimmy Fallon is an idiot, a tool, and a terrible host, but this episode had Steve Martin and Paul Simon interviewing each other and ignoring the host.  A good host would not have let it go on as long as it did... a great host would have rolled with being verbally bitch-slapped by Paul Simon.  Jimmy Fallon didn't do either of these things, and it was FANTASTIC.
  7. "And In the End..." - ER, 2 April 2009.  I've been watching this show ever since it was on past my bedtime, and seeing it wrap up was an amazing treat.  The final episode was shockingly similar to the pilot, but was a true-to-form send-off for the show. 
  8. "Both Sides Now" - House, 11 May 2009.  Another season finale, but a good one.  Any show that brings back dead characters as a result of an elaborate hallucination due to excessive use of Vicodin is okay in my book... especially here.  That, and the patient had Alien Hand Syndrome which is... just... badass.
  9. "Wheels" - Glee, 11 November 2009.  A mid-season spectacle from newcomer Glee.  Highlights: the kids singing "Proud Mary" while performing on wheelchairs, the "diva-off" between Kurt and Rachel to see which would get to sing "Defying Gravity", the bake sale with "special" cupcakes, and, of course, the most poignant and honest representation of Sue Sylvester to date.  Also, Terri Schuster didn't appear, which was a welcome reprieve.

Top 9 News Stories of '09 (world events)
  1. January 20: Barack Obama is inaugarated the 44th President of the United States.
  2. June 11: H1N1, the strain of influenza known as "swine flu" is officially recognized as reaching pandemic levels.
  3. June 25: Michael Jackson's death far overshadows Farrah Fawcett's, becoming one of the biggest news stories of the year, and causing BET to have the best and most awesome music video marathon I've ever seen.
  4. July 22: The longest solar eclipse on record occurs over Asia and the Pacific, lasting up to almost 6 minutes and 39 seconds in some areas.
  5. August 16: Relatively unknown Y. E. Yang delivers a crushing defeat to Tiger Woods at Hazeltine.
  6. September 12: The Gopher's football team returns to the U of M campus with the opening of TCF Bank Stadium.
  7. October 2: The International Olympic Committee awards the 2016 Summer Games to Rio de Janeiro, making them the first to host in South America.
  8. Early October: The Metrodome closes out its last season as the home field for the Minnesota Twins (the 11th).  Brett Favre becomes the first quarterback to have defeated all 32 NFL franchises (the 5th).  The stadium's name changes to Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.
  9. November 3: Election Day - The Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis elect to keep their respective mayors, Chris Coleman and R.T. Rybak.

Top 9 Events of '09 (for me)
  1. I left the country for the first time in January, and lived on a boat off the coast of Honduras for a week, spending my days SCUBA diving and napping on deck, and my nights trying not to brain myself on the bulkheads.
  2. My oldest friend, Kat Krantz, had her baby girl, Irene Therese, in late January, and I got to be there with her for the delivery of my first "nitch" (it's like "niece," but not).
  3. March marked the opening of my Etsy shop and the grand design and introduction of http://www.bymaggie.com/, my costuming website.
  4. My little sister, Katie, graduates from college near the end of May, marking the last member of our family to graduate officially from the College of St. Catherine before the name change to St. Catherine's University on June 1st.
  5. July through August, I learned the hard way what it's like to have people who I thought were my friends completely turn on me, insulting me in every way possible, and leaving me in debt.  I am left so hurt from the experience that going to what was one of my favorite places is now nearly impossible.
  6. August 28: My sister's boyfriend, Tony, officially asks her to marry him.  About damn time.
  7. Early October - my beloved PT Cruiser, Elliot, takes a turn for the worse, and racks up a total of $4000 in potential repair costs.  I instead replace her with one of my dream cars, a Jeep Wrangler, and learn to drive a manual.
  8. End of October: My roommates, Kathy and Brent, welcome little Illyanna Lunasa Gallup-Strom into the world, and allow me to be a part of the journey that was bringing that adorable, happy, smart, smiley punk kid into the world.  I gain another "nitch," and discover that my maternal instincts have keyed up.  Interesting.
  9. In December, I decided to primarily make or buy handmade Christmas presents, making me super-extra busy for the month.  Another entry to follow about that!

25 December 2009

The Friday Five: Gifts

Yeah, it's the Friday 5, a couple days late.  Sorry folks!  And, of course, it's apropos of Christmastime: Gifts.

1) How likely are you to return or exchange a gift you don’t like?
It really depends on the gift.  If it's something I can regift or recycle, I may keep it, and I always keep books, too (even Twilight).  If I can't use it, I return it or find it another home.

2) Who is the most gifted person you know?
Hmm.  I'd love to say "myself" here, but how much do you know yourself, you know?  Probably my best friend, Ware, because he's a circus performer / writer / editor / actor / barista / renaissance man and can pretty much do anything with some degree of proficiency.  Most handy, though, is changing light bulbs with stilts on.

