Times like these remind me why I was not born on the prairie. I’m a pop culture addict with a Nook that’s out of battery and a laptop with one hour of battery, but no Internet connection and tons of Netflix shows to watch to kill time but no way to watch them.
I’m sitting in a dark apartment after a newly lifted tornado warning and all I have is a tiny flashlight and no power. I’m at an utter loss as to how I’m going to entertain myself with no electricity.
This might shock you, but I’m no fan of “Survivor.” I don’t want to be out in the wild with no “Dr. Who” to watch while I eat dinner. And I’d prefer my dinner was already skinned and cooked before I see it, thank you very much.
If the power doesn’t come back on tonight, I’m thinking of some ways to make the time pass by.
1. Gather all of the tenants in my apartment complex and act out “Game of Thrones.” I will decline to play Eddard Stark as I don’t feel like being decapitated, but I am willing to play spunky and athletic Arya Stark. Don’t ask my to play Sansa. Ever. Maybe we’ll get through two or three books by the time the power returns — or maybe their suspicions will be confirmed that I am the weird one in the building. Considering I wore my Darth Vader T-shirt down to the basement during the tornado warning, I’m guessing they already know.
2. Reorganize my DVDs. Forget alphabetical order. I’ll attempt to arrange my DVDs in hierarchy of awesomeness. I’ll develop a point system based on most excellent plot, best mysteries and hottest guys.
3. Pop culture workout. I’ll do a pushup for every “Lord of the Rings” character I can name and two crunches for every line from the movie I can recite. Then, just for kicks, I’ll turn my apartment into an Orc battlefield and save Middle Earth. Again, sorry neighbors. This is what happens when Mother Nature interferes with my pop culture intake.
— Brenna McDermott
My neighbors probably don’t enjoy the sci-fi sounds every single day after work, but they probably don’t like the sounds they’ve heard from “Lost,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “True Blood” or any other sci-fi, fantasy or nonsense I’ve marathoned over the years.
I’ve been putting off a good marathon for the past few months because it takes deep commitment. Watching “The West Wing” all the way through at the end of 2012 distracted me from doing dishes, doing laundry and basically being a clean and responsible person. So as much as I love marathoning on a beloved TV series, I was hesitant.
You’re making a commitment to be hooked on a single show for months at a time. You’re missing your other TV shows and you’re focusing your energy on a single, useless project: and I’m addicted.
The first show I marathoned was “Buffy,” when TV series were first coming out on DVD. They were so darn expensive that I would get one season for my birthday and one for Christmas each year. It took me three and a half years to amass my collection, with lots of waiting in between, perfect for rewatching. Angel or Spike? Spike or Angel? Will Buffy ever have a bad hair day? I loved going all in on something that got me as excited about popular culture as “Buffy” did.
Netflix makes it simple, now. No more rewatching for a while, now that dozens and dozens of shows are at my fingertips. In some ways it has spoiled me. Why watch a new TV series as it comes out? Let time be the judge of whether it is worth watching and I’ll add it to my instant queue.
I’m mid season three on “Doctor Who” and after that I’ll probably take a break to go to the grocery store and clean out my car, but I’ve no doubt I’ll get the itch again soon. “Breaking Bad”? “Sons of Anarchy?” Not sure yet. But I’ll be back for more great TV in ridiculous quantities.
So I got overexcited when they hadn’t seen the 2013 film yet when I was home for a visit. Watch this amazing three-hour movie — again? You bet!
Sure, they wanted to see the movie. But I don’t think they wanted to see the many YouTube videos I insisted they sit through before sitting down to this marathon of a movie. They didn’t giggle with glee at “They’re taking the Hobbits to Isengard” the way I do each time I hear the compilation.
“They’re taking the Hobbits to Isengard-gard-gard-ga-ga-ga-gard!” No, they didn’t really get that. They seemed bored with my daily rehearsed Smeagol/Gollum voice. And by the time I started singing the songs from “The Hobbit.” I think they were seriously reconsidering parental rights.
But watch the film we did, and in the end, my stepdad Tim said, “Well … what happens next?” in a frustrated voice. I then informed him he had two more films to find out … but he had to wait a few more months for the next installment. The genuine interest in his voice was all the enthusiasm I needed to break into another round of Gollum impressions. I have to keep them primed for the next film. They might never join the fandom, but they’ll at least put up with my obsession. What more can you ask of family? And I consider it my duty as a daughter to force awesome things upon them — and hope that they’ll be humming along to at least one of my Dwarf songs.
— Brenna McDermott
If you’re not familiar, the peplum is the pouf of an extra layer of fabric that sits anywhere between the natural waistline and the hips of dresses, tops and skirts, meant to accentuate or create an hourglass figure.
