rank city: ramen edition

For the inaugural set of Rank City posts (in which I rank whatever I choose), I’ve decided to start with ramen. Columbus has a surprising amount of ramen restaurants; a new one even opened while I was working on these posts. If you never got on the David Chang train and to you, ramen costs .99 and tastes like MSG, you are depriving your tastes buds of an experience. While Columbus’ ramen may not rival Momofuku or the real deal in Japan, it’s worth checking out the varieties.

On to the fine print. I will rank the restaurants and their ramen on a 5 point scale for each of these categories:

  • Appetizer
  • Broth
  • Noodles
  • Protein
  • Environment/Service
  • Affordability

For a total high score of 30, plus any bonus points I want to throw in.

ramen

Enjoy!

music mondays: chet faker and some first listens

Chet Faker‘s first full album, Built on Glass, came out last week. You probably know him for his cover of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity”, a crowd favorite for sure.

Faker is an electronic musician with a soulful side. If you didn’t guess, his performance name is an homage to jazz musician, Chet Baker.

“1998” is my favorite track on this album.

It’s got this great beat that makes me want to dance every time I listen. After the opening verse, he repeats the same verse for about 5 minutes (they cut down for the video apparently). Some of you might find that annoying. But, if you think of Chet Faker as an electronic musician first, it makes sense that he may be less focused on lyrical content. That said, I’m sure most people can relate to his lament:

We used to be friends
We used to be inner circle
I don’t understand
What have I become to you
Take my good word
Turn it backwards
Turn your back on me
Is it absurd
For me to hurt
When everything else is fading

“To Me” is another favorite that gets more soulful. This isn’t an album with a ton of depth, but it’s got some good beats and has been fun to listen to.

NPR Music just opened up the gauntlet recently with the number of First Listens it released. You guys know I’m not generally a country music fan, but I got mad love for Dolly Parton. “Jolene” is probably one of my favorite songs of all time. Basically, Dolly can do no wrong. She’s got a pretty wide variety on Blue Smoke, too. Covers, classics, and new stuff that leans to the pop country sound of today.

I was really excited to see Lykke Li’s new album, I Never Listen, up on First Listen. I heard “No Rest For The Wicked” a couple weeks ago, and liked it immediately.

Wounded Rhymes was such a dark, powerful, slightly scandalous album, and I really enjoyed it, but am looking forward to this more familiar sound from Lykke Li. “Gunshot” is an early favorite. It has this great 80s sound that catches you off guard.

Nikki Nack, the third album from tUnE-yArDs, is out there too. I haven’t listened too closely yet to Merrill Garbus’s latest, but I expect weird, poptastic tracks with worldly influences.

Lastly, I haven’t made it to Lighght, the newest from Kishi Bashi, at all yet, but look forward to giving it a listen. If you like strings, I recommend you do as well.

Happy listening.

Update: Chet Faker was on World Cafe on April 30. I always enjoy hearing an artist talk about their music firsthand, so take a listen.

music mondays: spring sounds

IT’S FINALLY STARTING TO FEEL LIKE SPRING. I still had to scrape my windshield this morning, but it’s currently 62° and I WILL NOT be wearing a coat this evening. Take that, Mother Nature.

When spring finally starts to truly emerge, I always want something light and fun to listen to. Cue the folk pop tracks.

NPR has been streaming Nickel Creek‘s new album, so I’ve been getting my fill before it actually comes out. Really enjoying it, but I’ll save most of the Nickel Creek reviewing for after I see them in May (!!!). “Destination” is an early favorite, as well as their cover of “Hayloft”.

