From Geek to Chic in a flash!

There are some numbers a girl hates to admit.

Ask me my age, my weight, how many Girl Scout cookies I can eat in one sitting, and I’ll happily divulge information.

Ask me how many pairs of shoes I own and I’ll avert my eyes and mutter something about how women need so many pairs of shoes because our wardrobes are more, um, complicated. Yes! Complicated! That’s it!

The truth is, I just love shoes. And my lifestyle lends itself perfectly to owning many pairs.

I am a working gal who needs to look at least semi-professional most days. I’m a woman about town (humor me, here) who occasionally likes to prove she cleans up well.

I’m a cyclist, a kayaker, an avid walker (who owns an energetic dog), and a sometimes runner. I’m a gardener — I compost!

This totally justifies, don’t you see, the fact that I have everything from cute leopard-spotted wedges to tall green rubber boots meant for mucking through the weeds. I’ve got proper black pumps and adorable red suede peep-toe pumps.

I’ve got silver and blue shoes that clip into the pedals of my bike and Mary Jane trekkers meant to hold me tight to the rough terrain…of my suburban neighborhood. I have embroidered denim clogs just because they were irresistible.

My latest purchase: a pair of those barefoot shoes. You know, the ones that make you look like a gorilla.

I’ve got no excuse for the purchase except for the aforementioned love of shoes and the fact that my 9-year-old niece sported a pair during a recent visit. I. Had. To. Have. Some.

They look weird and truthfully, they feel weird. They are supposed to mimic the perfectly natural and healthy way we all walked before shoes were invented. (The irony of that is not lost on me.)

I reason (rationalize?) that they are the perfect antidote to the days when I choose cute over comfort. And yeah, I get that I’m like the person who orders the biggie-sized fast food meal with a diet soda. I don’t want bunions, but I sure do like a 3-inch heel. I’m willing to take one for my team of 10 toes by alternating orthopedic with haute couture.

Either way, people are checking out my feet.

You Probably Didn't Need to Hear That…

Think before you listen, folks.

So, who here has discovered the miracle on ice that is Spotify?

For those who haven’t, it is a free(ish) music service that reached US soil from Sweden over the summer.

For those who have, can we just take a moment to revel in musical nerdiness over how much I LOVE this thing? It is truly awesome. If you have not tried it yet, please, do yourself a favor and get on that, like, now.

Here’s the link. I’ll wait here quietly while you get up to speed.

Oh, but that’s not so much for you if you’re not one of the more than 800 million folks already on the Facebooks. You’re not allowed. Sorry.

That is because Spotify recently decided to marry itself with the social networking site and make it a requirement to have a Facebook account before you can join my reveling in how amazing it is to search for anything, and I mean anything, and listen to it fo’ FREE.

Well, sort of free. I still have to enjoy the occasional musical stylings of George Strait and Gavin DeGraw. The free version of Spotify subjects you to clips of music  you would probably rather not hear from time to time, along with gems of advice on how to create playlists and how you should share every aspect of your musical tastes with the world on Facebook.

Oh WAIT, that’s right, now that Spotify and Facebook are joined in holy matrimony, you don’t have a choice when it comes to the latter. Here’s a BBC article that explains the marital arrangement.

So, now when you go to listen to your favorite polka be prepared for your entire friend list on Facebook to know about it, whether they want to or not.

Case in point, the list of 140+ songs streaming down my wall now, not all of which are my doing, but does Facebook or Spotify care to distinguish that fact? NOPE.

In the past week or so since the aforementioned happy couple got together, every time someone else uses my beloved Mac/Spotify account to play a song, it appears on my wall. My list of recently-played music now features hits from some of my favorite bands like Tennis and Austin Lucas.

