What are we talking about today?

I'll get back to theme days once I find a groove of posting regularly. In the meantime, most of my posts are about some variation of books, bikes, buses, or Broadway. Plus bits about writing, nonprofits, and grief from time to time.

This blog is mostly lighthearted and pretty silly. It's not about the terrible things happening in the world, but please know that I'm not ignoring those things. I just generally don't write about them here.

31 December 2016

On the Seventh Day of Christmas

For the 12 Days of Christmas, I'm sharing second, third, or otherwise not-first verses of popular Christmas carols.

I'm fairly certain this is not the gentleman from the song.
Image source: Luca Cinacchio on freeimages.com.
"God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen"

By: We don't know.

Written in: We don't know that, either, but it was before 1760.

I have thoughts: It took me a long time to understand this song, because in my head when I was a kid I kept putting the comma in the wrong place, which as we all know changes the meaning of the phrase. As a result, I spent many years wondering how, exactly, one rested merry, and not only that, but how one could be object of this resting merry instead of the agent. I imagine I'm not the only weird kid who had this problem.

One of my favourite Christmas parodies of all time is based on this song. Keep scrolling; I stuck it at the end.

Verse: It's the rare short(ish) Christmas carol! Verse three seems the least familiar to me.
"Fear not, then," said the angel,
"Let nothing you affright;
This day is born a Savior
Of a pure virgin bright,
To free all those who trust in him
From Satan's power and might."

Metro Lyrics

30 December 2016

On the Sixth Day of Christmas

For the 12 Days of Christmas, I'm sharing second, third, or otherwise not-first verses of popular Christmas carols.

Image source: EveBlackwood on
"O Little Town of Bethlehem"

By: Lewis Redner

Written in: 1868

I have thoughts: There's nothing I don't love about this song.

Verse: Verses one, two, and five are the ones I usually hear sung, so here's verse three.
How silently, how silently,
The wondrous gift is given;
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His Heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

Hymns and Carols of Christmas

29 December 2016

On the Fifth Day of Christmas

For the 12 Days of Christmas, I'm sharing second, third, or otherwise not-first verses of popular Christmas carols.

These bells. Not the little dinky ones.
Image source: T Austin on
"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day"

By: Words by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Music (for the tune in the video below; there's more than one version) by John Baptiste Calkin.

Written in: 1863

I have thoughts: This was the song we sang in church that made me want to do this little series. I thought I knew the whole thing and then they threw a couple verses I didn't recognize at me.

Verse: This is verse three.
Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Listen: The song starts at 6:03. Before that is more background about the song's origin.

Hymns and Carols of Christmas

28 December 2016

On the Fourth Day of Christmas

For the 12 Days of Christmas, I'm sharing second, third, or otherwise not-first verses of popular Christmas carols.

As a Doctor Who fan, I'm a bit nervous of angel statues,
but what else could I possibly use for this song?
Image source: alberto cavazzano on freeimages.com.
"It Came Upon the Midnight Clear"

By: Edmund Sears

Written in: 1849

I have thoughts: I chose this one for today because today is my grandfather's birthday (he would have been 91). Not that Grandpa particularly liked this song; I don't know how he felt about it. Here's what I do know: there was a made-for-TV movie by the same name that came out in 1984, when I was six. He and I watched it together.

In the movie, a man dies a week before Christmas but protests when he gets to heaven that he needs more time with his grandson, so they give him until Christmas Eve. (That's what I remember. IMDB has more details.) At the end of the movie, the man dies for good, having spent his final week making his grandson's Christmas amazing. Also at the end of the movie, Grandpa and I were both crying.

So this song has made me think of him ever since, even though we never talked about that movie ever again. Isn't it amazing how I manage to make every freaking thing sad? Quick, name a happy thing and I'll see if I can sad it up for you.

Verse: I couldn't choose between verses three and four, so let's do both.
But with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love song which they bring; –
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing!

And ye, beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing; –
Oh, rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing!

Hymns and Carols of Christmas

27 December 2016

On the Third Day of Christmas

For the 12 Days of Christmas, I'm sharing second, third, or otherwise not-first verses of popular Christmas carols.

Before we start, it's my dad's birthday! He's old. Happy birthday, Dad!

Image source: Phillip Rothe on
"Do You Hear What I Hear"

By: Noël Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker

Written in: October 1962

I have thoughts: I've never sung this song in a choir or caroling group or even in church. I'm kinda bummed about that.

Verse: I'm pretty sure all the verses in this song are well known, since it tells a story and if you leave a verse out the whole thing makes a little less sense, but let's go with the one Tim Hawkins made fun of (video of that is below the song down there. Just keep scrolling; you'll find it).
Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear
Ringing through the sky, shepherd boy,
Do you hear what I hear
A song, a song, high above the trees
With a voice as big as the sea
With a voice as big as the sea

Lyrics Mode

26 December 2016

On the Second Day of Christmas

For the 12 Days of Christmas, I'm sharing second, third, or otherwise not-first verses of popular Christmas carols.

It's hard to blame the poor page for getting cold. I'm cold
just looking at this. Image source: Abraham Chang
on freeimages.com
"Good King Wenceslas"

By: John Mason Neale

Written in: 1853

I have thoughts: Does anybody know any of the verses of this song? I basically get to take my pick, right? By the way, the "Feast of Stephen" in the first verse happens to be today, December 26. I love it when a plan comes together. By many accounts Wenceslas was a good guy, just maybe not quite as good as the song says.

