Tag Archives: reviews

Nov
18
2011
(Crappy) Photo Friday: Sting Back to Bass Concert

Possibly the Longest Intro to a Concert Review Ever

Sting is my Yoko Ono. He broke up my favorite band of all time. Unlike Yoko, Sting was actually in the band he broke up so I liked him as much as I hated him. I followed Sting’s solo career hoping it would sound something like the Police. It didn’t.

But I enjoyed his first three solo albums and was mostly with him through the fourth.

In the 80s, I read a Sting quote basically saying he wanted to stop before getting old; something about prancing around on stage as 50-year old being undignified. I remember being panicked at the thought of no more Sting music. Then Mercury Falling came out and I wish 30-year old Sting had convinced 45-year old Sting to stop before pouring that noise poison into my defenseless ears. I didn’t like a single song on that album.  Verily, verily I cried unto Sting, “What did I do to deserve country music?”

The televised concerts I saw during the Brand New Day era were awful. He rearranged song after song to sound alike–S-L-O-W and stripped of all their energy. Sting is the artist and the music is his canvas and all that shit, so he can rearrange his own songs however he wants. But I am free to hate the crap out of it.

In his early solo phase, I called his penchant for rearranging “jazzification.” The jazzifying strained, but did not break, my patience.  After hearing the “All This Time” re-interpretation of songs, I changed the term to “Stingification.” Because there was no jazziness, no sign of life at all, in these arrangements. Stingification is a term I’m trying to get into more common use. It simply refers to someone pissing all over something you love because they can. This makes me so sad:

Back to Bass Tour – DAR Constitution Hall – November 10, 2011

Last week, I gambled and went to my first solo Sting show since 1991. The tour was meant to celebrate 25 years of Sting, which implied a focus on his best stuff. I purposely didn’t investigate the set list or the new “best of” CD, because I wanted to keep hope alive.

First things first, Sting is an amazing-looking 60-year old. I was a little taken aback when he came out almost as bald as a cue ball, given the contrast from his recent Grizzly Adams phase. Maybe he just seemed small from my vantage point, but something about his head and how wee he looked made him appear almost elfin.

I didn’t really have any complaints about the five-piece band, you know, other than their not being the Police. The song arrangements were pretty tight and not overly slow. Sting also seemed to be singing more normally than he did during the Police reunion, without any of the annoying mumbling and “scat” vocalizing I got chastised by Sting fans for complaining about on the Police fan club forum (one of my fellow complainers totally nailed it with this, “It’s like the words are running down his chin!”).

The show started out very energetic and promising. But even though everyone sounded great, the energy ground to a halt for me pretty quickly because of the set list. Sting and I simply disagree on what his best work is.

Highlights

The energetic opening of “All This Time, “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic,” “Seven Days,” and “Demolition Man.” “Seven Days” was probably my favorite performance of the night. It was my favorite song from Ten Summoners’ Tales and it sounded like it should sound, which is so unlike Sting it made me smile.

“Fortress Around Your Heart” This is one of the only solo Sting songs I ever thought sounded Police-like so I’ve always loved it. While they played it, I was transported to Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls, OH where I saw Sting for the first time with my big brother when I was in seventh grade.

“Message in a Bottle” Sting came back out alone at the end and did it sort of Secret Policeman’s Other Ball style, which made me all warm and fuzzy inside remembering how much I loved Sting in my youth. Look at how lovable Sting was in 1981:

Disappointments

I couldn’t get over the song selection. If Sting’s written a country song he didn’t play, I’m not aware of it. About half the songs were from Mercury Falling onward. Sting talked more than I’m used to between songs, mostly about song writing and the stories behind his songs. I really enjoyed that, and found it necessary since he played five songs I didn’t even fucking know. Four were from Sacred Love, which I naively never imagined he’d dip into that much because it sucks (and now I’ve just increased my possible human alienation count by as many as a million or so more people, assuming the million or so people who bought this album think it doesn’t suck…sorry, write your own review).

Sting clumped these low energy songs together, sometimes three to five at a time, which didn’t allow the show to build or sustain any momentum. I got bored during those stretches and if it weren’t for the backing vocalist screeching like her pubes were being pulled out on “Hounds of Winter” and the electric violin solos on a couple of songs, I might have fallen asleep.

The backing vocalist was very talented, but her performance on some of the songs got a little too theatrical for my taste. Every line seemed to have deep meaning for her.

As a Police fan, I also have no particular need to hear Sting and his back-up band play a lot of Police songs. He played six and while most sounded OK, I missed Andy on “Driven to Tears.” More importantly, note to Sting: PLEASE. STOP. PLAYING. NEXT TO YOU. LIKE. THAT. Thank you.

Worst of all, Sting didn’t play a single song from my favorite album, Nothing Like the Sun. My two favorite solo songs are “The Lazarus Heart,” and “Be Still My Beating Heart,” and I realize “The Lazarus Heart” wasn’t a single, but “Be Still My Beating Heart” was a rather successful single. Why was it excluded from the show and the “best of” CD? It can’t be as petty as Andy having played on it, right?

Summary

If there’s one guy, just one guy
Who I’m not going to see live again, oh my…
It’s hard to say it
I hate to say it
But it’s probably Sting.

Crappy Photo

Because I still regret talking myself out of taking a camera when Dave and I had front row seats to see the Police in 2007, I now take a camera to every show even though concert pictures are always low-quality crap. Here is my obligatory, proving I was there, crappy picture of Sting and people’s heads. Elfin, no?

Nov
14
2011
The Bread Loaf of Time

Dealing with time is one of my biggest struggles. Dave once told me about an experiment that showed the passage of time is actually slower if moving than if not by comparing two atomic clocks. As someone used to obtaining a non-treated counterfactual through random assignment of fairly large numbers of units, taking a difference of two clocks didn’t work for me.

I spat out a string of questions about the design of the study. “How did they actually measure elapsed time?” “What is the normal accuracy of these clocks?” “Did they repeat this more than once?” “Why didn’t they use several clocks in each location?” Since Dave didn’t really know, I sort of won an argument about physics against a physicist, which was fun but left me without an understanding of time.

The Fabric of the Cosmos: The Illusion of Time

Given my desire to understand time, I didn’t beg for the remote when I found Dave watching an episode of PBS’ NOVA called “The Illusion of Time.” This was part of a four-hour series based on a book by physicist Brian Greene, or as I like to call him, annoying string theory guy.

Annoying string theory guy has become a bit of a celebrity; he’s even been on Letterman. So he’s pleased with himself, is what I’m saying. He wears a leather jacket and a swagger during this show, but he wasn’t fooling me. If you are going to be a geek turned famous scientist, at least be lovable like Carl Sagan, who sounded like Kermit the Frog and seemed credible. When annoying string theory guy speaks, I feel like he’s trying to sell me a stolen car.

Five minutes into the show, one of the scientists interviewed, Max Tegmark, had this to say: “There’s basically no aspect of time which I feel we really fully understand.”

Great! Can’t wait to hear about it for an hour then.