3) Of gifts you gave this year, which was really the closest to perfect for the recipient?
Definitely what I got my Mom: a hand-turned crochet hook and a hank of hand-dyed yarn in the same colors as my sister's wedding.

4) What’s your favorite kind of gift to receive?
Either something I'll use daily, or something I'll never use that's just for fun (a pair of jeans vs. a 5 foot RC airplane that can land on water).

5) What’s your favorite kind of gift to give?
Something perfect; something the recipient has always wanted, or never knew they needed.  My mom's always wanted a wooden hook, so I got her one.  My dad's Favorite Movie of All Time is the Wizard of Oz, so he got the 70th Anniversary edition this year on Blu-Ray, complete with digital copy.  A couple of years ago, I commissioned a cake for Ware for his birthday because he had a history of baking, and had always wanted to bake with scotch.

There you have it - another week, another five.

21 December 2009

Article of the Week: Golden Globe nominees for 2010!

Okay, so it's not really an article, more of just a straight-up list that was released this week, but on my radar, it's kind of a big deal. 
So I'm a nerd - this should already be clear to you.  And, while I can't get behind the fact that there's an award show for every damn thing now, I do follow the biggies: the Emmys and the Oscars and, to a lesser extent, the Tonys and the Grammys.  I appreciate the Golden Globes for being voted on by journalists from around the world, and the SAG Awards because it's actors voting for actors (the ultimate peer review).  As I've been telling folks - TV is like sports to me.  I know stats on many an actor, in what show or movie they've appeared in, tiny little snippets of their personal life, and even how being on one show may affect their performance or appearence on another.  So these award shows are kind of like the playoffs for me.

And so, much like many fans do, here's my picks for the 2010 Golden Globes:

Best Motion Picture - Drama
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire
Up In The Air

I've only seen two of these flicks, and within the past week (Inglorious Basterds and Avatar) and, while both were brilliantly done, I don't know that I'm qualified to give either the vouch without giving the others a try, especially since I'm a sucker for both.  However, I don't think that the Golden Globe judges will be.  I think this one'll go to Up in the Air or The Hurt Locker.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama
Emily Blunt – The Young Victoria
Sandra Bullock – The Blind Side
Helen Mirren – The Last Station
Carey Mulligan – An Education
Gabourey Sidibe – Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire

Wild guess: Helen Mirren or Carey Mulligan. 

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama
Jeff Bridges – Crazy Heart
George Clooney – Up In The Air
Colin Firth – A Single Man
Morgan Freeman – Invictus
Tobey Maguire – Brothers

Tobey Maguire in a real, honest-to-goodess dramatic role?  For the win, provided Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela and George Clooney as... George Clooney don't win.

Best Motion Picture - Musical Or Comedy
(500) Days Of Summer
The Hangover
It's Complicated
Julie & Julia

Again, only have seen one of these ((500 Days of Summer), but it's such a good film.  It's not at all like like the "funny-for-the-sake-of-being-funny" other choices in this field, but in fact goes deeper than that.  It's also both a sad and happy film (I'm trying to not ruin it for y'all).  Not since The Notebook or High Fidelity have I seen a relationship presented more honestly.  And yeah, it's funny, too.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
Sandra Bullock – The Proposal
Marion Cotillard – Nine
Julia Roberts – Duplicity
Meryl Streep – It's Complicated
Meryl Streep – Julie & Julia

Uh... hate to go with the obvious, but Meryl Streep?  Woman's on a roll, and she's had some wonderful co-stars to play off of in both It's Complicated and Julie & Julia.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical Or Comedy
Matt Damon – The Informant!
Daniel Day-Lewis – Nine
Robert Downey Jr. – Sherlock Holmes
Joseph Gordon-Levitt – (500) Days Of Summer
Michael Stuhlbarg – A Serious Man

Personal bias here: I'm routing for Joseph Gordon-Levitt and his triumphant return to my good graces, and out-of-nowhere Michael Stuhlbarg (But I didn't do anything!).

Best Performance by an Actress In A Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Pen̩lope Cruz РNine
Vera Farmiga – Up In The Air
Anna Kendrick – Up In The Air
Mo'nique – Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire
Julianne Moore – A Single Man

I'll never vote for Penélope Cruz for anything; I don't know why she keeps showing up on these.  And as for the others - I'm not familiar with three of them, and really love the fourth.  I'm choosing Julianne Moore based on personal bias alone.

Best Performance by an Actor In A Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Matt Damon – Invictus
Woody Harrelson – The Messenger
Christopher Plummer – The Last Station
Stanley Tucci – The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz – Inglourious Basterds

Fun choices here!  As far as these go, I either love the actor, or loved the film.  I think I'll go with Christoph Waltz for this one.  His character was just so deliciously evil.  He made me hate him and love him at the same time, switched effortlessly between four languages over the course of the film, and also, strangely enough, called to mind Willem Dafoe's performance in "The Boondock Saints."  And he's kind of cleaning up in the awards department for his role as Hans Landa.