Verse: Tough one, because the final verse is so compelling, but here's the also-encouraging verse four:
"Sire, the night is darker now,
And the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, good my page;
Tread thou in them boldly;
Thou shalt find the winter's rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly."

Hymns and Carols of Christmas

25 December 2016

Good Tidings of Great Joy

I promise I have no intention of posting twice a day every day for the duration of the 12 days of Christmas, but this is a particularly Christmas thought, and I'd also like to try something new and get it written down before I forget half of it. (And it's a Sunday post, so as usual I completely understand if you skip off now because this isn't your thing. No worries.)

Friday evening I went to Cincinnati Shakespeare's Every Christmas Story Ever Told, which was hilarious and completely irreverent and full of good-natured and affection-filled mocking of many beloved holiday classics. In one of those many contradictions that helps make me who I am, I followed that up Saturday night with going to the Christmas Eve service, which was quite reverent and celebratory of the birth of Christ. Mocking one night, praising the next; that pretty much sums up my entire personality.

But there was a moment, a beautiful moment in Every Christmas Story that tied the two evenings together. The three actors were hitting the highlights of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Sara Clark (as Lucy) laid into Charlie Brown for his dumb Christmas tree, Billy Chace (as Charlie Brown) asked for someone to explain the true meaning of Christmas, and Justin McCombs stepped into Linus' role (complete with grabbing a security blanket) to recite the passage from Luke 2. Now, just as a recap: this is the same Justin McCombs who moved me to tears during Much Ado a few weeks ago, who I had to stop watching during the scene when Claudio mourns for Hero because it was too painful, and dang if he didn't do it again. I'm gonna stop going to Cincinnati Shakespeare if I have to bring hankies to every show. (Kidding. I so am not.)

Anyway, so we're rolling along in this one serious moment from the entire show, and I was just thinking, "Wow, are those tears in his eyes?" when Mr. McCombs' voice caught, and I was done. Tears totally rolling down my face. Was it the character or the actor showing this much emotion? Don't know, don't care. The end result was the same no matter which it was.

At the Christmas Eve service, the pastor didn't read from Luke 2. He didn't talk about shepherds or wise men. He read from the first chapter of John, including the verse above (one of my favourites), and tears rolled down my face again. (Yeah, I cry a lot. That's why I switched from paper tissues to hankies--to save some trees. You're welcome.) God came here. And sometimes we goof up with this gift, sometimes we try to hold it all for ourselves, sometimes we mock the traditions that have arisen around this day of celebration, sometimes we just forget because of the mess we've gotten ourselves into.

But still. God came here.

A very blessed and happy Christmas to you and yours.

On the First Day of Christmas

For the 12 Days of Christmas, I'm sharing second, third, or otherwise not-first verses of popular Christmas carols.

What does this have to do with the
song? Not a thing. Image source:
alfonso diaz on freeimages.com.
"O Come O Come Emmanuel"

By: We don't know.

Written in: We don't know that, either. Oldest surviving publication is from 1710 in Cologne, Germany.

I have thoughts: I chose this one for the first day because it's usually associated with Advent, and today is obviously as close as we're going to get to Advent. I only learned this song about ten-ish years ago and loved it from the first time I heard it. (To say I "learned" it is to stretch a point. Without the words in front of me, I still kind of mumble along until we get to a line I know.) Also, this is not a song that was written for altos. Huff.

Verse: This song has verses without number, it seems, with potential alternates for most of them. This is what happens when you translate, and when a bunch of people really like a song and just keep adding to it. This is, according to the Lutheran hymnal, verse seven:
Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Hymns and Carols of Christmas
Lutheran Hymnal

24 December 2016

Second Verse

As pretty as this, "O Christmas Tree"
will not be one of the songs included.
Source: Julia Tikhonova on
For my own amusement, and in defiance of the fact that I've only just got my blog themes set again, I'm going to do a little thing for the 12 Days of Christmas (which starts tomorrow, December 25th, no matter what your local retailers or that one friend on Facebook say).

This is inspired partly by last Sunday at church, when we sang a verse I've never heard of a Christmas carol. That in itself isn't terribly unusual--some Christmas carols have like 15 verses--but it occurs to me that I may not be the only person who doesn't know more than a verse or two of a whole bunch of songs.

So! For the next 12 days, I'll share a verse--anything but the first one--to some of my favourite Christmas carols. We'll see if this turns out to be a good idea or just too much.

In the meantime, Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good, erm, day. I post these pretty early in the morning, and it's not nighttime yet.

23 December 2016

In the Wash

I'm not convinced there are a lot of earth-friendly solutions to laundry. There are things that help, like high efficiency washers, and detergents without phosphates, and clotheslines, but at the end of the day it turns out that being alive and walking around on the planet does require a certain amount of resources. So I'm doing my best to use those resources as wisely as possible.

I moved into an apartment without washer/dryer connections, but with a laundry room up the hall. I've never been wild about the great quarter scrounge that apartment laundry facilities require (seriously, folks, it's the 21st century. Card readers, please?), but in this particular case it actually gets worse: the spin cycle on the washers is woefully inadequate, giving me wetter-than-they-should-be clothes at the end of washing, which means that the dryer has no chance of getting them anything close to dry and I have to hang them up anyway.

I thought I was going to have to resort
to this. (I've done this a few times. Wash
by hand, that is. I don't have a scrubbing
board.) Image source: Annie Jenkins
on freeimages.com.
I may not have the monopoly on using resources wisely, but from both earth- and budget-friendly perspectives, there's nothing wise about throwing money and electricity at two hunks of metal that don't do the job they're designed for. 

