christmas mix: give ’em what they want / it’ll never be enough

I’ve been making what I call a Christmas mix — that is, not holiday songs but a mix made at the holidays — since 1997; first they were tapes, then for a few years cds, and finally, in the digital age, many years of downloadable zip files and now the last three years have been Spotify playlists; this year is no exception. These are songs — frequently but not necessarily released in 2018 — that meant something to me this year, for various reasons, and they are for you.

I got married this year. It’s pretty much the best thing I’ve ever done.

(“Girls To The Front” is probably recognizable as the Hysteria podcast theme, but the whole Sizzy Rocket record bangs. And because I listen to podcasts on 1.5x speed, spending time with that song and with “Grits” – because of the Carolina Insider podcast outro – was weird, because I usually hear them sped up. The slow jam-ness of “Grits” startled the shit out of me when I did my first full listen through to the mix. If you liked the first Lily Allen record, you’ll like the GIRLI EP. Brian Fallon’s Sleepwalkers was one of if not the most underrated record of the year. “Save The Last Dance For Me” was our first dance at the wedding. Frank Turner’s Be More Kind was my favorite record of 2018, and the title track is the best advice I have to anyone trying to operate in the horror of the current world. I love all y’all.)

  1. Sizzy Rocket – Girls To The Front: yeah i’ll say it loud and we’re gonna shut it down / all the girls to the front with me
  2. GIRLI – Hot Mess: i don’t know who you think i am / but your bitch is not one
  3. The Love Language – Castle In The Sky: you’ve been in the woods for quite a while / no i never knew i loved you til i saw you in the wild
  4. Spider Bags – Rollin’ With The Flow: ah but i still love rock and roll / so i keep on rollin’ with the flow
  5. boygenius – Stay Down: i wasn’t a fighter ’til somebody told me / i had better learn to lean into the punch
  6. Brian Fallon – If Your Prayers Don’t Get To Heaven: and when i was a child, a dream came to me / where every soul hanging low found its piece of dignity
  7. Cory Branan – I Only Know: if our past is all we get to be / my old life would have been the death of me
  8. Emily Barker – If We Forget To Dance: baby we don’t stand a chance / if we forget to dance
  9. Josh Ritter – Miles Away: honey, can you leave your light on?
  10. Sarah Jarosz – When Doves Cry: maybe i’m just too demanding / maybe i’m just like my father, too bold
  11. True North – Wilder Than Her: she takes the fire and turns it down low / she takes the night and makes it not so cold / she takes the distance, breaks it into miles / she makes my life just a little less wild
  12. The Drifters – Save The Last Dance For Me: but don’t forget who’s takin’ you home / and in whose arms you’re gonna be / so darlin’ save the last dance for me
  13. Jason Isbell – If We Were Vampires: it’s knowing that this can’t go on forever / likely one of us will have to spend some days alone / maybe we’ll get forty years together
  14. Annaleigh Ashford – Children And Art: it’s not so much do what you like as it is that you like what you do
  15. Frank Turner – Be More Kind: in a world that has decided / that it’s going to lose its mind / be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind
  16. The RZA – Grits: (see ya later, big grits)

Photo at top taken by The Joyner Company, who I totally 150% think you should hire to photograph your wedding.

book review: what i learned in a thousand towns (dar williams)

Right, so. I have a blog.

I also have a therapist. She’s new. I’ll call her LS, because that’s her name. It has been a rough mental health year for me because besides, you know, a fucking disgusting racist xenophobic sexual assuaulter being elected President, both my longtime prescriber and therapist BOTH retired. The last time I saw my prescriber was November 8, 2016. We talked about how it had been a rough year but starting on the 9th, things would ease up a little. HOW LITTLE WE FUCKING KNEW, AM I RIGHT. And then on top of that I started planning a wedding.

Anyway, I had to find a new prescriber – found one, she retired five months in, found another, she rocks – and I thought I was doing okay without a therapist except then I wasn’t. I tried a new one, a older dude who wanted to dig through my history – been there, did five years of CBT, have the coping mechanisms, I don’t want to talk about my relationship with my mom or my mother-in-law – and then I found LS, who is about my age, and understood immediately when I walked in to her office and said, “I want to talk about how the President is horrible, the world is on fire, and also I’m planning a wedding.”

She said, “Alright.”

LS is amazing.

The last time I saw her, I talked a lot about how while my job, just by nature of literally what my job is, makes me feel like I’m part of the Resistance Capital R Resistance, I wanted to do more. She asked me what my passions were. Photography. Theater. I used to write a ton of fan fiction. Plants. I like high schoolers because I was a weird high schooler and real adults were nice to me and listened to me and I could be that for some teenager now.

“Okay, your homework is to figure out how to turn that into volunteer work.”

So it’s been on my mind, and then Trav got me Dar Williams’ book for Christmas. What I Found In A Thousand Towns. On its face, it is basically about how to create a thriving large town or small city. But as I tore through during the early NBA games on Christmas Day, it was exactly the book I needed at exactly this time.

