Friday, July 22, 2016

You're Doing Everything Wrong: Civic Duty Edition

I enjoy being a good citizen. The citizenship award in elementary school was one of my favorite things and I wanted to be the good citizen of the month every month. That's probably not fair since a true good citizen would want to share the award but 3rd graders are selfish. Anyway, as an adult I've strived to do the things I can do to be a good, productive member of society. I was a high school Civics teacher which means I'm a super citizenship nerd. I vote and pay my taxes and I always put my cart back at the grocery. When I was younger I was much more of an activist, participating in protests more and being a more active volunteer. I've come to the realization that I don't love crowds as much as I used to so I tend to support the organizations I love and believe in through donations, background activities, and being an advocate. I enjoy writing strongly worded emails and letters to my congressional representatives and the county officials where I live. I describe this as "quiet activism." We all have to opt for the level of activism that we feel comfortable with in our lives.

One thing has been missing all these years: I've never served jury duty. I know most people would jump at the chance to not serve on jury duty but I am not most people. I received a jury summons once before from the state of Hawaii. However, I had recently moved back to Louisiana so Hawaii didn't want to spend the money to bring me back for jury duty. I guess I understand their reasoning but I was a little disappointed. I was never called in any of the other cities/counties/parishes I've lived in since. No jury duty in Metairie (Jefferson Parish), New Orleans (Orleans Parish), the City of Alexandria, or the City of Alameda. Sad. I've even been a little jealous of my friends and family when they've been called. Why did they get picked and not me? Yes, it's weird. I know that and I'm ok with it.

To say that I was pleasantly surprised when I received my jury summons from Arlington County would be an understatement. I was excited - finally I would be able to complete the good citizenship puzzle I've been working on my whole life. I would see the inside of a courtroom. I would listen intently to the lawyers argue their cases and make a decision based on the evidence presented. I would do my civic duty. Finally, my jury duty week arrived.

And I failed. I failed at jury duty.

This is not to say I did anything wrong; I did nothing wrong. I arrived on time (early because it's me). I dressed appropriately. I brought my jury duty lunch (which was super sad but still I did it). I read The Answer Book for Jury Service cover to cover once I checked in. I vowed to answer all the questions asked of me during the selection process truthfully. I binge watched the tv show Conviction (more on this shortly) because that's what one should do to prepare.

I didn't get picked. I didn't even get the option of being an option for a trial. Here's what happened: we watched a surprisingly well made video featuring the Chief Judge and met with the Clerk of Court, an incredibly polite gentleman who took us through what would happen over the course of the week. Apparently, July is a light month for jury trials in the county. There were only three cases set for the week and they couldn't be sure if the cases would actually go to trial. There was also a second jury pool that would be called for the week so they could take the spots on the actual jury instead of any of us. We were told we would all be going into the court for the one case being heard on the first day but it never happened. Between the clerk briefing us and lunch time, the case was either dismissed or settled without the need of a jury. We were let go for the day and told to check the jury site for our next report date.

I gathered my things and made my way back to work (like a good citizen). I was disappointed and I was the only one in the room that was disappointed. I'm 100% sure of that. I checked the jury site over the next few days and was told not to report. On Wednesday afternoon, I received an email from the jury coordinator:

"Your service is complete."

My jury duty had come to an end without ever seeing the inside of a courtroom. I didn't get to make jury summons room friends or find out if the security guard at the court entrance won her Fitbit fitness challenge for the week (because we Fitbit people always find each other). I fulfilled my service but didn't really do anything. My friends tried to convince me that I had fulfilled my duty and should be okay with what I did accomplish by simply showing up and being a good sport. I think they're wrong.

The one thing I truly accomplished was re-watching the show Conviction, a short-lived addition to the Law & Order universe. The show focused on a group of young Assistant District Attorneys (ADAs) headed up by Alexandra Cabot (Stephanie March), before her character fakes her death on SVU, and Jim Steele, played by a favorite actor of mine, Anson Mount. The show only lasted one season which in Law & Order terms is the equivalent of one minute. I was a fan when the show when it originally aired and was disappointed when it wasn't brought back for a second season. I don't really watch procedural dramas anymore; once Lenny Briscoe died (on the show and in real life), I just couldn't do it anymore. But this was for jury duty so I watched. My binge watching brought back the same unanswered questions I had way back in 2006 when the show originally aired:
  • Are all ADAs incredibly attractive? Is there a section of the bar that rates attractiveness and somehow that impacts a lawyer's employability? Exhibit A:

  • Did Jim Steele ever figure out which lady he really loved? Was it Bureau Chief Cabot, poised to marry another man and a few years away from faking her death on SVU? Or was it Jessica, ADA with amazing cheekbones and a super sassy attitude? How would this have impacted the larger Law & Order universe had it actually been resolved? Steele and Jessica would have had impossibly attractive children. 
  • Does Erik Balfour ever look trustworthy? I can't recall any movie or tv show I've seen him on where he didn't look sweaty, shady, and like he has a secret family somewhere. Exhibit B:
  • Would my jury service end in a hostage situation as the two part series finale ended? Would I be one of the people forced to stand in a window because the guy holding court hostage thought that meant the SWAT team wouldn't shoot? For the record: they always shoot.
  • Why did the priest in the episode about the kid who stole money from the church poor box have an Irish accent in some scenes but not others? Did they think no one would notice?
  • Did Finn and Peluso make it? There were an inordinate number of couples on this show who all worked together. Did none of them realize that dating at work is a poor, poor life choice? 
  • Did rich boy turned ADA Nick Potter stay with the job or go back to being an insufferable rich person like everyone else in his family? I like to think he stayed.
I'll continue contemplating these questions while I wait for my next jury summons. I can be called again in the next three years or sooner if needed. Or it could be another 15 years before I'm called again (the time between my Hawaii summons and Virginia summons). Or never. I guess I can live with that.

