pop culture

#reverb11: some favorites of 2011

Which blogs did you enjoy most this year?

Oprah asks you to write an article on your favorite things of 2011. What are they? 

What were your favorite songs of the year? 

What books did you read? (The Writeous Babe)

Y'all know I love some lists, and with the stress of the holidays, family illnesses, and a broken refrigerator, I need to write about something fun. So here goes my list of stuff I liked in 2011.

Which blogs did you enjoy most this year?

I utilized my Netvibes RSS feeder a lot and ended up adding and purging blogs from it. This was part of my goal to get rid of digital clutter, meaning things I don't read, that I don't find myself wondering about or waiting for the next post. If I didn't feel a connection or moved by someone's writing, I deleted the feed. I'd been hanging on to a few lifestyle, style and decorating blogs that I never got around to reading and though I think they're wonderful, I can't devote a ton of space to them. Having them in my RSS reader as unread just made me feel bad.

Scaling down to stories I connected to makes room for new stories, new connections and a dedicated space where I can read about mostly women's lives and appreciate their insights without feeling like Imustgetthroughthisandontothenextone. (In one breath). 

This meant I did not really discover a lot of new blogs this year. However, I DID discover Amanda Klein's blog, Judgmental Observer and appreciate her perspective on culture and media. She has a great assessment of Marcel the Shell with Shoes On's popularity that I linked to in my post about happiness. I continued to love Lindsey's insights, Dooce's humor and the journey Rebecca and her now family of 6 are on. I also frequented recipe blogs and style and wedding blogs via Pinterest, which is also one of my favorite things of 2011 that I would write about for Oprah, more below. 

Oprah asks you to write an article on your favorite things of 2011. What are they? 

Keurig Elite Brewing System $119 I am so in love with my Keurig. I talked about it to anyone who would listen in 2011 and desperately missed it when I went out of town for 3 weeks this summer. I should have taken it with me and oh so many times I wish I had. I love this machine because I can make a cup of coffee, iced coffee, hot chocolate, hot tea, and even iced tea with it. It's like a magical dose of happy for me; I'm sure the coffee helps with that, too. 

 Vera Bradley Flora Nightingale Side by Side bag  ($68) and matching Zip ID Case ($12) I used the ID case a lot and it has been really nice to divide up what I need to carry every day with all the extra stuff I carry around. The purse is a great size and I think, incredibly reasonable. Plus, the pattern is supercute. Put a bird on it! (for any Portlandia fans).

Dove Dark Chocolate Truffles $6 each I have only ever seen these around Christmas and they did end up in some gift bags I put together this year. If you run across any, you should grab them and share them with friends. 

Sony Digital AM/FM Alarm Clock with Nature Sounds $50 When my Sharper Image Sound Machine, which I DID travel almost everywhere with broke, I ended up getting this alarm clock, which may have a few less options but also fits nicely on my bedside table and has a jack for my iPod or cell phone, which is cool though I have not used it.



Presto Pizzazz Plus  $43 This is an amazing invention. We cook almost everything we can on it: bagels, pizzas, taquitos; we reheat leftovers. We received it last year for Christmas and 2011 has been the year of the Pizzazz.


Pinterest My most common sentence this year was, "I saw this cool thing we should totally try." Michelle's response, "Did you see it on Pinterest?" Because most of the time, I found cool ideas, recipes and really cool things I'll never, ever make on the site which allows you to bookmark and create boards of inspiration from all the various websites you visit. It was incredibly helpful while wedding planning but I've also found a few great recipes to add to my weekly cooking. 

Starbucks Tazo Black Shaken Iced Tea $2 I am hopelessly obsessed with this tea. M would say I'm addicted to Starbucks in general these days. :) But this tea is one of my favorites!

I Love You Because Print $10 

Putting this print in a frame creates an instant Dry Erase Board and you can tell the person(s) you love why you love them every single day.


Lisa Leonard's Hand Stamped Necklaces $50-100

I have several of Lisa Leonard's necklaces and I love them. I love customizing them with my Word of the Year or putting a meaningful or part of a meaningful quote on them. For example, I have the illuminate necklace with "live the life" stamped on it, which comes from Thoreau's oft-quoted Walden, "if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours." I wear the necklace to remind myself to live the life I have imagined.  






