Back in Duggar territory: why I kinda like the Browns

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In the past, I've written about my feelings on the Duggar family. These posts have been some of the more heavily visited and contentious posts I've made on this blog--lots of people agreed with my Duggar critique, and lots of people were horrified by it. Though the posts are years old, I still get occasional Duggar defenders commenting.

Recently, I've lost my interest in peering in on the TLC-version of the life and times of the Duggar family. I can't exactly say why--my criticisms of them are only more true as another generation begins (Josh and Anna have two kids now!) and the girls get older and seem all the more controlled by their father and their faith. Maybe I've just given up? Maybe it's too sad for me these days? Either way, 101 Kids and Counting isn't on my DVR anymore.

But I haven't completely reformed. There is a new "family of faith" I can't pull myself away from, again courtesy of an attention-seeking man and TLC. The Browns, of Sister Wives. Like the Duggars, the Browns have a ton of kids (17, I believe). But the kids are spread between Cody Brown's four wives. The Browns are fundamentalist Mormons, the polygamist kind. They are, more or less, the real-life equivalent of the HBO's polygamist cash cow, Big Love's Hendricksons. With more kids and slightly less drama. And I sort of adore them.

Well, let's back up on that. As was the case, oddly, with Big Love, I sort of adore the women. The dude in the middle? Him I could live without. I have no idea how much of it is reality and how of it is the spin TLC chooses for the show, but the more watch, the more I don't understand how Cody Brown could attract and keep even one of these women, much less all four. Obviously, their lives and views and priorities are worlds away from mine, but I find it hard not to get a kick out of the four Brown women. As I think I said at one point about their fictionalized counterparts on Big Love, there seems to be a real female friendship between them, a strong bond that their obvious issues with jealousy and competitiveness can't break. I like watching that. And, mostly, I like how they treat each other.

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Meri, Cody's first wife, is my favorite. She strikes me as someone with a backbone, a soul, and a good sense of ridiculous humor. The whole lifestyle seems to be the hardest on her, not least because she has only been able to have one child. More so than the others, Meri is honest with the camera about her jealousy and other issues. That strikes me as exceptionally brave, in her situation. I can't really guess why these folks have agreed to have their lives put under the nationally televised microscope, but of all of them, Meri strikes me as the most real about what she is saying while she's on the big stage. I like that.

Cody's second wife, Janelle, I love for her pragmatism. Cody is basically a huge, overgrown child, and though I believe his wives are technically all supposed to defer to him, Janelle seems to be the most apt at keeping him in line. Janelle worries about money (which is an odd issue in the show, as the Browns seem to both have plenty of it and never enough, and there isn't a good indication of where it's coming from). She is concerned about logistics. She doesn't suffer fools lightly. Janelle also seems to be the least jealous or competitive of the four women--she has her own thing to do and she mostly just does it. For Janelle, more than the others, I see the benefit of this lifestyle--it seems almost like a (stunted, but still) attempt at cooperative living, more than a multi-marriage. I can kind of see the appeal to that, especially for a woman who very much wants to work and have a lot of kids.

It took me a while to warm up to Christine, Cody's third wife. At first, she seemed to be the most like what you'd think of as a stereotypical polygamist wife. She's very traditionally feminine, her focus almost completely Cody and the kids, and seemed to defer to everyone else way too much. As time has progressed, though, Christine has grown on me. For one thing, it seems that she, more than the others, has a good grasp of the actual biblical basis for the lifestyle she's chosen. While I'm not particularly interested in it myself, I have to respect her for making the connection, especially when it seems largely lost on everybody else (including and especially Cody). Christine is also blessed with the gift of enthusiasm--whenever there is an event or occasion on the show, all the way down to going to Meri's gym for a weigh-in and personal trainer session (the last episode I saw), Christine is raring to go. I kind of like that.

Finally, there's Robyn. Robyn is Cody's most recent wife. They've been married...a couple of years, maybe? She just had their first child, though she brought three with her, from her first marriage. At first, I very much disliked Robyn. She seemed like the hot new home wrecker, messing up a system between Meri, Janelle, and Christine that seemed to be working just fine. She's grown on me, too, though. I have realized that most of the issues I had with Robyn are issues with Cody--the way he handled their "courtship" was infantile. Robyn herself, though, seems more and more to be sensitive to the feelings of her sister wives, and to really care about the family she's joined. A few episodes ago, she told Meri about her pregnancy before she told anybody else, hurting for Meri's hurt even while experiencing her own joy and excitement. I thought that was really nice.

