Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Random Wednesday

Having completely missed Random Musings Friday, partly because after I woke up to the tragedy of 12 people losing their lives in a movie theater I was not feeling particularly witty, and partly because I was setting up my new laptop (thank you, Base Exchange, for running a lovely back-to-school special on a Toshiba Satellite), I'm going to share some Random today. And then again on Friday. Because my personal battle cry is: Better Late Than Never.

1. Liz @ A Belle, A Bean, and A Chicago Dog posted this link on her Facebook page this week and I cannot stop posting it everywhere I can think. Essentially, if you are a blogger, a pinner, a tweeter, a Tumblrer....or a Facebooker, you need to read this blog post. It has pushed me to start going through M&M and taking down ALL photos that I did not take with my very own camera. And I now click through EVERY pin I re-pin to make sure they have given permission for pinning at the original site. While I do not care to get sued over some stupid photo of the NYC skyline, I really do not care to pay someone to defend me in court because I'm getting sued over some stupid photo of the NYC skyline. And, apparently, suing does happen. Just take 5 minutes to read her story.

2. Now, on to the photos that I actually do own.

Mama Virgo snapped this picture of a car parked in her office lot at work last week. It sort of embodies everything I feel about the stick figure phenomenon - which is completely out of control here in Georgia. And it doesn't matter if you choose something other than stick figures...flip flops, skulls, boot prints...whatever. Except this. This is awesome magnified.

3. Apparently, my Pinterest account was hacked last week. And here's what is amazing: Pinterest knew before I did. Pinterest is the last thing I check before going to bed and the first thing I open in the morning ("Hello, my name is Ally and I'm Pinaddict"). So, the fact that they identified a scam pin posted to my board and then locked my account before any more damage could be done is extremely impressive. They then emailed me with directions on how to open an investigation into the pin. This took about 2 working days. Once the investigation was complete, I had the original source of the scam pin, directions on how to reset my Pinterest password, and helpful hints on how to keep it from happening in the future. Somehow, I just don't see Facebook having the same processes in place.

4. We have learned how to make s'mores under the broiler in the oven. On my darkest days, this knowledge can very easily be my reason for living.

5. I bought my first bottle of Mod Podge 2 weeks ago. And just like that, I'm 14 again...covering cigar boxes with magazine cut-outs and decorating the cases for my mix tapes.

May you humpty-hump this Wednesday right on through to the weekend!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Or What Your Monitor Looks Like When You Crack It and You Have to Use Your Husband's Extra

(destroyed monitor with perfectly good hard drive to the left...monitor that's tethered to perfectly good hard drive on the right)

Monday, July 16, 2012

What I'm Reading: Alice I Have Been

I don't think I've ever given much thought to the origins of Alice in Wonderland. Of course, I was read the story as a child and I've seen the Johnny Depp version in 3D, but I suppose I always assumed that it was the seed of a story in an author's imagination, that grew into a children's classic. And considering all of the odd characters introduced throughout (as well as the instructions to "eat me" and "drink me"), I also assumed that Lewis Carroll was in some kind of drug-altered state when he wrote it.

Alice I Have Been is author Melanie Benjamin's account, based on months of research, of how the story came to be. Let's begin with Lewis Carroll, which is actually a pseudonym for Charles Dodgson, who was an Oxford mathematician and professor. He was also neighbors with Alice Liddell (the original Alice in Wonderland) and her family of 2 older sisters, 1 older brother, mother, father (the Dean of the college), and governess Miss Prickett (and later a 3rd sister). Dodgson dabbled in the new art of photography, which required the subject to hold the pose for 45 seconds while the image was taken. Dodgson found endless delight in capturing the girls' images and their mother, intrigued by the new art, was happy to let him do it. In the world we know today, I don't know any mother who would let her 3 young daughters (and later, Alice alone) spend countless hours with a 30-year old man, photographing, boating, exploring, and picnicking around the Oxford countryside. Sometimes the governess was with them (as she had a bit of a crush on the ole Dodgson), but sometimes not. It was, occasionally, just the 4 of them.

Eventually, tired of grim-faced portraits, Dodgson took this picture of Alice alone. He arranged for her to meet him in a tucked-away garden and brought these garments for her to wear. It is the inspiration behind Alice in Wonderland and would, much later, incite rumors about the relationship between Alice and Dodgson.

