Wednesday, December 31, 2008
favorite songs of 2008, #30 of 30: cold war kids' "i've seen enough"
The last spot on my list goes to a song from the Cold War Kids' largely disappointing newest endeavor Loyalty to Loyalty (Although it very nearly went to an MGMT song, truth be told.)  This, frankly, is not an album I would recommend picking up - get Robbers & Cowards instead - but this song is certainly worth the download, for lo it is tight: 

And you know what 2008?  I have seen enough.  Begone, and bring on '09!

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2008: a scattershot reflection
I'm been a bit manic with my posting this week, I know, but it turned out that I had more ideas for end-of-the-year posts than I had time to write them.  If you're even reading this - my fifteenth or something post in the last four days - then congrats.  You're a more patient person than I.  I promise to slow things down next week, but before putting 2008 in its grave I have a few more things to say.

My initial intent was to pen separate posts on my favorite moments, books, albums, movies, etc of the year, but after looking back on it, 2008 - although a great year for music - was a fairly average year for books and a downright underwhelming year for movies, so this is the sort of situation when a more scattershot approach will do. 

Musically speaking, my personal favorites would be a four-way tie between Basia Bulat's Oh, My Darling, Liam Finn's I'll Be Lightning, Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago, and Dr. Dog's Fate. I've written about all of these before so I won't say anything else other than this list is based purely on personal preference and was compiled in the most haphazard of fashions, so if you ask me about it tomorrow I'd probably produce a totally different list.  

Discussing books is harder because I feel like there's so much that I haven't had a chance to read yet, however of what I HAVE read, I'd probably list Tom Rob Smith's Child 44 as my favorite "for pure entertainment" book, Jane Mayer's The Dark Side as my favorite "important stuff you should all read" book, Cory Doctorow's Little Brother as my favorite Young Adult book (my review's coming soon), Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay as my favorite "book that wasn't released this year but that I finally got around to reading already" and Samantha Hunt's The Invention of Everything Else as my overall favorite new release of the year.  

And as for movies...I got nothing.  Although, I did recently see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Slumdog Millionaire, and liked them both quite a bit.

Finally, on a personal level, 2008 was a pretty meh year for me.  Sure, there were plenty of good moments (the election being a particularly notable one), however looking back on it 2008 certainly had its fair share of moments that tested both my patience and generally sunny disposition.  I have not and will not get into any of that here, but trust that 2008 had some shitty bits for yours truly.   Some good bits to be sure, but some shitty bits too.

So, what does a girl do to fare better in 2009?  Well, Jessica from Jezebel recently referenced this excerpt from Anne Lamott's book, Hard Laughter, and I think it's a stellar idea:
I said that I thought the secret of life was obvious: be here now, love as if your whole life depended on it, find your life's work, and try to get hold of a giant panda. If you had a giant panda in your back yard, anything could go wrong — someone could die, or stop loving you, or you could get sick — and if you could look outside and see this adorable, ridiculous, boffo panda, you'd start to laugh; you'd be so filled with thankfulness and amusement that everything would be O.K. again.
So there you go.  My one and only resolution for the new year is to get me a giant panda.  And I shall keep it in my backyard, which is, thankfully, quite spacious.  Cheers!

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008
favorite songs of 2008, #29 of 30: the knux's "cappuccino"
My relationship with mainstream hip-hop can be described as tenuous at best. In theory, I like the genre quite a bit, however I have absolutely no time for misogyny or homophobia, regardless of how well you can turn a phrase or how many Grammy noms that may earn you. Simply put: hate sucks, and just as I refuse to overlook it in people, I can't see past it in my music. Unfortunately, it's all too frequently a part of mainstream hip-hop, so I guess that's why I prefer to take it elsewhere, saving my affections for indie artist like Q-Tip, Mos Def, Del tha Funkee Homosapien and the like.

A group that is very much in this vein is The Knux. They're smart, lyrically adept, fun, inventive, and rap ironically about the old hip-hop clichés rather than falling for them. As my husband says, "I like my hip-hop more geeky than ghetto," and I'm not sure you can get geekier than a duo who pens figurative rhymes about cappuccino and makes video homages to West Side Story.