Throughout the hour, I got the distinct impression physicists just make things up. I freely admit I don’t understand physics. Physics was an elective and I elected not to study it. I definitely think physicists are smarter than I am. But I also suspect they don’t really understand this stuff either, they are just smart enough to fake it.

Einstein = Genius

It was cute to see the man crushes these physicists have for Einstein. The first half of the program explained how Einstein overthrew “the common-sense idea that time ticks the same for everyone.” According to David Kaiser: “It’s mind-blowing that you and I will not agree on measurements of time…Why should my measurement of time depend on how I am moving, or how you’re moving? That, that doesn’t make any sense.” So far we agree, that doesn’t make any sense!

Apparently, there’s a link between space and time. Annoying string theory guy explained the clock experiment. The 1971 experiment compared elapsed time for an atomic clock flown around the world with the elapsed time of a clock on the ground. At the end of the experiment, the two clocks differed “by a few hundred billionths of a second.” I couldn’t believe measurement error was smaller than that difference, but Dave insisted there are atomic clocks accurate enough to detect an effect that small.

“In 1971?!?”

“Yep.”

I’m supposed to believe we had technology that accurate forty years ago, but today I have to wait 20 minutes for PDF files to spool to my work printer? Can’t Microsoft hire these clock people?

Einstein’s genius didn’t extend to creative names. Annoying string theory guy explained that Einstein fused together space and time “in what came to be called…” …wait for it… “spacetime.” You don’t say? Even though the show contained no point more clear, they needed a second scientist to explain it. Max Tegmark explained it again, only even more slowly and with arm motions and an earnest look, just to be sure we were all clear.

SPACE + TIME = (say it with me) SPACETIME

Annoying string theory guy turned a visual of “spacetime” into a loaf of bread to illustrate. I found this both condescending and, grudgingly, helpful as I’m not a theoretical learner. He showed how slices of “now” can angle toward the past or to the future depending on the movement of aliens 10-billion light years away. So just as all of space exists, all of time exists as well, or so Einstein said and Einstein can’t be wrong.

Or as Sean Carroll said: “If you believe the laws of physics, there’s just as much reality to the future and the past as there is to the present moment.”

I don’t believe in physics, I just believe in me. Yoko and me.

The Arrow of Time

So 30 minutes in, I got it. Past, present, and future are an illusion. I didn’t see any practical application to care much about, as the aliens who can see our future are too far away to tell us about it before we’ve experienced it too, but I got it. Then the only woman in this telecast, Janna Levin, said: “Our entire experience of time is constantly in the present. And all we ever grasp is that instant moment.” Then I got confused again because I remember the past, how about you?

They spent the next few minutes discussing time travel, because otherwise most people will stop being interested in a show about science. Then the last 20 minutes painstakingly tore down all of the limited understanding I built during the first 30.

The last part tried to reconcile why time appears to move only forward when the laws of physics don’t require time to have directionality. Annoying string theory guy implied entropy might help explain this “arrow of time.” I fell in love with the entropy guy, both because he has a cool bust of himself on his gravestone and because his work shows my inability to stay organized isn’t a character flaw, it’s a law of physics.

But no! Entropy can’t explain the arrow of time because the laws of physics say disorder should increase both toward the future and toward the past. Annoying string theory guy then said: “And that makes no sense.” As if everything said before that point had made sense.

Since they were having trouble reconciling Einstein’s theory of relativity with the arrow of time, they decided to blame the discrepancy on the Big Bang. Annoying string theory guy: “So our best understanding is that the Big Bang set the arrow of time on its path…the universe has been unwinding since the Big Bang, becoming ever more disordered.”

So basically, really intelligent physicists can’t explain time either. In the next episode, I look forward to not understanding, and also possibly debunking, quantum mechanics. 

Check out this uncomfortable yet endearing video which increased the strength of my crush on Max Tegmark. Hopefully a future episode of NOVA will explain the power physics geeks have over me.

Jul
23
2011
How I Get My Lazy Ass Out Of Bed

I’m So Tired, I Haven’t Slept A Wink…

Staying up too late is the worst thing I do to myself and I apparently have no willpower to stop it, as evidenced by about 20 years of being unable to stop it. Ironically, I love sleep. I just don’t seem to want to do it at 11pm (or midnight, or 1am). 

The Sleep Equation: Bedtime

My Lenten promise of getting into bed earlier and thus getting more sleep was a complete bust. During Lent my plan was to attack the first, and probably most important, part of the sleep equation: my bedtime. The idea was to get into bed by 11pm. That happened exactly zero times. I got into bed before midnight four times. My average bedtime in the time period before Lent was 1:07am. My average bedtime during Lent was 1:17am. Oops.

The Sleep Equation: Wake Time

Not surprisingly, I never want to get out of bed in the morning. My late mornings affect getting to work on time, how much I can accomplish on days off, and what time I’m tired at night (perpetuating the vicious cycle of sleeping in and then staying up late). I’m sick of feeling like a deadbeat, of missing out on weekend mornings with Dave, of running when it’s already sticky hot in the summer, of feeling behind all the time.

I subjected my Twitter followers to a daily update on my Lenten promise failings and on a day when I lamented being late to work, someone suggested moving my alarm clock across the room.

Enter Tocky, The Alarm Clock That Runs Away

Tocky is advertised as an alarm clock that will “jump from your nightstand and roll away to get you out of bed.” Dave actually got it for me for Christmas. I was 95 percent amused and 5 percent offended. OK, I get it, I’m a deadbeat!

I used it a couple of times in January, but was not impressed. I revisited Tocky during Lent and now I find it much more useful.

The first few times I used Tocky, I placed it on my nightstand, as recommended. This is a very dumb idea. No one’s reflexes are too slow to stop Tocky from jumping (falling, if we are being honest here) off their nightstand. Tocky never made the plummet to my shag carpet, so I concluded I was considerably smarter than Tocky and put it away until failing at Lent.

My first Lenten attempt involved putting Tocky on the floor on the side of the bed I use to get up, but far enough away that I wouldn’t be able to grab it. When Tocky went off the next morning, it rolled right to me. Dumb ass.

So then I put Tocky on the other side of the room. Success! Having to get out of bed, walk around the bed, and reach down to turn Tocky off turned out to be sufficient most mornings to stay out of bed.

Tocky Details

Tocky is expensive, he is $69 (yes, Tocky is a “he”). And quite frankly, given the way I use him, his $69 rolling capabilities are completely unnecessary. But the novelty of it adds some fun to the horror of getting out of bed in the morning.

One fun thing is you can upload MP3s to use as your alarm. You can also record a message, or you can just stick with the cute little electronic gurgling noises Tocky makes.

On the annoying side, the button used to set up Tocky is hard to press and it doesn’t always respond the first time. The dial used to change the clock and alarm times is very touchy. It either spins around uncontrollably fast or won’t respond at all.

If you really feel you need the rolling aspect of Tocky, keep in mind he doesn’t roll around very long, only for about 30 seconds. Lazy ass.

Also, the music option is misleading. While you can upload up to two hours worth of MP3s, Tocky shuts off after 10 minutes. So I suggest selecting two to three songs that will make you want to get out of bed.

