Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sunny Day Real Estate live at Paramount Theater in Seattle, Oct, 16, 2009

Sunny Day Real Estate – along with other emo-type bands like Mineral, the Gloria Record and Bright Eyes – helped me immensely during my years of abject loneliness (2000-2001). Helping restore my faith in male humanity, this music was there for me when the several assholes I had previously been romantically involved with were not.

So it was a momentous occasion – both for me personally, and for the band – when the original configuration of Sunny Day Real Estate took to the stage at the Paramount Theatre to play live in Seattle for the first time in fifteen years.

Usually when I see shows like this, I wait for hours for the main act, and then suffer through terrible sound where I can barely hear the vocals. By some incredible miracle, the band started playing just an hour after the doors opened, played a wonderfully crisp, tight set (where I could actually understand some of the words being sung!) and were done by 10:30pm.

I got to hear some favorite songs I thought I’d never hear live like “Friday” and “Theo B,” was entertained by Jeremy Enigk’s intense vocalizations and facial expressions and Dan Hoerner’s effusive happiness, in the midst of a sweaty and polite crowd. They even played a brand new song, which sounds pretty darn good.

There are rumors of a new album in the works. Which is great ‘cause I loved every song on their last studio album, and there aren’t too many bands I can say that about.

[Read my husband's review and the Stranger's review]

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

CocoRosie @ King Cat Theater in Seattle 9/15/09

I have been anticipating seeing these two sisters and their backing band for so long I had a lot of expectations about what I was going to see and hear. Most of those expectations were ripped apart by the reality of what faced me at the King Cat Theater last night.

I knew it would sound different from their studio recordings, but I was pleasantly surprised that in many places their live show was an improvement upon their studio sessions. I especially like how they’re doing “Rainbow Warrior” these days (it appears to have morphed into a song called “Black Rainbow"). The only real negative for me was that at times the kids’ toys were a little too high up in the mix.

I wish I could find some current tour footage, but this material from 2008 will have to suffice:

I expected them to just stand up there and act weird, arty and pretentious. So I was pleasantly surprised at their expressive energy…Rosie and Spleen (the beatboxer) seemed especially keen on reaching out to the audience.

I expected them to put on an entertaining show, with lots of variety, crazy get ups, and visual effects. And that…I definitely got!

This video below was a bit of a surprise for me, because it is a blend of two of their songs, one of them ("Happy Eyez") wasn't released when this video came out.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Great Silkie

I love the melody of this song. I first heard it sung by Judy Collins as "The Great Silkie of Skule Skerry" and Joan Baez does a version as well, both lovely. The lyrics, however, always disappointed me. They are mostly nonsensical to anyone who doesn't know the legend behind the song. I wanted a version that even a modern American could understand, without the benefit of folklore study.

Here's an mp3 file of me singing my version. If you'd like to record it with me, let me know!

By an Orkney shore there stands a maid
Waves at her feet on a midsummer's eve
And from her eyes there fell seven tears
But don't think that her heart did grieve

From the sea so deep the grey silkie came
Cast off a seal skin upon reaching land
And then he spoke to the yearning maiden
As they walked along hand in hand

"I am a man upon the land
I am a silkie on the sea
And when I'm far and far from land
My home it is in Sule Skerrie"

That night they spent on a bed of flowers
And when they awoke to a fine morning
Her lover gave her a bright golden chain
Saying, "It's for our child who'll be born next spring"

"And it shall come to pass on a summer's day,
When the sun shines bright on every stane
I"ll come and fetch my little young son
And teach him how to swim the waves."

It was seven years till she saw the man
Unearthly father of her dear son
The boy was wearing his golden chain
As he swam to sea in the evening sun

And she did marry a seal hunter
With two grey seals he one day came home
And around the neck of the younger one
Was the golden chain still wet with foam.

"Alas it hurts," the mother cried
"To feel the pain of a son who has died
If only I had not beckoned the silkie
With the seven tears of yearning that night."

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Lake

I've been enjoying this song immensely and thought I'd share. It's kind of a goth-flavored piano ballad with meandering vocal melodies and a string quartet. Lyrics are by Edgar Allan Poe.