Mountain Man is this super folksy female trio. I’ve listened to them in the past and saw them a few years ago when they were touring with Feist as her backup singers. They wore these kinda crazy-looking long, drapey dresses and did weird hand dancing. But I liked them. So when I heard that one of the girls, Amelia, had teamed up with electronic producer, Nicholas Sanborn, I was pretty interested. Together they are Sylvan Esso and I’ve been playing these two songs on repeat lately:

The Columbus-based band Saintseneca seems perched to reach some significant indie attention levels. I’m happy to see them do well, having caught various stages of their growth. I wasn’t a big fan of Saintseneca when I first heard them four years ago. I really wanted to like them, but their sound wasn’t as dynamic then and their songs all seemed to merge together (in the bad way). NPR is also streaming their new album, Dark Arc, out tomorrow. Check out “Happy Alone”:

This last group isn’t a folk band, but they’re still providing a great soundtrack as spring tries to get sprung. A few weeks ago, I starred one of St. Paul and the Broken Bones‘s songs on a SXSW playlist, without really paying attention to who the group was. Then, as I was driving into work one morning, I heard an interview with the lead singer, Paul Janeway, and snippets of a few more tracks. I was hooked. These guys are from Alabama and make soul music that feeds my Motown-loving ears.

“Call Me” was the first song I heard.

“Broken Bones and Pocket Change” is a great example of what this band can do.

There aren’t any good videos of it, but “It’s Midnight” is a short, soulful track, and one of my favorites. St. Paul will be crooning away tomorrow night at Skully’s. I was really looking forward to seeing them at Rumba, knowing it would be an intimate show with a packed house (and cheaper beer). They quickly sold out tickets then moved the show to Skully’s to accommodate. Good for the band, a little sad for me.

Happy listening and happier spring!

 

music mondays: songs of late

GUYS, IT’S 8PM AND NOT PITCH BLACK OUT. Let’s just rejoice in that quickly before moving on.

So I haven’t written in awhile, mostly because I moved recently and have been getting settled. But also because I wasn’t listening to anything I was overly excited about. But it’s time to get back into the swing of it, so here we go.

I’ve been listening to two albums on repeat lately. The first is Beck’s Morning Phase. I’ve always liked Beck, but never gave him a ton of attention in the past. That said, when an artist puts out an album after a significant period without one, I’m interested. (I know Beck released the sheet music in 2012, but that’s not a full studio album.) So I listened and liked it immediately.

It had been 6 years since Beck released his last album, Modern Guilt. During the hiatus, he had a serious back injury that prohibited him from playing guitar. Morning Phase isn’t a masterpiece 6 years in the making, or an epic redefining of an artist. But, it’s a really good, solid album.

By far, my favorite track is “Blue Moon”. The selfish, snobby part of me doesn’t want to admit that the first single from this album is my favorite, but it just is. I love when a song can trick you like “Blue Moon” does. If I’d listened to an instrumental version initially, I wouldn’t expect the sad, lonely lyrics. But it turns out to be a rather melancholy song. This balancing act of light, easy sounds with somber lyrics hooked me. Not to mention I’ll never say no to a steel guitar. Here’s the track:

The second album I’ve been listening to on repeat is Agnes Obel’s Aventine. This album came out in September, so I’m late to it, but just happy not to miss it. Obel is a Danish musician who makes beautiful music. “Dorian” is a lovely, haunting song, and my favorite track. Here’s a live version for you:

I don’t know if it’s just the Danish connection, but as I listen to this album I keep thinking she should do the score/soundtrack for a Lars von Trier film. Can’t you just picture his stirring storytelling accompanied by her looming sound?

music mondays: wedding playlists

Recently, a friend asked me to help her make a playlist for her wedding. I obliged, but don’t you bridezillas get any ideas I’M NOT HELPING ALL YOU BITCHES. So, since Monday afternoons might actually drag longer than Friday afternoons at cubelife, I started working on her playlist. And to be honest, it’s probably going to end up being very close to the playlist I would make for my own wedding. So I thought this could be a nice spin on Music Monday.

Here we go. Meaghan’s ideal(ish) wedding playlist, broken down by category:

Motown: JUST GIVE ME ALL THE MOTOWN.

Wedding classics: GIVE ME NONE OF THESE. I’m talking “Shout”, “RESPECT”, “I Hope You Dance”, that other terrible country song that every father and daughter think is “their song”. NO.

Group dance songs: HARD PASS. Okay, the only one I am willing to accept is the “Cupid Shuffle”, because you at least get to walk it out. For the inexperienced, here is a hilarious how-to video.