It’s about how cities and towns, the kind that Trump maybe won in 2016, the kind who have collapsed because the industry that they thrived on collapsed, can save themselves in the wake of that collapse. It’s about art. It’s about food. It’s about the harm of gentrification and why low cost swimming lessons matter and how to make affordable housing happen and the best ways to eliminate town-gown relations and just have Town Relations. There’s a whole chapter about Carrboro.

Carrboro is pretty expensive and named for a noted racist, my vague ancestor Julian Shakespeare Carr (he’s a fifth cousin somewhere back through marriage, I think). I wish it wasn’t named for a noted racist. But it loves community. And art, and music, and food, and beer, and people. People who live in Carrboro are invested in Carrboro. I knew that, sort of, in the back of my head. I know how many people I know and like that I see when I occasionally venture out to a concert, or even just out for a burrito. When I was house-hunting in Chapel Hill, it was in Chapel Hill, because I didn’t want to be too far from what felt like my community. I hadn’t realized I was so attached to Carrboro and Chapel Hill until I realized that the thought of buying a house in Durham was abhorrent to me (and not just because of Duke basketball, all you smart asses out there). Dar talks a lot about proximity, and how proximity is important to community, and I could verify that with my own experience: I can walk to downtown Chapel Hill and downtown Carrboro, if I wanted to. It is and was important to me to be that close to places.

2017 has been a gross dumpster fire of a hellscape year, but it’s been a gross dumpster fire of a hellscape year that really motivated people to get involved, in their communities, in other communities, to engage with the world. What I Found In A Thousand Towns is technically probably a book about urban planning rather than a memoir, which is what I thought it might be. I think it’s a surprisingly low key important book for the United States right now. Coal isn’t coming back. The uranium industry in Moab, Utah wasn’t coming back, either, and the town has found a way to thrive despite that. (The Most Scenic Dump story had me crying laughing.) Those things aren’t coming back, despite lies from the President about how he’d bring those jobs back, but there are other ways to save towns.

There aren’t solutions to the many sprawling and very serious problems of gentrification, which is often what “rejuvenating” a town or city comes down to; and the book can be a little white-person-focused at times, which is what it is. It isn’t a perfect book, but it was a book that made me think about things I hadn’t been thinking about before, and it was a book that crystalized some ideas I’d been wrestling with in their amorphous blob forms. It pointed out things I can do, and it pointed out where the most helpful thing I can do is to ask other people what they need. It made me ask a lot of questions about the place I live, even though Dar holds up Carrboro as a model of a pretty good small town. We are. Chapel Hill is. But we can do better, too, we can do a lot better, and I read this book, and I’m going to do better.

life list: crock pot soup recipes

garam masala chicken stew

48. Find and try ten new crock pot soup recipes.

That item on my life list was pretty easy to check off, once I got down to it. The trouble is that soup isn’t very photogenic. But all of these I made, Saturdays or Sundays for football eatin’s, and they were all pretty good. Editor’s note: I started and finished this project in 2015 and never hit publish on this blog post. Whoops.

#1: Creamy Tortellini Soup, 9/20/15

ten soups project: creamy tortellini soup

Surprising amount of kick! Not as creamy as I’d wanted. Maybe extra evaporated milk.

#2: Ham and Corn Chowder, 9/26/15

ten soups project: ham and corn chowder

Trav reports: “The best soup you’ve made.” I skipped the suggestion to microwave the last ingredients before adding and the cream cheese didn’t melt all the way and looked sort of weird. Tasted okay, though.

#3: Garam Masala Chicken Stew With Peas And Potatoes, 10/11/15

garam masala chicken stew

This is the definition of “hearty”.

#4: Mini Meatball Minestrone Soup, 10/24/15

ten soups: mini meatball minestrone

Use unsalted chicken broth, this was saltier than I expected.

#5: Tuscan White Bean and Sausage Soup, 11/1/2015

ten soups: italian sausage and white bean

Substituted sweet potato for the squash, and it was great.

#6: Loaded Baked Potato Soup, 11/14/15

ten soups: loaded baked potato soup

Added carrots and corn for more vegetables. Probably peas would be okay too. This was awesome.

#7: Beef Stew with Coca-Cola, 11/22/2015

I forgot to take a picture of this one. It was a solid beef stew.

#8: Slow Cooker Buffalo Chicken Soup, 12/6/2015

#9: Tomato Basil Parmesan Bisque, 12/12/2015

Added pasta to this, might reduce the cheese a little at the end. But tasty.

Editor’s second note: I swear I made a 10th soup, but hell if I remember what it was. I’m checking this off the list because I’m tired of it hanging around in my drafts.

college baseball: long beach state dirtbags @ unc


Oh, right, I have a blog. shep. and I went out to our first Heels baseball game of 2017 on Friday, because we’ve long been obsessed with the Long Beach State baseball team, one of the few teams in the NCAA who has a different official nickname / mascot than the rest of the university, and the Dirtbags almost never come out to the East Coast. JB Bukauskas threw a gem (7.0IN 2R 1ER 1BB 9K) and the offense stunk, the bullpen stunk, and the Dirtbags won.

