Sunday, January 22, 2017

This is what democracy looks like

This is what I know is true:
  • I am a patriot.
  • I will not "get over" the fact that Donald Trump is now the President. 
  • I can respect the Office of the President but not the President.
  • I will not be silenced because my beliefs are different from yours or unpopular (they're not by the way) or uncomfortable.
  • I will listen to those who I disagree with and who disagree with me. I will do so with respect.
  • I expect the same level of respect when I share my beliefs with them.
  • I will always question our leaders, at every level of government, on the policies and laws they make.
  • I will be an ally for those who need it.
  • I will not go quietly into the night.
  • I will protest and march and rally and organize and work and work some more. 
As I wrote during the election cycle and have written before, participation is a key element to being a citizen. We have both enormous privilege and responsibility in the way our government works. What often happens is that we forget this. We get wrapped up in the idea that our voice doesn't matter, that no one is listening, that we cannot make change. I disagree. It's not easy for any of those things to happen but they are happening everyday.

I marched in the Women's March on Washington yesterday with approximately 500,000 people who have to believe in the idea that our voice matter. There were 673 sister marches around the world (including all 50 states). An estimated 4 million people marched yesterday in these marches. That is not a small number. If none of us believed that our voices matter, no one would have shown up. Every person came to the march for a different reason; search the hashtag #whyimarch on any social media site and you'll get thousands of results. You might notice a theme after reading through these posts; I certainly did. People marched because they do not want to see their rights taken away. Healthcare, education, gun control, environmental policy, immigrant rights, religious freedom, gay rights, civil rights - all of these things are at risk in the new administration.

I planned on marching since I heard the event was being organized. I believe in affordable, accessible healthcare. I believe women have the right to decide what happens with their bodies. I believe abortion should be legal. I believe Planned Parenthood is an essential part of healthcare options, particularly for women in poverty, for things beyond birth control and abortions. I believe women and girls should not have to fear reporting rape or abuse. I believe men play an important role in feminism. I want the women and girls in my life to know that they can do anything they want. I believe women's rights are human rights. That is why I marched yesterday.

Yesterday was exhilarating, exciting, overwhelming, and exhausting (in a good way). I've participated in smaller protests before and I was a volunteer for the 2009 Inauguration but none of those events prepared me for yesterday. While there were more people in 2009, we didn't feel as closely packed in as yesterday. There was an energy of friendliness that I have never experienced at a march. Where people angry? Yes, but their anger was not towards one another. I saw everyone from little babies with their parents to grandmas with three generations of women from their family to college and high school age participants. There were 60s radicals who really never thought they'd have to be back in Washington again protesting for women's rights. There were people participating in their first march. There were men of all ages marching with the women in their lives or marching together to show solidarity and respect. People came from all over the country to join the march.

I planned to march whether I had a group or not. I lucked out in having an awesome group of ladies to march with: Jordana, her friend Jess, and Janice, a friend from high school who I haven't seen in twenty years. She lives in Ohio now and posted on Facebook last week that she needed a group to march with yesterday. I volunteered our group and away we went. Another friend, Emily, and two of her friends were supposed to meet us but given the logistics and enormity of the crowd, we never connected.

Our plan originally included using Metro but that quickly changed into taking Uber into the city and later a taxi home. The crowds and Metro's ability to not be able to get their shit together started early in the morning and would continue throughout the day. The lines to get into stations were crazy. Thank you to all the Metro workers and Uber and taxi drivers who worked yesterday. Y'all are heroes.

The first thing we saw as we got closer to the start of the rally was the people. It was a sea of pink hats and signs as far as the eye could see. By the midpoint of the rally, the crowd would stretch from 3rd Street SW to 14th Street SW. It would stretch further later and actually make it incredibly difficult to march. We abandoned trying to meet up with Emily and her group since navigating the crowd was becoming harder. We found a little patch of sidewalk near the Hirshhorn at 7th and Independence near one of the screens so we had a great view of the speakers and performers for the rally. Our immediate rally neighbors were super nice; one group was from Ohio. We also had a great view of some protest signs.

The rally began with this song. It was a beautiful start to the morning. From there, the march co-chairs and representatives from groups like Planned Parenthood, Rise, Mothers of the Movement,  and the NAACP spoke about the importance of the movement and the march. Activists, writers, and actors also made their way to the podium (including Michael Moore). My hero, Gloria Steinem, spoke and it was one of my favorite parts of the day. One of my favorite parts of her speech was this: "Pressing send does not allow us to empathize with other people. ... If you hold a baby you’re flooded with empathy. If you see somebody in an accident you want to help them. I love books, but doesn’t happen from a book. It doesn’t happen from a screen. It only happens when we’re together.” Michael Moore gave everyone a to-do list of things we need to do to continue the momentum of the march. He was cut off by Ashley Judd, in possibly the greatest performance of the march. She read Nina Donovan's poem "Nasty Woman" and it was more amazing than I can describe to you; just watch it.