Here is a video of my Tocky in action. “Run to the Hills” was an inspired choice, it seemed appropriate for a clock that’s supposed to run away from you and it’s pretty jarring first thing in the morning. As you can see, try as Tocky might, he’s no match for my shag carpet. I barely had to move my camera. He can move quite a bit more on a solid surface.

Results?

Tocky has definitely helped me get out of bed earlier. I’m no longer hitting snooze 800 times.

But I’m also getting less sleep now. I had hoped getting up earlier would eventually, naturally, push my bedtime back. That something would have to give if I were more tired. Unfortunately I’m even more stubborn than I thought. My bedtime hasn’t changed. So now instead of averaging about 7 hours of sleep per night (due mostly to hitting snooze on weekends), I’m down to an average of about 6 hours of sleep.

I miss my executive functioning.

May
26
2011
These Songs Are True, These Days Are Ours

God damn Paul Simon.

I saw his concert last night at DAR Constitution Hall and the mother fucker made me cry three times. In public. By myself.

I knew I was likely to lose my shit if he played “The Obvious Child,” but the one-two punch of that song coupled with “The Only Living Boy in New York” knocked me right into a nostalgia sinkhole from which I worried I would not recover.

“The Obvious Child” was big on my freshman hall. We listened to it all the time and I’ll never forget the joy that song brought to my unrequited love.

Paul seems to want to drag you into the nostalgia sinkhole (“Sonny’s yearbook from high school is down from the shelf and he idly thumbs through the pages…”). The Simon & Garfunkel songs about the tenuous bonds of friendship, a la “The Only Living Boy in New York,” slay me. I cried the whole way through that song.

This was the first concert I’ve ever attended by myself. I wasn’t sure if Dave would want to go, so even though I was theoretically able to pull the trigger on tickets right when they went on sale, I waited until that evening to buy, until I could check in with him. By that point, only singles were available. I grabbed one and hoped I’d be able to find another close by, but it never happened.

I do stupid shit like this all the time. I over analyze stuff before committing when I really should be jumping at the chance to do it. Take the spring digital photography class being offered by my County. Improving my photography skills is on my fucking list of goals for 2011. But I still hemmed and hawed about it a good couple of weeks. Even when I sat down to register, I spent 15 minutes Googling the instructor first. Of course, when I was finally ready to commit, I found the class was full…and probably had been the entire two weeks I was thinking about it.

Anyway, being at the concert by myself was fine, particularly after the show started. The two seats next to me were empty during the first 2.5 songs. I started to wonder why the hell Dave couldn’t be there when two girls showed up, beers in hand. They didn’t seem super into it and talked to each other during several songs, including “The Only Living Boy in New York,” which made me ornery.

A cute, overly excited young couple in front of me inexplicably kept checking their phones for texts during most of the show. I know I’m a crotchety old woman, but I seriously don’t understand how people who clearly love Paul Simon so much can be unable to focus on him for two hours. The girl actually responded to a text from her Mom to tell her that Paul was playing “Mother and Child Reunion” at that very moment. Your Mom needed to know that, right now? Really?

Of course, after I got a ticket for this show, I found out Paul was also playing the 9:30 Club two nights later. But I live under a rock so was already too late to get tickets. I’m not sure why exactly, but the 9:30 Club show was the hotter ticket, as evidenced by the fact that Stubhub’s going price for it was $400 yesterday while there were still reasonably priced tickets for the Constitution Hall show available only hours beforehand.

I was a little worried about the venue. On the “I am old and want comfort” hand, Constitution Hall has very comfortable seating and a good view from anywhere in the house. On the “maybe I should want to be a hip music aficionado” hand, the Interpol show we saw at Constitution Hall back in November was kind of lame. The sound was pretty muffled and the crowd, potentially in reaction to this, possibly due to the ass-sucking comfort of the seating, sat the whole time.

No such problems last night. The sound was excellent, crisp and quite a bit louder than I’d anticipated. The crowd was very enthusiastic, but thankfully (I am old!…and inhibited!) stayed seated for a good chunk of the show. But people started getting up and dancing during “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” and I must admit the atmosphere became electric and awesome at that point.

When Paul started “Gumboots,” he seemed to be having some trouble remembering the words, so a dude (apparently Paul Fournier) from the audience jumped up on stage and helped him sing. Paul was cool about it, and unlike with Rayna took turns singing with this guy. But I don’t think Paul actually invited him on stage until after the guy was already trying to get up there. The front row bouncer tried to stop him, but Paul seemed OK with it, so he let him up. I’m wondering if Paul’s going to be sorry at the audience participation trend he seems to have started. The Rayna thing seemed special, but if people start trying to come on stage every show it could get a little old, for Paul and the audience.

This guy did a good job. I loved it when Paul handed him one of his water bottles and insisted he take a sip. I also loved how the guy’s outfit clearly indicated he had come straight from work. ROCK AND ROLL!

During the first encore, Paul and two of his band members played “Here Comes the Sun,” which was the third time he made me cry. I love the Beatles, and I love this song, and George is dead, and Paul nailed this song. So I cried. Again. Fucker.

At that point I realized this might be the best concert ever. The band seriously rocked, Paul’s voice sounded great, the set list was almost perfect, and even the songs I wasn’t as familiar with sounded really good.

Paul also seemed like he was having a great time. It was inspiring.

May
19
2011
I Actually Read The Sweet Valley Sequel

More than twenty years have passed since I last picked up a Sweet Valley book, but when I heard Francine Pascal had written an adult follow-up, I was unreasonably excited. I didn’t think Sweet Valley Confidential was going to be good, but I figured it would entertain my inner 10-year old and be the kind of mindless fluff that could (hopefully) kick start a return to more regular reading.

Although Sweet Valley Confidential is actually the first of the series to be written by the series creator, it had the same feel, shallow character development, and fixation on appearances that I knew and loved and was always somewhat baffled by. Baffled not because the books were hard to read, but rather because as an awkward 10-year-old Catholic school girl, I had trouble identifying with the gorgeous, boy crazy, clothes obsessed, 16-year-old Wakefield twins.

Objectively speaking, the book was pretty bad. But from a nostalgia perspective, it does its job.

The stars of Sweet Valley Confidential are, as always, the picture perfect twins, Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield. In the two decades since the twins were 16 years old, they have aged about ten years. I was always jealous of their perfect size 6 figures and popularity, and now I can be jealous that they have grown younger than me over time. Bitches.

In a shocking (!) plot twist that fails to be shocking since it’s essentially the plot from Double Love, the very first book in the series (only now with sex), Jessica has an affair with Elizabeth’s long-time boyfriend during college. When Elizabeth eventually finds out years later, she flees Sweet Valley for New York City, leaving Todd and Jessica free to get engaged and enjoy the most guilt-ridden, depressing romantic relationship ever conceived.

The book splits its time between Elizabeth in New York and Jessica in Sweet Valley. In what I originally thought was a clever device to give the reader extra insight, some of the story is told through first person flashbacks. But hearing the same memories twice gets old and Jessica’s narration is littered with annoying numbers of “like,” and “so,” and “way” that made me stumble through my reading. The device is also overused and by the time I got to the fourth different person whose vacuous mind I could read, I was way over it (as Jessica would say). Whether Pascal is narrating the present or allowing her characters to narrate their own memories, the level of insight is the same—not much.

