Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Pants Experiment, Part 1

I'm the type of person who decides what I'm going to wear the night before and has it all laid out, ready for the next morning. I firmly believe that we're all a little OCD. I'm definitely a morning person but I'm not particularly fond of making certain types of decisions before 7 am. Choosing an outfit is one of those types of decisions. Some people dream about going to school naked; I dream about wearing two different shoes and a pair of mom jeans.

When I worked at the university, I had to dress professionally everyday. I had a closet full of dress pants, suits, button-down shirts (that never quite looked good on me), and low heeled shoes that still gave me some height but didn't make me want to cut off my feet at the end of a long college fair. I dressed for the job that I had and I felt professional all the time. Admissions counselors set the impression for the universities they work for and I set a very good first impression. I found it easier to make decisions about what I would wear each day because there wasn't a lot of variety in my closet. I had a set rotation of dress pants/shirt combos that I ran through most weeks. In the summer, I'd throw in some skirts for a little variety. On dress down Fridays, I'd wear a university polo and less dressy black pants. It was awesome and easy.

Now I think about what I'm going to wear all of the time. My company has a casual dress policy; we can wear jeans and t-shirts and tennis shoes every day if that's what we want to do. I used to joke that I could wear pajamas to work and no one would say anything. There was a time when that was very true. Anyway, I find dressing for work to be challenging on two levels:
  1. I have to come up with an "outfit" even when wearing jeans. Personal style matters when dressing casually at work.
  2. It can be a struggle to feel professional when wearing jeans all the time.
When I began my journey to being the leading lady of my life, one of the areas I focused on was my personal style. I have since defined this style as "classic meets quirky librarian with a side of punk." I have a love of oddly patterned sweaters (pineapples! swans! neon bicyles!), brightly colored tights, skirts and dresses, Converse low tops, and platform heels (preferably wedge heels). What I don't love: pants that are never the right length (which would be all of them), trying on jeans, swimwear, and stiletto heels. I'm always on the lookout for a comfortable yet fashionable pair of work pants. In the last year or so, I've really tried to wear jeans only once per week; I feel more professional and adult when I dress less casually. The problem is that I'm on the short size (5'2) and I am plus size. These two things make pants shopping difficult. Short length is silly, regular needs to be hemmed, and long looks like I'm swimming in pants. Waistbands always do stupid things and can we all discuss pockets? Every size has its challenges. It's taken me 30 years to truly be confident and pleased with the way I look so I have no time for size shaming.

I've been on the work pants hunt for some time now and have found a few pairs that I like (both by the Gap, both not made anymore) but mostly I've been disappointed in my options. You can imagine my excitement when I came across Betabrand and their dress pant yoga pants. Betabrand is a San Francisco based clothing company that designs clothing for comfort and fashion. They make dress pant sweatpants for men so dress pant yoga pants are really not that far fetched. I first heard of Betabrand this past fall on Facebook. I was joking with several of my friends on Facebook about yoga pants and having "dressy" versions of them and what popped up? An ad for these pants. I didn't purchase them at the time because I thought they were expensive for pants but after my recent shopping experiences, I've come to realize that they're really not that expensive after all. Quality dress pants will run you anywhere from $60-$300 depending on where you shop. Yes, I can buy cheaper pants at Target but they're not going to last.

I decided last week that I would buy myself a pair of dress pant yoga pants. Sometimes you have to treat yo self and that's what I did. I ordered a pair of black boot-cut dress pant yoga pants. The pants arrived today. Here is what happened.

I stalked the concierge in my building because I had received an email notification that the pants had been delivered. I'm convinced that he hates me because I always have the notification before he puts the note on my mailbox. I took the pants up to my apartment and had to keep myself from opening the package in the elevator. Many thoughts raced through my head: Would they fit? Would they be too long or too short? Would people know they were really yoga pants? What would my first outfit be? What shoes would I wear? This is what I do with new, shiny things...I obsess.

The pants are black yoga pants. Cut like dress pants. Are they comfortable? Yes. Are they stretchy? Absolutely. Do they look like dress pants? Sort of. They're made of rayon, nylon, and spandex so they look (on me) like tight dress pants. Not tight in an obscene way but tight in a skinny jeans with a flair because they're boot-cut way. They're also about an inch too long for me even in my tallest heels. I can hem them (I usually hem my dress pants). As I write this I have actually forgotten that I'm wearing pants. I definitely don't feel like I do when I wear my regular dress pants or jeans. I feel comfortable.

My dilemma is this: can I pull this look off? I am not one to shy away from fashion; I own 1.5 pairs of skinny jeans so I can be daring. Is my hesitation to wear these to work tomorrow less the pants and more of that old self-doubt about how I look and what people think creeping back into my life? I don't like that this is what I'm thinking. Frankly, it's unacceptable and very un-leading lady of me.

The Pants Experiment, Part 2 - coming at you this weekend!

Treat Yo Self image

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Ennui, or an open letter to winter

Dear Winter,

Let us begin with a short film:

February is the month that I most often feel a sense of overwhelming boredom and restlessness with the world or as the French would say "ennui." Henri seems to get my feelings and so I share his first film here. I tried explaining Henri and ennui to a co-worker recently and it didn't work out so well. It's possible he was really cold and couldn't focus on what I was saying. Too many layers make it impossible to hear things clearly.

