Five Things That Make Me Happy (part 20)

Kinfolk Magazine
Kinfolk_Vol7_CoverOne of the things I like to buy at the store down the street (Trohv) is Kinfolk magazine, a slick squarebound quarterly publication. It’s about entertaining, about art, about photography, about cooking… It’s not really quite like anything else out there. I love reading their essays, as much for things that inspire me as things that are completely outside of my own personal wheelhouse. Even if the subject isn’t grabbing me in one particular piece, there’s almost always a great photograph that goes alongside it that makes it all work quite nicely. The latest issue had an ice cream theme, and it was slightly mouth-watering at times. Not that I minded to much, because…

Cinnamon Vanilla Ice Cream
One of the pieces in the latest issue was an interview with two ice-cream makers. When asked for their favorite flavors, one that both of them mentioned was cinnamon vanilla ice cream. “Hmmm,” I thought to myself, “I bet I could make that.” And so, I did.

Cinnamon Vanilla Ice Cream

As it turns out, adding cinnamon to my vanilla ice cream recipe is a big hit. I love the vanilla ice cream recipe (thanks Alton Brown!) but the touch of cinnamon makes it that much more amazing. I’ll be trying some new flavors of ice cream this summer, but I think this is one I’ll be keeping in my back pocket in general. Homemade ice cream in general is such a pleasure; over the winter I barely made any (which my waistline thanks me for, at least) but I’m going to try and break out the ice cream maker a bit more this year.

Ticket to Ride
Ticket to Ride is one of those board games that I’ve been seeing for years, now. I first encountered it at my friends Trevor and Matt’s house, when I saw some people playing it. It looks deceptively simple—collect colored trains to form connections between cities to earn points—but it’s the sort of game that clearly requires a lot of strategy and wits. I’ve held off on buying it (another huge box to store!) but I recently discovered that the game company also released a version for the iPad. Having now played it for a few days… it’s wonderfully addicting. Evilly so, in fact. And I haven’t even played it against other people (either online or locally), just against the computer. Absolutely loving it. Board or electronic game, this one is clearly a winner.

No More Amy Pond
Non-Doctor Who fans can just skip along to the next item. But I am genuinely happy that when Doctor Who returns in a couple of days, it will be without Karen Gillan, the actress who played the character of Amy Pond for the past two and a half years. I really didn’t like the character, but the bigger problem wasn’t the writing for Amy Pond but Gillan’s acting. She just wasn’t up to the level needed for such a major role, and she pulled down the show a great deal. So knowing that there are eight episodes ahead without Gillan? Well, I’m delighted. (Sadly her co-star Arthur Darvill is also gone, but it’s a fair trade.) Her replacement, played by Jenna-Louise Coleman, already feels like a real improvement.

A Great 40th Birthday
Cannoli CakeToday I finally hit the big 4-0, it’s true. And in celebrating it this year, the thing that’s struck me the most was that I’m really lucky to have so many great friends that it was actually difficult to make a guest list because I wanted to invite everyone I knew. I ended up having a medium-sized party over the weekend at the tavern on the ground floor of our building, and as much as I would’ve loved to double the guest list, my gut feeling on how many the facility could hold was more or less dead-on accurate. I had a great time talking with my friends, and the food and cake were both excellent, and at the very end the manager provided us with a nice champagne toast. Then today, two co-workers (and good friends) took me out to lunch and provided cake in the afternoon (with a cannoli on top!), followed by getting a massage in the evening.

Add in the over 200 birthday greetings on Facebook (no, seriously, we’ve crossed the 200 mark), and it’s been a very pleasant way to enter the new decade. Fortunately, I’m not one to get freaked out over those milestone ages, but still, a good way to do so. (Now ask me again when I turn 70 and that might be another story entirely…)

40th birthday toast

Five Things That Make Me Happy (part 19)

My Abuela's KitchenMy Abuela’s Table: An Illustrated Journey into Mexican Cooking by Daniela Germain
I found this cookbook at a great home goods store just down the street (Trohv) and even though the last thing I need is another cookbook, I had to take it home with me. The recipes appear to be nice and good, but what really caught my eye were the illustrations by Germain. They’re gorgeous, with delicate watercolors that occasionally bleed out of their borders and onto the page around them. I’d flipped the cookbook open to the illustrations of the different chili peppers and I just fell in love with Germain’s art; the deep, rich colors make those oranges and reds and greens just call out to me. I may never make anything from this cookbook (although I plan on doing so!), but I feel like I’ve devoured the art in it enough that it was a worthy purchase.