Next week: It's Sharknado Week on the Island of Misfit Toys! During the week I'll repost my previous blogs on the first three Sharknado movies in anticipation of the premiere of Sharknado 4 on July 31st. I'll fulfill my other civic duty by watching the fourth movie so you don't have to. Check it out next week on the Island!

Conviction cover
Conviction cast photo
Erik Balfour

Friday, July 15, 2016

Transient Suburbia: Tales of a Fourth Grade Skating Party

Regular readers know that I'm working on finishing my novel. One of my beta readers (I type that like I know what I'm talking about) shared that she'd like more of Harper as a child outside of the letters so I've added three new chapters in that section. I thought I'd share one of the  new chapters from the section of the book set in the fourth grade. Harper, our heroine, has recently discovered her pen pal is a boy and that they seem to enjoy reading the same books. I added the roller-skating party, based loosely on a party I attended around the same age. Previous posts from Transient Suburbia can be found here

Chapter Five

1988-1989, Fourth Grade

    Dear Ben,                        September 30, 1988
    I got your first letter after I sent my first letter so I couldn’t answer your questions. Hopefully, you’ve gotten my letter by now. How are you? How’s school? What kinds of music do you play?
    I don’t play sports either but it’s because I don’t like them. My older brother plays baseball. I think I already told you that. I go to games and cheer for him with my parents. My sister goes with us but she always sits with her friends. I don’t play with Barbies but I do have Jem and the Holograms dolls. I mostly build stuff with Legos and read. My friends and I like to roller skate.
    Are you done with  “James and the Giant Peach”? I read the end last night. My mother never should have bought me a reading light. I always stay up past bedtime reading. Miss Spider is my favorite character. I like the part where James rescues Centipede from the ocean - it was scary but exciting. I’m starting on “The Witches” next and some Judy Blume books. What else do you like to read?
    What’s your treehouse like? Do you get to sleep in it ever? We can’t have a treehouse because we move a lot.
    Your friend,

    Dear Harper,                         October 9, 1988
    Wow we both just finished “James and the Giant Peach”! That's awesome. I like the part with the sharks and when the aunts get in trouble at the end. Grasshopper is my favorite. I haven’t read “The Witches” but maybe I will soon. I mostly read comic books and stuff my older brother shares with me. He just gave me some books based on the “Star Wars” movies; they’re pretty cool.
    My dad makes me play classical old music. It’s ok I guess. I want to learn rock songs on my guitar. I’ve been trying to listen and play along but it’s not that easy. My mom says I can take some guitar lessons for fun this year if I keep up my classical piano lessons. I told her I would but so far no guitar lessons. Maybe for my birthday in December. When is your birthday?
    You like Legos? I have a bunch of them. My brother and I like to build tanks and planes. He got a castle set for his birthday and we’ve been working on it for a few weeks now. We keep it in the treehouse. What do you build? Sorry about the Barbies; a lot of girls I know have them.
    Why do you move so much? We’ve always lived here in the same house. Maybe you could get a treehouse that could some way be moved. I don’t know how that would work but I’m sure they make them. My treehouse kinda looks like my house. My dad had one of those treehouses from the back of a magazine when he was a kid. When we moved into our house, he built us a treehouse that was bigger and better than the one he had. Or at least that’s what he always tells us. It’s pretty big. My friends and me get to sleep in it in the summer. My mom always worries that I’ll fall out of it when I’m sleeping and break my arm again.