So I got one of those little portable washers that can hook up to a sink and that lives happily in a corner of a closet when not in use. (By the way, I'm not being paid for this post or a review, although that would be awesome. Just sharing my experience.) After a trip to Home Depot to get an adapter for my faucet, I was good to go.

So far: much like its full-sized high efficiency cousins, this washer does its magic with as little water as possible, even if it is still more than I'd like. Fortunately, it drains into my sink, so I have a pitcher to catch the greywater for reuse. While on the subject of water: since my kitchen faucet was not purpose-designed for washing machines, I can't leave the tap on throughout the cycle, which means I have to wait while it fills so I can turn the tap off, and then when I hear it draining I run over again to switch it back on for the rinse. I'm getting better at recognizing the particular "I need water now!" hum. Basically, I can't turn it on and then leave the house, which is fine with me, because a cycle only takes about 30 minutes.

And my clothes come out clean and as close to dry as I could possibly expect--no wimpy spin cycles here. This little machine knows what it's doing. I hang them up on my clotheshorse and in a few hours I have dry clothes ready for putting away. No fan required, unlike when I was hanging them up straight from the apartment washer.

That's my laundry solution for now. What new solutions have entered your life lately?

21 December 2016

Commute Blues

Being as I run in active transportation advocacy circles, I often hear some variation of, "Happy people live near where they work." It's a statement that's easy to agree with.

I'm sure some people manage to have massively massive commutes and still be happy. Some folks use it as a time to listen to audiobooks, or chat with carpool mates, or get work done (PLEASE don't do that if you're the one driving! Seriously, there are a lot of words for that and none of them are good ones). But just judging from the bitter complaint one hears around the office, or around social media, most of us don't really like enduring traffic just to get to work and back.

It doesn't even have to be one of these. Although,
obviously, I'd be pretty delighted if the Cincinnati
buses looked like this.
Because the office of my most recent temp job was on the edge of town, beyond the reach of public transportation, I settled for a compromise: I took a bus about 75% of the way and then called an Uber from there, so I was getting my public transport time (I know, I know, most people don't find buses as relaxing as I do) while supporting the local system, and keeping my Uber bills to a minimum.

Some of my Uber drivers have had a hard time with this.

I know, they want to be friendly and chat, and I mostly appreciate that, unless I'm really absorbed in a book I'm reading. But some of them were just so gobsmacked that I would split my commute between two modes when I could obviously just get a car and get myself to work. One driver went so far as to ask what my monthly Uber bill was, a question I of course did not answer.

All this to sing the next verse of my usual song: car ownership should not be required to be a full participant in society. There's no reason anyone should be horrified that I don't have a car. And yet, that's the system we've built--driving everywhere is the norm, cost and health outcomes and 30K+ deaths per year be darned. There are plenty of reasons to have a transportation options, not the least of which is easing the strain on a family's budget at a time when plenty of families are struggling to stretch their budgets just a bit farther. There are plenty of people who don't like public transportation (or bikes, or walking), and that's fine, but it's also no reason why options can't be available to everyone else. No one wants to stop you from driving yourself, if that's what you want. But no one should be forcing me into a car, either.

Come on, cities. It's time to give options a chance.

20 December 2016

This Is What Reading Will Get You, Kids

The Sound of Music was on TV Sunday night, and since I've seen the movie enough times that I don't have to watch that closely to know exactly what is going on, I joined the Twitter love fest for snarking purposes. As I do.

We got to the point where Georg tells Maria to get the children together so they can flee the country, and I tweeted this:

Maria Trapp had three children after
she and the captain married, in case
you're counting humans and wondering
where the extra ones came from.
Image source: Goodreads.
Yeah. This is definitely my most popular tweet of all time. (I was also pretty happy with my second most popular tweet of the evening, but it doesn't really come into the whole fleeing Austria thing.) Some responses to this tweet have been predictably bizarre, but rather than give the nutters any more air time than Twitter already gives them, let's talk about that part of the book. Because it's book day here at Cheekyness.

Georg received his offer to rejoin the Navy. (In the book, he wrestled with the decision of whether to accept, unlike the instant response he has in the movie.) Rupert, the eldest, received an offer to take a responsible position in a hospital in Berlin almost immediately after finishing medical school. Then the family received the invitation to sing at Hitler's birthday.

Because the movie timeline is quite compressed and accelerated vis-à-vis real life, the children in the movie have only aged a couple months since Maria first met the family. However, when it was really time for the family to respond to these offers, the children as we know them were either grown or in their late teens. Georg called the family together, went over the invitations they'd all received, and asked what they wanted to do. They all agreed to say no, knowing they would have to leave home and homeland behind, willing to draw on their deep faith that God would hold them in His hands.

They got a train to Italy a few days later (just in time before the borders were closed), contacted a manager who'd previously invited them to do a concert series in the US, and were on a boat to New York within a few weeks. The entire rest of the book is about their adventures in adjusting to a new country: learning a new language, deciding to become US citizens (after the boys were drafted by the US army), buying a farm in Vermont, and other parts of life in a huge, singing, touring family.

I've said it before and now I'm saying it again: if you love The Sound of Music, get yourself to a library and pick up this book. Also check out books by other members of the Trapp family, to get even more perspective on the family's history.

19 December 2016

Eight Weeks

A long time ago, in a galaxy
far, far, away, at my first
half-marathon. The only
thing I've retained from
this picture is that
In a moment of complete lunacy a couple months ago, I signed up for the El Paso Half Marathon.