Oscar-Nominated Shorts Compilations
Every year, Charlie and I go to see two of the Oscar-Nominated Short Film compilations (the Live-Action and the Animated categories). These are pieces that chances are you’d never be able to see otherwise, unless you hit the film festival circuits. And while I don’t think there’s ever been a year that I was crazy about all the nominees, there’s always something to recommend about each one. This year I was especially taken by Death of a Shadow (a strange steampunk tale about a man who captures the shadows of people about to die all throughout time) and Asad (a Somali boy struggles to become a fisherman) among the live action pieces, and Adam and Dog (the story of the Garden of Eden through the eyes of the first dog) and Paperman (the start of a romantic relationship with the help of paper airplanes; you may have seen this before Wreck-It Ralph). But like I said, there’s something to recommend for all of them. 

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
I’m coming to this one a little late. I’d been hearing recommendations about it for ages (and first and foremost from Linda Holmes on NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour), but I knew very little about it. That’s a good thing. I hate to do this, but it’s a book that the less you know about, the better; all I’ll say about the plot is that it’s about a woman who vanishes under mysterious circumstances. It’s a book that digs down deep and gets you at just the right moment, and it’s also a very fast read; I think I read it in two days. It’s not high art, and in a few places you’ll scratch your head and say, “Really? Really???” when it’s over. It doesn’t bear too much thinking about it afterward, to be honest. But it’s a classic example of the pageturner, and I’m glad I read it.

“Candy” by Robbie Williams
I know this song is a few months old (and I’ve talked about it on Facebook before, in fact), but every time I need to grin I just listen to it. Seriously, I defy you to not be happy after listening to “Candy.”

Great Friends Every February
Every year in February I head out to Los Angeles to attend the Gallifrey One convention, which is all about my all-time favorite television show Doctor Who. And yes, a lot of the attraction is the convention’s guests and programming; this was my 13th straight year of attending, after all. But just as much of an attraction is going to see all the friends that I’m reunited with every year because of Gallifrey One. There are too many to list—over the years I’ve met so many great people there—but let me just say that if none of my friends were going one year, I might stay home too. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of friends there every time I go. My friends? They’re the greatest. Just what the doctor ordered to perk up what could be a cold, grey month.

Gallifrey 2013

Five Things That Make Me Happy (part 18)

Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Unreal and the Real
One of my all-time favorite authors is Ursula K. Le Guin. I fell in love with her books ever since I first bought a copy of The Wizard of Earthsea at our library book sale in 4th grade (and read it so quickly I managed to buy copies of The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore before the week-long sale ended), and that enjoyment of her writing hasn’t ceased. Now, one of my favorite small publishers (Small Beer Press) has issued a two volume collection of her short stories. And while I buy ebooks more often than print ones these days, I had to make an exception for this handsome volumes.

I also appreciate that they even came up with a way to theme the two volumes in terms of location (the titles should give it away) rather than just an arbitrary “these are two volumes worth of stories” division. Oh, in case you’re wondering, there are ebook editions too. But for now, I’ll be reading these copies, just calling my name. Good times ahead.

SiTea: The Spice Boutique
Just down the street from me is SiTea: The Spice Boutique. Now, in the back of my head it’s always been a place to buy dried teas and supplies. They have an amazing selection, lots of original mixtures, and in general it’s a great place to visit. But it was only recently that my friend Randal reminded me that it’s also a place you can go to sit, have a pot of tea, maybe a snack or two (cupcakes, samosas, and vegetarian chili are a few of their regular offerings), and relax. On a stressful day, it was a real delight to stop and hang out with Randal for an hour. We both had a wonderful tea, enjoyed the quiet music and inviting surroundings, and each other’s company. I won’t forget about SiTea’s option as an oasis of enjoyment again.

