Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Justifiable homicide: Bathroom Edition

Okay, maybe not full-on homicide. Maybe more like "Justifiable Punch in the Head". Because seriously....SERIOUSLY. Here's the thing: When you're a younger person and you're living in apartments and dorms and other starter-type abodes, you don't really think about things like home design. Well, at least I didn't. And if I did it wasn't in a serious manner. More like thinking, "I wanna live in a house that has a huge kick-ass library like the Beast gave Belle." But somewhere around age thirty, I think, the majority of ladies are all about the following: the three Cs of space: counter, closet and cabinet; how easy are typically hard to clean aspects (like floors) to actually clean; bathrooms.

Bathrooms. Oh, bathrooms. I started life in a very typical 70s ranch house. Brick, 3BR, 2BA, LR, DR, Den. When #3 of our sibling set arrived, my parents upsized to another typical 70s offering, the split foyer (seriously, the two neighborhoods I lived in my entire life until college were 90% one of three floor plans: split-level, split foyer, ranch). In retrospect, my mom swears that the only reason the sellers were able to sell the house was that it was completely empty, because it's floor plan--things like wall space and placement of doors and windows--makes it virtually impossible to decorate. It also, for reasons known only to God and the idiot architect, had four HUGE bedrooms and only two tiny full baths. Now, when I was living there full time, my sister was too young and my brother was too...boy, for me to realize that bathroom design especially with regards to storage was an integral aspect of a home--mainly because the "kid" bathroom in our house was pretty much exclusively my domain--I had all of the STUFF. And while the storage in these bathrooms wasn't great, there was at least things like counters, drawers and cabinets.

Cut to the present...there's a part of me that says that I shouldn't complain. I work in a job where I live in the house where I work. I've transitioned from a full-time nanny to more of a full-time organizer, errand-runner, dog companion, whatever needs done person. Sort of like a combination house manager and personal assistant. And that means I don't pay rent or if there's some sort of problem--like a stopped up sink--I don't have to worry about eating ramen for a week because it's the end of the month and I have to pay a plumber to come fix the clog. So again, I feel like I shouldn't complain. But really...this bathroom is kinda awful. First of all, there's a pedestal sink which is fantastic for a half-bath/powder room, because space, but is infuriating in a full bath that is used as someone's primary "getting ready" bath because or storage issues, but more than that, where, pray tell, is one supposed to put curling/straightening irons, hair dryers, makeup bags, brushes. These things generally end up in a pile in the sink and if I get something on my hands I have to go out to the sink at the wet bar to wash them. What's worse it that one side of the sink is too close to the wall to put a little table or cabinet and the other is in the line of fire of the shower door which opens out into the bathroom. Ugh. When I first arrived the bathroom was papered in a violently 80s pattern in teal and white. It was already starting to peel in the corners (and get little mold spots. ew) and I finally made the executive decision that I was gonna just strip it and paint it. Which I did, but I foolishly listened to the guy at Home Depot's suggestion and the walls are (and have been for several years now) this weird shiny, dark gray. It's one of those things that would work if you had one of those bathrooms you could perform gymnastics routines in--it doesn't work in an asymmetric, pentagonal shape with about 4 square feet of open floor space. The fixtures are the goldiest of gold...which I hate. There were originally THREE towel bars (because apparently that's how many you need in a tiny, tiny bathroom, but none of them were conveniently located. There's horribly dated lighting--seriously it's one of those bars with the round bulbs. There's a small white laminate cabinet above the toilet, which is in a little offset, but it's MAYBE deep enough to store washcloths, definitely not towels. There's a medicine cabinet, but it's old, old, old and the silvering is starting to come off the mirror so it looks pretty gross.

So over the years, I've tried SO many different ideas for storing things and arranging things and fixing the no counter problem, and nothing has worked. So I spent pretty much all day on Friday working on the logistics of how to fix this. Then, I went to Target to get lightbulbs, but when I got in that section, learned that they now have a whole paint and wallpaper to go thing happening. So I got that there, because it was cheap and if it goes horribly wrong, I won't feel like I wasted a fortune. I researched medicine cabinet replacement. I pretty much know for certain how I'm gonna arrange things. Most importantly, and by far the biggest project, I want to take out the inadequate laminate cabinet and replace it with floating shelves that go all the way across the alcove where the toilet is. And if I survive all of that, I want to replace the fixtures in the sink--because gold. Just...NO.

In the meantime, please enjoy these pictures of my fly 80s era bathroom.

Note the exciting tile that no matter how I try to bleach, remains distressingly grayed in the grout area. The shower door that opens outward (it's behind the curtain on account of being ugly), but only halfway because it hits the storage tower. The toilet that is not even centered in it's little potty alcove. The de-silvering of the mirror which even the Vineyard Vines whale sticker can't make cute. Sad, sad little bathroom. You will be conquered.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The opposite of doing things.

A friend posted as a Facebook status on Friday something along the lines of this "When people ask me what I'm doing this weekend and I say 'Nothing.' They immediately start suggesting things I could do and I say, 'You don't understand. My plans are to actually do nothing."

Seriously. This is the first time in at LEAST four weekends that I have been pretty much completely booked on a weekend. Granted, I have a rehearsal tomorrow night for Shrek, which opens in a couple of weeks, but other than that...nothing. And here's the thing: I am a-okay with that. It's not that I don't like to do things, because I really, really do. But sometimes, not having things is okay, too. I mean, over the last three weekends, I've had performances of Into the Woods, Shrek rehearsals, the MS Walk in Philadelphia, Mother's Day, Easter (okay that was four weekends ago) which was combined with the first tech rehearsal for ITW, plus in the last two weeks, Charlie finally had his big "I am no longer a man" surgery, which meant extra time dealing with doggy stuff and three out of three cars have needed trips for their check-ups and none of this includes the MAJOR work that's been happening around here--including replacing all the wood railings and benches on the deck, repainting two of the bathrooms, major landscaping stuff and an unexpected visit from the piano tuner. And not long before all of THAT was a trip to Walt Disney World and getting ready for a major work related thing that happened while I was at WDW. So a weekend where I didn't have to do anything specific until 4 p.m. on Sunday? Right up my alley.

