Year in Review: 2014 Uber List

How did I do?

Here’s my list from last year:

1. Ask for a raise. This is kind of a cheat. I already have a meeting scheduled, and my reasons worked out. Now I have to sit in my bosses office and say, “It’s time for me to get a raise.”

I’m pretty terrified.

2. Update and promote my blog.

3. Redo the front closet and paint the hallway going up the stairs.

4. Write and publish something not blog or work related.

5. Find a new brand of pants that fits. And buy all the colors.

++

1. I got a raise. It has gone poof this year, but that is a story for another time. (Think health insurance premiums.)
2. Um… I did make a few tweaks. And I’m more active on Facebook. But I need to do better.
3. Front closet: yes. Hallway: no.

Front closet redo
Front closet redo

Up-the-stairs hallway.
Up-the-stairs hallway.

4. I did branch out a little bit. I guest posted here and here a few times. I wrote copy for this guy.
5. This one hasn’t worked out so far. But, I don’t shop that much either.

++

I have my word of the year, and lots of thoughts about it.

My uber-list for 2015 is shaping up, and it will be short and sweet like 2014’s list.

Onward!

Year in Review — More Music 2014

I’m sorry, I can’t let the year end without mentioning these artists and sharing one more video.

Warpaint, Warpaint
Jeff Tweedy, Sukirae (such a pretty little album!)
Supernova, Ray LaMontagne
Beauty & Ruin, Bob Mould
Damian Rice, My Favorite Faded Fantasy (should’ve been in my top 10, but I misplaced that list)

And finally, a fun little LP from Jack Antonoff of fun. fame: Bleachers, Strange Desire. I believe I called their single “I Wanna Get Better” the 2014 summer anthem for the dysfunctional. The video bears me out.

Year in Review: Top Albums of 2014

2014 was a fantastic year for music. Whether you are a fan of pop, country, rock, punk, or alternative, lots of new music hit the airwaves this year.

And it was good.

Here’s a short list of albums that did not make it onto my top 10:

The Both, The Both
Pixies, Indie Cindy
Jack White, Lazarreto
Little Daylight, Hello Memory
KONGOS, Lunatic
Future Islands, Singles
St. Vincent, St. Vincent

Plus Sleater-Kinney released a single, “Bury Our Friends”, which bodes very well for their upcoming 2015 album, No Cities to Love.

I cannot wait.

Here are my top 10 albums for 2014.

10. Hunger Games, Mockingjay: Part I Soundtrack. 

Although I feel they made a faux pas by not including Jennifer Lawrence’s version of “The Hanging Tree” on this release, it makes it onto my list on the strength of the Lorde’s contributions, including “Yellow Flicker Beat.”

9. Weezer, Everything is Going to Be Alright in the End

This album captures the idea “return to form” for this long-lasting and prolific band. In my opinion, Weezer’s album’s have been uneven at best. This makes me recall the heydays of The Blue Album and The Green Album, and I believe Rivers Cuomo may be right: Everything is going to be okay.

8. Protomartyr, Under Color of Unofficial Light

This band brings forth a dark and brooding sound that gets into my bloodstream and won’t leave. The lead singer sounds like someone, but I haven’t been able to place my finger on whom. Part ’90s-influenced, and part utterly unique, I can’t stop listening to what Protomartyr is creating.

7. TV on the Radio, Seeds

This was a late entry, and I had to rewrite my list because of it. Seeds is a continuation of TV on the Radio’s exploration of music and sound. They can bring the poppy, like the do on “Could You”, and they can bring the noise experimentation like they do on the opening track, “Quartz”. Seeds needs a lot of listening, and it deserves it.

6. Azealia Banks, Broke with Expensive Taste

Pretenders to the throne, step aside. I’m looking at you, Iggy and Ariana. Azealia Banks puts you all to shame. Sassy, dirty, and not afraid of her quirks, Azealia is going to school all y’all.

5. The Both, The Both

This came out early in 2014, and stood the test of time. Aimee Mann and Ted Leo team up to make the most of both of their talents. Pretty and poignant, funny and bittersharp, these features two veteran artists at the top of their game.

4. Jenny Lewis, The Voyager

Another veteran of the singer-songerwriter/pop life, sweet-voiced chanteuse Jenny Lewis comes back to the scene with wry observations on being the oldest, singlest woman in the room.