There were an abundance of speakers at the rally. If I had one criticism of the march it would be that the rally was too long. I appreciated hearing different voices and perspectives but at some point, it felt like we were losing the momentum of the crowd. I wish organizers had listened to the crowd when we started chanting "March! March! March!" but I also understand why they continued. People started marching even before surprise guests Alicia Keys and Madonna began performing. I would have stopped at Alicia singing "Girl on Fire" and let us go but I get why they didn't. My second favorite moment of the rally was listening to Sophie Cruz address the crowd. Don't know Sophie Cruz? Sophie is the girl who wanted to talk to Pope Francis when he visited the US about her parents, both undocumented, and how she didn't want them to be taken away. She eventually spoke to him and has become an activist in the way that six year olds can be - amazing. Watching her brought tears to my eyes. She shared a message of hope and determination. We can learn from Sophie.

And then we marched...sort of. The crowd grew so large that the march route was blocked by marchers. It took a long time for us to get moving but eventually we did. We walked as far up Independence Avenue as we could, eventually cutting over to the Mall and walking to the Washington Monument. We weren't on the march route at that point but eventually caught up with it on Constitution Avenue and joined all the way to the Ellipse and the White House. We split off and rejoined the march on Pennsylvania Avenue before looping back to Constitution to head home. It was almost 5 pm by the time we did that and people were still marching and setting up protests outside of the White House. We could hear chants of "We will not go away/Welcome to your first day" and "What does democracy look like/This is what democracy looks like" even as we hopped in a taxi to go back to Virginia. It was in a word, amazing.


As I was driving Janice and Jordana home, we talked about what our favorite parts of the day were. For me, it was that people showed up. Months ago when Teresa Shook first posted on Facebook that this should happen, no one could predict that it actually would. Just because people say they're going to do something doesn't actually mean they will. But people showed up. They came from all over to be here yesterday. We marched peacefully. We used our voices. And now the work begins. So many of the speakers yesterday talked about that: getting to work. We can follow Michael Moore's to-do list or we can create our own. I know I've already created mine and will be sharing my to-dos in future posts. A march is not a movement. It is one step towards change. I hope that the people who marched yesterday here in DC and around the world continue forward to the next step and the next.

Thank you to the march organizers and volunteers. We would not have been able to be there without all of your hard work. Thank you to Teresa Shook for having this idea and being there yesterday to share in it with us. Thank you to the speakers and performers. Thank you to the police, first responders, and all others involved in keeping the march safe. You are amazing. Thank you to those who helped get us there - especially our Uber and taxi drivers.

A special thank you to Kirsten, a woman from New York, who made the pussyhat I wore yesterday. You were here yesterday too. And thank you to the three random ladies Jordana and I met in the parking lot at the Shirlington Harris Teeter who gave us the hats for our group.

I'm thankful I got to march with Jordana, Jess, and Janice and all of the other marchers yesterday here and around world. Many of my friends and family couldn't be there yesterday so I made little stickers with their names and wore them close to my heart while marching. Here's a little video of them on the march:

All photos and two videos by me

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Sixth Annual Answer Your Cat's Questions Day or Why I'm Still Single (probably)

There are fewer things truer than the fact that y'all love Pumpkin. I get it; she's adorable, she's equal parts cuddly and affectionate AND throws shade like she took a master class from RuPaul, and she's hilarious. As I've said before, if Pumpkin were a person she'd be Gretchen Wieners from Mean Girls.

