December 30, 2016

December 30, 2016

2016: Not All Bad

Throughout 2016, the barometer hovered between “abandon hope” and “darkest timeline” settings. While certainly not the worst year in history, the hits (tragedies, attacks, deaths, errant tweets) kept on coming.

But on this, the last weekday of the year, let us pause to remember the good. Olympics. Space exploration. Pokemon Go. America isn’t part of the Commonwealth (despite my fervent hopes and recurring birthday wish), but I think this sums it up best:


To paraphrase Bill Withers, “Just the seven billion of us—we can make it if we try.”

On to 2017.

November 15, 2016

November 15, 2016

When Do the Plagues Start?

Though I grew up quite religious, eschatology* is neither my preference nor my forte. Frankly, I find the Book of Revelation terrifying, and even the Left Behind books were a. lot. to. take.

That said, I’ve always kept an eye out for the apocalypse. Ever since my parents and I watched a “documentary” circa 1990 that said our appliances would come to life in December 2012, I’ve been waiting for The End.

(Hey parents: Don’t watch stuff like this with your kids. It will lead to a lifetime of trauma and fear of coffeepots.)

So in 1999, I was sure we were done.

(Fooled me once.)

Then in 2012, I knew it was obviously going to happen because 1999/2000 was an arbitrary counting but 2012 was predicted in ancient history and whatnot.

(Fooled me twice.)

But now, in the words of a group of great philosophers: WON’T GET FOOLED AGAIN.

Imagine here a scroll of horrendous things that have happened this year while I point out two things I saw just today:

1. An Amtrak bus. BUS. I’m expecting a Southwest train and Greyhound helicopter any day now.


2. Full-size Christmas trees. At the Pentagon City Whole Foods. On November 15. There are zero living rooms in a 5-mile radius that will accommodate these. Excellent marketing strategy, WF.


Obviously the Matrix is just pranking us now, guys. We might as well settle in for the ride. Hand me the carbs!

* One of the few things I remember from two semesters of Bible Doctrine class. Sorry, Dr. Saxon.

November 6, 2016

November 6, 2016

Writer's Almanac Highlight of the Day

In 1860 on this day, Abraham Lincoln was elected president with an 82 percent voter turnout. Lincoln had dinner that evening in Springfield, Illinois, and then went to the telegraph office in town to wait for word from each of the states. At about two in the morning, he heard that he had won New York, which made his election certain. He later wrote, "I went home, but not to get much sleep, for I then felt as I never had before the responsibility that was upon me." He had won the election with less than 40 percent of the popular ballot, and not one single vote in 10 of the Southern states.

November 5, 2016

November 5, 2016

23andYOU, maybe. Not 23andME.

While I’ve never been much of a “Who am I, and why am I here” ponderer, I was delighted to receive a genetic testing kit from 23andme as part of Birthday Hoopla 2016. My mom is Korean and my Dad is Polish/German, so it’s likely that most of my ancestors were forced to flee their oppressors at some point. (When you’re both German AND Polish, thinking about World War II raises some awkward questions.)

Anyway. Suffice to say I was PRETTY PSYCHED to figure some shiz out. Star in my own version of “Who Do You Think You Are?” but with science instead of genealogy.

The basic 23andme process is simple. The company sends you a test tube. You spit into the tube, seal it up, and mail it back in. They apply science/wizardry to the DNA that occurs naturally in your spit, and tell you all sorts of things about your ancestry and your health (which got them into some trouble—we’ll get back to that).

So, step 1: Spit into a tube.

Okay. Okay? OKAY.

See, what dearly beloved gifter didn’t realize when he got me this present is that I have a deep-seated saliva aversion. Everything about it—mine or other people’s, drool or loogie—I find horrifying. I don’t trot this fact out at parties, but now you know.

It took a lot of screw-your-courage-to-the-sticking-place, lie-on-your-back-and-think-of-England ministrations, but I managed to get the job done. (Even just typing these words is making me shudder.) Because, really, a few moments of suffering will all be worth it to find out I share some common DNA with Pikachu.

Since I was a quivering wreck after The Spitting Incident, TheBoy helped me get the sample ready for mailing. (I was like one of those women in a Victorian novel who doesn’t want to see the baby she is giving up for adoption. I was like, “JUST TAKE IT AWAY. I CAN’T EVEN.”)