The Lake by Antony & the Johnsons

In youth's spring, it was my lot

To haunt of the wide earth a spot

The which I could not love the less;

So lovely was the loneliness

Of a wild lake, with black rock bound,

And the tall trees that tower'd around.

But when the night had thrown her pall

Upon that spot -- as upon all,

And the wind would pass me by

In its stilly melody,

My infant spirit would awake

To the terror of the lone lake.

Yet that terror was not fright --

But a tremulous delight,

And a feeling undefin'd,

Springing from a darken'd mind.

Death was in that poison'd wave

And in its gulf a fitting grave

For him who thence could solace bring

To his dark imagining;

Whose wild'ring thought could even make

An Eden of that dim lake.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


This is a test to see if I can use to put links to complete songs on my blog. Here's a song I've been digging a lot lately.
XTC - Rocket From a Bottle (2001 Digital Remaster)

Shared via AddThis

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Post-rock: (Mostly) Instrumental Soundscapes

Years ago when I first heard the Album Leaf, I felt like I was discovering a whole new genre of music. I know there has been plenty of instrumental music over time, but the Album Leaf was different to me. It was like new age for indie rockers.

Since discovering the Album Leaf a whole new raft of instrumental rock (sometimes called post-rock), has come to my attention.

Much of what I enjoy from this genre sounds like a hybrid of 90’s emo core and shoegaze music.

Here are a few of my current favorites:

Joy Wants Eternity make crushingly beautiful music with dense and evocative soundscapes.

Hard-rocking Gifts from Enola impressed me with their live show at the Sunset recently. Three guitarists!

A bit more mellow, and replete with strings, is the music of Yndi Halda.

If you just want a sampler of this music, Silent Ballet webzine (devoted to instrumental and post-rock music) has a series of free compilations you can download. I’m especially digging the tracks by Hermitage and Immanu el on Volume V. Joy Wants Eternity, Gifts from Enola and Yndi Halda have tracks on these compilations as well.

And of course there’s Sigur Rós, one of the few post-rock bands to have a vocalist. But I’ve written about them in an earlier post.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ambient Music: It’s not just New Age Fluff

Some play music to set a mood, but I usually prefer listening to music that reflects the mood I’m already in. Playing angry music when I’m angry or stressful music when I’m stressed calms me faster than trying to sway my mood into the happy zone by force-feeding it sweet fluffy “marshmallow music.”

Likewise, ambient music can either set a mood or reflect the mood you’re already in. Or simply provide background music so you can think or work.

As the mother of a four year-old, I really appreciate calm, peaceful stretches of time when I can get them, and ambient music is part of my current game plan to retain my sanity while feeding my soul. And for me, any music with a touch of melancholy is what’s for background.

Thanks to Victory Rose Music and, new sources of ambient music are coming my way faster than I can process them. Here are a few of my current favorites:

Ah, the beautiful slow drone sounds of Stars of the Lid, including their string trio. Don’t let “explicit” song titles likes “December Hunting for Vegetarian Fuckface” fool you into think this music is at all brash. I think if I ever saw this bad perform live I would cry.

David Beans is one of the few performers I’ve found who can utilize spoken word without it being too overbearing or annoying to me. Listen to “Dream” all the way through and give this man a job scoring your next epic movie.

Five years in the making, Jónsi & Alex created their music with found sounds from their house, as well as a choir, a string quartet, and animal sounds. It is perhaps not true ambient music since the sounds are all organically derived instead of electronic, but they manage to create a wash of sound and texture that’s not quite like anything else I’ve ever heard. And I mean that in a good way.

I'm also keeping my ear on Josh Varnadore, who is an up and coming musical artist with some lovely soundscapes.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Cooking Shows for a Brave New Audience

Most people enjoy eating, but not everyone enjoys cooking. Of the people who enjoy cooking, few manage to get filmed working their magic in the kitchen. To see yourself grace a TV screen or computer monitor you either have to be a celebrity chef or have some kind of shtick going for you. It also helps if you are the lead singer of a famous rock band.

Brand new today is installment 1 of the Jónsi and Alex Recipe Show. Jónsi is the lead singer of Sigur Rós, and Alex is his boyfriend and art partner. Meant as an accompaniment to their new cookbook (available in PDF format on their site), the first episode shows you how to make what they call Macadamia Monster Mash. I tried it and it's delicious. I can also vouch for their Thai Coconut Curry and Strawberry Pie recipes: top-notch.