I believe the peplum will go down in history as one of those hall-of-fame bad trends, right up there with jelly shoes, ombre hair and those scary backwards heels Lady Gaga wears. Because the peplum doesn’t so much make my figure enhanced as it makes me feel like I’m wearing those bubble snow pants: excess bulk.
Call me vain, but I’m not going to wear something that I think makes me look wider in my midsection. So when I try on a dress that has not one, but two layers of fabric covering my abdomen and/or hips, I’m feeling a little bulky. Aren’t women supposed to look trim in the middle? Isn’t the feminine figure depicted in art and literature dating back to the beginning of time supposed to have a small waist? So why are we covering ours up?
Several Facebook rants have shown me I am not alone on this matter: women I know of all shapes and sizes feel the peplum trend doesn’t work for them. If the point of the peplum is to accentuate a woman’s curves, why aren’t designers just creating dresses with flattering shapes that will show off a woman’s actual dimensions, rather than hiding a woman’s figure behind what look like those things kids wear on their arms when learning to swim? If I fall into a lake, will my peplums inflate?
Does a nice peplum ruffle look good on the runway? Sure! Models with perfect bodies can pull off those jelly shoes, too. But for the average woman, the peplum isn’t doing us any favors.
Is this an intentional thing? Do fashion designers put out products to make me feel like I’m not good enough to pull the peplum off? Sometimes I walk through racks and I look at a skirt and can’t think of a single friend who that skirt would look flattering on. Do they intend for me to look longingly at the peplum, wishing I could look as fabulous as the models do in the extra yard of fabric? My bum doesn’t need any extra fabric, thank you. It is large enough on its own.
When all we want are clothes that flatter our figures, why do dresses like the peplum exist, which can only flatter perfect figures?
Or maybe the peplum is not a tool of oppression, merely a trend I don’t care for. Maybe it isn’t meant to make women more sensitive about an area of the body we’re already sensitive about. But I do think it is important for us to consider the clothing options we’re given. Just because a trend exists, doesn’t mean it is right for me or for you, and it doesn’t mean we should jump on and be all-peplum all the time. We’ve all participated in trends we wish we hadn’t. Maybe this should be the one we veto, until designers find a more effective way to flatter the figure.
– Brenna McDermott
But when it happens to you once, it is awesome. I kind of had that exact same reputation in college — for my karaoke skills. And by skills, I mean my drive to sing songs in front of people no matter how bad I sounded or how much they wanted me to get off stage.
I assume celebrities sometimes get recognized when they’re in the bathroom of some swanky restaurant. Miss People’s-Choice-Award-Winner washes her hands and looks up at the mirror to see three grown women gawking at her. That sounds like a terrible experience when it happens to you every time you have to go to the bathroom.
I was washing my hands at one of my favorite college bars when I heard someone say, “You’re that karaoke girl. You sing ‘Bennie and the Jets,’ right?” I swelled with pride as apparently my reputation had preceded me.
“Yes I am,” I replied. “I’m sorry.”
Karaoke is one of my favorite things of all time. I will not let an opportunity to sing Elton John pass me by, as I figure life is too short to not belt “Philadelphia Freedom” for all the world to hear.
Now, I want to be clear. I’m great at karaoke. I am not great at singing. But the way I see it, my blossoming career as a karaoke artist has almost nothing to do with my singing skills — karaoke is all about confidence, performance quality and song choice.
Confidence can come in liquid form or straight from the heart. Most of the time, I don’t go belting songs as I walk down the street. I accidentally dialed my boss while singing my heart out to Lily Allen, and trust me, that was worse than singing karaoke naked. I don’t go around thinking I’m a great singer when I’m not, but I feel confident that when I get up on stage I’m going to be just good enough that I don’t get booed off stage.
Performance quality is also known as the x-factor — that certain something that is so captivating it distracts the audience from how the person actually sounds. Some pop singers use outrageous clothes, non-stop dance or pyrotechnics to distract. I use my raw, unbridled enthusiasm for what I’m doing. I’m not just singing the words. In that moment, I am the song. The song is me. I am Bennie, the Jets and that mohair suit together. I can convince you that you read about me in a magazine. I move, I use facial expressions, I perform. You ears might not like me, but your eyes are captivated. You’re witnessing a Grammy-winning karaoke performance.
Finally, song choice can make or break a routine. I’m no fool: I don’t use Whitney, Mariah, Christina, Queen, Heart or anything anyone on American Idol has ever managed to screw up. I meet my low expectations with songs that don’t force me to belt the high notes. The more monotone the song, the better I sound. There will be no Star Spangled Banner, because you can’t lip sync in karaoke. Nice and simple, nice and easy. And I’m a superstar.
— Brenna McDermott
His green shirt means he is Irish! Shh!