So why am I telling you all this? Because I want to be clear that I actually like these women before I criticize their show. My critique of their way of life is only half-hearted: I don't really give a damn about plural marriage one way or the other, and they seem to be doing OK by their kids (at least for the most part). All of them have said that they don't expect their kids to necessarily choose their faith or lifestyle, and if that's true, then I'm OK with that. What bugs is agreeing to do the show, which pries into them and has to be really tough on the collective offspring. I wonder if they were consulted, you know? When Dad decided to turn their alternative family arrangement into a publicity stunt, did they get a vote? That critique is not Brown-specific, obviously--I wonder it about all of these types of shows. The difference with the Browns is that they already had teenage children when they started out on TV. Their younger kids may grown up reality stars, like Kate Gosselin's offspring and the Duggars, but the elder ones? They got shoved into this at a pretty darn sensitive point. And they don't seem to be dealing with it all that well. The kids aren't interviewed all that much on the show, but when they are, my heart always goes out to the older ones, who seem to be surviving, but not at all happy with what their lives have become.

Of course, I realize my criticism is ill-founded, given that I continue to watch these people's lives like some kind of peeping Tom. I can justify it by saying that they choose to be on TV and that they want this attention, but really, it's still pretty crappy. Were I a better person, I'd shake the habit of reality shows entirely and devote myself full-time to fiction, where there is no question about whether or not my watching is what they people on the screen are hoping for. Until I reach that level of enlightenment, though, it's nice to be watching something with so many women I actually like.

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Wednesday morning quarterback: SOA 4.08

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Eight episodes in, I am seeing the issue with this season of Sons of Anarchy. And it's not the show--it's me. I made a big mistake. While the show was on hiatus, I got all interested in the interworkings of it--I read Kurt Sutter's blog, watched all his WTF Sutter? videos, read articles, got into long discussions about the plot arc. And all of this thought, and information, about the making of the show has left me unable to simply sit back and enjoy the story.

What I mean is this: last night, when I watched with my mouth open as Clay killed Piney, my first thought was the same on that has been plaguing me since the beginning of this season--how does Clay, after committing all the crimes against his Club that he has now, make it out of Season 4 alive? And if he doesn't, how does the show go on without him? No matter how great the drama is, my brain goes back to that. And I wish it didn't--it takes something out of the joy of spectating. I can't just be in awe of Sutter's brilliant writing, I have to wonder how in the world he's going to write his way of this.

So, a warning: if you really love a show, don't read ANYTHING about it. Take it from me.

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That being said, episode 8 was another link in this season's brilliant chain. It continues to be one of the bar-none best things I've ever seen on television. Obviously, watching Clay's downward spiral is epic--both because of great writing and because Ron Perlman is nothing short of spectacular. And this particular few episode arc, with the fight-and-making-up between Opie, the increasing issues between Clay and Piney, and then Piney's murder, brings SoA firmly back into Hamlet territory. It was clear, the moment Piney touched Opie's face and Opie said, "I love you," that Piney was going to die.It became even more clear in this frustrated conversation with Jax. Oh, Polonius.

I have a friend and fellow fan of the show who is convinced that the arc will come to an end with Opie's killing or otherwise destroying Clay. Now Clay has taken away his wife and his father, and Opie, in the role of Laertes, will avenge them. I like this idea, but I don't see it playing all the way out (remember, Laertes eventually kills Hamlet). Still, I'm stoked to see the show returning to the Hamlet plot lines, and I love to see how Sutter plays with them.

There were two other relationships highlighted in this episode that intrigued me. The first was the one between Gemma and Tig. Gemma and Tig have always interested me, particularly since their brief sexual encounter in season 2. In last night's episode, Tig seemed to be looking askance at Clay more than usual, and there was something, a single moment, between Tig and Gemma that made me pause. This one:

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Did that give anybody else a tingling feeling in their tummy?

The other relationship that I can't keep my mind off is the one between Juice and Chibs. I loved last night's interaction, where Chibs interrupts Juice's second suicide attempt, beating on him for a second and then hugging him fiercely. I have no idea how it will play out--will Juice confess to Chibs? If he does, what outcome will there be? Last week, I believed Juice's sins against the Club to be so grave he'd never get out of this season alive, but perhaps he will? This part is all mystery to me, and I am very much enjoying how it plays out. Theo Rossi has been bringing serious chops to Juice's plight for weeks, and last night I thought Tommy Flanagan was equally brilliant. Chibs is probably my favorite of the show's characters, and I love it when he gets his own plots. I think his involvement in this one is perfect.

