A video for your enjoyment

Kelly and I are leaving for Chicago this afternoon, and I have a bunch of work stuff to finish up, so I can’t write a huge post. But I did want to share the following video with you. It is by some fellow named Macklemore, and is all about thrift shopping.

Pay close attention. At one point you will see people digging through blue bins. I’ve been there and done that, and it isn’t nearly as clean or fun as the video makes it out to be.

Whoops

It got to be around 11:38 last night, and I was in bed after a thoroughly demoralizing Starcraft session when I realized that I had neglected to write a blog post yesterday. I meant to do it out at Kelly’s parents, but then I forgot to take my laptop out there, and as much as I enjoy tablets, they really aren’t the best for writing a lot on. So I decided to go to bed. My bad. But here I am. Morning blog post will have to do.

One of the things that Kelly has brought into my life since showing up almost seven years ago now is animals, specifically dogs. Before Kelly came around, we had cats, but cats are pretty low key. They do their thing, and don’t really mind what you do. Every once in a while you can hang out together, and then you go your separate ways.

But we had never had dogs. In fact, I really didn’t like dogs. Dogs are gross and smelly and slobbery and way more high maintenance than cats. It was even to the point where I was pretty sure that Kelly’s love for dogs would be a problem for us long term. Well it didn’t quite work out like that, and now our family is full of dogs. We have two, Abby and Neo have two, my Mom has one, and Charley has one. Just a big old pack of dogs always running around.

The other thing about Kelly is that she likes broken dogs. So all of our dogs are rescue dogs, with Snowy being the most “rescued” of them all. She came from a puppy mill, and really didn’t know anything about being a dog or even walking. She has come a long way, but is still not the best dog in the world. We love her, but she is still pretty broken.

Anyway, on Monday we had to take them to get their teeth cleaned. Their breath was extremely foul, and their teeth covered with scales, so it was time. Dog teeth cleaning isn’t really like human teeth cleaning either. They get put under, and it is a whole big procedure. So I dropped them off on Monday and was very worried all day.

Well they made it through okay, but a little worse for the wear. Snowy had six teeth removed. And she had already had a bunch of teeth removed years ago, so she is down to working with a very few number of teeth. And Linus had four teeth removed, but he’s still doing pretty well, overall. Snowy was completely stoned when I picked her up, and really couldn’t even walk for the rest of the night. And this whole thing cost a pile of money. Let’s just say I could have a very nice new iPad instead of less dog teeth.

But at the end of the day it is worth it, because having pups around really is a lot of fun. And they can be surprising with how smart they can be, but they can also be surprising with how dumb they can be. I’m glad they are around, and I guess now I’m a dog person.

The Miserables

This weekend, Kelly and I went to see Les Miserables with the family. As a side note, we saw it at the West Olive AMC, which is like a restaurant and a movie theater mooshed together. It was an interesting idea, but the execute was lacking in a couple of places. One, it was ridiculously expensive. $200 for the movie and food for a group of six. The food was actually pretty good, but it was a little distracting. The waiters were walking around for the whole movie, and because of that, they had to leave kind of an obnoxious amount of light on. So it was a fun thing to do once, but I’m not sure that I would do it again.

Okay, so on to the movie. There has been a lot of discussion about the movie online, mostly negative, from what I’ve seen. And I would say that the reaction from my family was the same. Except for Kelly, who said it was her favorite adaptation of the musical she had ever seen. I would say I am closer to Kelly. I really enjoyed it, but think I might still enjoy the play more.

One of the main concerns that my family voiced was that it was too gritty. That I actually liked. The stage version can make 18th century France seem to clean. So while maybe it wasn’t pretty to look at, I thought it worked.

But let’s ignore those concerns and others about the pacing and cinematic choices. I want to talk about the singing. In particular, I want to talk about Russell Crowe.