Grandpa’s Meatballs
My grandfather’s meatballs were the stuff of legend. Seriously, they were that good. There was something about the way he cooked—no doubt taught by his Italian immigrant parents—that just made everything taste a little better, but especially when it came to the meatballs. My aunt Jackie once sat down with him and dutifully recorded everything he did, step-by-step, to try and replicate them. And while we still can’t get them quite as good as his… they’re awfully close. In November I ended up making about 600 cocktail-sized meatballs using his recipe, more or less. (I drew the line at pan-frying all of them, due to the sheer number, so they were baked in the oven instead.) And while they were indeed absolutely delicious, what really made me happy… was just the act of making them. It was a very calming, pleasurable experience. I put some music and podcasts on, rolled up my sleeves, and just cooked for about five hours. A great way to spend an afternoon, and a way to remember what a wonderful guy my grandfather was in all aspects of life.

“Get Myself Together” by Robyn
Seriously, I can’t stop listening to this song. Why was this not released as a single? So good.

Unseasonably Warm Weather
For a couple of days this week we had crazy warm weather for December in the DC area. Monday and Wednesday morning involved wearing shorts (with a long-sleeved shirt) while running outdoors at 6am. That’s not normally something that happens again until March. A cold front has since swept back in—and to be fair, this warm weather is probably not a good thing in terms of the future for the planet and things like that—but it was great to break out some polo shirts to wear to work and just enjoy a couple days of semi-warmth. But now, back to the winter gear it seems…

Five Things That Make Me Happy (part 17)

Back from Bogota
As hinted a few months ago, I went on a work trip to another country… namely, Colombia (in the city of Bogota). Because it was a work trip the majority of it involved watching training at a government-run facility and being driven between the facility and the hotel in an armored van. But! I did get some sight-seeing in on the weekend, including a trip to botanical gardens, a huge park, a hop up to the peak of Monserrate in a cable car to see the sun set over the city, and (best of all) a bicycle trip around the city for three hours. All in all, a lot of fun and a place I’d have almost certainly never gone to otherwise.

I’ve heard for years and years (you probably have too) that Bruce Springsteen puts on some of the best concerts out there. My friend John A. back in his heyday used to hit multiple stops of a Springsteen tour as it went up and down the East Coast. And now, having seen him perform on the Wrecking Ball Tour at Nationals Park in Washington DC? I get it. I totally get it. It’s funny because while I like Springsteen I am by no means an uber-fan. I don’t have half of his albums. I don’t know the words to a lot of the songs. Heck, I didn’t know half of the songs he played. But it didn’t matter. He performs every song from start to finish like it’s the last song of the night and therefore has to put all his energy into it. Just an amazing performance, and when your concert runs over three hours (who needs an opening act when you’re on stage that long?) you need to be at the top of your game. Kylie Minogue’s Aphrodite Tour might still be my all-time favorite concert, but I think this will be a close second.

Aimee Mann’s Charmer
If I remember the chronology correctly, it was right after hearing Aimee Mann’s solo music courtesy the Magnolia soundtrack (and then ordering a copy of Bachelor No. 2 online) that my friend Felicity helpfully pointed me to her earlier two solo albums. By that point I’ve been hooked. But with her last album being a little disappointing, I found myself a tiny bit wary about her new album Charmer. Then I heard the title track courtesy a hysterical video co-starring Laura Linney (seriously, I just about lost it I was laughing so hard), and NPR streamed the album leading up to the release, and all was forgiven. Sure, the second half of the album isn’t as great as the first half, but the 1-2-3-4-5 punch of Charmer, Disappeared, Labrador, Crazy Town, and Soon Enough is strong enough that the second half could have been static and I’d still be happy. (In a rarity, the bonus track I got from buying via Amazon—Brother’s Keeper—is a real bonus and just as good as the first half of the album.) In a year with a lot of disappointing albums from returning artists, this one did just what it needed to.

Adele’s Skyfall
Not to be a cliche, but I’m an Adele fan. I also like big brassy James Bond theme songs (and not just those by Shirley Bassey, but those are at the top of the list). So when I heard that Adele was performing the theme for Skyfall, I was tentatively hopeful. Could this be it? The heir to Bassey’s Goldfinger theme? As it turns out… yes. Thanks, Adele. This is just what I needed.