I don’t spend many hours per day thinking about the things I learned in high school English. Symbolism is like the greatest thing ever, as I learned in film class (Hello, Rosebud!) but I don’t usually draft press releases with symbolism hidden in the material.
Press releases are pretty straightforward, the basic who, what, when, where and why.
That’s why our latest book club book, “Swamplandia!”, was such a fun escape for me.
Karen Russell’s first novel, “Swamplandia!” tells the story of the Bigtree clan and their alligator-wrestling amusement park. The main character is Scout Finch-esque Ava Bigtree, a prodigy alligator wrestler forced to go on a dangerous adventure to save her family.
One of the things I enjoyed most about “Swamplandia!” was being challenged to dig out my skills from my short time as an English major and uncover what was hidden in
1 onion, diced
This entry in my recipe for pulled pork stopped me in my tracks. Sure, I can rinse an onion. Peel an onion skin? Sure thing! But dice a whole onion? That sounds like advanced cable food channel nonsense. I’m cooking in a slow cooker. I’m the laziest kind of chef. I want to put everything in a pot and go about my business for 10 or 12 hours.
I don’t want to dice an onion anymore than I want to braise a leg of lamb. And yes, I had to look up what braising was just now. I’m a slow cooker gal, recipe inventors! I don’t have the first clue how to dice an onion.
So I did what any tech-addicted 24 year old would do. I Googled that nonsense.
I’m glad I did, because I probably would have just started cutting it up in an awkward way with my sad, twice handed-down knives. Is there a certain kind of knife I’m supposed to be using? Because dull ones aren’t working. Are there any other kinds?
I found plenty of YouTube videos, but I thought maybe it wasn’t a good idea to hold a knife and watch a video at the same time. So I settled on a nice wiki page — How to dice an onion. For dummies, the website screamed at me inside my head.
I followed the directions — but even direction followers aren’t guaranteed a perfect onion. I cut the onion in half, placed one half down and made slices almost all the way to the middle of the onion half, just like the directions told me. People, I’m a devout rule follower — I was reading and rereading the directions, really I was. Then I turned the onion and cut it horizontally across my previous vertical cuts.
AND CHAOS ENSUED.
Onion slices. Everywhere. Onion slices on the floor, onion slices in the sink, onion slices flying up and smacking me on the head as if to mock me. “You’ve failed, Brenna,” the onion slices said. “Try dicing us now!”
Instead of having little tiny diced pieces, I had long, thick strips of onion that were making me cry, both because of the smell and because of my internal heartache at my basic culinary failure.
I then was forced to cut each individual onion strip into tiny pieces. It seemed there were swarms of onion strips. The dicing would never end, it seemed. So I got mad and dumped a bunch of onion strips in the slow cooker. Perhaps this is why the finished product tasted so oniony.
The lazy slow cooker part of me wants to be a little container of diced onions for next time. Slow cooker part of me doesn’t like to do things she isn’t good at — easier to just give up and buy an onion chopper or let the grocery store dice my onions and overcharge me. Right? … Right?!
But that would cost money and flavor — who knows how long those onion pieces would have been sitting before I used them? Who knows how much vacation money I would invest in pre-diced onion?
I could give up, but I’ve come so far already. I purchased a slow cooker. I purchased a recipe book that I’ve looked through more than once. What’s an onion dicing now and then, right? Tedious and hard on my eyeball moistness, sure. But I’m probably going to sacrifice flavor without a homemade diced onion of my own.
I posted my shame on Facebook and a friend reminded me that Julia Child started out the same way. This led to a 10-minute interlude of me practicing my Julia Child voice, but then some insight after that.
Everyone starts out being a crappy onion dicer. But I don’t have to end up that way. I could end up a middle-of-the-road onion dicer — and maybe that would lead to being a mediocre pepper slicer and a C average corn husker — and I basically am Julia Child at that point.
So watch out onions and be prepared hospital emergency rooms — because I’m going to either give the onion another go and cut my finger off or buy those flavorful pieces in a plastic container and pretend like I diced them myself like a pro. Or maybe I should hunt down the onion dicer at the grocery store and ask for a lesson…
— Brenna McDermott
Whether because of my own ego or sheer naiveté, I never thought one of my book suggestions would be so bad half the group wouldn’t finish it.
I went to our first book club meeting with four or five or six suggestions for books I’ve wanted to read but just never got around to buying. I wanted to be a helpful book club member, not a slacker who came in without a suggestion.
(Note — because I’m not a book critic and because I want you to think I’m a nice person, I’m not going to actually name the book here — but maybe you’ll see another blog entry one of these days reviewing it.)
In defense of my taste in books, we drew a title from a hat. Sure, I had saturated the options with McDermott-approved choices, because I submitted four to every one else’s one suggestion, but technically it wasn’t my fault. It was the hat’s. It was luck’s. But not mine.