The problem is that my friend had a point. People cannot STAND the fact that you don't want to do things. Someone I know came by the house to pick something up and said, "What are you doing tonight?" And when I said, "I'm staying in and not doing anything"--which technically, means, "I'm CONTINUING to stay in and do some stuff that allows me to not have to change out of an old sorority t-shirt and yoga pants while halfway watching Return of the Jedi for something like the third time in two weeks, mainly because that's the DVD in the player and I don't feel like changing it." Her knee-jerk response was, "Oh, you should go out." And I know that she's the sweetest person alive and she certainly means well, but, my Lord...no.

Now there are some salient facts that go along with my "doing nothing" statement. First, starting on Thursday night I plowed through the ENORMOUS pile of laundry that had accumulated and found that the sweater that I thought I had left at some theater/rehearsal facility or the other never to be seen again was actually just hidden in said gargantuan laundry pile. Second, I managed to completely pack up my fall/winter clothes and get out ALL of my spring/summer wardrobe--a process that had been happening in drips and drabs for the last month and a half. Also, I collected a garbage bag of stuff to donate to Goodwill. Organized the in-season clothes including going through the 2 tubs labeled "Size 2 and small 4", which still doesn't fit, although it's getting closer, and sorted them so that all the shorts/skirts/dresses or whatever are folded and together. I left the house this evening for the first time in 24+ hours to make a Starbucks run and I also ran in ShopRite and made a salad at the salad bar. I talked to my parents on the phone. So, in truth, I did stuff. But it wasn't like I had anything where I said, "I'm going to go through these boxes at 9 a.m. and iron these things at 10:30." In fact, I kind of drifted from project to project working on one for a while and then another for another while. And since I didn't feel pressured to finish anything by X hour, I really accomplished WAY more than I expected.

I even had an organizational miracle! When I was in the storage room, I opened this box which had a bunch of my miscellaneous stuff in it--some picture frames I got to put Disney pictures in (from my trip in 2011, not the two since then), some travel mugs, a few of my nice reusable shopping bags--and since I usually just skim past that particular plastic box, I figured in for a penny, in for a pound and I took it out and realized the box UNDER it which I thought was not MY stuff, actually was. It filled with t-shirts that I have but don't wear--you know the kind? The ones that you SWEAR you're making into a t-shirt quilt, but keep shoving somewhere, because in real life you, OBVIOUSLY, don't have time for that kind of craziness? Anyway, I decided to pull that out, too, because I had a few more shirts to add in and lo, here cometh the miracle. I have spent the last two years looking for several pairs of pants that had gone missing. These are some of my favorites--loose, linen-y cargo-esque pants, some from Target and one from Anthropologie--and last summer, I finally decided that they must have gotten mixed in with stuff that I gave away and made my peace with it. When in truth, what had happened was I was an unorganized mess who started to put them up after my Fall '11 Disney trip and ended up with them in the bottom of the box while I threw a bunch of t-shirts on top of them.

So while I wasn't technically doing things (there were several specific things I could have done), I was doing things.

And you know what? I feel better. I think that I didn't realize HOW MUCH I needed a mental health day, as it were. I don't even know if it's a mental health day. I don't THINK that I've been stressed (although it's entirely possible. I'm usually pretty bad at recognizing these things, at least in myself.). Maybe what I needed was a minor life reboot. You know how when an electronic-type thing is going wonky and you turn it off, count to 30 and when you turn it back on, it's working fine again? Maybe today and the bulk of tomorrow are the 30 seconds where nothing happens and everything works better afterwards.

I know that at 4 tomorrow, the world of rehearsing starts back. And I know that at 7:30 on Monday morning, I have to be at an appointment for work. But the approximately 48 hours of no commitments that have happened makes it seem not that bad.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Cookin' Tuesday--Laissez les bon temps rouler

You know that aisle in the grocery store that has all kinds of cool ethnic food? Okay, admittedly, if you're from the Deep South, it's entirely possible that that particular section of your store is, like the one in my hometown, a few shelves of Goya products, some taco sauce and shells and maybe, chicken chow main in a can. Well…maybe it's not THAT bad, but it's nothing like the array of products in the "International" aisle at my local ShopRite. And I'm not even including the fact that there's an entire aisle devoted exclusively to kosher foods. I'm talking about an entire aisle, dedicated on both sides to many different varieties of Asian and Indian food. Mexican--and not just taco shells. OTHER Hispanic foods. Caribbean. There's a section of BRITISH stuff. And I think all of that is amazing because it has at times allowed me to cook any number of things without to five different specialty stores in order to make the recipe.