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favorite songs of 2008, #28 of 30: the hold steady's "one for the cutters"
The Hold Steady is one of those bands that everyone else seems to like more than I do. Which isn't to say I don't like them. Far from it. It's just that I enjoy them when I hear them, but then sort of forget about them when they're not on.

So I guess it makes sense that my general feelings about the band go hand-in-hand with my feelings towards their 2008 release, Stay Positive. I've reviewed this album once already so I promise not to do it again, but I would like to repeat that I think it's a fine album by a fine band, despite the fact that I really didn't listen to it much after initially laying hands on it.

Of course, the exception to all of this would be the song "One for the Cutters," which is where the bar band suddenly grabs a harpsichord and takes a turn for the Baroque. Love it.

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weekly book review: the amnesiac, by sam taylor
Fittingly, I have no recollection of where I heard about The Amnesiac, and I only have the haziest remembrance of purchasing it.  Weirdly, it's as if the little sucker just magically *appeared!* on my bookshelf, where it then sat, gathering dust for ages.  And it may have continued to gather dust for quite some time to come, however I spent a lot of time on the road this holiday season and the book I had been reading just wasn't doing it for me.  I needed something else, something readable, something fun and something preferably in paperback.

Enter The Amnesiac.:

After breaking his leg on the stairs of his Amsterdam apartment, James Purdew suddenly finds he has time to do something he hasn't done in a long time:  think.  And as tends to be the case, the more he thinks, the more trouble he finds.  His life in Amsterdam starts to fall apart as James becomes increasingly obsessed with three years of his life that have become lost to his memory, those being the years he spent as a college student in the town of H.  An avid journaler, James has three journals detailing his life during those missing years, but, for some reason, those journals are locked up in a black safe he keeps under his bed, and he has no idea where the key could be.  Clearly, something very bad happened in H., something he once chose to forget, but something he is now hell-bent on remembering.

In an attempt to unlock the mystery of those missing years, James must become the detective of his own mystery.  He returns to the British town of H., gets a job fixing up the crumbling remnants of the house where he once lived, and starts unearthing clues to who he was and what happened to him there.  The deeper James digs, the stranger things get, as the plot takes a bit of a Gothic turn, where suddenly a 19th century manuscript becomes a key to unlocking the mystery of James' own past.

To paraphrase the blurb on the back of the book, The Amnesiac is described as a time travel book without a time machine, a science fiction book without the aliens, and a murder mystery without the murder.  This description is pretty apt, and is a large part of why I liked it so much, despite the fact that it wasn't the most original premise for a book.  (At times, the plot felt quite similar to films like Vanilla Sky and Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind.)  But even if similar stories have been told before, Taylor sprinkled heavy references to Borges, Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Freudian psychology, Heaven and Hell, and Descartes' solipsistic brand of philosophy (i.e.: "I think, therefore I am.") into his story, using them as clues that continued to keep me thinking and guessing until the end.  In The Amnesiac, Taylor has created something more original and intelligent than your average dimestore mystery novel, while still managing to craft a tale that was a whole lot of fun to read.

After skimming some other reviews of this book, it seems as if many folks didn't like it as much as I did, complaining that the ending wasn't very satisfying and that Taylor was a little heavy-handed with the references to Borges and Freud.  And those are complaints that I can certainly understand.  The Amnesiac is hardly a perfect novel. However, I thoroughly loved it, warts and all.  While reading, I, like James, became a detective - underlining clues, scribbling in the margins, and working the story over in my mind long after finishing it.  

In short, I can't remember the last time I had so much fun reading a book.  I'm not sure whether or not I fell in love with The Amnesiac,  but I certainly thought about it a lot when it wasn't around.

Sam Taylor
383 pages, 2007

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Monday, December 29, 2008
favorite songs of 2008, #27 of 30: dr. dog's "the beach"
What can I say?  When I'm wrong, I'm wrong.  I made the mistake of convincing myself I wouldn't like Fate before ever listening to it.  And that was a very dumb thing to do. 

Dr. Dog is a prime example of two things: you can't prejudge an entire album by the first single, and Pitchfork just flat-out gets it wrong sometimes.  Fortunately, I gave it a chance all the same, and I'm glad I did because I absolutely love it, snotty hipster critics be damned.  In fact, it's one of my favorite albums of the year.  