Slow jamz: I definitely support some slow songs at weddings, but have gone solo to enough to know how awkward it is to slowly backpedal off the dance floor and head to the bar. So slow songs will be limited to approximately 10%. And they will all be Boyz II Men.

Pop standards: MJ, Justified-era JT, Whitney, Mariah all the way.

New(ish?) pop: The likes of Robyn, Beyonce, Haim. Or whoever is New, Not Shitty pop at the time. I currently think Icona Pop’s “I Love It” is an excellent wedding song. At the wedding of one of my favorite and most kindred friends, after the wedding party was introduced, the DJ called everyone to the dance floor to get the party started right off the bat. I loved that. We danced like mad for a song, then sat back down to eat, but it certainly set the stage for the rest of the night.

Hip hop: Hip hop is kinda tough. Do you get all the edited versions of explicit songs? Just let it ride? In any case, there will be Jay-Z playing if I’m ever destined for marriage.

Indie: Like hip hop, indie stuff can be hard when it comes to weddings. These are the tracks that your family won’t know and your hip friends will love. I don’t think every song played at a wedding ought to be known by everyone. So go on and play that Fleet Foxes song that got you through a summer, or the weird French pop folk song that your college roommates always played at the end of a party.

Family/Nostalgic: I grew up on Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Neil Young, and Jackson Browne. If the older folks have to struggle though Jay-Z, Gen Y can handle some tried-and-true classics. Weddings are about families, two families coming together to make a new one, so why not honor your folks for 3 minutes.

And don’t even think about playing any country music.

This is still a work in progress, but if you want to check out the playlist, here it is: Since it is actually for a friend, none of those family songs are in, and I’ve yet to add many (any?) slow ones. So really, if you’re throwing a party this weekend, there you go.

the undocumented favorite albums of 2013

Better late than never, right?

Everyone has already put out their Best of 2013 lists, and while I’m not doing that exactly, I did want to mention a few albums that I didn’t write about in 2013.

In no particular order:

London Grammar – If You Wait 

The synth-pop extraordinaires. I was a little late to this album, but am totally in love with it. I unashamedly love pop music, but top forty pop is so lacking lately, in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong, “Wrecking Ball” is actually a really good pop song, but because the video is now seared into my brain, I just can’t vibe with it. Anyway, for the past few years I’ve found myself moving further toward the synth end of pop. London Grammar is a British trio made of Hannah Reid, Dot Major, and Dan Rothman. If we lived in England we could call them a trip hop group, but sadly we don’t and I don’t think anyone in America uses that term.

London Grammar creates this powerful ambient sound that grows incredibly with Hannah Reid’s raspy, brooding voice. The biggest thing this album has for me is balance. It has the slow build and quietness of the xx, but the strength and complexity of Reid’s voice lifts the whole album to another level. A few favorite tracks (though I love the whole album):

  • “Strong” showcases LG’s balancing act, especially as the lyrics mention the tensions of being caught in the middle.
  • Sights” is a perfect soundtrack for winter as Reid sings, “keeping your strength when it gets dark at night”.
  • “Wasting My Young Years” is the kind of song where you go, Damn, I’m glad no one wrote this about me.
  • “Metal and Dust” does a great job exhibiting this group’s instrumentation.

And finally, Hannah Reid crushing this cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”.

Valerie June – Pushin’ Against a Stone 

The country soulstress. I realize this isn’t a country album, strictly speaking, but it’s pretty country for me. That said, I am a big Valerie June fan. There are some parts where the album gets too country for me (“Tennessee Time”) but overall I really enjoy the whole thing. Dan Auerbach co-produced the record and co-wrote some of the songs. (Sidebar: are The Black Keys over? I wouldn’t mind if Dan Auerbach just keeps producing solid records.)