So I popped the package in the mail and waited to be delighted. 23andme is very good about updating you at each step of the process: sample received, sample being analyzed, report being prepared, etc. I saw that they got my spit. I saw that they were analyzing my spit.

And then.

And then I got an email from stating that my sample failed analysis.

As someone who takes great pride at her skill with test-taking (that IS a fact I actually whip out at parties), this was a great blow. 23andme offers a second chance, though, and I asked for another tube. I also at this point became the first person in history to pass her driving test but not her DNA test on the first try.

So another tube arrived and I gave myself a pep talk. Obviously my phobia was affecting the results. My DNA was recessing into my body. COME ON, CHROMOSOMES. WE CAN DO THIS. SÍ, SE PUEDE.

[Here, insert a montage of the spit-to-mail process happening again, but with me having more of a steely glint to my aspect.]

I waited some more. Wondered if “Who Do You Think You Are?” ever runs into stuff like this.

And then I got another email. Another fail.

23andme tries to analyze each sample twice, so my two samples were actually four failures to find enough loose DNA (my paraphrase) to run their tests. They gave me a refund, and the fact that they didn’t just make something up—“you’re part Haitian!”—that convinces me they’re the real deal. Unlike every episode of CSI ever, when a one-second cheek swab yields enough evidence to convict a person of several crimes. BOO.

I’m trying to look on the bright side. Maybe my ancestry report would have revealed I’m actually Russian and Chinese, so I’d have to join the Communist party. Maybe my health report would have revealed that I’m simultaneously a carrier of and at risk for every disease. (The health report part of 23andme is controversial, since people get really freaked out when you tell them stuff like “Your genes are full of Alzheimer’s.”) Maybe my low-DNA density means I can commit crimes with impunity and I’ve been wasting my time living on the right side of the law.

I don’t want to dissuade you from 23andme—your mileage will certainly vary. Perhaps in the future they’ll come up with a different way of collecting DNA that will allow people like me (X-Men) to get involved. But until that day, I’ll be thinking about my superhero name.

October 3, 2016

October 3, 2016

The State of the TV Schedule: Fall 2016

With podcasts and books taking up ever-greater shares of my time, I've cut back on TV this fall. Way back. WAY back.

Shows I'm still watching:
How To Get Away with Murder
The Last Man on Earth
The Mindy Project
Modern Family
New Girl
Project Runway
Shark Tank
Superstore

Shows I'm giving a fair(ish) shake:
Bull
Designated Survivor
MacGyver
Timeless

You?

September 18, 2016

September 11, 2016

September 11, 2016

Wisconsin State Fair 2016

This year marked the 160th Wisconsin State Fair. While I have only attended a fraction of that number, my excitement for deep fried everything was whetted even before I saw this sign:


As veteran readers know, my State Fair activities fall into two broad categories: activities and food. When it comes to activities, I make sure to hit the Exposition Center first thing, so my views of Wonder Mops and Miracle Choppers are unobstructed. My favorite how-am-I-living-without-this item this year were the salt lamps.


They cure everything, have been seen on every channel, and last for life. I particular dig the Food Channel endorsement, since I assume that means they are lickable straight out of the box.

Let’s also not forget the chance to support purveyors of little-known local goods.


Foam cheese top hat? Don’t mind if I DO.

Anyway, 45 minutes or so later, I emerge from the aisles of VitaMixers and head for the Schlitz-Audubon Center’s Sky Hunters: Birds of Prey program. The same birds tend to appear year after year, and it’s near to see them grow. Or not grow, as in the case of Dory the tiny owl.


This bald eagle, Valkyrie, was all brown just a few years ago. Now, she’s simultaneously majestic and able to slice your neck open. Kind of the perfect symbol of our country, really.


The animals are also a must-see, if only because it’s State Fair tradition. If the farmers can drive their livestock hours to the city, the least I can do is walk over and look at their butts.


Or watch as they race each other:


By the end of which, I’m obviously a bit puckish and ready to begin with the NOSHES. This year, I started with the traditional combination plate from Saz’s:


When I ordered two—one for me and one for TheBoy—the vendor assumed I misspoke. Um. NOPE. This baby's all mine.