Best Animated Feature Film
Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Princess And The Frog

I'm too proud of Disney's return to straight-up animation to not hope that The Princess and The Frog wins, though I've heard Up was absolutely fantastic as well.

Best Foreign Language Film
Baaria (Italy)
Broken Embraces (Spain)
The Maid (La Nana) (Chile)
A Prophet (Un Prophete) (France)
The White Ribbon (Das Weisse Band - Eine Deutsche Kindergeschichte) (Germany)

No ideas here, but The Maid (La Nana) out of Chile might win because it's not from Europe.

Best Director - Motion Picture
Kathryn Bigelow – The Hurt Locker
James Cameron – Avatar
Clint Eastwood – Invictus
Jason Reitman – Up In The Air
Quentin Tarantino – Inglourious Basterds

Another Cameron vs. Tarantino battle.  Oh, man, I wonder how they'd fight!  Tarantino would have a pair of handguns, obviously - really shiny ones, and Cameron would have whatever was lying around!  Like a wrench or a stick or his own femur if he had to!  And the fight would take place in an old warehouse or an old car factory and there'd be blood and gore and bullets flying everywhere!
...right.  Golden Globe nominees.  Part of me hopes they don't go with the obvious choices for this one, but I'd like to see Tarantino (good pacing and timing, interesting shots) or Cameron (working with a lot of computer elements well is his wheelhouse, and the dude spent 11 years making this one) win this one.

Best Screenplay - Motion Picture
District 9
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
It's Complicated
Up In The Air

District 9, hands down.  Man.  Alien invasion and subsequent "quarantine" and segregation, set upon the backdrop of South Africa?  You kidding?  Win.

Best Original Score - Motion Picture
Up - Composed by Michael Giacchino
The Informant! - Composed by Marvin Hamlisch
Avatar - Composed by James Horner
A Single Man - Composed by Abel Korzeniowski
Where The Wild Things Are - Composed by Karen O and Carter Burwell

My hipster soul hopes for Where The Wild Things Are to win this one, but my love for both James Horner and Michael Giacchino win out.  I think Giacchino will take this one home.

Best Original Song - Motion Picture
"Cinema Italiano" – Nine
"I See You" - Avatar
"I Want To Come Home" – Everybody's Fine
"The Weary Kind (Theme From Crazy Heart)" – Crazy Heart
"Winter" – Brothers

As much as I hate to see Bono take home awards for mediocre music-making and a "unifying sound" that's fluctuated more than Oprah's weight, I think "Winter" from Brothers will win this one because everyone seems to be a sucker for that Irish bastard.*

*Note: I just don't get the appeal of U2.  I apologize if anyone takes offense.  But I just don't get it.

Best Television Series - Drama
Big Love (HBO)
House (FOX)
Mad Men (AMC)
True Blood (HBO)

I'm pulling for House with this one.  There's been some beautiful character development this season, especially since House kicked that vicodin habit, Cuddy got a man and Wilson started branching out in his cancer treatments (if you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about, if not, well, I've already ruined it for one person, and I won't ruin it for you).  It's really a dynamite season.

Best Performance by an Actress In A Television Series - Drama
Glenn Close – Damages (FX NETWORK)
January Jones – Mad Men (AMC)
Julianna Margulies – The Good Wife (CBS)
Anna Paquin – True Blood (HBO)
Kyra Sedgwick – The Closer (TNT)

I'm going to stick close to my generation here and pick January Jones and Anna Paquin for the two shows I can't watch due to my lack of real cable.

Best Performance by an Actor In A Television Series - Drama
Simon Baker – The Mentalist (CBS)
Michael C. Hall – Dexter (SHOWTIME)
Jon Hamm – Mad Men (AMC)
Hugh Laurie – House (FOX)
Bill Paxton – Big Love (HBO)

Again - pulling for House in this one.  Hugh Laurie's performance has been fantastic this year, and he's gotten the priviledge of playing off of James Earl Jones and Andre Braugher, let alone his regular co-stars.  His character has gone through an amazing transformation, and no one could have shown it better.

Best Television Series - Musical Or Comedy
30 Rock (NBC)
Entourage (HBO)
Glee (FOX)
Modern Family (ABC)
The Office (NBC)

Oh man, how much do I hate 30 Rock.  Probably as much as U2.  They'll probably win it, but I think Glee really should, and not just because I love musicals (and, like, have a huge crush on Mr. Schu!).  The timing of this show is really top-notch, and I'm hard-pressed to think of another show that more accurately portrays the high school experience.

