Entries in The Food of Love (36)

Saturday
Dec312011

A Crack in Everything: The Best of 2011

This time last year, I characterized 2010 as my most difficult year ever.  2011 was much better: still hard, but with lots of good stuff, too. I don't regret the trials I've experienced over the past two years. Looking back, I am reminded of those lines from Leonard Cohen's "Anthem": "There is a crack in everything/That's how the light gets in." I've been blessed with many glimpses of light in past months, which means I have to be grateful for those cracks, right?

Anyway, here are my highlights of the past year.

Best Books Read:

This year, I’ve decided to rank only books I read for the first time (no re-reads, as in years past). I’m also only ranking books by writers whom I don’t know personally.

1. The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

2. A Dance with Dragons, By George R. R. Martin

3. Change Your Questions, Change Your Life, by Wendy Watson Nelson

4. Pathfinder, by Orson Scott Card

5. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua

6. Matched, by Ally Condie

7. The Healing Spell, by Kimberley Griffiths Little

8. Little Elvises, by Tim Hallinan

9. Sweater Quest, by Adrienne Martini

10. Save the Cat!, by Blake Snyder

Now I’ll list some outstanding books written by people I do know.  These are in no particular order—but they’re all worth your time.

Band of Sisters, by Annette Lyon

Keep Mama Dead, by S. James Nelson

I Don’t Want to Kill You, by Dan Wells

Not My Type, by Melanie Jacobson

The Scorch Trials, by James Dashner

Pumpkin Roll, by Josi Kilpack

Variant, by Rob Wells

Special Mention: Unwound, by Lee Ann Setzer—This book isn’t published yet. Lee Ann is in my critique group, so I got the immense privilege of reading this YA historical fantasy a few weeks ago. What. A. Joy.  Definitely one of the best books I read this year. My prediction: Lee Ann is the next Shannon Hale. Remember, you read it here first.

Best Music Purchased:

1. “Noisy Birds” (and so many other fantastic tracks), by Fictionist

1. “The Bird Song” (and the rest of the new record), by The Wailin’ Jennys

1. “Born on a New Day,” by The King’s Singers

4. “Sweet Bells” by Kate Rusby

5. “This Little Light of Mine,” by The Lower Lights

6. “You’re My Best Friend,” by The Once

7. “Baby We Were Young,” by The Dirty Guv’nahs

Best Movies Seen (I am wayyyy behind on movie viewing right now):

1. Jane Eyre

2. Midnight in Paris

3. Harry Potter 7.2

4. Super 8

5. Moneyball

6. The Help

7. Cowboys and Aliens

8. The Adjustment Bureau

9. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Most Disappointing Movie:

Hanna

2011 Movies on my To See List (See? Wayyy behind):

We Bought a Zoo

Hugo

The Adventures of Tintin

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Kung Fu Panda 2

Queen to Play

The Tree of Life

Dream House

Yarn of the Year: Blue Moon Fiber Arts Woobu in the Ravenscroft colorway

Best Meals Eaten:

1. Private party at the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, London

2. Craft, NYC

3. Maze, NYC

4. Thanksgiving Dinner, Cold Spring, NY

5. Em’s, Salt Lake City, UT

6. Café Cluny, NYC

7. Bernard’s Inn, Ridgefield, CT

8. Keens Steakhouse, NYC

9. Shake Shack, Citifield, Queens, NY

10. Valley, Garrison, NY

Best Theatre of the Year:

MusicalHugh Jackman: Back on Broadway—DIVINE.

PlayThe Mountaintop, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett—TRANSCENDENT.

ConcertGreat Big Sea—AGAIN and ALWAYS.

Thursday
Mar172011

Ear Candy

Patrick is away this week and next, teaching a Copyright Termination practicum at The University of Michigan Law School.  It's a sweet little gig, but it means he's in Ann Arbor and I'm here in Cold Spring, a thousand lonely miles apart.

Patrick has a rich, dark tenor voice, and his singing transports me.  There is nothing better than hearing his voice raised in song, from The Beatles to Gershwin to hymns.  His voice is hands down my favorite sound in the world.