Next, duck fajita:


Strawberry milk:


Deep fried Snickers on a stick:


Cruller on a stick (regular AND chocolate flavored):



Deep fried cream cheese on a stick:


Deep fried cookie dough on a stick:


So tasty, guys. So tasty.

By this point, I was feeling rather charitable towards humanity in general, so I took a swing past the prize winning fruits/vegetables/baked goods:



Sat through a couple of magicians and jugglers on the family stage:



And ended with a ride on the SkyGlider:


Until next year, Wisconsin State Fair. Keep the fry oil warm.

August 4, 2016

August 4, 2016

Good Luck at the State Fair

The 165th annual Wisconsin State Fair opens today. I'm planning to visit twice over the 11-day run, because one day of eating my weight in fried foods just isn't enough for this modern gal.

My game plan, however, is not just caloric. I've got a list of sights and sounds, too—Schlitz Audubon Nature Center bird talks, sea lion shows, rides on the Skyglider, etc. And a shopping list, consisting of those items from companies too small to sell online.

In short, it's the culmination of months of preparation. It may seem like too much, but you can't over-prepare for the State Fair. In the paraphrased words of Dwight K. Schrute: "A real Fair-goer makes her own luck. Billy Zane, Titanic."

June 28, 2016

June 28, 2016

iFlew

When it comes to celebrating my wedding anniversary, I set the bar high with that trip to Iceland last year. Probably too high. It’s hard to top Iceland. (Amiright, England? Ooh, SOCCER BURN.) Nevertheless, you only live once and all that, so we decided this year to try indoor skydiving.

Yep. Skydiving. Indoor skydiving. In layman’s terms, you hover over a jet engine that’s pointed up. I researched it a bit before a trip to Vegas some years ago but couldn’t fit it into my itinerary—David Copperfield and all-you-can-eat buffets came first, obviously. But when a branch of international indoor skydiving chain iFly opened near us, I had my helper hippo make the booking.

Phase 1: Travel and Registration

iFly recommends that you arrive an hour before your reservation time to allow for prep time. The DC location of iFly also happens to be located an hour from civilization. Simple math tells you that this involved leaving home Quite Early on flying day. It’s all good, though; I’m sure any paratrooper would agree that the best skydiving is done when you’re a leetle groggy.

Once you arrive at iFly, you sign-in at a kiosk, resist (or don’t) the staffer’s attempts to up-sell you, and sign a number of waivers. After all this has been completed, you get an approved-to-fly wristband and realize you’re feeling a little queasy. Hoo boy.

Wings? What wings?

Phase 2: The Flight Deck

You’re sent up to “the flight deck” at this point. That’s where the main attraction is: the wind tunnel. It’s enclosed in acrylic so that everyone in the vicinity can watch the action. Since we were about 45 minutes before our reservation time at this point, a staffer told us to sit, watch, and enjoy the group currently flying. (If you haven’t noticed, iFly does a good job of slowly and repeatedly exposing you to what’s about to happen.) It appeared to be a family grouping—three to four adults and several kids—and they displayed various levels of excitement and ability. Main takeaway: Anyone can do this. Hoo boy.

Phase 3: Instruction

After 15 or so minutes of observation, we were called into the training room by our instructor. (If you think I wasn’t treating this like my very own real-life Top Gun, you’d be wrong.) We watched a short video that showed us what was going to happen, and then our instructor reviewed the hand signals he’d be using to communicate with us in the tunnel.

For the rest of my life, I'll never know whether I'm getting the peace sign or the legs straight sign.

So after approximately 10 minutes of training, we were apparently fully-qualified to enter the tunnel. Hoo boy.

Phase 4: Gear

iFly provides a flight suit, helmet, goggles, and earplugs. You’re about as sealed and protected as possible, short of inserting yourself into a body bag. Once I was all suited up, my glasses immediately started to fog. Delightful.

We nervously milled about while waiting for the group before ours to finish their flights. Hoo boy.

Phase 5: It’s Tunnel Time

10 o’clock rolled around and it was GO TIME. We had eight in our group, and I ended up in eighth position. As a result, I got to watch six randos and TheBoy go through their turns before me. The only really notable bit was when person number one’s helmet FLEW OFF towards the end of her flight. (She was fine, if a bit shaken.)