What ShopRite DOESN'T have--in fact, what NO stores here have--is a SOUTHERN section. I'm thinking of petitioning for one. I mean, it doesn't have to have a lot: Dale's Steak Sauce, Yellow Label Syrup, filé powder, maybe some Grapico. Just the basics, ya know? This thought came to me as I was scouring the store today, attempting to find the ingredients to make jambalaya. Most of it was easy. Some of it they flat out didn't have. And by "some of it", I mean the damn filé powder. It's entirely possible that there WAS some somewhere in that huge store, but I sure as hell couldn't find it and the one person I asked looked at me like I was speaking Alien. If you don't know, filé powder is used as a thickening agent in jambalaya and gumbo and all kinds of Louisiana-type dishes. It's made from ground sassafras leaves. Which meant that I had to then go in search of a SUBSTITUTE thickening agent. Which CAN be cornstarch dissolved in water, but for something as spicy as jambalaya I think that dilutes the flavor. So that meant a second search for a legit Cajun/Creole thickener which means okra and of COURSE, they didn't have fresh so I had to go on some kind of Indiana Jones-quest for the frozen (they also had CANNED, the thought of which makes me vomit). Anyway, the recipe I had looked over--I wasn't really going to USE it. Just get started with it, which is often how I roll when cooking, rather than baking--called for the powder and chicken and Andouille sausage (which, randomly, the totally had right in there with the Italian sausage). I also put in shrimp and okra. Because…New Jersey. And it's Mardi Gras, y'all. You HAVE to have something fun and New Orleans-y (or pancakes). It's like a LAW.


Everything and the Kitchen Sink New Jersey Mardi Gras Jambalaya

About 1 lb of chicken breast cut into 1 inch chunks
About 1 lb of peeled, raw shrimp
About 3/4 lb of Andouille sausage cut into circles
One package of frozen okra
1 onion chopped
1 green bell pepper chopped
3-4 stalks of celery chopped
One large can of crushed tomatoes (I used the 1 lb, 12 oz size)
2 cups of chicken broth or stock (I use low sodium organic)
Creole seasoning
Cayenne pepper
Tabasco sauce
Worcestershire sauce
garlic (I used the jarred, already diced, because I'm lazy, but about 2-3 cloves)
cooking oil (I used peanut oil)
2 cups of Minute Rice (You could use "real" rice.)

--Sprinkle chicken with Cajun seasoning. Heat 1-2 Tbs of oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven. Cook chicken through and remove from pot. Cook sausage rounds the same way and remove.
--Add celery, onion, bell pepper and garlic to empty pot and sauté until tender, stirring regularly.
--Add can of crushed tomatoes, salt, pepper, Cayenne, Tabasco and Worcestershire. All of the spices and sauces can be added as to your personal taste. Stir. Add shrimp and okra and about half a cup of water. Stir. Cook for about 10 minutes or until shrimp starts to turn pink.
--Add Minute Rice and chicken broth (I said two cups of each, but really you could do less or more depending on how much rice you want in it. I used Minute Rice, because it was quicker and it's easy to measure how much liquid because it's always in equal parts with the amount of rice). Turn up the heat and bring the entire mixture to a boil. Immediately remove entire pot from heat and let it sit for about ten minutes.

This should serve 10-12 people if they are average-portion eaters. The shrimp/chicken/sausage/okra part is flexible according to tastes and allergies. You could also leave the meat out altogether and have a vegetarian dish, especially if you subbed in zucchini for your meat. If you don't want the okra you can use about a Tbs of filé powder if you can find it.

Great served with crusty French bread and a green salad. Tastes even better the next day after the flavors have melded!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Walt Disney World Wednesday--The Ten Basic Pieces of Disney Advice

Last week, I was talking to a good friend, who, like me, participated in the Walt Disney World College Program, and who is actually doing the program again right now as a grad student. In last go 'round he had a job where he had much less face to face guest interaction, but this time his guest interaction is pretty much constant, so the other day, we were talking about the unbelievably hilarious questions one is asked as a Disney Cast Member. It's the first time he's experiencing these questions in bulk and the job he has, which is the same one I had on my second College Program is one where you have TONS of questions asked of you. We were laughing because, as he said, "so many of them are doing it WRONG." (Said opinion created when someone asked him "So, how long does it take to do this?" "This" being an entire theme park.) We kind of joked about how we should write a book, but then when I started really thinking about it, I realized HOW MUCH Disney vacation advice I give--I've already helped two people this week!--and I realized that I'm spending an awful lot of time on Facebook messaging saying the same basics over and over.

I've also realized that the best way to insure that I write in my blog is to give myself specific, scheduled tasks. Thus, henceforth, in these parts, Wednesdays are Walt Disney World Wednesdays. You've got two dedicated advice-givers and LOTS of others who are planning on chiming in from time to time. We don't promise that we know EVERYTHING. But we'll do our best to find things out if we don't. We have tons of practical experience and suggestions. And we're pretty funny. So there's always that. To start out, I decided that I'm going to give the ten basic pieces of overall advice that I think are the most important. (We'll get to specifics on resorts, restaurants, attractions, etc. later, although if you have a question about any of that, feel free to ask in the comments and we'll hook you up real nice).

#1 Stay On Property: This means staying at one of the Disney resorts within the confines of the 27 square miles or property that make up Walt Disney World. The Hilton on Hotel Plaza Boulevard counts in a pinch because its guests get Magic Hours privileges (but not the others I'm going to mention). Why stay at one of the Disney resorts, rather than in Kissimmee where you might find something a little cheaper? Well, it's easy, for one thing. And if you're paying for parking every day, it might turn out that staying at Disney is cheaper. It doesn't have to be terribly pricey (although it certainly can be, if you want it!). You can take part in Extra Magic Hours, in which select Disney parks are open an hour early or two hours late for Disney resort guests, and you can take part in the Disney Dining Plan (more on that later). Did I mention that it's easy? Disney transportation is a wonder. Sure, there are the occasional glitches, but as my friend, Justin, said while we were having dinner the other night, "You 10 ten minutes for a bus. MAYBE 15." There's also the Magical Express, so if you're flying into Orlando International, they take you to your resort and then back to the airport. All of this transportation? Free. Excellent guest services at your fingertips. Fabulous pools with great activities for the kids (like movie nights!) and plenty of places that have meals or snacks or adult libations. I can probably counter pretty much any argument someone comes up with as to why they should stay off-property. Of all the advice I have, this may be the most hard and fast rule.