Winter, what is it about February that makes life so difficult? Why is is such a drag? Is it because a little groundhog "predicted" that we'd have six more weeks of winter (which by the way we'd have even if he didn't see his shadow because that's how calendars work)? Is it the lack of sunshine and vitamin D that your perpetual gray skies block? Is it the frigid, frigid cold winds that you believe we deserve? Or is the mountains of snow and the sheets of ice that you fling about this country like confetti?

I get it - seasons are how nature works. I live in a place that experiences all of the seasons so I am prepared to be cold and experience snow a few times during your yearly reign. But seriously Winter, below zero temperatures in Northern Virginia for multiple days in a row? Temperatures that don't get about 10 for more than a week? Snow squalls on a Saturday night? Why have you sent Minnesota to us? What did the people of the DMV do to make you so angry? Wasn't the polar vortex of 2014 enough of a punishment for whatever slight we have committed? My poor plastic dinosaurs had to find refuge in my scarf yesterday. That is just sad.

You have a lot going for you so I'm not sure why you have to make it so difficult for us to like you. Think of all the positive things we associate with colder weather:
  • cozy sweaters
  • flannel sheets
  • Peppermint Mochas
  • hot chocolate
  • a nice hot toddy
  • the warm glow of a fire
  • Christmas
  • scarves
  • binge watching television shows on a snow day
  • snow days
  • sledding
  • other activities outdoorsy people enjoy
  • mittens (especially if kittens are wearing them)
  • boots 
It's even a thing now to name winter storms like we do hurricanes. Granted the names are sort of lame but it's something. It should make you feel special and appreciated. Doesn't the love affair that Jim Cantore has with thundersnow count for anything?

Let's come to an agreement today about how the rest of the season is going to work. I think you'll find that I'm a reasonable person who just wants to be a smidge warmer until Spring arrives. Here's what I'd like (and you know I'm serious when there are two lists in a post):
  1. Raise temperatures to the slightly warmer 40 degree range. 
  2. No more snow or ice. You may throw in a wintery mix or two but only if it doesn't stick and doesn't occur during rush hour.
  3. Tell the wind to go bother someone else.
  4. Keep the snow around pretty landmarks in DC like the memorials and the White House. They look so beautiful with a covering of snow.
  5. BUT make it so people can still get to those places and enjoy them in moderately cold temperatures.
  6. Wrap up your reign in the allotted six weeks. I have vacation at the end of March. I'd really like it if I didn't have to deal with snow and ice like I did last year. Not cute. 
  7. Let those poor meteorologists and other news people come inside. They look so cold and shouldn't be covering any more oddly named winter storms this year.
  8. Leave people's electricity, hot water heaters, heat pumps, and roofs alone. And no pipe bursts either. 
  9. No more flight cancellations. Airline and airport employees (as well as travelers) deserve a break.
  10. Exit this year like a lamb. Just call it day, pack up your stuff, and go quietly into the night.
And what will I do if you agree to my terms? I promise, dear Winter, that for the remainder of this winter and for all of next winter I will not complain about the weather or criticize your life choices during your time of the year. I will go out and enjoy the snow. I will wear a hat even though I look terrible in them. I will not drive to work on days when I should work from home. I will sing your praises and discuss your better qualities to anyone who will listen. Next winter, I will declare you my favorite season.

I am not asking you for a lot really just some common seasonal courtesy. In exchange I am willing to give up Fall as my favorite season for one whole year and worship everything that you, Winter, have to offer. Can we agree to these terms?

If you agree, please meet me at Starbucks for a hot chocolate to toast our agreement for the year. We will then switch to ice coffees because 40 degrees is perfectly reasonable for drinking cold beverages. You can help me pick out my new hat for next year since I'm sure I'll need it as a true devotee.

If you don't agree, I will find a way to punch you in the throat (I'm sure you have one) and I will tell everyone how terrible you are and that you can't be reasoned with. I will start a campaign to revoke your named storm privileges and I will make it my mission to get Jim Cantore to never speak of you ever again.

Let's end this on positive terms, Winter. I know in your cold, cold heart you only want us to be happy.

Love and warm, warm wishes,

Check out all of Henri's musings:  http://www.youtube.com/user/HenriLeChatNoir

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Your Resident Single Friend's Guide to What Not to Buy for Valentine's Day

Happy almost Valentine's Day! Are you ready for another holiday? I group Valentine's Day with New Year's Eve: I'm not really sure why it's such a big deal and why people get all crazy like. My fondest Valentine's memory is being the first "E" in an elementary school play. Good times. Or maybe I was the "I"; I just remember being part of the word and how much fun that was. We probably sang a song too. Wasn't elementary school the best? While the celebration of Valentine's Day is actually a product of the Middle Ages and the idea of courtly love, Valentine's Day as we know it is more closely associated with the 18th century and the practice of giving gifts, tokens, and cards (known as valentines) to your lover. It's this practice of gift giving that I'd like to focus on today.