Best Performance by an Actress In A Television Series - Musical Or Comedy
Toni Collette – United States Of Tara (SHOWTIME)
Courteney Cox – Cougar Town (ABC)
Edie Falco – Nurse Jackie (SHOWTIME)
Tina Fey – 30 Rock (NBC)
Lea Michele – Glee (FOX)

Again, pulling for Lea Michele (she's been on Broadway!  Come on, people!), but Tina Fey will probably phone this one in for a win.

Best Performance by an Actor In A Television Series - Musical Or Comedy
Alec Baldwin – 30 Rock (NBC)
Steve Carell – The Office (NBC)
David Duchovny – Californication (SHOWTIME)
Thomas Jane – Hung (HBO)
Matthew Morrison – Glee (FOX)

Dear Golden Globes: Stop pitting Glee against 30 Rock.  Give these poor misfits a chance.  Matthew Morrison is amazing in his role as Mr. Schuster, but he'll probably lose the award to Alec Baldwin who, like Tina Fey, doesn't even try to make good television anymore.  He sings, he dances, and he has his heart broken.  Please give the poor guy a shot.  Sincerely, Maggie.

Best Mini-Series Or Motion Picture Made for Television
Georgia O'Keeffe (LIFETIME)
Grey Gardens (HBO)
Into The Storm (HBO)
Little Dorrit (PBS)
Taking Chance (HBO)

Written by Charles Dickens and starring Matthew Macfayden?  Little Dorrit wins.  Also, it's more accessible than the other options, and I won't argue with seven Emmys.

Best Performance by an Actress In A Mini-series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Joan Allen – Georgia O'Keeffe (LIFETIME)
Drew Barrymore – Grey Gardens (HBO)
Jessica Lange – Grey Gardens (HBO)
Anna Paquin – The Courageous Heart Of Irena (CBS)
Sigourney Weaver – Prayers For Bobby (LIFETIME)

Wild guess: Jessica Lange in Grey Gardens.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Kevin Bacon – Taking Chance (HBO)
Kenneth Branagh – Wallander: One Step Behind (BBC)
Chiwetel Ejiofor – Endgame (PBS)
Brendan Gleeson – Into The Storm (HBO)
Jeremy Irons – Georgia O'Keeffe (LIFETIME)

The nerdiest bits of me are at war, half of them routing for Chiwetel Ejifor and half for Brenden Gleeson.  Ejifor wins.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Jane Adams – Hung (HBO)
Rose Byrne – Damages (FX NETWORK)
Jane Lynch – Glee (FOX)
Janet McTeer – Into The Storm (HBO)
Chlo Sevigny – Big Love (HBO)

If Jane Lynch doesn't win this, I'll probably cry.  In her role as Sue Sylvester, she plays the most ruthless and cunning Queen Bitch of the Universe I've ever seen in the history of my life.  The only other character I can think to compare her to is Dr. Romano from ER - she has an endearing back story that just draws you in, and you can't help but love to hate her.  Man, I can't wait to see what she does next.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Michael Emerson – Lost (ABC)
Neil Patrick Harris – How I Met Your Mother (CBS)
William Hurt – Damages (FX NETWORK)
John Lithgow – Dexter (SHOWTIME)
Jeremy Piven – Entourage (HBO)

Can I abstain from voting at this point?  1) When Michael Emerson won the Emmy for LOST earlier this year, I did a victory lap around my living room. 2) I don't think a person can see they've seen John Lithgow act until they've seen him act EVIL and, as Trinity, he scared the bejesus out of me.  3) My abiding love for Neil Patrick Harris has been a constant in my life, and his work on How I Met Your Mother has been nothing short of AWESOME. 4) My brother will kill me if I don't mention how cool and awesome Jeremy Piven is, even though even he thinks Johnny Drama has had a better season of Entourage than Ari Gold has 5) Sorry, William Hurt, but I don't watch your show.  Congrats on the nom, though!
I think that the judges will be hard-pressed to pick an actor who doesn't portray evil here, and it'll probably be either Michael Emerson or John Lithgow.  Man, did he scare the bejesus out of me.  Both of 'em.

Well, there you have it.  I suppose we'll find out who wins in a month!

Wishing I Was in Pandora Right Now: Movie Review of James Cameron's "Avatar"

Think back 13 years. It's 1993, in the summer. The First Gulf War is in full swing. The Montreal Canadiens have taken the Stanley Cup home for the 24th time. Yugoslavia? Yes, at this point in time, it's still a country. You decide to spend a couple of hours at the movie theater - there's this new film out that uses a heck of a lot of that new-fangled "CGI." That, and theaters are air conditioned; your house isn't. So you go and see Jurassic Park for the first time.
Remember that moment, early on in the movie, where Dr. Sattler is sitting in the front seat of the Jeep, marveling at this leaf she's found - a species that's been extinct for millions of years. The music swells. The camera pans up. And there's a brontosaurus right there. You share in the awe of the characters and chills run up and down your spine. For me, they still do.  To this day.
Now imagine that happening approximately every twenty to thirty minutes.
That's Avatar.