#2 Get the Park Hopper Upgrade--This upgrade (currently,on a 7-day ticket it ups it from about $355 to $408, on a 5-day from $323 to $387, just for examples) means that you can change theme parks during the day and it won't use another day's admission. I have a friend who just told me that her family didn't get it for their upcoming trip because of the way Fast Passes are working now that MyMagic+ is fully integrated. I thought about what she said and it still doesn't change MY mind. Her thought was that with only three FPs per day, all within one park, there's no point in changing parks. My thought is that my worst nightmare is being stuck in a park that unexpectedly is slammed (it happens, no matter what those projected crowd websites tell you). It also means that every single day must be planned to accommodate your scheduled FPs AND in-park ADR (Advance Dining Reservations), so if you make your ADR 6 months out and then you can get the much-coveted Be Our Guest dinner reservation on a day when the MK is, for whatever reason, packed to the gills, it means that you can't go to Epcot until 4 and then head to the MK. It's at the upper end, 10 dollars a day per ticket and I can almost guarantee that at one point in your visit, it will be worth the entire $50 or so you spent on it.

#3 At Least Consider the Dining Plan--I've heard people say that they don't do it because they have a picky eater off-spring. Or they don't want to be "controlled" by having dining reservations while they're there. Or they don't really want to waste time on full service meals. All valid points. That said, if you have ONE picky eater amongst your kids, then I'm pretty sure that what the adults in the party get for what they're paying makes up for what you lose on the kid. Also, Disney restaurants are pretty good about accommodating (I knew someone who's 4 year old ate buttered pasta at every restaurant in WDW). If you don't want to feel trapped into being at a certain place at a certain time by restaurant reservations or waste park time eating, there's a meal plan that covers just counter service restaurants. I'm not saying it's for everyone, but it's worth running some numbers on it.

#4 Get A Guidebook--The various Birnbaum's are great and I get a new one every couple of years. Fodor's Walt Disney World with Kids is good, too. But the absolute gold standard of Disney guidebooks, is, in my opinion, Bob Sehlinger's Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. I have never gotten a new one and not found out something I didn't know about WDW. It's an entertaining read, to boot. In any event, get a book. It helps you orient yourself at the very least.

#5 Make Some Plans...--I like to at least sketch out a plan. I've done this tons of times and could probably navigate it going in cold. That said, when I know the dates of my trip I make a chart of the Magic Hours during those dates so I can get an idea of how to approach dining reservations, which you can make 180 days in advance (+10 more for resort guests so you can make all of your reservations at once and not have to call 180 days from each of your days). You can also check pretty far out to see what's going to be closed for rehab. You can check crowd predictor calendars on any number of websites (just Google "Disney Crowd Predictor" and you'll get a bunch) which can help you plan where you want to go. If there's a reservation you couldn't get, a good day to call is 45 out from your trip--reservations must be paid in full by then so if someone's booked a vacation and changed plans, their reservations might turn up then!)

#6 …But Be Flexible--Don't make some elaborate schedule and then make yourself miserable trying to follow it. If the place you planned to be is too crowded and it won't interfere with your dining or FastPass? Go to another park! If there's some restaurant you're DYING to go to and you couldn't get a reservation? Go up to the podium and ask on the day you're at that park! (And then if you're on a dining plan, you can cancel one of your later reservations as long as you do it 24 hours out.) If you're absolutely wiped out, go back to the hotel and take a one hour power nap…you may lose a total of three hours in transit and nap and getting yourself back together, but you'll feel better and navigate the parks more easily and you'll just enjoy it more! Also…you've probably planned for it to be 75 degrees and sunny. It won't be. It will rain at least once and as everyone pours out of the park, you stay, because punking out because of rain is for wusses. And the lines will be short!

#7 Get There Early--If the park opens at 8 (with Magic Hours), get there at 7:45. That means you want to be at the bus stop at your hotel by 7:15. There will be a lot of people there right at opening, but it's nothing like peak entry hour which is almost always between 11 and noon. The other bonus is that you're there for the rope drop which is fun to watch and at the Magic Kingdom there's the opening show which is just adorable and fun.

#8 Do All The Night Stuff--That means you need to see The Main Street Electrical Parade and Wishes at The Magic Kingdom, the Electrical Water Pageant which you can see from the beaches at all three monorail hotels, Disney's Wilderness Lodge and Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, Illuminations at Epcot, and Fantasmic at Disney's Hollywood Studios. And here's the thing…Main Street at the Magic Kingdom stays open an hour past park closing, so if you stay until the end, you can hang out there for a while so that the bus/monorail crowds die down.

#9 Travel Light--This is for both the stuff you take with you there and the stuff you take with you into the park when you get there. I'm getting better about not taking too many clothes, and last time I took in a small purse that held my phone (used it as my only camera) room key and credit cards and a little cash. It was sublime. As for the things you take on the trip--a rain jacket and comfortable shoes are your friend--at least two pairs in case one gets wet--but a lot of the things you think you MUST have with you…probably you don't.

#10 Be Nice--To other guests. To Cast Members. Just…be nice. Talk to people. Make friends. By the time I got on WDW property via Magical Express last time, I had made friends with half the bus. Other guests sometimes have good stories. And talk to the Cast Members. You'll make their day and maybe get some good tips or perks. Being nice is a good idea all the time, but it's the BEST idea when you're there. And if there's some problem or something's going wrong…tell a Cast Member! Politely tell them, but tell them. They want you to have the BEST time and will do everything they can to make it happen!!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Middle of February Resolutions

I think I've figured something out, guys. You see, if you watch the various morning shows--Hoda and Kathie Lee, The View, etc.--during the week between Christmas and the new year, then at some point you're going to see a segment on New Year's resolutions. And how most of them fail. And they'll tell you that they fail because people make these grandiose plans that they're NEVER gonna be able to follow through on and then they'll tell you that by the end of January, gym attendance (or whatever) is back to normal, and all of that.

