Monday, June 29, 2009

I'll take the cereal, please.

Last week (thanks in part to a book on money-management that my little sister gave me), I sat down and took a hard look at my financial situation. It wasn't pretty. I have come to the conclusion that I am pretty much a moron when it comes to responsible spending and saving. I'm such a sucker for pretty things and Mexican food (most of the time in that order) that I end up spending money that should be reserved for things like...electric bills. Rent. Actual non-Mexican food. I always scrape by at the end of the month, but it's become a constant source of anxiety for me.

So. I've made a huge decision (for about the fifth time, but this time it's going to stick - I promise) - Scrooge is going to have nothing on me for the next couple...years. Now I'm not going to go nuts and forego all things fun (i.e. movies, music, etc.), but I'm tightening my belt considerably.

I have actually now gone a whole week without spending money in a restaurant. I've just been eating whatever is in my kitchen (which turned out to be more than I thought - I found an entire case of Chef Boyardee after unpacking the last box labeled "kitchen"). It can be done. And I have discovered a new love for an old favorite:
I've been eating it for almost every meal - I'd forgotten how much I love this cereal. Gilbert's been all about it, too - he gets the leftover milk.

Penny-pinchers, unite! Also - if anyone would like to bring me some chips and salsa, please, please feel free. :0)

Song I'm digging today: "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" by The Postal Service

I'm a huge fan of Death Cab for Cutie, so this collaboration between Death Cab's Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello is right up my alley. It's pretty much DCfC with a little techno influence - sort of the male version of Imogen Heap. And I love that Jenny Lewis makes some appearances, too.

This song basically sums up how it feels when you realize that the long distance relationship you've been nurturing is falling apart, and your significant other has a completely different life apart from you. And you just don't fit into their plans anymore. Tear.

I love the background vocals singing "" It just nails the isolated feeling right on the head.

Best line: "You seem so out of context in this gaudy apartment complex/a stranger with your door key explaining that I am just visiting/And I am finally seeing why I was the one worth leaving..."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Steve Martin and Strawberries

Yesterday after church I made the two-hour drive to my parents' house for my dad's birthday/Father's Day dinner. Dad's birthday is June 20th, so it's always within a few days of Father's Day (and sometimes on it), so we always have a joint celebration. Mom and Dad's church didn't have church last night, and neither did my sister and brother-in-law's church, (mine did - but I played hooky) so we were able to enjoy a nice family night together.

When I got there, Mom was pulling in and she had pizza from Pizza Hut (my dad's favorite) in her front seat. I'm normally a Papa John's gal, but I have to admit - sometimes there is nothing like an old-school slice of Pizza Hut pan pizza to bring you back to first grade and the whole "pizza is my favorite food. EVER." mentality. I helped her bring in the food, and as soon as I walked in the door, WHAM! - the girls attacked me. By girls, I mean my parents' new children - their three dogs, Honey (golden retriever), Max (Pomeranian/chow mix), and Lucy (Jack Russell Terrier).

We all piled up tv trays with pizza and breadsticks and settled in front of the tv for a movie of my dad's choice - he chose "Taken," with Liam Neeson. Ok. I didn't think I'd like this movie at all. I'm usually more of a quirky comedy-type movie person, but this movie is good. Like really good. So good that Holly Jo (my sister) and I started talking to the movie. Literally. As in "Oh, no. No, that's not good" and "He just DID that!" and "Don't do it...don't do it...Ok, he did it." (Also, on a random note - Holly Jo and I have discovered that every time we watch a movie together, we constantly look at each other for reactions to anything funny/romantic/sweet/sad/horrifying, etc. Friends have called this the Amanda and Holly Sister Movie-Watching Connection. I know we weird people out by constantly staring at each other during any movie/tv watching experience. We're sorry. It can't be helped.)

In the middle of the action, my dad looks at us and says "Of course, (insert one of the character's names - I won't ruin it for you guys) has been the bad guy all along - he's the one who was taking the money in exchange for - " at which point my mom interrupts with "John! They didn't know that!"