Russell Crowe is getting blasted on the Internet. People are talking about him like he is the worst singer in the world. And I’m gonna be honest. I think that they are all completely full of shit. I thought Russell Crowe did an amazing job. And I say this having gone in thinking he was going to be awful. But I really thought his voice fit the part, and I thought that he was in tune, and I actually thought that there was a lot of nice subtlety to his voice. In fact, I would say that he was the most interesting performance in the whole thing.

So basically, to sum up – the Internet is wrong. The whole thing does work as a movie, the singing, while not perfectly sweet, fits into a story that isn’t meant to be sweet, and Russell Crowe did an awesome job.

History of Rome

A few days ago I posted about TBTL, my favorite podcast. Well, truth be told, sometimes I get a little sick of it. I mean, it is great, and everything, but it can also get a little old listening to literally the same two people talk about basically the same two things over and over. And I’ve been doing that every day since August of 2010, basically. That is a long time to have been listening to the voice of one person every time I am in the car.

So a while ago I decided that I needed something to supplement TBTL for when things got a little rough. What I came up with is a little podcast called The History of Rome. It covers, in a fairly in depth matter, the history of the Roman Empire from the founding to the fall of Rome. So pretty ambitious. I think in all there are around 185 episodes, clocking in at around 15 minutes an episode.

I studied Latin in High School, and had a teacher at the time who loved Roman history. And yet I didn’t care. I just kinda made my way through the work, but didn’t particularly care one way or another. It turns out that I was a moron. Because Roman history is crazy interesting. There is war, and romance, and intrigue, back stabbing, crazy diplomacy, and the rise and fall of one of the most important empires the world has ever seen.

The narrator does a really good job of keeping it interesting, and keeping the pace moving, while making sure that he covers a lot of stuff. And at times it can get dry. You can’t cover 1000 years of history of one empire without running into a few dull patches. But for the most part, it is riveting.

Right now I am at the point where the Huns are about to become a problem for the Romans, so we are talking about getting pretty close to the end of the West, and I am just as into it as I was when I started back at the very founding of Rome.

The whole process also makes you really take a look at yourself, because there are some interesting parallels between things that happened 2000 years ago and things that happen today. It is also really amazing at the level of sophistication that people had so long ago. And for me it has been personally interesting to watch what I thought I knew about Rome be basically shattered left and right.

So if you are looking for some history to get you through the day, I really recommend The History of Rome podcast. I think even if you don’t like history, you will really appreciate it.

Back to Normal

This isn’t going to be a great post, and I apologize in advance. It has been a super crazy 10 days or so, and my blogging (as well as my piano playing) has suffered. Such is the nature of the holidays. Especially with Phil and Helen in town. It is great having them, but it disrupts my normal schedule enough that things like doing this fall to the side.

And while I’m really sad that the holidays are over, it is also nice to get back to normal, and back to a routine. I have really missed playing the piano for two hours a night. I have really missed playing Starcraft. It has been weeks since I’ve played, and that makes me really sad. I miss cooking dinner, and I miss watching Downton Abbey. So I need to remember those things when I think about how sad I am that the festivities of the holidays are over.

It also happens that the fun will be continuing for the Halley minor clan for another month or so. Next week Kelly and I go to Chicago to meet the new baby of my friend from Wash U, Matt. And of course get to see Emily and her family. The following weekend we are going to Frohna, MO, to spend some time with Kelly’s bio-mom and sister. That should be an… interesting experience. And then on January 30th, we leave for California to spend a week romping around out there.

As I’m typing this, I realize that by saying that things are getting “back to normal” for us, that really just means “continuing the craziness.” And I suppose I wouldn’t really want it any other way.

Pastaria

Tonight Kelly and I wandered to this new restaurant in St. Louis called Pastaria. It is the creation of some famous fellow who has other restaurants that I have not been to. We’ve been wanting to go there for a while, and actually tried a few weeks ago. However when we got there, they told us the wait was going to be 45 minutes, and so we went somewhere else. (Remy’s, which I didn’t love.)