What were your favorite songs of the year? 

I write about some of my favorite albums and songs in my Late Fall Music post and in this #reverb11 post about joy. As I mentioned in the reverb11 post, Adele played heavily in my music rotation, "One and Only" being one of my favorites.

I also became obsessed with The Civil Wars , especially their song "Barton Hollow"

Fitz and the Tantrums' "Moneygrabber" was a fun song to dance around to as was The Airborne Toxic Event's "Changing."

Here's Fitz and the Tantrums featuring Darryl Hall on the 2nd verse :

and The Airborne Toxic Event (a name after an English teacher's own heart!) in their video for "Changing."



More seriously, I fell in love with Bon Iver's "Holocene" and anyone who asked me for music suggestions this year got my gushing about this album and especially this song. 



What books did you read?

Sadly, I did not read as much as I wanted to this year. (Do I ever really get that chance?) My goal was to read 15 books this year. Goodreads seems to count the books in a series as one book so according to their tally, I have read 9 books instead of 11, which I personally think is bogus. Still, I am behind. I may be able to finish a book or two before Jan. 1 but I doubt I will finish 4. Still, if I get close to my goal I'll be happy. What I read this year: 

It may be unfair that Never Let Me Go is on here because I read it over last Christmas Break. I started the book in 2010 and finished it in 2011 so I guess it's technically not cheating. It's one of my favorite books of all time and I don't say that lightly, at all. This is what I said about that book in early January when I finished it: 

 I just finished Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, which is a wonderful novel about friendship, the things that hold us together and tear us apart. It's also a dystopian novel but it's very subtle, providing impetus for the actions of the characters instead of taking center stage and having the characters move around a dystopian plot. It's beautifully written and wonderfully sad.

I put off reading The Hunger Games simply because everyone said I should. I'm stubborn that way. But in March, Michelle and I traveled to Atlanta and as we often do on road trips, we selected a book to read aloud to one another. It was Michelle's choice and I'm really glad it was because I'm not sure I would have gotten around to reading it, otherwise. And once we began reading, I was mesmerized. I'm both excited and apprehensive about the film version coming up.

Around this same time, I read Delirium, which is an amazing book. Many of the issues my colleagues mention with The Hunger Games are dealt with deftly here. Yes, the main character is motivated (as most teenagers, are) by her peers, and by a boy. But there is a lot more going on here for Lena. With love being treated as a disease in this dystopian world, there is much more at stake than romantic relationships and Oliver manages to show us this in ways that haunt you and you find yourself thinking about them later. I know there is a ton of YA dystopian lit out there but this story is very good and Oliver is a talented writer. The story grabs you from the beginning and you want to find out what is going to happen to Lena as she navigates emotions she is not supposed to feel, that are, in fact, illegal to feel. 


5-10-15-20-25-30: Music through the years

Inspired by Pitchfork Media's feature asking artists to reminisce about the music they enjoyed at five year intervals in their past. I am always up for writing about music's influence and impact on my life.

 When I was five, most of the music in my house was chosen by my father who loved Elton John, Billy Joel, the Beatles, but every once in a while he'd acquiesce and play The Beach Boys because my mother loved them. But the first music I chose, the one song I remember singing over and over again was Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," though I had no clue what it was about. I remember my mother asking me if I knew what "a lover" was. I said, "No," and kept singing and that was it. Thriller was one of the first records I bought with my own money, when I was about 7 or 8.


When I was in fifth grade or so, I used to walk down to my friend, Annie's house to play. It was there with her older brother and sister that I watched The Lost Boys and Dirty Dancing and heard George Michael's "Faith" for the first time. Once again, I didn't understand many of the lyrics of the album but it wasn't important at the time. Listening to it felt rebellious and wild, like something just out of reach. This is also the year my dad bought me a boombox/tape player which my brother and I used for our skating soundtrack, listening to Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" and Debbie Gibson's "Shake Your Love" and Salt N Pepa's "Push It," about which I was also completely clueless. Seems like my musical taste has always been part guilty pleasure and part subversion.