Half the songs are sunny 60's throwback pop songs, and the other half mine a darker, bluesier vein.  I like both sorts pretty much equally, however there's something about the darker stuff that always snags on my ears.   Hence, "The Beach."   

Yep.  It's my jam.

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made just for me
So, the last thing I need is another t-shirt and being that it's right after Christmas I really shouldn't be buying things for myself anyway, however my brother pointed this out to me when he was in town visiting, and...really. Like I'm NOT going to buy it.:

(And if you don't get it, then you're clearly not a fan of The Cure.  How tragic!)

my favorite album covers of 2008. pt. 2: photographic covers
Nine Inch Nails' The Slip:

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my favorite album covers of 2008. pt. 1: album art
Langhorne Slim & The War Eagles (self titled):

Kanye West's 808s and Heartbreak:

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Sunday, December 28, 2008
favorite songs of 2008, #26 of 30: beck's "gamma ray"
I gave Beck's Modern Guilt a very favorable review way back in July, and my goodness but I've been hearing about it ever since.  Apparently, there are a few of you who just don't like it as much as I do.  I know this because you keep telling me.

And that's okay.  We all like different stuff, Sunbeam.  I happen to think that Danger Mouse and Mr. Hansen play very well together on Modern Guilt, and I still contend it's Beck's best, most consistent album since at least Sea Change, and maybe even since Odelay.   

But you can disagree.  That's the beauty of America, I suppose.

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my top 10 favorite book cover designs of 2008
Joseph Sullivan of Book Design Review has a much more comprehensive list of the best book cover designs of 2008, but this is my blog, hence here are my two cents on the matter. For my part (and with one notable exception), I limited myself to covers that not only appealed the strongest to my personal aesthetic, but also convinced me to either read, buy, borrow, or at least consider reading the book based on the design. They are listed in no particular order, and as you can tell, my tastes lean towards the minimalist:

This last one is the exception I referenced above, and it deserves a close-up.  It isn't photoshopped, but rather was created from individual needles placed into cardstock. I admit that I hadn't heard of the title until Sullivan posted on it and it's unlikely I'll ever read it, however the cover is too amazing to not include:

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Saturday, December 27, 2008
favorite songs of 2008, #25 of 30: adele's "my same"
Admittedly, I shied away from Adele largely because I kept hearing her being compared to Amy Winehouse, whom I loathe. (A hatred which, for the record, has nothing to do with the fact that she's a complete and utter train wreck.  I couldn't care less that Winehouse is a crackwhore.  I just can't stand the sound of her voice.)  But I've eventually come around to Adele, despite the fact that her music is rather "Winehouse-esque."  Her song writing still needs a bit more time in the oven, perhaps; however, I find her voice to be really quite lovely.  

So, although it would be a reach to say that I love 19, I really do like parts of it, and "My Same" is one reason why.  In fact, it's one of my favorite songs of the year.  Yes, indeed.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008
merry christmas
I've been feeling pretty bah humbug this Christmas season, I admit. Between sickness, last minute manic shopping, sketchy weather, airport headaches and feeling as if I've spent the better part of my holiday in transit, I, frankly, just wasn't feeling it this year. 

Maybe you feel similarly.  Maybe you, like me, just need a good carol to pick you up.

If that's so, then here's Belle and Sebastian doing the most gorgeous cover of the most gorgeous Christmas carol:  "O Come O Come Emmanuel."  It helped me.  Perhaps it will help you too:

Tuesday, December 23, 2008
random posts of pretty
I love this photo essay series by Sandy Nicholson titled 2nd: The Faces of Defeat, and since I woke up this morning to the discovery that, for the second straight year, I had placed 2nd in my fantasy football league, I decided it was particularly timely.  

Apparently, there's a certain universal look to placing 2nd - one that perfectly conveys "...Huh."


