What I’m Digging Right Now – January Favorites

January is over. The Super Bowl happened on Sunday, and it was here in the Valley, aka Phoenix metro. My impulse was to barricade myself inside the house and hide from the madness, since I wasn’t a passionate fan of either team. Callaghan’s impulse was to run out into the insanity and embrace it, though he wasn’t rooting for anyone in particular, either. We’re textbook introvert and extroverts, respectively. Happily, he was able to meet up with our neighbor friends, and they walked down the street to Casey Moore’s to watch the game in public. Meanwhile, I put on some shorts and a t-shirt and headed to the garage to work out. Everyone was happy!

Well, not everyone was happy. What a game. I did keep up with it online, and man, that was one weird Super Bowl.

At any rate, it’s over now, and we can all resume life as normal (including our balmy, sunny winter weather, which went on strike during Super Bowl week), and I’m sitting down to write about my January Favorites.

I noted so many awesome “little things” throughout January, it was hard to narrow down the list! The month started out on a high note when we went to check out a blues band at the Rhythm Room. Also, in keeping with one of my resolutions, I acquired a lot of new (and amazingly inexpensive) cosmetic-type products that weren’t tested on animals. I’m not listing them here today, though… I’ll probably talk about one or two things each month, starting next time.

That said, here’s my first Monthly Favorites list of 2015!

Might as well start with entertainment…

1). Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part I (film)

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We weren’t sure what to expect, since we’d heard rumors that this third installment in the Hunger Games film series wasn’t the greatest, so we were happily surprised to find that it was good. It was very good.  Mockingjay, Part I turned out to be our favorite Hunger Games movie yet! I found it to be more lavish, dark and driven than the first and second films, and where I’d left the previous one feeling strangely like I’d been force-fed, I left Mockingjay eager for more. Katniss’ “Hanging Tree” song still comes back to me with its quiet, eerie magic every once in a while. I loved Jennifer Lawrence singing that song. I loved the whole movie. I thought it was fabulous, and I would see it again!

2). American Sniper (film)

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Obviously I appreciated this film – it’s on this list – but if you haven’t already read the details of my response, you can read them here, if you’d like.

3). Broad City (T.V. series)

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We took a chance on this series one night when we were in the mood for something funny and there were no new episodes of Bob’s Burgers.

Broad City caught us off-guard with its irreverence, absurdity and off-beat brand of humor… it’s actually kind of like bro humor, but with girls instead of guys. We thought a lot of it was hilarious, but even during the inevitable humorous moments that didn’t quite do it for us, we found ourselves unable to look away. It was really like watching a train wreck… a train wreck you keep returning to because it’s just such a train wreck of a train wreck… and when you finally arrive at “The Last Supper” – the season one finale – you see a very familiar face and realize that it’s Amy Poehler, and then you find out that she was behind that train a lot of the time, and suddenly, it all makes sense.

If you like to watch train wrecks that are often very funny, you should check out Broad City. It’s disconcertingly entertaining watching how these broads extricate themselves from the ridiculous, mundane little situations they manage to get themselves into. We haven’t started watching season two yet. There are three episodes so far, so we should get on it!

4). The Affair (T.V. series)

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We looked at each other in confusion when Ruth Wilson, a relatively unknown actress, came out of nowhere and stole the Best Actress in a Drama (T.V. series) Golden Globe award from Claire Danes (Homeland), Robin Wright (House of Cards) and Juliana Margulies (The Good Wife), phenomenal actresses from three of our favorite, phenomenal series… so we decided to start watching The Affair, which we’d never even heard of (it nabbed several other nominations and awards, as well).

By the end of the first episode, it was clear what the fuss was all about. We felt like we’d been a part of something more involved and multi-textured than a typical first episode of the first season of a new dramatic series. The two main characters tell a detective their versions of the same story, in parallel. It’s ingenious. Now we’re down to the last two episodes, and we’re just about out of breath, we’re so caught up and baffled. Who is the killer? Why would someone want to murder that particular person? 

We’ll know tonight. It can’t come soon enough!

For us, The Affair joins a growing list of television series that exemplify how T.V. has become a high art form. Also, Ruth Wilson’s talent is stunning, and she soundly deserved that Golden Globe, if you ask me. The Affair is like… imagine if True Detective and The Killing were to hook up and spawn a psychologically intricate love child with its parents’ haunting, poetic complexity, atmosphere and energy. That would be The Affair.

