Saturday, July 2, 2011

Things I would have tweeted on the way to Maine if I dared text while driving

circa 11:07: On the road at last!

c. 11:20: Lots of disabled cars on the Mass Pike. Tough start to a holiday weekend!

c. 11:45: Yikes! My bike rack is slipping big time! Better stop at McDonalds to tighten the straps!

c. 1:25: OMG this traffic is making me want to die. Time for a McCafe break.

c. 1:30: Life is much better with a fresh iced latte in my cupholder.

c. 1:45: Traffic was from a broken down RV on a bridge! Hooray for the open road.

c. 1:50: So much for the open road. Stopped again. #killmenow

c. 1:55: I should have just started riding the bike instead of tightening the straps on the bike rack.

c. 2:35: I don't care if it's only been an hour since the last McCafe, I'm stopping again.

c. 2:40: Took an inadvertent tour of charming historic Amesbury, but I've got a full tank of gas and another iced latte, so who cares!

c. 2:50: My "Queen: Greatest Hits" album seems to be missing a lot of their greatest hits. Whither "Bohemian Rhapsody?" Whither "Radio Ga Ga?"

c. 3:00: Listening to "Don't Stop Me Now" while you're stuck in traffic is more depressing than not. #makeasupersonicwomanofme

c. 3:20: Getting off of I-95 to take route 1 instead is an interesting idea, Google Maps, but I'm not falling for your tricks.

c. 3:45: Only 4.5 hours to drive 170 miles! That's almost 40 mph! In medieval times people would have thought I was a wizard! #stupidpeasants

Friday, July 1, 2011

A post about farms, bumper stickers, and shared cultural touchstones

Around here I see a lot of cars sporting "No farms, no food" bumper stickers. It's the slogan of an organization that works to protect farmland from development, which is a pretty popular position around here, where the quality of the soil and the short growing season make farming even more of a dicey proposition than in many other parts of the US. Add to that the fact that New England is pretty heavily developed already, and it's not hard to see why a farmer in Western Massachusetts might be willing to sell her fields to Wal-Mart or something.

Anyway, over the past week or so I've seen two variant bumper stickers. One said, "No farms, no beer," which is funny (beer!) and more accurate than the original sticker - after all, we could always fish and hunt and gather, (though I wouldn't like to do it myself) but making beer exclusively from wild hops and barley seems pretty unlikely. The other one was a more positive, but less grammatically parsable "Yes farms, yes food." Would "Yes farms, yes food" make sense to someone who wasn't already familiar with the "No farms, no food" sticker? I've heard of (though I haven't seen) yet another bumper sticker that says, "Know farms, know food," which is another nice take on the topic AND possibly a riff on a popular religious slogan - "No God, no peace; know God, know peace"* but again, not something that makes a whole lot of sense on its own.

Which reminds me of a great bumper sticker I saw last year at a gift shop near Baxter State Park in Maine. It said, "This car climbed Mt. Katahdin," and I thought it was hilarious (I didn't buy one and I'm still annoyed with myself about that - next time I am at Baxter I am 100% definitely getting one). Now, in order to find that bumper sticker as hilarious as I do you have to be in a certain shared cultural space with me.
  1. You have to be familiar with the "This car climbed Mt. Washington" bumper sticker, reasonably common in New England, advertising the prowess of cars that have ascended New England's highest peak via the (genuinely treacherous) Mt. Washington auto road.
  2. You have to know that the peak of Mt. Katahdin is accessible only by foot.
  3. And for good measure, it helps to know that although Katahdin is about 1,000 feet shorter than Washington, it's an absolute bastard to climb, and significantly more difficult (and vastly less popular) than Mt. Washington.
Anyway, what I'm saying is, bumper stickers don't have a lot of room to get their message across, and so the best ones use not only catchy slogans but also cultural in-jokes and shared understanding. I'm coming to appreciate the genius of the clever bumper sticker, and thinking it might be time to get some for my as-yet-sticker free car. If you're heading up to Baxter pick one up for me.

* With assorted variations like "No Jesus, no love," etc.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Crowdsource the anthem!

So, I didn't watch the Super Bowl last night because I am a Bad American, but I did at least get to hear Christina Aguilera's version of The Star-Spangled Banner on Hot 93.7* this morning. And you know what? I think on the whole, we are better off just singing our national anthem our own damn selves. It is time for all patriotic Americans to reclaim control of our national anthem from the "singers" who, let's face it, haven't exactly been doing a bang-up job with it.

Exhibit 1!

The crowd at Fenway Park picks up the tune when a disabled man dissolves into nervous giggles (also, note that this man gets further into the song without making mistakes than Xtina does!). Everyone sounds great.

Exhibit 2!