 I love that both Janet and Michael are on this list. This album holds a significant place in my teenagehood. I remember feeling empowered by it, dancing with my friends, thinking I was sexy or at least embracing the resemblance of sexy. At the same time, I was listening to Def Leppard, Spin Doctors, Gin Blossoms, Soul Asylum and Nirvana. I had moved to a new school in the middle of the year and was feeling really out of place. A kid who sat in English beside me never said very much to me at all, except that he noticed a pen I always wrote with sticking out of my pocket one day and he leaned over to tell me that I dropped it. That afternoon we ate lunch together on the quad and he introduced me to his friends who were really into music, Liz Phair and Dinosaur Jr. and Radiohead, stuff I'd never heard in the small Alabama town I'd moved from. I was this awkward girl with a funny accent and more pain and angst than I knew what to do with and this surfer kid connected to me and in one afternoon, I became part of the crowd. Through them, I would discover Oasis, Smashing Pumpkins, Candlebox and Pearl Jam whose musical imprint would alter how I expressed myself. I think that's when I really started to take more active ownership of my taste in music, when lyrics became important, when I wanted music to move me. Sure, it was still fun and vibrant and something to sing to, but I started to learn that music was powerful and could be for me.
I have never been very musically inclined; mediocre at playing clarinet and I can't sing on key at all. But I love music; it fuels me, reflects my moods, gives me solace.

When I was in college, it was a really crappy time for music. It was the whole boy band, Spice Girls insanity and most of the stuff played on the radio was terrible. My friends at the time were mostly in bands, wanted to be in bands, were really into bands or strummed guitar as a hobby. I became obsessed with singer/songwriters like Ben Harper and musicians like Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright. One of my closest friends loved Lisa Loeb and learned to play most of the songs on her album, Firecracker. It remains a significant part of the soundtrack of nights staring at the stars after a long day of work and classes, falling asleep on C's porch after staying up all night sharing stories and arguing over which time period we'd want to return to; days driving to the beach, spending too long in the sun. When I hear these songs now, I smell suntan oil and ocean, strawberry lip gloss and kiwi shampoo.

At 25, I was finishing my Master's degree and settling in to my musical tastes. I listened to a lot of Belle and Sebastian, Ryan Adams, Basement Jaxx and Coldplay. For my birthday, I saw Coldplay live in New Orleans and it was amazing; I was there with some of my best friends and the music was beyond good. I listened to a lot of Ben Harper during this time, too because he'd released Diamonds on the Inside, which I really loved. But I was obsessed with Beck's Sea Change. I listened to it at least once a day for over a year. There's this deep melancholy underneath the album and I completely fell in love with writing with it as a soundtrack. I had a roommate then who knew if he heard Beck, not to mess with me. I still love the music on Sea Change and it resonates deeply with me. I was in a transition at 25 that would change the course of my life. I was leaving Alabama for the Midwest for my Ph.D. and unsure of where I would end up or what, exactly, I was leaving behind.

From Golden Age on Beck's Sea Change

Put your hands on the wheel
Let the golden age begin
Let the window down
Feel the moonlight on your skin
Let the desert wind
Cool your aching head
Let the weight of the world
Drift away instead
Ohh these days I barely get by
I don't even try

At 30, I was finishing my dissertation, so most of the music I listened was on Pandora. I created a station called "Writing Radio" with bands like Everest, The Honorary Title, Vampire Weekend, and Rooney as well as Adele, Jack Johnson and Bon Iver. Of course, I continued to listen to my standbys like Pete Yorn, Ryan Adams and Matchbox20. But what I remember most musically is Band of Horses, who I'd really liked when I heard them on Letterman a few years before and when Cease to Begin came out, I fell even more in love. They even have a song on one of the Guitar Hero games. The music was certainly my dissertation soundtrack; I used to joke that I was going to release a dissertation playlist and include it in my diss. pages. Maybe I should have.

Thinking about all of this music has made me want to go in search of some of it for my iPod, especially Sea Change, oh and George Michael. My musical spectrum is wide; as Whitman said: "I contain multitudes."