It also appears that I have developed a sudden affinity for soft-sounding Icelandic music, complete with Ice jibberish. Example: Góðan Daginn by Sigur Rós

I have to point out that I am in no way shape or form complaining about this music. It is beautiful, even if I can’t understand what these Icelandic people are singing about. The only problem sat with the album cover, which features a from-behind shot of several young men frolicking across a highway on a clear spring day stark nekkid.

Yeah, there were naked buttocks on my Facebook wall for a minute there. Sorry, friends.

The source of the soothing Ice music and the ensuing album cover was my significant other, Aaron, who does indeed have an affinity for all things Icelandic, but not naked man butts, for the record.

Either way, now I’m having problems figuring out how to get Spotify to go back to minding its own business, since it clearly cannot figure out that I am not the one listening to a variation of screechy, vulgar punk rock and the soft sounds of Explosions in the Sky.

There is a setting to make your music choices secret again, apparently, but in the meantime, dear readers, if you’re in the mood for some sexy 90’s R&B or you’re feeling like a Barbie Girl in a Barbie World, maybe choose a different venue other than good ole’ Spotify.

You know, one that won’t betray your love for all things Sisqo.

Here we are now, entertain us

Going on a trip with the family means sharing our vehicle’s sound system. We rarely agree.

As the person who is most frequently the driver and who has nothing to do but stare at the road and in whom everyone else has a very important stake in remaining awake, I feel like the choice should be weighted toward what I want.

Not everyone believes that, though.

Especially the kids.

This past weekend, we were in for a long car ride. I was dreading the drive, but excited to see a potential entertainment option. Sirius satellite radio was dedicating one of its channels to Nirvana in honor of the 20th anniversary of the release of “Nevermind.”

I’ve been feeling sentimental about this. How could 20 years have passed? I was just a kid — 19 — when “Nevermind” came out. Does it now qualify as classic rock? Do I now qualify for AARP? The alternative rock milestone, combined with R.E.M.’s breakup last week, is a pop culture double whammy for my generation.

I remember a lot of debate from two decades ago about whether Kurt Cobain was the voice of our generation. I never felt enough rage to believe that was so. And besides, how can one guy be the voice of a generation? I’m sure there were plenty of people who didn’t buy that about Dylan.

But Cobain was definitely a distinct, talented, compelling voice in our generation. How such a lyrical growl could come out of such a skinny, sickly-looking guy, I have always wondered. It was a waste of potential that his life ended the way it did.

As the miles rolled by on our family trip, my index finger moved toward the radio programming button. Through the speakers came Krist Novoselic’s driving bass, soon joined by Dave Grohl’s pounding drums and then Cobain’s grumble building to a scream.

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And then, from the back seat, the inevitable:

“Change it.”

Me: “No. It’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit!'”

Little kid: “Change it!”

Me: “No!”

Little kid: “Put it on Radio Disney!”

Me: “No. Just let me listen to the end of the song and I’ll give you an hour of Radio Disney.”

Big sister: “Just let him listen to it — even though it sucks.”

* Resigned sigh. *

Five minutes of guitar-fueled, generational rage passed and my moment was over.

I turned the radio to another generation.

It’s their turn. Here is their voice:

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Test driving Facebook's new Timeline feature

It’s not often you hear the phrase, “I like what Facebook has done.” But that’s what I’d tell people about the new Timeline feature that’s rolling out.

In case you haven’t been reading about what Facebook has in store next, Timeline is it.

It’s a new way of displaying your profile page, giving access and display to your personal history. Everyone is going to get this change, apparently by early next week, whether they want it or not. But those who want to jump in early can. I did it by following this link, which leads you though an (exaggeration here) 18-step process but it’s really not that hard.

When I heard about Timeline, it freaked me out a little bit. It sounded like Facebook was gathering up all kinds of milestones from my life, from birth to the present. How would Facebook know such things? Would it remind me of my first spoken word? My kindergarten teacher? My first kiss? Embarrassments long forgotten by everyone but me?

That seems a little stalker-y.