My reasoning was: hey, I have some friends in El Paso I'd like to see; it gives me a reason to keep running when it's freaking cold outside; and my reward at the end is a warm trip to the desert (and some mountains, I hear) in the middle of Cincinnati's deep freeze.

The race is now eight weeks away. Reason #2, to keep running through the cold and dark winter, is upon me whether I like it or not. I guess this is one way to make sure I go outside and acclimate (I mean, I don't want to be embarrassed in front of my friends when I come limping across the finish as the DFL because I didn't bother to train).

Bugger. Here goes.

17 December 2016


I'm no expert on this grief thing, or indeed on this life thing. I keep hoping there will be a time when I suddenly arrive into great wisdom, or at least be able to say, "Yeah, okay, makes sense." So far? No luck.

This photo is called "As flat as it gets." Accurate
caption is accurate. Source.
I've fallen into one of those vortexes of nothing in the last week or so, where I don't really feel anything. Not happy, not sad, not angry--just flat. It's happened before, and I suspect it will again, but it's an odd feeling to be suddenly swept off your feet by nothing at all. It's not like the crashing waves of grief, nor the bubbly lightness of joy. Nothing crushing me down, nothing lifting me up. Just nothing.

It's worrying when I can't conjure up emotions, not even at a time when it would be appropriate. Not even when it's expected.

Except. Except except except. I managed some (okay, quite a lot of) emotion when I saw the screening of Allegiance earlier this week. Is this what I've come to, that I can only experience emotion when other people are performing it? Is this why other people like TV so much? (I've always had books, so TV's pull is fairly minimal and a bit of a mystery to me.) Are we all just flatlining on our own emotions and substituing someone else's pretend ones?

I hope not. I hope this is a thing that passes, as it always has before. Because I'm not convinced that a flat life is worth getting out of bed for.

15 December 2016

Something Old, Something New

There's nothing not scary about trying new things. Even the most fearless among us (or so I'm told, since I tend more towards the 'fear-filled' side of the spectrum) have a twinge of nervous energy at the prospect of doing something new. I imagine that's part of what keeps humans alive as a species.

There are parts of Cincinnati that look a little
like this. Kinda. Source: Tero Tikkanen
on freeimages.com.
My most recent new thing is this strange time of year called winter. Now, I spent 20 years of my life in places that have real winter (Greenfield, Indiana and Glasgow, Scotland), but not any kind of a recent 20 years, since I moved south as fast as I could to get out of the freezing, slushy mess. But now that I'm back here voluntarily, taking on the cold has been one of the challenges.

I've read every blog post I can find on what to wear while walking, running, or riding a bike in cold weather. I even got my hands on some cold-weather gear, which has made my last few weeks considerably more pleasant. But no amount of reading or buying can make that last step any easier-- I have to open the door and get outside.

It's a small and silly thing, I know, but the truth is that I'm no longer the girl growing up in Indiana. I'm not even the "take on the world" 20-year-old who moved to Glasgow without blinking. No, I am who I am now, and who I am now is slightly terrified of slick streets and temperatures in the single digits. (And not without some reason--after a day of rain earlier this week, I stepped onto a grate in the sidewalk and slid a few feet. And it was just wet, no ice!)

I keep muttering to myself, "It's this day, not me, that's bound to go away," before stepping outside. I remember that hot drinks are always available after I get where I'm going, and that the outdoors in winter is probably not as bad as I imagine it is. But I still have to push myself out the door and into this strange new world that somehow millions of people all think is normal. (Millions in this part of the world, that is, not Cincinnati specifically. Cincy barely has 300K people in it.)

But every time I manage to it, to go outside when I don't have to, to walk to the bus when taking an Uber would be warmer, the muscles get that bit stronger for next time. Not just next time I have to step outside, but also the next time I have to push outside my comfort zone, because doing new things is what I ordered when I decided it was time for a fresh start.

How are you pushing yourself? What new things are you doing?

14 December 2016

Calling All the World to Come: #STCGarden

There's a photo booth at
the theatre. We weren't
about to walk past that.
Finally, the recap you've been waiting for: all the good bits of The Secret Garden. And seriously, if you're going to be in or near D.C. before the end of the year, please go see this show. It can only add more joy and light to your holiday season, and I say that as the woman who cried through the entire thing. Go. See it. Take the kids.

This was my first time ever seeing The Secret Garden. The show may have been around for 25 years, but what can I say? I haven't seen every musical yet. The only thing I knew about the musical version until a couple months ago was the song "Lily's Eyes," but if you have to go around having not seen the show, that's a pretty good part of it to know about. It's still my favourite song from the show.

If you're just now joining this little journey, you can also read about grief and healing in The Secret Garden, or my thoughts on Mary's parents in the book vs in the musical.

Many, many spoilers after the jump.

13 December 2016

A Girl I Hardly Knew: Book Lennoxes v Musical Lennoxes

What's better than re-reading a beloved childhood book and discovering it's even better than you remember? Re-reading said book because you're about to see the musical based on it for the first time ever. I had so many tears on this re-read. Happy tears, unlike the torrents of agony I experienced at the musical.

Playbill & bookmark. Best of both worlds!
Playbill signed by the actors who played Mary, Colin,
Martha, Dickon, and Ben. The rest either didn't
come out stage door or ran away in a hurry when they
saw us. And the signatures got smudged. :(
The coolest thing about listening to The Secret Garden cast album and then re-reading the book? I could see how many lines in the show are lifted straight from Ms. Burnett's pages. Fantastic.

