Reality TV Time: Escape to the Country

If you are a reasonably cautious person, you are now well into your fifth month of quarantine/self-isolation/stay-at-home/work-from-home-ness. Congratulations on caring not only for your own health, but for your community as a whole.

I’m sure, like most of us, you are hankering for a getaway. Maybe a trip abroad (HA!). Or, slightly more realistically, someplace serene and peaceful, with lots of fresh air and rolling hills dotted with quaint cottages and rustic cabins.

Maybe you yearn to go someplace far from the bustle of urban life full of all these people going out maskless to restaurants and bars and Costco because, in reality, those people are idiots who don’t believe that COVID-19 is real, or at least, not as bad as the media is making it out to be and, goddammit last time they checked, “America was the land of the free and the home of the brave,” and they’re “not going to be told what they can or can’t do,” and by the way, “it’s a proven fact that masks make COVID worse!”

I’m already hyperventilating. I feel you. I, too, wish to escape. In fact, a lot of us do, which has given arise to a whole new, back-to-basics aesthetic trend known as cottagecore.

Along those lines, I have found a (very) safe way to give in to that vibe. Let me introduce you to the quarantine viewing wonder that is the BBC One’s “Escape to the Country.”

There is no coronavirus on “Escape to the Country.” Mostly because the only season we seem to be able to track down is Season 22 on Amazon Prime, and, lucky for us, Season 22 was filmed in the quaint olden times of 2014.

I had read that the show was available on Netflix, but I can’t find even one other season, either there or on our YouTube/Roku TV.

The beauty of this program is that it combines the desire to travel abroad (safely) with the yearning for beautiful, peaceful landscapes. In this case, in England. Without leaving your house.

We’ve been watching Season 22 for the last week or so and let me tell you, my heart swells and my stress melts away just hearing the dulcet string instrument intro and watching the camera pan over hills and valleys and dales before settling on a close up of some yellow flower in the field (Is it a daffodil? I think it is).

Nope. Not a daffodil.

The format is a lot like HGTV’s House Hunters, except, decidedly rural: A couple or family is looking to trade in city life for a slower paced life in the country.

Many of the house hunters on the show are also looking for more independence, and want a property that also presents a business opportunity, like a separate apartment or cottage to rent out.

And, they all want properties that combine character and Old World charm with some modern conveniences.

To me, it sounds like a ridiculously tall order. But, literally, in every episode, our hosts of “Escape to the Country” deliver, offering up two properties that fit the bill (and, unlike many house hunting shows, actually come in around or under the couple’s stated budget).

They also offer up a third “mystery property,” that challenges the home hunters to think outside of the box. Sometimes that’s like, a church conversion, or a huge property with lots of outbuildings and barns waiting to be converted into apartments or rental units, or a miniature airplane modeling and sales studio (that was the stated professional goal of one of the gentlemen house hunters in a recent episode).

After a walk through each property, the house hunters meet up with the host and give their best guesses on how much the property is on the market for. Then the host reveals the actual price, which, again, is usually under budget or very near the top but almost never over.

At the end of two days of looking at the three properties, the house hunters sit down with the host and tell them which property was their favorite and what they’re next steps will be.

The houses are charming and sometimes quirky or historic (I now know exactly what a snug room is and am thisclose to demanding we buy an AGA range), there’s a little local history lesson in each episode, the hosts are gentle, patient and helpful. The cinematography is gorgeous. It’s a great, great show.

My only quibble is that Brits are just too cautious for my taste. They almost never agree to just put an offer in on one of the houses! They always say they’re going to do some more research about the village or the area and visit the property again. Even in instances where they’ve already sold their own city homes and only have like, a month for find something. They’re just so timid!

It is beyond frustrating. My TV co-partner, XFE and I always end up shout incredulously, “But you LOVED the mystery house! It literally had everything you asked for!! And was way under budget!!! What are you waiting for? Get to the estate agent before someone else snatches it up!”

As XFE recently put it, the show should be called “A Chinwag in the Country.”

But it is a really great show that seriously plays into my recent cottagecore/cabin fever feelings. Now if we can just figure out how to get the more recent episodes. I saw on Twitter that one couple with a sizable budget was looking for a country house with a helipad!

Welcome to the Annex

In the summertime, when we were kids, our mom would kick us out of the trailer and lock the door. She’d leave a big red Igloo water cooler of Kool Aid and a sleeve of saltines on the porch and would tell us to basically entertain ourselves all day – “you kids go play.”

I’ve now experienced the adult version now during this quarantine-work-from-home situation. But first, let me provide some background….

When my loving life partner XFE was told by his employer to work from home in mid-March, it became very clear right away that he would set up camp in the home office (formerly, “my office”).

Former headquarters of Poe Communications

There are a couple of very good reasons for this. First off, he has a very important, high-stress job which requires a non-stop day of conference calls and Zoom meetings with high-powered, demanding clients and his various teams and bosses.

This is quite different from how I run Poe Communications in which I have almost zero vocalic or auditory contact with anyone all day long, and the most stressful situation on any given day is that the cats are fighting right outside the office door while I’m trying to write.