Double-Digit Milegage
After far too many months off due to injuries, I returned to running recently. And last weekend, I got back up into the double-digit distances again with a 12-miler. I got to run it with most of my running buddies (Ben, John, Stephanie, Steve) and not only was the company great, but I felt fantastic afterwards. No marathons on the horizon (I’m playing it safe, probably won’t go higher than 14mi for a while) but it’s nice to know that this amount is once more available.

Five Things That Make Me Happy (part 16)

Back to Swimming
Despite swimming being “highly recommended” as exercise while recovering from my stress fracture, the last time I’d actually gone to the pool was back in January. Happily, Charlie gave me the nudge that I needed to finally start moving forward again, and we’ve been hitting the pool 2-3 times a week before work. My overall speed isn’t where it should be, but that’s what happens when you take six months off, right? All in all, though, it’s felt great to finally get back to the pool and start swimming some laps. My mile time might need some improvement, but I’m also glad that I can swim a mile without stopping again.

Ceiling Fan
There are a lot of things that I love about our condo, but one of the few things that has driven me crazy since day one was that there’s no air-return on the upper level (where the living room/kitchen area is located). With an 11-foot ceiling, that’s meant that hot air easily travels up there and then just stays put. We’d bought a fan to turn on when it gets too warm as an emergency measure, but this month we finally sprung to have a ceiling fan installed. I’m not going to lie, the installation was problematic and actually took two appointments with an electrician (plus someone to then repair drywall and re-paint) but now that it’s done? It’s fantastic. It’s been a transformative shift to our upstairs. Just having the air moving has made all the difference, and the fan itself looks great to boot. (Amusingly, when I first turned it on, for about five minutes it blasted hot air down at me, to the point that I almost started to majorly freak out. Later it hit me that it was finally getting all that trapped heat out of the top of the room that a fan on the floor would never touch.)

The End of Physical Therapy
I actually really enjoyed my PT sessions, which I often joked stood for “personal trainer” rather than “physical therapy.” Jackie definitely worked me over good each week, and she’s pretty great to boot. But I won’t deny that I’m glad it’s over, because it means that the long saga of the stress fracture appears to be finally over. I got a six-mile run under my belt towards the end of July, and finishing it with no problems was a huge relief. Of course, in an effort to remind me not to be too cocky, I then went and broke my little toe at the end of the month by stubbing it on a chaise lounge, so I’m back off running for the month of August. Ah well!

Rediscovering Debbie Dreschler
Debbie Dreschler’s two graphic novels from back in the day—Daddy’s Girl and Summer of Love—were hard to read. Not because they were badly created (they weren’t) but because the subject matter was rather disturbing and emotionally raw in places. Since Summer of Love Dreschler more or less vanished off of the comic book scene, so I was pleased as punch to recently discover her website and her blog. Her website shows the professional illustration work she’s been producing since then, and it looks great. Even better, she’s also got some adorable greeting cards for sale. (I might have bought a set.) Her blog has been serving up some sketchbook drawings of hers involving local wildlife, and all I can say is that she just gets better and better with time. (Debbie Dreschler: a fine wine of cartooning.)

Much-Needed Vacation
We went on a short vacation near the end of the month to Lost River, West Virginia, where we did… absolutely nothing. It was marvelous. Lots of sitting by the pool reading books (E.M Forster’s Howards End and the amusingly-named Showcase Presents: Showcase Vol. 1 were both read, plus another large chunk of Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar), some swimming, a massage, and eating all sorts of foods that are perhaps not great for me. But it was vacation, we got to relax, and the only schedule we had to worry about was when we’d scheduled our massages and what time our dinner reservation one night was set for. (And when I say “worry” I mean “we didn’t worry one iota.”) Any trip where you can accidentally break a toe and still think, “What a great time” is a good one.

