Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best Songs of the Decade

I got this idea last weekend when I was out running. A great song came on my IPod and I thought to myself that it might be the best song of the past decade (turns out the song is 15 years old, oh well). So I figured I'd make a top ten list. Problem is that I can't figure out what criteria to use or even if I should use the same criteria every year. And I feel like I should mention the best 1-2 dozen songs of the year out of the 2000 or so that are released every year. But then this blog would be long and unwieldy so I'm going to try to be as brief as I can:

2000- Babylon by David Gray. Great lyrics. Great sound. Very different than anything else that was out at the time. Pretty surprised that it became so main stream and popular. Honorable mention to Ms. Jackson by Outkast and Stanby Eminem.

2001- Izzo (H.O.V.A.)by Jay-Z. Very catchy song. Great beat. Good for dancing, working out or just driving in the car. Introduced a whole new slang to the general public. Honorable mention to No More Drama by Mary J. Blige and I Can Only Imagine by Mercy Me (I know, it kills me to admit it but that song still gets crazy radio play and is extremely catchy. I really liked it until I realized I was singing about Jesus).

2002- Three Wooden Crosses by Randy Travis. Like many country songs it has a great story and there's a moral. Still on of my favorites. Honorable mention to Your Body is a Wonderland by John Mayer and I Can by Nas (who inspired this whole blog with one of his hits from the 90's).

2003- What a fantastic year for music. Kanye West Through the Wire or Jesus Walks are equally deserving for first place. It's nice to hear a hip-hop song with good lyrics and an original sound. Honorable mentions to Luther Vandross Dance with My Father and John Mayer Daughters, two great songs that make you want to hug your parents/kids. And to Jet Are You Gonna Be My Girl and The White Stripes Seven Nation Army, two songs that rock from two innovative bands.

2004- Because of You by Kelly Clarkson had the best lyrics of the year and she proved that she could write her own lyrics and break through the inane American Idol pop image and prove herself to be a great artist. Even though Skin by Rascal Flatts has lyrics as good as Clarkson's song she gets the nod because she wrote hers. My Chemical Romance proved that they weren't just for 14 year olds who like to wear eyeliner with Helena and I'm Not Ok. And the Killers and Los Lonely Boys put out songs so unique and catchy that they're still played in heavy rotation (Mr. Brightside and Heaven, respectively).

2005- It's a tie between Jesus Take the Wheel by Carrie Underwood and Gold Digger by Kanye West. Honorable mention to Jack Johnson for Better Together and all the booty shaking club hits from the Black Eyed Peas and Mariah Carey.

2006- Welcome back R & B! Jennifer Hudson's rendition of And I am Telling You along with her Oscar winning performance in Dreamgirls was a fantastic FU to the idiots from American Idol. That song just gives me chills when it's sung well. Ne-Yo brought back the heart ache and the pain that is the R & B ballad with So Sick and Sexy Love. Honorable mention to Ok Go for the most creative video in a long time for Here it Goes Again, Gnarls Barley for the most creative debut sound ever with Crazy and to booty shaking hits from the Scissor Sisters, Justin Timberlake, Busta Rhymes and Christina Aquilera.

2007- Thanks to Brad Paisley for keeping country light with I'm Still a Guy and Ticks. He's been doing it for years but these two are just great. Another great "I love myself" anthem from Mary J. Blige with Just Fine. Paper Planes from M.I.A. brought her unique sound to the mainstream and Love Is a Beautiful Thing from Phil Vassar gave us a wedding song that didn't make you want to jump off a bridge.

2008- Mrs. Officer from Lil Wayne is hilarious. I find myself smiling, singing and dancing every time it comes on the radio. Don't Think I Don't Think About It and a whole album of quality country music from Darius Rucker. It's the first time since Charlie Pride that a black American was topping the mainstream country charts and selling out concerts. Honorable mention to Poker Face and Paperazzi from Lady Gaga, who clearly doesn't care what people think of her, and to Coldplay and R.E.M. for coming back to their roots.

2009- Hats off to Susan Boyle for I Dreamed a Dream because every time you hear her sing you think of her Cinderella story. 1901 from Phoenix and The Great Defector from BellX1 prove that even though American alternative music has become repetitive teenage pop, Europe still has a lot of talented, unique bands. And to Miley Cyrus. Not for that mind-numbing "Party in the USA" but for "The Climb". Many people that I know didn't even realize that it was her until they'd already starting liking the song. This is proof that after she's done being Hannah Montana, goes through rehab and makes a sex tape, she can come out the other side as a legitimate artist and not just another "Where Are They Now?".

So what I learned through all my Internet searching is that Rolling Stone, Spin and all the other so-called music experts filled their lists with a lot of pop drivel and with multiple bands that sound almost identical. I also learned that there is a lot of music out there that I have never heard and that this completely subjective list is in no way thorough or complete. Bring on the criticism.