Well tonight we wandered back there, with Kelly’s parents, and her aunt and former uncle (long story). This time we got there early like old people, and only had to wait for around 30 minutes, despite being told that we would have to suffer through a wait more like an hour and a half. So clearly they need to get better estimating skills. But they haven’t been around for that long, so I can forgive them that.

I didn’t get a salad, but everyone else did. I think Kelly liked her, but I’m not sure anyone else did. That will be a theme. We did have some really amazing bread, and some chili oil for it, which actually went over really well, sans chili oil for some.

My main course was a really simple dish of a pasta that was similar to spaghetti, with oil, garlic, and chili oil. It was quite excellent. Kelly got some large elbow pasta with cheese and pepper that was very nice. The aunt and former uncle both got a Bolognese dish, and I’m not sure that they liked it. And Kelly’s parents split a pepperoni pizza. I believe the words “not as good as pizza hut” were mentioned. They were completely wrong. I had a piece, and it was excellent, with a really nice artisan pepperoni. So you can take both opinions and decide, but I would definitely recommend the pizza.

Finally we had some gelato for dessert. Kelly and I shared one salted caramel and one bourbon vanilla. Both were incredible. Definitely the best gelato that we’ve ever had.

So overall it was a really fun dining experience. I’m sorry that the rest of the group didn’t love it was much as we did, but that’s their loss. Kelly and I will definitely be returning.

Cyprus

Even though Abby got married on Sunday, she is going to be having another wedding in Cyprus in September. That is where Neo’s family is from, and it would mean a lot to them to get a ceremony over there. I have always been opposed to the idea of going over there for a wedding, because it is kind of expensive, and honestly, Cyprus isn’t on the top of my list of places that I want to go. So I figured that we’d just miss out on that one, and it would be fine.

But then last night we were sitting around, and it smacked me right in the face. Of course we need to go to Cyprus. Why would I turn down a chance to go to Europe? That doesn’t make any sense! And so Kelly and I started planning and scheming. We really only need to be in Cyprus for a few days. Two or three. Which leaves us a good six or seven that we could spend somewhere else in Europe beforehand, and then fly to Cyprus for the wedding before returning home. Sounds like a great plan!

Right now the idea is that we’d fly into Paris or Rome, spend a few days there, before heading to Cyprus, or if we go to Paris, Cyprus via a detour to Brussels. I think that right now we are leaning towards Paris, not only because it is an amazing city, but Kelly hasn’t been there and she speaks French, so it would be a much better fit.

But we are also open to other ideas. I was thinking maybe we could be totally crazy and go to Prague. I mean, why not, right?

Anyway, this is short because there is a game night downstairs, but let me know your thoughts!

Merry Christmas!

Today was a busy day, with multiple families and things to attend to. But it was a good day, highlighted by winning a game of “Cards Against Humanity”, which honestly might not be a thing to be proud of.

Anyway, we will return to our regularly scheduled programming tomorrow, but I did want to make sure that I got my Tuesday post in. Not giving up yet!

Midnight Mass

I am not, and have never been, a religious person. We didn’t go to church growing up, and besides like a month when Mom and Dad were getting read for Abby’s baptism, I’ve never gone regularly. I think it would be safe to say that the amount of church services/masses/whatevers that I’ve been to in my life is under 30, maybe ever lower than that. Never a part of my life, and I’m really hugely grateful for that in a lot of ways.

But a few years ago, Kelly and I started going to midnight mass. Not because of any fear/love of God, but because my sister plays the oboe, and so we go. And it turns out, that I actually kind of enjoy it, to the point of actually looking forward to it now. But that is only because this isn’t any ol’ midnight mass that we go to. No, this is an old school, Latin, high holy, whatever whatever mass. (You might be catching on at this point that I don’t really know all the correct terms.)