But enough about other people. How did MY flight go?

ENTER THE MATRIX.

I enjoyed it, while unconsciously channeling my inner crouching tiger.

Would I go again? Sure. I think it’s a unique enough experience to be worth the cost. Far cheaper than dying after your parachute fails to deploy.

May 9, 2016

May 9, 2016

No Lunch Left Behind

Recent Hamilton/Tubman/Jackson news aside, the images on American currency can be somewhat of a mystery. Play pub trivia for a while and you’re sure to be asked who’s on the front of the $1000 bill, what’s on the back of the twenty, or the word that appears in addition to the phrase “In God We Trust” on the obverse of coins.*

For something most of us handle every day, money is hard. I get it. Plus Americans are Americans. I get it. But I read something like this story and my fists of fury pop right out:


Last things first: The saddest sentence I have ever read is “The child missed lunch that day.” I don’t know this kid—heck, I don’t even like kids—but I am a firm apologist for NO LUNCH LEFT BEHIND.

Even if you’ve never owned one, you know that the $2 bill exists, right? Also, we’re talking about something that costs no more than $2—how about someone floats that kid a lunch while things are being sorted out? Teacher? Lunch monitor? Cop? Bueller? Anyone?

Let’s imagine the reaction the banker had, which must have included a brief moment of suspicion that this was some kind of prank.

“Nobody was charged.” Yeah, no kidding. Sigh.

Lunch ladies of America, we can do better.

And by “ladies,” I mean “people of any gender.”

And by “we” I mean “you.”

* I really only get to use the word “obverse” in this circumstance, so you bet your bottom dollar (ha) that I’m going to use it.

April 22, 2016

April 22, 2016

Someone Tell Jimmy McMillan About This

For me, the best part of vacationing is hunkering down in the hotel room, flipping through the endless cable package. Straight talk: The only reason I’m not a cord cutter is that I never had a cord in the first place. I pay for a great many things, but television programming is not one of them, amen.

Lately, it seems that every vacation of mine coincides with the discovery of yet another House Hunters spinoff. Last time, it was Tiny House Hunters:


This time (because these words are coming to your eyeholes straight from my hotel room), it’s House Hunters Off the Grid. Frankly, the first word I’d use to describe it is bewildering. Rather than the HH parameters I’m used to, I’m hearing things like “the leeches could be a problem,” “we’d like to stay under $80 a month for rent,” and “there’s no running water.” None of those phrases should be associated with housing, people. Ever. EVER.

I appreciate that not everyone lives as I do, from a corner of a couch to which food and supplies are delivered regularly from various websites ending in –crate. Things like high-speed internet, parking, and even air conditioning are negotiable. You know what’s not negotiable? LEECHES. It’s 2016, people. If we can put a man on the moon, we can find places to live that don’t entail leeches.

Perhaps the worst part is that the people on this episode of HHOTG (even the acronym is discomforting) have children. Children that will be subjected to aforementioned leeches. However your parents botched the gig when you were growing up, I daresay your nonconsensual leech exposure was minimal. (I added the “nonconsensual” bit after my helper hippo informed me that some people willingly swim in bodies of water that also contain leeches. I’m pretty sure he’s making that shit up because COME ON, but okay.)

Ugh, I think they just showed literal poop buckets. These people (Australians, of course they would be Australians) are willingly embracing a poop bucket situation.

I’ll stick to Million Dollar Listing.

March 29, 2016

March 29, 2016

Everything's Bigger



Guys. It’s been too long, I know. New job is kicking my butt. (In a good, consensual way.) I took a little time off recently to visit TheBoy’s hometown of Houston, Texas. While Orlando remains the furthest south I’ve even been, Houston is a close second. Weather-wise, it felt kind of what I expect the surface of the sun to feel like. Hot? YES.

The main reason we went was the rodeo, because the best way to lure me to anything remotely outdoorsy is deep fried food on a stick.

I went with the brownie balls. They were delicious.

It was literally my first rodeo, so I had no idea what to expect. The answer turns out to be crazy animal hijinks, fewer rope tricks than you’d think, and the insanity that is the calf scramble. Oh, and Little Big Town, a country act I could (pretend) to get behind (for a few hours).

