Monday, January 30, 2017


It felt a little like going to watch a fiddling concert, while the city burned even if that is the most incredible hyperbole, but Sunday I went to see "Charm" put on by the Mosaic Theater Company at the Atlas Performing Arts Company. I rode the bus with plenty of folks carrying signs who got off the stop nearest the White House to go protest the refugee ban.  
"Charm" is the story of Mama Darleena Andrews, a transgender woman of a certain age who decides that today's LGBTQ+ teens could use a little more charm, so she starts a class. The class consists of a variety of cis, trans, fluid, straight, gay, and bi young people and the Center's director is agender.  The most obvious missing letter from the LGBTQ+ was the L, but for a cast of nine, they covered quite a bit.  
As you might expect for a multigenerational story, Darleena ends up learning just as much from the youth and the center's director, as they do from her.  And the play looks at various forgotten and cast aside people struggling to find their place in this world, and finding their own family and friendship through the class. "Charm" is set in Chicago and was inspired by Mama Gloria Allen.  
I really enjoyed the story, I laughed, I cried, and while the run at Mosaic has now ended, if you have the chance to see this show, I recommend it. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Top Chef: Childhood

This was one of those challenges that had two pitfalls that in some ways hit the newbies a little harder, although certainly Casey got a lot of time to rail at the unfairness to the camera.  One - asking people to access a childhood food memory has been tricky before, because finding that balance between this tastes like my childhood and this is a dish that people who paid $500 to be here at this charity event will approve of is hard to do, even along with getting away from your own attachment with how things from your childhood has tasted.  And well, the event was outside, which was a challenge if you made anything that needed to cool, or rest, or maintain a shape.  
Sylva was able to work through that to great success, and Sheldon and Brooke did great.  John enjoyed the last shot at being in the middle (since now there will only be top and bottom left).  And Shirley made something that wasn't easy to eat when standing at an event, Casey had some seasoning issues, and Emily had issues with the ovens and so the cake smush she served ended up fine, but muddled and not as elevated.  So, Emily got to go home on a dish she was at least proud of, which is pretty much where we are in the competition.  And Casey was so upset that the critique added up to needed more salt.  So here's the thing, I totally get her point that if everything else was great and maybe it just needed a little more salt how is that something she can take forward to the next challenge?  Well, as TV writers on the podcasts listen to when talking about notes from the network, sometimes you have to look beyond the critique.  Needed more salt could mean it needed more salt.  Ultimately it means the flavors didn't sit right.  Might be as simple as salt or acid.  Something was off and I didn't like this as much. And honestly, in the end taste is partially subjective.  If they liked four more people's things more than yours even if yours was good, it doesn't matter.  And that's how competitions where things are decided by judges go. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. Model Hanna Gaby Odiele has revealed she is intersex in the hopes of bringing more awareness to those born outside the gender binary. 
2. When my sister and I went to the same school where we wore a uniform, people asked if we were sisters.  They never do now that we dress differently, although I have a friend who almost every time we go out to dinner we get asked. People tend to assume I am my brother's date. So, these mixed race fraternal twins are demonstrating cuteness and the difference in gene expression as they currently have very different skin tones.
3. Cats are having a small but noticeable effect on the Japanese economy.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Marching and Laughing

I went back and forth on participation in the Women's March for a variety of reasons, some of them terribly selfish.  In the end, expecting that it might be big, that it might contain a number of handknits, and that we as a country might be headed towards a period of increasing restrictions on protests, I decided to go. I went with a knitter, so we had a lot of fun pointing out different hats to each other.  We arrived closer to march time, so the stops nearest the Mall had already been shut down due to massive crowds.  They at least wanted new people to have to join from a few blocks away.  Given the massive size they had blocked off additional stretches of Constitution, so we joined the crowds going that way.  It meant we slowed as we met up with those on the original march route as the two crowds joined. 
Since there's been some discussion if police reaction, I will say that I saw a MPD tank, but the officers atop it appeared to be helping crowd members take selfies. We saw various officers along the way and they were often stationed near a counter protester, I assume to make sure nothing happened there.  I did see an amazing reaction from Metro employees who had to have a cuckoo day, but they were extra friendly, extra helpful, and extra nice to all the folks coming through.  Given the pictures we'd seen of the morning metro crunch, we decided to bus back which worked eventually.  It wasn't faster than walking home but it involved sitting, which after that much extended standing was very nice. 
And then, after food and more tea had been acquired, we went to the "2 Dope Queens" live show/recording at the Lincoln Theater.  Regular host Jessica Williams was not there, but they had brought in Ilana Glazer to assist Phoebe Robinson and I almost don't want to spoil the guests because it was so fun to just have them be like and here's so-and-so and be like what?  Two of the guests had or did live in DC. But it was fun, and funny, and great to see the crowd most of whom also seemed to have marched, if the cheers and general air of exhaustion were any indication. It was a long but ultimately delightful day. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Top Chef - Restaurant Wars Again