The bosses

Here’s how business goes at Poe Communications:

Email comes in: Hey, can you write/copy edit this 400/800/1200-word article/blog post/white paper? We need it by Friday. The creative brief may/or may not be attached. Let me know if you have any questions. – Signed, Beloved Client

Response via email from me: Sure thing. Sounds great. I’ll get started right away. Thanks. – Signed, Thankful Freelancer

OR

Email goes out: Hi there, I’m a freelance writer and I’m checking in to see if you need any content help. Here’s my experience/a couple of recent links/my short pitch.

Response from potential/current/past client: Sounds great. We’ll be in touch. – Client (Maybe)????

This is apparently NOT how business is conducted in the corporate world. So, XFE definitely needs a dedicated office space with a desk and a door.

Also, he is the undisputed head of our household who is single-handedly keeping us fed and hydrated during quarantine, has steady employment (ie: not the jerky career rollercoaster of freelancing) and makes a hell of a lot more money than me. It was really a no-brainer.

So, I’ve been working downstairs at the dining room table/on the couch, which is honestly fine because it is closer to my beloved Bravo and the kitchen where the snacks and wine reside. But sometimes I really do miss my pretty, little home office. It made me feel so professional and proud. And I loved my chandelier.

This week, we came up with another work from home option for Poe Communications and, thankfully, it does not involve a red water cooler Igloo. Far from it.

Behold: The Poe Communications Annex.

Seen from upstairs window (hence, the screen)

Isn’t it pretty?

We’ve lived in this house for eight years and are just finally buying proper patio furniture. We ordered the set from Overstock last week and it was here by Tuesday. The umbrella stand showed up on Wednesday and we were in business.

We figure we’re going to be spending a lot of time out here in the coming months (we already had to cancel a July trip to Antigua that we had put a deposit down on), so we might as well make it a bit more comfortable.

Plus, I can send and receive all my super-important writing and editing assignments without being interrupted by cat fights. Now if we can just get a TV out here so I can watch Bravo…..

Coronavirus Couture: In Defense of Quarantine Jeans

Hello fellow hunker downers, shut-ins, and just plain ol’ normal, work-from-home freelancers.

I have a question: Why are we mad at pants? And by “we,” I mean collectively as a people and as a country. Is there some conspiracy theory floating around that pants are what caused the coronavirus?

Ummm, not sure about this protest.

I’m not sure whether to believe this source, but something called YouGov recently came out with a poll that found that 47% of Americans working from home aren’t always wearing pants (or other legwear) during their workday.

As if to drill home that data there was this famous incident involving an ABC reporter who reported to remote work on “Good Morning America” in a suit coat, dress shirt but no pants. (He said he was wearing gym shorts for his post-segment workout).

When did we decide pants are optional?

All over Twitter and the Internet people are proclaiming their abhorrence for pants while working from home, with particular vitriol reserved specifically for jeans. As one fellow freelancer (and pro-jeans advocate) put it: “If quarantine has made anything clear, it’s that there are pro-jeans people and anti-jeans people, and rarely do they understand each other.”

I genuinely do not understand the anti-jeans hate. Jeans are as American as baseball, pickup trucks and apple pie. We invented jeans. Jeans are the fabric of our lives (oh wait, that may be cotton, but also, jeans are made of cotton—mostly–so this slogan still applies).

Do you know how many great songs center around jeans? Genuwine sang about “In Those Jeans,” not “In Those Leggings.” Mel McDaniel did not sing “Baby’s Got Her Pajama Bottoms On.” No. He sang about a fine woman in blue jeans. The Donna’s “Dirty Denim” is a lot cooler than “Dirty Sweatpants.”

I’ve been working from home for five years now and I wear pants–specifically, jeans–Every. Damn. Day. I wear them on workdays. I wear them on weekends. It never occurs to me to NOT be wearing pants. Except in the shower or in the pool. All other times are pants time.

Apparently, a lot of people do not find jeans comfortable, which leads me to ask: what denim prison casings have you been wrapping your legs in? Because I have lots of jeans that are comfortable: stretchy skinny jeans, baggy boyfriend jeans, straight legged high waisted jeans, all extremely comfortable.

In fact, I have almost no other pants in my closet, except for jeans. Jeans and a loose, button up shirt is my daily work-from-home uniform. Along with slippers, which is maybe my one casual concession to work from home life. I see no reason to variate because of quarantine.

But honestly, I’m worried about what the rest of America is wearing. I suppose it’s all sweatpants and leggings? Or do y’all really walk around without drawers on whenever you are at home? Was this going on pre-quarantine? Were people going drawerless on the weekends?

All of which is ultimately fine, I guess. You do you, boo. I understand that we’re all just trying to get by as best we can. As for me, I’m going to get try to live as  normal a life as possible, which includes getting up, showering, dressing (in jeans and slippers) and doing something presentable with my hair.

The Great Coronavirus Novel: Prologue

(blows dust off blog landing page)

This seems like a good time to restart this thing, right?

I mean, after all, we’re all supposed to come out of this quarantine business with having acquired a lucrative side hustle, learned a new foreign language and musical instrument, perfected the art of sourdough bread baking and putting the finishing touches on the next great American novel (according to the inestimable Gwyneth Paltrow).

So, here I am, in the Spirit of Paltrow, taking a very brave and productive step and updating my blog.

Source

It’s honestly, the very least I can do.

It is a weird time, to put it mildly. For everyone, to be sure. Including (and maybe especially) for freelancers and independent contractors. I know lots of fellow freelance writers whose work totally dried up, right away. Others who have stayed pretty busy. And then the third group, which had a bit of a bump and then a slow phase-out of work (this is definitely me). I get it. Believe me. I’m not here to make the argument that freelance writers are “essential.”

