I've long felt like I haven't read even a fraction of the things that I should have read as an English major, so I've finally decided to do something about it. Come watch me try to fill in the gaps at Becoming Well-Read. And follow me on Twitter at @wellreadkate.
Christmas Song Roundup: "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)"
Upon a rather alarming amount of reflection, I have concluded that I may have been overhasty in my dismissal of Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" in the gift guide review the other day. It is a great track, although I stand by my convictions that it is not the greatest Christmas song of all time and that there are even better songs on that particular album. I also concede that I am biased by my general distaste for romantically-themed Christmas songs (with a few notable exceptions, but we'll get to that later too). Thematically, this is basically a standard Darlene Love song with an overlay of Christmas, rather than an actually Christmas-centric song, and that might be why I'm not quite as wild about it as some seem to be. But her voice, and that wall of sound . . . I cannot possibly deny that, musically, this is pretty darn good. So here it is. You should listen to it.
A few years ago, my best friend said he was going to learn to play "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" so he'd have something seasonal for some December gigs. And I was all "You're going to play . . . a Darlene Love song? Really?" "No!" he insisted. He was going to play a U2 song! And I was baffled. But!
(My gosh, all that hair!) Okay. That's a good version too. But Bono, much as I love him, is no Darlene Love. Still. Perfectly adequate. And it looks like there really is a Leighton Meester version:
Okay, that one's not so interesting. YouTube also has Mariah Carey and Bruce Springsteen doing this, but I think I've embedded enough videos for one post.
(This was the first of what will likely be a series of posts in which I try to make you listen to Christmas songs I like, because I love Christmas music to a somewhat ridiculous extent and there's a very limited timeframe in which it is socially acceptable to discuss it. So. Just a warning! Do you have a favorite carol or song you want me to blog about? Let me know!)
I suddenly remembered this morning that I had promised to bring some sort of baked goods to a meeting today. At this point, it was too late for the peanut butter cookies I'd planned, as that dough has to chill and all. So I did what I practically always do when faced with a culinary crisis - I turned to Mark Bittman. These blondies from his inimitable How To Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food (seriously, you have this, right? If not, go put it on your Christmas list RIGHT NOW) are quick, easy, and only call for ingredients that I keep around the house anyway. Score.
And as I was making them this morning, I noticed that virtually all the ingredients are "one" of something, which means this would be both easy to memorize and simple enough to make at 6am when you're still half asleep. Not that any of us are ever baking in that state. Ahem.
Preheat oven to 350. Spray a brownie pan. (The book says 8", but mine might be 9". Whatever. Also, feel free to actually butter the pan if you want to invest that kind of time, but come on, this is quick-and-dirty before-work baking. Spray does fine.)
Melt one stick of unsalted butter. Pour it into your mixer. (Oh, that's another difference: I did this whole thing in my Kitchenaid, because I didn't feel like stirring at 6:30 in the morning. It worked fine.)
Beat it with one cup of brown sugar.
Beat in one egg and one teaspoon of vanilla.
Add one pinch of salt (yeah that's where I'm stretching the "one" thing) and one cup of flour. Mix. (Start on low so the flour doesn't end up all over the kitchen.)
Mix in one cup of chocolate chips, if you want. Or nuts. Or peanut butter chips might be good. Whatever. Go crazy.
Pour it into the brownie pan and even it out with a spatula.
Bake for about 20 minutes, or until "just set in the middle."
Cool. Cut up. Bring to work and preserve your reputation as the office baker.
Ever since I started reading Beck's holiday gift guide reviews, I've been wanting to jump in with some of my own. But I've been a little intimidated, because Beck is just so darn funny. But. I finished my NaNoWriMo novel today so I'm feeling pretty invincible and am just going to jump right in here. Without further ado, the Time Holiday Gift Guide 2009, reviewed!