 Image result for valentine's day nontraditional

As your resident single friend, I want to make sure that you take the time to really think about the gifts you give this Valentine's Day. I've worked in an office (schools count) for the last twelve years and I can say that it is the most competitive holiday for office gift giving. I've watched women (mostly) be reduced to tears because the guy they've been seeing (for years, months, weeks) forgot to send them anything while their co-workers receive every flower known to man. I've seen grown men have absolute panic attacks because they forgot completely or they realized too late that they bought an inappropriate gift. Valentine's Day is way too stressful. If you've ever seen the 1998 movie Overnight Delivery starring Reese Witherspoon and Paul Rudd you know that I'm right.

And so dear readers, I'm here to help you make smart life choices this Valentine's Day. I want you and your SO to be happy and stay together a long time (if that's what you want to do) and for there to be the hope that the person who loves you gets you at the same time. Here are my suggestions for what NOT to buy this holiday season:
  1. Edible Arrangements. I love chocolate covered fruit as much as the next person; it combines the deliciousness of chocolate with the illusion that you're making a healthy snack choice. Edible Arrangements make sense for birthdays and random occasions where you feel that the recipient needs a little pick me up on a Wednesday afternoon. They do not scream "I love you and I think you're special and I want to spend my life with you." There's something mildly practical about an Edible Arrangement. Honestly, it's screams friend zone. I would reserve this gift (even with the added teddy bear) for teachers, your mom, and the co-worker whose birthday is next week and you have to get them something but you don't know them that well.
  2. A Stanley Kubrick box set. I get it, Kubrick is a genius. We can debate the merits and missteps of his filmography over a few drinks sometime. Nothing about his films scream "give this as a Valentine's Day gift." I once overheard a young man on Metro chatting up a girl he clearly liked liked and he spent the entire conversation telling her to watch A Clockwork Orange. This is not the movie you recommend to a girl you like who has never watched a Kubrick film. You will not get anywhere with this suggestion - not to coffee, an actual date, and certainly not to anything remotely resembling a physical relationship. I dated a pretentious film buff and it was miserable. Had he opened with, "You have to see A Clockwork Orange," I would have run the other way much faster than I did. If you must buy movies, focus on something your SO actually likes or get them a subscription to Netflix so they can binge watch Gilmore Girls.
  3.  Pajamagrams. I like to listen to 98 Rock on my drive to work (it's the rock station out of Baltimore for those not from the DMV). I'm a big fan of the Morning Show with Justin, Scott, and Spiegel. They're amusing, play more music than most morning shows, and I feel like they'd be fun to hang out with. Spiegel is the resident curmudgeon and has a lot of stuff and issues. I was listening last week and during a break an ad came on for Pajamagrams read by Spiegel. I associate Pajamagrams with my mom and Christmas not with Valentine's Day. The ad was specifically for the "Stimulate Her Senses" gift pack. I don't know if it was his reading or the ridiculousness of Pajamagrams trying to be sexy but I was laughing so hard I almost got in a car accident. Just go buy lingerie like a normal person or buy cozy pjs if that's more your SO's thing. Please don't buy a creepily named gift pack from Pajamagrams.
  4. Monogrammed anything. Monogrammed gifts sound like a really great idea - no one will get confused if someone else has the same bag! There is a time and place for monogramming things: stationary sets, wedding accoutrement, sleep away camp gear but not Valentine's Day. No one wants stationary for Valentine's Day.
  5. Singing telegrams. I have a co-worker who is in a quartet that offers singing telegrams for Valentine's Day so I'm in no way saying that these aren't a good idea. Actually, I think this is a delightful and creative gift for the right person. If you are dating/married to/hooking up with/talking to/etc/etc an introvert or a very shy person, this may not be the best gift idea. If they don't like attention directed at them, this is not the right gift. If the idea of a person dressed as Elvis singing Neil Diamond songs confuses and/or enrages your SO, this is not the gift for them. Think before they sing.
  6. Tattooing their name on your person. Tattoos are a serious thing. They are with you forever. The decision to get a tattoo should never be rushed and you should consider the design carefully. Names are a dangerous choice even if you have the best intentions. Tattooing a person's name on your person is serious business. Look what happened to poor Johnny Depp and his "Winona Forever" tattoo; it was not forever. I don't even think that relationship made it past their appearance in a Tom Petty video. If you absolutely must get a tattoo for Valentine's Day, why not make it an experience you can have together? You can each get something that's distinctly you and you share in the thrill of getting inked.
  7. A puppy or a kitten or a ferret. Pets sound like a good idea especially puppies and kittens. They're adorable and cuddly and make people smile. What people tend to forget are that pets are a major responsibility and should not be adopted on a whim. If you and your SO are not ready to take on the care and feeding of a live being, don't give a pet as a gift. Honestly, ferrets shouldn't be pets no matter what so just don't make that choice at all. 
Then what should I buy resident single friend? Stick to the classics: pretty flowers, chocolates, cute stuffed animals (and I mean plush not taxidermied), a fun event date, a romantic dinner. Keep it simple and heartfelt. If you want to get really adventurous make them a mix CD and illustrate the cover. Sometimes in the frenzy of gift giving for arbitrary holidays, it's good to stand back and remember that less is more and classic never goes out of style.