So much cuteness. So much sass. Some days, it's overwhelming to live with such a creature. As has been the practice here on the Island for the past five years, I like to pause every January and let Pumpkin ask me whatever compelling questions she has in celebration of Answer Your Cat's Questions Day. I don't make up these holidays, I simply provide the information you need to move forward in your life and celebrate said holidays. Normally, we'd be celebrating next week but I'll be at the Women's March on Washington so I'm moving this up a week.With that, we begin this year's questions.
  1. Where is my heater? Why is it gone? I don't understand. Well, little one, we moved to a brand new apartment that was built after 1965 so we don't have an ancient heating/air conditioning system. I know you really enjoyed laying on the radiator but we don't have one anymore. What we do have is the cable box (your second favorite place for napping), two huge windows, and a brand new scratch post. The closet is also huge so have fun hiding in there when you're feeling antisocial.
  2. Why does everything smell so new? Where did our house smell go? We've only been in our new apartment for a week and it was renovated right before we moved in so it definitely smells like fresh paint, new appliances, and brand new carpet. I know you've been trying really hard to rub your little face on everything since you arrived last Saturday but it takes time to make everything I own yours again. In between napping for 18 hours, sitting on my lap, and eating, I'm sure you'll get to everything by the end of the month. Even the new stuff I had to buy because new apartment = obligatory trip to Ikea.
  3. What is that noise? Where the hell are we? Paris? When did you watch Spaceballs? Are you changing your sense of humor to align more closely with Mel Brooks? I always thought your sense of humor was more of a feline version of Daria. That sound is what humans call a fire alarm. I don't know if someone pulled the alarm or if it went off for a real reason, but sometimes fire alarms go off and our job is to bundle up, get you in the carrier, and evacuate. Hopefully, it's warmer than 20 degrees and the fire department shows up promptly. 
  4. So I "understand" that we moved so I'll move on to more pressing matters. Did you keep my box? I really liked that box. Which box would that be? I feel like you were attached to multiple boxes during the move. Was that the one you sat in on occasion or the one where you sort of looked like either Gmork from The Neverending Story or like a boss telling an employee some bad news? Also, when did you learn about air quotes? I don't remember teaching you about air quotes. Side eye, yes. Air quotes, no. I know you love boxes but we really can't have them around forever. Most have been recycled and the rest are waiting on our little balcony to be recycled when I feel less lazy and like I want to carry more boxes downstairs. Or we get our fancy concierge trash service recycling box. Yes, that's a thing.
  5. Current events question: Now that Joe Biden is no longer the Vice President, do you think he'll be friends with us? He's my favorite. That is a really great question! He is a national treasure and we need to do everything we can to become friends with him. I don't know that our favorite VP will be in DC much once he leaves office. I have it on good authority that he'll be setting up shop at the University of Pennsylvania doing good things and carrying on his work in cancer research and generally being awesome. Lucky for us, we have an in at Penn so we might just get a picture of him from time to time. If you need a Joe Biden fix, we can re-watch the surprise Medal of Freedom ceremony from earlier this week. We're not crying, not crying at all. 
  6. You realize when I said "us" in the above question, I really meant me? You fully embrace your status as an old lady cat by being just a little mean every day don't you? Here's the thing: You're a cat. It'll be much easier for me to meet Joe Biden than you. You should be nice to me and I'll consider putting in a good word for you.
  7. When are the flannel sheets coming back? You learned about flannel sheets last year during the blizzard. I agree we need to bust them back out this week as it's supposed to be cold again. You've been doing a pretty good job of worming your way under the covers at night so I think you'll be just fine until I do laundry and put the flannel sheets back on the bed.
  8. You bought me a mountain! This isn't so much a question as a statement on you finally realizing that I'm queen of all I see. You like the new scratch post! I admit I was holding out for one with a hammock on top but I couldn't find one of those that would fit in our new apartment without taking all of the space. This new one is pretty good; you do look like you're on a mountain when you sit on top of it. Let's make sure to remember how much you love your mountain when you need to scratch something; I really like our carpet and don't want to replace or repair it anytime soon.
  9. I'm sorry for having an "accident" in the kitchen the other day. Can you forgive me? Wait, are you apologizing for doing something you shouldn't have done? Someone mark this day down in the history books. All jokes aside, moving is stressful and you were simply telling me that you were upset since you can't talk and apparently like me enough not to use me as a scratching post. These things happen; it's why we invest in paper towels and cleaning products. Hopefully, you're feeling less stressed now and can start to enjoy our new place and find some new napping spots. I promise the rest of the boxes will be gone by the end of the weekend. 
  10. Last question: Why can't I go in that other room? Are you keeping secrets in there? Yes, I'm keeping secrets in the laundry room. That's where every human keeps secrets. We store them between the dryer sheets and the stain remover. That's exactly how secrets work. 
If you have more questions that you think Pumpkin would like to know the answers to, post them in the comments and I'll answer them as best as I can. Enjoy some additional photos of Pumpkin in her new home.

Next weekend on the Island: I'm participating in the Women's March on Washington so next week's post will be available on Sunday. I'll recap the march and talk about #WhyIMarch.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Adios, Au Revoir, Aloha, Audi 5000

Is 2016 the worst year ever? Is it really the actual dumpster fire I've come to think of it as? A year that kicked off with the death of David Bowie, is ending with a series of sad celebrity deaths (Carrie Fisher, George Michael, Debbie Reynolds) in quick succession not to mention all the garbage things that happened in the middle. Even NPR chimed in on the argument this week. While I appreciate their use of a dumpster fire GIF in the article, it also ends up being a pretty solid discussion on whether it's the year or the way in which we consume news and information in the modern age. Twitter can suck it...apparently.

To  add a little more fuel to the dumpster fire, a friend of mine recently posted an article on Facebook (purveyor of all the news you need to survive 2016, fake or otherwise) that posited that 2016 is not killing people; their poor choices over the years are what is to blame. It goes on to say we need to get over blaming the actual year for things that would inevitably happen. That these deaths all happened in 2016 is just the way life and the aging process work. The recent deaths of George Michael and Carrie Fisher were pointed to as examples of people who abused drugs throughout or at some point in their lives so we shouldn't be surprised they suffered from heart attacks and died relatively young (53 and 60 respectively). I get where the writer was going but I also felt like it was a lazy argument. She could have gone further and started with David Bowie had she really wanted to make the argument stick. Bowie spent much of the 1970s in a coke-filled haze; I've always been surprised that he made it out of that decade alive. And then went on to make the most ridiculous video ever: a cover of "Dancing in the Streets" with Mick Jagger. Is he wearing a jumpsuit? I don't know.

Yes, people die all the time. Famous people, not famous people, infamous people - it literally happens everyday. I understand that; most people understand that. Celebrity deaths are different because we're not actually involved in their lives but we are at the same time. Celebrities are celebrities because fans exist so they need us for that whole being famous thing and we need them for that whole "being inspired by their art" thing. I didn't personally know David Bowie or Prince or Abe Vigoda or Carrie Fisher but I knew them. I cried when heard David Bowie died (as I did when Lou Reed died a few years ago). It wasn't because I knew him but because he was a part of my life. His music is the music of growing up and figuring out your life as I wrote right after his death. The same thing is true of Carrie Fisher. She inspired so many young women to be the fighter and the princess at the same time because you can. She also worked hard for mental health issues and was honest about her own struggles. She was inspiring, she was a warrior. Even if 2016 is not to blame for their deaths, we're still allowed to be sad about their passing whether their previous poor life choices contributed or not. Grief is grief; you don't get to control or to judge others while they experience it. And we can blame 2016 if we want to especially if it helps us grieve.

