Marissa texted me probably a solid like two months ago asking if Paul and I would like to meet up with her for dinner some Saturday night, and obviously, we were totally up for it. The catch is that, as usual, between our two families, there was always something going on. Like, I almost texted her last week to see if last Saturday was doable, but then before I had the chance, Paul’s family decided to do their Easter dinner that night, so there went that. And so it goes.

But this weekend, we found ourselves completely free. Friday night, we went to the mall to hit Sephora’s spring sale and stock up on my makeup staples for 20% off, and then last night, we finally had dinner with Marissa.

Paul and I love Lawrenceville, which I know I’ve said before is one of our favorite neighborhoods because of all its hipster stores and restaurants, so we were eager to go wherever Marissa had in mind. I mean, our plan of attack when we’re there is to eat at the first restaurant we see because it all looks great, so hey, whatever. She suggested B52, a vegan place with a Mediterranean-inspired menu and a solid reputation even among non-vegans, and it was one of the places in the area I had heard about and definitely wanted to try. It lived up to the hype. Marissa and I both tried house-made fruit sodas, which I really liked, and Paul and I both got kabob platters with rice, hummus, salad, cucumber yogurt sauce, and kabobs made with bell peppers, zucchini, and seitan, a sort of meat substitute that is apparently pure gluten. We really, really liked them, and we found them to be really filling without that sort of heavy, overstuffed feeling you tend to get with other foods. We even finished by sharing a slice of their chocolate cake, which was great.

A few months ago, Tina was cooking at a brewery down the road, Full Pint, on a Saturday I had to work, so Paul headed out without me and got himself some food and had some beers, and he suggested it for some post-dinner drinks. He tried a few small, sample-sized beers, and Marissa and I tried the same pomegranate cocktail we were both bigs fans of. So we had a couple drinks each, hung out a bit longer, and then Paul and I dumped our recycling at our usual drop-off spot before heading home and enjoying the last couple hours of the evening.

It was a really nice night out with good conversation and just kind of a nice, chill hangout. Marissa and I are on the some wavelength in a lot of ways, and of those is wanting to try to hang out more, so hopefully as summer rolls around, we’ll be doing that. Of course, Paul and I are mostly booked for the next few weeks already. So it goes.

Today was mostly a lounge day with errands thrown in. I wanted to get started planting a garden, but rain got in the way of that. And so I realized there are still a few projects around the house that need tackled with a free day, the most obvious of which is the kitchen wall we never finished painting. After we pulled the wallpaper down and patched up some tiny cracks, we got so focused on stuff like getting the floors redone and emptying out our apartment that repainting that wall got totally forgotten about, and I figure the near future is a good time to do it. All we really did with it today was try to match the paint color of the wall right next to it–because open-concept houses with different things on different walls are awesome–but it’s more than we’ve done since that wallpaper came down.

Maybe next weekend we’ll have one day without rain to tackle that garden, but otherwise, it’s off to my cousin’s new baby’s christening.

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Saturday 9: Every Time You Go Away

Saturday 9: Every Time You Go Away (1985)

Unfamiliar with this week’s tune? Hear it here.

1) This song is about separation. Who is the last person you said goodbye (or maybe just “so long”) to? My husband, who was off to his morning tai chi class.

2) This week’s featured artist, Paul Young, was a gifted athlete during his school days and briefly played professional football (aka soccer). Sam enjoys playing tennis, though her serve doesn’t give Serena Williams anything to worry about. What’s something you enjoy doing, even if you don’t excel? Singing. I love belting in the car, but who doesn’t?

3) Mr. Young and his wife Stacy were married for 31 years, until her death in 2018. What do you think is the key to a happy marriage? As a lady who’s been married not even two years yet, I am a marriage expert (we have been together almost nine years total, though). But I think in any relationship, not just marriage and not even just romantic relationships, it’s mutual respect. People will tell you that love and respect go hand in hand, and in a sense, that’s true, but too often people take that to mean that if you love someone and they love you, you’re both automatically treating each other respectfully, and I don’t think that’s the case at all. It’s possible to have strong romantic feelings for someone but not always behave the best towards them, whether that’s just a momentary lapse because we’re all human and make mistakes or it’s continued and even intentional disrespect. I also think there’s a piece a lot of people don’t want to admit, and that’s just straight up compatibility. If two personalities clash or you have two very different ways of handling disagreements and struggle to meet in the middle or have very different priorities and can’t see where the other is coming from, I don’t think it’s going to work out. We all like to tell ourselves that true love always prevails, but there are a lot of factors that go into sustaining long-term relationships and sometimes, one of those factors can derail the whole thing. There’s a reason people say relationships, and marriage in particular, aren’t easy.