Also, may I just say that Fiona Apple’s theme song with the accompanying images at the beginning of each episode is downright chilling, and it’s just as compelling as the story, itself? In fact, the further we get in the series, the more deliciously unnerving that intro becomes. I’m just so impressed with every last little detail of this series. Just… wow.

5). Alba Botanica Hawaiian Facial Cleanser Pore Purifying Pineapple Enzyme and Hawaiian Facial Scrub Pore Purifying Pineapple Enzyme.

Alba Botanica Hawaiian Facial Cleanser Pore Purifying Pineapple Enzyme  and Hawaiian Facial Scrub Pore Purifying Pineapple Enzyme.

Alba Botanica Hawaiian Facial Cleanser Pore Purifying Pineapple Enzyme
and Hawaiian Facial Scrub Pore Purifying Pineapple Enzyme.

Here are my requisite skin-care picks for January, though I’m going to keep enjoying them for a long time, no doubt! If you’ve been reading here for a while, you already know that the Alba Botanica Hawaiian 3-in-1 Clean Towelettes Deep Pore Purifying Pineapple Enzyme are my Holy Grail time-saving facial wipes when I have to wash my face in a hurry. Once I decided to go cruelty-free at the beginning of January, I picked up the facial cleanser and exfoliating scrub from the same collection. They’re just as fabulous with their fresh, faint pineapple scent and luxurious textures. The cleanser, which I use at night after removing my make-up, creates rich, soft suds. The exfoliating scrub, which I use in the morning, has granules that are fine and just abrasive enough. I love this entire line by Alba Botanica.

6). Kashi GOLEAN Crunch! Honey Almond Flax cereal.

Kashi GOLEAN Crunch! Honey Almond Flax cereal with fresh raspberries, blueberries and almond milk.

Kashi GOLEAN Crunch! Honey Almond Flax cereal with fresh raspberries, blueberries and almond milk.

I didn’t get a picture of the cereal box, but here you can kind of see the cereal beneath all the berries. So far, I haven’t met a flavor of GOLEAN cereal that I haven’t loved, but the combination of their (high-protein, high-fiber, high-omega 3 fatty acids) honey almond flax protein clusters with fresh raspberries, blueberries and almond milk is my favorite!

7). Van’s 8 Whole Grains Multigrain waffles with peanut butter and jelly.

Van's 8 Whole Grains waffles with 365 creamy peanut butter and Kroger Just Fruit (no sugar added) strawberry jam.

Van’s 8 Whole Grains waffles with 365 creamy peanut butter and Kroger Just Fruit (no sugar added) strawberry jam.

Another breakfast pick! My favorite new weekend breakfast is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made with these Van’s waffles, 365 brand creamy peanut butter from Whole Foods, and Kroger’s “Just Fruit” (no sugar added) jam. When toasted, the waffles have that wonderful crispy-soft texture with their combination of whole wheat, oats, barley, brown rice, rye, quinoa, amaranth and millet. This is my favorite new way to eat pb&j. It is SO GOOD.

8). Trader Joe’s dark chocolate bar and dark chocolate-covered almonds.

This chocolate has real medicinal properties. I'm sure of it.

This chocolate has real medicinal properties. I’m sure of it.

My beloved Sista (we call each other that) gave me one of these dark chocolate bars from Trader Joe’s in December, so what did I do in January? Went out and bought more, of course! Then I discovered that Trader Joe’s sells their dark chocolate-covered almonds in these little bags, and now they’re my favorite treat to sneak into the movie theatre. Trader Joe’s. Trying to do us in, as per usual.

9). Garden of Eatin’ Red Hot Blues organic blue corn tortilla chips.

Garden of Eatin' Red Hot Blues, aka crack. ORGANIC crack.

Garden of Eatin’ Red Hot Blues, aka crack. ORGANIC crack.

I’ve talked about Garden of Eatin’ organic blue corn tortilla chips before, but I haven’t mentioned their Red Hot Blues version yet. I think I actually consumed more junk food in January than I did over the holidays, and it seemed like there was an open bag of these chips laying around the kitchen all month – but not the same open bag! I don’t even know how many bags of these we went through. Can I count two of the smaller bags as one large one? Also, I’d say that eating these with guacamole adds some nutritional value. Healthy fats and all, right? Right?!