We've all been calling 2016 the worst year since it started. There's even a meme called "Me at the Beginning of 2016 vs. Me at the End of 2016" that's sad and funny all at the same time. It wasn't only the volume of celebrity deaths that made this year a true dumpster fire. There was the horrible election cycle, catastrophic storms and hurricanes, the horrors of Aleppo, the unnecessary deaths of so many by police around the US, mass shootings. I could go on but I won't. We've had to deal with some heavy shit this year and we all deal with it in our own ways. I have friends who are still walking around in a daze because the Trump is going to be our next president. I've had to tell them several times to snap out of it. It's time to do the work of making sure his hate-filled, crazy pants agenda doesn't actually happen. You can't do that if you look like you haven't slept in months. I'm sure my "snap out of it" attitude is not helping but seriously, it's time to snap out of it.

I admit I haven't wanted a year to end more since 2005 but I still don't know that I'd call this the worst year. We can sit here and discuss every terrible thing that happened but will that actually solve? What will we accomplish by doing that? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. What we do now is figure out how to make 2017 a better year. I want everyone to waltz (literally or figuratively) into 2017 feeling empowered, emboldened, and energized for what's coming next. It's time to figure out how you want to make your life and the world a better place. I don't make New Year's resolutions; I prefer to set some goals for myself. Goals are better.

This year, I have a slightly longer list than last year but I think it's totally manageable. Here's what I'm focusing on this time around:
  • Finishing Transient Suburbia - this was a goal in 2016 and I'm almost done but not quite. I don't consider this a failure because I made a ton of progress and have one more section to write. This novel will be done in 2017 and it will find a home somewhere in the world.
  • Participate in the Women's March on Washington - Let me know if you'll be there on January 21st!
  • Donate time/money to organizations that will need more help given the new administration. I'm focusing on Planned Parenthood, The Trevor Project, and a local group that I'm still researching.
  • Get more involved in local and state politics. There are lots of ways to do this: writing my representatives, going to city/county meetings, voting (I always vote but you know what I mean). The saying "If you don't vote, you can't complain" should be expanded to "If you don't participate, you can't complain." 
  • Continue my gym going and make some decisions as to whether yoga is where I should spend my time. How should I celebrate hitting 10 million steps? It's going to happen very soon.
  • Complete at least two certifications or courses for work. Haven't decided what I'll focus on yet but I have time and lots of ideas.
  • Help my parents shift through the nightmare that is their basement - this will happen in 2017. Mark my words.
  • Get out there and enjoy 2017 - I've got a road trip planned, concerts to consider, and a new apartment to look forward to. Let's do this 2017. 
Did 2016 suck? Yes. Was it the worst year ever? I don't think so but it was certainly up there on the list of years that needed to end swiftly. Will 2017 be better? I hope so. Remember, dear Island readers, rebellions are built on hope.

I'll leave you with a little song from Green Day off their new album Revolution Radio. It's one of my favorite songs off this album and a fitting way to end a dumpster fire year. Enjoy!

Happy New Year from the Island of Misfit Toys! As I remind you every year, please enjoy your celebrations responsibly. I'll see you in 2017!!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Christmas Cake

I just finished reading Judith Fertig's novel The Cake Therapist. It's been on my to read list for awhile. I finally decided to treat myself to a used paperback copy rather than spending over $3 for the Kindle version. I have a $3 and below rule on Kindle. I feel like if I'm going to pay more than that I should just buy the actual book. Or maybe I'm cheap. You can decide.

Anyway, in addition to being a very colorful, pretty book (it's worth the paperback just for the color it adds to my bookcase), it's also a delightful story. The novel follows a baker who moves back to her hometown in Ohio as her marriage is ending and her opportunities in New York are dwindling. She decides to open a bakery and it just so happens that her hometown has become a destination for brides and weddings. Her talent isn't just making exquisite cakes and pastries; it's knowing the exact flavor the person she's baking for wants most. Her ability to match the flavor and the person crates the perfect taste for the customer. This serves her well in the wedding cake world. I would like to tell you that I savored the book and lingered over it for a few days but that would be a lie. I read it in one day and had to order the sequel Memory of Lemon this week.

There's a quote early-ish in the novel that I particularly love. It perfectly encapsulates the way I feel about baking something.

"As I cracked each egg into the bowl and added the sugar while the mixer did its work, I wondered whether I was the only person who found the whir of a stand mixer oddly comforting. For me, it was the sound of something good about to happen." (page 63)

Baking, as I've written before, has always been a form of therapy for me. The process of making something, of following a recipe, measuring ingredients, prepping pans is soothing and calming. The process is great for working through an issue, problem solving something, or just ruminating on an idea for a bit. It can also be a completely blank moment where my mind focuses solely on what I'm doing and not my to-do list or stress at work or getting my move organized or whatever else is happening in my world. I love my stand mixer, Stanny (yes, it has a name) and I know the whir Neely, the baker in the book, is talking about. It's the whir that makes marshmallows out of water, gelatin, and sugar or brings together the perfect balance of ingredients for pumpkin cookies or apple cinnamon cake. It's a sound that's not too loud but certainly not quiet. It's a sound that is all about making something delicious happen.