The weirdest part, I suppose, is that quarantine is not really a big difference from my normal day. For the past five years as a freelancer, I’ve been mostly a homebody. I have a home office (and an espresso machine) so I really don’t go out much. A big week would include a couple of trips to the grocery stores, the occasional lunch out, yoga class at the neighborhood studio, or a pickup or drop off at the dry cleaner (all just blocks from my house). Maybe if it was a really busy week, I’d have an appointment at the dentist, doctor or hairdresser (two of these providers are within walking distance of my house).

I would estimate that before quarantine, I spent 90% of my time at home. So having to just “Stay Home,” isn’t really a big switch up for me. In fact, I’m a big supporter of quarantine. I started quarantining before quarantining was even cool.

But what is a big switch up is how the rest of the world (and work) is shutting down. At least for me (and approximately 16 million other Americans—and counting). So while I still feel like it’s “business as usual,” my clients definitely do not. One of them is involved in the travel sector, so…..that’s pretty understandable. Another is involved in retail. They’re proceeding with caution and tightening the purse strings for now, which is relatable. Another client is a service provider for meetings and events. A bit difficult for them to pivot right now.

And I know that I am one of the lucky ones. I still have a trickle of work, I have plenty of savings, I have a roof over my head, and food in my fridge (thanks to the tireless efforts of my non-husband, XFE, who spends a good chunk of his time tracking down and figuring out who can deliver what food and essential items to our house on any given day. And then does most of the meal planning/cooking).  

But it all feels weird. For everyone. I know.

So, in an effort to stay busy and get back to something normal and distract myself from this “new” normal, I’m dusting off the ol’ blog. We should definitely start with some reality show recaps. Maybe “Tiger King?” Because you know I have thoughts.

Ode to El Paso

I’m from El Paso. It’s my hometown. Yes, I’ve lived in other parts of Texas, including Austin, and Dallas. I have family in San Antonio, and in Oregon, in Louisiana and other places, I’m sure, but we all came from El Paso.

My mother’s dad exited the military while he was stationed at Fort Bliss and they just stayed. It’s where my mother grew up, where she went to high school (the same one I would later attend), met my father and got married before they eventually moved to Dallas. It’s where she brought us (briefly) after my parents divorced a few years later while she figured out what to do next.

My grandparents lived in a makeshift double-wide trailer (they put two trailers together to make their own) at the end of a dusty farm road in a place called Socorro, Texas for years and years and years. Technically, Socorro is called “a city in El Paso,” but that’s quite the stretch. The population in 2010 was 32,013 and I guarantee it was a third of that back when I lived there in the late 1980s. There were like, no neighbors. There was literally an alfalfa field next door. The road wasn’t even paved until years later and that “road” dead-ended into a field of cotton. Socorro is a speck of spit on a cracked, dusty dune. And that’s where I spent my high school years.

This is literally a current photo for a property listing on the exact road in Socorro where I grew up.

It has taken me a very long time to claim El Paso as my hometown. I used to always say “My hometown is Austin,” or ““I was raised in El Paso, but my hometown is Austin,” mainly because Austin was where I lived before my final move to Washington D.C. and, well, everybody knows Austin, but (at least at the time) very few people knew anything about El Paso.

The other reason I never used to claim El Paso as my hometown is because I actually hated it growing up. Absolutely despised it. Couldn’t wait to get out of there.

I moved there under duress right around sixth grade, I think. We moved around all the time for the first 12 years of my life and I had a really hard time making friends. But right before El Paso, we had been living in Huntsville and I had finally made a group of friends. These girls, who were somehow related to each other and were probably a little bit older than me, were a little wild. They were already hanging out with older boys and drinking and smoking, which just made them even cooler in my eyes, so I really wanted them to like me.

But, for various reasons involving lousy men and even worse life choices, my mom up and decided that we were moving to El Paso.

I hated El Paso from the get go. In my pre-teen eyes, El Paso was big and sprawling and yet there was nothing to do and nowhere to go. I was crowded in by the Franklin Mountains on one side and the vast, scrubby desert on the other. I didn’t like the desert landscape, which was the opposite of the lush, piney greenery in Huntsville.

Everything was new and foreign, I didn’t understand the food or the culture. Everybody was laid back and not at all in a hurry. El Paso is where I learned the concept of “manana syndrome.” El Paso people spoke a different language that was a mix of English and Spanish and border slang and I could not keep up with it at all. Plus, everyone was way too Catholic for my anti-religious self.

Socorro Mission

Worse yet, people seemed to want to stay there or return to El Paso after college. They just didn’t leave. They wanted to stay close to their families, which was a totally foreign concept for me. I could not wait to leave. I wanted to get as far away from my family and El Paso as I could, as quickly as I could.

We first settled in a trailer park near Fort Bliss and I did not make friends. Nobody looked like me, nobody talked like me. I felt like an outcast. My new school (Basset Middle School) was especially tough….there were fights there on the daily, usually breaking out in between classes between the main school building and the portables. A lot of times those fights involved lengths of large metal chains the students had brought to school. Random locker searches were the norm. I got in a few fights myself and soon found out the hard way that my scrappy style was no match for these military and Mexican kids.

I retreated even further into myself and my hatred of El Paso–this horrible place my mother had dragged me to—grew. I spent all my time reading books as a form of escape and hiding in the library so I wouldn’t say something that would get me into another fight.

For whatever reason (again, involving a no-good boyfriend), we soon were on the move again, this time, down I-10 to Socorro. Things got moderately better by the time we moved to my grandparents’ abandoned trailer, but by then, my hatred had hardened and coupled with just general pre-teen/teenager surliness, I continued to hold out to the charms of El Paso.

In fact, it wasn’t until much, much later—like, when I was in my late 30s—that I could finally admit that El Paso was, in fact, a unique and wonderful place.

Dancers at Chamizal

I can now admit that the Franklin Mountains are a nice place to go for an evening drive and the giant lighted star is really something special. I slowly embraced the fact that the desert landscape that I had so detested, was actually incredibly beautiful and calming. I appreciate (in hindsight) that in the desert, you can smell the rain before it comes and when the sky finally does split open, it’s a miraculous, powerful thing. I’ve come around to (even if I don’t always practice) “manana syndrome,” because, really, can’t most things wait?

And, I am now oh-so-grateful to have had the opportunity to grow up in a border town, crossing easily back and forth over the bridge to enjoy all the best of both cultures—everything from late night rolled tacos at Chico’s Tacos in El Paso to dancing the night away and drinking 25 cent Colorado Bulldogs at the Kentucky Club in Juarez.

But most of all, I am now proud to call myself an El Pasoan because of the wonderful people that live there. El Pasoans are generally – with the exception of a few classmates early on — very welcoming and friendly. Those traits and that openness was wasted on my surly teenaged self, but slowly my walls have melted. I now appreciate El Pasoans’ focus on family and friends, the willingness to help out a neighbor or your daughter’s best friend, without expecting or asking for anything in return.

So, of course, the news that someone from outside the El Paso community would come in and kill innocent families out shopping for back-to-school supplies is just devastating. It would be—and is—devastating that such senseless violence happens in any community. But for it to happen in the El Paso community—which is so diverse and so warm and so open and so welcoming—it is especially galling and just egregious. It’s the last place you would expect something like this to happen. But we all know, it won’t be the last place that something like this happens.

When Bees Don’t ‘Do It’ – Summer Gardening

My client’s big event wrapped up a couple of weeks ago, which means…..

Summertime GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
Summer, summer, summertime.

I actually have two big, yearly client events that I provide content support for, one of which is usually at the end of May or June. And after it wraps up, things slow waaaayyyy down.

I mean, I have a few recurring assignments/projects, but nothing like the crush of deadlines I have during the first half of the year (or the last quarter of the year).

In the early days of my freelancing, I used to freak out about this summer slowdown. Now, I take it in stride and use it as an opportunity to meet up with friends and colleagues over lunch or drinks, attend networking events or conferences, update my portfolios and do all of the many, many other non-glamorous, administrative stuff that comes with running your own business.

This year’s other big thing: forcing plants to have sex.

I like big melons and I cannot lie.

We planted our contained bed garden in our backyard in mid-April. We planted green beans, carrots, jalapenos, cubanelles, a variety of herbs, and one squash plant and one mini watermelon plant.

So far, the carrots and green beans have been coming in like gangbusters, as have the herbs, but the squash and the watermelon need….a little help.

Apparently, gourds and the like only grow if they are pollinated, and well, we don’t have a whole lot of bees in our urban, concrete backyard landscape. Or any pollinating insects, really. (In fact, bee colonies in Virginia are dying at a faster rate than in the rest of the country.)

We’d actually run into this problem a few years back when we planted a zucchini. We got just one giant zucchini out of it the whole summer. During a late-summer trip to Austin, I was complaining about my lack of a green thumb to a nice older lady who clued me in to the problem: we needed to hand pollinate our gourds.

I was stumped: Is this true and if so, how do I even “do it?” Do I need to play some Barry White to get my vegetables in the mood for sexy time (Answer: Nope). Do I just stick my finger in every flower and swirl it around? (Answer: Nope). I had no idea on how this pollen transfer business was supposed to be accomplished.

So, when we went to plant our garden this year, I was a bit hesitant about trying squash again. And, to be completely honest, I didn’t even realize that the same pollinating problem could plague the mini watermelon. I didn’t really think of watermelon as a gourd. It’s a melon, right?

I may not know anything about gardening, but I do know where to go to learn everything about just about anything in this day and age: YouTube.

One short video tutorial from Scrappy Patch has made me an expert on hand pollinating. So now, during my summer slowdown from work, I’m adding plant sex facilitator to my skills set. Every morning, I rush out to our backyard to see if the squash or watermelon have any open blooms that I can cross pollinate.  

To be honest, it’s been pretty frustrating. Most mornings, there will be just one squash blossom open. Or, more often, there will be more than one blossom open but they’re all males, which, for these purposes, won’t work. I truly wish we could grow the first big rainbow-gay squash or melon, but alas, it appears we need a female bloom as well.

Damn. Mexico beat me to it.

The other tricky thing is that, at least in the case of the squash, the blossoms only bloom like, one or two days, so I’ve got to jump on that short window of opportunity. So far, I’ve only had one day where there was both a male bloom and a female bloom, so fingers crossed, we’ll be the proud parents of a squash in a couple of weeks.