Monday, December 28, 2009

New Airline Restrictions

I'm getting pretty aggravated with all the changes that have taken place over the past few years and the ones that are being proposed for air travel. It would be one thing if all these restrictions prevented a terrorist attack but they don't.

Let's see, you can't bring deodorant and bottle of water on a plane any more because any liquid or gel bigger than 4 oz might be an explosive. Ok, so I have to put all that in my checked baggage which I now have to pay $25 to check. And I of course have the option of buying snacks from any one of the airport restaurants that are waiting for me past the security gate. Never mind that everything is at least 30% more expensive that it would be at your local grocery store. It just seems like a racket to me.

Now they are proposing to limit usage of portable electronic devices on flights. Did I miss the news report where the terrorist set off a bomb with his IPhone, laptop or mp3 player? The other proposal that I've heard is that passengers aren't going to be able to walk around the cabin during the last hour of an international flight. Well that's fine. They can just blow up the plane earlier. Is it me or do these restrictions have nothing to do with the incidents that have happened?

The U.S. Embassy in Nigeria had been notified that this guy was a potential threat and they didn't put them on a watch list or suspend his Visa. So he hopped on a plane and tried to blow it up. Why isn't anyone focusing on what's wrong with our intelligence system instead of enacting more restrictions which wouldn't have prevented this incident?

This guy had the explosives sewn into the waistband of his underwear and a syringe with the igniting chemical taped to his thigh. None of these things were detected with our existing security infrastucture or with any of the ones that have been proposed. Now if this guy would have flown out of Seattle where they have a full body scanner at the check in, he would have been caught. The scanner would have noticed an anomaly on the scan and he would have been taken away for a strip search.

But he didn't fly out of Seattle because he probably made sure that the he flew out of an airport with limited security restrictions. Only a handful of airports have the body scanning technology because it is expensive and because civil liberties groups have protested that it would be an invasion of privacy. First of all, these scanners are not x-ray vision. You do not see a nude image of the person in front of you on the screen. A generic human body shows up with indicators of where any anomalies exist. Second of all, if a TSA gets to look at every one's business all day but catches the next idiot who tries to blow up a plane, I'm okay with that. My life is a lot more important to me than my modesty. I would think the cost of human lives would outweigh the cost of these scanners in the minds of airlines, civil liberties groups and the government.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Me and the Girl Scouts

I am currently reading Jen Lancaster's latest book "Pretty in Plaid". Lancaster is one of my favorite authors because she humorously reminisces about her life. It's a memoir and a comedy/self-help book all rolled into one. This book focuses on how Lancaster developed her sense of style when she was a young child. She talks about being a Girl Scout and wanting to have tons of badges on her sash to spice up her uniform. She forged her mom's signature on several check lists to pretend like she had completed all of these badges and presented them to her troop leader. Even though her troop leader suspected that she was lying she gave her the patches. Eventually, Lancaster feels guilty about lying and starts earning some of the patches that she has lied to get.

I was a Girl Scout for six years. I was a Brownie for two years, then a Junior for three years and a Cadette for 1 year. In addition to being a Girl Scout, I attended 4-H camp with my school for 9 years. Usually the camping, crafts and wilderness survival tasks that we did in 4-H were much more challenging than those that we did in Girl Scouts. I don't think I ever liked Girl Scouts because I found very few girls that I had things in common with and I found a lot of the troop leaders to be rude and cliquey. Most of the girls went to public school together so they knew each other outside of Girl Scouts and their parents knew each other too. My mom worked full time, was a caregiver for my father and was raising my brother who was 5 years younger than me. She didn't have time to volunteer so she rarely came to many of the events. Because I went to private school I had a completely different group of friends than the other girls in my troop. I was also the only black girl in every troop I was ever in. That would not have been a big deal if I bonded with the girls but because I already felt like an outsider it only made me feel more excluded.

My mom loved the Girl Scouts. She thought it was a great organization. I think she secretly hoped that by hanging out with a bunch of girls that I would have more girl friends and be interested in doing more girl things. That definitely didn't happen. I wasn't allowed to quit the Girl Scouts until I switched over from private school to public school in 7th grade. I had to do one year as a Cadette and if I still didn't like it I could quit. That last year was brutal. I was getting used to public school and making friends and was embarrassed that I was still a Girl Scout at the age of 12. It was such a goody-goody prissy image that I didn't want to project. I definitely acted out in school to overcompensate for the Girl Scout stigma.