Around the holidays, everyone I know seems to go into beast baking mode. Instagram and Facebook are full of tables full of cookies and candy and whatever else people have decided their family and friends need to truly enjoy the holidays. Some recipes are passed down generation to generation and it wouldn't be the holidays without them. This year, our cookie options include snowballs (a perennial favorite), coconut macaroons, and maybe chocolate chip. I made some fudge and my dad made chocolate chip cookies, banana bread, and cranberry bread. Did I mention there are only four of us?

We also have a newer tradition that I will be adding to this year: the Christmas Cake. It started before I really got into backing. My dad would make a rum torte as our Christmas dessert - did I not mention every of my family members bakes? My dad and brother both make great pies and my dad kills it at banana bread; I get that from him. My mom is an all-around baker; I learned how to make snowballs, cakes, and brownies from her. Anyway, I don't like rum or rum flavored things but the rum torte was always good. As I got more into baking, my dad and I would trade off on making the Christmas Cake. We started varying it up but almost always selecting a cake from Southern Living's Christmas issue. I don't know if you're familiar with the Christmas issue of Southern Living but there's always a beautiful cake on the cover and a section of creative, festive, and sometimes super complicated cakes to adorn your holiday table.

We can thank Southern Living for the Christmas present cake; it's shaped like a present and you use Fruit by the Foot to make pretty ribbon and is also fun for birthdays (and really the first complicated cake I made by myself), the caramel cake debacle of 2013, and my uncle's favorite cake, the Italian Orange Cake. I only make this last one every ten years. To do it right takes three days since it's the type of cake that gets better as it sits. The flavors come together over time so it's better to do each step over the course of several days. I like all of these cakes despite being a bit more complicated from a process standpoint than say, a regular chocolate cake. I want a holiday dessert to be special and more whimsical than my everyday baked goods. That's part of the fun of holiday baking;

Both my parents and I subscribe to Southern Living. I'm sure that seems excessive to some people but it's the way life works. My subscription was a gift from a friend who knows I like baking and reading about cities I love so I accept my dual copy each month with love and sass. The cake on the cover this year is a coconut rum cake with rum filling and ermine frosting. Wondering what ermine frosting is? It's also known as "poor man's frosting," boiled milk frosting, or butter roux frosting. It's a type of buttercream frosting that uses flour instead of eggs for the emulsion factor. I've never made it before but apparently from what I've read, ermine frosting was what was traditionally used on red velvet cake until the 1970s when cream cheese frosting became all the rage. Who knew?

As I mentioned earlier, I don't like rum flavored things so I told my family I'd make one of the other cakes in the holiday extravaganza issue, Peppermint Cake with Seven Minute Frosting.This cake requires me to buy disco dust. Don't know what disco dust is? Well, friends, it's edible glitter. Apparently, it gives the cake a little sparkle. Who doesn't want their holiday cake to sparkle?

There is one major thing about this recipe that makes it the best cake in the world: two different frostings! Peppermint buttercream frosting and Seven Minute Frosting! The cake itself is a pretty standard yellow cake but two frostings make it extra special and holiday worthy. If you've ever made anything with peppermint extract, you know that a little goes a long way. I made peppermint marshmallows once that tasted like toothpaste despite using the small amount of extract the recipe called for (they melted well in hot chocolate - that's a win). The peppermint buttercream looks so pretty in the picture; I would have made the buttercream for myself if my family had declined the cake. Bonus: I've never made Seven Minutes Frosting before so this cake also represents adding another item to my repertoire and I love adding baking things to my repertoire. (Reality: Seven Minute Frosting is basically marshmallow fluff that you whisk for seven minutes. Not nearly as much fun as I wanted it to be.)

You know what else is great about this cake? Smashing peppermint candies with a meat tenderizer. My arms are going to hurt tomorrow between this and the whisking for the Seven Minute Frosting, but it will be worth it. The peppermint extract isn't enough peppermint-y flavor so I have crushed up peppermint candy as instructed to add to the buttercream. I also crushed additional peppermints and added the disco dust (pearl dust according to Wilton) so the cake will really sparkle when it's decorated. I feel so Christmas-y I can't stand it.

I can't tell you how the cake tastes since it's for tomorrow but I can say that the buttercream is delicious, as I knew it would be. The Seven Minute Frosting is basically glorified marshmallow fluff. And the finished, uncut version? Looks like a sparkly winter wonderland. That's exactly what I wanted to accomplish with this cake. Something good happened over the whir of an electric mixer.

Happy Holidays from the Island!