Valerie June does a great job at blending many genres: blues, folk, jazz, rock, it’s all in there. And it works. It’s gonna be hard to choose only a few tracks to highlight, but here we go:

  • “Workin’ Woman Blues” is the opening track and one of my favorites. It might be because June’s lyrics feel familiar (as a working woman), but it could also just be that I fucking love when those horns come in. (Sorry for swearing. Watching Weeds and The Wire simultaneously makes me feel like a badass combination drug dealer/gangster/self destructive cop who says fuck a lot.) The music video is kinda lame, in my opinion, but don’t fault the song.
  • “Somebody To Love” is a beautiful song to break your heart.
  • “You Can’t Be Told” shows off June’s gritty, deep-down-in-your-soul sound.
  • “Pushin’ Against A Stone” is the title track, and opens with this in-your-face guitar reverb.
  • “Shotgun” is a haunting ballad that features June slaying on slide guitar. That live version isn’t great quality, but I think it’s worth seeing her perform this one.

In the year of Yeezus, I say this album has real swagger.

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

The indie rock band has proven its worth. Not only did I have fun listening to this album, I was impressed by it. Ezra Koenig showed us he could write lyrics with depth that were littered with spiritual questions. Plus he wrote that hilarious review of Drake. Some favorites:

  • “Everlasting Arms” – This song is deceptive. It’s packaged in upbeat, poppy sounds, but the subject matter is a serious consideration of serving a master (God) and that master’s benevolence. The chorus, “Hold me in your everlasting arms” is a pretty obvious play on the hymn “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms”. Then there’s the line, “I hummed the Dies Irae as you played the Hallelujah”. The Dies Irae is a centuries old hymn about Judgment Day. Make of that what you will.
  • “Finger Back” is sort of a throwback track to me; it has that old VW sound a la “A-Punk”. And yet it still features the new contemplative Ezra Koenig as he recounts a story of an Orthodox girl who falls in love with a falafel shop employee, who we assume is not Orthodox. The Internet will suggest the employee is of Arab descent, and this song is actually about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (because, you know, the first two stanzas are obviously about torture and fighting) buuuuuut I’m not signing my name on that yet.

Overall, really enjoyed this album and applaud this band’s growth.

Janelle Monáe – The Electric Lady

I was playing this album at my Halloween party and some of my friends were all, “This is weird, what is this.” So I was all, “IT’S JANELLE MONÁE, AND IT IS WEIRD AND AWESOME.” Janelle Monáe is a post-modern pop, R&B, soul sensation. My favorite track:

  • “Dance Apocalyptic” is a great example of why Monáe succeeds at being both weird and awesome. I often lament the fact that I live in a time when dancing = grinding and dance music = badly remixed pop songs. Even though the tempo is fast when compared to Motown, “Dance Apocalyptic” brings a Motown feel to the 21st Century, especially when Monáe sings, “Smash smash, bang bang / Don’t stop / Chalangalangalang”. The album version doesn’t have the apocalypse news break that the video features, but there’s an extra dose of weird for you.

My one complaint about this album is the interludes. Never been a big fan of them, and this album is already pretty long without adding three interludes. But overall, what a fun album.

Here’s hoping 2014 can be an even better year in music.

the year in music. or, lady singers not named adele.

2012 gave us some great music from female artists, whether they were new to the scene or had been out of the scene awhile. I was excited for long-awaited new music from both Cat Power and Fiona Apple. Who knows what it means that I love the music made by two women who lean toward crazy and had their own on-stage antics in 2012; just don’t read into it, okay? We had some great debuts from Brits who made it over to the States this year, and new electronic sounds. Here are my favorites.

Cat Power: Even though her Instagram and Twitter feeds are crazy, and I wish she’d stop bleaching/cutting her hair, I love Chan Marshall. And I LOVED Sun. It is undoubtedly my favorite album of the year. If you’ve read any commentary or reviews on it, this won’t be anything new. It had been 6 years since Cat Power released an album of original material. As a Chan adorer, the first listen to Sun was a bit shocking. Where’s your guitar strumming? You’re using a drum machine? What’s going on here? But then I realized how good Sun was and how much I really liked it. I’m so impressed by her ability to create something vastly different from her traditional sound, without losing herself in the process. Chan did everything on this album herself: wrote all the lyrics, played all the instruments, built a studio and recorded it, and produced the final album. Manhattan is my favorite track off the album, but I should probably showcase something like Cherokee, which is a better example of what makes this album a standout in Cat Power’s discography. The video is super weird, but so is she. Also, if you haven’t see it yet, watch this funny spoof she did of herself.