4) Paul Young’s performance of this hit song was one of the highlights of the July 1985 Live Aid Concert. This international benefit raised more than $100 million to alleviate hunger in Ethiopia. Tell us about a charity you support. Man, there are a lot doing a lot of good work, but I’m just gonna go with the last one I made a donation to–St. Jude’s Hospital. And St. Jude’s is pretty famous, so I’m not gonna tell you about it, but I do want to say one little thing. My donation was really small. I shop at New York & Company, and they very, very often do fundraisers for St. Jude, where they ask you as you’re check out if you’d like to donate. I popped in minutes before they were closing to grab some jeans as fast as possible. When I do donate money, I’ve kind of resolved to push myself to donate a little more than I’m comfortable with, and my reasoning is that if I can go in to buy jeans and spend 70 bucks without thinking about it, I can throw more than the minimum suggested donation on my credit card, which was $2. It makes no difference to me. I still only donated a few bucks, but the cashier acted like it was the nicest, sweetest thing to do, and I wondered if that’s because the majority of people don’t do it. So. It’s not always easy and some of us really do need to be careful with every dollar we spend, but the next time you’re at a checkout and you’re asked if you’d like to donate a few dollars to a cause that store is supporting and you know you can spare those dollars, just do it.

5) This song was written by Daryl Hall, of Hall and Oates. What’s your favorite Hall and Oates song? It’s a tie between “You Make My Dreams” and “Rich Girl,” although “Rich Girl” might be winning slightly.

6) In 1985, when this song was popular, the New Coke was unsuccessfully introduced. What’s the last beverage you drank? Green tea.

7) In 1985, the New York Stock Exchange had to close because of Hurricane Gloria. Has a hurricane shared your name? Nope! Not anytime recently, anyway.

8) 1985 was the year that the Titanic wreckage was discovered. There have been at least 11 movies and TV shows about the fatal voyage. Have you seen any of them? I’ve of course seen the Kate Winslet and Leo DiCaprio movie, and I think I’ve seen part of a mini-series, but that’s about it.

9) Random question: Would you rather own and run a coffee shop or a shoe store? Why? As much as I love shoes, a coffee shop. I mean, I’m a writer. But I do love their atmosphere and a good chai. Some of my favorite places are/have been coffee shops.

Friday 5: That’s Going to Leave a Mark

  1. What’s something dumb you’ve done to impress someone? I’m so glad that my desire to do things to impress the opposite sex was very tame and short-lived–I certainly never did it with my husband. But in my pre-teen years, because is there any better time to be dumb around boys? I once tried to sort of dressing and doing my hair a certain way that was more in line with what other girls in my class were doing, thinking that that would get the attention of a guy I had a crush on. It didn’t work, of course, and in retrospect, he was kind of an asshole. And on that note, I’m also glad my asshole phase was short-lived.
  2. Who has recently impressed you? My sister-in-law, who totally nailed her capstone and put out really raw, intense material and got up in front of a room full of people and read some of it out loud. Reading your work in public is hard enough to do.
  3. In what way are people’s first impressions of you typically right or wrong? I don’t know, because I don’t think anyone’s really told me what their first impression was! I’d love to hear it either way, though. I do know that my husband found me to be confident and I did grab his attention, and I’m glad it was positive and not just because I ended up marrying the dude, but thinking back to the night we first met, I really didn’t feel that way at all. But I want to come off that way and I’d love it if that’s the impression most other people get, but I bet no matter what I’ll probably think a person’s first impression of me was the total opposite of how I was feeling and saw myself at the time.
  4. When has someone been overly impressed by you? Okay, so here’s the thing with me–I have a habit of undercutting myself and downplaying either my positive traits or my accomplishments or both and I’m really, really trying to stop, but my first instinct for this one is to say that some of the work I’ve done I think sounds more impressive than it really is, like when I was writing for my local CBS affiliate before they “reevaluated their needs” or however they worded it when they ditched the section I was writing for. People tended to think that was pretty big, and my first instinct was to be like, “Nah, it’s not,” mostly because of the content, I think, but I also think that urge is bullshit.
  5. What’s a character trait people are generally not impressed enough by? Empathy. It tends to get dismissed as weakness when people are being polite and hippy-dippy ultra-sensitive snowflake bullshit when they’re being less than polite. People will lament that people are losing civility and respect in one breath (or Facebook post) and then in the next, shit all over people not wanting to be called a certain name or wanting certain changes in the country to genuinely benefit people   or being outspoken about problems they think need solved. And look, empathy isn’t easy–it’s probably one of those things that you work on constantly. But if everyone would just take a hot minute to think about what another person is thinking, feeling, and experiencing, really think about it, we’d have a much easier time understanding why people are saying and doing the things they are and we could make some progress at improving things for everyone. People are too dismissive. It’s easy to be. I generally think this whole “being nice is hard” attitude is bullshit, but I don’t think it’s bullshit to say empathy is hard.