I hadn't really noticed until last night, when one Restaurant Wars team was all "Top Chef" veterans and one was half and half that the veterans had clearly done better.  But let's talk about that.  It isn't that the veterans are older or have more food experience.  It's just that, as I think we all know, "Top Chef" is only partly about the food.  Okay, it's totally about the food, but it's also about making food in ridiculous circumstances, and experience dealing with ridiculous circumstances is helpful.  And when I realized that meant Emily and Sylva were the last two "Top Chef" newbies standing, well, that surprised me.  
So, it's easy to say that Restaurant Wars is always about which team worked better together, but that's not true.  Teams that were a dumpster fire behind the scenes have managed to save themselves with a combination of good food and charming service.  And teams that were all harmony have suffered from boring food.  Unlike a lot of things that happen on "Top Chef" it is the most true thing about dining.  Do I remember crappy service or that I had to wait forever for my food?  Sure.  Will I forgive a lot if the food was great?  Yes.  Will I have very little to say about swiftly delivered boring food?  Also yes.  
I confess I have never worked farther into the kitchen than the soup station, so I have no idea what a good expediting system should look like, or how hard it should be to convey that to fellow chefs and the server staff when you have a single night to work with.  But, it seems like someone who said they've been thinking about this all these years (John) would have come up with a system that worked better.  Look, I get that once service has started it's really hard to regroup and there's barely enough time to admit you're delightful system has failed. But you're system's effectiveness is not based on how wonderful it is to you, if it fails when everyone else uses it.  
I also think Casey's insistence that she be the only hostess is one of those ideas that only works if everything else works perfectly.  If you decide you have to help in the kitchen you can't let people sit out there just waiting because you wouldn't let anyone else do this.  Which was really the theme of the night.  Katsuiji didn't want the executive chef job, so he figured he'd be the star by making the most things.  John was sure there was nothing wrong with his system that couldn't be fixed by everyone just doing it better.  And Sheldon and Casey both went into patch it and fix it mode. Honestly the fact that their team contained a chef that won Restaurant Wars as an executive chef (Sheldon) and they would not let him be executive chef was the clearest example that this team was caught between two power mongers who think leadership is about being the boldest jerk and not about handling problems. 
But enough about them.  The winning team did great and Sylva's story about his restaurant burning down was touching and I'm glad he at least has a successful pop-up to look back on. I'm glad Emily got to be on a successful team. And happy for Brooke and Shirley.  It's possible all my remaining faves have S names. But I swear that's coincidence. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. This is the crap we talk about with Congress trying to overturn DC laws.  Congress wants to overturn DC's gun laws, even though the restrictions set up on the Capitol Building (where you know, the Congress peeps work) are even stricter.  So basically, they want to overturn laws that don't affect them because why? Do their constituents care about DC gun laws? Does it make the members of Congress feel cool?  No idea.  Leave my city alone, you guys. 
2. I have the utmost sympathy for professional social media folks.  (Seriously, scroll through the mentions of any transit provider someday.) As it changes how institutions interact with the public there is often friction.  As with one nearby school district where the person behind the account teased a student who misspelled a request for weather closure.  And then got fired.  So much for breezy interaction. 
3. I wrote about my reaction to the "Top Chef" immunity decision last week. This piece about it from Linda Holmes was also great. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Story About a Wall