Finally, there is Jax. There is always, at the center, Jax. And right now, Jax is a big disappointment--to the viewer as much as to Piney, and, I think, to himself. He's trying to do what is right, maybe not most right, but most livable and still sorta-right, and it is biting him in the ass. He's losing his family, at least short-term (though I sort of doubt Tara is actually going anywhere), and the Club is still disintegrating. At the end of the day, it's on Jax to fix all of it, with whatever and of merry men he can assemble. With only 5 episodes left in the season, I'm thinking that has to be about to start happening.

Last night's episode is another one I simply can't say enough good things about. The pacing was perfect (again), the acting was stellar (again), and there was just enough humor (thank God for Chuckie) to keep it from dragging you down completely. Kurt Sutter ought to be really, really proud of his show.

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Lost Crates: perfect for the stationery lover

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When I did my curated subscription round-up, one of the subscription programs I found most intriguing was Lost Crates. Each month, Lost Crates sends a customized "crate" of notebooks, pens, and other stationery accessories, based upon the personality profile you take on the website. The cost of the service is $38/month, including S&H, US-only.

Like a lot of people, I'm a bit of a stationery fiend. I love notebooks, journals, cards, pens...stationery makes me happy. So I was quite excited to receive my first Lost Crate earlier this month. My crate contained:
-medium black EcoSystem Artist Journal ($14.95)
-2 pack of French Paper Company Pop Ink Memo Books ($2.50)
-2 Stabilo Point 88 pens, black and red ($.85 each)
-Made by Humans Staple-Free Eco Stapler (2 for $19.95, or $9.98)
-Virginia State Field Notes County Fair graph notebook (3 for $9.95, or $3.32)

The packaging was excellent--a small cardboard "crate", filled with recycled packaging material, and a little note, personalized with my name, explaining what each item was. The whole thing felt very much like a gift--the products are all full-size and high quality, and the effect is that you feel you are receiving something special and high end. They are also all useful products--nothing cute but useless was included, which I think is great.

Lost Crates is clear that they do not consider themselves a discount site. The products in any crate you receive will be worth a very similar amount to the $38 you paid for it. Instead, they offer introductions to new companies, revisit old favorites, and give their customers the excitement and joy of a monthly surprise. Whether or not that makes the price tag worth it is, of course, a highly individual decision.

What might make your decision in whether or not Lost Crates is for you a bit easier? Perhaps, winning one? Head on over to the Lost Crates site and look around, then come back and tell me what you'd love to see in a crate. For an additional entry, follow Lost Crates on Twitter and/or like Lost Crates on Facebook. For yet another entry, Tweet or FB link to this contest! Contest will run for two weeks, to be closed on Tuesday, November 8. Thanks for playing!

Disclosure: I was not compensated nor did I receive free products for this review. However, the Lost Crate giveaway is courtesy of Lost Crates.

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The Night Circus is a great book

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As I believe I have mentioned here before, I am a member of Powell's Books' Indiespensible Book Club. The book club is awesome--every six or so weeks you get a beautiful hard back first edition of a book, typically signed, selected by the extremely knowledgeable Powell's staff, along with reading notes and some other type of goodies (usually thematically related to the book). The packages are fun to receive and the books are great!

The last installment, however, was a cut above the rest. Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus was just phenomenal (plus it came with bourbon caramel corn!). The best way I can describe it is by comparison. It has the gothic romantic magic of Sarah Waters' books, the quirky love of and beauty in the bizarre of Katherine Dunn's Geek Love, and the soft, believable look at the otherwordly of Audrey Neffenegger. All three of those women are authors I love and respect, and Erin Morgenstern is now among them.

Much as The Night Circus reminds me of the other books I mentioned, though, it's a unique work. It's a fairy tale about a very special circus, but it's nowhere near so dark or twisted as it could be given that scene. The magic is, largely, used to create beauty and keep people safe, even when it's supposed to be more self-serving. Though there is a tragic core to the story, it's much less grim than it could be, or than it would be in other hands. Had someone told me that before I read it, I think I would have been very suspicious--I don't like my fairy tales retold in golden tones by Disney. But in Morgenstern's book, it works. Though I was sure early on that things were going to turn out OK, that didn't ruin the surprise in how the characters got there.

One of the book's greatest strengths is the lush tone in which it is written, heavy with description. It reminds me a bit of another circus story that way, Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants. Though I am sadly not someone who typically sees pictures in my mind when I read, Morgenstern's attention to detail and careful language allowed a mental picture of the circus and its inhabitants to paint itself in my mind, with the end result being a reading experience that felt almost multimedia. With a story like this one, for which so much depends on the reader feeling the joy and delight of the magic, that element is essential, and it's very, very well done here.

