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

Not The Target Audience

Ever had the feeling that you are not the target audience for something but you like it anyway? That’s me and the song “Gun” by Serebro. Based on the visuals of this girl band, I’m pretty sure they’re going for the 20-something straight guy audience, and all I’ve got is the “guy” portion of that covered. Fortunately, I don’t care. I heard this playing in a store in Bridgehampton, NY, and thanks to the Shazam app, I was able to tag it for a later purchase.

Warning: it’s infectious.

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.

Awful Songs We Love

Everyone has at least one song that they both love, and yet know is truly awful. While half the internet is posting April Fool’s Jokes that aren’t that funny, I’m going to instead take this opportunity to admit to mine. Yeah. It’s bad. But I admit it. Anyone else brave enough to admit to the song they love that they know is just bad?

Seven Christmas Songs I Love (part 7)

The best for last. I know I’d said earlier that “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is my favorite Christmas song, and in terms of songs actually about Christmas, that’s true. But there’s a song out there which trumps it, even though I’m sure for some people it wouldn’t count.

It was awfully hard to pick just one song from the Vince Guaraldi’s famous soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas. I almost went with “O Tannenbaum” (another favorite) but in the end, I had to pick the iconic “Linus and Lucy.” When you think about it, the song itself has nothing really to do with Christmas. But this song to me—and millions of other people—just screams Christmas. It’s pretty-near perfect.

In fact, I’m going to listen to the entire album all over again once I’m done writing this. So wonderful.

Seven Christmas Songs I Love (part 6)

Ah, “The Christmas Song,” which I think most people know as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” due to the opening song. Mel Torme and Bob Wells’s song is a classic, and I don’t just say that because more people than I can count have covered it. (No, seriously. Check out the page on Wikipedia, the list just goes on and on and on.)

Probably the most famous version is by Nat King Cole (he actually did four versions!). His smooth voice coupled with the simple instrumentation? Marvelous. This is one of those few songs where if someone doesn’t like it, I seriously wonder what went wrong. (If you don’t like it, my apologies. But you’re slightly wrong in the head.)

Take it away, Nat.

Seven Christmas Songs I Love (part 5)

Ever had one of those songs that you hate, until you hear a version that makes you love it? That’s how I feel about Loreena McKennitt’s “Good King Wenceslas.” I don’t know what about most versions that turns it into an instant turn off, save that it’s normally enough to get me diving for the off button.

Loreena McKennitt’s rendition, though… it just feels festive, and happy, and there’s something about this one that strikes the right nerve that none of the others have. She recorded this on her A Winter Garden EP back in the day, although when looking up a YouTube link for the song, imagine my surprise to see that she’s since gone back and recorded eight additional tracks, paired them with the five from the EP, and released it as the full-length’s album A Midwinter Night’s Dream.

I guess I know what I’ll be getting soon…

Seven Christmas Songs I Love (part 3)

Tori Amos’s “A Silent Night With You” is another original song, but there’s a personal story behind this one and how it ended up on my favorite list. I was a big, big, big Tori Amos fan back in the early-to-mid-’90s. Bought all her albums and singles, absolutely devoted to her output. And then, as time went on… her later albums did nothing for me. Maybe it was her, maybe it was me, maybe it was a combination of the two. But I’d burnt out on Tori Amos, and in mid-2009 when her new album came out, I listened to it streaming online and decided not to buy it.

Then, a few months later, she released Midwinter Graces, and it did for me what her last couple couldn’t; drew me in and grabbed my attention. It was a lovely reminder of what I’d liked from some of her earlier albums, and was nice to know that she could still create something that felt like it was especially for me. (Interestingly enough, I also think it’s not like anything else she’s done, so that made it all the more impressive.) Anyway, this is a simple but lovely song from the album that just makes me feel like I’m in front of a fireplace with snow coming down outside. Good stuff.

Seven Christmas Songs I Love (part 2)

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is my all-time favorite Christmas song; it says a lot that there are multiple renditions of this song I could pick from, and most of them are quite excellent. But of course, it’s only appropriate in this case to go straight to the source with the original. Namely, Judy Garland singing it in Meet Me in St. Louis.

Keen observers might note that the lyrics are slightly different than a lot of the later versions; when Frank Sinatra covered it he changed the lyrics to be a little more happy/cheerful. Personally I like the original better, but to each their own…