But he's not here right now, and I have to console myself somehow.  And when it comes to singers other than Patrick, I favor the lower registers.  Here are four of my very favorites, arranged from high to low, and coincidentally from folk rock to classical.

Great Big Sea's Alan Doyle.  That smoky, rough tone gets me every time.  For me, there is no more appealing male pop voice.  I've seen GBS in concert twice now, and there is no end in sight to my groupie-ness.

Brian Stokes Mitchell.

His voice is like hot caramel.  I got to see him years ago on Broadway in Ragtime.  Bliss.

Bryn Terfel.  He's from Wales, which is a bonus.  For one thing, it means that his diction is pristine.  Ah, his full-throated vigor.  He's brilliant at everything from Mozart to Vaughan Williams to folk songs. He's the only one of these four I haven't heard live.  I would die to see him in Don Giovanni or The Magic Flute--or just singing straight out of the phone book.

Thomas Quasthoff.  He would be remarkable even if he weren't a thalidomide babyGlorious resonance, exquisite emotional shading, and amazing flexibility pour forth out of that small body--it's a miracle.  He always inspires me.  He is the bass in my favorite recording of Handel's Messiah.  We heard him sing the Brahms Requiem at Lincoln Center a few years ago; I wept throughout.  His jazz standards are fantastic, too.

These men will suffer heavy rotation on my stereo system until my man comes home to me safe and sound.  Give them a listen and see what you think.

Monday
Jan242011

I'm Still Standing: The Best of 2010

Our amazing kids, December 2010, from left to right: Hope, Tess, Anne, Christian, Daniel, and James

2010 was the toughest year of my life.  It was a great one, too; highlights include our trip to London in August and the realization of my birthday goal in November.*  But a lot of last year was a struggle. 

I can’t complain; I have my health, my family, my faith, excellent friends, and so many comforts and privileges.  And I made it through!  The year didn’t kill me, so it must have made me stronger, right?

I didn’t experience as much media last year as I usually do, but here’s what I enjoyed the most.

Best Movies I Saw

1. True Grit

2. Inception

3. Robin Hood

4. Toy Story 3

5. Harry Potter 7.1

Best Songs I Downloaded

1. “Closer to the Sun,” by Slightly Stoopid

2. “Harlem River Blues,” by Justin Townes Earle

3. “Rise Like Smoke,” by Cypress Hill

4. “Tennessee Me,” by The Secret Sisters

5. “You! Me! Dancing!” by Los Campesinos!

Best Books I Read (or Re-read)

1. Hold On To Your Kids, by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté

2. The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield

3. A Course in Weight Loss, by Marianne Williamson

4. The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls

5. Misery, by Stephen King

6. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Brontë

7. The Cabinet of Wonders, by Marie Rutkowski

8. Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall

9. In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, by Gabor Maté

10. Mr. Monster, by Dan Wells

It was the year of non-fiction!  I've never had more than half of my top ten list be non-fiction before.  The top three rank right under the level of scripture for me, though, and I refer back to them often.  Highly recommended.

Yarn of the Year: Sunflower Yarns Franconia in the May Flowers colorway

I knit more than ever last year (knitting is an excellent stress-reliever for me), and I hope to build on that momentum.  Sunflower Yarns beat out other excellent contenders for YotY, including The Sanguine Gryphon and Fiber Optic.  Yarns I look foward to using this year include those by madelinetosh, Three Irish Girls, and Wollmeise

Best Meals I Ate

1.     Winvian, Morris, Connecticut

2.     Charingworth Manor, Chipping Campden, England

3.     db Bistro Moderne, New York, New York

4.     Byron Burger, London, England

5.     Robert, New York, New York

6.     Picnic lunch, Hampton Court Palace, England

7.     Livebait, London, England

8.     Blue, Liverpool, England

9.     Picnic lunch, Arundel Castle, England

10.   Memphis Mae’s, Croton-on-Hudson, New York

Yes, Virginia, there is great food to be had in England.  It's one reason I'd go back in a heartbeat.