Have another quandary you'd like your resident single friend to help you with? Share in the comments and maybe I'll help you out in a future Island post.

Coming soon to the Island: I sign up for Date Lab and at least one online dating site. If I type it here I have to do it so there's not turning back.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

We need more groundhog


Regular Island visitors know of my "addiction" to holiday themed Hallmark and Lifetime movies. I've seen most of the Hallmark movies at least twice and I believe I watched all of the new "Countdown to Christmas" movies this year. I've found these movies are best if you've had a glass or two of wine and maybe some chocolate or holiday cookies. The sugar and alcohol makes the improbable "plots" seem realistic and the horrible choices the heroines make bearable. You can even ignore the traditional gender roles and the notion that all love takes is some Christmas magic and glitter. Liking these movies makes me feel like a bad feminist but I can't help myself. I normally confine my watching to the winter holiday season. I like to give myself a bit of break and watch real movies and read more and have a social life.

Until now. 

If it wasn't bad enough that Valentine's Day candy was out before New Year's now Hallmark has introduced us to "Countdown to Valentine's Day". Hallmark is bringing out some of their oldies but goodies and premiering five new Valentine movies including one that stars Jason Lee and involves swans. Yes, Jason Lee now makes Hallmark movies. I wanted him to start singing a Stillwater song in the commercial. Maybe he does that in the actual movie; I haven't watch this one. Yet. The only new movie I've managed to watch is I Do, I Do, I Do. I admit that I feel asleep for about twenty minutes (I'm getting over a cold or something) but I don't think I missed much. I Do, I Do, I Do is Hallmark's attempt at making a Valentine's movie that is one part typical Hallmark love story and one part Groundhog Day

Don't believe me? Here's a plot summary: a young woman, Jaclyn, (who is a successful architect by the way) is dating a doctor/author who surprises her in front of the hospital she built with a proposal (that includes an incredible misuse of medical equipment) even though they've only been together for five months and he's terribly self-obsessed. Of course she says yes but the catch is that they have to get married on Valentine's Day which is in less than a week. Her sister tries to talk her out of this nightmare wedding (planned by the groom's overbearing mother) but she soldiers on and gets married. And then she begins to relive her wedding day over and over and over again. Did I mention she also starts to fall in love with the groom's brother (also a doctor who works in Africa) and she "dates" him as she experiences her time loop. The only way to break the loop is to get her wedding day right. This means finally standing up for herself, not marrying the douche-y doctor (this is an apt description if you watch the movie), and falling in love with the other brother.

Like Bill Murray's character Phil in Groundhog Day (which is one of my favorite movies and holidays), Jaclyn begins to realize that she controls what happens each time she relives her wedding day. While she doesn't go to the extremes that Phil does ("Don't drive angry"), she does have her moments of fun particularly at her mother-in-law's expense when she re-plans the wedding. Like Phil, she also realizes that she can use her time to learn and try new things and be daring with her life. It's not until she does the right thing by breaking off her engagement that her particular time loop is broken. Phil learns to be a better person; Jaclyn learns to be a person. 

I should really love this movie but I don't. I want to but I don't. It's not a bash you over the head Valentine's movie (woohoo) and for once the female lead has a career in a field that is not traditional (by Hallmark movie standards). But still it doesn't sit well for me. I could chalk it up to the missing groundhog but that's probably not it. I believe Hallmark missed a huge opportunity to get into the Groundhog Day movie business; I have three ideas for movies that all fit the Hallmark mold but also involve a groundhog and Groundhog Day. There were also opportunities for way more fun in the time loop than was had. Jaclyn does learn things like Italian and how to dance but she mostly spends her time secretly dating her future brother-in-law (which no one finds odd) and not trying to figure out why she's getting married in the first place. Jaclyn's sister is relegated to the background so often you forget she's there and the mother-in-law is so stereotypical it's not even funny.

None of those things are the reason I don't like this movie. I think what bothers me most is this notion that Jaclyn is fine with being average when given the most extraordinary opportunity she's probably ever been given. She gets to relive one day over and over again until she gets it right. Instead of really going for it she opts to do things that will only move her in the direction we all she's going in - to the arms of her future brother-in-law. There's a bit of dialogue at one point where she talks about wanting to go to Egypt because the pyramids are the reason she decided to become and architect. Instead of hopping on a plane and leaving, she stays to learn how to swim. The riskiest thing we see her do is have carbs and red meat at her wedding reception. Carbs and red meat!? I don't know what to say to that.

Think about it for a moment: if you were given the chance to relive one day over and over again until you got it "right" what would you do? For the sake of this discussion, I'll let you select the day that you get to relive. Would you end up in the same place you are today but with more knowledge and maybe some random new skills? Or would you be in a completely different life because you opted for a different path and now you're a different you? This is what I wanted Jaclyn to do; I wanted her to opt for a different path - to not end up marrying the other brother with two minutes left in the movie. 