My only caveat before I hide a whole bunch of spoilers under the jump: this book was published in 1911. Mary moved from India to England. Many of the folks she met in Yorkshire had never seen a nonwhite person in their lives. Therefore, there are some blatantly racist statements in this book, and if your kids are going to read it, please please please be prepared to talk to them about that and don't let those statements stand unchallenged. It's definitely not okay for kids to come away from reading this book thinking those attitudes are acceptable.

Here goes. (BTW: I'm not a literary analysis person. For that you need an English major. This is just me stringing some thoughts together.)

12 December 2016

I Heard Someone Crying: Grief and The Secret Garden

Let me just start with this: if you're going to be in or near D.C. before December 31, do yourself and your family a favor and get tickets to The Secret Garden now. It's basically the only guaranteed way left to finish 2016 on a good note.

So this musical has earned the rare Cheekyness three-post treatment previously reserved for Les Misérables or the Texas Book Festival, and I'm doing it backwards from my usual show recap method--gushing about favourite actors and brilliant moments in the show will come on Wednesday, if that's what you're looking for. Today is about all the feelings when you're a widow and voluntarily go see something that's all about grief. (And it's long. Ye be warned.)

Before you go any farther, please know that these posts will contain significant spoilers for both the book and the musical. Spoilers are presented without a shred of remorse--and seriously, the book is 105 years old and the musical is 25. What are you waiting for?--but I'm including the jump so you can bail now if need be.

09 December 2016

I Propose the Potomac

That's the only Hamilton reference I managed all weekend. Well, except in the National Archives when Jenna asked what year the Jefferson-Burr election was and I said, "It's 1800, ladies; tell your husbands, 'Vote for Burr!'" She had the cast album on in the car before the weekend was out.

So, yeah. I went to D.C. for the weekend, only my second trip there in this lifetime (my first was my one-day 8th-grade class trip 25 years ago). Reason #1 was to see The Secret Garden, about which muuuuuuuuuuch more anon, whether you want to hear about it or not, and reason #2 was that my college friend Jenna lives there now and I'm a heck of a lot closer in Cincinnati than I used to be in Austin, so I swooped it for a weekend of helping her develop her theatre addiction.

But first, there are a few things in D.C. other than the theatre to go look at (I was surprised, too!):
U.S. Capitol (taken from the Mall). Jenna says they only just
 took the scaffolding (for repairs) down in the last couple weeks,
so my timing was good.

Washington Monument

Very very close to the Washington Monument.
(This is the luckiest photo I've ever taken.)

WWII Memorial

MLK National Memorial

MLK National Memorial. About half my pics of this memorial came out blurry. :(

Vietnam War Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial. Unlike almost everyone else,
I wasn't about to take a selfie with Abe.

The Mall from the Lincoln Memorial steps.

Korean War Memorial

In a more-stalkery-than-I'm-really-comfortable-with moment,
I took this photo only because I've seen the exact same reindeer
on some of the Secret Garden casts' Instagrams. I know.

We didn't get to go in.

No idea what this is, but it's very pretty.

This was near... a whole bunch of stuff. Ford's Theatre, the MLK Public Library,
the Shakespeare Theatre Company, the Newseum. Somewhere in there.

Folger Shakespeare Library. We got there five minutes to close,
got the five-minute tour, and put it at the top of the "next time" list.
(This is a scene from Macbeth, in case you can't read that.)

Folger Shakespeare Library
That's what I saw outside the theatre. Also the National Archives, where photography is not permitted, but I got to stand right next to the Constitution, and that totally makes up for not having a photo.

08 December 2016

NaNoWriMo 2016: Oh, Dear

So if you've been with me for a while, you'll know that my last few NaNos have gone a bit awry, with me abandoning a project halfway through the month and picking up another one to make progress on it instead after I stall out like an extra in a horror film on the railroad tracks with the train coming.

(That simile may be a bit much.)

2016 was no exception, even though I had a backup project in place from day one. I ended up pulling out a backup backup, and by the end of the month had three projects going, which is just silly. This is the most NaNo rebel I've ever been.

And I didn't make it to a single local event--no kickoff, no all-day write-in, not even the TGIO party (which happened while I was out of town, anyway). I guess I had a harder than expected time adapting to the idea of a new region. I mean, I did six NaNos in a row in Austin, five of them with Chadwick by my side, so maybe I wasn't as ready to take it on in a new place on my own as I thought. Alas.

Anyway, I did limp over the finish line with about an hour to spare, and I'm not sure that I can stand to read a single word of what I wrote on the backup projects, which at least a little bit defeats the purpose of NaNo. I do like the ideas I got down on my primary project, scant as they were, and it's something I can work with if I can get my head back into it.

So, that's where I went halfway through November. I didn't have anything I could bear to share, not even in the spirit of "Of course it's bad, it's a NaNo first draft!" Nothing. But at least I learned that making such a rash promise is a terrible idea, so I'm giving you plenty of warning that next November you'll have to get your cheek from somewhere else, because this blog will have the lights off.

At least, I say that now. We'll see what kind of nonsense comes flowing out of my fingers on October 31st.

07 December 2016

Oh, That He Were Here: My First Trip to Cincinnati Theatre

On one of my trips to Cincinnati before I moved here, I was wandering downtown when I happened to walk past the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. I stopped to read the season lineup of shows, saw Much Ado About Nothing on the list... and may have started jumping up and down on the spot, possibly squealing in delight. It's a blur, sir.