Southern Living cover

Saturday, December 17, 2016

If it's not color coded, I don't want to hear about it

I've lived in an apartment of some kind since the summer after my first year in college. Getting that first apartment was a big deal; my roommate and I took it over from a friend who was graduating so it was like the apartment was staying in the family. It wasn't the greatest apartment ever but it was my first apartment; I still think of it fondly nineteen years later (yikes, I'm old). Back then, moving into a new apartment was exciting and new. It felt like an adventure. I recall that we would overspend at Wal-Mart (Target wasn't really a thing yet) and maybe the thrift store if we were feeling up for it. We needed new things for our new space despite the fact that we didn't have much money and what we bought normally didn't last very long. Inherited furniture was the norm and none of us thought about it for a minute (free is free when you're in college). I remember having dinner parties in this apartment and experiencing those glimmers of adulthood we all have at nineteen. This was what it was like to be on your own and have friends and entertain. I roasted a chicken like a boss back then. One of my favorite photos from that period is from Halloween; we had everyone over before people went their separate ways. One of my friends was dressed in drag as Super Doppler 6000 (people who lived in New Orleans in the late 1990s know what this is) and another friend is sitting in the background with no expression on his face about the costume. It was glorious and weird and exactly what is perfect about college.

This is what happens when I move now.

In the history of my apartments, I've only truly hated one place I lived (I had to break my lease it was so bad) and have loved three of my apartments so much that I often find myself daydreaming about living in them once again. For the record those apartments would be: the Broadway house, my second apartment in Alameda, and my lovely studio on Bordeaux Street. Two of these apartments are in New Orleans; this probably means something.

When I moved back to Virginia four-ish years ago, I had a crappy time finding an apartment. For anyone not familiar with the DMV, real estate in this area is ridiculously priced (overpriced I would say). If I want to pay a reasonable amount of rent, I'd have to live an hour away from work (at least) which is probably more like a 2-3 hour commute each way. I don't hate myself so this is not an option. Paying for proximity makes me rage-ful but it's the way it works here. I knew this going into my search when I moved back, however, I didn't prepare myself to be wildly disappointed by how not worth the money most of these places are. Curious what a junior one bedroom is like? That's just a fancy way of saying "studio apartment with no washer and dryer." Affordable housing in the DMV is a huge and I can only imagine what families face when going through this. I have the luxury of just needing a place for me and the great Pumpkin but that doesn't mean it's any less disappointing when you look at what you pay versus what you actually get. Of course, leasing companies know this and they see us all coming.

I've never been interested in owning a home; owning a home in this area wouldn't necessarily be any better for me. I assume my disinterest in home ownership is because I grew up in the military; we moved every few years. I don't have a childhood home per se. The houses I grew up in are probably still there but my parents don't live in any of them. They moved into their current house in the early 2000s; I lived there for about four months during Hurricane Katrina. It's a lovely house but not my house. I don't really know if not having a childhood home has anything to do with not wanting to own a home but I'm sure it's a contributing factor. I see houses I like all the time; I just have no inclination to buy one. Maybe I fancy myself a vagabond and buying a house would go directly against that idea.

I'm moving to a new apartment the first weekend of January. I don't really have to move but I'm feeling restless and this was the easiest way to cure my restlessness. Unlike 99.9% of the population, I enjoy moving. Moving appeals to the organizer in me; it's a system with processes and I like systems with processes. I like to think of moving in different phases: search phase, purge/donation phase, pre-packing phase, final packing phase, and unpacking phase. The search phase is the phase I like the least; I'm impulsive when it comes to apartment shopping. I get frustrated easy and have little patience for listening to the same leasing office spiel over and over. This means I either rent the first place I see or I look at a million places before making a decision while simultaneously complaining to everyone and needing a drink after each visit. I only looked at three places this time around and it was definitely enough.

My favorite phases are the purge/donation phase and the unpacking phase. I love getting rid of things; I don't do it often enough. There's something satisfying about throwing shit away. I can still be sentimental about people and memories without having all the freaking clutter. Why did I keep all of this stuff I haven't looked at since 2000? Do I really need these Christmas lights I haven't used since I moved into this apartment? For this particular move, I did something I've never done before: I tried on all of my clothes. It's sounds bananas but it was awesome. I went through my closest, my chest of drawers, and the two bins of stuff under my bed. The donation pile is huge and it makes me feel good about my life. I got rid of things that don't fit (mostly too big - score!), things I've only worn once or twice, and a few things I've never worn and feel bad about wasting money on. I went through all my shoes and pared that mess down too. It feels good to shed the unnecessary. I, like many other women, have kept clothes thinking I'd wear them when I was a little skinnier or whatever but seriously, it's not worth it. I'd rather keep clothes I love and enjoy wearing than clothes that make me feel bad about myself or have some unrealized purpose associated with them. I have zero fucks to give about unrealized purpose and clothing. It's all about being comfortable and fashionable - I can. scratch that, I am both.

The other thing I did in this phase, and I know I'll do more of when I get to the new place, is evaluate my baking equipment. I have amassed a lot of baking accoutrements over the years. I'm not even sure where some of it came from since I don't recall buying several of the items that were in my hall closet but I also don't recall receiving them as gifts. Where did these mystery baking pans come from? Anyway, after getting over my shock of having mystery pans, I was able to cull down my collection and add the others to the donation pile. They're all in really good shape so there's that.

I'm looking forward to the unpacking phase. It takes me back to the excitement I used to feel whenever we'd move when I was younger and the adventure of my first apartment in college. I see unpacking as opportunity - how will I design my new space? Do I keep my books organized by color because it's nice to look at despite being hard to find things or do I revert back to alphabetical order? Alphabetical order is boring so I have a feeling I'll keep my color organization going. I mean, look at how visually appealing that is. It's like my books are saying, "Welcome home, Erin!"