I used to watch these movies as a distraction from the stress of the holidays or if I had a bad day at work but now I think I watch them to see how much the story will annoy me and how many times I will shout at the television. I can't stop watching them and yet I feel like a traitor to my gender for helping to perpetuate terrible stereotypes about love and dating and marriage. All of these movies center around falling in love in less than a week and getting married or engaged in the last two minutes of the movie. I want more for women than that and yet I have a problem turning the channel. Despite my own experiences and beliefs, I still love a happily ever after story. And I'm not alone. Even Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist, likes to watch Lifetime movies. I find this comforting.

(Side note: you should read Bad Feminist. It was one of the best books I've read in a long time. I have her novel, An Untamed State, in my need to read pile right now. Also, follow her on Twitter.)

I'll leave you with a photo of my Groundhog Day cookies and a link to some fun facts about this noble creature. I'm going to get started on my pitch for a new Hallmark movie entitled In the Shadow of Punxsutawney Phil - it involves a plot to destroy his home and the plucky scientist who wants to save the day. Until she meets an adorable child with an interest in preservation who just happens to be the son of the town sheriff who needs love and adventure in his life. Our scientist heroine must decide between saving the groundhog and true love. What choice will she make?

Saturday, January 31, 2015

It's a jungle out there...

Over the holiday break I re-watched the movie Up in the Air, a mildly depressing movie starring George Clooney, Anna Kendrick, and Vera Farmiga. It's about a man named Ryan (Clooney) who spends his life going around to different companies and helping them downsize, basically taking care of the firing of "unnecessary" staff. He's a travel lifer, perfecting the art of packing, getting through security (in the post-9/11 but pre-TSA pre-check days), and living a life of solitude that can only be described as bleak. He and Alex (Farmiga) meet in a hotel bar and begin a flirtation/affair over travel status and rental car upgrades. This what turns them on. It isn't until Natalie (Kendrick) comes along and convinces the boss that you can fire people from a computer console and not have to send out a fleet of people to do the dirty work that Ryan's way of life is threatened. Throw in some family drama, a sad apartment in Omaha, and Sam Elliott as a world famous pilot and you've got yourself a movie.

I saw this movie when it came out in 2009 at the height of my own work travel life. From roughly mid-2008-2011 I traveled once or more per week every week. There was a period in 2008 when I was on the road so much that I had to get my hair cut at the Mall of America while I was there for a work trip. There was another time that I was only home four days in two months. Like Ryan, I was obsessed with my mileage rewards and getting through security as fast as possible. I developed my own system for packing efficiently and cultivated personal on the road traditions that helped me feel more at home despite the fact that I was not at home. During part of this time, I traveled to Los Angeles and the Twin Cities a lot. I had friends there and that made all of the difference. I didn't hide in my hotel room, tired at the end of a long day of training. I went out and felt like a person who went to happy hours and tried new restaurants. Those moments made the road warrior life more like a regular life.

The year 2012 was a good one for me mainly because I stopped traveling as much. I would still have to go on an occasional trip but the weekly travel stopped. When you stop traveling like that you realize how much time you waste in airports, in line somewhere, or on planes. Now when I travel for work, I make sure to explore and to enjoy the trip while I get work done or do whatever I came to town to do. And this brings me to my recent trip to Cincinnati.

My company's global headquarters is in Cincinnati (it seems odd to me too but just go with it). I've worked for the company now for eight years and it wasn't until last March that I actually got to visit the mothership (as I referred to it) for the first time. I'm still amused by the fact that I get to be in Kentucky and Ohio when I'm at the airport and that the first question most people ask me about my trip is whether I had Skyline chili or not (the answer will always be no - I don't like Skyline chili). Lucky for me my friend Amy lives in Cincinnati so I have someone to hang out with and show me the ways of the city. On my last two trips, my delightful co-worker Jordana has been along too. We decided during this last trip (this week) that we needed to get out of our hotel and see more of the area. This is how we decided to visit Jungle Jim's.

What is Jungle Jim's you ask? A theme park? A bar? An international shopping extravaganza? It is all of these things and none of these things at the same time. Jungle Jim's is an international market that features tens of thousands of international items alongside Fruit Loops and normal old coffee. There's a fish market with live fish for you to select, a hot sauce section that could be its own store, a deli and cheese section that is probably the size of the fourth floor of our office building, and a wine/beer/liquor section that rivals any Total Wine out there. Did I mention that you can get a beer in a red Solo cup and drink while you grocery shop? You can, and I did twice. Oh yes, I've been both Jungle Jim's and it was glorious.

Like any expedition into the jungle, you need a guide and I had Amy (and her husband and their new baby) as mine. I met up with them for dinner early in the trip and the newer Jungle Jim's was right across from the restaurant. Of course we had to go. I'm so glad Amy was there to guide me; it is insane and overwhelming to walk into a Jungle Jim's for the first time. It's hard to decide where to go and what to see first because there's so much to see and explore. Do you go to the world-famous (I'm not joking) bathrooms first? Explore the international foods where you can buy an ostrich egg ($90) or find every type of rice and grain and spice known to man? What about the maple syrup and honey section?