3. FKA Twigs, LP1

This is the weirdest, sexiest album of the century so far. Deceptively cute-looking, FKA Twigs (Tahliah Debrett Barnett) lets her darkest, most seductive fantasies flow. Her voice is high and breathy, yet powerful, and she captures a lot of desire, insecurity, and longing over the course of these 10 tracks.

2. The Black Keys, Turn Blue

I am surprised that this came in second place on this list. I truly feel it was one of the best albums this year. I have enjoyed hearing the evolution of The Black Keys from a two-piece garage band into their current iteration. Given access to the toys in the production room, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney turned the story of a bad year into a classic rock album. From the seven-minute opus of “The Weight of Love”, I knew they were doing something different. I know long-time fans are not in love with this one, but I Turn Blue leave no question, to me, that The Black Keys have more to show us.

My number 1 pick and Artist of the Year coming before Jan. 1, I promise. In the meantime, what was your favorite album of 2014?

Year in Review: Books of 2014

I’ve read 38 books this year, and I’m on track to read 40 (according to Goodreads, and my stab at tracking my reading there). Last year, I apparently only read 22 books, so I’m managing to read more. Good news for me!

I am currently reading Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys, a memoir by Viv Albertine of The Slits. It is an excellent and unsentimental memoir of the U.K. punk scene of the late 1970s, and I’m really liking it. If you consider yourself a fan of punk at all, it’s a must-read.

Here are the other books that I liked most this year. They weren’t necessarily written this year, and I’m presenting them in no particular order.

Attachments, by Rainbow Rowell
I discovered Rowell this year, and I’ve read a bunch of her stuff: Landline, Eleanor & Park, and Attachments. I love her modern romantic sensibilities. Her books about relationships are sweet, and frantic, and hopeful. Of the ones I read this year, Attachments is my favorite. I would highly recommend Landlines as well.

Horns, by Joe Hill
A weird and extraordinary thing happens to an Average Joe. Told in a mix of flashback and present day, Hill captures the magic and innocence of childhood friendship and love, as well as the allegorical terror of being a nominally responsible adult.

The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith
If you don’t know by now, Galbraith is the pen name of J.K. Rowling. This is her second book centering about the private detective Cormoran Strike. I’m not a huge fan of mystery books, but I’ve enjoyed the characters and stories spun around Strike. It’s clear that writing under a nom de plume is liberating for Rowling. Say what you will, but she’s a good storyteller. Her editors were definitely on for these books as well; there’s no word vomit, which is something even I, a fan, recognize Rowling has a propensity for. These books are brisk moving with enough twists to keep you guessing.

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
This is probably my favorite read of 2014. It’s lyrical and fantastical, a love story, a story about grand rivals, and magic, and longing. It was recommended to me, and I’m so glad I remembered it next time I was checking out books for my Kindle.

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
Donna Tartt’s third novel is a beautiful use of the English language. Melancholic and (again) lyrical, the story of a lost boy who grows into a lost man, with one thing, the titular classical painting, anchoring him to his mortal coil (as well as hope and love).

Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King
A cracking good suspense novel from the King of Horror. This was definitely the summer read of 2014 for me. Three unforgettable characters team up to take down a twisted psychopath, and King gets into the internal motivations of all of them.

Read anything good this year?

The Night Circus cover

mr-mercedes

2013 Year in Review

I did a pretty awful job on my uber-list from this year. I’m trying not to let it get me down.

I probably did manage to read 40 to 50 books, but I didn’t track them on Goodreads. I did track some — according to Goodreads, I read about 22 books this year — and I did a decent job of mixing non-fiction in with the fiction.

I also did manage to start exercising again. I’m very pleased about that, and I plan to keep it up in the New Year.

Some things I did that weren’t on my uber-list:

Flora received her first Holy Communion. That was pretty awesome.
The girls and I spent a weekend in Bedford, PA, to celebrate my friend’s birthday.
Dan and I went to Churchill Downs to see the Kentucky Oaks. I got to wear a big hat! While in Kentucky, we also toured the Maker’s Mark distillery.
We saw a giant ducky.
We went to North Carolina for Thanksgiving.