Claaaaaaassic Dad (if you saw Justin Timberlake's last SNL appearance, you'll get that reference).

After the movie, Alex (my brother-in-law) cut up watermelon for everyone but me - I hate all things melon - and distributed his famous homemade chocolate ice cream. Then we all went into the computer room to watch YouTube videos of old Steve Martin banjo-playing clips (he's so cute - I would totally marry him if he asked - and if he weren't already married).

Alex and Holly Jo left around 8:45, and then Mom and Dad and I plopped on the couch, ate some fresh strawberries (yes, more food) and watched "Father's Little Dividend," the original "Father of the Bride 2" with Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor. Very cute.

I would say that all in all, even though it was miserably hot outside - seriously miserable - it was the perfect summer day. I wish I had more time to just hang out with my family.

They're fun folks.

Song I'm digging today: "On the Radio" by Regina Spektor

I love, love, love Regina Spektor's quirky, sort-of Russian accent-y style of singing. Even her sadder songs sound a little happy. I can't listen to this song without singing the little "buh bada bada bahmb" part under my breath.

You just can't be in a bad mood after listening to this cd.

You can't. I dare you.

Best line: "On the radio/We heard 'November Rain'/That solo's awful long/but it's a pretty song/We listened to it twice/Because the DJ was asleep..."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Viva la cat!


Last week, I had to make a hard decision - moving from a 1500 sq. foot apartment to an 858 sq. foot place meant that taking care of the three cats I had (yes, three. I know. I was becoming the scary single cat lady) was pretty much impossible. I've never been a love 'em and leave 'em kind of pet owner - I feel like if you make the commitment to accept a pet into your home, you need to care for them forever. Unfortunately, space-wise and financially - I just couldn't do it anymore. So after lots and lots (and lots) of tears and family and friend consultations, I decided to find good, loving homes for Herschel and Gunther. I'm still searching, but my parents have graciously offered to keep them until those homes are found.

I decided to keep Gilbert (named after Gilbert Blythe from my favorite childhood book, Anne of Green Gables) - I've had him since he was just a little over five weeks old when his mom abandoned him on my aunt's front porch almost six years ago. Gilbert's always been a sort of loner cat. He's seemed really content to just hang out under the bed or on top of the couch (or once crawling up into a hole in the cabinets in my last apartment and inspiring a terrifying search by yours truly, who was convinced he had somehow managed to escape onto the crazy busy road outside), and very rarely much of a lap-cat. I've always known he loves me - he waits until I get home every night to eat dinner and always comes to rub appreciatively on my legs afterwards. But apart from an occasional cuddle, Gilbert's seemed to prefer "alone time."

Until now.

The first night without Herschel and Gunther was tough. I came home sad and Gilbert just seemed confused. He kept jumping up on my bed during the night and meowing at me, and then going from room to room making little mewling sounds. I know he was looking for the boys. It killed me. But the next morning, to my surprise - I woke with Gilbert stretched out beside me, his head on my shoulder, fast asleep. I even made a little "awwwwww..." sound and he woke up, looked at me with that great lazy-eyed cat stare, and proceeded to nuzzle his head into my neck. Pretty out of character.

This has happened every morning since then. At some point during the night, Gilbert jumps up on the bed and curls up next to me just like a little kid - he even manages to get under my arm so I'm actually cradling him. I know to those of you who read my blog and don't have pets, this must sound sort of nuts - but I'm LOVING it. I'm beginning to think that Gilbert isn't actually a loner cat - maybe he just missed having one-on-one time and had felt a little neglected.

I really think that as a single chick, having a pet makes a huge difference in your outlook on life. They force you to think about someone other than you - you can't indulge in self pity and just lay in bed all day long, because guess what? There's litter to scoop. There are food and water bowls to fill. If you have a dog (and I love dogs, too), they have to go outside a couple of times a day. There's play time that must happen.

Plus, what's more homey and comforting than coming home to a cute living room with books and candles and a lovely cat curled up on the sofa - who's happy to see you?