10). Green New American Vegetarian hot wings.

Vegan wings from Green New American Vegetarian, one of my favorite restaurants.

Vegan wings from Green New American Vegetarian, one of my favorite restaurants.

Our friend Rebecca clued us in to the platters of vegan wings that Green (New American Vegetarian) was offering for Super Bowl Sunday. We placed our order on Saturday afternoon, picked up the platter the next day, and devoured the whole thing for lunch inside of 20 minutes. That’s right… just the two of us! But I did, as I mentioned above, get to work out in the garage later that day.

Just because something is vegan doesn’t mean it’s healthy, and I was well aware of this as we were stuffing our faces with these ridiculously delicious fake wings with the vegan ranch and chili sauces that went with them.

Okay… that’s it for my January Favorites! Have a great Tuesday. =)

My Super Bowl Curse.

This is not the post I’d planned. This was supposed to be my 2014 Favorites post, but it turns out it takes energy and strength to put such lists together, neither of which I’ve had at all for the last two days… so instead, I’ll tell you the weird little story behind that.

19 years ago, in 1996, the Super Bowl was hosted here in the Valley. All of Phoenix metro prepared for the arrival of the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were set to play in Arizona State University’s Sun Devil Stadium, and the requisite chaos ensued. Super Bowl fever is a thing in and of itself, so you can imagine that Super Bowl fever in the hosting city is madness. Sun Devil Stadium holds almost 70,000 people, and ticketholders flooded into the Valley from elsewhere to fill it up for the annual championship football game. Exciting times, right?

 

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I was a senior at Arizona State, carrying a full course load and working 20 hours a week in the foreign languages department, so I pretty much lived on campus.

At some point during that last week of January, I started to feel sick with nausea that ebbed in and out for days, getting progressively worse. I visited the student health clinic on campus twice. They said I had an ear infection, though I had no pain in my ear, and they sent me off with stuff for the nausea. Finally, I woke up one morning and headed to my 17th-century British literature professor’s office for his early office hours. Our class was scheduled to take an exam that day, but I knew I wasn’t going to make it. I went to his office, told him I was sick, and asked if I could take the exam early. (I still remember the expression of trepidation-bordering-on-disgust on his face as he regarded my sick ass sitting there in his office for an hour!)

I finished the exam, went to the language lab, told them I was sick and wouldn’t be able to work my hours that day, and left. Soon after I got home, all of proverbial hell broke loose.

I’ll spare you the graphic detail and skip ahead to the part where my friend came to my apartment almost six hours later to take me to the Emergency Room. When we arrived, the triage nurse took my vitals and said, “I don’t understand how you can still be conscious” before installing me in a bed. Wow! How to avoid waiting for hours to be seen in the ER: arrive severely dehydrated!

Bits of the night surfaced and wavered before me between periods of oblivion. At some point, my boyfriend arrived. I remember him watching me and remarking, “When you do get sick, you REALLY get sick.”

Truly, I had never been so sick with infectious disease. I had an I.V. drip for hydration, another with anti-nausea meds, a third one with a painkiller (for the lower back pain resulting from dehydration) and a catheter. The situation was described to me as my stomach was drawing the water out of my muscles and that’s what I was throwing up, which was a ghastly notion, but I was more intrigued by something I overheard as I drifted in and out of consciousness. A doctor and a nurse were standing over me, talking, unaware that I could hear them. One of them said, “Yep. This is how they all end up.” This is how they all end up. The words sounded sinister. I found out later that they’d been talking about what the medical community was calling “the Super Bowl flu,” an epidemiological phenomenon. When thousands of people visit an area at the same time – as in Super Bowl week – the local germ pool gets infiltrated with foreign germs to which the locals have no immunity, and the locals get sick. Phoenix residents were getting clobbered by this vicious stomach virus, with many of us landing in the ER. I was a Super Bowl statistic.

Toward noon the next day, the crisis was over. I was feeling slightly better from all the treatment, and I wanted to go home. “You’re not going anywhere until you pee,” said the matter-of-fact nurse in her matter-of-fact nurse way. “We need to see you pee!” But I couldn’t. They kept me there until I could, and then it took a whole week of bed rest at home to completely recover.