Those are pretty much the high points of 2013. I didn’t paint anything; I didn’t get the office organized; we didn’t go to the Science Center or the Children’s Museum — although we’ve been to the National Aviary twice, and are now members. I want to go again on New Year’s Day. We’ll have to see if I can make that happen.

In the arena of food: I bought locally sourced beef and chicken, cooked it, and even ate it. I tried a number of new recipes, but nothing so noteworthy I wanted to blog about it.

I did fairly well blogging. I usually managed to get two posts up a week, and I did post every day for NaBloPoMo.

For 2014, I am going to cut my list in half, and be very specific about what I want to achieve. Tune in on my birthday (the last of January) to see what makes my uber-list.

In the meantime, have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve. May 2014 hold more surprises (the good kind) and blessings for us all.

Year in Review: 2011

I have been wracking my brain for some amazing highlights to mention in a year-end post.

And I got nothing.

It’s just kinda been a year, you know?

In January, I turned 40.

In February, Dan and I closed on the property where he has his psychology practice, which is a pretty big deal I guess. I’m incredibly proud of my husband — his career development has been a big highlight of our year. It’s just not *mine* per se. (I didn’t even blog about it!)

I went back to work in February, full time, and I’m still bitching about it. People say, “I don’t know how you do it.” (Some people say, “Suck it up, buttercup!”)

Trust me, I’m not.

Flora started a new school in September.

I did the PodCamp thing! Maybe a little too much.

My sister got married in October, and Flora was the flower girl. I was the Best Woman, and I gave a nice toast.

I started a new blogging — sorry, online writing project.

In general, the kids have been all right (I think).

Michael hit his milestones. Then, a little more than a week ago, he had ear tube surgery. So far, so good.

In lieu of an end-of-the-year post, here’s an idea (that I am stealing): a guiding word for the new year.

My word for 2012 is going to be “change”. I have to figure out what needs to change in my life, how to change it, and then go. I don’t need big upheavals, but I need better balance. I need more things for me to sustain me. My children need me to make some changes to benefit them.

If you had a rough 2011 (and gauging by my Twitter stream, some of you sure did), I hope that 2012 is better. Even if you had a good 2011, I hope 2012 is better. And if, like me, you just kind of had a year, well, maybe a little change up will do you some good, too.

What’s your 2012 word?

Artist of the Year: Lady Gaga

I don’t know when I first heard her name, but it wasn’t until I read this article in Slate that I thought to myself, “Hm. Wonder if I should look into that.”

I’m am no pop music aficionado. The last time I listened to Top 40 radio, cassette tapes were the cutting-edge technology, okay? In high school I discovered college radio, punk rock, the B-52s and Depeche Mode. The Pixies are easily my favorite band ever, ranked right up there with Nirvana, Radiohead, Tori Amos, and Green Day. Before her, the music that was turning me on in 2009 included The Decemberists, The Arcade Fire, and M.I.A.

Then — and this is the weirdest story ever — I went to my niece’s first dance recital, and a group of 6-year-olds (I know, I don’t know who picked the music, either) did a routine to this funky song that wormed its way into my brain. And I said to myself, that’s her, and I have to find out more.

An obsession was born.

I YouTube’d her — a lot. I read about her in Rolling Stone and on Wikipedia. I was intrigued by her image, and completely hooked by her hooks. After listening to “Poker Face” and “Love Game” about a thousand times, I got the album from the library and burned it to my iTunes.

And it made me wish I were a 22-year-old club-hopping hottie in New York City. (I can’t even chair dance without looking like I’m seizing.) I was still enjoying The Fame on a nearly daily basis (and my kids were too — sometimes the girls spontaneously break into “Paparazzi” and there is nothing funnier than two little girls singing “pa-pa, pa-pa, paparazzi”… unless it’s watching an almost 3yo shake her bootie to “Poker Face”) when I heard “Bad Romance”.

I checked You Tube to see if there was a video for the single. When I first viewed it, my thought was: “It’s Madonna meets the Borg. Also? Cher.” And I watched it five times in a row. I couldn’t get enough of “I want your love/ and I want your revenge/ I want your love/ I don’t want to be friends”. (And if someone can translate that French bit for me, I will happily kiss you — on the cheek. Hey, I’m married.)