If watching Jónsi and Alex look awkward and shy in front of the camera is too painful for you (and you’re not into raw vegan food), you might appreciate what has to be its polar opposite: Coupla Fat Guys Cooking Show. With their witty banter, devil-may-care attitude and mise en place in Ziploc bags, they are totally the Cartalk of cooking shows. They have numerous episodes taking you through the not-so-fine details of making everything from Tuna Casserole to Bananas Flambé.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The More I Listen the Better It Gets

One time I was talking to friend and we agreed that you need to listen to a song or album at least five times before it “clicks” (or doesn’t). It’s kind of like dating. It takes a certain amount of time (for me, two weeks) before I’m sure that this person is right (or wrong) for me.

With music, I find that if I like a song a lot immediately, it may not have staying power. Once the thrill is gone, that catchy little ditty gets cast back into the sea.

If I’m not sure about a song, sometimes it just takes a few more listens. Sometimes thirty. Sometimes I need to wait until the band or performers next freakin’ album comes out. Then I buy the new album and while listening to its unfamiliar sounds, I think back to the familiarity of the previous album. Then (and this is the magic part) I put in the previous album and WHAM! Suddenly it clicks. The old album is brilliant! A thing of beauty and wonder!

Has this ever happened to you?

It happened to me recently with Jeremy Enigk (who you may know as the singer for Sunny Day Real Estate). He’s had four solo albums. I liked the first one. Then I bought the second and third ones but couldn’t get into them. Then I bought the most recent one and…WHAM! Suddenly the second and third albums are brilliant! (The fourth album also has some great songs…check out “Life’s Too Short” from his Myspace page).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Music Podcasts Aplenty

When podcasts first hit cyberspace, I was a new mom living in Vancouver, BC. My husband suggested I video myself cooking in our kitchen while chatting with our 6-month old infant (who has such fantastic facial expressions her preschool teachers recently crowned her with “Best Facial Expressions” at the year end potluck). I never got around to filming this, but the podcast idea was planted in me.

When I started using iTunes last year, I checked out the available podcasts. Here are some of my favorites at the moment (please share yours!):

All Songs Considered – This once a week podcast from NPR shares some of the latest music. They always manage to find the newish bands with the most buzz and play those tracks, but occasionally they come up with some oldies, too. They also put out a podcast of Live performances. – Not exactly a podcast, but it does push free mpeg audio tracks your way if you are subscribed. They tend to send you songs similar to the type of music you are listening to in, so I’m getting a lot of post rock and ambient material. I’m not complaining.

The Interface – from…”handpicked live performances.” This is a video podcast and worth checking out to see if they have anything you’d like in there. Again, mostly indie music.

Parlophone Records – I also subscribe to the Parlophone records video podcast (hoping for something from Riceboy Sleeps one of these days). If you have a favorite record label, search ‘em out to see if they have a Podcast.

KEXP – Your favorite radio station probably has a podcast, too. This one has Song of the Day, Live performances and more.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Everything's Coming Up Trannie

I’m sometimes perplexed to find myself in a body. By some random chromosomal dice-roll, my body is female. Whatever.

Since this is partly a music blog, I wanted to share with you a couple of musicians who defy the stereotypes of the gender they were born into. However, I must emphasize that is their music and singing I find wonderful. The fact that they identify with a gender other than the one that matches their chromosomes is just an added bit of intrigue, and an opportunity to provide a unifying theme to this post.

Gordon Sharp of Cindytalk. I’ve been listening to Cindytalk since the 80s but somehow only recently became aware that vocalist Gordon Sharp dresses like a woman more often than not. His vocals for Cindytalk reflect so much discontent and yearning, and  --- you know me --- I just can’t get enough discontent and yearning. I live for music like this. If only I could stream “Camouflage Heart” into your soul. You’ll have to settle for this lo-fi demo recording of “It’s Luxury,” or turn on your Cocteau Twins John Peel BBC Sessions version of “Hazel” to hear Gordon wailing in the background.