“Hangin’ Tough” blared from the speakers at Roller Skating Paradise. The album was released right after school started. Sophie, Harper’s best friend, had been listening to it on repeat ever since, much to Harper's dismay. Even her birthday party was New Kids On The Block themed, right down to the pictures of Jordan, Joey, Jonathan, Danny, and Donnie on the cake. Harper didn’t particularly like the New Kids but it wasn’t her birthday party and she didn’t want to be a bad friend.
Sophie’s party was the first birthday party of the school year and it was the first girl/boy party anyone in their class had ever thrown. All of their class was invited and just about everyone came. Harper skated around the rink expertly, spying her mom and Sophie’s mom manning the snack table. A group of boys were clustered around the table, throwing popcorn at one another. Mrs. Monroe shooed them back out to the skating rink. Harper caught up with Sophie, Claire, and Tiffany, her closest friends. They were dressed in various shades of purple, pink, and teal. Harper thought they looked like a Lisa Frank folder come to life. The girls were whispering and giggling about something.
“Why are we whispering?” Harper asked as she joined the group.
“We’re deciding who’s going to couple skate with who,” Sophie replied. “It’s coming up in two songs.”
“How do you know when it’s going to be?” Harper hated couple skates. Her friends had only recently expressed interest in couple skating.
“Sophie asked the DJ.” Claire said matter of factly.
“Aren’t they guys supposed to ask? Or are you in charge of it somehow?” Harper hoped her friends left her out of it.
“Well since it’s my birthday, I should get to skate with who I want to. I pick Jay.” Sophie had had a huge crush on Jay ever since they were assigned as science partners at the beginning of the school year.
“Claire’s going to skate with Mark and Tiffany with Tommy.” Sophie turned to skate backward to face her friends. She was the best backward skater of the group.
“That just leaves you, Harper,” Claire laughed a little as she said this. She knew Harper hated the idea of a couple skates.
“I think I’ll help our moms get the cake ready. It’s almost time for us to have cake and to open presents.” Harper tried to deflect the conversation away from her participation.
“No you aren’t. All of us have to couple skate. That’s the rule.” Sophie was in bossy birthday girl mode. Harper knew she would lose this argument so she opted to play along and beg for a good partner.
“Fine. Just pick someone who’s not a dork for me.” Harper sighed.
“Peter!” The three girls said at the same time.
Harper blushed; it was dark in the rink so she didn’t think anyone noticed. Her friends knew she liked Peter so of course they would arrange it so that she would skate with him. He was the smartest boy in class, although Harper had the highest GPA. and was cute in a preppy sort of way. He was wearing a pink Polo shirt and Bugle Boy jeans, the uniform of boys in her class. His brown hair was brushed to the side so he looked kind of like DJ’s boyfriend on Full House. He sat next to Harper in class and always borrowed pencils from her. Mrs. Henderson never paired them up, much to Harper’s disappointment.
“Great,” she replied. The group skated through the next song, ending over by where the boys were skating. The DJ changed records from another New Kids song to a song Harper had never heard before. She knew it was an old song but couldn’t place it.
“Alright all you lovebirds out there, it’s time for a couple skate. If you’re not a couple, please move out of the rink until the end of the song,” the DJ's voice boomed over the opening chords of the song.
Harper’s friends started to pair off as Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love” started to play. Even though Harper didn’t know the song she immediately loved it. She was trying to figure out some of the lyrics so she could ask her dad about it later; he was good at helping her figure out songs from just the lyrics. She barely noticed when Peter skated up to her.
“Do you want to skate with me?” he asked.
“Sure.” Harper took his hand and they skated into the rink together.
It was hard skating with someone else. Harper had to concentrate on keeping her speed consistent with Peter’s and holding his hand. Peter was taller than Harper by a few inches so his stride was a little longer than hers. He was constantly slowing down and speeding so they could get in sync. He smiled at her a few times but didn’t say much. That was okay with with Harper; it allowed her to listen to the song more closely and skate in time with it. Peter’s hand was a little sweaty; Harper wondered if he was nervous too. Maybe that was why he didn’t say anything. Harper saw her mom as they passed by where she was standing. Mrs. Monroe was taking pictures of her and Peter. Awesome, Harper thought. Her mom would tell her siblings and Harper would never hear the end of it especially from her sister.
As the song came to an end, Harper and Peter skated back to where they started. “Thanks for skating with me,” Peter said shyly.
“It was fun.” Harper smiled at him.
She turned to exit the rink. At the same time, Peter skated closer to her and quickly kissed her on the cheek. He sped off before she could say anything as a Huey Lewis & the News song began to play. Harper stood there for a minute, a little shocked by what had just happened.
Her first kiss. It probably didn’t count since it was only on the cheek but still it had happened. Had her friends seen it happen? Had her mom? What did she do next? Before she could do anything, Sophie skated up to her.
“And you didn’t want to couple skate!” Sophie had definitely seen the kiss. She grabbed Harper’s hand and skated them over to the cake. “Peter likes you,” she whispered.
“That’s cool.” Harper wanted to appear cool with this despite the fact that she was freaking out on the inside.
Before the conversation could continue, Sophie’s mom called everyone over for cake. Harper stood next to her best friend as the group sang "Happy Birthday." In the seconds before Sophie blew out her candles, Harper looked up over the glow of the candles and snuck a look at Peter. He smiled at her. She smiled back and quickly looked away. Skating parties were pretty fun after all.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Box of Frivolity

I've been struggling with a topic for this week's post. Originally, I had planned to write about another UT Book recipe but the DMV has been dropped into the middle of a heat wave. The idea of turning the oven on in my apartment makes me sweat so I'll have to save that one for when we have a break in the heat. It's also been a hell of a week (which is the understatement of the world I know) which may have added some additional stress/pressure/whatever to the idea of what to write about today. I could take a week off but don't want to. I could post a new chapter from my novel but I don't think it's ready yet.

Then it hit me - The Box of Frivolity.

Never heard of the Box of Frivolity? That's perfectly fine because it's something I made up a few weeks ago. I have friend who was in grad school this year working on her Master's in positive psychology. The program was intense; a hybrid online/in person program completed in one year while she still worked full time. Thankfully for my friend, she's passionate about the program and her area of study so while it's been a lot of work and a lot of stress, she's at least studying something she wants to study and write about. She technically graduated in May but her thesis is due in August so she went from class and reading and short papers and projects to reading and reading and researching and writing and writing. Back in May, I asked her what book she was going to read once she finished her thesis and could resume reading books that weren't related to school. She couldn't answer. I told her she needed to find some frivolous things to read and do after finishing her thesis. She needed to give her mind and body time to deal with the fact that she wasn't going nonstop on school and work anymore. She needed to take a little break, even if it meant just an hour or two of reading a cheesy novel or watching a terrible movie.

That's how the Box of Frivolity was born. Another friend and I were discussing graduation/completing your thesis gifts and I suggested after several other ideas that we should put together a box of stuff for her that would allow her to be frivolous in small doses. So we went about amassing a box of different things that we felt fell on the frivolous scale: bubbles, a light up jump rope (which is only funny to the three of us), Batman stickers, chocolate, spa masks, and two ridiculous books that we knew she would never pick for herself but that we felt fit perfectly in the frivolous book category. Yes, I bought her the tie-in book for the new Ghostbusters movie. The other one was a dystopian YA novel of some kind (as they all are) but I can't remember the title. We also threw in some googly-eye rings and monster finger puppets. Viola - a Box of Frivolity.

I would argue that the Box of Frivolity is something we should all do every now and then to help in times of stress, sadness, disenchantment with the world, or general hopelessness. You can make one for yourself and stash it somewhere around your house, at the ready for a day when you need something silly and fun to brighten your life. Or maybe focus on others; make a Box of Frivolity for your friend who's going through something or just needs a little pick me up after a long day or week or life. Yes, you could just open up a bottle of wine with that same friend but sometimes wine makes it worse. The idea of a Box of Frivolity is really about fun and playfulness. Wine does not always accomplish that.

We need to take care of selves no matter what the circumstance. Slowing down, eating better, getting more sleep, exercising, reading a frivolous book, all of these things can help. Taking care of yourself isn't selfish; it's what you should do. I started this blog at a time in my life where I was alone; I moved to California and didn't know anyone and it was isolating at the beginning. I spent a lot of time in my first few months in my new home being stressed and angry for making what I thought was a stupid decision. When I started writing the blog, I realized it was not a stupid decision; it was the exact right decision for me at the time BUT I needed to focus on me and doing the right things for me. So I started writing. I joined a theatre group. I started walking three miles a day. I baked more (mostly for my co-workers) and I tried to eat better and cook more at home. This blog was my first Box of Frivolity; I can write about cheesy movies or from my cat's perspective because it's funny and makes me laugh. It's gets me outside of whatever is stressing me out and sometimes, it does the same for other people.