So. Viva la cat. Or dog. Or even goldfish. Whatever makes you happy.

Song I'm digging today: "The Scarlet Tide" by Alison Krauss

Both of my grandmothers passed away within a month of each other - one two days before Christmas and one in January. It was a pretty tough time for my family. My parents gave me this CD for Christmas, and we all listened to it and actually decided to use one of the songs - "Away Down the River" - at both Grandma Iva's and Grandma Dorothy's funerals. So this CD means a lot to me and my family.

That being said, I've always loved Alison Krauss. She has this completely other-worldly quality to her voice that always amazes me. I know if I ever met her, I'd scare her - mainly because I don't think I'd be able to form any other sentences than "I...just love you. So much."

This song, which I think is actually from the "Cold Mountain" (saddest movie EVER) soundtrack, reminds me of people sitting out on the front porch of old antebellum homes and drinking lemonade whilst (yes, whilst) fanning themselves and chatting about prohibition or something. Okay, maybe that's a bit too specific. But that's how this mind works, friends.

Best line: "I thought I heard a black bell toll/A little bird did sing/Man has no choice/When he wants everything"

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Emergent? Not so much.

My dad actually recommended this book when we were browsing in Barnes and Noble a few months ago. It seems like lately I've been reading only fiction - my favorite thing to do on a lazy weekend is just get lost in a good story. But my dad insisted that I would love this book and in fact bought it for me (so I felt like I had to read it).

I was really, pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed it - and how much I agreed with what it had to say.

Like almost everyone else in America, I devoured Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz when it was first released, and even went to hear him speak twice. I had sort of convinced myself that we could be best friends. Sure, there were a few sections of his book that I disagreed with, but I had never read a book by such an engaging (young!) Christian before.

I was living in Nashville at the time that I first started reading Miller, and soon was caught up in the "new style" church. You know - coffee in the sanctuary, hymns replaced by U2 anthems (which I really do like - there are some killer U2 songs that I've always thought belonged in church), ridiculously good-looking praise band teams, but mostly - I was intrigued with the notion that it was okay (even encouraged) to pretty much abandon the stodgy sort of church I had grown up with and embrace this "we don't have all the answers, but we sure are asking the questions" type of Christianity.

After BLJ, I read Miller's other books and enjoyed them, even though there was a nagging voice in my head saying that I should re-think some of his views. Same thing with other emergent writers like Brian McLaren and Erwin McManus. Some of what they say pretty much blatantly disagrees with Scripture, even if it does sound cool and funny. As much as I wanted to jump on board with the emergent church (after all, their conversion rate is astounding - their approach to witnessing is bringing people in by the thousands. Maybe because they are so accepting. But I digress.), I couldn't shake my theological differences.

A few months ago I bought Velvet Elvis and Sex God by Rob Bell. And that's when my problems really began.

Don't get me wrong - I like Rob Bell. He's cool. He's laid-back. He tells a great story and makes me think about Christianity in a way I haven't before. I love the Nooma videos. But I felt like Velvet Elvis (especially) just asked a bunch of questions and gave no definitive answers. It made me feel like Bell and his posse wouldn't really like me or my friends and our need to know why. In almost every chapter Bell exhorts embracing mystery - mystery is what Christianity is about. It's all a mystery. It's okay to not know anything. Hmm.

And when he says things like this: "The Bible is open-ended. All we can do is tell people what we think the Bible means - give them our version" it makes me want to shout "What?" The Bible is open-ended? I'm pretty sure the Bible is pretty darn clear in what it says. Bell seems to think that most everyone (pre-2004 or so) who "interpreted" the Bible was misinformed and wrong. He even goes so far as to say that Scripture alone is a nice thought, "but it is not true."

I can't be cool with that.

As I was reading Why We're Not Emergent, I found myself thinking "Yes! That's what I meant!" over and over. All of the beefs I had with emergent leaders like Erwin McManus, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Leonard Sweet, and yes, even my dear Donald Miller, were expounded upon.