Here's Gordon:

Antony Hegarty of Antony & the Johnsons.  The first time I heard Antony sing, I pictured an Italian lounge singer, dressed like Liberace. I was so wrong.  He exudes melancholy, hopeful innocence from every pore. The real story though is Antony’s music: timeless lyricism and complex melodies…the kind that meander and shift like a river, varying the melody ever so slightly with each musical turn. 

Here's Antony:

Friday, May 22, 2009

The "bet dieting" trend

I recently heard that bet dieting is the new thing in the US and UK. Like my plan to lose 7lbs within 85 days under the threat of having to return my new iPod if I failed, these dieters are betting they will lose a certain amount of weight in a certain time, too. If they fail, some of their money will be donated to charity: usually a charity they don't approve of. 

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Weigh-in Day is Here...

..and I’m down to 142 lbs, which was my goal. Now I’m officially keeping the iPod! I even got it a little case. My intention is to not only keep the weight off but also see how much more I can lose. This should be easier in the coming months, since there will be lots of seasonal fruits and veggies around.

Over the coming months, the focus of this blog will likely shift from “weight-loss and music” to “food, health and music.” Hope you’re staying with me for the ride.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Soundtrack to God's Orgasm

I’ve listened to Sigur Rós since 2000 or so but about six months ago decided I finally had the time and inclination to be one of those nutjob fans; the kind who downloads their concerts from the web, who carefully peruses their back catalog to make sure I have every song the band ever performed, and so forth. (The latter is no easy feat. Sigur Rós have a tendency to give multiple names to what is actually the same song, like Untitled A combined with Untitled B is also called Smáskifa, and Untitled 4 is also called Njósnavélin, the Nothing Song, as well as the Spy Machine.)

One of the things I’ve done in my insanity is setup a comprehensive Google Alert for “Sigur Rós” which gets me everything that everyone in the freakin’ world is saying about the band is on the web. (If you haven’t played with Google Alerts, I highly recommend it. You set an alert for anything you are interested in, and I mean anything). The end result of alerting is a whole lot of crap in my Google Reader, and a few diamonds. But those diamonds are totally worth it. Because of Google Alerts, I was one of the first to hear about their acoustic performance of Við Spilum Endalaust at La Closerie in France, and I got ahold of an unmastered “rough mix" of the new Riceboy Sleeps album (a collaboration between Alex Somers and Sigur Rós’s Jón Þór Birgisson).

Perhaps the most comforting thing about reading other people’s spewings about Sigur Rós is learning that I am not alone in my obsession. I came up with the phrase “soundtrack to God’s orgasm” to describe their music and then was pleasantly surprised to read that others are thinking along the same lines.

This article speaks of their music as charged with the grandeur of God. “There's such a hugeness to this music--the melodies are clearly in service of something more than entertainment or selling CDs.”

Another discussion (in the context of being a pastor) centers on Sigur Rós’s gibberish language (sometimes called "vonlenska"). In sum: the feeling of the words is more important than the words themselves.

God may not have a gender, but I couldn’t help but notice that many Sigur Rós songs follow the pattern of the female orgasm…building up to a plateau, building some more, coming to a climax or crescendo, then slowly melting into detumescense. If you don’t believe me, listen to Glósóli from “Takk,” Untitled 7 (aka Dauðalagið or the Death Song) from “()” or Viðrar Vel Til Loftárása from “Ágætis Byrjun.” I think this person (who suggests listening to Sigur Rós while getting busy between the sheets) would probably agree.

Photo below is Jónsi Birgisson with typical performance-face, somewhere between weeping and ...?

Nice example of "vonlenska" here in Heima:

This one is in Icelandic and has one of the best crescendos I've ever heard:

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Hoppin’ back to Hip-hop

[Me in 1990]

Whenever I see a female with a drawn-on moustache, I get a flash of recognition, a sense that I might be seeing a kindred spirit. As a woman who has been known to wear a fake moustache from time to time, I feel a sense of fellowship when I see another woman who does the same. So when I stumbled upon CocoRosie one night while surfing YouTube, I spent more time considering their music that might have otherwise.

CocoRosie started as a kind of lo-fi freak folk band, but have morphed into a kind of fairy tale hip-hop group. And you might say it took cross-dressing Bianca “Coco” Casady to remind me that I actually enjoyed rap back in the 80s: Public Enemy, Schoolly D, Erik B and Rakim, De La Soul, Tribe Called Qwest.