(I want to know how much that mosiac dress weighs, too.)

I downloaded The Fame Monster, and I get chills listening to “Speechless”, “Teeth”, and “Dancing in the Dark.” “Teeth” is by far the freakiest thing I have heard in years — I mean, “take a bite of my bad-girl meat”, and I don’t want to giggle when Gaga sings it. It scares me.

And the power ballad “Speechless”. “Could we fix you if you broke?” Girl wails it. Chills. Pop music doesn’t give me chills.

The Fame was uber pop fun, with some sexual twists; The Fame Monster is many shades darker. Although “Telephone” is an upbeat dance number, and “Alejandro” is a bit of an ABBA shout-out (a spoof all in good fun), here is the other side of Gaga — the flip side of “Boys Boys Boys” is “Monster.”

It’s not just the music, of course, it’s the spectacle. Lady Gaga wears bizarre costumes; she played piano while wearing a gyroscope on SNL; she set fire to a piano on the American Music Awards. “Bad Romance” puts her squarely in the beautiful freak camp: those wonderfully weird costumes, dance moves, video enhancements (super round eyes, alien spines).

And yet, when she talks to Ellen or Barbara Walters (who should have stopped about two facelifts ago), Lady Gaga seems so sweet and down to earth. She took her sunglasses off when she talked to Babs. She shook hands with the Queen of England! (Also, did not set anything on fire or touch herself while performing for Her Majesty.)

Lady Gaga, I’m yours. I don’t have any idea what you’re going to do next, and that’s probably why. I’m going to have to explain a lot of stuff to my girls (for example, if a relationship they are in ever reminds them of “Bad Romance” get the eff out! And the difference between love and sex — which I have to do anyway), but that’s okay. If they want to shake their booties to “Just Dance” when they are young and free, I am going to totally get behind that. Because, Gaga, you make me want to shake my bootie, too. And I’m not generally what you would call a bootie shaker.

Cranky aside: Why in the hell did iTunes censor The Fame Monster? If I had known that Lady Gaga was going to be declaring herself a “free bit” I would have looked elsewhere for the uncensored version of the album. Actually, I probably will. In the meantime, I won’t have to tell my kids why a lovely young lady like Gaga is referring to herself as a female dog.

Here’s another article from Slate, A Defense of Lady Gaga, that probably articulates what I am trying to say much, much better than I am doing here.

Craziest of the Crazy

Life with kids is never without its unexpected moments — for good and for ill. Today’s Year in Review Post (according to this site) is supposed to be the best moment of peace.

So I searched for the word “peace” on my blog. And got a bunch of posts about death. We lost a good friend; we thought we were losing Nanny; and there are always reflections on Gabriel.

Instead, for today I decided to completely go in the other direction, and repost one of the craziest evenings we had at home.

This is Why I Drink*

[The events of yesterday, after work]:

I am really looking forward to getting home and hanging out with my girls. Since it isn’t a bath night (I bathe them every other day), I am thinking some arts & crafts or play-doh are in order.

The girls run immediately next door when they get out of my car. There’s no car in the driveway, so they know Bella is not home, but they can still get a treat off Nanny and give kisses to Tadone.

The drama starts when Nanny only has one mint. And Kate gets it. Flora is heartbroken, devastated even.

We soothe the pain with a gift of peanut butter crackers. Then, we head home to change Kate’s poopy diaper and have dinner.

Flora proceeds to eat all the peanut butter out of the crackers, throwing the orange crackers into the sink. I steam green beans and get out some leftovers for dinner. Flora decides on lentil soup, easy peasy dinner pie (that she had helped to make Monday), and green beans.

Kate does not want dinner. She doesn’t even want a cheese stick (what we call string cheese in my house), which is nearly unheard of. That must have been one filling mint she got from Nanny.

Flora has an interesting way of eating green beans. She splits them down the middle, takes out all the seeds, and eats everything separately. She always exclaims over the size of the beans. “Oh, that’s a big one!” “Oh, mommy, look at the bitty baby bean!”

As Flora is rhapsodizing over her green beans, Kate is deciding that she wants gum. I tell her she can’t have gum until she eats dinner. Kate informs me that she doesn’t want dinner. She then goes over to the B.S. drawer (every house has a least one) in the kitchen for the gum.