The set was gorgeous, and so is
the playbill, and as you can see
I had a hard time getting both
into the pic.
So getting my hands on a ticket was high on my to-do list once I had a job and a place to live, and I chose the night of the first preview just for grins. First: the theatre itself is a great space, and while this is Cincy Shakes' last season in this building before they move to their new theatre, it's easy to see why they describe it as their beloved home.

Second: this company. WOW, this company. Much Ado is my favourite for good reason, because it's outrageously hilarious in addition to teaching us a little something about the destructive power of slander, and no two shows that I've seen have taken the same direction with any of the jokes, which keeps a 400-year-old show fresh and delightful every time. Which is why I've bought another ticket to closing night this Saturday. (This is my non-musical equivalent of Les Misérables. I'll never not see it.) One of the best things about this show is that the characters are so distinctive, the audience ought to be able to tell which character is which just by how they carry themselves, before they ever say a single word. And I did, no problems at all. This company is fantastic, and I'm so happy that they were my first introduction to Cincinnati theatre.


The Yip-Yips: During the scene when they're tricking Benedick into thinking Beatrice is in love with him, Don Pedro, Leonato, and Claudio channel the Yip-Yips. This whole scene is absolutely priceless, complete with Benedick roaming through the audience and diving off the stage to avoid being seen by his friends. I'd have bought a ticket just to see that again. (And did, basically. I got closer to the front so I can be in the middle of the action.)

Geoffrey Warren Barnes II (who got his MFA at UT! Woo-hoo for a fellow former Austinite!): Fabulous as the scheming Don John. His facial expressions alone got him as many laughs as the more comedic, less broody characters.

Jeremy Dubin & Miranda McGee (Benedick & Beatrice): I've seen raves for these two all over the local theatre reviews & Facebook pages where I've been poking around for a couple weeks. And every bit of praise is 100% deserved. They're so believable as the witty frenemies-turned-lovers that you get the impression they just keep right on going once the show ends. Can't wait to see them in whatever's next. Also! Benedick's line, "If I do not love her, I am a Jew," is generally omitted from modern productions, for obvious reasons. However, since Mr. Dubin is Jewish, this show kept it in--and right after saying it, he got that "Hey, wait a minute" look on his face before dashing offstage. Brilliant.

Justin McCombs & Maggie Lou Rader (Claudio & Hero): Totally adorable as the sweet and (mostly) innocent couple who's head-over-heels in love. (Probably doesn't hurt that they're also in love off stage. Yes, I read all the bios this time, in case you were wondering where I'm getting all this information.) Claudio is always a dumb-dumb, alas, but Ms. Rader's Hero has more fight in her than most during the wedding scene. Mr. McCombs gets a special mention because he got the scene when Claudio mourns for Hero beautifully, heartbreakingly spot-on. I've rarely seen grief so well acted, so much so that I had to look away at anything else happening on stage. It was too painful to watch.

Sylvester Little Jr. (Don Pedro): Absolutely perfect as the Prince. When he asks Beatrice to marry him and she turns him down, he looked like he might actually start crying--only to recover in a hurry and suggest bringing she and Benedick together. He's such a great character, played by an excellent actor.

I'm just gonna stop there before I get any more carried away. Such a brilliant, brilliant show. So looking forward to seeing it again.

Post title is from Dogberry's line, "Oh, that he were here to write me down an ass!" after Conrade quite correctly shouts at him, "You are an ass!" Which, incidentally, is one of my favourite lines from the show.

06 December 2016

Reading Challenge Update: November

I managed to read a book in November! It was a library book & was almost finished when NaNoWriMo started. (More on NaNoWriMo anon; I know I left you all hanging about halfway through the month. I'm never promising to blog every day in November ever again.)

So, what's left? A few more library books and a few more off the TBR list to finish off 2016. At least one thing will have gone right about this year. :/

As always, links and images are from Goodreads, where all my reviews are written.

I Love Libraries Challenge (45/50 books)
Door to Door: The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation, Edward Humes

Read It Again, Sam CHALLENGE COMPLETED (4/4 books)

Woman Challenge CHALLENGE COMPLETED (54/20 books)

Mount TBR Challenge (45/48 books so far)

Goodreads Challenge (97/100 books so far)
Door to Door: The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation, Edward Humes

What are you reading?

05 December 2016

Guest Blogger: TV Recommendations

Today I (belatedly--he got this to me days ago, and then I went out of town without posting it) welcome recurring guest blogger and good friend Bill Hill for some great TV reviews/recommendations. Bill blogs at Bill's Universe II.

From grz3gorz on freeimages.com.
TV shows are, to my mind, very interesting creatures. First off, a TV show is one of the highest-volume mediums that we have any familiarity with – or at least, it has the potential to be. Imagine a movie, for instance. How long does it take to watch a movie? Somewhere between an hour and two hours? Three hours, if it’s very long? But what if you were to watch every single episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? The time expended would far exceed three hours. How about a novel? If you read a really thick novel without taking many breaks, you might have it finished in a handful of days. But if you’d like to see every episode of Law and Order, it’s probably going to take a number of weeks. This phenomenon depends on how many episodes and/or seasons a show contains, of course, but the potential is there. When you think about how high-volume a TV show can become, it’s mind-boggling.

I also think that TV shows are the most conducive medium for ownership and loyalty. Sure, there’s something nice about saying ‘my favorite movie,’ or ‘my favorite book.’ But with a TV show – likely due to the concept of a fan-base that adjusts its schedule accordingly – there’s a greater sense that you belong to a club. Saying ‘my show’ assigns not merely a product, but practically a lifestyle to your weekly routine. And for that reason, discovering a new show (whether it’s currently airing or not) can provide a truly magical sense of ownership and belonging.