So now I am back seeking beats, rhymes and good times. Send me your rap recommendations.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Rend My Heart

Everyone has addictions. You might be addicted to sugar, chocolate, alcohol, a certain TV show, sex, or drugs. I’m addicted to intense emotional states, especially that feeling that wavers between intense joy and tears of angst.

This feeling may be what Tim Buckley had in mind when he named one of his albums "Happy Sad." The French have a word for it, too: chantepleure which is normally translated as “laughing and crying/singing at the same time” or “alternation of joy and sorrow

What better way to get into an intense emotional state than to listen to music? But everyone experiences music a bit differently and it is a very personal thing. What makes me pleasurably melancholy might put you to sleep, and what fills me with joyful anxiety might give you a headache.

Nevertheless, here are some songs that I think provide a good example of ecstatic angst:

Antony & the Johnsons: “Bird Gerhl” “Man is the Baby”

Bright Eyes: “The Difference in the Shades” “Kathy with a K’s Song.”

The Popular Front: “State to State”

Harold Budd with Liz Fraser, Simon Raymonde and Robin Guthrie: “Why Do You Love Me?”

Sugarcubes: the chorus of “Birthday”

Nick Drake: “Fly”

Jimmy Scott: “Day by Day”

Dead Can Dance: “Sanvaen” “Avatar” and the string outro in “Mesmerism”

Richard Strauss: “”Metamorphosen for 23 Strings.”

Sigur Rós: The majority of their catalogue, but “Gong” and the crescendo in “Viðrar vel til loftárása” stand out to me as good examples.

(Now if there was an easy way to share this playlist with you I would, but I’m not really into the idea of creating a MySpace page.)

Do you have an intensely emotional or "happy sad" song to share?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My Bloody Valentine, Live at Wamu Theater in Seattle, April 27, 2009

Since my husband felt obliged to write about the My Bloody Valentine concert we saw last night, I thought I should chip in with my own observations.

I feel bad trying to review this concert since we didn’t get to stay until the end (we needed to be home by 11pm to relieve the babysitter. This the second time we’ve had to leave a concert before the end for this reason. I’m getting a little tired of this, but the only other option is to not go to concerts together anymore. Or try to convince bands to go on earlier (hopeless). I mean, when it says “doors at 6:30pm, show at 8pm” I still naively expect that the band I paid to see might actually start around 8pm. Not 9:45pm which was the case last night. Such is life.)

For the hour of the show I did manage to see, I would say it was great, because I love their songs. But for me, the show was not as great as the CDs. Primarily because MBV play so freakin’ loud that some the subtle nuances of the songs are lost in waves of distortion. You have to wear earplugs to protect your ears (earplugs are distributed at every MBV show) and so right there you are missing out on something: perhaps about 32db worth of sound that might contain subtle nuances.

It’s clear to me that you go to an MBV show for the experience, as much as anything else. By combining the wall of sound with repetitive visuals and flashing lights in your eyes, they seemed to determined to assist the audience in entering some kind of hypnotized state. That was nice, but part of me would have preferred to see close ups of the band so I could see their faces and how they played their instruments. I guess I’ve been spoiled by watching Sigur Rós live videos from Victory Rose on my computer.  (BTW I wrote the Mac portion of the Help & FAQ file on the Victory Rose sites). That way could have perhaps finally figured out how MBV are making some of those cool sounds. Oh well.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Finally Got Some Blood From the Starbucks "Pick of the Week" Stone

When I get the chance I stop into Starbucks and pick up one of their “Pick of the Week” cards. I love the thrill of free digital music, and have been faithfully downloading these songs for months in hopes of finding something I actually like.

Past Starbucks downloads have mostly either bored or offended me (like Diana Krall singing “the Boy from Ipanema”…give me a break…no need to change the word “lovely” to “handsome.” Boys can be “lovely,”  too.) But I kept coming back for more.

Finally my patience was rewarded by the Boxer Rebellion’s new song, “Flashing Red Light Means Go." I had not heard the Boxer Rebellion before, but they remind me a bit of Muse, Doves, and Radiohead. Good driving-too-fast-and-hydroplaning music.

Check out the Boxer Rebellion on or Myspace.