That was in 1996, and that was the last time I had the stomach flu… until two days ago, when my blissfully long run of avoiding the dreaded throwing-up virus came to an end. Again, I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that it flattened me pretty good. Yesterday morning, I wanted to work on my 2014 Favorites post for today. I was sitting on the couch with my laptop next to me, and I literally did not have the strength to pick it up and set it on my lap. Flattened.

Out of curiosity, I stepped on the scale this morning. I don’t often weigh myself, but I know the general weight that I maintain, and by my estimation, the scale showed nearly six pounds less. I either lost over five pounds in the last two days, or I’d started out weighing less than I’d thought I did. I wouldn’t be surprised if I did weigh what I thought I did and lost almost six pounds, though, considering the efficiency with which my body evacuated itself of everything I’d consumed in the last week.

Why is this all of this significant, you might ask? Well, THE SUPER BOWL IS COMING BACK TO PHOENIX THIS MONTH. Coincidence? I think not. I think the next time the Super Bowl comes to the Valley, I should lay in a stash of supplies and barricade myself inside the house for the entire month of January.

I’m feeling better now. I’ve been sleeping a lot. Though plenty dramatic, this time was not as severe as last time. My temperature is back to normal, my headache is mostly gone, my lower back pain is subsiding and I’m recovering some energy, but I’m still weak. I’m taking today to start eating again and regain some strength so I can return to work tomorrow.

Also, my gym bag is packed for Body Combat tomorrow night. Yesterday, I was so lacking in energy I thought for sure I’d miss Wednesday’s class, too, but now I’m jumping out of my skin because I missed last night!

A Personal Note on the Death of Philip Seymour Hoffman

I thought I’d take a moment and join my incredulous voice with the thousands of others on the internet regarding the dominating cultural event of the weekend, and I’m not talking about the Super Bowl. I write about movies and pop culture a lot here, anyway, so I think it makes sense to share my reaction.

 

 July 23, 1967 – February 2, 2014

July 23, 1967 – February 2, 2014

 

On Sunday, when Callaghan broke the calm silence of our morning to blurt that Philip Seymour Hoffman was dead – the half-pause-prefaced audible raised eyebrow at the end of his statement being the damning clue that this wasn’t a hoax – my reaction was physical: my eyes instantly dampened, and my lungs sucked in air suddenly and forcefully, involuntarily, the way they do when you’re slammed in the stomach, and I shouted NO! as my fingers ransacked the keyboard in a fruitless search for evidence to the contrary. It can’t be true. But the reality of the situation darkened the room the more I looked. The lights were on, but the dim and shock lingered. I keyed in WTF NO on Facebook and spent the rest of the day swallowing back tears, a cloud like an open gut suspended above my head. I didn’t let a single tear fall because I felt like that would make it more real, but I was surprised. I don’t cry easily; that my reaction to the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman was so visceral rather astonished me. I’m one of many who felt his death as a personal loss.

It just never occurred to me that there could be such a thing as a body of cinematic and theatrical work absent of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s genius, but that is what we have before us. Who is going to play all the parts he would have played, and so resoundingly make us believe that only he could have played them?

In the words of Brandt, “Well Dude, we just don’t know.”

Incessant Phoenix Flashbacks. Also, the Sports Sitch in Austin.

I realized that ever since I decided to post here on Tuesdays and Fridays, I’ve been posting on Wednesdays and Fridays… this is the fifth Wednesday in a row. Not a Tuesday in sight on the recent calendar. Somehow, despite my efforts for Tuesday, Wednesday is just when it happens. Maybe I’ll try to start posting on Mondays, as well, to make it a 3x/week affair.

Saturday evening, we went downtown to meet a friend at Champion’s, and he took us for a stroll onto Rainey Street in pursuit of some local flavor. I kept expecting to find Casey Moore’s cozying up to the old houses lining the street. I wonder when the look-out in the back of my mind will stop automatically using my old Phoenix metro stomping grounds as a cultural point of reference for Austin? Austin is a very unique place with a distinct character of its own, but without wanting to, I’m finding Arizona corollaries for many places we encounter here, as well as many of the same businesses. Some of the Austin neighborhoods appear to have twins in The Valley (Greater Phoenix Metro Area), especially around Arizona State University.