Fortunately, Facebook seems to know only what I (and others) have actually told Facebook. Which means there is a really big gap from my birth, which is listed, up to 2008 when I joined the social media world.

A lot of stuff happened during those years, and it was important — at least to me. But Facebook seems oblivious to what it was. So that’s actually kind of a relief.

That’s OK. The rest looks nice. Facebook has catalogued my status updates, likes and pictures based on what I and others have posted over the years. It looks like reading a magazine of your own life — at least of the time since you joined Facebook.

I’m still exploring my Timeline. But so far I like it.

Has anybody else moved forward on the Timeline? What did you think?

Even more on DC's New 52 with Rabbi Urecki

Rabbi Victor Urecki joins us again this week for another trip through DC’s New 52 comic book relaunch. This past week’s offerings included some goings on in Gotham City, as well as some titles that might or might not be appealing to female readers.

Is it a sin to swipe a photo from a rabbi's Facebook page?

Me: There are several Batman titles debuting. Three of them came out this week: “Batman,” “Nightwing” and “Red Hood and the Outlaws.” First question: Who is your favorite Bat-sidekick? Second question: Which is the best of these books so far?

Batman

Urecki: Great questions. The success of Batman in recent years has been the ability to extend the durability of this franchise with an impressive number of supporting characters. Batman is no longer just Bruce, Alfred and Dick (Grayson), but several Robins Jason, Tim, Stephanie and now, Damian), Batgirl, Batwoman, Catwoman ,Oracle, “WayneCorp” company leaders (Lucius Fox) and Gotham City’s Finest (James Gordon, Harvey Bullock, Maggie Sawyer). For a “loner”, Batman has a rich and diverse family. The fact that so many characters have graduated into their own titles is indicative of the strength of this comic book juggernaut.

Having said that, Nightwing (the first Robin, Dick Grayson) has always been a great character. Dick has shown the most development throughout his life and has emerged into well beyond being merely Batman’s former sidekick. From his love interests to his leadership on teams, Nightwing is no longer living under the shadow of Bruce. Nightwing #1 was beautiful, nicely written and impressively drawn.

Red Hood and the Outlaws

“Red Hood” follows the continuing adventures of rogue Robin (Jason Todd). Killed by the Joker but back from the dead (ah, comics. Does any character ever really die?), this book teams him up with Green Arrow sidekick and badboy Roy “Speedy” Harper and former Dick Grayson lover Princess Koriand’r “Starfire” ( Tamaranean and former slave). Jason has become less about Batman and has emerged as a complex and quite fascinating character. This book may one of DC’s best buddy books with Jason and Roy leading us on a rollercoaster ride of fun and adventure.

But favorite sidekick? Right now: Young Damian Wayne , the new Robin. Son of Bruce Wayne and Talia (daughter of supervillian Ra’s al Ghul), Damian is one of the best characters to be developed in years! Damian has the abilities and brilliance of his father with none of his father’s discipline and ethics. Bruce and the Batman family are slowly molding this rebellious and brash kid into a true hero. Watching him develop is fun.

Best book? No question: Batman. The artwork is stunning with some beautiful and creative panel work that cannot be described but must be seen. The narrative is a joy to read as is the storyline. Reviews of this book have been glowing and it’s obvious why. The creative team works seamlessly together . Batman is easily going to be in the top 3 of the new 52!

 

Me: There are a bunch of Green Lantern books, too. This week is “Green Lantern Corps.” First question: Who is your favorite all-time ring-wielder? Second question: How does this book differ from “Green Lantern?”

Green Lantern Corps

Urecki: Guy Gardner has been my favorite GL ever since his membership in the 1980’s Justice League. The ultra macho “greatest Green Lantern ever” ( Guy’s words) adds humor and slapstick to every book he is featured.