Friday, April 24, 2009

The Genotype Diet

Peter D’Adamo’s latest book The Genotype Diet expands his Blood Type Diet theories, parceling people into six different “types.” Part One of the book is titled “Genotype: The Key to Understanding Who You Are.” Indeed, if you enjoy such self-exploratory ventures as palm-reading, Facebook quizzes and personality tests, you will probably get a kick out of this book., though I cannot vouch for the diet advice deemed appropriate for your genotype.

Still I had a fun time looking at my fingerprints (according to Dr. D’s analysis, I am probably sensitive to wheat and/or grains and could have a tendency to cognitive disease later in life). My teeth apparently suggest I should be eating meat.

Key measurements include: ratio of torso to legs, and upper to lower leg; ring finger vs. index finger length. You measure these to narrow it down, and then look at things like blood type information to hone in on your actual genotype. I read the description for my type (“Hunter”) and was not too terribly surprised, having read similar things my blood type (O+ secretor) in Dr. D’s previous book.

During a walk around Green Lake last week, nearly everyone I saw looked like their torso was longer than (or equal in length) to their legs (especially if you count the head as part of the torso, as Dr. D’Adamo does). Who are these people who have super long legs?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

For your amusement: new songs

Let it be known that I have posted a new slate of songs for your amusement. These are silly songs I made up to entertain myself and my daughter.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

One Month Till the Deadline

I have until May 17th to lose 7 lbs. And guess what…I did it already! Now I just have to keep the weight off. This weight loss project is turning out to be easier than I expected. Losing 3.5 lbs a month is a cinch, so far. Eating less, walking more. That’s it.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Eat Right 4 Your Type

A few weeks ago I was inspired by VegFest to try a mostly vegetarian diet (something I have never been successful at doing). When my husband got wind of my efforts (possibly due to recipes involving celery root and rutabagas), he was distressed.

He told me (I paraphrase), “I’m type O. I’m supposed to eat meat.”
I said, “You believe in that? I didn’t think you did!”

Well, I have Type O blood, too. If you know anything about Dr. Peter D’Adamo and his blood type diet, you know that Type O’s are the original Hunter types. We thrive on meat, and whither on wheat (see my earlier post, Bread is the Devil).

It had been a long time since I’d thought about the blood type diet, so I looked up Dr. D’Adamo’s website and learned he has a new twist on “Eat Right 4 Your Type.” It’s called the Genotype Diet, and further personalizes the generalizations made in his earlier books.

In 1995 I visited Dr. Jenefer Huntoon at the Naturopathic Clinic. She did a lot of things for me healthwise, but one of the things she did was to send my blood and saliva samples to Dr. D’Adamo’s lab for testing. The first “Eat Right 4 Your Type” book had not even been published yet. I submitted to a blood draw and spent several long minutes drooling into a test tube.

I got back a report informing me of various details about my ABO blood type (O positive, secretor, etc) including a list of foods to eat and foods to avoid.

After “Eat Right 4 Your Type” came out and Dr. D put up his website about it, I wrote to him and asked whether I should be following the food recommendations in my personalized report, or the ones in his book. He told me to always go with the most recent information, in this case, the book.

I must admit that when I have followed this list of blood type specific food recommendations to the best of my ability, I actually feel better. And after eating meat for the first time after a week of playing vegetarian, I felt a surge of vitality and wellness.

When Dr. D’s Genotype Diet book came out, I got it from the library. It’s the latest research, so should supersede the earlier books, for the most part. I will write more about the Genotype Diet in a future post.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Cast iron pan seasoning: the secret

I have found the secret to keeping a good seasoning on a cast iron pan.

For years I struggled with this: I’d try to scrub the pan clean and couldn’t seem to do it with out soap and water, but this would take the seasoning right off. Then I’d have to go through this whole process of oiling the pan and putting it the oven for an hour, which would stink up the kitchen.