Five Things That Make Me Happy (part 15)

I tried a little experiment where for each week of the month I added an item to the list, with the fifth slot reserved for any particularly fantastic week. Bizarrely, several of entries for this month ended up involving travel in some way, but it’s strictly coincidence. Anyway, with that in mind…

Moonrise Kingdom
I enjoy Wes Anderson’s movies (which reminds me that I still need to finally see Bottlerocket and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou one of these days), so seeing Moonrise Kingdom was a given. Bill Murray’s and Jason Schwartzman’s presences were almost a given, but it was nice to see him working with a lot of new-to-Anderson actors; Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, and Tilda Swinton were all great, but the kid actors stole the film over and over again. Just a charming film from start to finish, with an ever-increasing level of insanity as it progresses. By far my favorite film of 2012 to date. Also, for about two days I wanted to live on an island off the coast of Rhode Island. (Fortunately sanity reasserted itself quickly.)

Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City by Guy Delisle
Guy Delisle’s travel graphic novels are fantastic; he’s a cartoonist who’s in the past written about taking trips for work to China (Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China) and North Korea (Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea), as well as—thanks to his wife’s job at Doctors Without Borders—living for a year in Burma (Burma Chronicles). Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City places Delisle and his family in East Jerusalem as his wife works in Gaza and Palestine. I love Delisle’s comedic tone mixed with moments of serious reflection, and Delisle does a nice job of making you feel you are there with him thanks to little details like trying to find playgrounds for the children, or going through security whenever he returns to the country after a business trip. There are a few moments that are head-scratchers (how did he not know what Yom Kippur was before moving to Jerusalem?) but on the whole I’m enjoying it a great deal. I’m reading just small chunks at a time to make it last longer; it’s been four years since Burma Chronicles so I want this experience to stretch out as much as possible.

Silverdocs 2012
It’s taken me 10 years, but this time I finally made it—briefly—to Silverdocs. Silverdocs is the AFI’s documentary film festival, held at the AFI Silver in Silver Spring, Maryland. Every time I’ve heard about it, I’ve wanted to go, and every time it comes and goes without my presence. This year with Silver Spring just around the corner, Charlie and I finally made it up to the festival at the end to catch a showing of Beauty is Embarrassing, which is about artist Wayne White. (You’re probably most familiar with him via his design on a lot of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse; in fact he even voiced several of the puppets, like Randy and Dirty Dog.) The documentary was fun (and I hadn’t made connections until seeing the film to some of the other people and projects he’d worked on, like the Smashing Pumpkins video Tonight, Tonight, or his collaborations with people like Gary Panter and Mimi Pond), although the Q&A afterwards was dreadful and we should have left as soon as it ended. But still, it was a blast to finally make a showing, and I am now determined next year to see a lot more. (I might even take a day or two off from work and go whole-hog and spend a day or two seeing the documentaries, workload willing.) It was a good time.

This American Life #467: Americans in China
Oh look! Another travel story. (Well, sort of.) This episode of This American Life (one of my favorite radio programs, although I primarily listen to it via the podcast) spotlights Americans living in China, with two main stories. The first story about a Chinese-American man who grew up in the United States to Chinese immigrant parents, then moved as an adult to China, was good… but it was the second story that really grabbed me. It was about Michael Meyer (no, not that one), a writer who lives in Manchuria in a tiny town called Wasteland. It was a fascinating story about living in a remote, rural community as an American, and I was entranced for its entire 17 minute portion. Meyer does a great job of dipping you into that culture and making you feel like you’re there, which is exactly what I want from my travel writing. It turns out it’s part of a book that will be published later this year titled In Manchuria: Life on a Rice Farm in China’s Northeast. I will absolutely be buying this book.

Potential Work Trip To Somewhere I’ve Never Been
No details yet, because I don’t want to jinx it (and because it could easily not happen in the blink of an eye) but if everything lines up just right, I get to go on a work trip at the end of August to a country and continent I’ve never visited before. Fingers crossed!

Five Things That Make Me Happy (part 14)

A Bride’s Story by Kaoru Mori
I utterly missed out on Japanese comics creator’s last series to be translated into English, Emma (the story of a Victorian era maid) but it’s nice to not be too far behind the times with her new series A Bride’s Story. It’s set in the 19th century and details a woman in the Silk Road area (near the Caspian Sea) who is the new bride to a young man in a neighboring tribe. It’s half relationship drama (and in a good, non-melodramatic way) and half anthropological study of that time and place. I just finished the first volume and was completely and utterly sucked into it. Also, it’s gorgeously drawn, an immense amount of detail packed into each page and on even what might otherwise feel like small, trivial details. I’m dying to pick up the next two that’ve been published in English to see what happens next. Absolutely charming.