This book wasn't about bashing these men - in fact, DeYoung (a minister in East Lansing, MI - same town as Mars Hill, Bell's church) and Kluck (a former sports writer) actually affirm the good and true things that emergent leaders are preaching. But they don't shy away from taking issue with false teaching, and I admired that.

Here are some of the gems that I underlined while reading:

"None of us ever infinitely understands God in a neat package of affirmations, but we can know Him truly, both personally and propositionally."

"There is the possibility of certainty, because God has spoken to us clearly and intelligibly." YES. Because God is NOT the author of confusion, after all.

"In our world of perpetual squishitude, why offer people more of what they already have - vague spirituality, uncertainty, and borderline interpretative relativism? Why not offer them something hard and old like the Law in which we delight, and dare to say and believe 'Thus saith the Lord'?"

"Don't the 1,189 chapters in the Bible tell us lots of things about God that we are supposed to do more with than doubt?"

In answer to McLaren's ambiguous but obvious belief that God is a tolerant dad who wouldn't send anyone to hell if they're really, really good (seriously - he basically says this in his book The Church in Emerging Culture) and that any church that talks about hell is intolerant (and that seems to be a recurring complaint in emergent literature - intolerant! Intolerant! Villagers, light your torches!), DeYoung says "The early church was important because it was intolerable, and it was intolerable because it was intolerant. Not socially intolerant or coldhearted or obnoxiously abrasive, but intolerant of any salvation but the cross, any God but theirs, and any Lord but Christ." Booyah.

Ok. It's obvious I liked this book. Get it. Read it. Tell me what you think.

Song I'm digging today: "Colors" by Amos Lee

While I like almost every song on this CD, "Colors" is my favorite. It always makes me think of the terribly and wonderfully sad movie "Splendor in the Grass." I love the thought that when you're not with the person you love, the world is just a little bit grayer and everything is just a little sadder.

Best line: "Your mama called, she said that you're downstairs crying/Feeling like such a mess/Yeah, I hear you in the background bawling/What happened to your sweet summertime dress?"

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

I was The Cheese.

Last night I went back to my old apartment (which, now that it's empty, made me feel strangely melancholy - everything that had given that apartment personality - my personality, I guess - was gone - just a lot of bare white walls and blah beige carpet) to pack up the rest of the stuff that didn't get moved over on the first day - mainly cleaning supplies and food from the fridge.

About halfway through I got lazy and just started stuffing things in big black trashbags and carting them to my car. When I got back to my new kitchen, I started unloading the food from the bags and putting them into the fridge. I've had the same package of string cheese for about four months - I really don't like string cheese, but it's supposedly a healthy snack, and I try to fool myself into believing that I actually like it from time to time. Cheese takes forever to go bad, so I can't bring myself to throw it away. Waste not, want not and all that jazz. So I placed the cheese on the top shelf and continued putting kitchen items away.

I went to throw away the trashbags and felt something small in the bottom of one of them - one solitary string cheese had escaped its packaging.

The cheese stands alone.

I actually said it out loud (yes, sometimes I talk to myself) and then of course, I had to sing it. "The cheese stands alone...the cheese stands alone...hi-ho the dairy-oh, the cheese stands alone." It got me to thinking - what kind of sick twisted song is "The Farmer in the Dell"?

I can remember being in preschool, standing in a big circle of kids where one has been designated as the farmer - he chooses his wife, his various animals, kids, etc. - and then there's always one sucker. One kid left at the end who is The Cheese. The Cheese is then circled maliciously (or that's how it seems in my memory) while little screeching voices sing "The Cheese stands alone...The Cheese stands alone..."

And guess who was usually The Cheese when I was a kid? That's right, folks. Moi. I was The Cheese. I suppose it mainly had to do with the fact that I was usually the new kid, the one who hadn't been on play-dates with the others, etc., but it still smarted. The Farmer was always the cutest boy, The Wife was the prettiest girl, and The Cheese? Well. It didn't take a fourth grader to figure that out.

This is where it starts - it's just before the official name-calling, hair pulling, all-out bullying of elementary school and middle school. It's the precursor to the meanness of childhood. We learn early.