What about my CDs and records? Should I entertain the grand reorganization style of 2002 when I organized my CDs autobiographically? This takes forever to figure out and I need to invest in a new storage system for them. Autobiographical organization is based on the time in life that you purchased the album. So it's like an episode of "This is Your Life" as told through CDs. Or maybe "Behind the Music" without the drug addiction, car crashes, and poor life choices. How should I arrange my art? What goes where in my closet (organized by color and clothing type because that's the only way to organize a closet)? What about my shoes? Don't even get me started on my kitchen. There are so many possibilities when you move into a new space. Organization is an art form; I'm looking forward to working in my greatest medium. 

You know who's not going to be happy about the move? Pumpkin. Despite her love of jumping in boxes, she's really going to miss her heater.

Friday, December 9, 2016

You can't stop the beat

Hairspray is my favorite John Waters movie. I don't recall the first time I saw it but I remember loving every thing about it. It was my John Waters gateway movie; after Hairspray, I went back and watched all the earlier films and have been a fan ever since. Released in 1988, Hairspray told the story of Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake) a "pleasantly plump" teen in 1962 Baltimore. She dreams of being on a local dance show, The Corny Collins Show, and going steady with the dreamy Link. Her mother, Edna (played by the divine Divine), is basically an agoraphobic who takes in laundry and scolds Tracy for having ratted hair. Running along side this plot is a focus on segregation in the 1960s; the Corny Collins Show show is segregated and Tracy makes it her mission to integrate it. All sorts of famous faces make appearances (Debbie Harry, Pia Zadora, Rik Ocasek, Sonny Bono, Jerry Stiller, and Ruth Brown) and Waters's regulars Mink Stole and Alan J. Wendl round out the cast. Fun fact: Vitamin C plays Amber, Tracy's rival (she's billed under her real name, Colleen Fitzpatrick).

The original film is campy and charming all at the same time. I'm pretty certain that Divine was the first drag performer I consciously recognized as a drag performer. There is something magical about her as Edna; I don't know if it's the Baltimore accent, her sort of soft gruffness, or the fact that she owned every scene she's in (both in and out of drag). There are certain lines that pop into my head in Divine's voice all the time: "Could you turn that racket down? I'm trying to iron in here." or "It's the times. They are a-changin'." Divine is my favorite part of the movie followed closely by Sonny Bono and Debbie Harry as the von Tussles. I believe I learned how to Madison by watching this movie; this is a skill I no longer have and it would never, ever have been useful since I was not alive in 1962.

I was cautiously optimistic when I heard that Hairspray was being made into a Broadway musical. John Waters had given his blessing so I knew it would be safe from what happens when musicals are made from other source materials. And let me tell you, it's a wonderful show. It's fun and joyful and touching and relatable. The music and songs are some of my favorite from more modern musicals; they fit into the show as well as the time period being portrayed. Every now and then, "You Can't Stop the Beat" pops into my head for no reason and refuses to a totally good way. The musical was nominated for 12 Tonys, winning 8 awards.

The musical was eventually turned into another film starring Nikki Blonksy as Tracy and John Travolta as Edna. It's not my favorite of the versions of Hairspray but it features some amazing performances by Blonsky, Queen Latifah as Motormouth Mabel, James Marsden as Corny Collins, and Elijah Kelley as Seaweed. James Marsden is probably my favorite part of the movie; he captures the wholesomeness and inappropriateness needed to play Corny Collins. I hoped at some point during this season of Westworld, Teddy would break into "Nicest Kids in Town" with the rest of the hosts. That would have made my life. My biggest complaint with the film was Travolta; I thought he was terrible. Harvey Fierstein, who played Edna on Broadway, should have been cast. Thankfully, the recent broadcast of Hairspray Live! rectified this situation; all of America (or at least the parts that watch live musicals on NBC) got to see Fierstein slay the role of Edna as Divine and God intended. I watched the broadcast earlier this week; Fierstein was one of the highlights along with an adorably awkward Ariana Grande as Penny, Martin Short, and Jennifer Hudson showing us all what it means to really live in a song.

Hairspray is about a lot of things but at its heart it's about diversity and acceptance. Tracy Turnblad was about body positivity before it was a thing. As Tracy exclaims in the original movie, "Now all of Baltimore will know... I'm big, blonde and beautiful!"(which is an amazing song in the musical). She didn't think being "pleasantly plump" as a problem; it made her unique and who she was. It didn't change the fact that she was a bad ass dancer or stood up for her friends and what was right (integrating the dance show). She got to dance with the cute boy. She wore dresses that made her feel special and pretty. She used her voice when others around her could not.

It's also about the message of inclusion and accepting diversity as part of the fabric of life. The 1960s were a tumultuous time in our history and Baltimore, like other cities, was front and center in the Civil Rights movement. When you first start to watch any of the versions of Hairspray, you think you're just getting a fluffy teen dance show movie/musical but it's really social commentary. Waters's movies always focus on outsiders and Hairspray captures that in a way that I don't think I thought much about when I was younger but now seems even more important. Listen to the song "I Know Where I've Been" - yes, Jennifer Hudson killed it on Wednesday but I love Queen Latifah in the movie so much that I'm using her version instead:

The lyrics resonate as much today as they would have in 1962. I couldn't help but think about recent protests as I watched the live broadcast on Wednesday. The signs might look different (maybe not entirely) but the sentiment is the same. As I wrote back in November, we have a lot of work to do in this country. We can sit by and let hate and fear take over or we can be like Tracy and her friends and stand up for what's right. Or maybe you prefer to dance for what's right; that's cool with me. I'll be over here pretending I remember how to Madison and singing along with "You Can't Stop the Beat."