The crowd at a minor league hockey game in Virginia finishes the anthem when a little girl's mic cuts out. They sound even better than the Fenway crowd!

What I'm saying is, yes, The Star-Spangled Banner is kind of a difficult song for any one person to sing, but it actually sounds good when sung by a crowd. Which makes sense, given that the tune comes from a drinking song. Who sings drinking songs as dramatic solos?** And even if people mess up the words, there are enough other people singing to cover for it.

I'm not saying a solo version of The Star-Spangled Banner can't succeed - I've got a soft spot and a half for Rene Rancourt***, for example:

To me, the most successful performances of The Star-Spangled Banner are the ones that let the crowd sing along! But no, no one just sings the damn song straight, everyone wants to show off! I wish we could have the singer(s) get the song started and then let the crowd take over. I think the main barrier is not the difficulty, but just that it's a long song - I don't know if everyone would stay in for the whole thing (without an adorable child or intellectually-challenged person to support).

And it's not going to happen, because people want their chances to show off, and even with eleventy-million professional, semi-pro, college, high school, and peewee sports games being played in the US every year, there eleventy-one million stars, starlets, kids, acapella groups, military bands, and state troopers itching to perform their souped-up versions of the national anthem. And maybe because we've all been taught that The Star-Spangled Banner is too difficult for ordinary people to sing.

But it's not! Really! Together we can perform this song! Let's do it! We'll sound great!

*Connecticut's #1 for Hip-Hop and R&B - I'm mostly an NPR girl, but I can't stand Cokie Roberts' "analysis", so every Monday morning when she comes on, it's Hot 93.7 all the way.

**Ooh, now I'm tempted to record an extended, melisma-filled version of, I don't know, "The Irish Rover" or something.

***Although really I think I like Rene Rancourt's O Canada even better than his Star-Spangled Banner. Observe this fabulous example of classy passive-aggressiveness exhibited by Rancourt and a Garden full of Bruins fans after Canadiens fans booed the Star-Spangled Banner in Montreal:

Friday, January 7, 2011

Buying woollen things

I said I would write more about Iceland and then I forgot. Whoops! Here goes, then - I did a bunch of shopping when I was in Iceland. I am not much of a shopper when I'm at home, but I do like visiting shops in unfamiliar places, that carry unfamiliar goods. I don't always buy much, but it's fun to look.

Iceland has a reputation for being very expensive, and this is true to some extent; food and alcohol are especially high-priced (with the exception of fish, lamb, and brennivin), and a lot of the items in shops would be much cheaper anywhere other than in Iceland. Check out these Silly Bandz knockoffs selling for almost $3 a dozen!


I don't shop for Silly Bandz regularly but I hope that's not how much they cost in the US, because if so all those poor kids are getting shafted.

But there are bargains to be had in Iceland, especially on wool. Did you know that in Icelandic the word for "money" and the word for "sheep" is the same word? That's what a shopkeeper told me, and this online English-Icelandic dictionary backs me up.

One nice thing about buying wool products in Iceland is that if you export them you can get all your VAT (something like 15%) back, no matter how much wool you buy. These yarns cost about half as much in Iceland as they do in the US, so there are great bargains to be had for knitters. They also have wool for felting at what appeared to be an excellent price, though I am not a felter so I don't know how it compares. I bought a lot of yarn at the Handknitting Association of Iceland shop, enough to fill my small suitcase (fortunately, I had brought an extra suitcase in anticipation of this event). Most of it was for me, but some was for a friend. I swear! I wish I'd bought more.


The Handknitting Association also sells great handmade Lopi sweaters, which are very, very popular in Iceland, though I think most of the ones you see Icelanders wearing are not just handmade but homemade - all Icelanders learn to knit in primary school, and Lopi sweaters are not difficult to knit, so pretty much any grandma or aunt (or uncle or whatever!) has the know-how to make one of these. Non-knitters can skip the rest of this paragraph, but knitting nerds may be interested to know that Lopi sweaters are knitted from the bottom up, in the round, from bulky weight Icelandic wool, and they feature a stranded colorworked yoke, often featuring 3-4 shades of the same color (grays, browns, or blues, for example). Pullovers, buttoned cardigans, and zip cardigans are all pretty popular.

As a knitter, I chose to buy the yarn and knit my own, but if you don't knit but want a great souvenir of Iceland, I think a Lopi sweater is a great choice - they're very attractive, unmistakeably Icelandic, and super-useful (I use mine in place of a jacket in fall and early winter). They're scratchy, but they're also nearly waterproof, and pretty durable. If you can't afford the prices in the tourist shops, check out the Icelandic Red Cross thrift store on Laugavegur in Reykjavik - you might luck out and find a used one you like there.