I'm not saying we should outlaw "The Farmer in the Dell." I still remember it, and it's a catchy tune. But maybe we should make sure that it's not always the same kid who ends up being The Cheese.

That or it could make a pretty good horror movie - "The Children of the Dell." All kids with white blonde hair and blue eyes and background music made up of those same children singing scary Latin music . And The Cheese, back for revenge.

Song I'm digging today: "Extraordinary" by Mandy Moore

Ok, so I need to preface my song choice with this - Mandy Moore, as a rule, gets on my nerves. She isn't a great actress (she does this whole squinty eyed pouty lipped thing in every movie that drives me nuts - someone somewhere has told her this is sexy, but I think they have confused "sexy" with "twitchy"). I don't think she's the greatest singer.

But I loved this CD. It was an attempt by her (or her label) to make her appeal to fans of Shawn Colvin, Sara Bareilles, Ingrid Michaelson, etc., and honestly - it worked for me. I'm almost 100% sure it's because this entire album was co-written by folks like The Weepies and Rachael Yamagata, but the songs really do suit Moore's voice and odd intonations. It's my guilty pleasure CD.

This song just makes me happy - it's so darn catchy, and I can't help but sing along every time it pops up on my mp3 playlist. It just feels like a sunny autumn day.

Best line: "The wind is playing in the trees/Kicking up confetti leaves..."

Saturday, June 6, 2009

As promised...

This weekend has been craaaaaazy (sing that in an "I am Helga" operatic voice)!

All day yesterday (and most of Thursday) involved packing and moving into my new sweet little cozy apartment - I really am delighted by how cute it's shaping up to be (pictures coming soon!). Thankfully, I had some really great friends and family show up to help me cart and lug everything out of the old apartment, down the street, and up two flights of stairs. Having had surgery two weeks ago, I'm still on the no-lifting over ten pounds ban, so if I'd had to do this all by myself, it would probably have been around August before I was settled in. So - Aaron, Alicia, Amy, Gregg, John, Kam, and Pam - holla! You're awesome. (And thanks to Ashleigh for hooking me up with about a zillion boxes from her office.)

I'm still up to my eyeballs in boxes left to unpack, so this blog is going to be short. However, my sister has emailed me the hilarious (to me, anyway) picture that was the start of my doped up giggles in the hospital. So - as promised - here it is:

Yep. I felt like Herman Munster.

Song I'm digging today: "Falling in Love at a Coffee Shop" by Landon Pigg

Thanks to the greatest Christmas gift I ever bought myself, Sirius satellite radio, I've stumbled across some great relatively unknown artists. I first heard this song driving home late one night (and before the "A Diamond Is Forever" commerical), and went immediately to my computer to download (legally) it.

Landon Pigg seems to have captured the exact Amateur Poetry Night at your local off-the wall cafe vibe with this song - and frankly, the whole CD.

And he's pretty cute.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Margaret Thatcher naked on a cold day...Margaret Thatcher naked on a cold day...

I'm moving to my new apartment on Friday, so I had to go into the leasing office yesterday afternoon to finish signing all the papers. I got there right at noon, which was the time I had set up to meet with the apartment manager. Of course, she wasn't there.

But Bonnie and Linda were.

Bonnie prefers to be called "Miss Bonnie," which I refuse to do because she annoys the junk out of me. Bonnie is my version of Seinfeld's Newman. She never follows through on any apartment-related activity that I request - be it maintenance requests, general questions, or most recently this whole moving dilemma. She never remembers who I am, and when I follow up with her, she frequently gives me a completely different answer than the day before. She's good at the little personal digs, too - you know, saying things like "as I said previously...." and "as you well know..." The little sayings that make you want to jump through a phone and get slap-happy.

Every time she returns a phone call to me she opens with "Hi, Amanda...this is Miss Bonnie," to which I always reply loudly "Well hey, Bonnie." I know it gets under her skin, which is precisely why I love doing it. It's this little game we play, and I always win. If Bonnie were in her 70's, I would probably address her as "Miss." However, Bonnie is about 42. Bonnie and I are going to throw down someday - we might end up in the fountain outside the leasing office, just like the great Dynasty pool fight.