The Premise: A wheelchair-bound Marine, Jake Sully, is invited to be a part of the avatar program after his twin brother, Thomas, is killed.  The scientists begrudgingly make him their security detail, and it is through Jake that we learn about the Na'vi, the indigenous population of Pandora (the forest moon of one of the planets of Alpha-Centauri A).  The scientists are allowed to work on the planet in tandem with a human mining operation of "unobtainium".   The Na'vi's are deeply connected to their world, and their home is above a large deposit of this unobtainium.  It is from this "problem" that we get the film's main conflict.
This movie is too gorgeous to try to dumb it down as such, but think of the "going native" elements of Dances with Wolves, mingled with the unstoppable rush of air and beauty of FernGully, plus the unstoppable bad guy element of the Terminator.  I myself saw many parallels with the expansion of the American West, and, since that's been one of my obsessions of late, I was drawn in by that fact.

My favorites:
  • Besides the plot, obviously.  Though kind of predictable, I got wrapped up in the beauty of the place and pushed the plot aside, chalking it up to history repeating itself.
  • The red spiral plants and bioluminescant mosses of Pandora remind me of my scuba diving trip to Honduras, and of Christmas tree worms and night dives.  It's what I'll use to get my mother to the film.
  • The thanator, which I spent the entire film calling "the panther one!" and "kitty!"  Badass, terrifying, moves like a panther, but definitely has the face of an eagle or a velociraptor more like.
I think the only thing Cameron could have done better was explain the connections between the Na'vi, the creatures of Pandora, and their earth-mother-goddess Eywa. It is clear that there is a connection, and there are times that we see it or see where it would have been explained, but it isn't. I'm hoping this is in the deleted scenes.

For a James Cameron movie, it's a short film at about two and a half hours, not counting previews and a stop at the theater's bathroom afterward.  The movie progresses pretty quickly, and the only times it moves slow really are when Jake is not in his avatar, and must "check in" with his superiors - both the mercenaries at the mining operation, and the scientists.  I was only shocked by a few things, the most shocking being that this particular film did not make me cry.  I think that is the first time I have ever been able to say that about a James Cameron film - and I even cry when I watch The Abyss (and Terminator).  That is not to say I wasn't saddened by some of the things that happen over the course of the film.  I felt a profoundly deep sense of sorrow during this film.  I could feel my heart sink in ways it hasn't been able to in a long time.  But no tears.

All in all, on the blackjack scale, I give this film a 2, as in, I'd definitely hit it once, if not two more times.

18 December 2009

The Friday Five: Wrapping

This week's topic - wrapping (of the "gift" variety) - is very apropos to how I spent half of my night last night.  Here goes:

1) How seriously do you take gift-wrapping when you give gifts?
It really depends on the recipient.  I know that my mom's kind of picky and has high expectations when it comes to gift wrap because of her own perfectionism with it (she's seriously good at wrapping presents).  My dad, however, sucks at wrapping presents, admits to that fact every year, and typically gets something from me in a bag form (this year it's pretty, though, and carefully wrapped in green paper).
My thought is as long as you can't tell what it is - or it's really, really obvious (like Peyton Manning giving that guy a football on that one commercial) - it doesn't matter how it's done.  I wrapped my roommates' presents last night in one of their own shirts, a tote bag, and a Christmas-y gift bag.  It takes all kinds.

2) Do you save gift-wrapping to re-use later?
If it's extra-pretty, and it's a large gift, I've been known to.  I'll also be really careful in unwrapping when the gift giver is really, really excited to see me open it.  Schadenfreude.
Of course, you can wrap in fabric so that there is something to re-use later; a recent article on Etsy's blog, The Storque, explores those options in the form of Furoshiki.  Of course, use of fabric negates chances for wrapping paper battles, like what inevitably happens with my dad's side of the family.

3) How picky are you when it comes to selecting wrapping paper?
Not really, actually.  I like that Victorian stylings are coming back, because it means my fancy-ass green striped wrapping paper with subtle pattern is good all year.  I don't like really excessively patterned stuff, and I try to get paper I can use year-round.  I'll dress up the present for Christmas with a Sharpie-markered tree on the card usually.  That or holly berries.  Or a SCUBA mask with mistletoe hanging from it.

4) How much attention do you pay to the way gifts you receive are wrapped?
Not much, really.  I know my brother will typically bag it, my sister and my mom will wrap it VERY. CAREFULLY. (and the paper will most often match the rest of the presents under the tree from that person - Mom and Katie typically use the "wrap everything at once, and from the same roll" method).  And you can tell my dad's because my mom wrapped it.

5) Among people you know, who is the most talented at wrapping gifts?
Definitely my mom.  She does all the different foldy-junk - how you fold over the edge that's going to be exposed so it's a clean line, and how there's a different way to fold for books than for boxes, etc.  She's very meticulous and very zen about it.  And now has so many nieces and nephews to buy books for that she's graduated them all to bags.