In addition to the yarn, I bought two scarves, one fancy and one functional, both of Icelandic wool. I spent way too much on the fancy scarf but I love it. It's by a small Icelandic brand called Kurlproject (WARNING: site plays music automatically, ugh). It seems like everyone in Iceland is either a clothing designer or a musician. Or both.

I also bought an adorable felt Christmas ornament:


The brand on this one is Kata Handverk, and the crafter had loads of different types of ornaments and figurines, all the same basic shape. I wish I'd gotten her little nativity/creche! It was so cute. On the other hand, I don't really have any spare surfaces in my apartment that I want to turn over to a nativity scene and I'm not really religious. So, maybe I was right. I like buying souvenir Christmas ornaments, because you don't get used to them - you get to rediscover and remember them every year when you trim the tree.

I bought some other stuff but it was mostly junk. The main exports of Iceland are fish, fishing-related equipment, aluminum, software, and woolen goods. I don't really need any aluminum or fishing-related equipment, software I can buy pretty easily from home, and I can't legally import fish into the US. So woolens it is! Oh, and some cute little hand-carved wooden sheep for a toddler cousin.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


I think a lot of people have the experience where they're dreaming but they're frozen - unable to move to run away from something or towards something or whatever. This makes a lot of sense, since when you're in dream-stage sleep all your muscle movements are frozen, and just like a light or noise from outside of your brain can sneak into your dream (I once had a dream that a friend was excitedly telling me about the Red Sox home opener, which turned out to be my clock radio telling me the same information), the feeling of paralysis can sneak into your dream as well (I think! Any stray sleep scientists stumbling across this blog, please correct me as necessary!).

I had a weird variation on this experience the other night. I dreamt that I was on a subway with some (ill-defined) friends, and someone started singing the Hallelujah Chorus (sort of like one of those Hallelujah Chorus flashmobs you see on YouTube). I tried to join in on the soprano part (because no one else was singing it), but I could only make choking, squawking noises. I strongly suspect that if anyone had been in the room with me, they would have complained to me in the morning about how I had been waking them up with my weird chokey squawky noises. I think my sleep-paralyzed vocal chords weren't responding to my brain's message ("Sing 'King of Kings!', dammit!") and I worked that "my voice doesn't work" feeling into the dream. I can't think of another time when I've dreamed about singing; I wonder if this always happens?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Holiday! Celebrate! Waffles!

I had a very low-key holiday season this year, with one exception - I was supposed to go to New Orleans but was prevented by a blizzard. That was frustrating, and required me to spend a lot of time on the phone trying to contact airlines and travel agents, but what can you do? I'll make it to New Orleans someday, and in the meantime my airfare's being refunded.

And the blizzard also meant I got a great chance to try out my new snowshoes (a Christmas present) on the rail trail behind my dad's house, which was a lot of fun. Sadly, the blizzard was a coastal storm so by the time I got back home to the Valley there wasn't any snow to speak of, but I'm sure it will come soon enough. Hopefully I'll be able to procure some gaiters and trekking poles by the time it shows up. I also got a lot done around the house while I was not in New Orleans (including a redo of my bedroom, pics to follow).

I got a NordicWare Belgian Waffler for Christmas. This is a stove-top waffle maker (not electric), and it's how we made waffles in my house growing up (and by "we," I mean "my dad"). I wanted one of these because, dammit, sometimes you want waffles, and pancakes won't do! But I didn't want a big counter-top appliance that I would have to store someplace. The Belgian Waffler fits in my cabinet with the cookie sheets and the muffin pans. It's a bit harder to master than an electric waffle maker, but I was able to make recognizable (and delicious) waffles on my first try.

I made Overnight Waffles from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. (Actually this was either from the original, yellow cover copy of HTCE or HTCE Vegetarian but the same recipe is in all three books.)

The great thing about this yeast-risen waffle recipe is that (as the name suggests) you mix it up the night before so, #1, you hardly have to do any work in the morning to actually prepare the waffles and, #2, you get to go to sleep dreaming of waffles. I was slightly uncomfortable about leaving dairy-containing batter out overnight, but I put my trust in Bittman and sure enough, my fears were unfounded. If you don't feel like whipping egg whites in the morning, don't worry about it, just throw the eggs in. I whipped the whites because I had just rescued my old hand mixer from my dad's attic, where it had been since sometime in 2002.

I put the extra waffles in the freezer and I heated one up for breakfast this morning - ace! I will be making some whole-grain waffles for the freezer soon, since I generally try to make my weekday breakfasts healthier than white-flour waffles. For the past couple of months I have been eating like some kind of feral animal that lives behind a candy factory, so although I'm not making a formal New Year's resolution, I am going to try to eat healthier in the coming months.