Now, to some extent, I think that they are right. A New Year's resolution is kind of like Lent and one very important thing I learned about Lent came from The Story of the Trapp Family Singers which is the book on which The Sound of Music was based and that is this: Maria tells the story of the approach of one Lenten season where one of the many children has this ENORMOUS list of Lenten promises and sacrifices, but she explains to the child that while it's a noble goal, it's really better to make ONE goal that really means something and stick to it. But while I do think that making a million part New Year's resolution with hard and fast goals is a problem when it comes to sticking to your guns, I also think that there's the issue of timing. At least for me. I mean, think about it…obviously, the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is one of the busiest months in most peoples' year. Even if you're not traditionally celebrating the holidays, it's still a pretty good bet that there are parties and events to which you're invited by those who are celebrating. And then there's work. First of all, in most jobs, you can expect to miss at least a day or two of normal work to the holiday, so you're playing catch up after the holidays or working more than usual to try to get everything end before the end of the year. Or you're in retail or some other service industry so you're working twice as much as usual. The point is, that there are very few jobs out there where the holidays or the immediate aftermath are ideal for making any kind of plan that involves extra work, extra time, or really, extra ANYTHING. And so what do most of us do? Well, right as we're coming back to work with everything swinging back into full steam ahead, we heap upon ourselves a whole new set of goals.

Take me for example: Look, if there was ever a time that made me realize that John Lennon was 100% correct when he said "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.", it was the span of time between Thanksgiving and now. By the weekend after Thanksgiving, which was exceptionally late this year, thus making holiday shopping and prep more fraught than usual, I was on the final weekend of performances of the second of what were essentially back-to-back shows. That lead into to holiday parties and then, going to my parents' for Christmas several days earlier than usual to be in a friend's wedding. Then there were the holiday commitments--with my parents, with the other parts of the family, with friends. Tragically, this was combined with the funerals of two family friends who happened to pass away while I was home and then, I got stuck in Alabama for two extra days because of the weather and ended up only getting back to New Jersey because I was willing to take a 5 a.m. flight. Back here it's been auditions, first rehearsal and costume work for Shrek which goes up in May--that's right, I'm performing AND helping with costumes. Production work for Master Class, of which I'm the producer and which opens in two days. All of this, of course, has been coupled with THE WORST weather I've ever seen in my nine winters in the north, including I don't know how many days of snow, three of which had the added bonus of no power.

Seriously, I had a day when I looked down at the date in the tool bar of my computer and realized that we were a day out from my mom's birthday and thought, "Wait…how the HELL did we get to February??!?!" I know that the old adage is that time that seems to creep when you're a child suddenly starts to fly when you're an adult, and not have the last couple of years made me believe it. Which is why I decided that the date I would set for my resolutions, while not necessarily arbitrary, would certainly not be this year, and if I have my way, never again be, January 1. I picked Valentine's Day because it's easy enough to remember. Also because in a normal year when there's not some sort of The Day After Tomorrow winter apocalypse going down, it's time enough to let the insanity settle and me to be able to focus. I also decided that, although I'm putting ten things on my list, none of them are "I will do Task X on Day X at Time X and I WILL NEVER EVER MISS." Instead, I'm using these more as "Get my shit together" guidelines. Hence:

1. I will be consciously kind. Meaning that instead of being visibly and constantly aggravated by slow old people in a grocery store, or little kids barreling into me as I walk through the mall, or stupid questions, or messing up my order at the drive-thru, I will remember that someday I'll be an old person, and I used to be a kid--so there's a better than fair chance that I will either be that person or have been that person and will do or have done the same things. I will remember that I have definitely asked a stupid question (yes, there ARE stupid questions) because I wasn't paying attention or just didn't understand. I will remember that I once worked in a really high stress food service environment and that it's harder than it looks and no one gets it right all the time. In other words, I will try to be understanding and patient.

2. I will stop trying to find excuses as to why I can't do things. And by "things" I mean social and fun things as well as responsibility things. Like theater board meetings--of which I'm two for two so far. Instead of thinking about how I'm really tired and just want to put on PJs and read a book and send an email saying I feel like crap, I will take a 30 minute nap and get my butt out the door. If someone asks me to go to a party or dinner with friends or brunch in the city, instead of thinking of all the reasons I can't do it, I'll think about how I can rearrange things so I CAN.

3. I will remember that I used to do things on my own rather than letting things pass by me because no one was available to do them with me. I realized when the Oscar noms happened that I had seen exactly NONE of the films nominated for Best Picture. A quick perusal of the lists back through the years made me see that this was the first time since 1986 that I hadn't seen ANY of them. And the reason I hadn't? Well, I never have anyone to got with me to the movies. What is THAT? I used to LOVE going alone. Especially to the first matinee on a Saturday morning. I can go to art museums and Tour of Homes and plays and the symphony. And here's the thing…I can do them by myself.

4. In a related goal, I won't feel like I HAVE to do everything. While I'm pretty terrible about making excuses when there's a social thing ("Hey let's all go grab drinks after Event X" and all I can think is how I can get home to my couch), I have become this person who absolutely feels compelled to go see every friend in every show, concert, musical performance, etc. that they ever do. I have a really good friend who told me that he and his wife, also a really good friend, had once been told by ANOTHER mutual friend that you reach a point where you realize that if you see every friend you know who's ever in a show, that will turn out to be all that you ever do. You spend every Friday and Saturday night and Sunday afternoon in a theater watching shows which are often shows that you don't even want to see. I understand when people can't come to see me in something, so it's reasonable to assume the reverse. I will make sure I give them every best wish and good vibe and if it's something I want to see and I can, I will do it.