15 December 2009

Coming Up Christmas: My Choices for Lights and Music this year

I have, over the past couple of years, made it a point to take one evening and just drive around St. Paul and look at the lights.  It started a few years ago, when I was house-sitting for a relative and would be spending Christmas night with the dog and cat after a day of travelling from house to house and family to family (I was engaged at the time).  I decided to wind down with a rambling drive through St. Paul, driving only where I figured the Best Lights in the City are.  I will now share my route with you. 
(If you've got your own route already planned, it's all good!  Skip down and check out my music recommendations!)

Coming in from the southeast suburbs (as I often do), it's best to approach downtown St. Paul from Warner Road.  The view of the city itself is just gorgeous, and gives you a taste of what's ahead on the lighting tour.  Warner changes its name at Sibley, so abandon it there and take a right into the city.  Go straight a couple blocks and you'll see Mears Park in front of you - take a right on 5th Street (another one-way) and take rights all the way around the park.  I'm a big fan of Mears Park because it's a very compact and dense little space of green in the midst of Lowertown, and they've done a great job with lights the past couple of years.  When you round out the northwest edge of the park, stay the course on 6th into and through the bulk of downtown.

The roads get a little awkward here - no, not because of drunken Irishman, because of the curve of the river and the preservation of some of the oldest roads and buildings in the city.  Sixth meets up with Jackson - take that down to Kellogg (not as far as Sheperd), and turn towards the Xcel Energy Center.  From there, you'll see the whole of the Wabasha/Kellogg waterfront park area lit up for the season.  And by "season" here, I just mean "winter."  I've seen these lights left on until the trees start getting leaves in the spring.  It's actually quite spectacular.

From Kellogg, follow down until you're almost to the X.  Take a right onto Washington, and there ahead of you will be Rice Park.  This is usually the part of the tour where I circle a few times - there's a lot to take in here.  The James J. Hill Public Library, the Ordway Theater, the Landmark Center and the St. Paul Hotel directly border the park, with a view of Lawson Commons and its annual candle.  (You'll know the candle when you see it!)  This year, Xcel Energy has upgraded to all LED lights throughout the park.  Rice Park, while smaller than Mears Park, feel bigger because of the smaller buildings around it, and the views are a lot more Currier & Ives than the Battery Park feel of Mears.  If you're lucky, the skating rink is still open when you do the drive, and you'll see families with skates on shoulders, heading home for some hot cocoa, or making a stop at one of the many restaurants in downtown.
Not you, though; you'll continue the tour.  Right?

From Rice Park, head back out the way you came and on to Kellogg again, taking the awkward turn onto Exchange Street (it's an exit in the middle of Kellogg).  Follow Exchange to Walnut and take a left into Irvine Park, one of the oldest neighborhoods in St. Paul, having been donated to the village of St. Paul by John Irvine in 1849.  It's home to some of the oldest houses, and the most famous haunted restaurant in the city: Forepaugh's.  Head back out on Walnut up to 7th, and back out to Kellogg.  Check out the huge jumbotron on the corner of the X and take a left to head up the hill.

This is the part that Irvine Park will have wet your appetite for - a trip down Summit AvenueSummit Avenue and its historic districts are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, along with several Summit Avenue landmarks.  As you drive down the gorgeous road, you'll pass:
The Cathedral of St. Paul
The James J. Hill Mansion
F. Scott Fitzgerald's house
The Governor's Mansion - pay close attention to the tree in the yard here.  That's your tree!  The governor does not live in the mansion, but there is a decorated tree on the lawn nonetheless for all Minnesota taxpayers.
Once past Snelling Avenue and Macalester College, the driver does have the option to leave the tour at Cretin and head out to 94.  Still with me for the final leg?  Here we go.

The final part of this journey has more to do with winter and the river than the lights along it.  Summit Avenue's western terminus is Mississippi River Boulevard.  From here, take a left onto River Road and enjoy the view of the University of St. Thomas as you go past.  As you go, you'll notice tastefully and wonderfully lit houses to the left, and a view of the Mississippi River and Mississippi Gorge Regional Park to the right.  One note here, though: drive with caution.  River Road is not to be taken lightly.  The section of road nearest to St. Thomas is relatively straight, but as you go, you'll find that the road twists, turns, pitches and rolls quite a bit.  You'll pass many beautiful houses on this stretch, and combined with the magnificence of one of the largest rivers in the world, it's a great way to wrap up the tour.

Mississippi River Boulevard meets up with Ford Parkway, which you can take into Minneapolis, or stay the course until it meets up with Highway 5 or 35E to head out.

Can you remember all that?  No worries if you can't - here's a Google map for you.  The tour is broken up into three sections: Downtown, Summit, and Mississippi River Boulevard.