Ultimately, The Night Circus felt a little bit like a ratcheted-up children's book to me, in the best possible way. Things were never made any worse than they needed to be, but were kept interesting enough for my adult attention span. Though there were no actual pictures, I could see lush illustrations in my head. And the story, at its core, was a simple and universal one about true love conquering over dark forces in its way. We could all use a little bit more of that.

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Grace's favorite things giveaway #1 WINNER!

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Congratulations to Emilie C! The very last entrant in my Stumptown Coffee giveway is also the winner!

Emilie C | October 19, 2011 9:44 PM | Reply We usually get one of the dark blends and I always make cold drip coffee to keep in the fridge. It's always on hand then! I always use lots of cream and vanilla flavor.

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Wednesday morning quarterback: SOA 4.07

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Once again, big fat spoilers. Read at your own risk.

After Kurt Sutter's Twittered thoughts about non-professional blog reviewers of his show, I went back and forth a bit about whether or not to keep writing these Wednesday Morning Quarterback posts. Ultimately, I decided I may as well. For one thing, I don't for a second think Sutter is reading a blog with my low readership. For another, I very rarely have anything but good things to say about the show, so even if he were, would I really be one of those about whom he is so upset? Probably not. Maybe when I stop having nice things to say, I'll stop writing these synopsis/reviews, but that hasn't happened yet.

So, on to last night. Since the episode's last minutes were so incredibly dramatic, it's hard for me to put together coherent thoughts about the rest of it. So, I'll start at the end--Juice's suicide. I don't know whether I think he was successful or not, but either way, it's dramatic. At this point, it's impossible for me to see a way for Juice to get out of this season alive, and while I was surprised to see him try to kill himself in only episode 7, I wasn't surprised at it as an eventual outcome. What did stun me, last week as well as this week, but especially last night, was Theo Rossi's acting chops. He was incredible. The scene between Juice and Clay, when clay gives Juice the "Men of Mayhem" patch, very nearly had me in tears. Juice has always been this character who struggles to be taken seriously in the Club, and to have that happen just as he's so far dug in there is no way out, is so incredibly bittersweet. It was one of those beautifully scripted, perfectly acted, heartbreaking scenes that the show does so well, and it isn't one that will leave my mind soon.

Beyond the Juice story line, I thought the episode did an excellent job of increasing the growing tension between Gemma and Clay, without hitting anybody over the head with it. Gemma is really starting to distrust Clay, and the potential of danger from Gemma working against you is not insubstantial. I am really interested to see where her allegiance will ultimately lie. As the season progresses, I have a harder and harder time seeing how Clay can survive it, and yet I am equally unsure how the show would continue without him (and they got picked up for a 5th season this week!). It will definitely be interesting to see how it turns out.

Tara also continues to interest me. She took the news about the cartel and Jax not having been completely honest with her about it far better than I would have expected her to, especially after having been issued a death threat and spending the morning pulling a bullet out of a Mayan. She still seems, to me, to be leaning to roll with the Club lifestyle more with each episode. I wonder, too, about Lyla's taking off and whether it was meant as a juxtaposition, what Tara could, or even should, have done. She also seems increasingly trusting of and friendly with Gemma, as if maybe Gemma's confession about her love for and betrayal by John Teller had its intended effect. I'm still not convinced she wants out.

Another character I want to shout out to, even though his actual role in this episode was small, is Bobby. With all of the Shakespearean overtones of the show, it's impossible not to see Bobby as a The Fool, telling everyone what they need to hear, but not what they want to. His calling for a vote on Clay's presidency is a huge, dramatic move, and signals without any doubt that the status quo is not going to fly. I love Sutter's willingness in this season to push action and drama so much harder than usual, stuffing every episode full of it. Things develop not slowly, but quickly, the entire previous three seasons' foundation making them realistic. It's risky, and it's working.

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Grace's favorite things giveaway #1

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For a long time, I've wanted to do a series of "Grace's favorite things" giveaways, inspired, of course, by Oprah. I tell you about lots of products I love here on the blog, and what's better than sharing them with you, too? So, in between other giveaways (I have several more sponsored giveaways in the pipeline), I'm going to be giving away a few of my favorite things. Some will be makeup, some food, some little oddities, all will be things I love.