Fra’ Mani Salametto
I picked up this dry salame for when guests were coming over, at Arrowine in Arlington, and I am so glad that I’ve had some leftover because it is divine. Soft, delicious flavor that just explodes in my mouth with each bite. Right now I’m slowly rationing out what I have left, but it’s good enough that I will definitely buy more. One of those slightly expensive foods that’s worth every penny you pay for it.

Home Improvements
In the past month or so, we’ve bought new blinds for the bedrooms (that better block light, a job the old ones did not quite handle properly), ordered new carpet for the stairs, and today a magnetic knife rack arrived. They’re all little changes, but it’s a real pleasure to get these things taken care of and have our home feel that much more… well… homey.

Back to Exercise
After a month off of exercising post-marathon (thanks to the delightful stress fracture in my right tibia), last week I finally got back to the gym… for five days in a row, no less. The things I’m limited to are a little boring, but I have caught up a great deal on my podcasts. And I keep vowing I’ll make it to the pool (for both lap swimming and pool running!) soon, honest, no really. It has felt good to do so. This week might be a little less energetic but there will be more exercise on the horizon, too. Time to use the non-busted parts and have them earn their keep. And speaking of stress fractures…

Being Halfway Done With My Air Cast
As of today it’s been three full weeks in the air cast! I find that hard to believe myself. I’d mentioned it already on Facebook and the like, but in short I developed a stress fracture in my right leg sometime in February, didn’t realize I had one, ran a marathon on it, then realized that the pain I was having was not a pulled muscle and went to a specialist to figure out the problem. I’ve been told that I’ll be in “das boot” (as I’ve named it) for six weeks. So, halfway done! Once I’m out of it I’ll get to go to PT to slowly ramp up returning to running, but that’ll be a slow process (in more ways than one) for a while. But it’s nice to be about to tip into the realm of over 50% complete with the truly annoying part of this little adventure.

Five Things That Make Me Happy (part 13)

Here’s the Thing
If you’d  told me even a year or two ago that Alec Baldwin would decide to start his own bi-weekly podcast in which he interviews other people, I’d have laughed in your face. But courtesy WNYC, that’s exactly what we get with Here’s the Thing, a 20-30 minute dose of him talking from people ranging from Chris Rock to Erica Jong. I’ve listened to three episodes now, and I’m in love with the show. Part of it has been the comfort level that both Baldwin and his subjects have had with one another, but I think it also helps that because Baldwin has been on the other side of the table, he’s got a slightly different perspective on the matter. There are only a handful of episodes right now, but I’m hoping this continues for a long, long time.

I know, it doesn’t start for another two weeks. But in the DC area at least, I think (fingers crossed) that I’ve had my last below-freezing run on Tuesday, when it was 29 degrees according to my car. Sure, the temperature is going to jump up and down for the rest of March, and into April as well, and that wind can be a killer. But I wore a long-sleeve t-shirt and shorts for today’s run, and it was so nice to be able to ditch the running pants.

Chad Sell’s RuPaul’s Drag Race Portraits
Last  season, Chad Sell began posting portraits of the RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants on his website, as well as commentary on the episodes. And while I like Sell’s commentaries, it’s the portraits that floor me week after week. He’s an amazingly talented artist, and he’s got a sly sense of humor to boot. Every time he updates with new drawings, it makes me excited for the show all over again. (Speaking of which, RuPaul’s Drag Race is turning out another top-notch season this year. You should all be watching it, too.)

Great Neighbors
No, seriously, I think my neighbors are great. At the old apartment I had one amazingly awesome neighbor, but I also already knew Karon before I’d moved there. (In fact, she’s in part why I’d moved there.) And yeah, I had a couple of friends in walking distance. But it’s nice to have multiple people up and down the hall that I think are great. Feels a little odd to know and like lots of people in the building, but I’m not complaining.