The correct answer is to start at the beer and wine tasting area. Get a Solo cup of beer and begin your trek into the supermarket jungle. On my first visit I tried a peanut butter porter (excellent) and we spent two hours (no joke) walking around. I have never seen so many unusual and cool things in a grocery store before. Amy told me that there was even a hazelnut spread from Holland that was a chocolate and vanilla combo. The Eastgate location was out but I was able to find it at Fairfield. The international section is vast; I was impressed with the volume and variety of countries represented. All from a guy who started a produce stand in the mid-1970s. My first visit ended with a photo with Amy's new baby and the discovery of a section devoted to bugs for snacking. If you need some sago worms to replace your popcorn, I know where you can get some.

Jordana and I decided to go to the original Jungle Jim's in Fairfield on our last night in town. I think she was a little disappointed that I went without her but upon entering the store for the first time, was glad that I could serve as her guide. Like me, she found the store overwhelming and had no idea where to start. I suggested we find the beer first and it's on this trek that we discovered new displays that I had either ignored at the other location or just hadn't seen. We found the exotic meats sections where we could buy python, alpaca, and alligator. I didn't even know people ate python let alone that I would be able to buy it in Cincinnati.

We found the beer tasting area and got drinks for our trek around the store. The Fairfield layout is different so it took me some time to get my bearings. We finally found the international section with stops at the maple syrup/honey section and hot sauces. At this Jungle Jim's some of the countries are set up like little store fronts. It's charming and cute like a stroll down a street in Holland. I found the combo hazelnut spread (and it's delicious). Had we been so inclined we could have selected a live tilapia from the tank or had our pick of octopus or tuna steak. Again we found ostrich and emu eggs along with tiny quail eggs. Even with having visited twice, I know I've only seen a fraction of what either location has to offer.

What's most fascinating to me (and Jordana agreed) is that people were buying these items. There were lots of people doing their regular shopping here and picking up a few more exotic and interesting items along the way. People drive from other parts of Ohio to get specialty items from Jungle Jim's. I guess it's hard out there for python meat enthusiasts and Jungle Jim's can fill that void.

Which brings me to the most important question from these expeditions - why don't we have a Jungle Jim's in the DMV? The DC metro area seems like the perfect place for this store. I'm sure I could find many of the items in specialty stores around town but I'd have to go to multiple places and I wouldn't be able to drink beer while shopping. Don't we deserve weird displays, monorails from Kings Island, and famous bathrooms?

Or would Jungle Jim's lose its specialness if I could go anytime I want? I think the answer is yes. Even if I lived in Cincinnati I don't think I'd go there all the time. It would be a special treat or when I got a craving for a jar of hazelnut duo spread. It's finding places like Jungle Jim's that make work travel seem less like work and more like travel.

Alpaca, python, and beer cup photos by Jordana
All other photos by me

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Island of Misfit Toys Fourth Annual Answer Your Cat's Questions Day

Since discovering the existence of National Answer Your Cat's Questions Day in 2011, I have attempted each year to answer the questions that Pumpkin seems to want answered. She's a pretty smart cat and this year she's got some hard-hitting questions for me. I hope she knows that I did my best.

1. What have you done with my couch? What is this big, red fabric monster that smells funny and blocks the heater?

At some point in every adult human's life, they make a decision to purchase more "grown-up" furniture. Since we didn't move (say thank you) this year I decided to redecorate the apartment instead. The "monster" is my new couch. There are several things that you should like about this new couch: you can hide behind it, it's squishier (probably not the technical term), and it has more pillows. Also, our dear friend Christian made some fantastic memes out of you hiding behind it. You're a pretty funny cat. You should figure out how to put that comedic talent to use. Pet rent ain't cheap.

2. Why have you blocked the sunshine from my life? Don't you love me?

I didn't "block the sunshine," I put up curtains. Not just any curtains, thermal curtains. They're supposed to keep the apartment warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. I hope these will keep the energy bills down and to make our home more comfortable. You can still see the sun and laze about in its warm glory.

3. Okay, I get the warmness but what about my patrol duties? How am I supposed to patrol? 

I leave the blinds open for you so you can jump on the window sill and behind the curtains to continue your patrol duties. The curtains don't prohibit you from keeping up on your patrol. I would never, ever want you to stop your patrol duties. How would I know about the threats of birds that are outside and the bugs you don't seem to be able to catch and whatever it is that you chase around the apartment at 3 am? Your patrol duties can continue. Calm down.

4. What happened to my hedgehog?

I thought you'd enjoy some cat grass; it's recommended by your vet so you can enjoy plants without eating something that will kill you. This is why I bought you the hedgehog planter and successfully grew the cat grass (you know I kill all plants so this is pretty great). Like so many other things, you got too excited and dumped the hedgehog on the carpet making a dirt mess. Thankfully, the hedgehog survived but the cat grass did not. This is why we can't have nice things. I'm sorry you miss the hedgehog but for now, you're not allowed to have things like this. Maybe we can try again this spring.

5. Movie question: Do you think that Jim Jarmusch was implying that Jack White is a vampire in the movie Only Lovers Left Alive?