Make yourself a Box of Frivolity this weekend. I'll give you a tip: it doesn't have to be an actual box. As I said, the Island is my Box of Frivolity so yours could be a place or a person you spend time with. It can be whatever you want it to be. Or be like Pumpkin and just enjoy the actual box. Cats know best.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Lazy Movie Weekend Double Feature, Part 2: Come for the aliens, stay for the bromances?

I love action movies. Always have. Car chases are fun to watch, explosions are pretty great, and who doesn't love a good fight? The thing about action movies is that there's a spectrum when it comes to quality. Independence Day: Resurgence skirts the line between adequate, not terrible alien movie and super cheesy, terrible alien mess. Did I love it? Not really but I didn't hate it either. Is it the worst movie I've ever seen? Absolutely not and people who are saying this obviously didn't see Rocky & Bullwinkle (seriously Robert DeNiro?) or the Matthew Broderick remake of Godzilla. Those are the types of movies that make me want my money back. Broderick, I'm still waiting on my $7 (unless I charge interest).

Since I don't write reviews I thought instead I'd talk about the movie focusing on three areas: What's Missing, Things I Loved/Need More Of, and WTF Moments. And yes, there will be spoilers. Because I'm terrible. Grab some popcorn because this movie is the very definition of popcorn flick.

What's Missing (Really, Who's Missing)
  • Will Smith: Let's just get this one out of the way. Will Smith didn't return to play Captain Steven Hiller. I'm sure he realized that this was not going to be a great movie and didn't really need him. He's busy being part of the Suicide Squad so there's that. I have zero problems with his absence; I don't think he's a great actor and the original character made me irrationally annoyed. I did enjoy the oil painting of him hanging in the White House - a tribute to a true American hero.
  • Margaret Colin: Who is Margaret Colin? Only the love of David Levinson's (Jeff Goldblum) life in the first movie. Colin's Constance worked for President Whitmore and was a wonderful counter to David throughout the movie. They got back together at the end. I expected Constance to be here but there is no mention of her at any point in the 2 hour movie. Not even David's meddling and lovable father, Julius, mentions her. What happened to Constance? If someone knows what happened to her, please let me know. Maybe I missed it but I really don't think that I did.
  • Adam Baldwin: I love Adam Baldwin. Frankly, the original movie could have benefited from more Adam Baldwin so I'm sad that there's zero Adam Baldwin in the sequel. I'll admit that the addition of William Fitchner in the sequel helps (more on this shortly) but it's not the same.
  • Mae Whitman: Mae Whitman played President Whitmore's daughter in the original movie. She was adorable and everything we could ever want from a little girl in an alien movie. Apparently, her character's name in ID was Patricia but I don't recall her ever being referred to in this way. Everyone calls her "munchkin" and it's perfection. Whitman is a very talented actor, most recently starring in the high school rom-com The DUFF. Anyway, she's been replaced by Maika Monroe. Monroe just isn't Patricia Whitmore and it's sad that Whitman is missing. There have been lots of articles about why she's not here; I hope this isn't true but I'm not naive enough to believe that Hollywood isn't the terrible place we all think it is. 
Things I Loved/Need More Of 
  •  Vivica A. Fox: At least Jasmine is back to make us remember what was good about the first movie. I always considered her the heart of the first movie; she's a good person, a good mom, a good friend, and also happens to be a stripper. In the sequel, she's become a doctor (obviously) and selflessly puts herself in harm's way. I wanted more of her in this movie because frankly, heart is just one of the things missing from Resurgence. Also, the only movie Vivica A. Fox should die in is Kill Bill Vol. 1 because she had it coming.
  • Julius Levinson: If you don't love Judd Hirsch's meddling dad, Julius, you don't like funny things. He's in a significant amount of the movie but it's not as much fun as the first one. He does get saved by some kids and then drives them into the middle of an all out alien war so that's something. 
  • Jeff Goldblum in a tank top: Let's all admit it: Jeff Goldblum is the sexy/nerdy older dude we all love. He's been that way since early movies like Earth Girls Are Easy and The Fly and only got better in the original Jurassic Park and the original ID. There's something missing in this version of David Levinson; maybe it's Constance's absence. Or possibly more tank tops.
  • General Adams: Confession: I watch the only okay Adam Sandler remake of The Longest Yard whenever it's on tv because of William Fitchner. He's not even in that much of the movie but it's worth it. Fitchner is a super talented actor and has one of those faces that's interesting and handsome all at the same time so you just sort of stare at him. Like Adam Baldwin in the first movie, this movie could have used 100% more General Adams and he's already in most of the movie. Honestly, you could get rid of the whole Jake/Dylan story line and just give us more General Adams.
  • Jake's backstory: We get that he almost killed Dylan Hiller in a training exercise and that they "hate" one another. We also get that he's super dreamy and engaged to Patricia Whitmore. But what's the deal with the story of being left at a camp during the War of 1996 (that's a thing)? Was he one of those other children hanging out with Dylan and Munchkin at Area 51? I need to know more even if I don't particularly care for him as a character.
  • President Whitmore channeling Lone Starr: I have loved Bill Pullman since the first time I saw the movie Spaceballs. He was a great leading man president in the first ID and I was glad to see him back in the sequel. At the beginning of the movie, he's the crazy, old man version of himself but by the climatic end, we see the true President Whitmore and he looks the way I imagine Lone Starr would have looked had we ever gotten a Spaceballs sequel.
  • Warlord Umbutu/Floyd the Accountant buddy comedy: These are, by far, two of the weirdest characters added to the mix of this movie. At the beginning, when we meet both, they barely talk to one another and Floyd is intimidated by the warlord. By the end of the movie, they're killing aliens side by side like they were born to do so. I think these guys deserve a spinoff buddy comedy movie. I'd watch that.
  • Brent Spiner as Dr. Brakish Okun: I only add him here because I didn't think he was going to be in the movie...I thought he died in the first one. Always trust the crazy guy in movies like this.
 And finally...