And, we’ll keep trying. I see a couple of potential female blossoms just starting to bud. Plus, I’ve got the whole summer to obsess over plant sex.

Terrifying.

A List of Distractions: Things to Buy, Eat, Watch and Listen To

We have a friend who is a bit under the weather and is stuck in a hospital bed for the foreseeable future. Which just totally sucks. I mean, on the one hand: laying around just watching endless episodes of “Fixer Upper” is totally my jam. But on the other hand: there’s only like, five seasons of that show and then what?

(Plus, I can really only watch a few episodes of that show before I get all amped up and stressed out over how much further my housing dollars would go if I just moved back to Texas and I pull out the old laptop and start scouring the internet for real estate listings. WHEN WILL I HAVE MY OWN BARNDOMINIUM?)

More than anything, I’m sure my friend is totally bored and needs some distractions. So, in her honor, here’s a list of shit that is making me happy lately and might make her a smidge happier, too.

Because, if you can’t have a barndominium, you can at least have a jade roller.

That’s right. I said it. About a month or so ago, I jumped on the #basicbitch bandwagon and bought a jade roller and I am not ashamed to say I love that thing. I don’t think/know if it’s actually doing anything to improve my skin, but I do find it very cooling and soothing to roll all over my face and neck. I bought a mini one from Sephora ($20) and I use it in the morning with a serum (current favorite affordable option: Maelove Glow Maker) or the next love item on the list.

Whoa, girl! Two jade rollers? Slow your roll (PUN INTENDED)

Since its winter and I feel bone dry and cracked, I’ve been relying a lot on Trader Joe’s 100% Organic Argan Oil ($6). I was buying a more expensive version of this oil from Sephora but I saw this in TJs recently and decided to try it out. I use it on my face, obviously, but I also put it on my cuticles, which, for some reason really take a beating in the winter.

My other TJs obsession: Dark chocolate bar filled with Speculoos cookie spread. I don’t even necessarily have a sweet tooth, but these are amazing. It’s pretty much the only candy I like/eat and again, it’s not that often. Also, it seems smaller than the average candy bar (I think), so my hospital friend should just go ahead and eat them two at a time.

Speaking of hospital food, or actually, anti-hospital food: we made Chrissy Teigen’s mozzarella-stuffed chicken Milanese this week after watching her make it on Instagram Stories, and it was really, really good. Bonus: the recipe suggests serving with arugula salad, which has all the antioxidants needed to combat all the fried, cheese-stuffed chicken. It’s practically health food.

And it looked just like this.

After seeing all the memes on Twitter, I had to watch “Russian Doll” on Netflix. I’m so glad I did. It was fantastic. It’s a comedy about dying over and over and over again–sort of “Groundhog Day” meets “Sliding Doors” with a little “Adams Family” mixed in. The costumes and sets are amazing, the continuity completely on point, the writing is genius. Natasha Lyonne, who co-created and stars in it, is a total revelation to me. I had no idea she was so talented. Some people didn’t like the ending or were confused but I loved it from start to finish. Plus, all eight episodes clock in at just four hours, so totally doable, lunchtime watching.

Not to brag, but I read Circe by Madeline Miller in two days. I could not put it down. I read it all day Sunday until literally my eyes were tired, burning and watering. Not a good thing but I just had to finish it. It’s the modernized retelling of the story of the witch Circe from Greek mythology and the “Odyssey,” which wouldn’t necessarily appeal to me but this was the bomb. I’m at a loss on what to read next—always the sign of a good book.

I loved the book “Bad Blood” about the Elizabeth Holmes/Theranos scam so of course I was fully on board with ABC’s podcast, “The Dropout.” I think if you haven’t read “Bad Blood,” then you’ll like the podcast. It definitely just rehashes John Carreyrou’s excellent reporting. However, what really snagged me was the fact that they are using all the previously unreleased tapes of her SEC deposition testimony and well, I cannot get enough of that Holmes voice! I really wanted to hear her fess up to all her lies and how she defends herself.

Another podcast I recently plowed through was The Gladiator by the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team. I’m not a football fan (at. all. I think it’s barbaric) but I am fascinated by the Aaron Hernandez case and what role football and CTE may have played in his actions. I walked away thinking CTE definitely played a part in some of his decision making, but he was crazy and violent long before his ascent to the NFL.

That should be enough to get my hospital-bound friend started. We love you and miss you and hope you get out of that place soon!

A Little Summer/Fall Reading List

This summer, instead of working on my tan or my fitness or my blog producing skills (hello! Zing!), I’ve been reading. Like, not just US Weekly but actual books.

I’ve turned to actual books, in part, because I cancelled my subscription to US Weekly after about seven too many glowing cover stories on a certain family headed by a bumbling Nacho Cheese Dorito who, (and this makes me shudder every single day) will one day have his very own presidential library, even though he can’t even be bothered to read anything more complicated than a tweet.

Speaking of books: here’s what I read this summer. And all of them were longer than a tweet.

giphy

April — For me, the summer reading season kicked off with the announcement of the Pulitzer Prize winners. As a former journalist, I love to read the stories that win this prize every year, but since I’d already glutinously consumed so much news this year, I decided to take a slightly different approach and read the Prize winner in fiction, Andrew Sean Greer’s “Less.”

I would describe it as “Eat, Pray, Love” with a gay protagonist. It was good, very, very funny.