I have a number of awkward and unhappy memories from my years in the Girl Scouts. But the memory that sticks out the most in my mind is of my time as a Junior. I diligently completed 9 patches on summer vacation one year. My mom quizzed me on the checklists and looked at my projects to make sure that I had done everything required before she signed off on my patches. I presented my book to my troop leader at the end of the summer and she accused me of being a liar and said that I had not followed the correct procedure to get these badges. I had done everything like I had always done it and like the other girls in my troop did it. I couldn't wrap my little 10 year old brain around what I had done wrong. I was devastated. I never told my mom what happened. I'd like to believe that she would have done something about it but I can't be sure. After that my hatred for Girl Scouts grew exponentially. I had a big chip on my shoulder and put forth the least amount of effort with the most attitude at most Girl Scout events. Any fond memories that I had of Girl Scouts were erased from my memory.

I think that at some point my troop leader spoke to my mom and told her that Girl Scouts wasn't right for me. My mom hinted at this but never said it out right. I think that's why she gave me an out after 7th grade. She thought that maybe once I became a Cadette and had a new troop leader and met new girls that I would love it but I didn't and quit immediately after serving my one year sentence.

Looking back on it now its hard to imagine that race didn't play a role in the troop leader's decision to deny me the badges. If she thought I was lying why not talk to my mom? Had she done this to other girls? It didn't look like it; all my peers had several more badges than I did. It was so embarrassing at events that I looked like a new or lazy Girl Scout because my sash was so empty. Did she talk to other girls' moms and recommend that their daughters quit? Maybe it was the combination of being black and in the upper middle class that bothered her. Maybe she wanted to send her kids to private school and couldn't afford it. Maybe it had nothing to do with race at all and she just didn't like me. I don't know how you could become a troop leader in charge of helping young girls develop in well rounded women and intentionally kill the spirit of one girl.

I hadn't thought about that in years but just reading that passage in the book reminded me of it. It's amazing how a memory that you have completely forgotten can come back to you in such vivid detail with the right trigger.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Christmas Eve

I have always loved Christmas but I have grown to love it even more since I met my husband. When I was a kid, Christmas was much more hectic than it is now. I appreciate the freedom of Christmas now that I look back at the Christmases of my youth.

My brother and I were not allowed to wake our parents up until 7 am on Christmas Day. We were so excited to open our presents that we usually stayed up past midnight and woke up before 6 am. Since we weren't allowed to go downstairs where the presents were, we spent this time playing video games in my brother's room. Even well into my teens I can remember sleeping on the floor in my brother's room on Christmas Eve. We of course had to sleep in the same room to make it fair. If one of us woke up before the other and the other one decided to sneak downstairs that would ruin the day for us.

After opening all our presents, we had a huge breakfast and enjoyed all our new gifts. We spent most of the day in our pajamas watching Christmas movies and eating junk food. Late afternoon we got dressed up and packed the car for the one hour drive to my grandmother's house.

There are a lot of relatives on my mother's side of the family so it wasn't out of the ordinary for 30+ people to squeeze into my grandmother's 1500 square foot townhouse. This part of Christmas was annoying as a kid because all these people that you only saw every once in a while were in your business. They were asking tons of questions and making stupid jokes that proved how little they knew about you. As a kid all you could do was stew (unless you wanted to mouth off and risk getting a spanking) as your distant relatives talked about you like you weren't there. The day wasn't all bad though. The food was always fantastic, you got to hang out with some of your relatives that you actually liked and didn't get to see very often and, most importantly, more presents. My brother usually fell asleep in a food coma on the drive home while my mom and I bitched about our family (Thanksgiving generally went the same way except we didn't get any presents).

Christmas changed as I got older. My senior year of high school I spent two weeks in Germany to visit a friend of mine who had moved away because her dad was in the Army. I opened my presents the first week of January when I got home. My family hadn't opened the gifts that I had given them so we all opened presents on that makeshift Christmas. It was nice to be home but none of the Christmas magic was there.

The following year I went away to college. I was home for three weeks over Christmas between semesters. Both my brother and I had found our independence during my time away and me being home was a big adjustment for both of us. I remember my brother sneaking out on Christmas Eve and going out drinking and smoking pot with his friends. When I went in his room at 6:45 am to see if he was ready to go downstairs to open presents I found a very hung over, half-stoned brother with little interest in Christmas. It made me a little sad because I had been reminiscing over my memories of all the great Christmases that we had enjoyed when we were kids and the reality of this new Christmas just didn't measure up to my expectations.

I quickly realized that losing the morning Christmas ritual wasn't such a big deal. My brother and I were too old to worry about getting spanked so we enjoyed talking back to our relatives and correcting them when they made their stupid comments. The drives home were a lot more fun because my brother joined my mother and I in our relative bashing. We spent a lot of hours laughing until we cried once we had escaped from our relatives to the freedom of the highway. Christmas as an adult is great because if you are subjected to someones bullshit you can tell them they are full of shit without ruining the day.