I've mentioned before that I went to college in Scotland.  Because it's kind of far, my family did not visit until I graduated, and they stayed for two weeks (well, most of them) to travel about and kind of cram in as much of Scotland as they could.  I had two weeks between the end of exams and their arrival, so had done some last travelling about of my own prior to their arrival. So I had seen some castles, museums, and large churches (among other things) in the preceding weeks.  (I know, you feel sad that I had already seen so many things.)  
I had given my mom a list of things I had not yet seen in Scotland, which she mostly discarded, because it did not match the itinerary she already had.  I met up with my family in Edinburgh, we saw the castle and other sites. We took a side trip to another castle/museum. Then went to St. Andrews, where I took them around and then graduated.  (Woot!) Also, hat tip to the lovely waitress in the bar at our hotel that warned me that we had to kneel as part of the graduation (to be hooded) and that a lot of women tripped because their long skirt and/or gown slipped over the back of their heel and so when they stood they were all tangled up.  
Anyway, then we went to Mull, then to Glasgow, and somewhere in here I started to object.  I wanted more days with a little more space and little less scheduling.  (This is somewhat hilarious, because I am often the one who insists there must be a plan, I just find it easier to be more free with a starting plan.)  But the schedule called for all five of us to pile into a car and go see the Antonine Wall.  You have likely only heard of Hadrian's Wall. The Antonine Wall was built after Hadrian's and farther north. We got a bit lost and in the way of family vacations had hit that point where confined car time together had us all a little done each other.  Oh, and I think we were hungry.  But we had to hit the wall before lunch to adhere to the schedule.  
So, we found the place, which honestly looked more like a large British estate.  We didn't really see any sign about the wall.  We wandered around the back of the estate and found a sign, but no real evidence of a wall, just grass.  As we read the sign, we understood why.  The section of wall we arrived at had not been excavated.  So, there was a drawing on the sign of what they expected the wall to look like when it was fully excavated.  (I no longer remember which of the sites we visited, but it looked a little like this.)
We laughed.  Quite a bit. My mother said, well, now you'll never forget the Antonine Wall.  And you know what, she's right. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Immunity and Reality Competition

As per the usual for this time in the competition, one of the rewards, other than bragging rights for chefs who win the quickfire is immunity from elimination.  In "Top Chef" (and let's face it "Project Runway" too) some contestants have taken that as leeway to go big, go bold, go crazy, and some chefs have decided to try to win the elimination round too.  (I know this week was also an elimination quickfire, but still.)  With, on "Top Chef" the advent of "Last Chance Kitchen" they have tended to feel a little less bad about eliminating a good chef who seemed to have a bad day in the kitchen because, "Last Chance Kitchen" provides the opportunity for them to earn their way back.  (And yes, in the end, if you argue for chefs the biggest advantage is exposure, their appearance has already achieved that, so enjoy the nice hotel.) 
I don't mean to suggest that chefs who made bad food got passes before, but I think as much as they try to pick the thing they would be least likely to eat again, there are still days where you know secretly, this person had a bad few hours, while this person seems to have reached the end of me wanting to eat their food right now. 
So one team had a person with immunity, a person with a strong personality, and a person who sounds badass in the interviews, but seems to default to sous chef mode when on teams.  The challenge had a treasure hunt aspect, and two of the members were local which seemed to actually mean they overthought the treasure map, and as a result were last to arrive on a few items.  So, the dude with immunity had said I'll take two of these items that don't seem to fit and make something.  
The thing he made was not good.  And also a boring idea.  It wasn't the only bad thing on his team, but it was the worst.  So when he said, hey, I'll give up my immunity because I don't think someone else should go home if my dish was your least favorite.  And in this case, the judges took him up on it.  Again, I think the Last Chance stuff factored in. Otherwise, I'd have been a strong proponent for these are the rules we set up, they don't get to change them.  Plus, as Tom pointed out, his team let him take two ingredients they didn't want knowing he had immunity and could create a crappy dish and they could have stopped that. Or tried to help.  
In some ways I think Jamie lucks out because next week is the Restaurant week challenge and there's enough problematic personalities left that you could not pay me enough to put up with that. (This is also probably why I'm not in the food industry.) So he gets to go compete one on one and maybe come back later.  And in the future, you know if there's another losing team with a person with immunity, the judges may well ask them if they want to give it up. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. Reading While White had a fascinating interview with Laura M. Jimenez about her work reviewing graphic novels
2. This story of a biracial woman pondering her right to wear a kimono was amazing. 
3. Toys are washing up on the shore of a German island. 