Right now, “Green Lantern Corps” has him and John Stewart (another notable earth GL) in what may shape up to be one of the strongest titles in the DC Universe. Writer Peter Tomasi has joined Geoff Johns on the Green Lantern titles for quite some time and has given us some wonderful creative storylines. Tomasi has a gift for developing unique voices for the large stable of GL characters and his sense of high adventure is heightened here by some extraordinary art by Fernando Pasarin. Pasarin’s pages simply pop out at you and his flight and battle sequences are flat out remarkable.

 

Me: The Birds of Prey are a group of female crimefighters. This go-round they’re without Barbara Gordon, who has regained the ability to walk and has returned to her role as Batgirl. Can they do without her?

Birds of Prey

Urecki: Uh…maybe…but it is going to take some time. This is one book that is hurt by the reboot. Birds of Prey has been an absolutely marvelous collection of terrific female characters, written by one of the best writers in the business, Gail Simone. Simone not only writes well but is able to create more than two dimensional heroines. Too often, female characters in comics have been nothing more than male character in skirts. Simone redefined the super heroine and her work on Birds of Prey was stellar. Losing her and the heart and soul of Birds of Prey, Oracle, hurts.

Still, Duane Swierzynski (writer with the great scrabble name) hits the ground running with a triumphant debut. Lots of great action and nice character interplay. Classic heroine Black Canary will be carrying the heavy lifting on this team but it remains to be seen if the team can ever reach the heights of its previous incarnation without Oracle.

 

Me: Besides “Birds of Prey,” this week also features “Supergirl” and “Wonder Woman,” two of the best known female superheroines ever. Plus, there’s “Catwoman.” Will women like these titles? I realize we’re two guys talking here…

Wonder Woman

Urecki: Sigh… This is a growing problem for both DC and Marvel.

The comic book female fan base is limited and characters such as Supergirl and Catwoman seem unappealing to them.

My middle daughter reads comics but her interests are mostly with the independent titles, stories and adventures that have strong female characters that have developed on their own and written with an understanding of what appeals more to the modern woman of today.

These DC titles are quality books but do not seem to generate the same types of enthusiasm. In sum, DC needs more Gail Simones in their stable of writers.

 

Me: This coming week is the final week of the New 52 rollout, right? What are the highlights?

Urecki: This is going to be a tough week for this rabbinical fan. I will have to wait a while to enjoy this coming week’s books with Rosh Hashana and the High Holidays beginning Wednesday night September 28 and continue through the 30th. I won’t be able to pick up my books until the following week (Thank you, Cheryl at Cheryl’s Comics for saving my books).

Aquaman

Still, another week of DC 52 and another week that gives meaning to the saying ”saving the best for last.” We have Superman , Aquaman (absolutely gorgeous Ivan Reis art and once again, master story teller Geoff Johns), Flash, and Batman the Dark Knight .

In addition, I hope that All-Star Western and Justice League Dark are given a chance.

Jonah Hex is the legendary gunslinger/ bounty hunter created in the 70’s. Forget the film and give this character a look and you will see why for over 30 years, he has been a critical success and a cult classic.

Justice League Dark

And nothing says that DC is serious about creativity than Justice League Dark. Take some of the most original characters of the occult (Zatanna, John Constantine, Deadman, Madame Zanadu, and Shade the Changing Man), throw them together as a team fighting the forces of evil and you have all the makings of an incredible book.

This is a book that draws from the great strength of the massive library of characters at DC and will showcase the diversity of its universe. Should be quite a ride! Enjoy! Shana Tova, Happy New Year!

Teays Valley Sandwiches

One time, for journalistic purposes, I covered a train crash that happened right out back of a 7-Eleven. That meant I spent most of a week hanging out at the crash site while it was cleaned up.

And, it meant I ate  a lot of 7-Eleven food. Talk about your guilty pleasures.

Did someone say SANDWICH?

I really think I could live at a convenience store, although it might mean, eventually, emergency workers would have to come and dislodge me, plus book me for the Maury Povich show.