Fiona Apple: I think everyone who listened to The Idler Wheel… had the same reaction as me: Damn, woman. Maybe Fiona should take 7 year breaks between all of her records. I already liked Fiona Apple, but after The Idler Wheel, I luuurrrve her. I forced multiple people to listen to it who did not feel the same. They responded with scrunched up faces. And I get it, she’s weird and her music sounds a bit off in places. But, here are some of the things I love from this album: the sound of real kids screaming while playing on Werewolf, the fact that she’s just hitting random objects with scissors in Anything We Want, and because she and her sister (who sings the harmonies) recorded Hot Knife without any looping. This album is a knock out. It’s stripped down so you get to hear every little bit, yet still layered and indulgent. It’s too hard to pick a favorite track, but give this live version of Periphery a listen. I saw Fiona I guess 6 years ago now and she was weird and great as ever; wish I could have seen her this year.

Lianne La Havas: Will she be the next Adele? Probably not, but who cares. Lianne La Havas can sing, she can play guitar, and she can write good songs. She’s got a pop accessibility, but still gets grungy and soulful. Plus, her hair rocks (ahem, Allyse, just do it already). The title track Is Your Love Big Enough? provides a great introduction to this new Brit. But Lost & Found showcases her depth with the opening line, “Come upstairs and I’ll show you where all my demons hide from you.” I’m excited to see what all Lianne can do.

Emeli Sandé: Hanif put one of her songs on a mix for me at the beginning of the year. I’m not sure if that was the first time I heard Emeli Sandé, but it was the first time I had her name with the song. I don’t like when she gets more poppy with some songs, we need some good R&B, Emeli! Give My Kind of Love a listen, then check out her stripped down versions of a couple songs on the current. I definitely prefer her live versions over studio. It’s crazy when you hear her Scottish accent in her speaking voice after listening to her sing.

Grimes: I’m usually pretty strict about not liking an artist/band if their lyrics don’t make sense or are impossible to understand. (It’s the main reason I don’t like Sigur Ros. deal with it.) But, I LOVE Grimes. I listened to a lot more electronic/synth stuff this year, including Grimes, AKA Claire Boucher. Videos of her live performances are incredible. I’ve listened to/read some interviews that she’s done, and she explains that her songs and lyrics are so personal that she doesn’t really want anyone to understand what she’s saying. In a way, that sounds like a cop out. Why become a musician if you don’t want anyone to hear what you’re saying? But Grimes is way more than the words she is saying, it’s the sound she’s mixing and the work she is doing too. Would love to see her live some day.

Purity Ring: Another group who made me listen to more electronic stuff this year. Okay, so Purity Ring is a duo that includes a guy and girl, but I’m keeping them over here in the lady post. Purity Ring played at Ace of Cups this fall and I still mourn the loss of missing this show. Because I didn’t know anyone who was going, I figured it’d be fine to buy my ticket at the door. I was wrong. The show sold out, and after waiting in line awhile I left super bummed. Watching that video hurts me a little, knowing I won’t get another chance to see this group in a small setting before they blow up.

Solange: I was stumbling around YouTube while bored at work when I came across the video for Solange’s Losing You. I didn’t hear the song before seeing the video, and that’s probably the true reason I like this song. I haven’t listened to anything else she’s done (I’m not even sure if she has an album out?), but you guys, this video is awesome. Cheers to the Solo Dance Party. You go, Solange.

oops.

Sorry blog, I’ve been neglecting you. In an unfocused list, these things have been taking up my time:

I got a cat. My friend Beth found a stray and I decided to keep him. His name is Boo Radley and he’s a terror. A cute terror though. He destroyed my roommate’s new iPhone cord and one of my socks. Recently, I’ve caught him drinking out of the toilet. He may think he’s a dog. And although he has a beard, he’s losing his manhood soon (don’t tell him).