Monday, January 09, 2017

2016 Reading Tally

Total Number: 171*.  12 of those were novellas. Falling in the middle again.  Other year tallies have been higher and lower

I read 123 different authors**. 65 of those were new to me. Technically Maisey Yates and Patricia Briggs tied as the author I read the most, with 7, but all but one of the Briggs was a re-read, so that honor goes again to Yates. (Prolific authors for the win.) Next highest was Zoraida Cordova who had two series for me to work on and the start to another.  
I have seen discussion that diverse books should primarily be counted if they are own voices, or at least by authors of color, and I totally understand that thinking. However it requires me to know a lot about an author and I don't always, and in some cases an author may choose to not share their full identity online.  All of this is to say, I'm counting by characters again. I had 62 this year, and some of them were even intersectional, as in characters of color who were also bisexual, and/or neuro-diverse, and/or having a mental illness.
99 were part of a series***. 
The oldest book was from 1822 (a reread for book club of L. M. Montgomery's Emily of New Moon).  Next oldest was from 2004.  63 were from 2015. Two of them had been lingering in the TBR since 2011. September was the banner reading month with 21 (some of which were rereads). Romance was the highest read category with 88. YA was next highest with 52. 
I read 14 paper books and 15 audio, everything else was ebook. 
And some faves from the 2016 haul are: 
Alexis Hall's Waiting for the Flood was a wonderful story of two men who met and fell in love due to a flood. 
Katie McGarry's Chasing Impossible, as many of her books do, broke my heart and then patched it back together.  Some teens don't know if they deserve happiness. Abby and Logan are two of them. 
Jason Reynolds' Boy in the Black Suit was a touching story of processing grief when the person left in charge of you is doing worse than you are. 
Jaye Robin Brown's Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit is a story that looked at big city vs. small town approaches to sexuality, and religion, and figuring out new families and had me so worried it was going to do something cliche and didn't.  
Robin Talley's What We Left Behind captured so much of the angst and growth that comes with that first year of college that I had flashbacks reading it. 
Tracey Livesay's Love on My Mind was a story that took the tropes of heroine must engineer a meeting with hero for a job promotion and then oops, falls in love with him and managed to ground it and make me worry and root for them. 
Amber Belldene's Not a Mistake is a story of a seminarial ethics professor and the newly graduated minister who discover their one night stand has long term consequences. 
L.A. Witt's Running With Scissors is the story of a musician who bailed on his band before they got signed after he torched his relationship with the lead singer getting a second shot if only he can keep his hands off the new drummer. 
M. L. Buchman's Target Engaged was a great story about two elite military folks that does a thing that I cannot talk about without spoilers, but I cheered.  I literally cheered.  So if military romance is your jam, you might want to try this. 
Sarah Kuhn's Heroine Complex ended up being one of four superhero stories I read this year (unusually high for me).  I adored the exploding cupcakes, and found it the perfect airplane entertainment. 
Kaia Danielle's Calling Her Bluff I found through a twitter call and oh my, if the story of a gambling addict turned romance author who has to attend a reader convention in Vegas and the hot guy assigned to keep her straight speaks to you, then I recommend you grab this. 

*I counted re-reads if I re-read the whole thing a didn't just skip to my favorite parts. 
**I counted authors, not pen names, where possible.  I counted anthologies as one author, because it was just too unwieldy otherwise. 
***Series is based on the book being part of a series, whether or not I read any others.  

Friday, January 06, 2017

2015 Reading Tally

I realized when I was gathering up the 2016 numbers, that I failed to post the 2015 numbers, so here they are. 
Total Number: 147*.  2 of those were novellas**. Falling in the middle again.  Other year tallies have been higher and lower
I read 114 different authors***. 57 of those were new to me. Jill Shalvis and Maisey Yates tied as authors I read the most at 5 each. 
I tracked books with diverse characters, ie characters of color, with neurodiversity, and/or differently abled again.  I read 57 of those this year, and it is just coincidence that that's the same number of new to me authors, although certainly there was some overlap. 
60 were part of a series****. 
The oldest book was from 2003.  65 of them were from 2014. At least one had been lingering in the TBR since 2007. May was the banner reading month with 21, with November close behind at 20. YA highest read category with 60. Romance was next highest with 54. 
I read 22 paper books and 14 audio, everything else was ebook. 
And some faves from the 2015 reads are: 
Marjorie M. Liu's Monstress which was delightful and beautiful.  (You know for a dark story about a world filled with evils.)
Shannon Hale's Dangerous was a fascinating tale of teens chosen for a space camp and then drawn into a large conspiracy. 
Sherry Thomas's The One in My Heart was a contemporary (unusual for Thomas) that was both heartbreaking and heartwarming.  Two people, loosely connected, who hook up, and then for various reason decide to fake engagement while trying to remain unattached. 
Dahlia Adler's Under The Lights was a fun peek behind the scenes at Hollywood as well as a realistic portrayal of the challenges of having friends who have different opportunities and roadblocks than you. 
Katherine Locke's Second Position starts in a DC coffee shop which is where I (metaphorically) cracked it open.  The story of reunited lovers gripped me. 
Kat Yeh's The Truth About Twinkie Pie caught my eye, even though I tend not to read much middle grade, and it was just as cute as the title suggests. A tween and her big sister move to a new place after winning prize money so that she can go to a better school.  Adjustment to the new place and new circumstances has some bumps and reveals some family secrets. 
Sarina Bowen's The Year We Fell Down about two injured college students who get adjacent rooms and, well, discover some chemistry, was great. 
Kasie West's Pivot Point operates on kind of a "Sliding Doors" principle, in which a teen stretches her ability to foresee the results of two options when her parents split up. 
Julie Murphy's Side Effects May Vary made use of a shifting timeline to explore what happens when a teen gets a fatal cancer diagnosis, and then miraculously survives it.  
Alaya Dawn Johnson's Love is the Drug blew me away.  It was the tale of a DC teen navigating a pandemic and the equally tricky politics of a fancy DC prep school.  I listened to it in library audio and then got myself an e-copy so I could re-read at will. 