My first giveaway is a product VERY near and dear to my heart: coffee. I am both a coffee lover and a coffee snob. My Pacific Northwest heart shows when it comes to java. And my hands down favorite is the stuff from Portland's own Stumptown Coffee Roasters. I LOVE Stumptown. Mark and I even spend the rather ridiculous sum it costs us to order our coffee and have it shipped from them every couple of months. So it's the first thing that came to mind to share with you.

If you would like to win a sampling (I'm thinking probably three bags) of Stumptown's finest, leave me a comment and tell me which roasts/blends appeal most to you (my favorites of the moment are Costa Rican Villalobos and De Los Santos), how you make your coffee (drip, French press, Moki pot?), and how you take it. In two week's time, I'll pick a winner and have Stumptown send you some beans (or, if you aren't a self-grinder, some grounds). Then you can enjoy one of my favorite things!

For an extra entry, blog or FB or Tweet and tell someone about my blog and how much you love me, then leave a second comment.

This contest is open for one week, until Thursday, October 20.

Good Luck!

As for my last contest, in which I gave away a New Beauty Test Tube, congratulations to winner LaurenB!

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Wednesday morning quarterback: SOA 4.06

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Good God. Last night's Sons of Anarchy episode just about had me in tears. It was relentless, brutal, at times unexpected--it was really, really rough. This show isn't about low-key relaxed TV-watching, that's for sure. If the intensity keeps ratcheting up every week, I'm going to need tranquilizers to watch it by November.

To begin, the Juice story line. Clearly, that was all going to go bad, but I was shocked at how bad it went this quickly. Watching whatever was left of Juice's naiveté crumble in the face of self-preservation struck me as the most true, relatable thing about the whole situation Sutter has put him in. At this point, I don't care in the least whether or not Juice's fears about being outed as Black make sense in the show's context--his desperate, brutal reaction is so damn good it doesn't matter.

The scene early in the episode, wherein Ima is first confronted by Gemma and Tara, then taken on by Lyla, resulting in her pulling a gun on the whole room, is another one I never would have believed would work on paper, but the strength of the way it was written and acted made it believable. Gemma's tiredness, Lyla's sorrow, and most of all, Tara's hard, bitter, "keep that .38 close, bitch," all struck me as absolutely perfect. I do hope we keep getting to see glimpses of this Tara, the same one who punched her boss in the face and said, "that was assault." I can't help but believe that after everything Tara has seen and been through, she'd have to either implode or grow a spine. The latter is certainly a more interesting concept.

The interaction between Tig and his daughter, Dawn, was my favorite part of this episode. It took me several seasons to come around to the idea of a softer side of Tig, and I still think it could very easily be taken too far, but his willingness in this episode to allow himself to be "played" for a large sum of cash struck me as likely. The scenes with Dawn, particularly Gemma's initial introduction of her to Tara as "Satan spawn," also added much-needed levity to a show that would have otherwise been oppressive in its intensity.

Which brings me to Opie. Poor, sad, fucked-up Opie, and his already-doomed marriage to Lyla. Again, I was surprised to see shit between them blow up so terrifically so soon, but it makes sense. Piney's clocking Ope and telling him he didn't even know who he was anymore seemed like exactly the right thing from the old man, who is so desperate to save what he can of his Club and family as they're killing themselves. I was also again impressed with the interaction between Opie and Jax--their friendship is so believable, and there is so much implied in the silences in their short, simple conversations. Jax's observation that Lyla may not want to leave the life she's in struck me as a reflection not only her, but on Tara and her increasing level of comfort with the Club. I'm still extremely interested to see how that plays out.

Now, my favorite thing about the episode--a small thing, but, I think, an important one--Chibs and Juice's conversation about the Club rules. Chibs' responses, about not necessarily agreeing with some of the more archaic rules, but thinking it was important to respect them, was really interesting. In many ways, this entire season is about breaking the old rules--Juice's race, the Club taking on drug running, etc. And Clay has NEVER respected the rules when they don't suit him. As per Chibs' logic, it's this disrespect for the guidelines they all signed on to that is tearing the Club apart.

The big drama, of course, is Clay's putting a hit out on Tara and Unser's feeble attempts to protect her. This situation worries me less than the Juice plot line, if only because I can't see Tara leaving the show. It certainly builds tension, though, and is one more illustration of just how far off course Clay has gotten. I can't really see Clay leaving the show either, but I have no clue how this is all going to be able to work out without somebody dying.