Anyway, there is this church on the south side of St. Louis that still does traditional Latin masses, including Midnight Mass, with all the fixins. Although it seems to me that the only fixins involved are myrrh and a baby Jesus on a stick, wearing a dress and a crown. There is some meaning to that, but I don’t know what it is.

The ceremony always ends up taking forever. There are like 50 parts to it. And this old church is really cold because they can’t afford to turn the heat up. And like I said, the whole thing is in Latin, so you don’t have any clue what they are saying. Oh, and it is all sung, so you can’t really even follow along in the book to pretend like you know what they are saying. And I don’t understand Catholic dogma or any of that stuff, so it is really inscrutable to me. And all the ladies wear handkerchiefs on their head, and that strikes me as really old and sexist and I don’t approve.

And I’m pretty sure that the church uses some of the money that they collect to advocate for things with which I do not agree.

However, I still enjoy it. It is this link to the past that even I can appreciate. And the old church is really pretty. And since I can’t understand what they are saying, I can pretend that it is whatever I want it to be. So I look forward to it, and have a good time, and then wait another year before I can be bothered to go again.

Too Beautiful To Live

Somehow it has happened that I never made a post about TBTL, which seems a shame, since it is one of my favorite things in the world. What is TBTL? It is a podcast, formerly a radio show, hosted by former NPR personality Luke Burbank. To describe it any more than that is really hard to do, but I’ll give it a shot.

You know those morning drive zoo shows? It isn’t that, but people who don’t like TBTL have compared it to that. They have also compared it to your typical “hot talk” talk radio show. And while there are comparisons, it isn’t really that either. And it isn’t really a news show, although they definitely cover news, and it isn’t really a celebrity gossip show, although they do that as well. It isn’t a call in show, although they have had call ins from time to time.

What it is, I guess, is the ramblings and mind dumps of Luke Burbank and his friends and coworkers. There will be episodes where all they do is talk about what they did over the weekend, or episodes where all they do is talk about how much of a screwup the previous episode was. But they will also have interviews with people from Fran Lebowitz to Patton Oswalt to Ira Glass to a random guy talking about Scientology. They will solve mysteries and do radio cooking shows and break the news down into two categories for you: awesome or not awesome.

I’m doing a terrible job of selling it. And I would say that over the two and a half years of listening, I’ve only managed to get one person to agree that it is any good, and she is married to me, and probably has no choice but to agree with me. But I love it, and it is really the only thing I listen to.

There are around 1250 episodes, going back to the start of the show as a radio program in January of 2008. I started listening in August of 2010, so I missed a lot, which I have been working my way through for the past two years. I would say I’ve heard probably 800 of the episodes, so I still have a long way to go, but I’ll get there probably in the upcoming year. That will be a sad day for me, and yet also pretty exciting to know that I’ve listened to everything that these people have to say.

Yeah, that sounds really lame. And at times it definitely is. But the show has become a really important part of my life. It is a huge part of my daily routine. I almost don’t know what to do in my car when I don’t have it to listen to, and when I’m cooking at night with no TBTL on, things just seem off. I would say that one of my proudest “boxes” that I put myself into is that of a “ten”, which is the term given to listeners of TBTL. As the claim goes, they have “tens of listeners.”

Anyway, if you want to get a taste for what the show is like, may I humbly suggest listening to episode #850. In it they talk about sun damage, the book Go The Fuck to Sleep, oh, and they interview this fellow from St. Louis who is really into artistic roller skating.

Episode 850

Plan for Blog

Since it was asked, I feel like I should address what my plans are for here, since they have been really hit or miss for several years now.

Basically I realized that I miss blogging, and I enjoy reading other people’s blogs, but I don’t like the pressure of having to blog every day, or multiple times a day like I used to.

So the plan is that Monday – Thursday I will write some sort of blog post. Friday – Sunday, I will not. And I may not always be perfect about this. There is a lot going on in my life right now. But I will try.