*I counted re-reads if I re-read the whole thing a didn't just skip to my favorite parts.  
**My rule has been that things I can buy separately count as a book, so a book that was released with three novellas, or a collection of short stories counts as one read.  With the rise of electronic publishing the number of novellas that are released all by their lonesome has gone up, but hey, if it was a separate payment (or borrowing) transaction, I'm counting it.  
***I counted authors, not pen names, where possible.  
****Series is based on the book being part of a series, whether or not I read any others.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. Sarah Jeong's piece about inadequate women's health care explains a major plot point in episode 3 of "Star Wars" was fascinating. 
2. Illinois has started training beauty professionals on how to recognize signs of domestic abuse. They are not required to report anything to law enforcement, the idea is just that this might be a space where a victim is alone and able to talk freely. 
3. And to return to the Star Wars universe, this post about a women who took her Mexican father to see "Rogue One" and their resulting chat about a movie where one of the heroes sounded like him is touching. 

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Is Performance Acceptance?

My high school chorus performed as part of the Inaugural Opening Ceremonies during my tenure. The opening ceremonies is not the cool ceremonies like the Olympics, more the opening ceremonies for the inauguration are like the bit before the bit.  Which is to say, we were on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial (never not cool) and there were Secret Service about, but mostly, we were part of the lead up to some lesser celebrities, while the big ones came and performed the following day.  I, and most of my high school, had not been of age to vote, and I confess the incoming President was not who I would have selected, but it didn't at the time feel like my singing some various patriotic songs meant anything more than I was participating in a process that happens every four years around here. 
I'm not suggesting that this isn't an unprecedented election, it is.  The hatefulness and outright bigotry certainly would change that calculus for me.  I was lucky in that my school was local enough that our travel costs were minimal.  A lot of groups look forward to such an honor and save up and fundraise quite a bit.  This article got passed around a bit - warning plays sound automatically - because it had a catchy headline, but the point I found most interesting was that on average groups need to raise about $200,000 to participate in any given inauguration, which is not something most schools can afford to do too often.  And even local schools are looking at additional staff time, plus the increased security around such events since, ahem, my time in school, makes it a large undertaking.  And when arts funding is getting slashed at most schools, it's even harder. 
I read about the choir member who quit the Mormon Tabernacle, and the discussions of other performers who felt coerced, and here's the thing.  I do not have an answer for anyone about whether performing is acceptance, but I think the thing that's been overlooked in a lot of this is the cost of travel, food, and time that anyone who chooses to perform is looking at.  This isn't like accepting a gig in Vegas where you'll be paid or get a part of the ticket monies, you're generally expected to be doing this for the honor.  So, anyone who has misgivings, I can't see why they would want to commit to travelling, just so they could perform outside in the cold and be part of something that will certainly do nothing to ease their concerns.  Inauguration ceremonies are often a little like conventions, for understandable reasons. It will be very rah, rah, patriotic, but nothing that has ever been said in an inauguration made people concerned about the future feel better. 
I know there's a group of people trying to say that the liberals and others who are concerned are just overreacting, and boy do I hope they're right.  Nothing that's happened yet has confirmed that for me though.  And honestly, does anyone remember that my high school performed at the opening ceremonies a few presidents ago? I think not.  So, then why would they want anyone there who didn't want to be there.