First, a note: they call this a list of "books, music, DVDs, games and gifts that give back." I guess by that they mean there are some of those "buy this and we'll give some money to charity" items or the "this was made by starving children in a third world country" items, which are all well and good, but seem out of place on such a media/entertainment-centric list. Anyway. Onward to the list!
"Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" by Darlene Love What is it? An mp3 from iTunes. How much? 99 cents. Who is it for? I suppose it is for music lovers who like Motown but, improbably, don't already have this whole album. What's wrong with it? Well, first of all, this is in no way, as claimed, "the greatest holiday song of all time." It's good, but the greatest? Just no. It's not even the best track from A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector, which may in fact be the greatest holiday album of all time. I also didn't appreciate the wholly gratuitous Leighton Meester bashing in the description. But! Sure. It's a good song. People should listen to it. The real issue here is this: How on earth do you give an mp3 as a gift? I mean, sure, I think there's a way to buy a song on iTunes and send it to someone. I think. But it still seems weird and not very gifty. "Here's this 99 cent song that I barely thought about before I pressed a button to send it to you!" Sending a song to a friend seems like a nice gesture but not exactly a Christmas gift. Grade: B for content, F for presentation.
Rolando What is it? Some sort of cartoony game for the iPhone. How much? $2.99 Who is it for? Hipsters with iPhones, looks like. What's wrong with it? Well, I have to say that iPhone apps are yet another category of things that I'd never considered as a gift. Is there a way to buy one and send it to someone's phone? I suppose there probably is. The description doesn't really say much about the game itself, so who knows what it's like. If you know your recipient has an iPhone and has extra space for another app and likes to play games, then hey, go for it. Grade: C, I guess.
Soap with Hope What is it? Fair trade soap from India in nice scents (jasmine, cucumber, mango or cinnamon). How much? $4.50 Who is it for? Socially conscious people who like smelly bath stuff. (Also - me!) What's wrong with it? Well, this is one of those things that, sure, costs under $5, but if you were actually giving it to someone you'd probably get a few bars or a little soap dish or something to go with it. But other than that issue, it's a great idea. The price isn't outrageous and the scents sound nice. I looove cucumber. In case anyone was wondering. Grade: A-.
The Indie Rock Coloring book What is it? A coloring books for grown-ups of things somehow related to indie rock bands. How much? $10 Who is it for? "Bearded hipsters and the women who abide them," according to the magazine. Hey, I resemble that remark! But I don't want this. What's wrong with it? Well, anything for adults described as "precious" makes me immediately suspicious. And the art looks really dense, like it would be hard to actually color. But I guess this might be the perfect gift for a certain very narrow demographic, and if you see it more as a novelty book rather than a coloring book, the price isn't that bad. And I have to say that the bands listed look right on the money. Oh! And it seems to be for charity, which was not at all obvious from the Time listing! That makes it better. Grade: B-? Sure.
Children's Chopsticks What is it? Chopsticks in bright colors that are linked at the top with animal shapes. How much? $10 per set. Who is it for? Patient children from families who eat a lot of Asian food. What's wrong with it? Some kids might have a lot of fun with these, but I can also see them being frustrating if the child in question doesn't have the fine motor skills for it yet. And if a kid sees Mom and Dad using chopsticks, I feel like he'd likely want to try regular ones, rather than "baby" ones like this. (And again, if he were young enough to like these, they'd probably be too difficult.) But the proceeds go to UNICEF! Grade: C+. Good effort, but seems to slightly miss the mark. But what do I know? I don't have kids. Any parents disagree?
The Man's Book: The Essential Guide for the Modern Man What is it? A book that tells you things like how to make a fire, choose a beer, mix a drink, and close a letter. Because clearly only men need to know these things. How much? $16.31 Who is it for? Men, clearly. It says it's for the modern man but it seems pretty retro. What's wrong with it? Well! There's the obvious sexism. Some of the information provided seems useful but there's also "when to get married and how to break up." And in addition to being sexist, it ALSO buys into the "all men are the same, poor inept little dears" thing. The following line in the Amazon description made my brain hurt too much to keep reading: "Organized by subject in a man-logical way, it's the go-to guide for anyone with a Y chromosome." So. No. Grade: D-.
Up What is it? A Pixar DVD or Blu-Ray disc. I'm sure you've heard about it ad nauseum already. How much? $19.99. Really? It's probably on sale for less at Target. Who is it for? Kids? Maybe adults too, if you believe the hype? What's wrong with it? I know this was wildly popular, but the previews left me completely cold so I never saw it. So maybe you shouldn't listen to me on this one. The kids you know would probably love it. Of course, they have also probably already seen it, so you might want to check with their parents as to whether they liked it. Or already have it, actually. I can see lots of kids getting multiple copies of this this year. Also, I have to say that after the whole Balloon Boy saga, this movie seems a little less fun. Grade: B. I'm probably letting my own tastes get in the way too much here.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Season 1 What is it? A DVD set of a cartoon series set between Star Wars episodes two and three. How much? $27.49 Who is it for? Star Wars fans. What's wrong with it? Not much, except that it's the sort of thing that some Star Wars fans would have purchased on release day, so keep your receipt in case your recipient already has it. And - are there Star Wars purists who are opposed to this series? I'm not sure. $27.49 is a good price for a whole season. Grade: A-.
iKaraoke What is it? A doohickey that turns the regular music on your iPod into karaoke-type tracks (with the vocals turned down) so you can sing along. How much? $29.88 Who is it for? Karaoke fans who aren't going to actually go do karaoke, I guess. And who have iPods. What's wrong with it? First of all, all iPods are not created equal, so check the compatibility and make sure this will actually work with the recipient's iPod. And to make this really work correctly, you also need a stereo and an FM transmitter or cable or something. If you don't prepare very carefully, I can totally see this turning into one of those Christmas morning nightmares in which you can't actually get the present to work because you need all these other things to go along with it and the stores are all closed, and where are you going to find that specific cable on Christmas morning? Otherwise, I guess it seems kind of fun, but what's wrong with just singing along to your iPod? Grade: C. Seems cool on the surface but kind of finicky and unnecessary.
And So to Bead What is it? Beaded necklaces made by women in Uganda. How much? $30. Who is it for? Women who like extremely bright jewelry. What's wrong with it? I don't know if it's just the pictures or what, but these look practically neon. They also kind of look like those pop-bead things. Was that what they were called? You know what I mean. So they look kind of childish, basically. And bright! Did I mention bright? Grade: C. I'm all for supporting women in Uganda, but most women I know wouldn't actually wear this, so I'd rather just give the money directly to the charity.
A Shadow Falls by Nick Brandt What is it? A book of tritone pictures of African animals. How much? $31.50. Who is it for? People who are into Africa, animals, and/or photography. What's wrong with it? Personally, I am not so big on photography/coffee table type books because I always end up disappointed at the lack of words. But I realize that I'm weird. So this is probably a great gift for people who are not me. I can particularly see older kids who are into animals liking this. Ooh, especially if they have graduated from The Lion King. Grade: A-.
Dolly What is it? A four-disc boxed set of Dolly Parton recordings. How much? $36.99. Who is it for? Country music fans. What's wrong with it? Well, I can't, offhand, think of a single person on my gift list who would have the slightest interest in this. But your mileage may vary. If you are buying for Dolly Parton fans, I'm sure this would be a great choice. Grade: I don't know. I'm from Connecticut.
thirtysomething: The Complete First Season What is it? A DVD set of the first season of the apparently groundbreaking show. How much? $39.99. Who is it for? I'm not sure. Probably original fans of the show who will be excited to know that they can now rewatch it. What's wrong with it? I actually really want to see this, because I adore Timothy Busfield with an unseemly passion. But I wouldn't necessarily want to own it right off the bat, and I'd say that about pretty much any show I hadn't seen. So it would probably be safest to get this for someone you already know is a fan of the show. Grade: B
Gone with the Wind 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition What is it? A DVD set that comes with all sorts of extras, a picture book, etc. How much? $45.49. Who is it for? My friend Christine, as I could practically hear her squeal over IM the other day when she saw a commercial for this. Also: classic movie fans. Those who like pretty costumes. What's wrong with it? Nothing, except that it's prompting me to publicly admit that I have neither read nor seen Gone with the Wind. So someone should get me this for Christmas! Anyway, it looks like it has enough fun stuff added to make it worthwhile for even someone who already has the basic DVD of the movie, so you don't have to worry about that issue. Grade: A.
Borderlands What is it? Dude, I have no idea. A game? Okay, it says "you're a badass desperado wandering a postapocalyptic Western wasteland, blasting critters with a near infinite variety of sweet-looking firearms and driving around in funky vehicles with bouncy suspension." Well then. How much? $49.99 Who is it for? Someone to whom the above description is not only comprehensible but appealing. What's wrong with it? Okay, this actually sounds pretty cool, if you're into this sort of thing. "You go up levels. The critters go up levels. Even your guns go up levels." Hah. Just be sure you get the version that goes with the gaming system your recipient has. And note: this does NOT seem to be for kids. Grade: B? Sure.
Uncharted 2 What is it? Another game! This one sounds awesome: It's like Indiana Jones, basically, except instead you are descended from Sir Francis Drake! And there's artifact hunting! Museums! Fisticuffs! Marco Polo! How much? $49.99. Who is it for? Gamers, Indiana Jones fans. What's wrong with it? I'm sure if I looked more closely I'd find all sort of historical inaccuracies about which to be righteously indignant. It's a sequel, so it would sort of bother me to get it if I hadn't played the first one, but your gift recipients are probably less rigid and/or neurotic than I am. It seems to only come for PlayStation 3, so I can't play it. And it's rated T, so if you're thinking of getting it for a kid, I'd check with his or her parent first. Grade: A-.
The Paris Review Interviews Box Set What is it? Four decades - 1946 pages - of interviews with famous writers about how they work. How much? $50. Who is it for? Me. My dad. My uncle. My cousin. Probably some people who aren't related to me, too. What's wrong with it? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Assuming you are buying gifts for the sort of people who want to read thousands of pages of writers talking about writing. But maybe your family is less nerdy than mine, in which case you probably think this is the most boring gift idea ever. Grade: In the Welsh family? A+. In the general populace? I'm not sure.
The John Barrymore Collection What is it? A boxed set of silent films from the 1920s: Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Beloved Rogue, and The Tempest, which seems to have nothing to do with Shakespeare. How much? $53.99. Who is it for? Classic film buffs, or maybe extremely obsessed Drew Barrymore fans. What's wrong with it? Well, I initially read this as "The John Barrowman Collection," and most of my friends would be way more interested in that. The price seems a little steep for four movies without a lot of extra features or anything, but it looks like some of the movies are hard to find and/or expensive by themselves, so if you're buying for someone who's into silent film, this might be a good deal. Grade: C+.
Sinatra: New York What is it? Four CDs and a DVD, all of unreleased material recorded in New York. How much? $55.99. Who is it for? Music lovers. Rat Pack wannabes. What's wrong with it? I realize that it's entirely a reflection of my own biases that this seems an eminently more reasonable gift suggestion than the Dolly Parton set, but it does. It's nice that it's all unreleased stuff. The Time blurb says that the packaging is unimpressive, and I've never really been a fan of concert DVDs. But this might be the perfect gift for that hard-to-buy-for grandmother or elderly uncle. Grade: B+.
BoGo Light SL2 Solar-Powered Flashlight What is it? A solar-powered flashlight. When you buy one they'll send one to a charity (you choose from a list). How much? $59.99. Who is it for? Your friend who wants to put solar panels on his roof but can't afford it/hasn't gotten around to it yet. What's wrong with it? I don't know, it seems kind of expensive for a flashlight. Even a special flashlight. But I guess it's kind of cool. (Note: Requires special batteries! In order to, you know, be solar-powered!) But I got someone a combo hand crank/solar powered radio/flashlight a few years ago for a lot less. Of course, that one didn't have a charity involved. Grade: C.
Modern Warfare 2 What is it? A game. About modern warfare. Part of the Call of Duty series. How much? $59.99. But I wouldn't be surprised if it's on sale in various places on Black Friday. Who is it for? People who like combat games. What's wrong with it? I've actually seen the TV commercial for this about 40 times today, because they quite reasonably seem to be going for the NFL-watching demographic. The art is certainly impressive. The content isn't my thing (and it seems a little grim for Christmas, says the girl who asked for books about Cheney and Nixon last year), but I can see why it's popular. Again, make sure you get the version that matches your gamer's platform, and don't assume that just because it's a video game it's appropriate for kids. Grade: B.
Paul Newman: The Tribute Collection What is it? 13 movies spanning from 1958 to 1982. With a 136-page book. How much? $62.99. Who is it for? Paul Newman fans, one assumes. What's wrong with it? I don't know. Honestly, I associate Newman more with auto racing and organic food than with acting. Is it possible that the only one of his movies I've seen is Cars? Huh. Most people probably are not as oblivious as I am, though, and I'm sure many of them would like this. Grade: B? Okay.
Rome: The Complete Series What is it? DVD set of both seasons of the HBO/BBC series about the Roman empire. How much? $64.99. Who is it for? Um, ME. History buffs who don't get HBO. Maybe Grey's Anatomy fans who want to see the new Army doctor Owen in a toga. What's wrong with it? Nothing. Well, okay, it's kind of violent, and it wouldn't be ancient Rome without some poisonings and incest and such. So maybe it's not for everyone. But for those who are interested in ancient Rome - this is very, very well done. I think I read that it had the highest per-episode budget of any TV show ever, and that definitely shows in the attention to detail and the breathtaking scope of this. Grade: A.
The Iconic House and Frank Gehry: Houses What is it? Two big pictures books of architecturally interesting houses. How much? $65 and $85, respectively. Who is it for? People who like architecture and coffee table books. What's wrong with it? We've already discussed my issues with coffee table books, but these do seem neat, especially for people who are into architecture. Might want to make sure that the recipients haven't had their houses foreclosed upon or anything, though, as that would be awkward. I guess it seems like an oddly extravagantly-themed choice for this year in general, but whatever. Pretty houses! Grade: B+.
Absolute Death by Neil Gaiman What is it? A big book that collects various shorter works about the character Death from Gaiman's Sandman series. How much? $99.99. Who is it for? Most of my friends, who love Neil Gaiman. Fans of graphic novels. Goth types, if only for the character name. People who already have the Absolute Sandman series. What's wrong with it? Well, it's kind of a niche item, and it's expensive for one book. But Gaiman is great, and I can assure you that his many fans really, really want this for Christmas this year. Grade: B+.
More than $100
The Shield: The Complete Series Collection What is it? A DVD set of all seven seasons of The Shield, a show about cops in L.A. How much? $107.99. Who is it for? Uh, fans of cop shows? I guess? Is this supposed to be an "intellectual" cop show? I'm not sure. What's wrong with it? First of all, I am unclear why the words "series" and "collection" are both required in the title. You'd think we could do with one or the other. Anyway. I wouldn't spend over $100 to get someone a complete TV show on DVD unless I was sure that he or she liked the show in question. A lot. But if you're shopping for someone who is a fan of this show, this would be great. I've never actually seen the show, so I can't say much about it. Grade: I don't know. C? With all the good TV out there on DVD, this seems kind of random.