Europe

As long time readers of this blog will know (and I suspect that assuming there are “readers” is a stretch), a couple of years ago I took a trip to Europe, and had a really lovely time. But it wasn’t completely awesome, because I was there without Kelly, and so another trip was planned, and in May of this year, as a celebration of my 30th birthday, we went to Belgium, the Netherlands, and England.

This trip was even better than the first, not only because of the addition of Kelly, but also because of some of the really awesome things that we did. In Amsterdam we got to experience “Queen’s Day”, which is like Mardi Gras on steroids, except doesn’t feel nearly as sketchy, which is pretty amazing considering it was in Amsterdam. It might be the most fun day that I have ever had.

That is, unless you take another day from later in the trip when we got to see the final game of the season for Sheffield Wednesday, my favorite English soccer team. And it was an incredibly important game in that if they won, they got promoted to the next higher division. And they did win, and it was amazing, and afterwards we celebrated with steak and ale pie, which turned out to be also amazing.

Oh, and we ate a ton of waffles in Belgium, and those were pretty awesome also. Ohhh… and poffertjes. Ohh the poffertjes.

So anyway, Kelly and I really loved it there, and got us thinking and talking. We are pretty settled that we are going to stay in St. Louis for the rest of our lives. It is a good place to live, and we love it here, and it is where large parts of our families are. We are St. Louisans. But wouldn’t it be fun to spend longer than a week or two out of the country? We thought so.

So our crazy “plan” that we are pretty sure is never going to happen, but we can dream, is to try to take a much longer “vacation” to Europe. More like 4 months or so, choosing a home base of sorts and exploring out from there.

The plan relies on two things, though. One is if my our work situations can be molded such that we can either keep working remotely, or take a sabbatical of some sorts. One option will maybe work for me, another for Kelly. The other is our ability to motivate and make sure that everything is in place to make it happen.

I’d put our chances at around 3%. But hey, 3% is enough to dream about.

Reindeer Games

Today is my least favorite day of the year at work. The day of the holiday party. Because I am a huge killjoy, I guess. But the thing is, I really hate forced frivolity. And we really do it up here.

I think that most people will have a lunch, or maybe an afternoon where you sit around and have awkward social interactions. Or it is after hours and you can come up with a good excuse not to go. But here we have an all day festival of celebrations. We start at 8 in the morning with breakfast, and then we have morning games, lunch, and then afternoon games.

I should add that in the five years that I have worked here, I have never even so much as had lunch with anyone. I’m not a terribly social work person. So the thought of having to play “Reindeer Games” with them makes me so uncomfortable inside.

And then there is also the potluck lunch. I’m just going to come out and say it. Most people make gross food. It looks gross, tastes gross, and worst of all, smells gross. No thank you.

So today is the day of the year where I hide in my office and pray that no one will knock on my door asking where I am.

Platinum!

One of my favorite things that I do, as well as one of the least important (in terms of real life) is playing Starcraft 2. Some background. When I was young, I played a ton of video games. Loved them. The worst punishment was having my computer privileges taken away. I would study brochures for upcoming video games so that I know everything possible about what was coming up. I was obsessed.

And then at some point, that love went away. Years and years went by that I didn’t play any games, or even care about games. I think I probably went too far in the other direction, to the point where I thought people that played video games were idiots. The only game that I would play with any regularity was Forza, a car racing game, and I would really only do that if I was going to play with Phil or Dad, so it was a social experience.

Well then Phil moved to California, and in the back of my mind it made sense that maybe playing video games would be a good way to keep in touch. We would try, but there weren’t really any games that we could really get into a grove of playing.

Then last Christmas came along and Phil introduced me to Starcraft 2. SC2 is a real time strategy game, which broadly defined means that you are controlling an army in battle against another army in real time, as opposed to taking turns, as you would in a board game, or a computer game like Civilization. I had always hated these games, because since there are no breaks, they tend to be very stressful, and I don’t like stressful. But this was the game that Phil had decided to play, and so I figured, okay, I’ll do that too.