From Friday 5.

I honestly wasn’t so sure that my parents would be up to hosting Easter dinner, but I was wrong.

Paul’s family decided to do theirs Saturday night, which worked out really well–I did some baking that morning, and then we headed over in the afternoon, ate, and spent our evening hanging out, leaving us free with my parents on Sunday.

Since my dad was diagnosed, he’s been going to his childhood church. He was raised Lutheran but has gone to a Catholic church since he married my mom and they had us kids. Brandon and Kelly have gone with them a few times, and I figured Easter Sunday was as good a time as any for us to go.

While we were having dinner before seeing Cher on Thursday night, my mom was telling me how they’d be going to Lutheran churches and how it was a little weird after a lifetime of Catholic masses. She said she didn’t feel like she’d gone to church. I didn’t quite get that sense–it was close enough to a Catholic mass that it felt very much like church to me, but the differences were subtle enough to throw me off. Especially communion. I the Catholic church, you can only take communion if you’re a Catholic and it’s a sin to take communion in another church, but in the Lutheran church, anyone who’s been baptized can. And instead of little wafers, it’s, like, actual bread, and you get a little tiny shotglass of wine. And confessing to a priest isn’t a thing. Honestly, if I were more religious and church in general was more my thing, I’d be pretty okay with going Lutheran.

Brandon and Kelly were planning on going and ended up running late and forgetting stuff at home, so they joined us at my parents’ house and we had a nice meal and a timely viewing on Monty Python’s Life of BrianJesus Christ Superstar is an Easter staple in this family, but my dad and I had watched the live version on Friday. And then most of us fell asleep for a little bit, and next thing I knew it was evening. We were invited over to Paul’s grandparents’ house, but we decided to go home and enjoy a few hours to ourselves. And do laundry, of course.

Months before my dad was diagnosed with cancer, I’d bought tickets to see Cher with my mom. After her appearance in the Mamma Mia sequel, she released an album of ABBA covers, and that is my shit. I didn’t fully appreciate Cher back when she was doing the farewell circuit, which is a travesty in itself, but I figured this was a spectacle not to be missed.

I wasn’t sure if my mom was still gonna be up for going, but on our way to Kelly and Brandon’s baby shower, which fell about two or three weeks before the concert, I asked her if she was still planning to go with me, and she said, “Janelle, I have to.” Essentially, she needed to go out and enjoy herself for a night, and apparently, there’s a whole element of the impact of a cancer diagnosis on spouses and families that deals with continuing to, you know, go do fun things.

With it being a few days before Easter, Paul had the next day off, I took off, too, and he went out to spend the evening with my dad since he doesn’t like being alone right now and my mom came to our house to pick me up.

We had dinner at a hotel across the street, which does a very convenient buffet on event days, then spent our night dancing to Cher, who put on a great show. I was right about it being a spectacle, and I wouldn’t want anything less.

So with Paul already at my parents’ house, I just rode back there with my mom, and he and I spent the night, hung out for a little bit on Friday, and then headed home and spent our evening meeting with a company about redoing our siding. Gotta take advantage of those spring deals, you know? So we’re going ahead and getting it done, and I’m way more excited about that than I ever thought I would be about siding.