But it’s at least fun to be able to literally say, “I can’t believe we lost to those Dirtbags.”

Right. This here blog. Maybe I’m back.

life list: vegetable related

garden 2016

garden 2016

garden 2016

51.Grow my own grape tomatoes, snap peas, and strawberries.
56. Make my own dill pickles from local cucumbers.

Check, check, check. The peas aren’t going to give me much this year, but by God, I grew ONE.

book review: on bowie – rob sheffield

hilary & stephen's wedding

The thing about Rob Sheffield’s writing is that he always conveys music as both deeply personal – this is how I feel about this song – and deeply human – this is why this makes us feel the way it does – and that seems to be the reason only he could write the book, the story, that I wanted to read about Bowie.

Because Bowie meant something to me, but as I think the world directly learned with his death, he also meant so many things to us. And if someone was going to tell us what Bowie meant, a little academic and a little personal and a little glam and a little spacey, I want Rob Sheffield to do it. He taught me how to fall in love and he taught me how to be a grown up in love, and I wanted him and only him to tell me how to be brokenhearted about David Bowie. I know what Bowie meant to me. I wanted to know what Bowie meant to us.

The last time I was writing about a Rob Sheffield book, I was crying over Bright Eyes on the porch of a rented college town apartment. This time I was crying in a TGIFriday’s at the Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport, sitting next to the man I mention in the Bright Eyes review, the one I thought had given up on me, who’s now my live-in boyfriend. We own a house. One of these days we’re gonna get hitched. We were on our way home from his cousin’s wedding, a severely delayed flight, and we were drinking Fireball and hard cider and watching a Rangers game and I was yelling a lot about Delta.

On Bowie came in the mail the day before we left for MSP. I had saved Patti Smith’s M Train for the trip out and said, “Oh, good, I’ll read this on the way home.” A four hour delay gets you reading. Near the end of the book and the delay both, I shoved it in front of Trav, and said, “Start here, read to here” – it’s an anecdote that ends with He was wearing fabulous shoes, and you know that Bowie was, wherever he was – and then said, a little defensively, “I’m not crying, you’re crying.” We ordered another drink.

Trav introduced me to Rob Sheffield’s writing; Rob’s writing is one of those common tongues that, well, Rob writes about in his books sometimes, that Trav and I share as a couple. I don’t know that we have a particular Bowie memory, though, beyond that he spent a lot of time in my dorm suite senior year, and that year my roommate Cass and I did watch Moulin Rouge over and over again. Trav and I have Prince memories; “Who doesn’t know that ‘7’ is a jam?” Of course we do – we went to college in Minnesota. We have Guy Clark memories; “Stuff That Works” has gone on just about every mix I’ve ever made him. We have scores of Merle memories, because that’s our taste in music. Of all the icons we’ve lost this year, Bowie might have been the only one we didn’t share a memory for.

Now we have a Bowie memory, too, though, and it’s sniffling together over Rob’s book in an MSP airport bar. I’m not crying over Bowie, you’re crying over Bowie.

We’re crying over Bowie.

Rob Sheffield is staying up all night in January, crying about Bowie, starting this book and not knowing quite yet it would be a book – and his wife got up and said to him, “I know.”

We’re still crying about Bowie. Rob Sheffield wrote us a damn good joyous celebration to read through those tears.

I received an advance copy of On Bowie from Dey Street Books in exchange for a review, but all opinions are mine particularly because publishing houses say fuck way less than I do. On Bowie will be available on June 28, 2016, and you can pre-order it now.


gracie & rachel @ cat's cradle

#MWE stands for Music Writer’s Exercise, and it ambled its way across my Twitter timeline in late January; started by Gary Suarez, it challenges music writers to listen to a new-to-them (never before heard) album every day in February, and review it in a single tweet. Since last year I didn’t listen to enough music or write enough about the tiny bits I listened to, I was in. And though I struggled to keep up on a day-to-day basis, I did eventually listen to 28 new to me albums (fuck you Leap Day) and write about all of them on Twitter.

You can check out my collected reviews over here, and this is a playlist that includes every album I listened to. I tried to mix up what I was listening to, and sought recommendations from friends who love bands I’ve never tried, records by artists I love that I missed last year, classics I’ve never tried, and new releases so far from 2016. There was some stuff I wouldn’t necessarily listen to again, but I was delighted to discover that I didn’t hate anything I listened to. I didn’t even hate the Cream album I listened to, even if it was still too guitar wanky for me. It’s a thing I have. Too many guitar solos, Cream. Stop guitar soloing.

So I loved writing about an album every day (and some days about two or three or four to catch up), and I really loved going through the #MWE hashtag, checking out what other people were listening to, liking, hating, discovering. And I realized how much I missed listening to lots and lots of music. So I think the exercise served its purpose, which is exactly what it was supposed to do. Time for more listening, and time for more writing. Neither of those things is a bad thing.