I’m doing the social media/promo for the TV show my friends created, Terminal B. Check out the indiegogo site, Like us on Facebook, follow us on twitter, etc. Casting starts in November! I think this can be really great.

I became an aunt! Meet Harper James. I love him and I haven’t even met him yet. He’s cuter than your nephew. And cooler.

I moved cubes! This is actually a major highlight. Previously, I was in a cube where I couldn’t even see the windows by standing up, I had to walk through the cube labyrinth to reach the row of windows. But no more! Now I have a lovely, distracting, sunshiny view of some trees, and mostly a parking lot.

I’m going to Utah for Thanksgiving. As stated in a previous post, we’re headed to Zion National Park. So, I’ve been looking at park blogs and seeking out the best hikes. Please share any suggestions.

I made Halloween costumes. And I am pretty proud of them. For the record, there was a stuffed kitten in my basket and a pair of scissors. At least one person asked to take our picture.

Feel free to compare us to the real deal:

Annnnd here are some distractions while you’re waiting out the storm:

The best cookies ever. (Why haven’t I been making EVERYTHING with brown butter??)

Cat bounce!

Life in Color from National Geographic.

Patagonia’s Instagram feed.

highlights: the books of 2011

Last spring, I decided to start a book club. Turns out, the thing I most complained about in my English lit classes was also what I missed:  talking in circles about books. So I started a book club hoping to keep my mind captivated, meet new people, and read some great books. Most of what I read in 2011 was a book club read or McSweeney’s Quarterly, but I’m attempting to include everything. I strayed a bit from my typical reading, and consumed quite a few short stories this year, along with novels. Here’s the list. It’s in reading order to the best of my memory.

The Best American Short Stories, 2010 Because I let someone borrow this, and read it at the beginning of the year, I’m failing to remember many stories. If I get my copy back, I’ll be sure to update this.

The Twenty-Seventh City, Jonathan Franzen (book club) This book proved to be a rough maiden voyage for our book club. Most of us did not enjoy it. I actually put down Freedom when the book club started and have yet to pick it back up (gasp!). The Twenty-Seventh City is Franzen’s first novel and it shows. The writing was showy and poorly paced. I was so disinterested I actually had to skim the last fifty pages to finish in time for book club. In the midst of my skimming–spoiler alert–I missed the suicide of one of the main characters.

American Pastoral, Philip Roth (book club) Roth’s Pulitzer winner also proved lacking for many of the book club members. We all agreed it was technically exceptional, but wanted more out of it. Confession time:  under all my sass and cynicism lies a sentimentalist. While I can appreciate well written literature, I need some redemption to really love a story.

McSweeney’s Quarterly, 37 About half of this edition featured Kenyan writers and brand new stories from them. The letters are very often my favorite part, but the short stories are the star. Two favorites are “Take Care of that Rage Problem” by Edan Lepucki, which begins with a mother explaining to her daughter why she’s been arrested for indecent exposure, and “A Brutal Murder in a Public Place” by Joyce Carol Oates that tells the story of a bird trapped in an airport terminal.

The New Man, Thomas Merton This is the only nonfiction from my 2011 reading list, and also my first Merton. I read it over a long span of time, for better or worse. Merton’s insights were eye-opening as well as approachable. Having a Catholic background may have helped at times. I especially enjoyed his belief that intelligence and the will must work together in faith.

Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami (book club) I fell in love with this book. I’m a fan of magic realism, but I had to sell it a bit to the book club. They thanked me in the end. Kafka follows two characters:  one, a teenage boy with an Oedipal complex, and the other an old, mentally-handicapped man who talks to cats. INTRIGUE.

Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine, Bebe Moore Campbell (book club) I did not fall in love with this book. I could appreciate its history, as it chronicled (I think) thirty to forty years of a Southern black family. But I couldn’t really get past the writing.

My Name is Asher Lev, Chaim Potok (book club) I think it’s safe to say we all adored this book. Asher Lev is an Hasidic Jewish boy growing up in Brooklyn between WWII and the Cold War. He is an exceptionally gifted artist, struggling to balance his orthodoxy with his gift. Potok not only does an excellent job with character development, he allowed the reader to imagine Asher’s artwork with ease.