5. I will try to exercise three times a week, even if that means I do the "10 Minute Ab" DVD on three days. I WANT to do more involved work outs, but if I can't, then 10 minutes it is.

6. I WON'T diet. But I will attempt to be conscious of what I eat and will try to make good choices. Sometimes life makes eating right hard. And I have to accept that and not think that since I had to eat a sandwich at 10 p.m., I might as well throw all the good work away and eat what I want for the next three days before starting over.

7. I will dress in regular, human clothes five days a week, barring unforeseen circumstances. I don't care which five I choose to do it, but it's gonna happen (hey--I'm already two clothed days on the books and it's only Tuesday). I've gotten into the WORST habit of throwing on yoga pants most days. And I have WAY too many cute clothes for that to happen.

8. I will read something at least once a week. I will write something at least once a week, even if it's a paragraph no one ever sees.

9. I hope pick at least one "project"--a closet organizing, a shelf clean out, a furniture painting--a week and I will check off that box. If I'm in the middle of a busy week, then it's okay for it to be cleaning out one bathroom drawer. But I will get something done.

10. I will try to do new things. I sit around and think of all the cool things I want to do--I want to go hiking/camping. I want to run a 5K. I want to take a pastry class.--and I end up doing nothing. I want to make myself do the things I dream about. And I have some BIG dreams. But really, if I'm too scared or lazy to do the small ones, how can I expect the big ones to ever happen? I'm on it.

Okay, so there it is. I won't freak out if I mess them up. Because let's be real--I'm gonna mess this shit up all over the place. But I've written it down. It's real. And I'm doing my damnedest to make it happen.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Batman, Hannah Montana and Me--I am about to have an unpopular opinion or two

Obviously, if you're not residing in Underarockville, then you are aware of two things: First, that last week one Benjamin Affleck was cast as Batman in the forthcoming Batman vs. Superman and second, that Miley Cyrus performed at the Video Music Awards last night.

As for the first. Holy shit, y'all...can you all just chill out for a few? I am only an amateur superhero fan. I know, outside of the various superhero films, a mere smattering. I've never sat down and straight up read a comic book (although I kind of want to read the new X-Files ones). So, the absolute fervor with which comic fans approach the film versions is outside the realm of my experience, but not beyond the realm of my understanding, because believe me when I say that I would be invested in the casting of the new Star Wars is an understatement. And to some degree, different, because beyond the Big 3, they're casting new characters. And Batman, well, he's a known quantity? But I think my problem with everyone's hyperbolic and hypercritical reaction is this...what exactly IS that quantity. I mean, obviously, the Batman/Bruce Wayne of the last decade is the extremely dark Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale creation. But it's not like there aren't any number of other versions. From the ultra-campy Adam West series of the 1960s through the three actors who inhabited the role in the late 80s and through the 90s, beginning with Michael Keaton in the Tim Burton-helmed Batman, which was dark, but weird dark, not DARK dark, in 1989 and then on to Bale. There are, in fact, different kinds of Batman. Or at least subtly different flavors.

And thus far, the only answers I've been able to glean as to what's wrong with Ben Affleck as Batman: "Daredevil sucked." Oh, yes. Yes, it did. It was awful. But it didn't fail because of Ben Affleck. It failed because it was a horribly written, hot mess of a movie. "Ben Affleck has a Boston accent." Yeah, except when he doesn't. Off the top of my head, I can name two completely non-Boston accents he's done, not to mention there are any number of roles where he's done Standard American. "He's just not Batman." Okay, how do we know that? Prior to his gig as the Caped Crusader, Michael Keaton's most famous roles were goofy, slap-sticky comedy--Mr. Mom, Gung Ho--or weird histrionic, albeit dark comedy like Beetlejuice, which may have led one to believe that he could play the Joker or the Riddler, but certainly not the Dark Knight. And I know that Christian Bale is super serious actor man. And I respect that. (I'm also a little terrified of the whole immersion in the character style of acting that he--and for that matter Heath Ledger--brought to this, because I think it's weird and in Ledger's case, dangerous. Method acting. It freaks me out, y'all.). But honestly, before his Batman run, I knew Bale from pretty much these things: American Psycho, Little Women, oh...and this:

Yep. That's Batman right there. (I never get tired of this particular bit of film past. I think that someone should have the full time job of following Christian Bale around and every time he acts like a pretentious douche, they should play this full volume on their iPad and say, "What was that, Jack Kelly?)

Really, of the four guys who've played the part since 1989, they've all been pretty different and the only one who I can really say was awful is George Clooney and like the whole Daredevil deal, I'm not sure that it's that Batman & Robin brings the massive levels of suck in and of itself. Of course, my personal favorite is, "I just don't like him." Okay, well, I just don't like Christian Bale with the tantrums and the grandiloquence and just...well, everything. But my preference for the two Tim Burton films aside, I think he was really good in the role. Different certainly, from Keaton, but good.

ANYWAY...here's what I think. I think that Affleck's really quite an excellent actor. I think that his resume is pretty varied, and I think that's good. I respect that rather than stick with one single genre he's kind of bounced around. That's WHY I think he's good. And in that eclectic resume, he has some truly outstanding performances, Chasing Amy, Hollywoodland and Argo probably being my top 3. I think he's handsome. Obviously, all the guys '89 and forward who've played Batman have been good-looking men. Bale and Kilmer are dark and intense hot. Clooney is...well, he's George Clooney. But I think that Affleck is in the Keaton line of All-American handsome. It's a matter of taste, of course, but I would guess that the consensus would be that at the least he's a decent looking chap. I cannot possibly guarantee that he's going to be phenomenal in the part. But there's nothing about him that says to me that he's NOT going to be. Now, he could very well prove me wrong. He could be worse than Clooney. This movie could be worse than Batman & Robin AND Daredevil. I just don't think it will be.