Elizabeth is the good twin. She is responsible (Jessica would say boring, and apparently so would Todd!), selfless, sweet and moral. Jessica is the bad twin. She is younger by only a few minutes, but it matters. She is self-centered, wild, and fickle. But she is adorable so is extremely lovable anyway.

We know these things about the twins because the author tells us. I have heard the advice to “show, not tell” in writing. If you want to understand the opposite, read this book.

There’s not much more to the twins than these caricatures. Regardless of what Pascal tells the reader, neither twin seems to have many redeeming qualities, other than being drop dead gorgeous.

Jessica herself seems to wish she could think of more redeeming qualities:

“And there I go again, selfish Jessica…What can I do? Twenty-seven is too late to change. Besides, I have some good qualities.”

The only one she can come up with is “I love Elizabeth.” I’d hate to see what she does to people she doesn’t love.

Jessica’s shallowness can be excused because she is supposed to be shallow. But what about Elizabeth?

The twins’ older brother, Steven, compares the twins and finds Elizabeth to be “extraordinary.” Elizabeth’s extraordinary alright, and don’t think she doesn’t know it.

“She’d always thought of herself as moral, ethical and compassionate, and—possibly somewhat immodestly—as one of the better people.”

Ick. Immodest? Perhaps just a touch.

Elizabeth, the “compassionate” twin, thinks the following about a dead man at his funeral:

“People who didn’t know him would have thought Winston was a winner, but we knew he was the model of a true loser. After making gobs of money in the dot-com venture with Bruce–and getting out just before it all crashed–Bruce was better than ever, but Winston was the classic spoiled-by-success story.”

She then goes on to remember how ugly he was:

“his ears still stuck out and his Adam’s apple jumped up and down on his long, skinny neck.”

Judgmental much?

Bruce now likes Elizabeth and that is apparently enough reason for her to think he’s no longer “impossibly arrogant and conceited.” One of the reasons given for Elizabeth’s friendship with Bruce is that:

“they didn’t like the same people, which gave them lots of fun conversations and private jokes.”

Let me remind you that this is the good twin.

Elizabeth spends most of the book obsessing about revenge while simultaneously worrying the achievement of revenge will ruin her perfect reputation. She is completely preoccupied with what people think of her (“She…wouldn’t be the Elizabeth everyone knew and loved…”) which is ironic given how judgmental she is.

Jessica and Todd spend most of the book feeling guilty and miserable about hurting Elizabeth, being gossiped about and also judged by civilized society.

Sure the original forbidden sex was hot, but an engagement? I kept waiting for Pascal to show me (or even tell me!) why the Jessica-Todd relationship was worth all of the angst (Jessica herself wonders “what was good about what they had”). But on this point, and most others, the reader has to take the author’s word for it.

She attempts this explanation for the key plot device of the book from Todd’s perspective:

“Yes, she could be self-absorbed, yes, she could be a little selfish, but she was delightful, charming, smarter than most people knew, and utterly captivating. He would never really know her completely, and that mystery fascinated him. He’d never felt that way about any other woman. He couldn’t get enough of her.

And she was in love with him…She’d sacrificed her sister for him, a thought that tortured him… But every day that he was with her was glorious despite the family troubles.”

Each day is “glorious” because Pascal says so. Never mind how each chapter includes Jessica crying and Todd wishing he could move to escape their miserable life in Sweet Valley.

So the plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But there were some things that resonated with me, mostly about what might make Jessica tick.

Pascal clubs the reader over the head with Jessica’s inferiority complex. She makes it abundantly clear that people can tell the twins apart based on their character. Jessica is “the wrong twin.” She looks exactly like Elizabeth, but always comes in second. She has always felt that she doesn’t measure up and after hearing pretty much everyone in Sweet Valley confirm how much they prefer Elizabeth, even though Elizabeth sounds like a pain in the ass, I felt sympathy for Jessica even though she’s a shit.

Jessica impulsively marries a rich older man partially to avoid that she’s fallen in love with her sister’s boyfriend. Once she realizes what a mistake she’s made and how trapped she is (her new husband is controlling and more than a little creepy), the part about her escape was both a little funny (there was some cute French miscommunication, in which I learned that Jessica and I have the same favorite French word: caoutchouc) and kind of suspenseful. It was the one of the few times I felt invested in what happened to any of the characters.

I don’t want to ruin any more of the plot, so I’ll close with a tribute to Sweet Valley’s impressive continued commitment to shallowness through some of my favorite character descriptions.

“Bruce Patman was, as always, Bruce Patman…”

Um, that’s…helpful? Bruce is a very important character in this book and I know more about his home furnishings than who he is.

Jessica on her boss:

“Good teeth. Beautiful teeth. Very white, but not that artificial paint white they do in those storefront shops. His teeth were slightly transparent, just right, and perfectly even. Also, there were no show-off dimples or chin clefts. His was a look for the long term.”

Have you ever thought about anyone’s teeth in this much detail?

Jessica on her brother:

“It’s a body I would know anywhere, even from the back: broad shoulders, neat waist, good legs. So many men have spindly legs, but not him. And they’re in great shape and not too hairy. In fact, he’s an absolute hunk, even if he is my brother.”

Oh my God, no. Just no.

Bruce on a minor male character:

“He’s slim but he’s got that hidden threat of an incipient eater with the rounded cheeks and the beginnings of a small softness around his middle.”

This is a dude describing another dude. Seriously? And also, incipient? I had to look that shit up. Let’s leave such fancy words for literature.

Apr
13
2011
My Mind On My Money And My Money On My Mind

Does this spreadsheet make me look anal?

Biggie said “mo’ money, mo’ problems,” but I say “mo’ money, earlier retirement” (unlike Jay-Z, I’m serious about retirement), so we started working with a financial planner several years ago. One of the first things he asked us to do was create a budget. At the time, he didn’t know the kind of behavior he was enabling.

(When I was younger I got a tee-shirt for my birthday that said “Does anal-retentive have a hyphen?”. Everyone at my party roared with laughter, but I wasn’t 100% sure what that term meant or how it applied to me. Didn’t sound good, so I looked it up (because, as it turns out, I am anal), and saw that the definition included the following helpful explanatory terms: meticulous, compulsive, and rigid. Yes, yes, and yet still more yes.)

You could say I’m compelled to document things. You never know when you might need information on things you did, food you ate, or money you spent several months or even years ago, right? Dave likes to tease me when I’m talking excitedly about some new idea by saying “I think you need a spreadsheet for that.” And I probably do.

Our financial planner wanted us to track our spending for a few months. But I created the following budget template and have entered every cent we spend into it since 2005.

The problem

This is admittedly old school and time consuming. For years, I entered transactions several times a month, sometimes during a Friday lunch break and often catching up on weekends. This worked for years, until it didn’t. Demands on my time increased and, I don’t know, maybe I got a life or something, because I just stopped feeling like spending significant chunks of my weekends catching up on this task.