Anyhow, I’ve been passing this big sign at my local 7-Eleven of late: “New Teays Valley Sandwiches.”

And I thinks, “I like 7-Eleven. I like sandwiches. I like local flavor.”

I was pretty sure I would enjoy a  Teays Valley Sandwich, which was named after the Putnam County community that was named for Thomas Teays, a hunter and trapper who once spent a considerable amount of time in the vicinity, although I suspected Thomas Teays probably didn’t eat too much convenience store food.

As for me, the sandwich would make me a locavore.

So, I went inside and got myself a sandwich. It turned out the selection wasn’t as grand as I’d wished. There was “sausage” or “sausage and egg.” I got sausage.

Forty-four seconds in the microwave, and it turned out to be a fine breakfast sandwich. It was nothing to write home about. Then again, eating local means not having to write home.

Cyrille Aimee speaks my language

There are two kinds of jazz: live jazz and recorded jazz. That sounds silly and snobby, but it’s really true. Recorded jazz never sounds like live jazz, even if the recording is of a live performance.

I don’t know why that’s the case, but it is.

A few weeks back Daily Mail features editor Monica Orosz told me Cyrille Aimee was coming to town to open this year’s Charleston Jazz Series. I’m a bit of a prodigal jazz fan, so I’d never heard of her. So I headed to YouTube. I was impressed but hardly overwhelmed.

Still, Whitney and I were due for a date night and a jazz concert seemed nice for a cool fall evening.

Friday night, we headed up the hill to the Edgewood Country Club for Aimie’s performance. It turned out to be one of the best concerts I’ve seen. And I’ve seen quite a few concerts.

Aimee doesn’t carry a big ensemble around with her — she relies on her voice and Brazilian guitarist Diego Figueiredo to get the job done. Of course, sometimes a claw hammer is just as effective as a chainsaw.

Cyrille Aimee, Warren Walker and Diego Figueiredo swing

If you read Monica’s story from earlier this week, you’d know Aimee is fluent in French, Spanish, English and scat, that nonsensical language of jazz that sounds easy but…well, you try to do it and avoid sounding like a bubbling infant.

Aimee wasted no time showing off her chops. She took a scat solo in the first song, complete with what I now call “trombone hands.” (She has this charming habit of moving her left hand like a trombone slide while she’s scatting.)

Her voice has the tone of a classic female jazz singer (all of them…Ella, Eartha, Billie…at different times) but retains a youthful energy. Torch songs, these are not.

Figueiredo also was in top form. I’ve never seen anything like him. Jazz musicians are known to bob around while they play, but this guy never sat still! He started each song with his butt in the chair, his classical guitar on one knee, guitar neck pointed at a 45-degree angle from the floor.

But after he kicked off a song — watch out. His feet danced on the floor in front of him, he rocked in and out of his seat, his guitar neck ticked back and forth from the floor like a whacked-out metronome. When he’d hit a particularly tricky passage, Figueriedo would put his head right down to the guitar’s body and shake his bush hairdo back and forth.

The duo also invited tenor sax man Warren Walker onstage for some songs. Walker made a fine addition, too, using sparse lines to accentuate Aimee’s and Figueiredo’s singing/picking. He had his own onstage tics, bobbing up and down while he played like a weightlifter doing squats .

It was amazing to see these three musicians when they really got going: Aimee playing air trombone, Figueiredo bouncing all over the place and Walker acting like he needs to lift from the knees on every note.

And the best part was, none of them missed a lick. The group burned through standards like “I Wish You Love,” “Dindi,” “Bye Bye, Blackbird” and “Tea For Two.” They also took a turn at the Bill Withers/Grover Washington tune “Just The Two of Us,” which got every baby boomer in the crowd rocking in their seat.

The real gems of the performance, however, were the solo numbers. Figueiredo is the kind of fingerstyle guitarist who can make one little six-stringed instrument sound like a carnival.