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Monday, December 22, 2008
favorite songs of 2008, #24 of 30: the rosebuds' "bow to the middle"
I love the Rosebuds, and it's this love that allows me to forgive. Frankly, their last two albums - last year's Night of the Furies and this year's Life Like - have been fairly mediocre, but even still, in each one there've been these glittering moments that have made them nonetheless worthwhile. I'm still waiting for something as consistently good as Birds Make Good Neighbors, but until then:

MixwitMixwit make a mixtapeMixwit mixtapes

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monday book review: death with interruptions, by jose saramago
I've been done with this book for ages, but this has been a particularly difficult book review to write for some reason. Timing, I think, is certainly playing its part. My Grandpa is pretty sick at the moment, and so reading and/or discussing a book about death isn't really something I've been over the moon to do.  Go figure, right?

Nonetheless, I think the larger issue lies not with the subject matter, but with the author. For all his problems with sentence construction and characterization, Saramago is widely considered to be a genius.  In fact, Harold Bloom went so far as to call him "the most gifted novelist alive in the world today."  Thus, I can't help but sort of feel like the problem must lie, at least in part, with me, the reader, if I happen to really dislike one of his books.  

And let's be clear from the beginning - I really disliked this book.

On the surface, Death with Interruptions contains all of Saramago's trademark qualities: it's more fable than novel, the characters are widely unnamed and under-developed, he writes sentences that run-on for days, and it possesses a deep level of sociological insightfulness.  But while some of these qualities can be perceived as criticisms, they can and have worked in his favor.  Take Blindness, for instance.  It was brilliant, despite its "flaws."  The characters in that story remained unnamed and rather vague throughout the narrative, and yet I still found myself able to care for and about them.  I assume that the point there was to present more character types than actual characters - to explore how society as a whole would react to such a catastrophe, and so keeping them half-formed was a masterful decision that totally worked for the story he was trying to tell.  Since Death with Interruptions is a similar sort of sociological story - asking what would happen if there was suddenly no more death - one might think that using the same sort of tools would produce similar results.  But they didn't for some reason.  And I'm not sure if I can point to why, exactly.

The novel's premise is certainly an interesting one.  What if no one died? Death is hated, however necessary.  As Saramago illustrates, without it population soars, the sick linger on in a horrible sort of half-life, religion loses its purpose, organized crime thrives and the economy suffers.  However, I'm not sure Saramago is telling us anything none of us don't already know.  Obviously, death is a necessary evil, and stories of this sort have been told before.  Furthermore, the characters were left so vague and the story such an overview, that it was hard for me to feel invested in what was going on.

Then, half-way through, the novel switched gears.  While the first half focused on the societal implications of there suddenly being no death, the second half focused on death itself - this time, through personification of the concept.  Death decides to resume her work, though she now gives everyone two weeks notice.  This notice presents its own problems, but the real story in this second half is that death (small "d") finds herself (a woman, of course) unable to kill a cellist for reasons she can not understand.  The novel's two halves are not connected well, and I was never particularly clear on what point Saramago was trying to make with the cellist story.  By the end, I was bored and forcing myself to finish.

Again, maybe the problem is with me.  Maybe Death with Interruptions is genius and I'm the idiot who just didn't "get" it.  However, I suspect this isn't really the case.  I suspect that I'm right - that this is not one of his strongest efforts and that it contains some very real problems that many readers will overlook because of the author's acclaim.

Overall, fervent Saramago fans will certainly want to check it out, however first-time readers of his work would do best to start with a different work.

Jose Saramago
2008, 256 pages

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Friday, December 19, 2008
favorite songs of 2008, #23 of 30: the duke spirit's "lassoo"
If you're me, then there are three very solid reason to love The Duke Spirit: they're British, their sounds gives a heavy nod to bands like Sonic Youth and the Pixies, and they're fronted by a badass female vocalist who sounds a bit like a pre-Starship Grace Slick.

As an added bonus, they appear to put on a pretty tight little live show:

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hello, cupcake!
My family's annual Christmas party is tomorrow, and, after being told to bring a dessert, I thought I would pull out all the stops and try my hand at these adorable Melted Snowman Cupcakes I saw featured on Craft:

However, when I woke up this morning to the news that school was cancelled due to this:

I had to accept that heading to the craft store to buy fondant just wasn't in the cards. Oh well. Another day, perhaps. 