* My birthday goal: I decided back in May that I wanted to run 4.4 miles in 44 minutes on my 44th birthday, which was November 4th.  I was copying my dear friend Shauna, who had done the same on her birthday. 

There was only one obstacle in my path: I wasn’t a runner.  I hated to run.  I had never run even a mile without stopping.  Not.  Ever.  Why I would choose such a goal boggles my mind even now.

My homegal Anne (remember Brillig?) told me about the Couch-to-5K program, and she and our bosom buddy Jana and I signed up and got going.  It’s a great program; you start very small and build on tiny, incremental successes over the course of nine weeks.  On July 19th, I ran 5K without stopping to walk once.

After that, my awesome sister Angie, who is a veteran marathoner and the fittest person I know, made me a training schedule.  I stuck to it religiously; I believe that from May to November (not counting our time in England in August), I only missed one running session.

To do so, I had to make room in my life.  I got up at 5:15 a.m.  I made the kids’ lunches the night before each school day.  I made sure I was in bed by 10:00 every night.   I faithfully took my vitamins and supplements.  And I made new running music mixes often—the music got me through some very tough moments, I can tell you.

Right up until my birthday, I didn’t know whether I’d be able to attain my goal.  I prayed; I visualized; I told all of my friends what I was doing so that I could marshal sheer pride if all else failed. 

And I made it.  Afterward, I laughed and cried and felt a little like throwing up; I still can’t believe I did it.  Even more incredibly, over the course of my training, I learned to hate running less (and now that I’ve switched to running in these, I actually like running).  The side benefit?  I lost 20 pounds.  Apparently, burning 500-800 calories several times a week for six months will do that to you.

I’m still running, alternating it with rowing on my Concept 2 rower, which I've loved for years.  I don’t know whether I’ll ever take running to “the next level”; at this point in my life, I just don’t have the time. 

This last part may sound like a cliché, but clichés exist for a reason.  I learned that, with planning, consistency, the support of good friends, and a fair amount of grit, I can do things that I would have thought were impossible.  And gaining the gift of that knowledge during the hardest year of my life came in very, very handy.

2011? Bring it on!



Monday
Jan172011

Down the Rabbit Hole

I’ve been meaning to post about this literally for months.  I know: lame.  But better late than never, right? 

Last summer, I took Christian to a concert in Danbury, Connecticut.  It was outdoors!  At the Ives Center!  I had been driving past the sign for years and had always wondered what it was like.  I mean, would it be Ivesian in some crucial and unique way?  Would two bands play at once, in different keys and rhythms, within earshot of one another?

No, it turns out.  It’s just a really nice outdoor venue.  Woodsy, with a pond.  Ample parking.  A nice place to see a show.

And the show was great.  Four bands played: New Kingston, Collie Buddz, Cypress Hill, and Slightly Stoopid.  I love me some reggae and ska, and anyone that can fuse them with blues and hip-hop and throw in a dash of skatepunk is mighty fine by me. 

Collie and the boys from New Kingston are all adorable.  They brought out the most maternal instincts in me—and trust me: I’m easily old enough to be their mother.  Such cute kids!  So fresh-faced and wide-eyed!  So talented!  Such fine dancing!  I’m sure they’d hate the fact that I wanted to coo over them, pinch their cheeks, and make them some nice sandwiches. 

Cypress Hill was raw and sincere.  They rap life as they see it.  And when you grow up Latino in a really crappy part of Southern California, life is not often pretty.  It was a lot to take, but I respect their work and their perspective.  Plus, the lyrics are only half as offensive when they’re 50% in Spanish.  (I’m winking at you right now.)

Slightly Stoopid, the headlining band, is a phenomenally talented group of young men.  “Closer to the Sun” is one of my favorites of theirs: lovely guitar work paired with an incredibly catchy melody. 

They’re fun to watch, too.  One of my favorite things about the show was how the two singers, Miles and Kyle (who are best friends from childhood), would trade their bass and guitar back and forth and take turn singing lead.  They probably have more than two instruments between them these days, but I’m guessing this is a habit that goes back many years. 