May — Next up, since I needed some book recommendations, I decided to join the Girl’s Night In book club, which has a chapter here in Old Town, Alexandria. Unfortunately, the first book out of the gate was Meg Wolitzer’s “The Female Persuasion.” I’m afraid I didn’t like this one at all.

It’s ostensibly about womanhood, loyalty and ambition. I just kept thinking to myself, “How does this female protagonist end up writing a book, living in a Brooklyn brownstone, and becoming a key voice in the feminist movement by her mid-20s after literally having just one clerical job?”

June – This month, I plowed through three books, in part because they were all kinda fluffy, quick reads and in part because work slows down quite a bit for me mid-summer.

giphy-1

I stumbled on Tara Isabella Burton’s “Social Creature” on Twitter. I think someone I follow mentioned it when it was published, and the way she described it totally hooked me in. It’s a story about obsession and status featuring a con-artist/grifter/murderer (sort of an Anna Delvey-type but more murder-ey, obviously) who uses Instagram and social media to continue her con and cover up a murder. Perfect summer read. Vastly unsatisfying ending.

Another GNI book club read. “The Ensemble” by Aja Gabel was ok, not great. It’s about a group of friends (but are they though?) who are in a musical quartet and how their friendships with each other change over the years. It was difficult to understand whether they really liked each other or whether they were only with each other because they needed the quartet to stick together. Needed more rock-and-roll.

Since we were still in the throws of the Summer of Scams, I read “Sacred and Stolen: Confessions of a Museum Director” by Gary Vikan. I’m actually a tiny bit obsessed with art heists. I blame it on Pierce Brosnan’s Thomas Crown Affair – still one of my favorite movies. I already read “The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft” and loved it.

But the main reason I read Vikan’s book is because of an art heist much closer to home. A few years back, a former PE teacher/driving instructor/blackjack dealer tried to anonymously sell a Renoir she had “discovered” at a flea market to The Potomack Company, an auction house here in Old Town. Major family drama ensued as “Renoir Girl” and her brother fought over who owned the stolen painting. Exactly who stole the painting back in 1951 is still unresolved (it’s got to be the mom, right?), as Vikan details in his book, but it has been returned to the Baltimore Museum of Art.

July – For the GNI book club, the powers that be selected Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover. I had wanted to read this one for a while, but figured it’d be hard. While I did not grow up in a fundamentalist Mormon family in Idaho, I had a similar upbringing to Westover’s in a lot of ways. There was abuse, neglect, and (undiagnosed) mental illness. And like her, I knew from an early age that the way out of my circumstances was through education.

I also knew that the road to getting that education would not be easy, but like her, I probably wasn’t quite prepared for how difficult it would be or the costs that it would require. I personally have found that getting out in the world and changing your life can cause a huge chasm between yourself and those you leave behind, and sometimes that gulf is just too large to bridge. I’m different because of my experiences and education. There is no going back. When people say “don’t forget where you come from,” I just don’t get it because every single thing I did was specifically to distance myself from where I came from, which was a very bad place.

Anyway, this one really struck home and I really, really liked it even though it brought up a lot of bad memories.

The next book I read was recommended by another GNI book club attendee and since I was looking for something on the opposite end of the spectrum after “Educated,” it was a welcome relief to escape into “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup” by John Carreyrou. Thankfully, I have no experience with Yale students who drop out of school to start a revolutionary blood testing startup in Silicon Valley, all while wearing black turtlenecks a la Steve Jobs and taking gobs of money from venture capitalists and investors while lying about the entire company, its technology and capabilities.

This book was head-shakingly, gob-smackingly good. I could not believe what Elizabeth Holmes got away with from a lot of smart people who should have known better. Seriously. If this was the Summer of Scams, she is the undisputed queen. The balls on this chick. Maybe my favorite book of the summer. Although…..

tumblr_inline_mquvxsNT3O1qz4rgp

August – I really, really loved “Rust & Stardust” by T. Greenwood. It’s a historical novel based on the true kidnapping story in the 1940s of 11-year-old Sally Horner, which ended up inspiring Nabokov’s “Lolita.” Not gonna lie: it was creepy, definitely was on the edge of icky, but it was so, so good and just heartbreaking. I could not put it down.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones – This was another GNI selection and was also on the summer reading list of the two big O’s – Obama and Oprah (Oprah’s Book Club 2018 Selection). It’s about a newlywed man who is wrongly accused of a crime and ends up going to prison for five years before his sentence is overturned. Obviously, the marriage takes a hit and he returns home to try to reclaim his life and his wife. Another heartbreaker and also good, but a bit frustrating. It definitely made you think. What’s fair in a young, fledging marriage that’s been interrupted like this? What do people who were once in love owe each other? When is it ok to let go? Ever?

Finally, one of my favorite Instagram feeds, @notenoughhangers mentioned he was reading this book: The Husband Hunters: American Heiresses Who Married into the British Aristocracy by Anne de Courcy. It’s about the many, many American Gilded Age heiresses who married into British aristocracy at the turn of the century and how that worked out for everyone. Spoiler: mostly not great, but I did love hearing all about their amazing stately homes, fabulously over-the-top parties, and all other ways they blew through their daddy’s fortunes to console themselves.

I3qo

SeptemberThe Alice Network by Kate Quinn – Only got about 20 percent into it before I ditched it for my current read. Loved the history angle and the female empowerment idea of the story (based on the true story of female spy outfit in France during World War II), but couldn’t stand the writing and the way the story was being told.