Grapes for Apes Collector's Pack of Wine What is it? Six bottles of wine. Some slightly unclear percentage of the proceeds go to a group called Orangutan Outreach. How much? $114. Who is it for? Wine lovers, theoretically. What's wrong with it? Well, I'm always suspicious of the actual quality of the wine with this sort of thing. $114 isn't bad for six bottles of wine, but if the wine isn't any good, then I'd rather just give the money to the charity in the first place. And people who are really into wine tend to know a lot about it and like specific things. So really, I'd skip this one. Grade: C-.
Futurama: The Complete Collection What is it? Another DVD set. Like The Simpsons but sci-fi, I think. How much? $117.99. Who is it for? People who like both The Simpsons and sci-fi. What's wrong with it? Again, I'd only get something like this for someone I knew liked the show. But if you do have someone who likes the show, go for it! Grade: B-.
DJ Hero What is it? Like Guitar Hero but about DJing. It's a video game that comes with some sort of fake turntable thing. How much? $119.99, but I'd look for Black Friday sales on this one too. And it looks like it's $99.99 on Amazon at the moment. Who is it for? People who like music games. Aspiring DJs. What's wrong with it? It says it has a wide variety of songs but lots seem to be hip hop, techno, etc., so make sure the prospective recipient likes the music involved. And if it's for a kid, make sure the parent is okay with the music as well as the "clubbing" portrayed, etc. (And, once again, get the version that goes with your recipient's gaming system!) Other than that, this could be a lot of fun. Grade: B+.
AK 100: 25 Films by Akira Kurosawa What is it? A DVD set of 25 movies and "a plethora of ancillary scholarship." I'm not sure exactly what that includes. How much? $284.99. Who is it for? Action film buffs. What's wrong with it? Well, that seems like a lot to pay for a DVD set, even such a large DVD set. But if you have the money and know a Kurosawa fan, I'm sure he'd like it. I haven't seen any of these movies, I don't think. Grade: C+.
And one more thing: I am completely baffled that the new Beatles Remastered Box Set is not on this list. It seems as though it was made for lists like this. (And it is in fact at the top of my own Christmas list.) So! Something else to consider.
Well! That was fun! I have several more lists coming up through the next few weeks, so stay tuned!
Bookmarked for Death by Lorna Barrett
Genre: Cozy mystery
This is the second in a series of mysteries set in a town of bookstores - like Hay-on-Wye but in New Hampshire, and the actual location is based on a town where I used to live. So you can see why I have to read them. But . . . they're not that great, honestly. They're not bad. They're certainly readable, and enjoyable enough, but . . . enh. Nothing special. As perhaps a symptom of this, I can barely remember the plot of this one. I would try one of these (the first is Murder is Binding) if you're particularly interested in bookstores or small-town New Hampshire, but otherwise, there are probably better options.
(Not to be confused with Dave Weigel, who has won 2009.)
Beck is very, very funny, and Christmas gift suggestion lists from magazines are often very, very ridiculous. When you combine the two, you get the best thing on the Internet today: Oprah + Presents = MAGIC.
You should be reading Beck just in general, really. And her gift list reviews have inspired me to try some of my own, so look for the first of those this weekend.
I wound up walking into the building this morning with a coworker, and after exchanging those wry half-smiles that I'm sure are the universal "walking into the cube farm yet again" expression, we had the following exchange:
R: Well, this is fun.
R: I don't want to be here today.
Me: As opposed to most days, when you really want to be here?
R: Well, most days I . . . Never mind. I got nothin'.
Seems to be going around. Tell me, is anyone actually having a good week?