View Holiday Lighting tour in a larger map

Total mileage according to Google Maps is 14.4 miles.  Even if you drive the worst kind of vehicle for snow, it's $2.50 for about 45 minutes of pure wintry entertainment and joy.

I don't know many people who can drive, look at Christmas lights, and not listen to Christmas music.  In fact, I do not recommend it.  As for music, there's always the classics, which for me are Vince Guaraldi Trio and Amy Grant's Tennessee Christmas album, preferably on audio cassette if I can get it.  This year, I'll do some advocacy in the form of music.  Go to Target or Amazon, and get your hands on a copy of "Home for the Holidays: A Minnesota Christmas" - a collection of 15 classics as performed by Minnesota artists such as Tim Mahoney, G.B. Leighton, Ari Herstand, Roster McCabe and Katie McMahon.  Each of these artists has carved out their very own niche here on the Twin Cities music scene, and they each bring their own sound to these classic songs.  And, as if that wasn't good enough, proceeds go to charity.  Everyone wins!

So there you have it:
$2.50 for one gallon of gas (average)
$10 for "Home for the Holidays" from your local Target ($15 online)
$4 for a cup of coffee or cocoa from your favorite local coffee shop (check out Brewberrys or Cafe Amore)
A night in a warm car, looking at lights and listening to wonderful music, creating a new tradition with your family and friends, or building on an old one: you know what they say.  Priceless.

I also highly recommend this drive in the spring to see the leaves start to wake up, in autumn to see the colors change, and midday Saturdays in the summer for people-watching.

11 December 2009

TheFriday Five: Remorse

Bet you can't guess what today means... that's right, it's the Friday 5!
Okay, okay, I haven't been posting here long enough to have a real pattern to it, but I certainly am trying. 

This week's topic from Friday5.org fits in brilliantly with the week I've had: Remorse.  Here goes...

1) When did you last experience emailer’s remorse?
And these are supposed to be honest answers, right?  Crap.  Well then... pretty much any time I e-mail my dad's side of the family.  I try to get in on whatever the joke is, and then no replies show up.  I suspect I get taken off of the list for future correspondance that way.

2) When did you last experience diner’s remorse?
I don't often have diner's remorse.  I love food.  Perhaps too much. 
But if there's any one place that I regret practically every time I go there, it's the Taco Bell in Cottage Grove.  Ugh.  That place...
WAIT.  I have another.  DELICIOUS food at Khan's Mongolian Barbecue, but I spent the next three days in bed after that one.  Double ugh.

3) When did you last experience movie-goer’s remorse?
Easy: Nicholas Cage, "Ghost Rider."  Went with my brother, and we couldn't even come up with sarcastic comments for entertainment.  Both of us fell asleep.  What a waste of a movie ticket.

4) When did you last experience caring friend’s remorse?
I honestly can't remember.  I know it happens often, though, because I'm a pretty empathetic person, and I can pretty easily tell when people are having a rough go.  It usually follows that if someone I care about is feeling remorse, then I just might, too, and not know why.

5) When did you last experience lover’s remorse?
February 2007.  Whew.  An easy one.  That's when my ex-fiancee and I for real-real called it the quits, after I'd been on the fence about it / holding out hope for a good outcome since approximately the previous October.  The real bitch of it was that I had come to rely on his friends - had developed relationships with them, helped them through tough times, etc - and therefore had almost no one to turn to when the shit really hit the fan.  I had to re-forge relationships with my own friends before turning to them for a shoulder to cry on, and that was a rough road.

alternate question in case that last one was too personal:
6) When did you last experience function-attender’s remorse?

I don't often go to something without a reason, or without finding something good about it.  Even if I'm super-awkward, I try to find the good.  If nothing else, at least I got out of the house that day!

There you have it!  Another week, another 5.

09 December 2009

Article of the Week: Freegan Ride, by Raina Kelley, from Newsweek 1 Oct 2007

After learning about "freeganism" in June of 2007, Raina Kelley of Newsweek decided to spend a month as one.  "For those new to the term (free + vegan), a freegan is a person who has decided to boycott capitalist society by severely curtailing consumption of resources through reusing, recycling and dumpster diving."

In an October article from 2007, Raina Kelley described her month of living as a "freegan."  I found this article to be entertaining, and also shockingly similar to some of the ways in which I've been living my life in recent years.

Here's the article!

And here's my own responsorial segment: My Life as a Freegan

The crux of this article is the "waste not, want not" philosophy.