But the greater Houston area is so much more than the Astrodome NRG Stadium rodeo. It’s the Museum of Natural Science:


The Museum of Fine Arts:


Bayou Bend:


The Kemah Boardwalk:

 
And mother-freaking NASA:

“I wish I could quit you.”

Me and Scott Kelly say “Hey girl.”

The biggest revelation, though, was neither the palm trees nor the TV stations that start with K nor the rampant appearance of unironic cowboy hats. It was Luby’s.

Forget Huckabee’s: I heart Luby’s.

It’s a cafeteria chain and I would legitimately live there if that were remotely possible.

This meal was so cheap, it was like THEY paid ME.

Don’t mess with it, people. Don’t mess with it.

February 28, 2016

February 12, 2016

February 12, 2016

Playlist for the Affirmative

In the moments before the most recent Republican debate (and the unfortunate series of events that was the introductions), one of the candidates* had earbuds in. While I suppose he could have been playing inspirational historical oratory or the voices of his kids or whatnot, I like to think he was pumping himself up with some magnificent tunes.

Which naturally got me to thinking: What would my pre-debate playlist be? A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation resulted in this:

            1. Lose Yourself, Eminem
            2. My Shot, Lin-Manuel Miranda
            3. Bulletproof, La Roux
            4. Rolling in the Deep, Adele
            5. Kryptonite, 3 Doors Down
            6. No Rain, Blind Melon
            7. Hit ‘Em Up Style, Blu Cantrell
            8. Clocks, Coldplay
            9. Stereo Hearts, Gym Class Heroes
          10. Hey Jude, The Beatles

What about you? You needn’t be a Presidential candidate to play—everybody has to perform at some point. What would motivate you to get on the stage/in the seat/what-have-you and absolutely CRUSH IT?

* I'm not going to say which, since Duly Noted is an apolitical safe space.

January 11, 2016

January 11, 2016

Check Engine, Check Yourself

Cars, in my opinion, are a necessary evil. I don’t like to drive them. I don’t like to ride in them. They get me from here to there at best. So car people, you’ve been warned: Look away.

As little as I like cars, I have one because I’m an upwardly mobile city dweller with a warehouse club membership and weak arms. I can’t lug the club size of anything on public transit, people. I need to tote the pallets of Diet Coke home, along with my boxes of Ikea furniture. The sum total of this driving equals about 500 miles a year. Not a typo. Five hundred. A year.

Nevertheless, I get oil changes and safety inspections and emissions tests as required by law and common sense. I don’t hate the player (the car). I hate the game (having a car). Sure, I may have let the safety inspection slide a month. Or two. In my defense, Wisconsin doesn’t even HAVE safety inspections, so how vital to the general welfare could they really be?

Anyway, I took the day off work on Friday to get all the car-related reckoning out of the way. I needed an oil change, a safety inspection, and—this is the kicker—a stop lamp switch replacement as necessitated by a Hyundai recall. I honestly almost threw away the letter from Hyundai about this, because a) it looked like an ad and b) if it were really serious, Lester Holt would have told me about it. But TheBoy insisted, so I scheduled an appointment with the dealership. Ugh.

I was dreading the entire experience in the same way I assume most people dread the dentist. It’s a semiannual invasion of privacy, wherein you’re hoisted up and examined, hoping they find as few problems as possible. Because you KNOW they’re going to find something. At my last oil change, the guy gave me EIGHT PAGES of recommended services. At which point I fell back on the excuse routine I’ve been using since approximately 1998: “I’ll have to ask my husband about that,” “My husband needs to approve any big spending,” pitiful eyelash bats, etc. FEMINISM LIVES.

Because when else does an expert take advantage of the situation to suggest other services?

“Sure, we scheduled you for an appendectomy, but this left kidney isn’t looking so good, man.”

“I know you asked for a mole removal, but should we do a tattoo while we’re back here?”

No. Thanks. Particularly after the guy checking me in at the dealership commented on my low mileage. He literally said, “Wow, low mileage. You know, we recommend you replace the timing belt, regardless of mileage. Bad timing belt, you lose the engine. It’s $645.”

Ain’t nobody got time for that, son. Ain’t nobody got time for that.