That means I'mma need everyone to relax. 'Cause we don't know what's going to happen. And freaking out until 2015 over this isn't good for you. Also, the internet petitions to get rid of Affleck? It makes you look like an obsessed weirdo. (This is coming from someone who admitted yesterday, on Facebook where people can see, that she's read not one, but ALL of the Star Wars nerd novels).

Which brings me to the more immediate Hollywood-related meltdown. And that's the one over the Miley Cyrus mess at the VMAs. People, I want you to think about something. You are in a tizzy because you think a pop princess performed a tasteless and raunchy number. AT THE MTV VIDEO MUSIC AWARDS. Are you kidding me? Really....I feel like I"m being punk'd. Because the idea that people can actually claim shock at ANYTHING that happens at the VMAs is, at this juncture, ludicrous. If you're around my age, then I'm pretty sure that your first exposure to the VMAs, or at least the first that left a lasting impression was in 1984 and it was Madonna. In the wedding dress and the "Boy Toy" belt, writhing on the floor and humping the stage. Actually, I'm sure MANY of us, no matter our age, would start an answer to the question, "What's the most shocking thing you ever saw at the VMAs?" with "That time that Madonna..." (Or if you're a little younger, "That time that Britney...".).

So here are some truths: What Miley did was repulsive. But not for the reason you think. The reasons are these. First that there was absolutely no artistic merit to what happened on that stage. It was AWFUL. I mean really, really bad. Have you ever been to a truly heinous community theater production? You know, the kind where it's SO GODAWFUL that you cannot possibly look away because you might miss a millisecond of the horror. That's what it felt like. It wasn't music. It wasn't dance. It didn't have a message. It was completely incoherent. So there's that. But there was something that was even worse. It's something that I can understand intellectually, but cannot adequately express, so rather than just saying "It was racist and deliberately objectified women of color.", I'm going to direct you to this effing phenomenal piece which explains better than I ever could hope to do. Those are the reasons you should be offended by whatever the hell happened on Sunday night.

But that's not what 95% of the people who have gotten their knickers in a bind are talking about. What has pushed them all over the edge is the MORALITY. It's like America is Puritan Boston and Miley is Hester Prynne. She hasn't conformed to our beliefs and now she's gonna have to wear a big red letter. Or better yet, we'll make her have whole word "SLUT" tattooed on her forehead. Because that, to some extent, is what we're doing. We (general "we") are projecting OUR moral code on this young woman. We are slut shaming. And that is a practice that makes me absolutely LIVID. I have a friend, a really, really wise friend, who once told me that our morals shouldn't be delineated to us by society's expectations. He said that it's personal and that as long as it's not illegal or hurting someone else (hurting does not include offending their prissy-pants Puritanical sensibilities) it's a decision you have to make for yourself. Not one that you make for someone else or let someone else make for you.

I've also gotten a bunch of "Think of the children"-type arguments. THAT THE CHILDREN WATCHING IN THE LIVE AUDIENCE AND AT HOME ARE SCARRED. First, you have to be 16-or maybe 18--to attend that mess (if you're not some sort of Pinkett-Smith VIP). Second, I reiterate that panties, boobs, touching, foul language, simulated sexual activity and general weirdness are par for the VMA course. So if you're so damn worried about your Precious Sheltered Princess seeing that shit, then WHY are you letting them watch the VMAs in the first place?!? If you're worried about your own delicate, swooning self, then reach for the remote or dig your ass out of the couch cushions and change. the. channel. If the adults and almost adults in the audience want to be, as you say, "morally corrupted by watching PORN" well then that's our choice and I guess hell's awaiting. As for the related argument with regards to our darling bebes...and that argument is "But Miley Cyrus should be a role model." Uh, no. No she shouldn't. Let me give you some examples of role models: Helen Keller. Rosa Parks. Marie Curie. Pop stars and actresses, unless they are involved in some great philanthropic endeavor aren't role models. If they're good, by all means, aspire to be as talented a singer/actor/dancer, but they aren't guides as to the kind of person a kid wants to be. Some of them are awesome people, I'm sure. But conforming to a societal behavioral code isn't in Miley Cyrus's job description. If it ever was at all, her obligation to the youth of America as a role model ended the moment the Hannah Montana job did. If your kid is "tainted" by knowledge of the real life antics of their fave celeb, then you need to learn a sentence right now. That sentence is: "Different people have different expectations from themselves and their families about how they behave and at our house we don't behave like that." It's so easy.

And can we consider for a moment WHY Miley Cyrus did what she did? I don't think she's going off the rails a la LiLo or Amanda Bynes or even meltdown Britney. I don't think she's crazy. I think it's calculated (and also kind of brilliant, because the last thing you wanna be as a celebrity is the celebrity no one's talking about. So, you know, Miley? Mission accomplished.). Miley Cyrus spent years playing fresh-faced, slightly sassy Miley Stewart on Hannah Montana. And I think that because of that she was pigeon-holed into the "virgin" half of the FREAKING INSANE "virgin-whore" dichotomy that we, as a society, cling to so tightly. The minute she began to exhibit the barest HINT of her emerging sexuality (the prime example being her BARE BACK OMG THE SCANDAL in a Vanity Fair shoot when she was 15) everyone freaks right the hell out. Seriously. The pictures--taken by Annie Liebowitz, no less--showed NOTHING you wouldn't see in a bathing suit. Not a damn thing. And everyone goes to pieces to the point that she ended up apologizing and talking about how embarrassed she was. And everyone thinks that this is an a-okay message to send to both Miley and the young girls who knew about it? Being a little sexy IS NOT OKAY. SEX is not okay.