University towns. I like them. Austin being a university town was one of its selling points. The live music scene in Austin is bigger than it is in Phoenix – hell, it’s the “Live Music Capital of the World” – but in my opinion, Phoenix has more of a hard rock vibe, if you can apply a genre of music to a place to describe its general ambience. Phoenix is Alice Cooper’s town. Alice is a big sports fan, and his establishment is a popular pre- and post-game watering hole and eatery in downtown Phoenix. (My girl Stevie Nicks is in Phoenix, too.)

That brings me to this one thing about Austin: there are no major professional sports teams. This is not a source of distress, mind you… it’s just different from what I’m used to. The Greater Phoenix Metro Area has the Suns (NBA basketball), the Diamondbacks (MLB baseball), the Cardinals (NFL football) and the Coyotes (NHL ice hockey). The Ironman Arizona Triathlon is there, and there’s pro fighting. Golf is also big in The Valley of the Sun; the WM Phoenix Open is the largest professional golf tournament on the PGA TOUR. The Super Bowl was hosted at Sun Devil Stadium in 1996 (Cowboys vs. Steelers). There are also two college bowl games hosted in the Phoenix metro area (the Fiesta Bowl and the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl), and MLB Spring Training takes place there annually. Phoenix is a huge sports town by anyone’s standards.

Here, the major professional sports situation is this: San Antonio’s 1.5 hours away, which actually isn’t that far… it’s the home of the Spurs (NBA basketball). Drive to Houston (3 hours), and there are the Rockets (NBA basketball). And Dallas – 4.5 hours away – has the Mavericks (NBA basketball), the Cowboys (NFL football) and the Dallas Stars (NHL ice hockey). Also in the Dallas area, you’ve got the Texas Rangers (MLB baseball). So the teams are here in Texas, for sure. Just not here in Austin, which is perhaps a good thing, because it’s already bad enough that we’re tempted by live music opportunities every which way we turn.

It’s not like I went running off to sporting events all the time when I lived in Arizona. I didn’t. But I do enjoy the energy of a sports town, and there was the occasional game or boxing bout.

The most memorable one was on May 9, 1993; it was Game 5 of the Suns vs. Lakers NBA Western Conference play-offs. That was some basketball! The Lakers were in the house, and my boyfriend and I decided to go at the very last minute. We went downtown, bought tickets from a scalper and folded ourselves into the madness, because isn’t that what any sane college student would do when she has a final exam the next morning? I had my priorities straight. There were memories to be made. We had a feeling that the game would be phenomenal, and holy crap, our instincts did not fail us. About 500 mini heart attacks later (or maybe it was just one big long heart attack – yep, pretty sure I’m remembering that correctly), the Suns won 112-104 in an astounding over-time upset. That win constituted the biggest upset I’ve ever seen live, in person. Actually, it may have been the biggest upset I’ve ever seen, period.

 

 

I was there!

That was Jerry Colangelo’s Suns, with the likes of Charles Barkley; Dan Majerle; Cedric Ceballos; Danny Ainge; Kevin Johnson; Oliver Miller and Mark West on the roster. Remember that team, Suns fans? I was unabashedly obsessed. I was working part-time as a barista and found myself ridiculously flustered early one Saturday morning when coach Paul Westphal came in an ordered a latte. I don’t think I breathed at all while I was making his drink, and I was embarrassed because I thought he could see my hands shaking. At least it wasn’t KJ standing there before me. I would have passed out.

Needless to say, I’m a Spurs fan now!

But I’ll always be a Suns fan. And a Sun Devil.

One very exciting thing Austin does have, though, is Formula 1 racing. This is enormous, and it’s a relatively new development.

At any rate, I’m sure I’ll get to a point where I’m not looking around seeing Phoenix everywhere we go in Austin. We haven’t even been here two months yet. There’s a lot of discovery yet to happen, and we’re really loving it here so far!

Here are some pics from Saturday:

Stopping for a pose with this sculpture on our way to Champion's on 4th

Stopping for a pose with this sculpture on our way to Champion’s on 4th

A casual look at the scene while I was waiting for my Greek salad at the food trucks on Rainey St

A casual look at the scene while I was waiting for my Greek salad at the food trucks on Rainey St

I was distracted by the industrial beauty of the view while we were eating

I was distracted by the industrial beauty of the view while we were eating

Rainey St hang-out (with live music, of course!)

Rainey St hang-out (with live music, of course!)

A building downtown, lit up all gothicky and sweet at night

A building downtown, lit up all gothicky and sweet at night