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Where you lead...

We all have a friend who we go long periods of time without speaking to for no reason except that life is happening. There wasn't a fight or falling out; you just don't talk as much as you used to. Growing up often has a lot to do with it; people move far away and it's harder to keep up with one another when you're not living a few minutes away. Life circumstances change as one or both of you start families or don't and your lives shift accordingly. What's great about this friend, though, is that when you do get together, it's as if that time away never really happened. Yes, you spend some time updating each other on work and significant others and family but the awkward "high school reunion" update feeling isn't there. You fall back into the rhythm of your friendship; inside jokes that are truly only funny to the two of you are the most hilarious thing ever and the dramas (because all friends have a drama) are there or dissected once again. When you introduce this friend to a new friend, that new friend will later say to you, "I get it now. You make a little more sense now. Your friend completes you." And then they're gone again, back to wherever they live now and those occasional tweets and texts about silly movies or rock stars or anniversaries of significant life events keep the connection going until the next time.

I have that friend and as I sat down to watch Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life yesterday, I wondered if she was sitting down to watch it too. Did she order pizza like we used to when we all got together to watch the show at one of our houses? I did not; I had a Thanksgiving leftover sandwich because I'm certain Amy Sherman-Palladino and Netflix planned the day after Thanksgiving drop of the show so we'd all have comfort food to eat while watching. Was any wine involved in her viewing? Did she get annoyed at the parts I thought might annoy her? What did she think about the last four words?

The other thing that happened as I watched the last of the four episodes (mini-movies? expanded episodes?), I came to the realization that Gilmore Girls is also that friend, the one that's in my life for years and then goes away only to come back when she's really needed. I written about this before; I re-watch seasons of Gilmore Girls when my own life is less than stellar. Something about the characters and what they're going through helps put my own life into perspective. Yes, I'm aware that it's a television show and not a therapist but it still helps for whatever reason. Also, it's cheaper than a therapist so there's that.

What can I tell you about Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life that won't spoil it for you? It's not perfect but it's exactly what I wanted it to be. Several story lines are wrapped up for us finally, Richard Gilmore is memorialized in the best way possible (first time I cried and I cried a few more times throughout the four episodes), and we see lots of familiar faces throughout the year. Both Lorelai and Rory are dealing with things as they always are and handling them in the ways that we have all come to expect from them: not well to okay to not well to avoidance to getting their shit together finally. They both look great; although I don't care for Rory's lucky red dress outfit (Lorelai was right; she looks washed out in it) their fashion is wonderfully modern and a little crazy like both of them. Rory in her 30s is still having a pretty easy life (my biggest complaint about her on the original series) so when it does stressful for her, I don't feel as bad for her as I should but I do feel for her because I know how it feels to be in your 30s and wonder "What am I doing with my life?"

What about everyone else? Emily Gilmore (Kelly Bishop) is even better in the revival than she was on the original series. Her grief and her decisions about how to move on with this new stage of her life is wonderfully done and captures everything we all love and hate about Emily. Luke is Luke but an older, slightly softer Luke except when it comes to giving out a wifi password (which is hilarious). Lane and Zack will always be my favorite Stars Hollow couple and I will fight anyone who wants to fight about it. I wish we had more of them. I don't believe this show is actually over so I'm hopeful there is more Lane and Zack to come. Paris is intense and Doyle likes to use adjectives. Kirk has a pet pig. Taylor wrote a musical (that sequence is a little long but it's during the second musical section that I might have cried very ugly tears for reasons). Michel is still rude and Miss Patty and Babette are still flirty and wonderful. While I enjoyed Sookie's appearance, I felt it was the least believable of all of the characters but I'm still glad she was there.

And what about the loves of Rory Gilmore? Nothing I can tell you without spoiling things so I'll just say this: I will always be #TeamLogan so no amount of any new developments will change my mind on that. However, Jess was my favorite of the three in the revival for no other reason except that he was still so completely Jess but without the angst-y teenager side of the character and he didn't let Rory participate in the pity party that she likes to go to when her life isn't perfect. I like that about him.

All in all, just like catching up with my actual friend when it happens, it was nice to spend some time with my favorite television show. There were some surreal moments including but not limited to the musical, the appearance of the Life and Death Brigade (which is not a spoiler since was talking about them back in March and apparently, is a real thing), and every sequence at the Stars Hollow pool. I laughed out loud a lot, cried a lot (more than I expected but I know I needed it), and loved every little inside joke and cameo. I particularly love the number of cast members from Bunheads who made appearances; another show taken away from us too soon.

I won't spoil the last four words for you since I promised not to so instead I will leave you with my own four words:
Amy, more episodes please.

I wore my Hep Alien shirt yesterday - I would have liked 50% more Hep Alien in the revival but I'll take what I can get.