So, here are some of the TV shows that I like (and that I would recommend). Most of these programs are old and off-the-air by now, so they might require some sort of DVD-shopping or Netflix-combing if you would like to see them. Or maybe you’ve seen them already, in which case I hope it is fun to read about shows that you already know. But mainly, thanks to Su for giving me an opportunity to write about stuff I like. That’s the big thing, right? (Ed: Awww, how sweet. You're very welcome!)


The Dick Van Dyke Show
I’m always open to classic sitcoms, but repetitiveness is one of their major flaws. The Dick Van Dyke Show is a shining exception, however, in that its five seasons never fail to expand the mythos of the Petrie family. Among the many shrewd decisions that define the set-up for this program, the bifurcation of professional versus domestic spheres gives the show a healthy dose of variety. On the one hand, there’s Rob Petrie’s frenetic workplace – never short of memorable sidekicks and clever banter – and on the other hand, there’s his household: increasingly hilarious and relatable depending on where you are in the process of starting a family. I’ve always preferred the workplace episodes myself, but the interplay of these two spheres practically offers two sitcoms for the price of one.

Those worlds, however, by no means comprise the entirety of the series. Some episodes place emphasis on new characters and guest-stars, and thereby transcend either of the two most frequent settings. Likewise, several sequences manage to combine the separate coteries in Rob’s life, which affords lifelike enjoyment for anyone who’s grown to know the characters. Combine these perks with the show’s penchant for creative storytelling – including flashbacks, alternate perspectives, and dream sequences – and you’ve got a black-and-white sitcom which feels significantly more fresh and re-watchable than its counterparts.

Space Ghost Coast to Coast
If you aren’t familiar with its premise, you might regard this show as an uncanny experiment in animation. Here, Space Ghost (once the hero of an outdated Hanna-Barbera cartoon) is the host for his very own talk show, while his old nemeses serve as co-hosts. Real celebrities join the show via satellite feed, and some surreal development or other usually derails the interview. If nothing else, Space Ghost Coast to Coast represents an important turning point in the history of Cartoon Network, as it aided the transition toward the ‘adultification’ of animated shows and precipitated the development of Adult Swim.

Especially in later seasons, the program was less of a bizarre interview platform and more of an acid sequence that just happened to occur on a talk-show stage. Personally, I think that the surrealism went a little too far in later seasons, and that episodes began to rely too heavily on ‘random’ humor. What I love about the show, however, is its unique atmosphere – the talk-show set (suspended in the midst of outer space!) was accompanied by richly ambient white noise which would alternate from shot to shot. Moreover, the motley crew of characters (such as Moltar the masked lava-denizen, and Zorak the wise-cracking mantis, to name a couple) create a distinctive vibe of alien high-jinks, especially when paired with the very human and pedestrian content of the interviews. Overall, the first few seasons provide an unmistakable blend of adult angst and tasteful cartoonism – arguably one of Cartoon Network’s most inimitable undertakings.


Mission Impossible
Sadly, the dignity of this franchise was maimed beyond repair following the advent of the Tom Cruise adaptation. If you want a reminder on the stylish substance that once defined Mission Impossible, though, simply revisit the series that started it all. The show wasn’t about explosions, chase sequences, or mindless action; it was about clever planning, deceptive performances, and psychological warfare. Sure, Barney Collier’s technological know-how added a flavor of scientific panache, but at its core, Mission Impossible was about a team of specialists who knew the villains better than the villains knew themselves – and was, in that sense, a dose of Colombo mixed with James Bond.

However silly the show could be, the crew of regulars was memorable beyond belief. Peter Graves played the sophisticated Jim Phelps (and that, if nothing else, is a better role to remember him for than ‘Do you like movies about gladiators?’), while Barbara Bain injected the role of Cinnamon Carter with a smooth, seductive flair. Both Martin Landau (always enjoyable) and Leonard Nimoy (always recognizable!) found eventual spots in the regular cast, while Greg Morris and Peter Lupus gave great embodiment to the brains and brawn of the team, respectively. My greatest complaint is that the show became too reliant on perfectly deceptive ‘masks’ – changing your face also changes your height? – but on that subject, the cheese-bad episodes of this show are still barrels worth of fun. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to check out this series and find out how much classier the franchise used to be.

Star Trek: The Original Series
It’s hard to say anything fresh about Star Trek, because really, what hasn’t been said? But if there’s anything to note, it’s possibly that Star Trek has become buried beneath its more recent incarnations. Our associations with the show, at this point, probably involve nerdy technology, a diverse and verisimilar culture of co-existing species, and a number of sociopolitical soapboxes predicated on some supposed scientific principle or other. It would be incorrect to say that The Original Series lacked any relation to those associations, but they were nicely veiled by character-driven amusement. At least by today’s standards, the show is campy enough that it seems to value entertainment over purported innovation, and watching it is a great reminder that the franchise can be fun rather than boring.

You’ve probably heard about ‘The Trouble with Tribbles,’ of which the merit is quite well-earned. What doesn’t it have? It’s got Shatner at his hammiest, Spock at his Spockiest, Klingons, gimmick aliens, and arguably the finest hour for both Lieutenant Uhura and Mr. Scott. I’ll also recommend ‘The Doomsday Machine,’ which pelts us with a charming rhythm of surprises from start to finish, and ‘Spectre of the Gun,’ which offers one of the most practical life-lessons I have ever encountered in a TV show. With Star Trek, it’s usually not a case of ‘Have you seen it?’ Rather, it’s ‘How many episodes have you seen?’ – so if you haven’t already, be sure to watch as many as you can.


Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
This is a show about costumed superheroes, techno-babbling androids and giant dinosaur mechas – all pitted against dastardly aliens and farcical monsters, B-movie super-villains and intergalactic wizardry. If that doesn’t hook you, then you and I are probably pretty different, because Mighty Morphin Power Rangers shows flashes of mastery over TV archetypes. In short, I don’t want to watch a show about a lawyer navigating the grey areas of the legal system, nor do I enjoy dramas about tormented, booze-addled authors – you need only give me an archetypal premise of cartoonish proportions, and you’ll undoubtedly renew my faith in the power of storytelling.

With these Power Rangers, we’ve got archetypes out the wazoo. The premises are seldom more complex than Destroy the Kaiju, and the characters’ blatant moral allegiances are outdone only by the crisp, sparkling colors of their outfits. The production quality, meanwhile, is low enough that you can practically reproduce the stories with your action figures, and yet high enough that you’ll keep returning for inspiration. In that regard, the original broadcast was an ingenious, toy-selling trap for kids, and the show remains captivating for those who are young at heart. The fact that a teen-sitcom was somehow sandwiched between these monster showdowns creates a pastiche that is both endearing, and peculiar to the glorious 90s.

Dexter’s Laboratory
Even if you’ve never watched this series, it’s likely you’re familiar with Dexter himself – a preternaturally intelligent child, best known for the machine-ridden facility behind his bookcase. True, the main character is a self-proclaimed boy genius, but don’t let that fool you – being merely ten years old, or thereabouts, Dexter is a hilariously relatable entity whose misadventures are characteristic of childhood. The show is much less focused on science and technology than it is on the brutal vicissitudes of youth and/or adolescence, and Dexter’s inventions merely provide the engine for those twisted and comical themes.

The show can boast a variety of positives, but most of them stem from its perfect balance between innocence and cynicism – that is to say, despite the aforementioned naiveté of the protagonist, the animators seize every opportunity to paint a world of surreal cruelty. In the episode ‘Dexter vs. Santa’s Claws,’ for instance, the creators were not content to expiate Dexter’s wrongdoings with a conventional Christmas lesson. Rather, Santa Claus himself concludes the episode by claiming that the true meaning of Christmas is – wait for it – the presents. The show is rife with other instances of absurdity, catastrophe, futility, non-graphic deaths, and unhappy endings. There are too many to list, but the final result is a truly rare (and endlessly refreshing) equilibrium between idealism and skepticism. Side note: Go for the first two seasons only. The show was rebooted after that, and one hundred percent of the charm was lost.

Daytime Television

Judge Judy
I’m tempted to say that this show is a guilty pleasure. Like, aren’t you only supposed to watch Judge Judy if you’re unemployed and living on a couch? But honestly, there’s very little that’s ‘guilty’ about it – Judge Judy herself is a deliberately, hilariously, shamelessly, delightfully cantankerous model of the legal process, and the entire program orbits seamlessly around her. It’s quite possible to ignore the litigants – ignore the details, ignore the evidence, and ignore the testimonies – and still have a perfectly ducky half-hour from Judge Judy’s mannerisms alone. Certain rustic, dinner-table phrases (such as put your hand down, I don’t care, you’re an idiot, and please don’t have children) make their way into an actual replica of a lawsuit, and thereby make it a little easier to laugh at everything than to cry.

Questioning the show is just as fun as watching it. Oftentimes, Judge Judy will point to her watch and claim that she has other places to be. Like, where? Recording another show? And why does everyone stand up when Judge Judy enters the courtroom? Are we all rising for the honorable daytime television star? You can watch the show for ten years straight and still have new oddities, such as those, to ponder. Sheindlin’s court reads like an I’ll be the judge, you be the lawyer game played by six-year-olds, and to see it executed with such gravity and emotion is about as funny as watching a pie fight.

If contemporary game shows are rock music and teen pop, then Jeopardy! is the lone sample of sweet, classical music. There are no glitzy wheels, meretricious light-bulbs, or hostesses in feather headdresses – merely three staid podiums marked by the contestants’ names, and a cool, reflective floor beneath the clue-laden display board. A curmudgeon or two might claim that Jeopardy! is easier than it once was – and perhaps they’re right. But at least it is a quiz show, and not a glorified guessing game (my favorite alternate title for Deal or No Deal is Guess What’s In The Box?).

The main perk of the show, of course, is that you – right there on your sofa! – get to be one of the players. If you can blurt out a correct answer before any of the contestants do, then score one for you! If you’re a huge trivia nerd, then you can keep tabs on yourself. You can follow your own score, and even notate your all-time record. You can also say to yourself (while you’re waiting anxiously for the boring local news to end, so that Jeopardy! can start) that you’ll actually learn something, rather than watch some cathartic drivel. On top of that, it’s easy to pick somebody to root for. Don’t like that guy with the bad bow-tie and the glasses? Then suddenly you’ve got a dog in the race! And when all is said and done, a simple quiz show generates a lot more investment than it has any right to.

Some Quick Mentions

Arrested Development, for its hilarious entanglement of madcap stories, and Impractical Jokers for its ability to make you laugh so hard that you cry. The Perils of Penelope Pitstop if you can tolerate so-stupid-it’s-funny animation, but I doubt it. Mr. Bean and Monty Python’s Flying Circus for anyone who enjoys British humo(u)r. Little Einsteins if you want your pre-schoolers to watch something and be quiet. Now it’s probably time for me to be quiet.