Sinead O’Connor’s How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?
All right, I’ll admit that I’m only two tracks into Sinead O’Connor’s new album How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? but so far I’m happy. Her last three studio albums consisted of traditional Irish songs (Sean-Nós Nua), classic reggae songs (Throw Down Your Arms), and a religious album (Theology) so O’Connor creating an album of original, non-themed music is a big deal for me. (The last album of hers that falls into that category was 2000’s Faith and Courage, so it’s been quite a while.) Right now I’m enjoying just letting the new songs wash over me and listening to her beautiful voice. And with a new Amy Ray solo album also out, and a new Regina Spektor album on the way, 2012’s already looking like a good year for music that I like…

(Lucky 13!)

Five Things That Make Me Happy (part 12)

Cleaning and Reorganizing My Office
I know, this sounds distinctly non-fun. But I’ve had a lot of clutter in my office over the past six months, and last week I stayed for an hour or so after officially checking out for the day, and got rid of a lot of the stuff that needed to be pitched. I also finally hung two pieces of art; Stan Sakai’s painting for the A Fall of Stardust portfolio (which used to belong to my friend Jeff), and a Charles Vess painting from Rose. I’m still not done with the office—it’ll take one or two more sessions to get everything done—but it’s a big enough change already that I find myself surprised by how much nicer everything already feels.

Bar Scrawl: A Cartoon Guide to New York’s Drinking Establishments
I don’t live in New York. And I don’t drink very often. But I adore these comics of Bill Roundy’s, in which he reviews New York bars for The Brooklyn Paper, then posts them online a week later. Seriously, these are tremendously fun. He’s got a strong sense of how in just a few panels to make a bar come to life. I want to go to all of these bars, and considering the first two points in this paragraph, that’s impressive.

Less Than Six Weeks From Race Day
My running group somehow talked me into signing up for the Rock ‘N Roll USA Marathon (replacing the National Marathon here in DC), which is on March 17th. We just had our 20-mile training run on Saturday, and while the run itself did not make me terribly happy in parts (it was a rough final five miles), I am happy to know that the race is almost here. Then I can focus on some triathlons I’m signed up for, and get my poor neglected bike out of storage. The race being done will equal a big road marker for switching gears in terms of exercise, and that makes me excited.

I still remember when my older sister introduced me and my other sister to Whammy!, the fourth album by the B-52’s. Songs like “Butterbean” and “Song for a Future Generation” were particular favorites (especially since we never got the “Butterbean” lyrics quite right, singing, “Pick em, scratch em, put on the steam…” In retrospect, no, you do not scratch butterbeans in order to eat them…), but we loved the whole album. Years later I bought it on CD, but due to a legal dispute with Yoko Ono, one of the tracks (“Don’t Worry”) wasn’t included. Now that Charlie has a record player, I ended up taking a little trip to eBay for my own copy of Whammy!. And holding that big ol’ record sleeve, it makes me feel ten years old all over again.

60 Degree Days in February
All right, this is probably a harbinger of the planet’s inevitable fiery heat death. And they appear to be gone for now. But when it’s 60 degrees in February in Washington DC? Well, it was awfully nice to actually wear running shorts when outside and running in the middle of the winter.

(Yikes, it’s been almost two years since the last one of these posts. I promise I’ve been happy since then.)

Five Things That Make Me Happy (part 11)

Pet Shop Boys medley
I’ve been listening to a mix of the PSB for the last hour or so, and while my co-workers might not be so thrilled, it’s been perfect music to work to. I started with my favorite song (“The End of the World“) and have been moving onwards from there…

Kenneth Cole Reaction Oxfords, Starting Block Moc Toe
I got these shoes on sale (for half off!) last week, and I love them so much that I would’ve felt I got a great deal at full price. They are super-comfortable and sturdy; I’m someone who normally wears sneakers every day of the year if I can get away with it, and I’ve been wearing these instead for the past few days. Love, love, love them.

Office Birthday CakeMmmm, Cake
Chocolate and raspberry, from Amphora Bakery. Deliciousness.

Plans to Bike Ride on Sunday
I haven’t taken my actual bike out since, well, last year. It’ll be a lot of fun to head out there with a friend and see how rusty I am. (And how well those spinning classes have done me.)

Dinner Reservations for Volt, Tonight!
I was a huge Bryan Voltaggio fan when his season of Top Chef aired, and I am ultra-eager to finally eat at his restaurant. A perfect surprise from Charlie.