Saturday 9: Mighty Clouds of Joy

Saturday 9: Mighty Clouds of Joy (1974)

Unfamiliar with this week’s tune? Hear it here.

1) This song celebrates serenity. Are you feeling peaceful this morning? I’m doing this on a Monday evening, but no, I did not feel very peaceful this morning, nor did I Saturday morning. I mean, I did for a hot minute on Saturday, and then it turned out that I had less time to bake a cake than I thought I did and had to go out for stuff I thought we had, so it really just turned into a rushed morning.

2) The lyrics include allusions to sun and clouds. How does the world look where you are? Is it sunny or cloudy? It’s been rainy a lot lately, including on Saturday, but today it’s actually sunny, at least by comparison. In fact, when I finish this, I’m gonna go cut grass while I can, since tomorrow is gonna be more rain.

3) This week’s featured artist, BJ Thomas, is in the Grammy Hall of Fame for another hit record that uses weather as a metaphor, “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.” Make up a Hall of Fame that you believe you should be inducted into. (For example, Crazy Sam has inducted herself into The Meme Mistress Hall of Fame for her service to Saturday 9.) Queen Procrastinator.

4) When Crazy Sam hears this song, she always sings along … loud. Is there a song you simply cannot resist singing along with? Ooh, there are many. At the moment, I’m listening to Bowie’s “Modern Love,” so…

5) BJ Thomas has performed this song at The Grand Ole Opry. The Opry has been broadcast on the radio every week since 1925, nearly 95 years ago! Of course, back in the 1920s, radio was the only broadcast media. Today we have other choices. Is listening to the radio part of your daily routine? It was before I started working from home. I still do listen to it when I’m in the car, though.

6) Though their dress code is lenient, country music fans who attend the Opry for a live show are warned: “Just remember, there’s one rule we take very seriously here at the Grand Ole Opry — you must wear something.” Easter Sunday is a day many of us dress up. What will you be wearing today? On Easter Sunday, I wore a red dress I bought recently. On Saturday, I wore just a little like burgundy dress. Today, it’s all pajamas. I’ll be changing into leggings and a t-shirt to cut grass, though.

7) Easter is recognized as the start of the spring season. What are you looking forward to this spring? The end of winter, first and foremost, and planting our garden. We’re also having our siding redone. And most exciting of all, my brother and his wife are having a baby next month!

8) Lilies are popular at Easter. Do you have a favorite flower? I don’t have one single favorite, no, but flowers that really stand out and look different always catch my eye. I am a fan of classic roses, too, though.

9) Which would rather find in your Easter basket: yellow marshmallow chicks (aka Peeps) or a plastic egg filled with pennies? I don’t eat Peeps, so pennies, even though I rarely use them. I mean, they’ll get put towards something eventually.

Friday 5: Ohhhhhhh We’re Halfway There

  1. What’s an issue on which your feelings are split fifty-fifty? Back before the new Amazon location was chosen, Pittsburgh was in the running, and I wasn’t firmly in one camp in terms of whether it would be a benefit or a problem to the area. The arguments were that even though it would create jobs, it would drive up the cost of housing, and potential tax cuts and perks to lure it in wouldn’t benefit the area much at all. It was a case of whether the pros outweighed the cons, and I saw both sides of the argument. In the end, I think I leaned more against it.
  2. What are you at the midpoint of? I don’t know that I am. Everything feels like either a new beginning or a potential end.
  3. What’s in your middle? A tummy that’s the direct result of eating lots of pasta over the course of my life.
  4. What’s something you occasionally do to keep yourself centered? Go to therapy, and in fact, I’m way overdue. I never really needed to go on a regular basis, but I like to pop in every few months to say, “Okay, here’s what’s going on,” and talk through anything that might be a problem–or, in some cases, to go in and help prepare myself for something coming up I either thought would be difficult or had me out of sorts.
  5. What are some settings where you prefer to be in the middle of the action? Concerts. Put me as close to the music as possible, where people are dancing (or moshing, if the situation calls for it). Anytime I’ve, say, gone up to a balcony to sit, I’ve ended up wishing I was down on the floor with everyone else, even if I had a good reason to slow down and sit instead.

As always, from Friday 5.

I say this every single time I go to such an event, but shit, listening to writers read their work for an audience is always so refreshing. Paul and I were once talking about the places where we feel the most ourselves, and my pick was in a roomful of writers after a reading. I love talking to people, I love hearing their work, and I love that feeling that I get to go out and create. There’s nothing better than that, really, and probably no greater compliment a writer could get.

We went out for Emily’s capstone reading. The capstones have changed in the years since I graduated, and I’m totally jealous–ours was kind of a chapbook with one piece of everyone’s compiled, and now they all get their capstone manuscripts turned into a chapbook that they sell. It’s super cool.

Emily was great–she got emotional, but it was heavy shit. And she did a great job reading it, and I’m looking forward to adding her chapbook to my massive reading stack. All the other student writers, plus more established guests, were great, too. My former professor asked if I’d be back at all during the week, and if my day had panned out a little better (read: if I hadn’t worked late), I probably would’ve gone back out. If I didn’t live an hour away, I definitely would’ve gone back out, and if I didn’t have tickets to see Cher tomorrow night, I’d definitely be back for that. I’d be there all the time if I lived closer, honestly.

Paul and I kind of ran out the door to get there on time, so we were hungry when the readings all ended and went out with Emily and a couple of her friends to the one restaurant you can count on late in the evening, Taco Bell, then headed home.

We’re currently under a tornado warning, so…that’s cool. A part of the country that almost never gets them. The sky is ominously black–this color is generally only seen in short, intense summer storms, and even then, it’s kind of rare. And just two or three hours ago, I commented on what a bright, warm day it turned into after morning rains. Figures.

Yesterday was Record Store Day, and not wanting Paul to miss his tai chi class or get dragged along for something he doesn’t really care about, I hit the record stores on my own. I strategized–I looked at the list of participating stores and figured Greensburg wouldn’t be as crowded as the Pittsburgh stores, so I decided to head that way, and then if I felt like it, hit Monroeville a half-hour away and then Pittsburgh on my way home, since I’d have to pass through the city anyway. It’s a very large, ambitious circle, but I was excited.

Turns out the two Greensburg stores were a bust–they weren’t actually participating. So I was annoyed at having wasted an hour. Had I known that, I probably would’ve just started in Monroeville, or even said fuck it and started in Pittsburgh. Monroeville is also annoying to drive in, strangely. There have been multiple occasions where we turn into the wrong plaza or parking lot and think, “Oh, it’s fine, they probably connect,” and they never do. And I don’t know if it’s because it was a nice day or because Steel City Con was going or what, but traffic was a bitch, too. Oh, and there was a shooting in the mall the night before.

So after some annoyances with unreliable GPS, those pesky not connected parking lots, and traffic, I made it to the one participating record store and did at least grab a couple of the things I wanted. Then I took myself to Panera Bread, got a chai, and finished it sitting in traffic coming back through Pittsburgh. I didn’t really feel like trying my luck in Pittsburgh, especially since I knew we’d be back for brunch this morning. I figured I’d just take my chances with it then.

Dom and Tina have been doing brunches all month long, but this is the first one we’ve been able to make it to. Last weekend, since we were going to the movies in the evening, we skipped it because it didn’t make sense to either drive out, back, then back out or drive out and dick around, and the weekend before that we were exhausted from a couple days of running errands and dog-sitting, plus Kelly and Brandon’s baby shower, and we agreed to meet up with Julie and Michael for coffee on their way home to Erie. We were glad to be able to go this weekend. It’s always delicious.

And with full stomachs, we hit the record stores on the South Side, and I redeemed my Record Store Day. First, Dave’s Music Mine, my favorite one in town, was mostly cleaned out of this year’s released but did have a good few from previous years, and I snagged a lot of Bowie releases and a little Cure, plus some CDs, including from some local bands. I try to keep up with a lot of them, but not as many places seem as dedicated to supporting the local scene. I was really, really happy to find a whole section to be able to grab albums from bands I’ve been streaming.

There’s one more store right down the road, and honestly, I think it gets overlooked by the Record Store Day crowds. But I came out with some of the popular and harder-to-find releases with the year’s Fleetwood Mac and Mumford & Sons releases.

When all was said and done, I spent a lot of money, but I was really happy. I haven’t actually gone out for a Record Store Day in a few years, maybe not since the year I spent it in State College. One year I was working that Saturday and didn’t want to bother with going afterwards, and last year, strangely, not many releases stood out to me. So I was glad to get back at it and come out with a lot of great stuff–almost everything on my wish list. There’s maybe only one I didn’t find, and that was the soundtrack to The Crow.

I love Record Store Day. I really do. It’s perfect for music nerds, and if my initial Saturday trip had gone better, I honestly would’ve loved having a day to myself drinking chai and buying music. I love it. I loved the trip today, too, with Paul coming along, but having some me-time in the form of tea and music is a pretty great way to go, especially when the whole point of the day is to help boost sales of indie record stores. And I can assure you, they all benefitted from me.

Then we got groceries, hit the gym, which felt great after a couple of weeks of inconsistency workout time, and now the day’s almost over already. So here’s to hoping my evening isn’t interrupted by a damn tornado.

Saturday 9: April Love

April Love (1957). Unfamiliar with this week’s song? Hear it here.

1) In this song, Pat Boone sings that April love is a wonder reserved for the very young. Do you think the sensation of falling in love changes as we grow older? I mean, I fell in love with my husband at about 21 and I’m 29 now, so I couldn’t tell ya. But I’d say no. The things you fall in love with probably change, though.

2) “April Love” reached #1 on the charts. Between this song and “Love Letters in the Sand,” Pat Boone had a career year. Only one artist sold more records in 1957: Elvis Presley. When you think of Elvis, what’s the first song that comes to mind? “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” I played it at my wedding.

3) Pat was extremely busy in high school. He wrote for the school paper, ran track, and acted in school plays. Share a memory of your extracurricular activities during high school. I was in our musical my junior and senior years, and it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had.

4) It was his track coach who introduced Pat to the new girl in school, Shirley Foley. Three years later Pat and Shirley married, and remained man and wife for 65 years, until her death earlier this year. Who is the longest married couple you know? My mom’s Aunt Shirley and Uncle Bill, who I believe hit the 60-year mark. I do know that at weddings where they do the thing where they have couples come on the dance floor and then gradually have them leave until the ones left have been married the longest, they win every time.

5) Pat has lived in the same house for more than 60 years. He once received an offer to sell it for $18,000,000 but turned it down because it’s the Boone family home and he simply doesn’t want to leave. Do you plan on moving in the foreseeable future? No, we’ve only been in this house a year. That said, my husband’s company is moving to Mexico and he’s back in the job hunt. I’m very strongly against moving, but there are a few areas where if he’d get hired there, I’d consider it.

6) Pat has a warm friendship with his neighbors, Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne. Pat has mentioned in interviews that he has enjoyed bike rides around Beverly Hills with Sharon. Tell us about one of your neighbors. So we’re the babies of the neighborhood–most of our neighbors are closer in age to our parents. But the ones we see and talk tot he most are right next to us and, like, in their 80s. They’re really sweet and have a really cute dog.

7) Mr. Boone was very critical of Barack Obama, enthusiastically supports Donald Trump, and has appeared on Fox News to express his views. How do you feel about celebrities talking politics? Honestly, they have every right to–they live here, they work here, the pay taxes here, and the policies can affect them and their families, too, so I don’t care if they do it. Even if I disagree, that’s their right. I actually get frustrated when people say celebrities should stick to whatever it is they’re famous for. If you disagree with them, fine. If you choose to only support musicians and actors you agree with, fine. But don’t tell them to shut up.

8) In 1957, the year this song was popular, Dr. Ian Donald pioneered the use of ultrasound technology. Today ultrasounds are commonly used by doctors in diagnosing conditions affecting the eyes, blood vessels, kidneys, gall bladder and more. Have you ever had an ultrasound? I have not.

9) Random question: You’re sitting alone in a restaurant, waiting for a friend. The waiter brings you a drink and the compliments of a member of the opposite sex seated at the bar. What’s your reaction? Are you flattered, shocked, embarrassed, intrigued or annoyed? Probably a weird combination of flattered and annoyed. I’m married, so I’m obviously not interested and honestly probably don’t want to be bothered, and lately, I’ve been interested in the dynamics of buying alcohol for someone. But I’m also flattered that someone did it. Probably a little shocked, too.