Which brings me to my current read: Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World by Wall Street Journal reporters, Tom Wright, Bradley Hope. Someone on Goodreads described it as “Bad Blood” meets “Crazy Rich Asians” and I was hooked. Just started this last night and I’m excited.

 

 

 

How to Have a Päntsdrunk Weekend (with Wine Pairings)

tumblr_ndbiv2SeVJ1u10uylo1_400

UGH.

This week though, am I right? It’s felt like an entire year of bad news and gut-wrenching images rolled into one giant horrible week.

Which is why I think most of us are just really looking forward to sitting at home, drinking wine in our underpants this weekend. Like, REALLY looking forward to it.

Well, good news. 1) You can (at least, I think you still can in this current, messed up iteration of America) and 2) the Scandinavians have already beaten us to it and they even have a name for it. Because—of course, they do.

Yes, the genius people from the cluster of countries who have already brought us the awesome celebration of all things cozy and comfortable (#hygge4lyfe especially in winter), have now given us a new lifestyle/wellness trend. Or, if not new, at least have given us a name for it. Two, actually.

Päntsdrunk, aka: kalsarikannit

Kalsarikannit

And, it’s specifically the Finnish who are responsible for this one. I don’t know any Finnish people (other than that they are consistently ranked as some of the happiest people on Earth), but I feel like it isn’t really overblown to describe them as geniuses.

As Elite Daily describes it:

“Päntsdrunk is basically what happens when you refuse to let FOMO get the best of you.”

OK, I’m already in. But, please, tell me more.

Päntsdrunk is a ‘path to recovery and self-empowerment,’ defined by utter relaxation and temporary escapes from real-world stressors, such as work emails or annoying small talk.”

I am all about self-care. I love to relax and escape. But not the type of self-care I have to actually leave the house to enjoy or participate in or be around other people to partake in. I get annoyed by people at THE SPA. Do you know what kind of self-involved, anti-social hermit you have to be to get annoyed by people at the spa??

So, it goes without saying that I’m only interested in self-care that can be practiced in the privacy of my own home in its utmost, laziest forms. This one, according to Finish journalist Miska Rantanen, simply involves “drinking at home, alone, in your underwear.”

new going out

Oh yeah. I’m (mostly) down. I do have a couple of slight alterations to make, though. 1) Change “underwear” to pajamas or loungewear, and 2) swap out “alone” for “with my beloved significant other who is in the same room but likely doing his own thing, with his own drink and doing it silently.”

I love this bit in the Elite Daily article, because holy hotdog, this roundup of activities just speaks to my soul.

“To be clear, at no point does Rantanen suggest that Päntsdrunk should be equated with binge drinking. Rather, it’s all about allowing yourself to relax while being totally sequestered from the ‘real world.’ An ideal Päntsdrunk night for me would assuredly be homemade cucumber jalapeño margaritas, along with a few seasons of Girls, a face mask or two, followed by a bedtime of 9 p.m. sharp……It allows everyone to do exactly what they’ve always wanted to do (and have probably already been doing in secret), without feeling bad for it on a Friday or Saturday night.”

Since I am so here for this trend, I want to offer up some wine pairings with some of my favorite self-care activities.

  • Reading celebrity magazines at the kitchen bar while XFE cooks us an amazing meal – This is one of my favorite activities, and one that I am very good at. I usually offer up a weak, “Anything I can do to help?” while distracting him with various celebrity gossip tidbits. Pairs well with a nice, rich Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • Playing with/grooming/caring for Pinot and Port (our cats. Yes, they’re named after wine) – There’s a bit of an age discrepancy here, so I actually have two wine pairings. For Port, who is just over a year old and very active, I recommend a glass of crisp, dry Sauvignon Blanc. Because odds are pretty good that either myself or the cat are going to knock the glass over and spill wine all over the cream living room rug, so white wine = easier clean up. For Pinot, who is 7 years old, kind of lazy and literally plays while laying down, a bold Pinot Noir, naturally.

the squad.jpg
The squad, ready to chill. 

  • Bubble bath and face mask – Light a scented candle, fill the tub with a healthy dollop of Laura Mercier bubble bath, slap on some Caudalie instant detox face mask, and pour yourself a glass of spicy Malbec. Just don’t fall asleep. I always do that and there’s nothing relaxing about being startled awake by a mouthful of heavily perfumed bubbles. Or spilled wine.
  • Organize and purge – There’s just something about color coordinating your closet/significant other’s tie rack/pet supplies and/or throwing out all your unused and unloved crap that is so, so satisfying and relaxing. You’ll need a mellow Chardonnay, some equally mellow music (Might I suggest some 90’s trip hop, ala Portishead or Sneaker Pimps?) and a couple of hours to just disappear into the trance that can only be brought on by Marie Kondo folding techniques.
  • Pinteresting – While I mostly think you’re supposed to keep distracting and upsetting technology at bay, I’m pretty sure Pinterest gets a pass. It is probably the most used app on my phone and my go-to when I want to kill time and dull brain cells. I can save and organize pretty pictures of pretty things all damn day. Plus, Pinteresting is just so hopeful for the future! Am I ever going to live in a mid-century modern bungalow in LA with a sauna room built in? Eh, probably not. But it doesn’t stop me from pinning every damn photo I see. Will I ever have a need to make frozen bowls with delicate herbs and greenery suspended in them to hold votives in? No! But their so pretty and Scandinavian! Do I really need to save all these fondue recipes when Trader Joe’s has a completely serviceable fondue kit? Nope. Not even a little bit. But I like to save and organize all these ideas. Which calls for a delicate and eminently drinkable Rose that can carry you through a wasted afternoon of picture sorting.