Finally, I have to say something about Jax's character transition. The last scene, where he smashes Ima's face and threatens her, was the most out-of-character thing I've ever seen Jax do, and I found it more than a little bit startling. The Jax that took a risk on letting the eye witness to Bobby's murder at the end of the first season, because she was a teenage girl, seems to be gone for good. Unlike the majority of his atypical behavior so far this season, there was no larger reason for last night's scene with Ima--he wasn't trying to keep anything together, or make anything better, he was just trying to make his own personal life easier. It was completely selfish brutality. Which is a whole lot like Clay.

Once again, I am in absolute awe of the story and spectacle Sutter is providing this season. This isn't just the best yet season of Sons of Anarchy, it's one of the best seasons of any show I've ever seen. The raw relentlessness of it is astounding, and the writing and acting continue to be absolute top quality. Halfway through the season, each episode really is playing out like a tiny, perfect movie. Amazing.

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An ode to the age of Apple

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Steve Jobs' death has me thinking about computers, and the difference they have made in my life. I am, I think, a bit on the cusp of the online generation--I didn't have a computer or access to one as a kid, aside from a brief stint of playing Math Wizard or some such on a Commodore 64 my stepmother owned. There were, I think, four or five(?) PCs in my high school lab, but no Internet access. My first personal computer was given to me as a high school graduation present. It was Toshiba laptop that must have weighed 20 lbs and shut itself off every night at midnight like it was possessed.

Tempermental Toshiba aside, though, my first year at Reed (1997-98) was when the computer age got real for me. Reed's lab was full of shiny, candy-colored iMacs (Steve Jobs was a non-graduated alumnus). I got my first email address, my first ICQ account (boytoy--I was a much different person at 17). Being online turned slowly from a curiosity to a way of life.

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And in the nearly 15 years since, it has become more a way of life every year. The Toshiba was followed by a line of Dells, each one better than the last. I continued to use Macs at Reed and then later in job situations, so I was always fluent in both systems. And, like so many others in my generation and class, life changed when I got my first iPod (I think in 2002).

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Now, as the commercials said, I am a Mac. I do all my real personal computing on a MacBook Pro. I have an iPhone (first generation, will probably need replacing soon) and an iPad 2. I love the look and feel of Apple devices. I love the performance. I think the price is worth it. Nothing else I've seen or used has compared. In my suburban, upper middle class 30s, I am Apple's demographic, and I buy and will continue to buy their products like a good demographic should.

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These devices improve my life in ways that are hard to quantify. I can write without the save-every-2-minutes-it-might-crash fear my Toshiba taught me. I can communicate with something that fits in my pocket, something that fits in my bag, or something that lives on my couch. i can listen to music and even surf while on the treadmill. More and more, my world is online--that's where my most of my friends live, it's how I stay in touch with my family, and it's how I stay in touch with myself. And these devices go a lot way in facilitating those processes.

Put simply, I think Apple is better. I still use a PC at work and it can't compare with my Macbook Pro by any measure. I've had lots of other cell phones, and my iPhone blows them all out of the water. And the iPad? Well, that's simply the best toy ever. Yes, I realize there is a certain level of cultural snobbery in buying Apple, but there's also a pretty distinct performance advantage. They make good stuff.

So that's my epitaph for the late Steve Jobs. Thanks, Steve, for making such good stuff.

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Wednesday morning quarterback: SOA 4.05

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Spoilers. Big ones. Read at your own risk.

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A few minutes after finishing last night's episode of Sons of Anarchy, I hit my Twitter. Having spent the majority of the episode holding my breath and waiting for things to go completely pear-shaped, I had to communicate with the show's leading sadist in the only way I could.

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Seriously. The shit is piled up deep, y'all. In what amounted to a tiny, nearly anti-climactic scene between Clay and Gemma near the beginning of the episode, we learned last night that Clay did indeed have John Teller killed, and that Gemma knows about it. Something in me had hoped that there was some other explanation, that Hamlet wasn't going to be followed so literally, just because I want Clay (and especially Gemma) to be redeemable, but it was not to be. Now I'm just glad it's out in the open (for the viewer)--makes it easier to concentrate on their cover-up.

Clay and Gemma clearly have different ideas about how things ought to be handled at this point. Clay looks bound to kill--Piney, Tara, maybe even Unser. Gemma, uncharacteristically, wants to keep blood from spilling, or at least from spilling on Jax. And so they don't trust each other. A lot of last night's episode centered on their attempts to hide things from one another, with Unser right in the middle. It was, to my mind, incredibly well done. It's difficult to know who to bet on in a battle of wits between Clay and Gemma, but it is sure fun to watch it play out.