WTF Moments, Or Things I Could Do Without/Don't Understand
  •  Science apparently doesn't exist in this movie: I get that this movie is set in a future time where we have used the technology and knowledge left behind by our alien invaders. I don't believe that all that technology would have been able to solve this issue: the Earth and the moon don't have the same atmosphere. If David and Jake need spacesuits to walk around on the moon, how is it possible for all of them and the fighter pilots to move between Earth and the moon with no visible signs that they were impacted by the change in atmosphere? #sciencedoesntmatterinscifiactionmovies
  • The Bromances: Why are there so many bromances? Is it the mid-2000s and we're watching a movie starring Jason Segel and I don't know, Jonah Hill? We've got Charlie and Jake, Jake and Dylan, Jake and David, Warlord Umbutu and Floyd, Whitmore and Levinson, Dr. Okun and Dr. Isaacs, and even Whitmore and retired General Grey. I like that dudes are being confident in their friendships in movies and pop culture but this seems like way too much bromance for one movie.
  • Charlotte Gainsbourg: I have no problem with her being in this movie EXCEPT that if we're going to not cast Mae Whitman because she's not considered "conventionally beautiful" (bullshit) than how did we get to Charlotte Gainsbourg? She's a talented and beautiful actress as well but doesn't scream "alien popcorn flick actress" even if she's playing a psychologist. There's something really off about her being in this movie. I want to like her but I don't.
  • Sela Ward as President Lanford: You just can't rally behind this President. There's nothing inspiring about her. No rallying speech, no woman of the people vibe; she's just there. I was not sad when the safe location where she was located was destroyed by aliens. I was excited by the person who ended up being sworn in as President. I'll let this one be a surprise.
  • Patricia Whitmore: It's not that Maika Monroe is a bad actor; she's fine but I don't believe her/ It ruins the plots she's involved in. Not a fighter pilot, not the daughter of the President who saved us all, not a member of the current president's staff. She's just boring even in the scenes with the lesser Hemsworth. Patricia gets some terrible dialogue so it's really not her fault. I just wish she was...more. 
  • Smug dudes: The first ID had Will Smith, this one has Liam Hemsworth as Jake Morrison. He's kind of like a combination of Will Smith and Harry Connick, Jr. from the first one; he mugs a lot, is sort of funny, and you don't wish for his death. However, you do hope he'll stop talking and just kill the damn alien queen already.
While the new President (again, I can't tell you who it is) has a rather rousing speech to the world right before the end battle with the aliens (that is of course resolved before the 2 minute countdown runs out), it does not hold a candle to the original. 

 Happy Birthday America! 
Make smart life choices this weekend - don't set things on fire, drive responsibly, and remember to hydrate and wear sunscreen.

Fab Four
Bromance 1

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Lazy Movie Weekend Double Feature, Part 1: A Shark Tried to Eat Gossip Girl

I have a love/hate relationship with summer movies. Back in the day (which I'm allowed to say because I'm over 25), I used to go to every summer movie regardless of how terrible it might end up being. I feel like summer movie season was a simpler time back then too; Michael Bay didn't spew crap versions of cherished childhood favorites and there wasn't the same horror movie every summer with a rotating cast of the latest teen movie sensations. I like action movies, love a sappy romance (or five), enjoy animated movies every now and then, and can even get into a well made horror movie but I've been sorely disappointed the last few summers by movies. So I go to the movies less and I watch my favorites at home more. Life goes on. Hollywood is not broken because I don't go to the movies.

This summer I vowed to try a bit more to go to the movies; there are at least eleven movies that I want to see (I've seen two of them as of today; most are not out yet) and have enjoyed them in my way. I thought we'd focus this Lazy Movie Weekend on two movies that have nothing to do with one another except that I saw them within a few days of each other. Originally, I was going to combine them into one post but it's too much so you get two LMW posts this week! Consider it my birthday present to America.

Let's dive into our first feature The Shallows (pun absolutely intended). Spoilers ahead - just an FYI although I legit don't care if I ruin it for you because seriously this is a movie about a shark and a woman trying to survive. You know exactly what's going to happen.

Sharks are not my thing. I've seen the first Jaws movie since it's a requirement as a fan of movies and I've watched all three of the Sharknado movies so you don't have to (part four will be here very soon). I don't watch "Shark Week" and I've never seen any of the other well regarded movies involving a sharks vs. man plot (I'm told Deep Blue Sea and Open Water are both very good). However, the previews The Shallows intrigued me; Gossip Girl surfs and then battles a Great White. Totally plausible and obviously means someone made some excellent life choices. What could be better than that combination?

It's not a bad movie at all. The scenery is beautiful; as a non-beach person watching Gossip Girl (as I will refer to Blake Lively's character, Nancy, because that's how I think of her; she's not a Nancy) take in the secret beach for the first time, I had an overwhelming desire to go to the beach, just not a secret one. Where there are sharks. Additionally, there is a wonderful version of the Lou Reed classic "Walk on the Wild Side" playing as Gossip Girl and Carlos drive out to the beach. After he leaves her on the beach with some warnings about not staying out too late, we meet Gossip Girl's family who want her to go back to med school, realize she's come to the beach to commune with her dead mother, and watch her get ready to surf. She joins two dudes in the water and we're treated to a great sequence of them all catching waves and enjoying the thrill of the secret beach.