When we got to the venue in the late afternoon, I found myself a nice seat with a good view right at the edge of the mosh pit.  Christian hung out with me during the breaks, but during the acts, he was right down in the thick of things, as you can see from the photo above (he's the tall blond kid singing along on the left side).  Lucky thing.  When I was going to concerts at his age, I always wished I were one of the tall, skinny guys who could see well and not have to worry about getting groped.

During one of the early breaks, as the sun was going down and Christian was on his way back to me, I sat reading in the fading light.  A cute but obviously quite stoned kid came up to me and sat down.  I’m guessing he was maybe 22—exactly half my age.

“Why are you reading at a concert?” he asked.

“I’m just reading during the breaks,” I answered.  “I’m enjoying the music when the bands are on.”

“Oh.” He tried to process that for a few moments, but failed.  “But why are you reading at a concert?” he repeated.  I realized I’d have to speak his language.

“Reading is my drug,” I explained.  “It’s my high.”

He gave me a wide, unfocused smile. “Right on.”  He leaned in a little closer, overwhelming me with the dueling aromas of sweat and Colt 45.  “Are you here with anyone?” he asked in what I’m sure he imagined to be his best James Bond imitation.

“Yes, I am,” I said, nodding at Christian, who was making his way through the crowds toward us.  “I’m here with my son.”

The poor boy’s jaw dropped, and he got a little gray in the face.  (Alcohol poisoning or humiliation?  Not sure.)  “Right on,” he mumbled again, looking around furtively.  I successfully kept myself from guffawing at his obvious embarrassment at trying to hit on someone’s mother.  He scooted off in search of younger blood just as Christian approached. 

I'm not flattering myself that I would have been a pick-up target had the poor boy been in full possession of his faculties.  I wasn’t the oldest person at the concert, but it was a near thing.  That didn’t matter to me; I had a great time with Christian, and there was really only one downer about the whole evening. 

Yes, that would be the drugs.  When I was a teenager at gigs, you would often smell pot, but people smoked it surreptitiously.  At this concert, despite the huge security presence, nearly everyone was very open about their usage.  It astonished me, and I’ve been around the block a few times. 

More than that, I find it tragic that all four of these very gifted bands devote a majority of their lyrics and focus to marijuana.  Pot isn’t heroin, but it’s not harmless, either.  It’s powerfully addictive, both physiologically and psychologically.

I hate to see talented wasted in the service of a false god.  Is it hyperbole to call these guy’s drug use and glorification idolatry?  I don’t think so, not when you sing about how, if everyone would just smoke a little ganja, the world would be at peace.  That pretty much feels like a religious prescription to me.

Not sold?  My faith teaches that if everyone would just follow Jesus, the world would be at peace.  Same format, different substance to the prescription.

So, that’s a drag.  I find I can’t listen to the majority of these bands’ songs, despite their enormous musicality and rhythmic appeal.  The pot is a dealbreaker for me, but I’d buy their music in a hearbeat if these kids saw the light and decided to sing about something else.  I guess I really am older than I look. 

Monday
Apr122010

And now, for something completely different....

My boys recently asked me for a list of bands I've seen live.  Following are all the (non-classical) concerts I can remember off the top of my head, in roughly chronological order.  I've included links for every band or artist, in case you say to yourself, "What the hey?" and want to know more.

Santana

Police

Free Beer

Los Olvidados

Bad Religion

Minor Threat

Bad Brains

Black Flag

Public Image, Ltd.

U2

Oingo Boingo

The Thompson Twins

Madness

The Fixx

The Police (again)

David Bowie

The Tubes

Red Hot Chili Peppers

Fishbone

Gil Scott-Heron

The English Beat

UB40

Fine Young Cannibals

Lone Justice

Everything But the Girl

The Cure

B.B. King

U2 (again)

Paul McCartney

Harry Connick, Jr.

Felicia and the Hotheads

Dave Brubeck

Hem

The Wailin’ Jennys

The Eagles

Great Big Sea

New Kingston/Collie Buddz

Cypress Hill

Slightly Stoopid

Great Big Sea (again)

Cheap Trick

Aerosmith