Then the strangest thing happened. I got really addicted. Like, REALLY addicted. I started studying strategies, watching professional games, and playing for hours every week. Probably 10 hours a week sometimes. I was back in the gaming business.

Okay, so with that out of the way, SC2 has a ranking system to tell you where you stand in regards to the other players. The “ranks” are Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond, Masters, and Grandmasters. There are also 4 different game modes, 1v1, 2v2, 3v3, and 4v4, with 1v1 being considered the benchmark. But to play 1v1 and play with Phil at the same time gets old, because we just end up playing each other all time time. So most of the time either Phil and I play on a 2v2 team, or we play a 3v3 team with his friend Mateo. There are some other permutations, but that covers 90% of the games I play.

Anyway, for an incredibly long time Phil and I have been stuck in the Silver league for 2v2, and this has always made me crazy, because I know that we are better than that. I felt that at the very least, we should be gold.

Well last week my dreams were achieved, and we got promoted to Gold. I literally yelled out of happiness. It felt like all this playing had finally added up to something. And then something even crazier happened. Yesterday we got promoted to Platinum.

And this isn’t really a big deal. No one cares about 2v2 rankings. And it is just a video game. But dammit, I care. And I am super happy and excited. So that’s all that matters.

We Don’t Watch TV

I catch a lot of grief for this. Probably because I go around and in my best hipster tone say, whenever anyone mentions anything that they have seen on TV, “Oh, we don’t watch TV at our house.” It absolutely drives people insane, which is probably the main reason that I do it. But there is also some merit to the statement. You will notice, however, that my last post was about Downton Abbey, so you’re probably wondering “Hmm, Nathan… How is it that you don’t watch any TV, and yet you have just said you watch a TV show.”

Well, it is simple. Here is how I justify it in my head.

1) It is okay to watch TV Shows. One of my favorite things in the world is Community. And now Downton Abbey. And numerous other shows. Doctor Who. Arrested Development. But the key here, is that I don’t watch them on TV. I’ll watch them on Netflix. Or I’ll download them some other way. And I’ll even watch them on a Television set, but not over the air, or through the cable line.

2) It is okay to watch sports on TV. I watch the Rams every week, and I watch a ton of baseball games over the summer. Those are okay.

So I guess basically it comes down to this. We don’t really sit down and just watch TV for hours on end. And we don’t channel surf. And we really don’t even have any shows that we sit down at a certain time each week to watch.

That’s when I mean when I say “We don’t watch TV.” And I will admit, that is a pretty strange and limited definition, but it is the one that I’m going with for now.

Downton Abbey (sigh…)

I don’t like period dramas. My wife has been known to watch Pride and Prejudice three or four times in a row during the course of one day. I am not known to do that. I am known to play Starcraft for 3 or 4 hours in a row. That is my vice.

On a recent trip to visit some friends, Kelly started watching Downton Abbey, a show that she has been meaning to watch for a while, and I have been meaning to avoid for a while. In fact, she started watching it with her friend, while I took the friend’s husband and boys to a basketball game. Manly stuff. I was continuing my success at avoiding it.

But then this thing happened. We got back from the game, and it was still on, and I started watching it. This also goes against my rule of “Nathan doesn’t watch any television.” (Which should be discussed in another post.) And the more I watched it, the more I was getting into it. Like, really getting into it.

So over the next couple of days we watched a few more episodes, and then we got home, and watched a few more. I guess I’m a fan. And the thing is, that’s okay, because it is really good. The stories are all really riveting, and the cast is really good, and it has a surprising amount of humor in it.

We have just started watching Season 2, and some of the scenes from WW1 really hit you with how intense they are. In fact, the whole show is really well shot, with an amazing attention to detail. It is like watching little mini movies, which is maybe why I let it slip through my “No TV rule.”

This doesn’t mean that I’m going to go home and start watching a bunch of Jane Austin movies, though. You have to draw the line somewhere.