When it comes to dumpster diving, I am a champion. I have more free and cool furniture items due to finding them in the trash or on the free section of craigslist than I do new pieces I've actually purchased. I attempted to do the math with my roommate once, and I think the sum total of dollars spent on kitchen and living room furniture was not over $200 - and that includes my airlift sewing table, pair of armchairs, couch, coffee table and storage hutch.  I even managed to find an old steamer trunk.  And that's just furniture.
I have also begun foraging for clothes.  As a seamstress, I have found ways to reuse the fabric from old clothes for handbags, heat packs, maternity pants and new clothes.  I helped my roommate clean out her closet this week and walked away with 2 new shirts, a new dress and three ruined natural-fiber sweaters I plan to "felt" and turn into mittens or Christmas stockings.  When my sister cleaned out her room a couple weeks ago, she threw five bags of garbage into the bin.  FIVE BAGS?! I thought, looking into my parents' dumpster.  I grabbed a sixth, and proceeded to sift through the wreckage of her old paint pants, tees, rescued costume loft items, and clothes from "when she was fat."  I managed to walk away with one bag full of 100% cotton tees and old dresses made of adorable paisley I plan to upcycle later.  And two bathrobes.
I'm also considering something my best friend told me about a year ago: forgoing shampoo entirely.  Yeah.  It does sound dirty.  Here's his take on it.  The purpose of shampoo is to strip everything off of the surface of your hair, including the oils that naturally come out of your head to keep it clean.  What this does is it robs your body its ability to tell what it needs to do to keep your hair clean, shiny and healthy.  That's why people get oily hair.  He stopped washing with anything but eggs and olive oil last year at about this time, and his hair hasn't been silkier.  I'm jealous, and it's hat season.  I'm considering giving this a shot.

Before you throw me to the wolves as a garbage-loving dirty hippie, keep this in mind:
I still shop at Target for my groceries and occasionally clothes.
I still buy fabric and yarn in mass quantities at JoAnn's, Michael's and SR Harris.
The shower in my apartment is currently overflowing with shampoo and conditioner bottles, and the garbage is constantly overflowing with disposable diapers for my Tiny Roommate.
I drive a 2001 Jeep Wrangler that averages 18 mpg and, on days like today when I've got to use the four-wheel drive or end up in a ditch with passing motorists laughing at me, it's more like 16 mpg.

What it comes down to is a combination of "waste not, want not" and "everything in moderation."  You won't see me behind an Italian restaurant lapping spaghetti up off a stump, but you also won't see me turn down leftover sandwiches at the office, either.

04 December 2009

The Friday Five: The Middle

In the interest of having some sort of continuity on this here bloggeroni, I'm thinkin' Fridays will be dedicated to following along with Friday5.org!

This week's theme is "The Middle."  Here goes:

1) What film have you seen in the past year that’s completely average?
I watch a lot of movies - a LOT of movies - but I'll try to stick with contenders from 2009.  I will judge "completely average" as meaning I didn't feel like I wanted to see it again about halfway through.  This year brought us a lot of bad movies (Transformers, Wolverine), but those puppies are my bread and butter. 
I'm going with Knowing, the blockbuster foible starring Nicholas Cage.  The film toes the line between being a disaster film, and an in-depth science-versus-faith discussion.  In trying to do both, it can't do either.  While quite pretty in a visual sense, I felt pretty "eh" about it overall.

2) Who’s the most average-looking person you know?
In the interest of fairness, I'll go with myself.  I can look damn good, let me tell you, but I came in to work this morning and didn't realize until after my coffee that my hair looked nigh upon identical to Jon Bon Jovi's during the late-'90s "It's My Life" tour.  Enter ponytail, and myself in this category.

3) In what area of your life are you performing just well enough?
Cleaning.  I am just good enough at cleaning.  I have fits where I can't help but clear off every horizontal surface in my path, but those fits rarely hit the bedroom.
(Can't help but hear the following "How I Met Your Mother" exchange:  "Yeah, you did."  "Had to."  "Totally.")

4) A new radio station features music you neither like nor dislike! What are three songs you’re likely to hear on it?
"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" - the Beatles
"Brick" - Ben Folds Five
"Run" - Snow Patrol

5) What game or sport are you just okay in?
Swimming.  I swam competitively for 9 years, so I'm a better swimmer than a lot of people, however, I did not win a whole lot of races, and generally ended up in the middle to the end of the pack.
And there you have it for this week's Friday Five!  Agree?  Disagree?  Want to start a fight in my comment section?  All are welcome.

02 December 2009


Couldn't resist that title, now, could I.

Well, this is it, folks!  I'm back on the blogosphere, as it were.  For some of you, I've just arrived, seeing as I've got new digs out here on the internet - new blog, new set-up, and a new purpose:
...a new purpose:

I guess I'm still working that whole "new purpose" thing out, but I feel it will have to do with the following:
  • witty banter and utterly biased comments about television and music
  • supporting your local - could be musicians, schools, small shopkeepers or Etsy sellers
  • random observations about the world, current events and celebrities
  • the stuff I spend my time making, and how awesome and cool and fun it is
I'm doing my best to plan this all out, but I'm hoping to have regular postings about what I'm looking forward to in TV and music, what's going on here in St. Paul (and Minneapolis, too, I guess), and what project is currently occupying my time.

So welcome one, welcome all!