When did you watch this movie and why are you interested all of the sudden? Is it because I have a minor Tom Hiddleston obsession? Is it because you watch movies when I'm not home? You know I don't like you watching R rated movies when I'm not home; stick to nature programs and reruns of Night Court. The movie takes place in Detroit, Adam and Eve drive past Jack's childhood home and talk about how much they like him, and at times, Adam resembles a later White Stripes era Jack White. I'm not sure if Jarmusch is implying that White is a vampire but he's saying something about rock stars and eternity. And the starkness and beauty of Detroit.

6. Why did you lock me in the bathroom for a whole day? Don't you like me? 

Of course I like you. As a thank you for renewing my lease this year, the apartment complex scheduled a free carpet cleaning for the apartment. Since I can't trust you to just sit somewhere when strangers are in the apartment and I have to you know, go to work, I had to put you somewhere safe. The bathroom was the best option. I put your food and water in there and your favorite pillow. I came home early that day so you wouldn't have to be in there longer than needed. Don't you think the carpets look really nice now? They managed to get the laundry detergent spill stain out which makes me super happy.

7. How many more seasons of Gilmore Girls are left to watch? I was hoping you'd re-watch Treme instead.

Technically there are four seasons left; I started with season four this time and have the final season left and then I should probably go back and watch seasons one-three. I agree that we should re-watch Treme sometime soon but I don't think I can do it right now. I have life stuff to do and watching certain episodes of that show make me homesick and sad. Let's focus on other things like reorganizing the pictures that are hanging up in the house. I know you'll be a big help with that project, ignoring me when I ask if the pictures are straight. You're always a big help around the house. 

8. Last question: Why is there a painting on top of the cabinets in the kitchen? It's sort of in the way.

Remember when we had that other cat visit us months ago and she got stuck in the inexplicable opening up there? After that incident I got the feeling that you might try the same thing so I left the painting I put up there so that you wouldn't end up stuck. I like to think that I take good care of you and this is just one more way to protect you from getting involved in a situation for which you have no exit strategy.

Thanks for joining Pumpkin and me for this year's Answer Your Cat's Questions Day. Hope that you enjoyed Pumpkin's questions; she always comes up with some good ones. It also looks like she figured out that the "monster" is her friend.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Lazy Movie Weekend: It's DTV Time!

Let's all jump in the Island of Misfit Toys Time Machine for a moment and take ourselves back to that magical time known as the late 1980s through the mid 1990s. Why is this time so magical you ask? Because we have places like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video to go to whenever a slumber party or a movie night with friends was in the works. I fondly recall visits to Blockbuster to rent the same five movies: The Breakfast Club, Northshore, Pretty in Pink, Shag the Movie, and Girls Just Want to Have Fun. Occasionally I'd get creative and throw in Heathers or Say Anything. It's through these magical moments that many of my friends were introduced to these movies. Throw in our access to WGN movie marathons and USA Up All Night and our slumber parties were complete.

I miss the video store. It's not the same as browsing in a record store but it's just as loaded with memories and fun. I remember there being an alternative video store in New Orleans when I was in college, one of the last video stores that I recall going to. It's there that I rented Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, a film by Todd Haynes that used Barbie dolls to tell the story of Karen Carpenter (you can watch it on YouTube if you're so inclined) and also got the filmmaker in deep trouble with the Carpenter family. I get that services like Netflix and Hulu are the future, but there's something so great about watching a video. I admit that I am too nostalgic sometimes.