I remove all the gum, and put it out of her reach.

Kate melts down. And hits me.

Two-minute time out for Kate. In her room.

Flora tells me how happy she is I put Kate in their room. “I don’t want to hear any crying,” she says.

Um, yeah.

Two minutes up, I get a calmer Kate from her room. She has pooped again.

There is a knock on my door.

As our unexpected visitor is leaving, about 10 minutes later, she accidently shuts Flora’s pinky finger in the front door. Flora screams like she’s being attacked by a hive of yellow jackets. Our visitor is apologetic; Flora is apoplectic; Kate starts wailing in sympathy with her big sister.

At this point in the evening, no one has finished her dinner (myself included); Kate is on her second poopy diaper and has had a mint and a juice box; and now I am wondering if I am going to have to take Flora to the ER for an X-ray.

After 10 minutes of ice, Flora doesn’t want to bend her finger. After I mention the ER and call our pediatrician, she decides she can bend it just fine after all. “It still hurts,” she whimpers. “Does it hurt a little or a lot?” I ask gently holding the swollen digit. “A little,” she decides. “Can I have a band-aid?” She’s not bleeding, but whatever.

To add to the fun, my house (particularly my kitchen and my bathroom) have been overrun by fruit flies. They are freakin’ everywhere, and I do not know where they came from or how to get rid of them. I know my house will not pass a white glove inspection, but we’re not slovenly.

I have repeatedly wiped down floors and counters. All my food is in the refrigerator — even the garlic. I have banished the garbage cans to outside of the backdoor, which isn’t exactly convenient. I have sprayed with Lysol, and poured bleach down the drains. And still they swarm. They are making me insane. Not exaggerating.

Plus, they strike dread into Kate’s heart like nothing I could ever do or say.

No one gets to play with play-doh. No arts and crafts are done. After icing and bandaging Flora’s finger, and getting Kate to consume most of a banana, I spend the rest of the evening trying to kill the fruit flies in the kitchen. Kate poops one more time for good measure, right at bed time, and doesn’t want her sore bum touched. After bedtime, I fold some laundry, watch a Mad Men episode, put some clothes aside for our trip out of town this weekend.

I am exhausted at 9:30 p.m. Is it any wonder?

*Hyperbole alert.

Weekend: Wrestlemania and a New Recipe

The thing about being POD nearly all weekend is that it’s like 36 hours of Wrestlemania as far as Kate is concerned. And her goal is to take me down to the mat. By Sunday afternoon, she nearly succeeded, and Sunday evening I had to gate the girls in the living room while I stole a few moments to make dinner all by myself. Flora was a mass of emotions too, which I attribute to two things: her dramatic personality and being tired. It was another weekend of doing A LOT, and not enough chilling at home.

I love that Kate is so tough, I do, but when getting her removed from a location requires brute force, it is difficult to admire her pure bull-headedness and wiry strength. Saturday she and I had a tete-a-tete at Beaver Valley’s Festival of the Trees that required me leaving Flora with Bella to let Kate ride out the tantrum (with me) in the car. It was quite something, I tell you, not made any easier by the fact that at one point she wanted either her stuffed monkey (George) or her stuffed bunny (Cuddle) and we had neither with us. Note to self: the kiddie survival kit requires a stuffed animal. Stat.

Then Sunday, I thought we could ride out naptime at the OTB Bicycle Cafe fundraiser/Steeler game we attended. I was wrong, and when it looked like she was going to insist on inflicting bodily harm and/or chocolate stains on other attendees, I figured we’d better load up & head out. (Flora, incidentally, was an angel). I got some very concerned looks as I headed out the door with Flora hauling her wheeled backpack and Kate pretty much hanging upside down from my head. (We made it home safely, everyone.) Napping was no longer an option by the time we rolled in, and I just prayed to make it to bed time. (We did. There may have been a lot of shouting.)

On the plus side, Dan and I attended a little get-together Saturday night for which I invented a new recipe that we are calling Pesto Fagioli.

4 cloves garlic
1 15 oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
A big handful of basil (1 loosely packed cup, maybe)
1/4-1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
Olive oil

Throw everything except the olive oil into a food processor. Add the olive oil while pulsing until it is the consistency you prefer. Next time, I am going to try to make it chunkier; it was too smooth to my taste.