So instead, I made these Cranberry Filled Eggnog Cupcakes I found via Baking Becca:

Maybe they didn't turn out as cute as the ones I had original planned to bring, but they do taste awfully nice - definitely eggnog-y, but not too rich, and the tartness of the cranberries kept it from being too sweet.  Something tells me they may not go over too well with the children, but my Grandpa's basement will be packed with plenty of adults too, all of us watching while thirteen toddlers take five hours to individually open each one of their gifts, one child at a time.

Which reminds me - I should have spiked these babies WITH REAL RUM rather than just imitation rum flavoring.  Stupid me.


Thursday, December 18, 2008
random posts of pretty
I really sort of love David Axelbank's darkened flower photographs. Reminds me how much I miss living things...

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008
favorite songs of 2008, #22 of 30: the walkmen's "postcards from tiny islands"
It took me far longer than it should have to come around to The Walkmen's You & Me, but it's become one of my favorite releases of 2008. It's a dark, pensive album full of compelling songs, and while "Postcards from Tiny Islands" is probably my favorite of the bunch, they're all really quite good.

Really. I wouldn't lie about these things.

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I've been feeling like a low-down jerk for most of the afternoon, but this site lifted my spirits in a subversive sort of way.

You know those saccharine-sweet sites like I Can Has Cheezburger  and Cute Overload?  Well, this ain't those.

sometimes they leave in tears
I’ve never really been one to meet frustration with crying, however my study of trigonometry was a notable exception. My relationship with math had always been rather tenuous, but algebra made sense to me – enough sense to earn me an A at least – so I made the mistake of signing up for PreCalculus/ Trigonometry during my junior year of high school. Looking back, that was the most tear-soaked year of my life.

The calculus parts weren’t so bad, but the trigonometry section blew my mind. I tried, but it might as well have been taught in Japanese for all the sense I could make of it. I worked my butt off that year trying to wrap my head around the concepts, but every time I thought I had it, things either got much harder, or I’d get a test back revealing that no, I never really understood it in the first place. I guess I was lucky in that school had always come pretty easily to me; never before had I ever encountered something that I just couldn’t get, and so I eventually found myself breaking down into tears several times a week by the time the class had ended.

My teacher, Mr. Cotner, a genuinely wonderful man with a wicked sense of humor, nicknamed me ‘Weepy.’ It. Was. Horrible.

I say all this because I had a conference with a student today that ended in tears. (Hers, not mine.) I’ve started requiring that students come in for a one-on-one conference with me before they’re allowed to revise final drafts, and although her essay hadn’t been horrible, it was hardly a shining star. Things had started off well enough. We began with the major issues – strengthening her thesis, better use of quoting, etc - and she seemed unfazed by my criticisms and suggestions. It wasn’t until the subject turned grammatical that the waterworks began.

I’ve taken to putting checkmarks at the end of the line where an issue exists rather than circling or correcting errors, the rationale being that they would then have to figure out for themselves what they did wrong, thus, hopefully, learn more. Her essay was sprinkled with checkmarks. By no means was it COVERED with them, but there were certainly enough. The checkmark thing is a new habit I’m trying to form, so I needed to explain to her what it meant exactly. She must have thought they pointed to something positive, because when I told her they meant something was amiss, her entire demeanor changed. She turned away from me and her shoulders began to heave. I recognized her reaction. It was how I ended nearly every conference I had with Mr. Cotner.

I tried my best to make her feel better, to assure her that she really is a smart girl and a fine writer, but she was still a bit weepy after leaving my room and I’m now left feeling horrible. She had tried so hard to make sure that her writing was meticulous, and then me and my stupid purple checkmarks came in a busted it all up. I never blamed Mr. Cotner for my frustrations, so I don’t really think she blames me for hers, but I just wish I could have done something to make her feel better is all. I know exactly how she’s feeling, and man is it a lousy way to feel.

I’m not really sure what my purpose is here, other than to tell you that I feel particularly icky today and this little story points to why. Stupid purple pen.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008
weekly book review: a confederacy of dunces, by john kennedy toole
The title of this post is factually incorrect, since this will not be much of a book review at all.  See,  a few friends and I recently decided to form an online book club, and "Dunces," our first selection, is presently up for discussion.  I could write something more involved over here, but I'd rather not steal anyone's thunder.  (Thanks again, Paul.)  Nonetheless, I thought I might share a few quick thoughts for those readers uninvolved in my weird little club.   