Last year, I stuffed my expandable zip envelope with receipts until it no longer closed. The stack of monthly statements grew higher. At the end of each weekend without having made any progress, I moved the budget task to the next weekend in Good Todo. That is how I came to spend over 16 hours of my Christmas vacation entering our 2010 spending into the spreadsheet.

SIXTEEN HOURS. Merry Fucking Christmas.

Frustrating when I stopped to consider that’s only about 20 minutes a week if I’d just kept up with it throughout the year. But here’s the thing, it’s already April and I’ve entered only a handful of receipts and the January statements so far. So I have considered saying screw it, five years is enough, I know what we spend, we are OK, I quit. But I am compelled to keep tracking our spending, it gives us piece of mind. Our optional and incidental expenses are not very predictable, and even our regular spending sometimes surprises us, so keeping the spreadsheet helps us stay on track.

For example, did you know that although our household consists of two people and a dog, we spend a third of what the Duggars spend on food each month at the grocery store (assuming their restaurant budget is separate, otherwise we spend TWO-thirds what the Duggars spend on food each month)? Of course you didn’t know this and we didn’t either, until we tracked our spending. There is no way we would ever have guessed we spent that amount.

The key to saving money on groceries???

Which of course is the key ingredient of this

Keeping the budget spreadsheet also helps us decide when we can splurge and how much. For example, a few weeks ago I happened upon the most adorable bag (see below, adorable right?). While it cost more than I usually spend on such a thing , we made an instant “connection” (if I were watching the Bachelor right now, Dave would tell me to take a drink). I loved it, I knew how I would use it, and I knew we could afford it. So I bought it and didn’t feel one bit guilty or anxious about it.

The Solution?

So I decided to continue to keep the budget spreadsheet, but do some research into options for making the task more efficient. Our financial advisor suggested that using an online system like Mint might make my life easier. I didn’t think that my budgeting needs were very demanding, but apparently they are because I haven’t found anything suitable.

What do I want in a budgeting service?

  1. Automatic updates for my key accounts (checking, credit cards)
  2. Customizability of budget categories
  3. Ability to retain ownership of my own data

I signed up for Mint and spent a little time setting up my key accounts and looking at the different features. I don’t need most of what they offer–fancy budgeting tools, colorful charts, or emails warning me that I spent more than usual on clothing last month (I know, I bought a purse, I was there!).

What I really want is for someone else to update my budget spreadsheet for me. In lieu of that (!), I would settle for being able to export my budget information in a way that allows me to easily recreate my spreadsheet or something close to it. But Mint is apparently the Apple of online budgeting and does not want you to be able to manipulate your own data. There isn’t an option for exporting your budget, only individual transactions. Organizing an export of transactions into a useful form (you know, by category and date) would take even longer than my current process.

Mint’s connection to my bank is also wonky. Mint wasn’t able to update my checking account transactions for over two months, but today it magically worked. So even if I were willing to give up on the exporting function, I would not be confident that Mint would have up to date bank transactions.

Unless I find a tool that meets all of my needs, I am stuck entering all of my transactions manually. Am I missing a great tool that offers all three of my critical features? What tools do you use to track your spending?

Mar
9
2011
Cupcakes Part The Last (!)

The cupcake eating must and will stop…on Ash Wednesday, which is technically today, so I need to get my latest reviews posted now. The last thing I’m going to need while trying not to eat cupcakes is to write a cupcake review.

We tried Bake Shop in Arlington a couple of weeks ago. The reviews I’d read were quite favorable, and it’s local and not part of a chain so I wanted to like it, but this place didn’t do it for us. The cupcakes were small, I’m talking tiny. They weighed a bit over 2 ounces. I got red velvet, since that’s my head to head comparison flavor. Bake Shop doesn’t frost its red velvet with cream cheese frosting. I think I would have been OK with this had the buttercream been really good, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t sweet enough, it tasted like barely sweetened butter and the texture of the frosting was unpleasant–very greasy feeling,  like whipped butter. Dave didn’t think his toffee cupcake was anything special either. For people who don’t like things sweet, these might be the cupcakes for you. We are not those people. The cupcakes there were cute though…

I knew that there was an Arlington location of Crumbs from New York City, but we hadn’t tried it yet. During a recent staff meeting at work, I learned that there was also a location very close to my office. This was information I really didn’t need. I lasted one day with that knowledge before stopping by. I got a “fluffernutter” cupcake that day and ate the whole thing but should have stopped at half. It was good, but so sweet. I love sweets and have never really tasted anything too sweet, but this was close. These are about as far removed from Bake Shop as I can imagine, and strangely I didn’t love the cupcakes from either shop. Here is a photo of the cupcake I ate after lunch at work (stooping to new lows, eating dessert with lunch!).

Dave surprised me one night with Crumbs’ red velvet and I couldn’t even finish it. It was overpoweringly sweet and half was more than enough. These cupcakes aren’t really horrible, but they are huge, taste processed rather than homemade, and are so sweet that they burned my throat about half way through. They are just too much. I also thought about shipping these cupcakes to my nephew for his birthday because they seemed like a treat a teenager might enjoy. But the cost to ship 6 Crumbs cupcakes is $58. You can buy a dozen from Georgetown Cupcake and ship them for less than that. Insanity. Here is me being artsy with my macro lens on the Crumbs red velvet.

Finally, the long-awaited Sprinkles opened in Georgetown on Thursday of last week. They even sent me an email about the opening…how did they know? By Sunday, I was shaking like a junkie with the need to try them. So Dave and I drove to Georgetown in the rain. Even with rain and the new Sprinkles competition, the line outside Georgetown Cupcake was as long as I’ve ever seen it, so we didn’t bother to get their cupcakes for a head to head. We’ve eaten enough Georgetown Cupcake to do this from memory.

There was a short line at Sprinkles, and it seemed like a place that had only recently opened. Even though there was what seemed like a reasonable number of customers, it was chaotic. Everyone was very pleasant, but there were a lot of people behind the counter and too many of them dealt with us. It was very confusing. Also, some flavors are available in sprinkled versus non-sprinkled versions and Dave hates sprinkles. Luckily I told the girl who waited on us this fact, because it sounded like the default would have been sprinkled. So I saved myself listening to some whining.

I got a red velvet and a carrot. Dave got a chocolate with dark chocolate frosting and a vanilla with milk chocolate frosting, which was the closest available to his usual flavor (vanilla with dark chocolate frosting). Sprinkles cupcakes are bigger than Georgetown’s, with the important and annoying caveat that Sprinkles does not appear to be very careful about portioning their batter. The dark chocolate cupcake was noticeably smaller than the other three (one of the things below is not like the other…).

Here are the weights:

red velvet:  4.8 oz.

milk chocolate:  4.6 oz.

carrot:  5.0 oz.

dark chocolate:  3.4 oz.

I think the dark chocolate discrepancy is unacceptable.