It seems fairly provocative to us now, especially considering that he brought these clothes for her to wear and then watched as she changed into them. But in Benjamin's post-scripts, she writes about how difficult it is for us to read a book about an earlier era without reading it through the lens of our modern times. She also admits that when she first discovered the photography of Dodgson at the Art Institute, and saw this one among the others, she was, at the very least, disturbed. But then she reminds us of the novelty of photography during the Victorian ages, especially of people, since most of it was landscape photography at that time. Dodgson was especially gifted at telling stories, drawing pictures, and then rushing to expose the plate...keeping his young subjects enthralled (and above all, still) for the entire 45 seconds. It helps to remember that the Victorians also embraced a sort of "cult of the child," which Benjamins explains is the "idea that children's unformed bodies reflected the purest, most idealistic representation of humanity. It was entirely possible for a Victorian to look at a child scantily clad and see an angel, not a sexualized creature..."

However, be that as it may, there was a rumored relationship between Alice and Dodgson when she was about 11 and he in his 30's. There is no proof to back this up, as all correspondance between the two, as well as Dodgson's diaries were burned by the families, supposedly to conceal any embarrassing details. Benjamin does her best to describe the relationship and leaving it to us to assume (as we are all so good at doing), just as the rest of the world assumes even to this day...or, at least, wonders. But there is documentation that sometime in Alice's pre-teen years, contact with Dodgon was completely severed and Alice went on to fall in love with Queen Victoria's hemophiliac son, Prince Leopold (and he with her), but marry someone who was more in line with her social status.

The facts we have, and which Benjamin solidly bases her novel on, are:

Dodgson told the Liddell sisters many stories over the years of their intense friendship, but the one he told of Alice in Wonderland during a day of boating was the only one that Alice begged him to write down. Alice was 10 at the time.

Dodgson first came to know the Liddell Family when Mr. Liddell was appointed dean of Christ Church, Oxford and the family moved into the Deanery. Dodgson, who lived immediately across the garden from the Deanery, first photographed the garden and came to know the oldest son, Henry, but soon developed a friendship with the daughters and spent the majority of his time with them.

At the age of 11, all ties were severed with Mr. Dodgson, although the "why" is a matter of complete speculation. One rumor is that Mr. Dodgson asked Mr. Liddell for Alice's hand in marriage. Yet another theory is that Dodgson had professed his love to either Alice's mother, her older sister Ina, or their governess. Dodgson's descendents dispute all claims, but we'll never know as Alice's mother burned all correspondance between Alice and Dodgson after the break.

Dodgson went on to become the infamous Lewis Carroll, first publishing Alice in Wonderland and later Through the Looking Glass. He and Alice continued to have little to no contact, although he always sent her an edition of his newest book. Alice spent most of her life trying desperately to conceal her identity as the true Alice in Wonderland, but it was her most appealing trait. Prince Leopold fell in love with that Alice, although he went on to marry someone else. And Alice eventually settled down to a life of solitude with Reginald Hargreaves and they had 3 sons.

The book is mostly narrated by an 80-year old Alice, as she is crossing the ocean from England to New York so that she may appear at a function as the original Alice in Wonderland. Towards the end of her life, she finally accepted (and even embraced) her legacy and was able to capitalize on it financially after her husband died, leaving her virtually penniless. But she never spoke of her break with Mr. Dodgson or revealed any enlightening circumstances that surrounded that event.

I truly loved this book for its mystery, its conflict, its history, and the way it made me feel. Although Melanie Benjamin has been accused in some of the critics' reviews for "dumbing down" Alice's 7-year old speech, I found it to be accurate in how most 7-year olds express themselves. And her bitter disappointment at the way her life turned out was compelling and sad. I could sit here and judge Mr. Dodgson for the relationship that he supposedly allowed with Alice, but when I was about 15 or 16, I carried on with a much older man briefly and I can certainly see the appeal. What young girl doesn't want to be idolized by someone so much older and wiser? And just like the Liddells, my family stepped in and put an abrupt end to it.

It's hard not to feel sympathy or sadness for Alice as she recounts the overstuffed atmosphere of the Liddell household and her sisters' shifting demands for attention from Dodgson. And it's nearly impossible to feel anything but hatred at her mother for severing the relationship and sentencing Alice to a life of loneliness. But we have to remember that she did the best she could with the notariety that was thrown upon her. Not everyone is so lucky. The inspiration behind A.A. Milne's Christopher Robin went on to commit suicide as he caved under the pressure of being Pooh's best friend. Alice made a life for herself that eventually included her role as Alice in Wonderland.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What I'm Reading: No Higher Honor

Correction: What I tried reading: No Higher Honor.