Unfortunately, last night's episode was also a battle of the witless--namely Juice and Bobby. I can kind of roll with the Juice story line--Juice is acting stupid because Juice *is* stupid. A friend described him as out of his league, like "a cat in a room full of rocking chairs." I can get behind that analysis (and I kind of need to, because it's the only way this plot with him stealing coke from his Club to take to the police works). Watching it happen is teeth-grittingly terrible, but I can sort of see how it would.

Bobby, on the other hand, is supposed to be the smart one. And given that, in what alternate universe does he not know what a terrible idea it is to lie to Otto, who just found out he was sleeping with LuAnn before she died, about the Club having killed Georgie? Clay's decision to keep Georgie alive, facilitated by greed and/or his obsession with keeping development out of Charming, made sense. Jax going along with it, though stipulating that Georgie was dead as soon as he was no longer useful, even made sense. But Bobby lying about it to Otto, just because he couldn't bear to tell Otto the truth? Not buying it. Otto would have been pissed, but his Club loyalty is always being touted--would he really have reacted in any way that could hurt Bobby or the Club? I don't think so. Will he now, when he finds out he's been lied to? Way more likely. I just don't believe Bobby would be that dumb, especially about something he'd had time to think on.

And speaking of characters making dumb decisions, we have to talk about Opie. Ope finds out Lyla has been taking birth control and reacts by--wait for it--sleeping with Ima! I would have expected to hate this plot line, but the way it played out actually really worked. They didn't dance around Jax having done exactly the same thing last season--it was addressed directly--and once again there was a scene between Jax and Opie that made the whole episode. The two actors are SO good together. Best friends is something I've very rarely seem portrayed well on TV, particularly men, and Jax and Opie are perfect.

My final note is on Tara, who was barely seen last night. At the beginning of the episode, Jax presents her with two thick stacks of cash and instructions to get Gemma to show her the ropes as far as stashing it in a safety deposit box. This is one of those moments that is borrowed straight from mob movies, and you expect Tara to show some sign of freaking out. She doesn't. She seems thrilled, and maybe even turned on. I can't help but think that has to be relevant.

After last week's less intense episode, episode 5 got me right back to feeling like this season is going to be an unrelenting high-speed ride. And stressful as watching is becoming, I'm so, so looking forward to whatever next week brings. Once again, my proverbial hat is tipped to the mad sadistic genius of Kurt Sutter.

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I'd like to introduce you to Sephora

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An online friend of mine told me recently that they are opening a Sephora in her town soon.This will be her first experience with the makeup haven. Hearing that, I thought back to my first Sephora visit. I ddn't get into makeup at all until we moved to Austin, so it was there I first entered the black/white/pink paradise.

Sephora is overwhelming. It's crammed full of colorful, touchable, expensive makeup. I still get that "I'm going to break something and have to pay for it" there, even though I'm a regular customer. If you can relax, though, and if the folks working there are friendly (sometimes they are and sometimes they aren't), a trip to Sephora can be a really fun experience.

I've never actually had my makeup done at Sephora, or asked for recommendations, but I hear that's the way to go, and I can see why it would be. However, for those of us who tend towards the shy and would rather not have that much human interaction, here are my tips to enjoying one's first Sephora visit:

1. Check out the end caps.
As is the case in many stores, Sephora's best finds are often in the end caps. My favorites are the ones where they gather all types of one thing together (i.e. eight mascaras or ten primers) and write little blurbs about the advantages of each one. Now, they are a store and they are trying to sell you stuff--the more stuff the better--so you have to take everything you read and hear there as the marketing it is, but it's still fun to be able to easily compare products. End caps that don't have these comparison displays often display box sets instead, and box sets are, especially for the relatively new-to-makeup, often a great way to get started.

A couple of my current favorite sets available at Sephora:


Benefit Cosmetics Project Flawless, $32


Tarte Shining Stars Limited-Edition Best Sellers Collection, $25

2. Speaking of sets--Sephora Favorites
If you're interested in trying a lot of different things, another great thing to look for is the "Sephora Favorites" sets the store offers. These gather large trial sizes of best selling product so that you can buy them together and try them all. Where they are located depends on store, so you may have to ask.