For Aimee’s solo numbers, she used a looper pedal (which allows a musician to record a short sample, loop it, record another sample on top, loop it, and on and on). She beatboxed drums, hummed bass lines and sang harmony parts for herself.

What at first sounded like a mid-tempo hard bop song quickly turned into Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son.” In the second set, Aimee performed “Don’t Worry Be Happy” with her pedalboard, transforming a tired cliche into a happy-go-lucky foot tapper.

I think it might have been the French accent.

We're not wrong, we're just regional

One day I picked up my iPhone, looked at the list of available podcasts and saw that there was a new episode of Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.

“Oh!” I thought. “That needs listened!”

Grammar Girl

OK, that wasn’t exactly my thought. But it turns out the episode was about the way we talk — we Appalachian people.

The episode was called “Needs Washed” with the subhead “Fascinating regionalisms.” It was all about this speech pattern we have, which apparently seems peculiar to people elsewhere, where we drop “to be” out of some sentences. Thus, “needs washed” or “needs cooled” or “needs vacuumed.”

Grammar Girl calls this speech pattern “Pittsburghese.” Fine by me.

Pittsburgh is the epicenter of “needs washed” kind of sentences, but they’re also very common throughout Pennsylvania, and roughly as far west as Iowa, as far North as southern Michigan, and as far south as northern West Virginia.

Grammar Girl winds up calling the parts of the country that speak this way the “North Midland Region.” Myself, I think that would be an excellent new football conference to spring forth from realignment: “The North Midland Regional Football Conference.” A Bowl Championship Series berth needs bestowed.

Anyhow, our little language quirk doesn’t sound strange to an Appalachian ear. But to someone from the Northeast or Southwest — it’s wrong! These folks think you should say, “My car needs to be washed.” Or, “That rug needs vacuuming.”

It turns out there’s a fancy name for our speech pattern, which has been the subject of linguistic research.

For those of you who are curious or want to do your own research, professor Barbara Johnstone, who studies Pittsburghese at Carnegie Mellon, calls the phenomenon “infinitival copula deletion.” “To be” is a copula, also known as a linking verb, in its infinitive form.

In other words, we take out “to be.” Though if I were diagnosed in a hospital with “infinitival copula deletion,” I would be worried indeed, and probably plenty embarrassed.

We actually inherited the speech pattern from early settlers in the region.

The “needs washed” construction is common in Scotland and Northern Ireland according to both linguists and a few Scottish and Irish respondents to my question, and when southwestern Pennsylvania was first settled by Europeans in the late 1600s and early 1700s, most of the settlers were Scots-Irish, a group of people with Scottish heritage who had settled for a few generations in the Ulster region of Northern Ireland. Not surprisingly, they brought their language–or what we might call quirks — with them.

But is the construction wrong? Depends on who you ask, Grammar Girl says. If you ask us, then no. If you ask someone from elsewhere in America, then probably so.

I think it’s reasonable to say that, at least in certain communities in the North Midland region, the “needs washed” construction is standard. Nobody who grew up there notices it as odd or thinks it’s wrong. Nevertheless, outside that region, almost everyone considers it wrong; and people who move to the North Midland region from other areas will likely think everyone else there is speaking “bad” English.

Grammar Girl winds up concluding that it’s fine to talk this way amongst ourselves. But if we’re writing a cover letter for a job application or talking professionally with someone from outside our region, we’d best include “to be” in our constructions.

So there’s your grammar tip. From Grammar Girl to me to you.

I’ll keep you up to speed if she ever talks about buggies vs. shopping carts or sweepers vs. vacuum cleaners.

And if she ever talks about Putman County, Sissonsville or CMAC, I’ll totally let you know.

Glee = Heroes

A TV show with a creative premise and exciting first season that seemed to fold in on itself by Season 2, becoming a jumbled mess of ridiculous plots and inconsistent characterization?

Heroes!

And Glee!

Turns out, they’re the same show: