1. What forms of media consumption do you pay for? You know, I’m really only paying for internet. I also pay for almost all books I read–the ones I don’t are loaners–and DVDs of TV shows or movies I love enough to want to own.
  2. When did you last read a physical newspaper? Someone leaves them out in the little break area at work and in the kitchen, so I’ll usually at least glance at headlines when they’re out. Other than that I have no idea. Maybe years ago?
  3. What percentage of your television consumption is watched live as it’s broadcast, versus on-demand, via recording, or some other stored or streamed medium? I watch almost zero live TV. I don’t have cable, so if I’m watching live TV, I’m doing it at someone else’s house. And my parents have a DVR now, so that’s really unlikely. Sometimes–and by that I mean almost exclusively during hockey season–I’ll find online streams of live broadcasts. Everything else, especially right now, is almost exclusively Netflix.
  4. What’s been the big local story in your area this week? It’s been a big story for closer to two weeks now, I think, and big enough that it made the Washington Post–a very large, alarming number of heroin overdoses, including a woman who overdosed in the bathroom of the Walgreen’s right across the street from me. Like, if I walk out the back door, I can see Walgreen’s. And her toddler was in a stroller in the stall with her, but the woman fortunately survived.
  5. What is the most recent thing you regretted clicking? Probably my Facebook news feed. I have some friends (and my dad, but he texts me this shit since I actually deleted him from Facebook) that seem to think that because of yesterday’s tragic shooting being done by a gay man, it makes total sense to compare the gay-pride rainbow flag to the Confederate flag. Because, you know, the gay-pride flag has been used in wars fighting for the right to enslave people so many times!

Booking Through Thursday: Travel

Do you like to read books about far-away places? Travel guides, memoirs, whatever? Places you’ve been? Or places you’ve never been?

I do! Including made-up places. I feel like I say this all the time with this meme, but I try not to dismiss any genre or subject matter–except for, like, that one time Paul’s brother recommended me a Glenn Beck book.

I’ve also talked about the fact that one of the things I love about both reading and writing is perspective. Reading about a place isn’t on the same level as traveling to it by any means, but it’s definitely a good way to learn about a place.

I don’t know that I’d say I read as an escape–I’ve always just read for the love of it and for a story, not so much to forget about or escape something, although I guess there’s an element of escapism to all entertainment. But reading about far-away places is a great way to mentally get away, too, especially if you’re like me and picture everything that’s described to you.

The catch is I’m not too into straight travel writing. It gets a bit dry for me, although I would like to pick up books on things like good places to visit in certain areas. Paul has his eye on a book listing the best hiking trails in the state, which could be fun and useful to have. But anything like that is gonna serve as a reference or coffee-table book for me.

Anything else, though? Sure. I always like memoir, and I’m a big fan of Jon Krakauer’s more journalistic style with books like Into Thin Air and Into the Wild. (Krakauer’s written other books that aren’t so rooted in place, and while I haven’t read them yet, I have bought every book he’s ever written.)

Of course, it’s always a little easier to picture a place you’re already familiar with, but the flip side is how neat it is to visit a place you’ve only read about.

I also love reading fiction set in Pennsylvania, especially the Pittsburgh area–it’s an area you don’t see a lot used as a setting in fiction, but it has a lot to offer. I mean, it’s not always good–I once read a book set in Fayette County that pretty accurately captured the sort of run-down, economically depressed nature of the place. I obviously don’t need a reminder of that, but it was still neat to see the place used.

And finally, my college professor once said I write really well about place. I obviously still take pride in that comment.

Camp Redtail: Day One

When I started packing for the weekend at camp with Terra, I was thinking of things to take with me to combat potential boredom–being out in the wilderness, essentially, this meant I ruled out things like my laptop, which normally goes traveling with me, and stuck to things like a book and a notebook. One to read (Lord of the Rings) and one to write.

In the end, I used neither. Didn’t need to.

We left Friday after work and met Terra at her house, then she jumped in our car with her dog, Lilly, and we followed her mom and her boyfriend in their car. It was a nice drive and Lilly’s a good companion, although I think Paul’s excitement to get out into the woods for a weekend started to get grating for Terra. Paul doesn’t show enthusiasm for much of anything, at least not in front of other people, and I think they’re not sure of what to make of him when they see him get excited because it’s so rare. And I get it. He was so calm early on in our relationship, and as he opened up and expressed more, seeing him be upbeat was weird. Even now, five years later, he can be a bit much if I’m not prepared.

Of course, he and I hadn’t really eaten dinner–he got stuck at work an hour later, like ya do only on days when your schedule doesn’t have room for you to get stuck for an hour. I actually packed his stuff for him and did my best not to say, “This is why you should’ve packed the night before,” but when I forgot a hoodie and his swim trunks, that was tough. In the meantime, I made a small bowl of angel-hair pasta, since it cooks in three minutes, and when he got home, we packed the car and left. Four or five hours later, angel hair wasn’t cutting it and he hadn’t eaten at all, so we stopped at a Sheetz to get some food. It ended up pretty much being the last trace of civilization we’d really see until going home Sunday.

Because we didn’t get in until after 9, Friday night was pretty tame. Terra took Paul and I for a walk into a meadow to stargaze, then we figured out sleeping arrangements. We were supposed to take the back bedroom of the family trailer, like we did when we first went up four years ago, but it was covered in dirt and one of the relative’s deer stands. Fortunately, one of the couches was a pull-out, so Paul and I slept on that while Terra and Lilly took the couch opposite it and her mom, Terri, and her boyfriend, Dave, took the only other functional bed.

Terra and I slept super late Saturday morning. Paul got up and did Tai Chi, Terri and Dave went fishing, and Terra stole Paul’s spot in bed and we slept a good extra four hours. When we got up, we went into town.

Town up at camp is small. We were camped on Terra’s family’s land, which they call Redtail, in a section of Clear Creek State Forest, just outside of, duh, Clear Creek State Park. There’s no cellphone service at camp, and it’s spotty in the areas around it (for this reason, I made sure my mom knew where we were, lest someone try to get in touch with either of us, fail to get a response, and assume we were dead). Most of the businesses are family-owned–they’re either small shops or gift shops, or they sell camping gear. Bigger areas are only maybe 15-30 minutes away tops, so it’s not like we’re totally deserted, but the area is independent enough that you feel pretty deserted. And strangely, it’s kind of nice–as much as I love my technology, I kind of enjoy being forced away from it. I’ve talked before about how it was sort of liberating to be stuck without a cellphone for a few weeks one winter, and I had the same feeling this time. Most of the people I’d hear from were with me, and most of the ones that weren’t knew they wouldn’t be able to get in touch with me. Checking anything on my phone was pretty pointless, so I couldn’t use it was a crutch if there was nothing else to do. It’s a good way to truly get away.

We hit the one proper-ish grocery store, Truman’s, for food. Paul and I had planned to buy some food on our way to Terra’s, but that obviously didn’t happen. I tossed some reasonable camping foods in a bag, of course, and while fruit and peanut butter–more on that later–is enough to sustain me, I knew Paul would starve, so we grabbed him some snacks. I also bought basically every form of salad one can get–potato, pasta, and macaroni. I may or may not have been already hungry at the time.

He and Terra also needed water shoes, which took some effort for him. Truman’s didn’t have his size, and one of the other camping stores only had super fancy $40 ones, which is ridiculous for just playing in a river. So we dropped the food off and visited some other stores.

Basically, Terra and I managed to go shopping in the fucking woods. The gift shops are all pretty cool and carry all sorts of things, from souvenir hoodies and shirts to jewelry. I mean, there’s knives and moccasins, incense burners and sculpted gemstones. I forgot a hoodie for myself, too, so I grabbed one, which was pretty much identical to Terra’s hoodie. It’s not my fault it was the cutest one in the store. We also found jewelry. Again, not my fault that the gift shop stocked really cute, nice silver jewelry–I got earrings and a ring. Paul did manage to find his water shoes, as well as a knife. Oh, and I bought a cute knit blanket that got added to the heap at bedtime.

Paul put up with us pretty well, but I knew he wasn’t crazy about, you know, shopping in the woods.

And we just hung out the rest of the evening. Someone left an old copy of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark or whatever in the bedroom, and we started reading from it. And we found ourselves criticizing the plot holes. And twisting the stories into tales of modern social issues. But we had fun. I mean, Terri and Dave overheard us from their spot on the porch, opened the door, and just kind of peered in with this “what the fuck are you saying” look, but we had fun.

We went for another walk to the meadow, and we sat around the campfire making marshmallows.

I didn’t read my book or write in my notebook because I was too busy hanging out with the people I was with and just enjoying their company and my surroundings.

And honestly? There are very few people I could spend a weekend with in a trailer in the woods.

Friday Five: Cure for What Ails Ya

I love these Cure-themed questions too much!

  1. What’s the greatest lovesong of all time? For once in my life, I actually have this narrowed down to two–Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” If I had to pick a song for a first dance for a wedding right this second, it would be one of those two. And I’d agonize over which one. Actually, Frankie might slightly edge out Elvis on this one.
  2. What’s in the background of the most recent two pictures of you? Trees and rocks! Paul and I went up to camp with Terra over the weekend, and she snapped pictures of us climbing rocks together. And now all my Facebook friends know how my ass looks in yoga pants.
  3. What was the primary cause of your most recent mishap? Ha ha. Okay, so, the aforementioned yoga pants don’t have pockets. Before our rock-climbing excursion, I went in the trailer for a hot minute to use some bug spray, and so as to have free hands and go quick, I tucked my phone into the waistband of my pants–which I’ve done plenty of times before, including on hikes at Ohiopyle. I sprayed the bug spray on my arms and rubbed it in while I walked. I could feel the phone wiggling loose while I walked and I knew it was going to fall, and my hands were still covered in bug spray so I didn’t want to try to catch it. It fell on the porch. Okay, fine. But then it bounced right off the edge and landed facedown on the one rock around the trailer, so now I’ve basically got a mangled phone screen. It’s usable and I did stop by Verizon to take advantage of the upgrade I have, but they didn’t have any iPhones in stock and actually suggested I try and wait a few weeks for when they think a new phone announcement will come. Since I don’t give a shit about having the latest iPhone, my plan–should I wait, because I’m thinking of trying a different Verizon store next week or something–I could get the iPhone 6 cheaper. Honestly, though, I’m still rocking a 4S and I’d be totally down to just take the next logical step up to a 5.
  4. Why can’t I be you? Because only I am me, and you should be happy being you!
  5. What did you do on the 13th? Well, it was a Thursday, so I went to work. And then I went to McKeesport with Paul to meet up with Terra and her other BFF, Gemma, for the annual international food festival!

As always, from Friday 5.

We ventured out for Paul’s grandfather’s birthday on Saturday evening, for a little get-together his aunt had. Who only lives about a half hour away, which was nice–better than the usual hour-long trek we have to make for most other events. Plus this is the side of the family that’s, uh, easier to get along with, let’s say.

The first time I was there, Paul and his siblings complained the entire drive over, and the family was so nice and so cool that when we left, I actually asked Paul what everyone’s problem was. And his only answer was that his mom complained about them so much that he thought if rubbed off on the rest of them.

And for the most part, this was a good visit, too–good food and good company, especially when Emily hangs around us. I even told Paul that if you’d told me years ago that at 26, I’d be having good, long conversations with a 17-year-old, I wouldn’t have believed you.

His mom gave a slight passive-aggressive comment with, “We have to come all the way out here to see you.” Because, you know, driving an hour to see us at another family function we actually knew about in advance is completely unreasonable, but expecting us to drive that same distance every weekend to do nothing but sit around their house is fine.

And of course, that’s what we did Sunday–kind of. We decided to use our free day to go up into the mountains. The intention was to stop at my parents’ to hang out and do some laundry, drop off recycling, grab food at Fiesta Azteca, stop in at his parents’ for a bit, then go home, but that didn’t work out. I forgot the laundry I wanted to do and the recycling, so we scrapped the visit with my parents. I already see them fairly often anyway, and I was just out there for the county fair. I tried to weasel my way out of having to go to his parents’, though, arguing that it was basically a pointless visit and that neither of us really wanted to go, but Paul rightfully saw it as a good opportunity to make a good impression and tide his mother over, basically, by stopping in for a little bit while we were in town before they went to some Boy Scout event.

Ryun and Katie came out here for dinner last night. Ryun keeps trying to hang out with us but we’re busy a lot, so he decided to come to us. Somehow, the drive ended up taking him double what it should have and they didn’t get here until about the time Paul was supposed to go to Tai Chi, so as much as he hated to, he skipped it. Instead, Paul treated us all to dinner at Mr. Gyro’s and we hung out and basically just talked for a couple hours. Katie and I are fun together–since we’re dating brothers, we often end up complaining to each other about the same things.

Plus she brought us fresh eggs from her family’s farm! I’m so excited. That appeals to me on so many levels. I mean, instead of relying on her to give me good information on farming practices, she can just give me the damn eggs!

It’s been a fun but busy couple of days.

Thursday was McKeesport’s annual International Village food festival, so Paul and I ventured out. We’ve been trying new routes in and around the city–especially to and from Terra’s house–thanks to construction. And we’ve found some good routes that keep us away from the congested parkway and inevitable tunnel traffic, except that we somehow missed a turn, then took a wrong turn and ended up making a huge circle and significantly screwing up our travel time.