I have a friend who is a voracious reader. She updates her GoodReads list the same way most of us update our Facebook profiles. A few months ago, I got an email from GoodReads letting me know that she had just posted this to her "read" folder. And I thought, "Yeah! I should read that! I have always liked good ole Condi, especially after she was on Meet the Press last winter with the author of The Blind Side." And so I borrowed it from the library for a week.

That was my first mistake.

This is a 750 page book, y'all. Neal is listening to it on and he commuted 30 minutes each way for an entire week, then to Ft. Knox, KY and back and is still listening to it. When I complained that the book was better at putting me to sleep than most of my college physics textbooks, he mentioned that listening to it (in her voice) is much easier than actually reading it. And reading it in a week? No way.

I will just have to trust him on that because me and Condi? We're done.

Here was are my take-aways from the first 250 pages:
1. The W. Bush administration was one foreign affairs calamity after another.
2. If Rice could have run over and then backed over Rumsfeld about 9 times without getting any jail time, she would have.
3. She probably would have done the same to Cheney.
4. She willingly admits the really obvious mistakes of the administration.
5. The only reason I made it as far as I did is because Neal told me to stop fixating on the details of each encounter and look for the gist of the story. Although the gist was normally just as boring as the details.
6. NO ONE in the administration predicted the shit storm that would follow the "axis of evil" speech.
7. Israel and Palastine are just never going to get along. Period.
8. Apparently, we were supposed to go to war with Afghanistan (which is where Al-Qaida was hanging out after 9/11) but somehow ended up in Iraq instead.
9. North Korea is creepy.
10. W. did a lot of business from his Texas ranch.

If you are either a) a foreign affairs nerd or b) in love with Condoleeza Rice or c) retired, this may be the book for you. She recounts each detail of her time with the Bush administration in painstaking clarity, perhaps to "clear the record" or perhaps to document for history. Either way, I need more anecdotes if I'm going to make it through 750 pages. I barely survived Gone with the Wind and that involved a war, men in uniform, and lots of beautiful dresses. Condi doesn't have any of that. Well, she's got the war part, but men in robes is just not the same. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Random Musings Friday: Hot-lanta

So the record heat last weekend is not breaking news. It's hot. It's hot in Chicago and New York and DC and, of course, Atlanta. Shana has had her plane ticket south for weeks so changing it due to unbearable heat was really not an option. Originally, we were going to head off to the beach for a few days...maybe Tybee or Hilton Head. But when we saw the 10-day forecast, we decided that neither one of us was all that eager beaver to deal with sweat AND sand. So, we booked a few nights at the Dobbins AFB lodging in Marietta (just north of Atlanta) and awaited our adventure.

As we hopped from air conditioned building to air conditioned building for 4 days, we realized it was the best decision we could have made. And when the AC in my hotel room started to go out 20 minutes before check-out, I knew that lounging in the sun for hours on end was never really going to happen anyway. The only ones lounging in 108 degree heat are the lizards.

So, here's a Random Musings Friday of what we learned/did/ate/saw in Hot-lanta this week. Warning: it involves poop and strippers.

1. The Cinebistro movie theater in Atlanta is exactly like the Movie Tavern in Lexington, except glamorous. We dined on white bean/smoky eggplant hummus, oven baked goat cheese with dried black figs, rock shrimp risotto, a shortrib/brisket burger with sweet potato fries, chocolate cake and peanut butter pie. Bonus: no one under 21 is allowed for movies starting after 6 PM. And we saw more movies in 3 days than I have in the past 3 years. Both Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson's new one...minus Gwyneth Paltrow, plus Bruce excellent trade in my opinion) and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (I want Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith to by my honorary grandmothers. I think we would get along famously.) were playing at the Cinebistro. And I'm eager to take Mama Virgo back next weekend when she comes down for a short visit.

Also? They have the coolest sinks in the women's bathroom. Even Neal agrees that they are on the high side of awesome.