East of Eden, John Steinbeck The book of the year. I bought this while Borders was closing, thinking, “Well, maybe I’ll read it someday.” Someday came sooner than expected. Having read The Pearl, Of Mice and Men, and In Dubious Battle for various English classes, and not really enjoying them, I had my doubts about East of Eden. But this book captivated me. I loved the unforgiving honesty of Cathy, Charles and Cal. I loved Lee’s wisdom and faithfulness. This book felt strangely close to home while I was reading it. I even dreamt one of the lines before reading it the next day. I ought to devote an entire post to East of Eden.

Bowl of Cherries, Millard Kaufman (book club) This was our attempt at a “light” read; it follows a boy-genius who has dropped out of his Ivy League university. As it turns out, Kaufman may very well have been a dirty old man. He wrote the screenplay introducing Mr. Magoo to the world, as well as some other Oscar nominated screenplays. Bowl of Cherries reads a bit like a screenplay, complete with explosions and last-ditch helicopter escapes. The story was at least entertaining, but lacked polish.

McSweeney’s Quarterly, 38 McSweeney’s always has some surprises, and while this edition featured the typical fictional short stories, it also included some nonfiction and a retelling of Rapunzel. “The Hens” by Roddy Doyle was a favorite. It’s one of those stories you feel a little disconcerted while reading, as it tells of a woman hired to babysit chickens in the midst of neighbor wars. A lot more blood than I expected.

The Living, Annie Dillard (book club) The Living was our last group read for 2011. It’s an historical fiction, so not everyone’s cuppa tea. This is Dillard’s first novel (if you’re unfamiliar, she writes nonfiction usually). I think Dillard was very successful with her first fictional effort. It’s clear that she devoted much time to researching the setting for her novel (the PNW throughout the 1800s). The Living follows early settlers of the PNW, detailing covered wagon trips from the East Coast, relationships with natives, and hop farming in the midst of Prohibition.

Put Out More Flags, Evelyn Waugh (book club) We decided to go Secret Santa style for our last book club read of 2011, and my assignment was Put Out More Flags. I’d read Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and didn’t remember enjoying it, so I wasn’t too jazzed for this book. But I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. Put Out More Flags follows a loose group of thirty-somethings in England at the start of WWII. Most of the characters romanticize and glamorize the war, unaware of the very real effects the war is going to have on England. I found it to be an interesting social commentary, and couldn’t help relating it to the hipster nation I find myself in. As the characters discussed the war, each eager to get his/her two bits in, I thought of my generation of twenty-somethings who know a little about a lot, and want you to know it too.

2012: here’s hoping

I’m just gonna come out and say it. 2011 was the worst. I mean literally, the worst year of my life. But I won’t get into details here. In an effort to drop some of the cynicism and re-learn how to hope, here’s a list of things I’m looking forward to in 2012:

1. Starting my new job, which also includes doubling my previous salary (CHEDDAR YA’LL). Before you judge, it wasn’t hard to double. I can’t wait to actually put money in my savings account, eat delicious food, and buy my friends a drink for once.

2. In June I’m going to a conference in Orlando. While I think the conference will be great, I’m really hoping to go to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. That’s right, Harry Potter World. Don’t even try to tell me it’s not gonna be awesome.

3. The London Olympics. I LOVE THE OLYMPICS. I grew up in Atlanta and was able to attend quite a few events at the 96 Olympics. I might have to get DVR before the summer.

4. In August I’m going to be an aunt! My oldest sister and her husband are expecting their first child. I can’t wait to be an aunt, but I do wish they didn’t live 1,300 miles away.

5. Hopefully this fall my family will converge on Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon. I gotta keep up the National Park streak.

6. Bond. James Bond. With Javier Bardem. I mean, do I need to say more?

7. Hopslam. It’s almost here. Please drink responsibly.

8. Hopefully going to Acadia National Park with my friend Faith, and doing things like this. Guess I should find out how much vacation time I have…

9. It’s a new year. New chances, new friends, new places to see.