The basil lends this a lovely green color (really!) so this is a good one for the Christmas season. Or St. Patrick’s Day.

(As to the Year in Review: My favorite recipe from 2009 is the vegetarian corn chowder I stumbled upon. I think I’m going to have to make this again soon! Just reading this recipe gave me a hankering. Now, to find the time.)

The Year of Social Media

For me (and maybe for many of you), 2009 will be remembered as the year that social media changed my life.

It hasn’t been a huge, dramatic sea change. I haven’t discovered a new religion or, you know, started eating meat again.

Let’s see if I can convey this adequately in words.

Becoming a parent can be extremely isolating. Within the last five years, I had two babies, moved to the suburbs, went from WAHM to SAHM to WOTHM. While I still keep in touch with a handful of IRL friends (without social media, too), I have lost touch with many more. Friends I went to high school or college with, people I moved away from when I left the South Side.

In the past year, though, I have discovered so many more people and I feel as if I’m fast on my way to becoming friends with many of them. Social media and blogging have helped me overcome the isolation I have felt since the triple-whammy of motherhood, ‘burb living, and full-time work.

I don’t know what happens in other cities, but the Pittsburgh social media scene is incredible. There are the Burgh Moms (and Dads), which is how this all started.

And then I joined Twitter. And holy cats — despite my initial skepticism, Twitter has been very, very cool. (I am on Facebook, too, but honestly, I forget about Facebook. I could not tell you the last time I checked in there. I should get on that.) And I went to Pod Camp, and learned stuff and met more people.

And Twitter spawned Tweet-ups. And tweet-ups (and blogging) spawned… philanthropy.

Stay with me here.

There are lots of causes and such on the Interwebz. But here are a few that I actually participated in, primarily because Pittsburgh peeps were the prime movers.

In March, a contingent of us Marched for Maddie.

In the past two months alone:

Burgh Baby launched Christmas Crazy and gave a bunch of toys to tots — about half a bus full — plus piles of gift cards to area shelters.

Las Velas kicked off the Make Room for Kids Fundraiser with a night of $5 margaritas and a mariachi band. All I had to do was show up and order something yummy. Ginny put the donation button on her blog on Monday, and we’re already over $7800 toward the goal of $10,000. It hasn’t even been a week. If you haven’t thrown your two cents in, go ahead and do it now.

And for this Sunday, Abby has organized a fundraiser (A Bit of Social Justice) for the CHS Food Pantry. It’s at the OTB Bicycle Cafe; it’s during the Steelers game (yes, the game will be on); fantabulous prizes are being raffled off; and food and beer will be available. I had committed to going with my children, and then I got free Steeler tickets, but then we couldn’t find a babysitter. So Dan is going to the game with his cousin, and I am going to the fundraiser — with my kids; you’ve all been warned — and if you’re not going to the game, you should come to OTB Bicycle Cafe, too.

Anyway, I do have two points here, and I hope the caffeine reaches my brain so I can make them coherently.

First, these things are EASY PEASY. I cannot organize a toybox, let alone a fundraiser, but because of efforts of people like Burgh Baby, Ginny, and Abby I don’t have to. All I have to do it click a button or show up. And isn’t 95% of life just showing up? (90%? Woody Allen? I forget and I’m not looking it up.)

Second, I think, I think, that by participating in these fun, easy events, I am teaching my children something. They went on the March for Maddie with me, and they will be attending A Bit of Social Justice at OTB Bicycle Cafe. When the Girl Scouts are in the lobby of my Giant Eagle for food donations, we purchase extra and hand it over. I don’t hit them over the head with any messaging (the March was so babies could be born healthy; food donations are for people who aren’t as blessed as we are). As far as they are concerned, I want volunteering events and/or donating (we also donate a fair amount of used clothing and toys to Goodwill or at Freepeats) to just be something we do.

And, because of Pittsburgh social media, now it is. I love all of yinz.

****
Updated: Since I wrote this post, Make Room for Kids has raised another $1000+. Holy cats! (And, no, I’m not saying that me writing a post and another $1000 are in any way related.)

Updated again: $10,000. In five days. Wow. Pat yourselves on the back. As Ginny would say: Srsly.