2. If you have a military ID, it is insane to pay triple the price to stay at a chain hotel. Dobbins AFB offers very nice and clean lodging that looks exactly like a Hampton or a Red Roof. The beds are comfy, the comforters are down, they sell alcohol at the front desk, and you have to pass armed airmen to get in. It's located in Marietta, which is approximately 10 miles north of downtown Atlanta. 5 minutes on I-75 and we were anywhere we wanted to be. And it's quiet. $117 for 3 nights and we even got a dorm fridge with freezer, a microwave, and this handy 1-cup coffee maker, which was just perfect for my morning routine. You will need to bring your own hair dryer, though, because the one they provide is roughly the same as using your own breath to dry your coif.

3. Breakfast on Monday morning was at The Flying Biscuit Cafe in Candler Park. After a weekend of cupcakes, pie, and dairy, I was experiencing a bit of gastrointestinal distress, so I stuck to the carbs on the menu. But Shana branched out to the "Egg-stravaganza"...complete with eggs, chicken sausage, turkey bacon, dreamy grits (which I also got...turns out, the secret is low-fat cream and cheddar cheese), and whole wheat french toast, topped with raspberry sauce and honey creme anglaise. (related: why don't they have accent marks on keyboards? Where's an accent mark when you really need one??) And this trip also ruined me for really fluffy scrambled eggs. Now, mine just taste like rabbit pellets. I would say that the service was pretty lackluster, but whatever...the food was amazing and sometimes, that's all that matters.

4. While perusing the rack of tourist brochures in the Dobbins lodging lobby, we ran across one that made us both go "hmmm...."

Yes, we paid money to attend an exhibit on excrement. As they exclaim, "It's the #1 exhibit about #2." And we even learned a few things along the way, like:

When your superstition involves driving over camel dung for good luck, you may actually deserve to get blown up...


Thank goodness that even when our species gives birth to multiples, we do not have to poop circles around them to know which ones are ours...


How very fortunate we are to NOT have to nuzzle our babies' rectums in order to stimulate them to poop. Clearly, I would prefer not to come back as a white-tailed deer.

5. There is no better way to follow an exhibit about poo/dung/excrement/crap, than to watch a 45-minute IMAX film about the disappearing ice caps, narrated by Meryl Streep. Bottom line: watching a polar bear fall into the water when the piece of ice they stepped on has melted beyond their weight limit is heartbreaking. And I want to deliver copies of the DVD to the 4 new families on our street because, apparently, driving their cardboard moving boxes to the recycle, 2 miles away, is just too much. I hope your homes melt.

6. After some R&R back at the hotel (and a little House Hunters, followed up by Say Yes to the Dress), we headed over to Seasons 52 for dinner. We had made reservations for an earlier supper so that we could arrive in plenty of time for our all-male revue showing of Magic Mike. Again, seasonal dining at its finest. Artichoke and goat cheese flat bread, roasted artichoke-stuffed shrimp, and cedar plank salmon were followed by "mini-indulgences" of german chocolate cake and pecan pie. I will warn you, though, that they serve their water STRAIGHT from the tap and the tap water in Dunwoody tastes a lot like our public pool. Also, if you go (and you can's a chain), drive your nice car. When we left, the valet drivers were parking Bentleys, Jags, and Beamers next to my pretty little Prius with the bird droppings and tree sap running down the rear window.

7. Magic Mike is...magical. And had just enough plot to keep me interested. But if plot is not your thing, they also offer penis pumps, Matthew McC in boy shorts, and a scene in which they wear nothing but camo pants, Army boots, and dog tags. It's a shame it will never make it to the IMAX.

8. Breakfast on Tuesday morning was courtesy of Highland Bakery...which was loud...and crammed full of tables. I understand making the most money possible in a recession but if they took out just 3 tables, we would have all been more comfortable. But who can complain when there are fluffy scrambled eggs and sweet potato pancakes with brown sugar syrup involved? And...they bring your check out with this:

I do find that a compliment under my bill contributes to a higher tip. And just starts the day off on the right foot, in general.

9. You can buy Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On right now on iTunes for 69 cents. It really sets the mood for a day at the Titanic Exhibit in Atlantic Station. It's the 100th anniversary of the sinking and they've dredged up as much as possible from the wreckage and put it on display for those of us who missed it. Get the audio tour. It cuts down on the reading. And don't forget to touch the ice. It's the only thing in the entire exhibit that you can touch.

10. In an effort to spend as little time as possible in the actual out of doors, we left the Titanic (and its gift shop, which offers a variety of Rose-inspired jewelry and entire sets of china available for purchase) and headed over to the Virginia-Highland neighborhood. Virginia-Highland is known for its quirky, independent shops and locally-owned restaurants...most of which are closed until dinner or on Tuesdays or when it's high tide or mercury is in retrograde or any time 2 out-of-towners just want to get a bite to eat before they start gnawing on their own arms. Fortunately, we found a noodle house just in time.