This girl is talented. I'm not a huge Miley fan or anything, but:

Holy shit! She's GOOD. But we didn't want even THAT. We wanted sugary, albeit annoyingly catchy, "Party in the USA". And I say this as an actor...she's not bad at that either. And despite the ranting of any number of people who don't know what they're talking about...she's not in the midst of some kind of Warholesque 15 minutes. At this point, she's had a career for something like a decade. So not so much a flash in the pan.

Everything that this girl has done that didn't comply with a rigid image--that of a perky, rah-rah Jesus, good girl--has been scrutinized, analyzed and criticized. Relentlessly. WE want her to be cute. WE want her to be sassy, but not too much. WE want her to wait for sex until she marries the boy next door. WE need to stop. Because in some ways WE made this.

We're the ones who think that it's, if not okay, then expected for Madonna, or Lady Gaga, or Britney/Christina to act like this. We're the ones who made sure that Miley knew that she couldn't. And misguided though that performance was (in more ways than one) we created the need in her to shock. We wouldn't let her grow at all. No bending of the mold for Miley. So she broke it. Loudly and forcefully.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Change of Pace: Outfits of the Week

Another blog I follow and love is Clarabelle. This girl is awesome and funny and she had Ah-Mah-Zing fashion sense and always take pictures in the CUTEST real people clothes. Plus, she always talks about stuff other than fashion, like how to be a good blogger--she has GREAT tips, y'all. And a while back she posted about how sometimes keeping up with cute outfit posts is stressful. To HER. Which made me think...I need to chillax about this. I mean, someone from real life asked me about the outfit posts and why I would do it for a while and then stop forever and a day and it kind of made me freak out and feel like the world's crappiest blogger. Because let's be serious--most people, even if they have a job where they have to look acceptable five days a week, are gonna have a day where they're like, "Oh, it's raining like a monsoon and a hurricane had a baby and the product was this storm and I can't possibly do anything more exciting that black pants and a white shirt today." Or if you're me, a day like that means, "I'm wearing yoga pants. If you're lucky I'll wear something fancier than an old sorority t-shirt. But don't hold your breath." And there are days that there's just SO much happening that I need to know that whatever I put on at 7 that morning is gonna work for me by the time I get to a dance rehearsal at 7 that night...so, you know, yoga pants. (To be fair to the pants, they're nice, Lulu Lemon yoga pants.)

I kind of was taking this attitude about blogging--especially when it came to the outfit posts--that if I did a post on Monday and then missed Tuesday, well, then the whole week was shot to hell and I had to wait and start over on the NEXT Monday. This is similar to the idea that I've always held about being on a diet--if you mess that sucker up in the middle of the week, then you should just eat what you want for the rest of the week and start over the next Monday. But then I had this thought...if you're going to blog about your life, whatever part of your life that might be, you don't have anything to blog about if you aren't doing anything except getting ready to blog. So if I'm taking an extra hour to get ready to take a picture--not that it would always take THAT long--and I'm only doing it to take the picture, well, that's a lot of pressure on me and it's wasting time that on that day, I just don't have. Thus, my conclusion is this: I'm going to take pictures on the days that I'm lookin' good (read that as "as good as possible under the circumstances"). And I'm not gonna stress that I take the pictures in a mirror with my phone and they don't look as awesome as other blogs, but if I have time, I'll experiment with doing it other ways--like with my real camera and tripod and timer. And if I have one picture at the end of the week that's cool and if I have six pictures at the end of the week--sometimes I do things on the weekends--that's cool, too. It is what it is, y'all. Which has kind of become my new life philosophy. About everything. So why not about blogging and what I wear, too?

Hence, this is the inaugural "Outfits of the Week." I only had two last week. And let's repeat to ourselves, "That's okay." I actually had a third day where I looked super-cute but the aforementioned hurricane-monsoon hybrid baby storm happened and I got absolutely SOAKED so that turned out to be a super-cute outfit, if one is into drowned rats.

First picture: Dress and sweater (Target); Shoes (Unisa from DSW-old); Necklace (Forever 21-old)
Second picture: Sweater (Target); Shirt (Elizabeth McKay-older); Jeans (AG from Anthropologie);Belt (Anthropologie-old); Shoes (same as above)

I don't know what's gotten into me this summer. I seem to be obsessed with orange/coral and what's more, with wearing it with navy. Which seems reasonable. Except that is some straight up Auburn colors. And I am dyed in the wool Alabama. It's just that the colors look so pretty together that I can't stop myself. I'll stop myself once football season rolls around, okay? If I had enough of these little knit dresses with a cardigan? Would wear that shit every single day. The problem is that cute little knit dresses shrink and they tend to shrink UP and I am completely paranoid about things being too short. And in my definition (at least at my age) "too short" is "anything where you can see more than the three inches above my knees." Which is why I'm wearing cuffed jeans and not shorts (like a normal human in summer) in the second picture. I'm so worried about my glaringly-white, vaguely-chunky legs. I have a good friend who (correctly) called me on my tendency to wear things that cover me completely and are sometimes too big. I can't deny it. I wear cardigans because I'm afraid my upper arms are fat. I won't show my legs. I don't like anything to be tight. I'm a mess, y'all. Plain and simple.

So, I guess we'll try it this way? See how it goes? I already have one in the bag this week so maybe this is gonna fly!