So go ahead. Get Päntsdrunk this weekend or sans-pants-drunk, if semi-nudity is your thing. We’ve all certainly earned it. Plus, we’ll probably need to store up our emotional wellness reserves to face the next 942 days.

couch wine.gif

 

 

 

 

 

This Town Might Have a Dead Body Problem

Hey, who likes to hear about dead bodies? Or maybe I should say, “near misses with floating dead bodies?”

I mean, who doesn’t, amiright?

I realize this is a pretty abrupt manner in which to get started back into blogging. BUT, as a die-hard murderino (SSDGM, MFM crew), I have to post about this crazy, possible (but probably not?) hometown murder.

So, on the work front, things have been pretty busy since the beginning of the year, which isn’t a shocker – that is usually my busy period. But most of my really big yearly projects are slowly winding down (last big convention for the year is next week), so it’s been a nice quiet week here at Poe Communications/ National Detective/Sleuthing Services Agency, LLC.

cat detective

(Sidebar: Here’s a Buzzfeed list of 13 Signs Your Cat is Secretly a Detective).

And when my non-husband, XFE mentioned going to the gym at 6 am, I checked my pajama pockets for excuses and finding none, gamely agreed to go along with him. However, when we got to the gym, we saw construction crews tearing up the street to get to the water pipes and all the lights in the gym were off. After seeing other would-be gym goers leaving the scene, we surmised that our gym was probably not open. Yet, here we were, all dressed in spandex and ready to sweat.

Now, we live in Old Town, Alexandria, just a few blocks from the Potomac River. And along this stretch of Old Town, we have a lovely collection of waterfront parks, most of which are connected by a biking/walking trail that runs all along the Potomac. It’s pretty dang nice and its definitely one of my preferred running paths.

alexandria_waterfront
Pretty typical waterfront park view. Notice no dead bodies clogging up the river.

Since the gym was closed, we decided to take advantage of the cool morning and go for a walk along the Old Town Waterfront, which will now be known as Scenic River Murder Path (SRMP).

We headed south. Because I’m a curious, snoopy sort of person, I spent a good portion of my time checking out all the various bits of debris that had washed up along the shoreline after the many heavy storms we’ve had over the last couple of days. I’m always surprised how many logs and just huge splinters of logs, along with just tons of trash end up stuck in all the various nooks and crannies along the SRMP’s otherwise well-manicured trails.

OT Waterfront
We walked along this lovely area. Keep it in mind.

This morning, as I was gawking at all the debris, I didn’t see too much of note, except for one foam-pontoon-looking thing that had washed up into a pile of logs and trash near the Potomac Riverboat Company office. At first glance, it’s large, concave white shape reminded me of a dead, belly-up shark, which caused me to do a double take and then laugh at myself over the idea of a shark in the Potomac River.

But then, this afternoon, XFE sent me this story:

How the body of a man ended up in the Potomac River in Alexandria is under investigation by the Virginia city’s police department.

The body was found Wednesday morning in the river not far from the marina in Old Town, not far from the Torpedo Factory, according to the Alexandria Fire Department.

Police will investigate how the man ended up in the water and how he died.

The man’s identity has not been released.

Holy Torpedo Factory, that was right where we were! How could we not have seen it? I was literally gawking at every bit of flotsam and jetsam and yet, somehow I had managed to not see a body bouncing around???

OT body
Look familiar? Yeah. I know. Image from reporter Victoria Sanchez’s Twitter feed.

I immediately started looking for more information and found this:

A body was recovered from the Potomac River in Alexandria, Virginia on Wednesday morning, Alexandria Fire Department said.

Around 9:15 a.m., fire crews responded to the scene just off the Old Town Waterfront for a report of a person in the water.

The fire crew has handed off the incident to the Alexandria Police Department. The PIO does have much information that can be confirmed at this time, but it has been reported as death on arrival.

Wait a minute, 9:15??? We were right there! We were walking along the marina area at like, 6:30!! How did we not see anything??

But then, my Internet sleuthing got even spookier:

 A man’s body was found in the Potomac River Tuesday evening in D.C.

Metropolitan Police say the unidentified man was unconscious and not breathing when he was located. His body floated approximately 10 feet off the shoreline of Dangerfield Island in the Potomac.

According to investigators, there does not appear to be signs of foul play.

So, another, different body was found in the same river the night before. Oh, and guess where Daingerfield Island is? Just north of us, along that same hike/bike trail! Basically, (well, not basically, but literally), the two bodies washed up two miles and about 12 hours apart.

SRMT

That’s suspicious, right?

I have just so many questions, but I think the main one is: what was the deal with the water pipes outside of our gym this morning?

And, in slightly more upbeat neighborhood news, we’re getting a Taco Bell (free Nacho Cheese Doritos® Locos Tacos Supreme® for every murder mystery solved)! But also, it will serve alcohol (Margarita Bell Grande?).

Old Town is so weird. And apparently, dangerous.