The book started off entertaining — I was enjoying it, as a matter of fact. But then I ran into a book club member. She said maybe it was meant for a certain type of person. Okay, I thought, just not for her.
Then the bad reviews poured in. A few were just uninterested and a few people actively disliked the book. Many didn’t finish it. I liked the book, I guess, but it was a disappointment.
How does one get rid of the guilt that comes with suggesting a book everyone hates? My book club mates purchased the book and they didn’t like it! So I’m not just responsible for a waste of time, but also a waste of money.
They were all kind about it — it isn’t your fault, they said. It sounded like a good book, otherwise we wouldn’t have let it be an option. But the guilt continued.
And here’s the end result: It will be many months before I suggest a book again. I’m a book coward. I’ll let others suggest titles because I’m embarrassed by my poor choice in a book — it could happen to anyone, you say, but it happened to me. For shame, Brenna. For shame.
So for a while, I’ll enjoy reading other people’s suggestions and judging them accordingly. On the outside, I’ll be kind, because I know how it feels to suggest a crappy title. On the inside, I’ll feel relief to have someone else in the club.
And when the time comes that I do suggest another title, I’ll be sure to use online reviews as part of my suggestion.
Is a book club supposed to be this high-pressure? This cutthroat? Or am I just so full of guilt that I’m imagining those dirty looks from my book club mates? Can one die from book club shame? And what is the cure?
I’ll have to suggest a ringer. A book so good, no one will be able to say they didn’t like it. It will be my power suggestion. I’ll keep searching for that perfect book suggestion and hope no one else suggests it first. Otherwise, I might have to pretend like I hate it, just to make myself feel better. Book club isn’t the place to be nice — it is the place to not be the worst book recommender.
– Brenna McDermott
I didn’t count on the fact that there was an adult waiting at home — me. What a downer.
I was giddy when school, I mean work, was called off Thursday afternoon and all day Friday due to snow. My first grown-up snow day — what a wonderful notion. No adults to give me chores, no to-do lists, just relaxing at home.
I stretched out on my couch and watched the downpour outside on my porch. “Ha, Mother Nature,” I thought to myself. “Thanks for the free day!”
One hour later, I was cleaning out my home desk and reorganizing my sticky notes. Darn it, snow — you haven’t given me a free day at all.
It felt strange to sit at home on a Thursday afternoon with nothing to do, no progress, no work, no assignments. I could say I didn’t enjoy the lounging — I really, really did. But the guilt. Oh, the guilt. Lists of things to do around the house started forming in my mind. Dishes to do, laundry to wash, paintings to hang and boxes to clean out from when I moved here a year ago. I thought I was escaping bosses when I left work, but I was bossing myself at home.
Yep, I guess that means I’m an adult. Sure, I watched my fair share of TV the last few days, but I felt a responsibility to take care of my apartment since I had the free time, not to mention unburying my car from the drifts. I could have napped all day (as opposed to the two-hour nap I took) but instead I folded clothes and took the trash out.
I enjoyed being productive, though. If I’d laid around all day, sure I would have enjoyed being lazy, but in the back of my head I would have been thinking about my clogged drain and unmatched socks sitting in my bottom drawer. I got all those socks matched by the way. I’d call that a victory. So bring it on, snow days. I’ll play ball — bring me another foot of snow and I’ll have my DVDs organized in alphabetical order and my floors waxed.
— Brenna McDermott
Six students from Northeast Missouri competed at the Hannibal Arts Council, six young ladies who had incredible guts and incredible brain cells to perform classic stanzas of poetry from writers like Poe, Faulkner and Angelou.
I had the pleasure of judging a Poetry Out Loud competition last week at the Hannibal Arts Council. Poetry Out Loud is a national competition from the National Endowment for the Arts which encourages high schools students to learn about poetry through memorization and recitation. Last year, more than 365,000 students in the United States competed.
The students performed some beautiful pieces of poetry with finesse, with understanding and with poise well beyond their years — I was blown away by all of them and I loved that they had to learn three different poems to perform — they weren’t just reciting this poetry, they had to dig into the meaning of each phrase, of each word. They had to practice tone and volume and eye contact. They had to be vulnerable in front of a room full of strangers. Those six students gained more from a poetry contest than I thought possible. I was proud to simply be in the room.
My wonderful morning with Poetry Out Loud reminded me why the arts are so crucial for all of us, not just those of us still in school. Those kids learned skills vital to success not only in school, but in the professional and social worlds they’ll have to navigate. The arts teach us how to interact with others and how to understand ourselves. I wish I had known about the program when I was in high school — I see its value on the faces of each one of those students who stood proudly at the Arts Council and never looked scared for a second. Best Tuesday morning I’ve ever had.