Then Gossip Girl ignores all of the smarts we know she has and decides to try for one more wave despite the fact that she's now alone, it's past 5 pm, and all of the other sea creatures are going away from her. Oh and there's a dead whale just chilling in the ocean not that far from her. How did any of them miss a rotting whale? Then the shark arrives. Gossip Girl is in the middle of his feeding area (or whatever one calls it) and now she is a target. The remainder of the 87 minute movie is a test of wills between Gossip Girl and the shark, who I'll refer to as Barry. She makes it to a rock and uses earrings in a way they were never meant to be used (this is the only part of the movie I had to look away during), befriends an injured seagull, watches three people get eaten by Barry, and devises a plan to make it to the buoy once high tide comes in. Barry, who has already taken a chunk out of Gossip Girl's leg, circles between her and the dead whale, with occasional forays into partially eating the other two surfers and a random guy on the beach (who sort of deserves what he gets for being a terrible human). I won't tell you how it all ends, although I'm sure you can guess, but I will say that Barry doesn't fair well and Gossip Girl shows us all what moxie really means.

The Shallows does raise a lot of questions:
  • Why does no one ever say the name of the beach? Is it because it's Spanish name translates to Shark Beach or You Will Die If You Stay Past 5 pm Beach? Suspicious.
  • Did anyone else want more Carlos in this movie? I really enjoyed him and was sad to see that he only has a little bit of screen time at the start and end of the movie. 
  • Wouldn't it have been better if Gossip Girl wore a full wet suit? I know nothing about surfing or water sports but I feel like she would have been better served if she'd had a full suit on.
  • Why didn't Gossip Girl leave with the other surfers? How was she planning on getting back from the secret beach? Did she not have an exit strategy? How did Gossip Girl all of the sudden become my cat when she jumps on top of the refrigerator and can't figure out how to get down?
  • We're all aware that Great Whites are not native to or ever seen in Mexico right? How did Barry even get there?
  • Isn't Barry stuffed? By the middle of the movie he's eaten part of a dead whale, probably some seagulls and other fish, and portions of at least three grown men. I wonder if Barry has an eating disorder or something.
  • If he's not hungry, what did Gossip Girl do to Barry to provoke such hatred? Was it because she's married to Deadpool and they have an impossibly adorable child and seem really happy? Is Barry all of our collective dislike of her because of this? (Aside: I like Blake Lively.)
  • Or maybe Barry is a metaphor for poor life choices - is that what we're being told? Gossip Girl shouldn't be on that beach in the first place; she's supposed to be in medical school. She's supposed to be teaching her younger sister how to surf. She's not supposed to be on this secret beach communing with her dead mom. 
  • Where did the oil come from? I won't say why this is important but where's the source? Is it the dead whale or is this also a treatise on pollution and our rape of the environment?
  • Is anyone else thinking that if this happened to them the arm of their wet suit would not fit around their leg? 
  • Who else wears that much jewelry when surfing? Obviously this helped Gossip Girl immensely, probably more than the flare gun but not as much as the Go Pro camera, but is that normal? 
  • How did she finish medical school so quickly? The epilogue of this movie troubles me more than any of what transpired in the previous 80 minutes.
Should you go see The Shallows? If you like sun while also being stressed when movie watching, enjoy pretty landscapes that are eventually marred by Barry's appearance, and like seeing improbable things happen to bring about the conclusion of this caper, then yes, you should see The Shallows. If you hate fun and summer and seagulls, go ahead and skip this one.

Shark image
Gossip Girl on the buoy
Steven Seagull

Lazy Movie Weekend Double Feature, Part 2: And Then There Were Aliens coming at you on Friday. Don't miss it!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Everyone else is doing yoga, so should I?

This post has literally nothing to do with The Cranberries but I've always liked this song and haven't listened to it recently. Musical introductions to a post should be a thing.*

A few weeks ago, I shared my thoughts on my fitness regime and what wellness means to me. I've spent a lot of my life listening to others tell me how they thought I should get in shape or diets that I should go on or dozens of other "helpful" tips for being a better their eyes. I have struggled with this most of my life as have most people who are "too fat" or "too thin" or "too (fill in the blank)" for whatever societal norms we've created. There are a lot of great writers out there who talk about these "standards" in more concise and eloquent ways than I ever will be able to do. Check out Lindy West, Caitlin Moran, Roxane Gay, Lena Dunham, Jessica Valenti, Rebecca Solnit, to name a few. The body positive movement is great (when it doesn't turn on itself which is often) and I'm glad to see retailers embracing diversity in body type as much as they have ethnicity or gender identity in recent years. It's refreshing and gives me hope for the universe (most days).

When I got back from my cousin's wedding in Detroit, I made the decision to add some new activities to my workouts. I go to the gym five to six days a week and as much as I like my treadmill routine (y'all, I've read so many books this year), I realized that it was time to mix it up. My gym time works really well for the work week since I naturally get up early and I have a finite amount of time in the morning before I need to be at work. The convenience factor of having a fitness center in my building means I don't have to go anywhere but downstairs, sweat it out, and come back to my apartment to get ready. I know myself well enough to know that adding travel time into this mix would mean I wouldn't actually do it. However, I also know I need the variety to stay dedicated to this plan. One of the areas I want to focus on is toning my arms so I'm currently looking for some arm workouts I can either do in my apartment or in the fitness center since there are already weights there. The other choice I made was to try yoga.

I've never done yoga before. As a theatre major, I had to take a movement class in college and there were what I'll call "yoga adjacent" sections within the course. Frankly, yoga always seemed to be one of those things that bored, entitled 20 somethings do mostly so they can buy cute clothes and be able to say "I have yoga and then a detox facial. Can we move that to 2:30?" Yes, that's stereotypical and mean of me but sometimes I'm mean. I'm sorry. Anyway, being "yoga adjacent" in class sort of turned me off from yoga as a whole. Honestly, I think my yoga aversion had more to do with not feeling comfortable in my own skin than yoga itself. There's something about being in a class in public, whether it be yoga or Zumba or something else, that raises my anxiety and self-consciousness.