When I removed the red velvet, I noticed a greasy feel to the cupcake liner (see the picture of the bottom of the box after I’ve removed the red velvet and notice the grease mark the cupcake left behind). That didn’t seem good to me. I was also worried based on the look of the cupcakes that there wouldn’t be enough frosting but the look was deceiving as once I bit into the red velvet there was clearly enough frosting. The circle decorations on the top of the cupcakes look nice but are hard as a rock and don’t taste good, unlike the fondant decorations on Georgetown’s cupcakes which are softer and taste fine.

I liked the flavor of the cream cheese frosting on the red velvet a lot. The cake was very moist and flavorful as well. The cake was pretty delicate, almost like a boxed cake, and didn’t seem to want to hold up the frosting once I’d eaten about half. The carrot cake was moist as well. It was very spiced and flavorful and I liked that it didn’t have any fruit in it, just nuts and carrots. The cream cheese frosting was flavored quite heavily with cinnamon, which I didn’t like at first but grew on me. This cake also had a delicate feel and crumb and a somewhat greasy feel. This one actually left a film on my teeth which I could have done without. Here is a picture of the frosting depth on the red velvet.

I realize that these comments might make it sound like I didn’t like Sprinkles, but that’s not accurate. I did like them, but they reminded me of boxed cake mix (which I happen to like). The resemblance, both visual and texture-wise, of the cupcakes to boxed cake made me start to think that Sprinkles must use oil rather than butter. That would also explain the difference between Sprinkles and Georgetown in taste and texture, since I know Georgetown uses butter. But then I found a review of Sprinkles red velvet cupcake mix and the directions clearly call for butter, not oil. So much for that theory.

Dave didn’t like his vanilla cupcake. He said the cake was tough. He let me have a bite and I loved the flavor of the cupcake (I much prefer milk chocolate to dark, so this cupcake was right up my alley), but I could see his point about the cake part, as it did have a tougher crumb than either of my flavors. He much prefers the Georgetown (and Baked & Wired) version of that flavor. He really liked the dark chocolate cupcake, although he said it was as good as the chocolate cake I always make for his birthday (from the can of Hershey’s cocoa), and given the price of these cupcakes, maybe the cake should be better than what I can do at home. In terms of the delicateness of the cake, the dark chocolate split in two when Dave tried to take the cupcake out of its liner.

Dave says we should stick to Georgetown and Baked & Wired. I think I want to give Sprinkles another chance (perhaps next week, when they offer “green velvet” for St. Patrick’s Day…what? green is my favorite color!). It’s weird how all three of our favorite cupcake places are so close to each other. When I looked up the location of Sprinkles on Sunday, I noticed that Georgetown Cupcake, Sprinkles, and Baked & Wired were situated in a sinister looking compass-like shape on the map. I guess the Masons are behind the D.C. cupcake trend too.

Feb
22
2011
Now We’re Cleansing With Oil

Using oil to clean my oily skin is one of the most counter intuitive things I’ve read about in a long time. But if people on the internet jump off a bridge…

Actually, some of the arguments made sense (oil dissolves oil, using products that strip away all your natural oils makes your skin produce more oil, etc…) and when I mentioned it to Dave, rather than looking at me like I was crazy, he started going on about the Romans and how they used oil in their baths, and used a special tool to scrape it off and blah, blah, blah…  That he didn’t immediately think it was a stupid idea was enough for me, I didn’t need any further details about ancient cultures and why does he know all of this useless information about ancient cultures when he can’t remember that I want cream cheese to spread on my bagels?

I started doing research about the appropriate oil mix for my skin type, but laziness and fear of making a royal mess and commitment threatened to end this oil cleansing experiment before it began (didn’t feel like shopping for different oils and mixing a proper concoction myself seemed like a recipe for oil spilling disaster and would leave me with a lot of oil). Then Cave Girl came to the rescue and suggested a premade product. She warned that it would be more cost-effective to mix my own oils, but since I’m skeptical about this thing and I’m lazy, I opted for ordering a small amount of Touchy Oil Cleanser for oily skin. Hopefully, the amount I ordered will last me long enough to decide whether or not it’s working for me. Some of what I read online about this is repulsive, yet strangely fascinating. Apparently after a few minutes of massaging the oil into your skin, you will start to feel sebum plugs that have been released. Repulsive, no? Oh, but how I had hoped this would actually happen. Die blackheads die!

I had a feeling that this would either be one of the stupidest things I’d ever done or one of the greatest things ever, but so far (about a week in) it just seems like it takes a lot longer to wash my face than it used to and that I need to buy more washcloths (neither Dave nor I use washcloths, so we only have a few for guests and I’ve already gone through them all this week). I’ve done the oil cleanse three or four times since I started (I’m doing it every other evening as much of what I read online suggested). I had sort of convinced myself that my skin might look a minuscule amount nicer after the first few days, but by the end of last week I realized it looked the same. No blackhead improvement and actually a few small break outs. I am also disappointed that I don’t seem to be getting that sebum plug removal that many online reviewers mentioned. It’s not that I’m not being thorough, the first night I massaged the oil into my skin for 15 damn minutes. I thought I’d give myself carpal tunnel. My arms started to feel the weight of holding them up so long. I’ve since been doing it for about 10 minutes each time. Then I steam with the hot washcloth 3-4 times and wipe my face. My face feels clean after, so think I’m getting all the oil off.

I had been hoping I’d produce less oil, but so far no dice. In the mornings, my face is as oily as ever, perhaps a little more. I think I might look a little less shiny though.

I’m also confused about this process in terms of skin care overall. In the mornings, I’m OK with just rinsing with warm water, but in the evenings I really need to wash my makeup off. So if I’m not supposed to oil cleanse every night and I’m not supposed to use soap, then what? One night I did a very abbreviated oil cleanse but that’s still a pain because of the time (and washcloth!) it takes to remove the oil. A couple of other nights I just used my usual Dove. I also assume that I can still use my regular sunscreen, but I couldn’t find guidance on this (what I’ve found online is to use a tiny bit of the oil as a moisturizer if your skin feels tight, but I haven’t found guidance about sunscreens that are compatible with this method).

I hate when I get all excited about a new personal care product (Biore strips anyone?) and then it doesn’t deliver, but I plan on giving the oil cleansing method a couple more weeks, at least every other night, no soap, no Oil of Olay, just my sunscreen in the morning. It needs to show much better results than it has to this point if I’m going to stick with it though, because it’s pretty time consuming.

Feb
19
2011
Gluttony (Cupcake) Wars, or It Wasn’t That Hard to Eat 5 Cupcakes

Hey, have you heard about the cupcake craze that is sweeping the nation?

Oh, you have? Well, I didn’t have a blog when it started, so now you’re just going to have to bear with me as I write about it.

I’m of two minds on this boutique cupcake bakery thing. Part of me realizes how insane it is to stand in a long line to purchase a tiny dessert that is somehow 500 calories and 3 dollars. I can hear my Dad saying “We can make cupcakes at home.”

But then there’s the other part of me, the part that says, “Dad, this is just a small indulgence in a life so full of obligation. And Dad, sure we could make our own cupcakes and save money, but then we’d have a dozen cupcakes sitting around the house when we just want 1 (or 4, but who’s counting). And they’d all be the same flavor. Don’t you want variety, Dad? Don’t be such a “stara baba” (wow, that’s rude Polish for “old lady,” and I had to look up how to spell it and can’t believe that’s right).