The good thing about this was that in the meantime, Terra was off with her friend Gemma getting a new ear piercing, and her appointment ran late. Our navigational setback ended up being almost perfect–we made it to Terra’s maybe five minutes before she and Gemma got back. Terra and Paul exchanged birthday presents, since their birthdays are about a week or so apart, and then we walked over to the park for the food festival. On the way, we saw her niece, Betty Jo, who is basically the cutest baby to grace my Facebook feed right now. She was also covered in remnants of food, so I guess she had a good time.

As for us, we hung around for a few hours. The grilled pineapple at the Hawaiian stand might be the simplest item there, but it’s one of my favorites and one of the only things I consistently get every year. Everyone else tried out some Lebanese, I split a funnel cake with Terra since her diabetes makes that unwise, and I ended with some lo mein, despite making jokes about how the Chinese line was the longest of all of them. I mean, who goes to an international food festival for Chinese food? Similarly, I refused to eat any Polish or similar foods because my family makes them all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I really love haluski, but I don’t need to get it at a food festival.

That said, my own complaint about that festival is how similar some of the booths are. The Vietnamese and Chinese stands were basically the same, as were a lot of the eastern European and Mediterranean-area ones. On top of that, being a vegetarian sensitive to spicy foods can be really limiting when it comes to trying new things–I would’ve loved to have tried the Soul Food, but it was all either spicy or meat. (That said, if I were actually traveling to these countries, I’d seriously consider at least included seafood so as to truly experience another culture because I think it’s important.)

The festival isn’t all food–they do have a craft section, although it’s not as international as the rest of the festival. It’s more of the typical stands you’ll see at fairs, but it is always fun to browse. Terra and I even walked away with some great-smelling soy candles that I think were locally made.

And Friday night, we stayed in for the first time in weeks and drank some wine before a weekend of family gatherings and mountain excursions.

Friday Five: You Say It’s Your Birthday

  1. Happy 75th birthday to actor/comedian/musician Steve Martin! He played a sadistic dentist in Little Shop of Horrors (1986). What’s your relationship with your dentist like? Hoo boy. Okay, so, I haven’t actually been to the dentist since some point in college, and I’ve been out of college for four years now. And it’s because I hate dentists. Hate. I was actually talking to Terra last night about the possibility of going to one of the ones that sedate you the whole time, but until I muster the courage, I’m gonna pretend taking Pinterest dental advice couldn’t possibly backfire.
  2. Happy 65th birthday to comic strip artist Gary Larson, creator of The Far Side! One classic The Far Side strip illustrates literally the Platonic allegory of the Ship of Fools, followed by an illustration of his own concept of the Car of Idiots. When have you been a passenger in a car of idiots? Probably any time I’ve been with my family. Although I’m mostly referring to my dad there. Or Paul’s family, but again, mostly his mom. Unless you consider how hardcore conservative everyone but he and Emily are.
  3. Happy 55th birthday to basketball player Ervin “Magic” Johnson, who spent his whole career as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers! What are your memories or impressions of Los Angeles? I’ve never been there, although I’d like to visit–but the interesting thing is I think I’d hate it. Now, granted, I might end up being totally wrong, but it has a reputation for being a sort of materialistic, petty, almost narcissistic place, what with its ties to Hollywood and all, and I think it’s got a whole vibe and culture that would just be the polar opposite to my personality and I’d hate it.
  4. Happy 50th birthday to actress Halle Berry, who plays Storm (a woman who can control the weather) in the X-Men movies! What’s the weather like right now, and if you could adjust one aspect of it for the weekend, what would it be? After like a solid month of rain, we’re back to a nice hot but not unbearable summer with lots of sunshine lately, so I’m actually pretty pleased. As for the weekend, I’d like it to stay sunny and be warm but not too hot, since I’m planning on heading up to Ohiopyle to hike.
  5. Happy 32nd birthday to actress Mila Kunis! Which of these Mila films have you seen?
    Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
    Extract (2009)
    The Book of Eli (2010)
    Date Night (2010)
    Black Swan (2010)
    Friends with Benefits (2011)
    Ted (2012)
    Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)
    Annie (2014)
    Jupiter Ascending (2015) 

I’ve only seen Black Swan and Ted, although I’d like to see most of the others–even Jupiter Ascending, despite being allegedly really terrible. I liked Black Swan and could go for another viewing, actually. Ted was okay. At times really funny, at times really not, but such is Seth McFarlane. My mom thought it was hilarious, though, so we got her a talking Ted keychain that Christmas.