For Christmas this year, my brother got me a Blu-Ray/DVD player since I decided that it was finally time to upgrade and to replace the VHS tapes (yes I still have a handful) and start switching to Blu-Ray from DVD. My first purchase was one of my slumber party favorites, Girls Just Want to Have Fun. I have had it on VHS since 1990; definitely time to upgrade. I haven't watched this movie in probably 10 years and it was still everything that I remember it being. So pop some popcorn, grab a Tab, and settle in for 1985's Girls Just Want to Have Fun.
  1. Fun bonus on this version: a preview for the movie we all know and love as Heathers but is being promoted as Lethal Attraction. I imagine this was a way to make a teenage version of Fatal Attraction. How very of them.
  2. I suppose part of the reason I liked this movie so much was that Janey (Sarah Jessica Parker) was an Army brat like me. She moved around a lot ("Eleven schools but the uniform's always the same. Even on Guam.") and was very nice and polite. And of course, she loves to dance. 
  3. Helen Hunt! Y'all, why isn't she in more these days? She was so amazing as Lynne Stone, Janey's new BFF and resident Catholic school rebel. I never wanted to be Janey; I always wanted to be Lynne.
  4. Explain to me why shows like DanceTV (DTV for the rest of this post) don't exist anymore. Why? This is why everything is terrible.
  5. Fun fact: Richard Blade plays the DTV host. He's one of the DJs on Sirius Radio's First Wave station. I don't have satellite radio (I don't get why regular radio can't just be good) but anytime I get a free preview week, I listen to this station obsessively. He's my favorite and I didn't realize until this viewing that it was him.
  6. "Velcro. Next to the Walkman and Tab it's the coolest invention of the 20th century." One of my favorite Lynne Stone quotes.
  7. Lynne's dinosaur hair clips are everything. She takes quirky best friend fashion to a whole other level in the this movie.
  8. Lee Montgomery is the forgotten heartthrob of mid-1980s movies. He was a child actor (he was the kid in the movie Ben, you know about killer rats) and was a model. He is one of the great "bad boys" of these types of movies except that he's not really bad but he has a motorcycle and wears a leather jacket. 
  9. Jonathan Silverman and Shannon Doherty in the same movie? You are not hallucinating. 
  10. "Decisions are the worst." We meet Natalie Sands, the resident rich mean girl who will spend the movie pouting, saying incredibly cheesy femme fatale-esque lines, and sort of dancing. She's pretty decent as the film's bad guy.
  11. The original version of the song "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper is never used in the film. Licensing issues prohibited the song from being featured so cover versions were used instead.
  12. I guess the DTV dance contest is a precursor to American Idol auditions - a bunch of moderately talented pretty people gather in a place to showcase their talents and be randomly picked to dance on tv. It's the American dream.
  13. Drew: She's a punk. Maggie: Do you really think I'm punk? It's not as cool as New Wave but it's better than preteen. Jeff: Do all women throw themselves at your feet or is it just the ones that can't reach any higher? 
  14. Of course Janey and Jeff are matched up to dance together. And of course Natalie paid some dude to get Lynne disqualified. This is the stuff of teen comedies. 
  15. Janey, put your damn hair up! This drives me crazy throughout the entire film. How can she dance and do gymnastics with all that hair in the way?
  16. Biff Yeager! Jeff's dad is played by Biff Yeager. Fans of Gilmore Girls will know Biff as Tom, the greatest contractor of all time. Another fun GG tie in: Kristi Somers who plays Rikki in the movie was also in Hardbodies a movie Lorelei and Rory talk about several times throughout the series. (I do this research so you don't have to.)
  17. Janey: He's just uh. You know, I mean uh! Lynne: Is he gonna call you tomorrow? Janey: Yeah, I think so.
  18. Lynne and Janey get their revenge on Natalie in an awesomely epic way. Punks crash Natalie's birthday party including an uncredited Robert Downey, Jr. (he's the one that flips the table). 
  19. Does Jeff know anything about Catholic schools? You can't just roll up on a motorcycle and think that's going to be okay. That's not how Catholic school works. 
  20. I'd sneak out of my house for Jeff too. Let's all be very honest about that. He and Janey go to a cool teen dance club, have fun, he defends her honor, there's an awkward comment about a motorcycle, and they have their first kiss. All of this leads to the dance practice sequence, a requirement of any 80s movie that includes a contest of some form (you can sub in boxing or rowing if needed).
  21. Of course they have a fight after Natalie's dad threatens to fire Jeff's dad if he doesn't let Natalie win. Janey gets caught sneaking out in an 80s ironic twist by a Sands Security System (that's one of Natalie's dad's companies).
  22. Janey's family is sort of odd: her mother is a 50s housewife stuck in the 80s, her father is General Patton dropped in Chicago, and her brother is a 7 year old extortionist. No wonder she sneaks out and wants to be on tv.
  23. How does one figure out how to wire a security system to a hair dryer so it won't go off? Is this a class they teach at Catholic school?
  24. I love, love, love Lynne. She gets Janey to the station, has the greatest fashion sense, and then gets completely star-struck by Rikki, who has just quit DTV. This is important for later.
  25. You have to give Jeff credit for making us all appreciate the male midriff baring shirt. Not all guys could pull that look off. 
  26. "Dancing in Heaven" is a favorite of mine. It was one of the first songs I bought when I got my first iPod. Every now and then when I'm at the gym it's shuffles through and I'll admit I sing along in my head.
  27. Compared to Janey and Jeff the other contestants are ancient (probably in their 20s) and some are better dancers. And again I say, Janey put your damn hair up!
  28. Of course there's a tie. There has to be a tie because we have to hear two of the greatest words in the English language spoken by Richard Blade: Dance off!
  29. You have to admit those lifts are impressive. This movie predates Dirty Dancing by two years so think about that when you watch this. 
  30. I think we all know what happens at the end. It wouldn't be a 80s teen movie if we didn't. What's great about the end of this movie is not the Janey and Jeff story (although we all want them to win), it's really that Lynne gets to be the new Miss DanceTV. If anyone was destined for dance show glory, it was Lynne. 

I enjoyed re-watching this movie more than any other movie I've done for Lazy Movie Weekend. It was funny in all the parts I remember and a little more adult in parts that I didn't remember. I wanted to be friends with Lynne and Janey and Maggie (more Lynne and Maggie but I get Janey's appeal too) and still have a tiny crush on Jeff Malene. That's what these movies were about; mildly relatable teenagers doing teenager things.

And of course, I love to dance (said in a whispery Sarah Jessica Parker voice).

Video cover photo
Helen Hunt photo
Lee Montgomery photo
Janey and Jeff
Helen Hunt photo
Quotes from IMDB (I use IMDB to make sure I didn't miss anything.)
Dancing in Heaven