Give Me Some Lash, $30


Glitz & Glam, $75

3. Don't neglect the house brand
I think that one mistake people make at Sephora, when surrounded by tons of luxury makeup, is to forget about Sephora's very good house brand. Sephora's house products are fairly affordable, too, which makes them great for when you want to try something new. A couple of standouts for me have been:


Jumbo Liner 12HR Wear Waterproof, $10 each


Color Flip, $15

4. Look at the minis
One of my other favorite parts of Sephora stores is the "impulse buy" section of mini items near the registers. This section can be dangerous--I've come home with several things I didn't mean to buy--but it can also be a fun way to try things. I think the availability might depend on store, but things I've seen there lately include:


Fresh Sugar Lip Duo, $22


Bare Escentuals Buxom Sidekicks, $19

5. Keep your eyes peeled for a sale
Things do not go on sale at Sephora all that often. However, once in a while, you will run into something on the website or at the store, so it's worth keeping your eyes peeled. Right now, there are a few sale items worth a peek. For example, much of the tokidoki makeup is reduced. These also seem to be good deals:


Sephora Collection Brush Roll Set, $39 (originally $72)


Sephora Collection Beauty in a Box Eye Tutorials, $10 (originally $36)

Other than those tips, I think my advice is of the general "have fun and be careful" variety. And really, do be careful--it's very very to walk out with a much spendier striped bag than you intended.

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The class war waged in my head

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Recently, I've begun to shy away from too many personal posts on this here blog. This has been a fairly conscious decision--I'm not sure my personal thoughts and anecdotes are really all that interesting or help to build a readership. In part, it has been laziness, too--it's much easier to post links, write reviews, and point out things that I think are cool than it is to dive into my innermost thoughts and try to fish something usable out and write about it.

Still, the days of the personal post are not gone. They may be more infrequent, but I suspect they'll never disappear. I just have too much shit bottled up inside me that needs to go somewhere. And today, as is often the case, that bottled up shit is all about money, class, and guilt.

I grew up working class. My family is, largely, working class (with a few exceptions), as is the town in which I grew up. As is the case, I think, with many class straddlers (I take this term from this book), my life looks much, much different now than it would if I still lived in the society in which I grew up. I am still sometimes shocked by the amounts I pay for things, and by the things I pay for. This has been true for as long as I've lived in a city, to some extent--city prices and country prices are just different--but it's far more so now, in an expensive suburb, living an expensive suburban lifestyle. My rent is outrageous (as is the size of my house). My organic grocery bills are mind-blowing. So is what we'll spend on a nice dinner out. I get manicures. I pay someone to cut the lawn. These are things I expect always so struggle with, and to feel some guilt about.

The new feeling of guilt, however, comes not from comparing myself to my family, but to my friends. I've come to realize, over the past few months, that Mark and I have more money than most of our cohort (with a few notable exceptions). This seems new, though I guess it's not all that new. When we were all just out of college, with stupid jobs or going to graduate school, everybody was similarly broke. We had junker cars, or no cars. We lived in groups. We ate on the cheap. We didn't travel (well, those of us who weren't under parental subsidy didn't, anyway). Slowly, though, things have changed. Some of us, including me, have moved into professional jobs, then moved up in those jobs, and are now making nice salaries. Others have obtained professional degrees, or PhDs, and moved into the highest social class, if not the highest economic one. For the most part, none of us have had children, but we've bought houses, cars, taken expensive trips. These things, taken as they come, have seemed reasonable and natural, but in total, paint a rather striking picture of the class we're now in.

And others of our cohort haven't been so lucky. Some can't find jobs at all, some can find only subsistence work. Student loans stay in deferment, credit card debt piles up. I try to figure out what I should be contributing to my retirement account and I have friends who can barely pay their rent. I recently posted a Groupon for Whole Foods on my Facebook, and got a response from a good friend who couldn't believe the people he knew could afford Whole Foods. Mark and I have been shopping there for years. It's become so normal, I'd almost forgotten it is a luxury market.

There is no reason, beyond luck, for this discrepancy. I fell into a career that pays quite well. Mark has been successful in his field, has met the right people, and is now in a position that could, with continued luck, set him up for exactly the career he planned as a best-case scenario. We're not smarter than our friends. We didn't work harder. We got lucky. And yeah, I think we've done a pretty good job capitalizing on our luck, building on it and making good decisions, but really, the luck is all that separates us from those who aren't doing as well.

How do you reconcile that? How do you look at the people you love, watch them struggle, and feel OK about not having to struggle that way yourself? More than anything else, I think, this keeps me up at night. As I turn into this extraordinarily privileged person, this upper middle class white lady, with a new car and a big house, who shops at Whole Foods without considering the cost, how do I make sure to remember how lucky I am, and that this isn't about my being gifted in any way, or "earning" anything? Is there a way to keep that in mind without being so paralyzed by the guilt that you don't even try? Guilt is so rarely a useful emotion--how can I make it one?

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