Up until I moved to New York in 2005, I lived within three hours of my relatives or was home from college for several weeks at a time so travel wasn't an issue. My relatives are now at least 6 hours away. Traveling is much more difficult and has to be planned well in advance. The 200 inches of snow that we get every year makes it dangerous to travel in the winter so after my first year here I just stopped doing it.

My husband's relatives are spread out over several states so it wasn't uncommon for him to go 3 or more years without seeing many of them. Because his mother was sick for much of his life, he spent Christmas at home with her and the relatives came to them. She passed away in early 2006 and he moved to New York in the fall of 2006. He had rarely traveled for the holidays in the past and saw no reason to start now.

Having a husband who has no desire to deal with all the stress of traveling on the holidays and putting up with family is a beautiful thing. This is one thing that we have always been on the same page about. While he sees his relatives a lot more now that he's with me we always travel outside of the holidays when flights are cheaper, the weather is nice and it more convenient for our schedule.

Our traditions:

Thanksgiving Day morning hike with the dog followed by a big breakfast at a home and a trip to the movie theater. I make a big dinner for just the two of us with all of our Thanksgiving favorites. I go shopping early the next morning and he goes to work.

Christmas Eve open stockings and go to the movie theater and have dinner out. Christmas Day open presents, take the dog for a long walk and then come back home. Christmas dinner at a friends house or at home alone.

New Years Eve dinner out, maybe a little dancing. Fall asleep a little tipsy soon after midnight if not before. New Year's Day college football, hot chocolate and general gluttony.

Happy Holidays Everyone.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Where is My Pond?

I will admit that I have always been a big fish in a small pond. I was never popular on a large scale. No one voted me to be anything in my yearbook. In my school of 2000+ people a lot of people probably didn't know who I was. But within my small cliques I was the top dog. Up until 7th grade I attended small private schools. I was very outgoing and enjoyed being the center of attention. I was downright obnoxious most of the time but I loved the attention that I received. Even when I switched to a different private school for 6th grade it didn't take me long to establish myself as the alpha there as well.

Things changed when I started going to public school. There were hundreds of kids any many of them had known each other since nursery school. I didn't know anyone and I felt like I had nothing in common with these people. But it didn't take me long to realize that through smaller group activities I could be the center of attention again. Through music, sports and clubs I was able to once again be the big fish. The transition from intermediate school to high school was fairly easy. All of my friends from intermediate school went to my high school. My circle of friends continued to grow through my involvement in extracurricular activities. I loved a lot of things about high school. It was great for my self esteem and made my already over sized ego grow even bigger.

For college I went to a school that none of my friends were going to. I was two states away from home and everything that was familiar to me. I was very homesick at first but by the end of the week cliques had formed in my dorm and I was the big fish again. I really came into my own sophomore year when I became involved in a lot of extracurricular activities. College was even better than high school. By the end of college I knew who I was and had the confidence to go out and start my adult life. With every move after that I was able to maintain the same social success. My entire social life developed from friends that I made in sports or at work. Even though I always started at the same place (new town, no friends)I always managed to develop a great social life. But New York has been different.

For the past 5 years I have essentially worked from home and I have not found a karate school in my style or other sports group near me. I have no opportunities to make friends. I have tried different groups here but nothing leads anywhere. I'm proud of myself for putting the effort out and actually leaving the house but sometimes I feel lonelier when I'm among other people than I do when I'm at home alone. Sitting in the back of Zumba class watching everyone chatting with each other and feeling completely invisible makes me feel very embarrassed and small. I don't like that feeling. At least when I'm home no one is watching me and thinking "Why doesn't that girl have any friends?" or some of the more damaging thoughts that come into my head when I'm feeling sorry for myself.

When I first moved to New York, my old friends were super excited when I came back into town. There would be a dozen people waiting to go out to dinner with me and hang out. People also came up to New York to visit me a couple times a year. We would go out dancing and party like old times. Over the years, I have lost touch with many of my old friends. The few that I still associate with seem to be busy when I come into town. I usually end of eating by myself and hanging out in my hotel room. Or worse, when they are available the night out doesn't live up to my expectations. We seem to have less in common and a lot more awkward moments. We never have as good a time as I remembered us having in the past. When I first moved to New York I was excited that I had to travel to Pennsylvania regularly for meetings and conferences. It was a great way to catch up with people without dipping into my own money. But now its just a reminder of how much things have changed.

Okay, so I'm done feeling sorry for myself. I have to believe that at some point one of the activities that I try will lead to me having a social life. I have to try harder and step outside my comfort zone more. I don't have to be the queen bee again but it would be nice to at least belong to a hive.