Anyway, I decided that this is stupid and I need to get over it and give yoga an actual try. My friend, Emily, recently started taking classes at a studio in Crystal City that she raved about. With this recommendation, I signed myself up for a month-long pass to take as many classes at the studio as I'd like. I figured I could try a few different types of classes and see if any of them would stick. I bought a yoga mat, a yoga towel, and prepared for my first class. Emily, being the pal that she is, accompanied me to the first (and second) class to be my yoga sherpa.

I had no expectations, not really, going into that first class. I set up my mat and then Emily gave me a bunch of props (blocks, blankets, pillows) as directed by our instructor. I get the blocks but all the other stuff was foreign to me; I had no idea yoga had so much equipment. My first class was a bit rocky; I didn't really know what I was doing, the instructor was good but seemed a little scattered (she was subbing and late that day so I get it), and it hurt. I realized I have muscles I didn't even know existed and every single one of them hated me so much on that day (and the day after). If muscles could secede from a body, mine would have that weekend. By the end of the class, I was a little sweaty and finally getting the hang of different asanas, the poses or postures of yoga. There are 84 classical asanas said to have been revealed by the god Shiva, founder of hatha yoga (what most of us just call yoga). I'm going to stop my history of yoga there because that's as far as it goes. I admit that my research into yoga has been limited which is a little weird for me. I'll probably remedy that sometime in the future.

I didn't love the first two classes but I liked some aspects of both. The biggest takeaway was the idea of focus for my yoga practice. Both of the instructors started class by having everyone focus on the goal of their practice for the day; it could be a personal goal or something that you want to send out to the world or another person. I liked the idea of focusing a class or the larger practice of yoga on a goal. I'm not doing yoga to appropriate another culture nor am I on some sort of spiritual journey. For me, the practice of yoga is about focus, strength, and balance. I like being able to not think about anything but being in the moment of my yoga practice. Focus can be hard sometimes and being able to just breath and focus for an hour or is really magical.

My first two classes were not the classes for me. The instructors were good but neither class filled the yoga void. My third class, Warm Gentle Hatha, would be the game changer. Both hot and warm yoga use increased temperature to help increase flexibility (or so I've read). In warm yoga, the studio is heated to 90-95 degrees (hot yoga is usually 100 degrees). I figured I spent a large portion of my life in New Orleans so 90 degrees would be nothing. I was pleasantly surprised that I was right. Here's what I learned in my first warm yoga class:
  • 90 degrees is really not that bad - I didn't focus on the heat as much as learning the poses. It was hot but not unbearable.
  • Glasses and warm yoga do not mix. Hell, glasses and yoga are challenging in general. I don't see well without them so I make it work. 
  • Drinking when the instructor says to is a must as is coming to class hydrated. 
  • Yoga makes me hungry (this is probably because my class ends at 12:30). I make better lunch/snack choices when I come out of yoga so that's a plus. 
  • Listening to orchestra/yoga appropriate versions of "Shake It Off" and "Livin' On a Prayer" makes the class even better. 
  • The instructor makes all the difference. I didn't dislike my first two instructors but I love my third. She gives clear instructions, models the pose well, gives options to the group since we're at various levels, and made yoga accessible to me.
I left the class feeling exactly how I wanted - strong, more balanced, and in control. The second I thought "my body can't do that," it just did. Boom - here's the millionth Downward-Dog pose of class. What? Did I just do five planks in a row and not die? Yes, yes I did. Why is it called Awkward Chair? Because it's awkward and chair-like. Let's Warrior it up some more because I'm amazing at Warrior I and II. I also realized that I've been doing two poses forever - Shavasana (Corpse pose) and Vriksasna (Tree pose). When I'm stressed or have any sort of back or neck pain, I lay on my floor with everything relaxed which is Shavasana without the intention. Shavasana is about resetting at the end of practice, giving the body time to reset and rest after the workout you've just gone through. It's meant to focus a person and reduce tension. I love Shavasana both in class and at home. I sleep in Tree pose. Obviously it's not the same but that's what it is. I've always described sleeping in a four or nine when I sleep on my back but it's basically Tree pose. I also tend to stand this way when I'm chopping vegetables or cooking so there's that. Tree pose is all about balance, posture, and concentration. It's one pose I really need to work on since I do tend to lose my balance after a few seconds. I need to follow my instructor's advice and focus on a fixed point (called drishthe) which should help with this.

All in all, I've loved the first month of my yoga practice. I figured out what the intention of my practice is and found a class that works for me. I even own three pairs of yoga pants I don't sleep in! I feel like I'm improving; I'm able to hold poses for longer, am more aware of my breath in and out of class, and I was able to do more complex combinations of poses in my last class. I may not stay with the studio long term (yoga is expensive) but I feel like by the time I get to that point, I will be able to do the things I need to do at home without the heated studio but with the same intention in my practice.

One important observation: Even if I hadn't found my class and had given up after my month, I'm comforted by the idea that for 75 minutes 10-15 people in arguably one of the busiest, high stress regions in the country, come together and shut off their lives. For that time we are quiet and still (meaning not bustling about being busy). I'm fascinated by this idea and hold onto to it when I'm not in the studio and need a moment of calm.

*This song appeared on the band's debut album Everyone Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We? which is the inspiration for this post's title. #90sgirl

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Summer Fun: Pumpkin's Guide to Getting the Most Out of Summer

Whether you are a firm believer that summer begins on Memorial Day (so approximately meteorological summer) or if you're a strict adherent to the belief that summer begins on June 20th with the solstice (astronomical summer), your season has finally arrived. You're out there living your best summer life (this has become a phrase I'm partial to these days), soaking up the sun, reveling in the heat, and I assume, enjoying a frosty adult beverage. You probably have your pool/beach time scheduled and probably a summer vacation planned. But have you stopped and considered whether or not you're truly getting the most out of your summer? What could possibly make your summer even better?

I'll tell you what - Pumpkin's advice on how to get the most out of summer. She knows a lot about enjoying the sun and just as her helpful advice got us all through Snowzilla this winter; she'll make sure your summer is the absolute best it can be.