Catcher: How the Man Behind the Plate Became an American Folk Hero by Peter Morris
Genre: Sports, social history
Now, as we've discussed recently, I am not really a baseball fan, although I do at least understand the basics of the game play, which was more than I could say about football until, oh, about last week. (Okay, okay, maybe it was a few weeks ago.) But this was about old baseball (about 1870 to the early 1900s), and social history, and it mentioned Stephen Crane in the little blurb in the library catalog, so I had to give it a try. And I have to hand it to Morris - this was a thoroughly interesting story, even for a non-baseball fan. He did a good job of blending history, individuals' stories, quotes from literature of the time, and other cultural artifacts (especially ads for various baseball-related products) to show how the public perception of the catcher changed over time and how this echoed other societal and cultural changes. The narrative could be tightened up and was a bit hard to follow at times, and there was some repetition, but overall this was a readable and engaging history. Definitely give it a try if you have any interest in baseball or turn-of-the-century social history.
I just realized that I've only reviewed one book here since May. And it wasn't even a particularly good one. And I've read a lot of good books. So. I should do that. I do have a spreadsheet of everything I've read. And it would be nice to have some sort of thoughts on those books written down somewhere. I think what's stopping me is feeling like I have to write big long complicated reviews of everything. So I think I'm just going to go for it, and only do a sentence or two if that's all I can manage. It's better than nothing, right?
I'm trying to ignore the fact that it will likely be raining during my brother's game tomorrow, so hey, how'd you like to see some pictures of last week? I was somewhat surprised to arrive in Maine and find snow on the ground. I don't know why I was surprised, since it's, you know, Maine, but I was.
There was enough snow that the game had to be delayed so they could clear the field and pile the snow on the sidelines:
Here they are getting ready to play and somehow not freezing. My brother is #70, about nine guys from the right:
I may or may not have taken this next one because there are certain people on that team who are rather more attractive than nineteen-year-olds have any right to be. Moving on!
I picked a bad moment to take a picture of the scoreboard, because they actually won! 34-31! But I was focusing more on making sure I took the pictures at pretty moments than on, you know, accurately reporting on the game.
This was taken in the second half, when it was getting pretty cold. You can tell because Dave (#70, second from the left) had actually rolled his long sleeves all the way down. I almost passed out from shock at that one. (This is the boy who used to wear shorts pretty much all year. Until he moved to Maine.)
I've spent a fair amount of time figuring out where I, a vegetarian, can eat with friends who go gluten-free. And it occurred to me while making plans with a friend this morning that someone may as well benefit from this acquired knowledge. So. The best chain options I've found are Panera - although I'm currently mad at them for getting rid of all vegetarian entree salads - and Uno's. The latter even has gluten-free pizza crust now, although it doesn't actually seem to be the tastiest thing ever. But still. In general, Mexican food works pretty well, and Indian can work too. Don't even bother trying Italian.
I bought this kit at last year's Wool Arts Tour, and realized this year when I saw the booth that I hadn't even started the mittens. So. Here they are!
They weren't the most fun thing to knit, honestly, but I really like the end result. (This is odd for me, as I'm normally much more of a process knitter than a product knitter.) I just - I don't know. Mittens are finicky. Thumbs annoy me. But at the same time I love them, and especially these. There's something delightfully basic and elemental about them. The kit is from Cheshire Sheep Yarns; I can't find a site for them but you can get the kit here. Ravelry page here.
I made this pumpkin bread (from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, which you should all own) at, oh, six o'clock Saturday morning for a party Saturday night. But then I drove to Maine and helped set up tailgating and watched a football game in the freezing cold and tailgated and drove home from Maine and immediately fell asleep. And therefore didn't make it to the party. So! Pumpkin bread, anyone?
Update: I actually cut into the pumpkin bread finally, and it's mushy in the middle. Bah! It looked so pretty! My oven seems to be working against me...
I had a rough week. Nothing big, really, just a bunch of little things that added up to a lot of generalized stress and anxiety. But then I spent my Friday evening like this, and immediately felt a million times better:
I basically walked into my friends' apartment, said "Here's a baked ziti," and then made them let me hold the baby for four hours. (Not that they seemed to mind. I think they were ready for a break.) He's about six weeks old and all snuggly and warm and has that wonderful baby smell. Definitely the best way to end the week.