And, as it turned out, the beef and portabello bowl with crispy spinach over fried rice was an ideal late lunch. I had no idea you could make spinach crisp up and I don't want to know how much butter is involved in making that happen, but it was delicious.

11. The shops in the Virginia-Highland area are very boutique-y and thus a little on the pricey side...especially if you are one to peruse the $5 DVD bin at, say, Walmart. But we found them to be quaint with very friendly salespeople. These girls were hanging out in a window outside of Dakota J's:

While the blue feather boas look just like a refreshing dip in the pool, the shocking site of Barbie in a sea of fuschia sort of looks like she is drowning in a puddle of her own blood. Maybe stabbed by a stiletto? Either way, these girls are nekkid and, probably, up to no good.

But there's also this:

although the first time I saw it on Trip Advisor, I read it as Dr. Bombay's Underwear Tea Party, which is not exactly the same as being underwater. Either way, we had to take a pass on having "high tea" underwater or in our underwear. After all, when one has had high tea at The Plaza, everything else is just an affair with monkeys.

12. After an early showing of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (again, excellent film although slow as molasses in the dead of January until about an hour in), we hit Noche, a tapas restaurant in the same shopping center. We managed to score a table 10 minutes before the kitchen closed and we counted ourselves among the lucky as we polished off 3 varieties of tacos (including lobster) and apple-smoked bacon-wrapped dates. The interior is brick and concrete so bring your outside voice and your guide to reading lips. Or brave the outdoor tables. It was raining sideways so we just screamed at each other.

13. Wednesday, as we all know, was the 4th of July.

(note to self: dirty hippies who sell local artists' goods also have the best temporary tattoos)

and, apparently, is something akin to Christmas Day. After hitting 3 restaurants near Oakland Cemetery and finding them all closed, we finally ended up at Six Feet Under. And since we had been on the hunt so long, it was actually lunch time. One shrimp po boy and 3 crab cake sliders later, we were ready for an adventure. And a pedicure. Both could only be had at the Lenox Mall since everything else was closed. Literally. I take that back...I'm sure Walmart and Lowe's were doing a booming business, but every locally owned anything was closed for the 4th. We ended up paying $25 for the Asian women in the mall to do our toes (which, admittedly, was something of a disappointment for Shana, who is used to a full calf-wrap with pumice stone scrub, but fine for me as I usually just cut all of my callouses off with a pair of toenail clippers) and meandering around the mall for 5 hours.

There is an Anthropology in Lenox for anyone who has drool they need to express and a Pottery Barn for decorating inspiration (which you can then take to IKEA for 1/32 the price). And plenty of divine people-watching. But that's about it. Fortunately for me, Shana is incredibly flexible and forgiving.

What else did we learn?

  • Exit 261 comes up on you really fast. Be prepared to cross 6 lanes of traffic with .5 miles worth of notice.
  • Lots of lanes shift. You should really have a co-pilot to warn you of lanes that are ending when you're trying to figure out where in the hell you're going. Expect honking and middle fingers if you are trying to turn into a Publix from a lane that used to be a turning lane for you but is now a driving lane for oncoming traffic.
  • Sea salted caramel gelato is divine. When it is served as a milkshake, it's orgasmic. 
  • Atlanta is closed for the 4th of July. Wait...did I say that already? 
  • There is a song on the Magic Mike soundtrack that makes it absolutely worth it to purchase the entire CD from iTunes.
  • I feel really fancy when I go to a Target that is underground. 
  • A golf umbrella is of no use against sideways rain. 
  • Always bring extra underwear. 
  • There is a store in Atlanta that sells bondage attire, corsets, baby clothes, bobble head Jesus, marijuana accessories, and has kittens for adoption in the back. 
  • After you've had maid service, always make sure you still have a remote. 
  • It's OK to leave cupcakes in lieu of a tip for housekeeping. 
  • Don't let the dirty hippies gift wrap your purchases. Just....don't. 
I think that's about it. It has been next to impossible to get back to my routine after 3 days of family and 4 days of vacation and a holiday thrown into the middle of all of that. I think I'll just open this bag of chips and watch a movie and start over on Monday.

Happy Friday and Cheers to you! We had our fair share of mimosas last weekend so I expect y'all to catch up!