And so, my thoughts:

Overall, I found A Confederacy of Dunces to be a very enjoyable read.  Perhaps it dragged in spots, but it was, all things considered, a fantastic comic farce, and I don't think I've ever read anything quite like it.  As much as the protagonist begged to be hated, I found that I couldn't, and I enjoyed spending time in his wacko world almost as much as I was thankful that he didn't really exist in my actual life.   Did it deserve the Pulitzer?  Hard to say.  However, and despite its challenges, reading it was a worthwhile experience, and one I would certainly recommend.

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2008 in retrospect
For the third straight year, John Williams, who blogs at A Special Way of Being Afraid, has invited guests to chime in on what they loved most about the year, and he's resumed the series today.  Mine's there if you're interested, posted alongside a piece about a man and his dog that I made the mistake of reading during my conference hour.  Sucker got me all misty riiiight before a student came in for a conference. Sigh...

Anyway, they're usually pretty good, so my point is that you should maybe stop in sometime this week and check them out.

Monday, December 15, 2008
random posts of pretty
I have things to say and books to review, however lack the mental faculties with which to tackle any of it at the present moment. And so, instead, I present you with "Cartonlandia", an awesomely detailed mixed media installation created by Mexican-American artist Ana Serrano.

Seriously, the things this lady can do with a little paint and some cardboard...Bonita!


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favorite songs of 2008, #21 of 35: cut copy's "lights & music"
In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that - once upon a time - I spent nearly two years worth of Friday nights at the same gay dance club.  (And yet I wondered why I had such a hard time managing a date.  Crazy, I know.)  So yes, as embarrassing as it might be for a woman my age to admit, Cut Copy appeals to me.  

You see, as hard as I sometimes try to suppress it, there still exists an eighteen-year-old version of me who likes body glitter, fishnet stockings, glow sticks, and who prefers the safe company of homosexual men to that of people who MIGHT ACTUALLY BE ATTRACTED TO HER.  

(Whatever.  Maybe I don't go dancing much anymore, but a girl still needs her gym tunes, right?)

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Friday, December 12, 2008
twenty four quacks
This year, Chloe got her Christmas presents early. We figured it would be alright, seeing how she's A DOG and has no concept of Christmas, Santa, baby Jesus or even gift-giving in general, preferring to function quite simply in an endless eat -sleep -hump-defecate-flashdance loop.

Both gifts were stuffed and, unfortunately for me, both make "realistic" noises.  The skunk hasn't proven to be too much of an issue.  She only seems to want to play with it when she's feeling sinister, thus compelled to whip something around by its tail, and its sound - while weird - is relatively brief.  But the duck, however...

Let's just say it might be love, which would be cute if it didn't quack TWENTY-FOUR TIMES whenever she squeezes the stinking thing.  

And does she sometimes squeeze it at three-thirty in the AM? Oh yes. She does.  Love, apparently, has no concept of time.

favorite songs of 2008, #20 of 35: devendra banhart's "carmensita"
Yes indeed, I am being serious.  I love it in a salad way.


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(potentially) the best headline i'm most likely to find today:
The Smiths could be 'headed for a reunion'

Heart, be still!

(please don't suck, please don't suck, please don't suck)


Thursday, December 11, 2008
"semantics is cold comfort when it comes to humanity"
I didn't think it was possible for me to crush harder on Jon Stewart, but I was all a flutter after listening to him respectfully and intelligently challenge Mike Huckabee on the subject of gay marriage.  If you're like me and missed it when it aired last night, then it's worth a look...


mrs white's unsolicited fashion advice for today's youth
Tip #57:  Leggings are not the same thing as pants, thus hardly interchangeable.  

Under short skits, long tunics or worn as pajamas, they are fine.  However - and regardless of how thick they are, what color they are, or whether or not they contain knee pads - a pair of leggings are not a suitable replacement for a pair of pants.  NICE GIRLS COVER THEIR BUMS IN PUBLIC!

See?  Tyra Banks rocks the leggings-as-pants look, and she's a bit of a lunatic. You really want to take fashion advice from a lunatic?

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