I also brought him this:
That's an awful, awful picture but I couldn't get it to come out any better. I promise it's cuter in person. It's Debbie Bliss's Ribbed Baby Jacket, and I think it's in one of her books but I got the pattern for free from a British magazine's Web site. Ravelry page here.
I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the hugest fan of Facebook. It's not so much that I have a problem with the concept. It's a convenient way to keep in vague touch with people, and I guess to share photos, although I never actually bother to put photos up. And memo to a large segment of you people from my high school who are friending me: Do you actually remember high school? And specifically the way that you were either mean to me or didn't notice I existed? Why do you now want to be my "friend"?
ANYWAY. All that was by way of saying that I rarely actually log in to Facebook so I haven't seen this phenomenon for myself, but apparently they are doing some sort of thing in which they decide that you have certain "friends" to whom you haven't been speaking (so far as they know) and prompt you to contact them. Repeatedly and annoyingly. I have heard from THREE different people just this week that Facebook told them to talk to me. And - what?? Why??? It's certainly not as though Facebook seems to be in any danger of people not using it. What are they hoping to achieve with this "helpful" service? It just seems so ridiculously and needlessly invasive.
And yet - and yet. Two people got this message in reference to me and we just had a good laugh, because they were people with whom I communicate literally every day, via IM and e-mail and Twitter and text messages. Just not via Facebook, because I'm never on Facebook. But the third was a friend with whom I actually hadn't spoken in a while. We used to work together but have both moved on to new jobs, and both have busy schedules, and . . . well, you know. We had a flurry of e-mails a few months ago about getting together but never figured out a time. But a few days ago she sent me a "Facebook keeps telling me to talk to you" message, and I e-mailed back, and now we have plans to have dinner together, actually live and in person, next week.
But I'm still not going to talk to her on Facebook.
Edited to add: I realized when reading Rachel's comment that I somehow missed a point I was trying to make, which was that my dislike for Facebook comes less from the purpose/utility (which I'm generally fine with) and more from the actual practical usage and interface. I don't know if it's a weird mental block I have or what, but I find it extremely clunky and difficult to use. Even when I want to do things on there, I often end up frustrated.
ALSO, I should say that all of the above notwithstanding, I will be in line to see the Facebook movie on opening night, because it is written by Aaron Sorkin. That is all.
(Hey, I just realized that the Yankees have the same number of championships as years I've been alive! Nifty. Anyway.)
Baseball is stressful. I don't even care that much, honestly, and it's still stressful. I don't actually watch unless I'm with people who are watching, but I'll open up MLB.com Gameday in a tab in my browser and check back to see how things are going. And, of course, these days it's pretty easy to follow along on Twitter. I don't really follow many sports-specific Tweeters (with the exceptions of my friend's husband who's a baseball reporter and NPR's Mike Pesca), but, of course, a large number of the political journalists and other people I follow happen to be big baseball fans. (Really, if you're not already reading Spencer Ackerman for his national security stuff - although YOU SHOULD BE - read him for his Yankees commentary.)
And I certainly don't talk about baseball much, because I live up here in the middle of Red Sox land, and even if I don't care about baseball that much, I know which side I'm on. My parents are Yankee fans. My grandparents are Yankee fans. It's really not even a question. But I really, really am not interested in getting into big discussions about it with friends or coworkers, so I just don't mention it and let them think that I'm just oblivious about the whole thing. I wear a cap that looks suspiciously Yankee-colored but is in fact for Colby football, because no one can possibly argue with that.
But even when I'm not really paying much attention, this latent Yankee whatever is there in the back of my mind, and things do seem vaguely out of whack when they're not doing well. And I get caught up in the excitement and the season and post-season progresses, to the point that by the World Series this year, I was checking Gameday fairly obsessively as I went about my evening, and stayed up later than I had intended to see how things were going. So. All of this was an overlong and disjointed way of saying that even I am surprised by how happy I am this morning. As Spencer Ackerman tweeted last night, "The Universe. Restored."