Since the cupcake-loving part usually wins this argument, several times a year, I end up standing in a ridiculously long line at Georgetown Cupcake (my reigning favorite since 2008) while the scroogey-Dad side of me engages in self-loathing, muttering “why am I doing this?”

For awhile, my plan was to try as many of the crop of cupcakeries (?!?) in the area as possible. I’m a researcher, I like to be thorough in my gathering of evidence. I’ve tried: Baltimore Cupcake Company, Buzz, Hello Cupcake, Red Velvet Cupcakery, and Lavender Moon Cupcakery, and while they weren’t bad (well, the chocolate frosting at Baltimore Cupcake Co inexplicably tasted like maraschino cherry, which wasn’t good), none of them inspired me to go back for a second try.

In the middle of all of those, we went to Georgetown Cupcake. We waited a few months after they opened before visiting because I figured after a while the hubbub would die down (uh yeah, good call…). Maybe I just got hoodwinked by the popularity and the tony location and the adorably perfect cuteness of the cupcakes and the packaging, but these cupcakes tasted really really good to me. Like worth going back and standing in that line again good…moist cake that wasn’t too delicate and a generous allotment of frosting (I’m a frosting girl). Since then, all of my cupcake reviews use Georgetown as my benchmark. Are they good enough compared with Georgetown to warrant going back there instead of Georgetown? They didn’t even have to be better, given the annoyance of getting to the overcrowded-no parking available Georgetown area and that god damn line, they just had to be good enough. None were.

Then the Washington Post ran a “Cupcake Wars” series and declared Georgetown Cupcake the overwhelming winner. After confirming what I had already suspected, that I’d already found the best, my cupcake tastings came to a halt. Now we occasionally brave the traffic and crowds to partake in Georgetown Cupcake. Tip: if you are ever in Bethesda, the location there is much less crowded. Sometimes my running group meets in Bethesda and I ironically end my run with a stop to buy cupcakes.

I will admit to a lingering curiosity about another bakery in Georgetown–Baked & Wired. I kept hearing great things about it, that it was better than Georgetown Cupcake. Baked & Wired’s average rating on Yelp is higher than Georgetown Cupcake’s too. But I just couldn’t commit to going there. I don’t go to Georgetown all that often, so if I’m bothering to go there, I go to Georgetown Cupcake. Then some new friends did their own tasting and told me that Baked & Wired was better. OK, OK, you’ve twisted my arm people, I’ll try Baked & Wired.

Valentine’s Day weekend, my running group met in Georgetown, so I decided to pick up some cupcakes from Baked & Wired. The bakery was charming, they had a wide variety of different cupcake flavors (along with other baked goods), and there was NO line. Already promising. I bought four cupcakes: two to mirror what Dave and I usually get at Georgetown for comparison purposes (red velvet for me and vanilla cupcake with chocolate frosting for Dave) and two wild-card flavors.

When the cashier handed me the box, I was stunned. It was HEAVY. Even when you buy a dozen at Georgetown, the box is light as a feather. Promising…

I never intended to do more than get some cupcakes at Baked & Wired. I figured we’d eaten enough Georgetown Cupcake that we didn’t need to do a side-by-side tasting. But Georgetown Cupcake was essentially on the way to the car. Maybe the line wouldn’t be long so early in the day? I could just quickly walk by and see how the line was looking. If the line wasn’t long, wouldn’t it make sense, wouldn’t it be the rigorous thing to do to get the red velvet and vanilla chocolate from Georgetown as well? What’s two more cupcakes? I could write about this on my blog! Don’t tell me I’m not committed to my craft.

That’s how I came to be standing in a line outside Georgetown Cupcake about 15 deep holding a Baked & Wired box and wearing only my running gear (it was a bit cold). I carefully placed my running gloves over the “Baked & Wired” sticker and hoped no one would notice. Even though I already had four massive cupcakes, I started wondering what the free secret flavor of the day was. I don’t have a smartphone so I had no way of checking. I asked the cute tourists in front of me if they could check (hey, it got them free cupcakes too!). “Chocolate Chip” they said…hmmm, it’s free, maybe I should get three cupcakes instead of only two? Once I got inside, I realized that one of the monthly flavors was strawberry lava fudge, one of my favorites. OK, I’ll just get four, they are small, one is free, and it’s for the good of the baking sciences (adding “s” to science makes it more “science-y”).

The person who boxed my cupcakes offered me a bag (Baked & Wired didn’t by the way, even though their box of cupcakes weighed 100 pounds) and then nicely offered to put my other box in the bag too. I sheepishly handed her the Baked & Wired box and hoped she wouldn’t say anything (hey, it could’ve been filled with hand pies!).

Her: “Baked & Wired, huh?…the competition, I don’t know if I can put those in our bag.” She said this with a smile.

Me: “Thanks, I’m sure I’ll like yours better.”

But after seeing (and carrying!) Baked & Wired’s cupcakes, I wasn’t so sure. I was really starting to think I’d like the Baked & Wired better and quite frankly, I wanted to like the Baked & Wired better (no line!, larger!, no ridiculous clearly dramatized “reality” show!).

I immediately fell in love with the appearance of the Baked & Wired cupcakes and was impressed by their size. I’m never satisfied with one Georgetown Cupcake, they are way the hell too small. Here are some pictures of the cupcakes. Note that I somehow ended up with 5 Baked & Wired cupcakes, even though I had only ordered 4. I only paid for 4, so each bakery ended up giving me one for free, although only Georgetown did it intentionally!


Here are some numbers (importance of data, blah, blah, blah, just eat the cupcakes already).

COST (per cupcake, ignoring free cupcakes):
Baked & Wired: $3.85
Georgetown Cupcake:  $~3.03

WEIGHT
Baked & Wired:  about 5 oz.
Georgetown Cupcake:  about 3.5 oz.

So as the Washington Post pointed out, Baked & Wired is cheaper by weight.

Comparable flavors (head to head)

The proof was in the eating. Dave is pickier about cupcakes in that he doesn’t care for many different flavors. He loves Georgetown’s vanilla & chocolate, which is their vanilla cupcake with stiff (heh, heh) chocolate frosting. Strangely enough, this is one of only two cupcake flavors I’ve tried there and haven’t liked. I like fluffy, light, and creamy frosting. The chocolate is just too much and it’s dense. But Dave loves it. Every time he tries another flavor, I ask him what he thinks and he says “It’s OK, but not as good as the vanilla & chocolate.” Dave had this to say about the Baked & Wired version (vanilla with chocolate satin frosting): “pretty fucking tasty.” When I pressed him to compare the two bakeries, he said he would be pretty hard pressed to pick which was better. So that was pretty high praise given how much he loves the Georgetown version.