Pumpkin's Guide to Getting the Most Out of Summer

Tip 1: Moderation is the key to enjoying the sun.
Pumpkin is the literal queen of the sun patch. I once watched her sit in the same sun patch for over an hour without moving or blinking. I had to check to see if she was still breathing at one point. Sun is an essential part of summer enjoyment; we need the vitamin D after months in cold, cold weather and here in DC, fifteen straight days of rain at the end of May. Get out there an soak up the sun but do so with some care and caution. It's all about moderation since summer is a marathon not a sprint. Ways to balance enjoyment and moderation:
  • Sunscreen - Pumpkin recommends a minimum SPF of 30 but I like to take it a step further and bump that up to 45. She has fur; I'm a very white woman who "lobsters" when the sun is even mentioned. Make sure you reapply your sunscreen if you're outside for longs periods of time swimming or sweating profusely (which will always happen).
  • Shade - Find a nice tree, fancy umbrella, or building to hide in every now and then. It's cooler and may even involve finding a frosty beverage or two.
  • Invest in one of those tiny fans. Tiny fans make a lot of sense.
Tip 2: Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!
Hydration is essential when spending more time outside in the broiling sun. We're all going to be sweaty messes this summer and staying hydrated will help in so many ways. Pumpkin is a master at staying hydrated whether it's drinking from her actual water bowl or finding other sources of water like the bathroom sink, unattended water glasses, or the bathtub after I've gotten out of the shower. Sometimes she doesn't even wait until I'm done brushing my teeth to get in on the sink action in the bathroom. She needs her water and will get it in whatever fashion she can.

Tip 3: Rooftop bars (or the top of the refrigerator) are great places to enjoy a cold beverage when the weather gets hot.
Pumpkin loves hanging out on top of the refrigerator. Bonus: when she stays at my parents' house, they put a water bowl on top of the fridge for her so it's exactly like her own rooftop bar. The height gives her a great view of the apartment or their kitchen. The same can be said about hanging out at a rooftop bar after work or on a sunny weekend day. Arlington and DC have some wonderful rooftop bars with great views. Be prepared to wait in line to get upstairs but it's absolutely worth the wait. Make sure that you have an exit plan; Pumpkin doesn't always remember to have one when she jumps on top of the fridge. She prefers the "meow until someone helps me" method of exiting. Doing this at a rooftop bar is not recommended but knowing your limits and having a DD or Uber on your phone are always a good idea.

Tip 4: When in doubt, take a nap.
Sun and nap - priceless.
Being outside maybe fun but it's also exhausting. Pumpkin is a master at all things napping from location to length of nap to sleeping with her eyes open. It's a skill and one that we should all learn how to do. I don't nap often but something about summer and the sun and lazy afternoons makes me want to nap all the time.

Napping by Pumpkin:
  • Comfort is in the eye of the beholder. If perching yourself on the back of the couch or one someone's arm while they're trying to read or do other things is comfortable for you, embrace it.
  • 18 hours a day is the ideal amount of time one should nap. Pumpkin is a beast when she doesn't get this much nap time in. 
  • If you want to creep out a person and nap at the same time, learn to nap with your eyes open. It's definitely a skill worth cultivating. 
  • Let your people know when they've intruded into your napping time. This can come in the form of meowing at them in disgust, scratching them for no reason, or maybe staring at them as if you're plotting a way to keep them up all night. Because they deserve to be tortured for disturbing your sleep.

Tip 5: Get your summer reading list together
Pumpkin has been a reader since way back. She loves books of all types; histories, memoirs, novels, art books. She is an equal opportunity reader and you should be too. Books are great for napping on, lounging by the pool or on the beach, or if you're stuck inside on a rainy day. Check out The Washington Post's summer book recommendations to plan your reading list. I just picked up The Girls by Emma Cline because nothing says summer quite like a book about a cult.
From her kitten days.

Tip 6: Outdoor activities can be turned into indoor activities if you get a little creative. 
So many of Pumpkin's tips involved the great outdoors but she realizes that the outside is not for everyone; she doesn't even like it that much. Pumpkin spent the first few weeks of her life on the mean streets of Honolulu before I adopted her and the outdoors did her no good. Apparently she fought with other animals and was bitten by one one of them. This resulted in her having an abscess that eventually burst and she spent several weeks with one side of her face shaved. A cat with half of a shaved face is a sad sight. There are plenty of outdoor activities that you can/should enjoy this summer but Pumpkin would also like to provide alternatives in case you're more of an indoor kid and/or want to avoid fighting with other neighbor animals:
  • Visit a winery. Sure they're pretty and picturesque and wine is delicious but you could also sit home and drink wine while wearing yoga pants and hanging out with Pumpkin. There's also less of a chance that you'll have to hang out with pretentious wine guy if you drink at home.
  • Go to a theme park. Roller coasters are amazing and awkward moments with theme park characters make for great Instagram photos but lines are the worst and the sun can be punishing. Pumpkin's alternative: make an at home obstacle course. Climb on top of your furniture, jump over the stuff everyone leaves out everywhere that you don't want to pick up, the possibilities are endless.
  • Attend an outdoor movie event. Outdoor movies sound like a great idea but they lack the one thing that Pumpkin feels is essential for movie watching: air conditioning. How are you supposed to watch a movie if your Junior Mints are melting all over the place? It's easy to replicate the big screen at home and as a bonus, you can wear your pajamas and cuddle with your pets. Pumpkin approves. 
  • Catch a baseball game at your favorite stadium. Actually, you should do this one. Pumpkin can attest that nothing is more boring than watching baseball on television except watching golf on television. Sometimes outside wins.
Get out there an live your best summer life! Pumpkin will be here, indoors, napping, occasionally moving from sun patch to sun patch, and staring at me in a mildly creepy way.

Next week: My fitness adventures continue with my first month adding yoga to my routine. There's that saying that you should be wary of endeavors that involve buying new clothes but I rather like my new yoga pants. Check it out next weekend on the Island!