Then there's Linda. I like Linda. Linda reminds me of my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Stapp. Her hair is always neatly tied up in a bun, and she's usually wearing a bright shade of floral. She is unmarried and loves to talk about her cats with me. She is perfectly organized and always - always - returns my phone calls promptly, and usually with the solution to any query I've had. She is always cheerful.

So yesterday when I walked into the office, Linda beamed out a "Hello, Amanda!" while Bonnie looked at me with no recollection of who I was and shuffled into her office to avoid having to work with me. (About ten minutes later, she poked her head out of her office to ask Linda a question, then looked back at me and said - I kid you not - "Oh. It's you.") Linda explained that Belinda, the never-there apartment manager, was at lunch but should be back soon.

So I waited. And waited. I wasn't too put out, because I really wasn't in a huge hurry, but poor Linda started to get antsy on my behalf, and decided to engage me in some apartment gossip. She proceeded to tell me about this elderly tenant that had just called the office to tell them that he had just come into a rather large inheritance - around $250,000 - and would like to pay a few years' rent right now. "Wow!" I said, and then Linda said something that completely shocked me:

"I wonder if he'd adopt me. You know, I could make him happy. I could dress up in a Britney Spears schoolgirl costume for him."

Yes. That. Just. Happened. And no one was there to witness it with me! I had to literally bite the insides of my cheeks to keep from making an "Ew, ew, ew!" face. Thankfully, Linda started laughing so I could laugh with her, but I'm still shuddering. It was funny, but man...I have a new mood killer to think about when Piano Man is around. That's a mental picture I can't shake -Scary Sexy Linda with pom-pom ponytail holders and knee-socks. No, no, no. Noooo.

Song I'm digging today: "Cry" by Hans Zimmer

So The Holiday is my favorite movie of all time (yes, I'm serious), due in large part to the music. The soundtrack is amazing. I listen to it every day at work - it motivates me to be all proactive and be like Kate Winslet's character in the movie, who I've decided is basically me with a British accent.

This song captures the essence of everything I want in life - introspectiveness, adventure, and lots of strings. Yep. I'm looking for more strings in my life (and if you love this movie as much as I do, you'll get that reference).

Monday, June 1, 2009

Good to the last drop?

I stopped by Starbucks this morning for my weekly Monday coffee fix, and just happened to arrive a microsecond after the most annoying customer in the world - you know the type. The "I've been to Starbucks a zillion times, yet I still have no idea what I want...or maybe I know what it is...but I can't remember what it's called...and what exactly is in an espresso?....Hmmmm....ok....and exactly how lowfat is this muffin?....Reeeeeeeeally....Do you think you could heat that up for me?....Not too hot....I'm sorry, I'm looking for a more organic type of sweetener, and all you have is Splenda and Sweet 'N Low....yes, I realize honey is organic, it processed honey?" type.

Kill me now. Just take out an Uzi and put me out of my misery. Someone.

So then when it's finally my turn I spit out my order - "Venti Espresso Truffle. No. I don't need a receipt," then look around Starbucks triumphantly, waiting for someone to acknowledge my responsible, fast ordering behavior. But no one cares. They're all watching Miss Organic Sweetener trying to figure out the space-age rocket science that is the coffee sleeve.

I seem to be alone in my coffee-ordering frustration.

Song I'm digging today: "Gossip in the Grain" by Ray LaMontagne

No one can paint a mood like Ray LaMontagne - I've pretty much decided that his voice can immediately move me from any feeling of annoyance or anger to mellow laid-backness. Yes. Mellow Laid-Backness. I'm coining a new term.

This song makes me feel like putting out a blanket in a little clearing in the woods during the fall and watching the birds. Seriously. I've never done that in my whole life, but this song makes me want to do just that.

Best line: "Truth be beggar that holds his tongue/Dines on none/None but air alone"