As for my head to head flavor (red velvet), I was disappointed in Baked & Wired. The cake part wasn’t dry per se, but it didn’t really taste like anything. So the fact that there was so much cake and relatively little frosting was not good. It was also hard to eat, I couldn’t get a bite of the whole thing, I had to break part of the bottom off first. The frosting was good, there was a nice balance between the taste of cream cheese and sweetness. But there wasn’t enough of it. Oh, and you wouldn’t think the three little red dot sprinkles would be worth writing about one way or another, but they tasted noticeably bad, like cough medicine. Overall, it wasn’t a bad cupcake, but I didn’t really want to finish it, which is a bad sign when one of my main complaints about my favorite cupcakes is how small they are.

I ate the Georgetown red velvet right after even though I wasn’t that jazzed to eat more cupcake and while I definitely liked it better than Baked & Wired, I noticed that the cake part of the Georgetown red velvet didn’t taste like much either. It’s the frosting that wins it–it’s so fluffy and sweet and there’s enough of it to mask the fact that the cake isn’t flavorful. The texture of the Georgetown cake was better as well. It actually felt velvety, whereas the Baked & Wired was more dense and like regular cake.

Random flavors (no head to head)

In retrospect, I realized that Baked & Wired’s Razmanian Devil (lemon cake with raspberry filling and lemon buttercream frosting) wasn’t so much of a wild card flavor. Georgetown Cupcake has a lemon berry flavor that I’ve had before and remember quite vividly HATING (this flavor and Dave’s favorite flavor–the frosting really–are the only flavors I’ve had there that I’ve disliked). I actually wondered if I’d gotten a bad cupcake that day because the lemon berry (I think it was the electric pink frosting) tasted like poison. So while I didn’t really love the Baked & Wired lemon raspberry, it kicked the shit out of Georgetown’s because it didn’t taste like they were trying to kill me. The Baked & Wired Razmanian Devil tasted like a cross between the lemon pound cake at Starbucks and a jelly donut. Not a bad combination, but I don’t think I’d get it again.

I had a bite of Dave’s wild card flavor from Baked & Wired (Texas sheetcake) and from that one bite thought it might have been the best of the ones I got there. I would prefer a little less cinnamon, but the cake was moist and the frosting was sweet and not too overpoweringly chocolaty. Dave gave his usual assessment of any new cupcake flavor (“OK, but not as good as the vanilla & chocolate”). So he preferred his wild card flavor from Georgetown, which was the free secret flavor of the day (chocolate chip). It’s essentially the same thing as his favorite cupcake only with chocolate chips baked in.

My wild card flavor from Georgetown Cupcake was strawberry lava fudge. I adore their lava fudge cupcakes. My favorite is the one with peanut butter frosting, but the strawberry isn’t far off. And that’s all I’m going to say about that one because if I discuss how they are packed with fudge, I’m going to go all Beavis and Butthead on you.

Even though I was kind of disappointed in Baked & Wired, I can see going back to try some different flavors before making up my mind. Unfortunately, the madness doesn’t stop there as there are still more cupcake options. Sprinkles is opening a DC location soon. Then there’s Bake Shop in Clarendon yet to try, as well as a cupcake truck that sounds interesting (and stops near my office weekly…).

UPDATED 2/22 to say that cupcakes are a sickness. Dave and I went to the zoo yesterday since we both had the day off. Georgetown is on the way home from the zoo, so of course it made sense to get more cupcakes. The line at Georgetown Cupcake was probably 40 deep out the door and it was raining. So we went to Baked & Wired. Their strawberry cupcake is absolutely lovely. The cake was extremely moist and flavorful. The frosting was sweet and pink and perfect. So so good. So score one for Baked & Wired.

Nov
14
2010
Good Todo

Good Todo is an online to do list that I use. It is a vast improvement over my old paper-based system that involved me writing tasks on whatever slip of paper I could find (often post-it notes) and constantly having to consolidate and re-write the list. I’ve been using Good Todo since August 2007 and now I don’t see how I would get along without it.

About three years ago, my e-mail situation at work got so out of hand that I was reaching the storage limit daily. Just to send a simple e-mail or respond to one, I spent demoralizing amounts of time frantically searching for e-mails to delete while cursing more loudly than I should at work. Somewhere I heard about a book on increasing productivity by letting your “bits” go called “Bit Literacy.” I ordered the book for e-mail management help, but the key thing I gained from the book was learning about Good Todo.

Good Todo is a “bit-literate” online to do list created by the author of “Bit Literacy.” The key feature of Good Todo is its compatibility with e-mail, which is critical in helping with e-mail management. Emptying your inbox and keeping it empty is easier using Good Todo because you can forward e-mails that are tasks directly to your to do list. With your task safely on your to do list, you can delete the e-mail. Since each task is associated with a specific day, you no longer have to use an overflowing inbox as a to do list. You can also create your own tasks via e-mail or on the Good Todo website. Each task has a brief title and the program also allows you to add a longer description or instructions for the task (analogous to the subject and body of an e-mail).

I use Good Todo to store all my tasks: work and home, recurring, errands, and big projects and ideas. I look at Good Todo each day to remind me what tasks to do. I try to forward all tasks that enter my e-mail inbox to Good Todo right away if I’m not going to work on them immediately. You can also use Good Todo to make it appear that you never forget anything, which is fun. Just include Good Todo on any e-mails you send to assign a task to another person (for example 7 days from today). This adds a task to the future date you specify so you remember to follow up on that date.

It’s not free, but the cost is reasonable ($18/6 months) and the customer service is impressive. After I signed up, they asked for my feedback and they actually make changes based on user suggestions. Most of the things that concerned me about using Good Todo have been remedied. For example, I think categorizing is critical for keeping those “someday” tasks from taking over your to do list. Good Todo didn’t allow any categorization of tasks at the beginning but now does. Also, there used to be only one option for prioritizing tasks within a day–clicking on up and down arrows allowed you to move a task up or down one spot at a time or to the top or bottom of the list. The arrows were cumbersome and drove me crazy. Now you can drag and drop tasks to re-organize their order, which is much better. While you could always search for a specific task and click on any future date to see if there were any tasks planned, originally there was no week or month view, which is important for longer-range planning. They recently updated to allow viewing tasks for the next 7 or 30 days, or all tasks in a category.

Some nit picks remain. Creating recurring tasks is now possible, but the available frequencies are limited. Good Todo won’t create tasks that recur biweekly (time sheets at work, changing bed linens…what? you do that more often?) or yearly (sending birthday cards, etc…), which are two of my most used frequencies. Something else that I’d like to see is automatic tracking of the date a task was added. For logy procrastinators like me, I think the shame of seeing just how long some tasks have been on the list uncompleted might help light a fire under my ass.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I have a lot of tasks.  Each task assigned to a day that is not completed by midnight automatically moves to the next day. This means that on Fridays, I spend a good amount of time moving uncompleted work-related tasks to the next week so that I don’t have to look at them on the weekend. Weekend days often have so many tasks listed that I have to scroll to view them all, which is not conducive to prioritization. Creating a “someday” category to dump things that I want to do but aren’t going to happen anytime soon has helped.

Overall, Good Todo includes all of the features I think are most important in a to do list, the price is right, and the customer service is excellent.  I highly recommend Good Todo to anyone looking for an online to do list.