Here’s the secret: get the pan as clean as you can with hot water and scrubbing, but don’t worry too much about stuck-on food. Then dry the pan and pour a tablespoon or two of cooking oil in it (I use canola). Then add salt (I use cheap iodized salt), about the same quantity that you added of oil. Take a cloth and scrub the oil/salt mixture into the pan. The salt will scrub off the debris, while the oil will season the pan. When the stuck-on food is scrubbed off, wipe the pan clean. You’re done!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Eat This Not That

A few months ago Barack Obama was on the cover of Men’s Health magazine and I bought it. Partly because Barack Obama was in it, and partly so I could have an excuse to inhale the “guyness” of such a magazine. My husband read that issue, too, and found out about the Eat This Not That serious of books. Next thing I knew, we had the three Eat This Not That books in our home, and copies on the way to certain family members.

Since I cook most of my meals from scratch and rarely eat out at chain restaurants, the bulk of the content of these books is of limited use to me, but I can appreciate how helpful they are for many. Especially for men and children (their aversion to the written word is part of their charm), who prefer to learn from full color photographs.

The premise is so simple even my three year old understands it: on the left side of the page are the “Eat This” foods, while the “Not That” foods grace the right side of the page. In fact, my daughter was paging through the book and saying things like, “Oh no, Mommy. Our favorite salad dressing is BAD” and “Oh, Mommy, my favorite bar is good for me!” (Clif-Z chocolate bar?) I try to explain that even though there are things like candy on the “Eat This” side, it doesn’t mean you “should” eat candy.

Some of the suggestions may surprise you, like the recommendation to eat Breyer’s YoCruch Light Yogurt Cookies n Cream (containing Oreo cookies) instead of Horizon Organic Fat-Free Strawberry. But if you look at the ingredients and calories, lo and behold…the latter contains more calories and sugars than the former.

And some of the information is sobering, like the knowledge that the orange chicken from Panda Express is one of the worst things on the menu for you health wise (500 calories, contains trans fats). Dang, we’ll have to steer clear of that place for a while…the orange chicken is Ravenna’s favorite.

My favorite parts of these books for me are the magazine article style tidbits:

-- Eat This Not That contains suggestions on what food to eat to help you sleep (nonfat popcorn, sesame seeds, or oatmeal with bananas and walnuts, cherry juice) and how to decode restaurant menus. I admit I gloated when they came down on people who mix wasabi with soy sauce and drench their sushi in it.

-- Eat This Not That Supermarket Survival Guide has information on how to choose vegetables at the market, and how to determine if you are lactose intolerant.

Check ‘em out from the library and see what you think.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

In Praise of Off-key Singing

Off-key singing will always have a special place in my heart. I like it because it is instant harmony to my ears; when the singer goes off key, I hear the note as it is actually sung, and also the note as it should be sung (in my head). The two harmonize in my mind's ear and it is a beautiful thing. Usually.

I really wanted to link to some custom-made sound files demonstrating some of my favorite moments of off-key singing. Then I learned it is illegal for me to post even a second of someone else’s song. Sort of absurd, really: I can quote from someone’s book when I’m doing a book review. But I can’t provide a musical “quote” from a song to illustrate a point, even if it my point is “listen to how wonderful this is!”

Here are some glorious examples of off key singing:

The Appleseed Cast: the chorus of “Antihero” -- This is just classic. Warbling, crashing guitars plus warbling, crashing singing equals bliss.

Mineral: “Take the Picture Now” -- Chris Simpson really is one of my all time favorite singers. His candid singing and gift for finding the melody in the music are rarely matched by anyone else. This song is a great example of aching sincerity winning the day over dissonance.

Bright Eyes: “All of the Truth” – Conor Oberst was probably no more than 17 when he did this home-recorded song. I absolutely love not only the off-key moments of singing, but also the way the tape changes speed and slows down for a second at one point. The wobbly, amateurishness of the singing and recording supports the longing, forlorn nature of the lyrics. Perfect.

Felt: -- Just about any song on “Forever Breathes the Lonely Word” – You really can’t appreciate Felt unless you can get past Lawrence’s voice and the way it meanders around like a drunken river, sloshing stray notes onto the shore. Rock on.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Keeping a Food Journal: Not

When I first started this weight loss venture, I was advised by various sources to track the food I eat in some sort of food journal. Various online food journals exist. For example, there’s Calorie Count (focused on calories consumed and burned), My Food Diary, and Weight Watchers (which uses a points system to balance food and exercise). Calorie Count is free, while the other two cost money to use.

It didn’t take me long to realize that entering every single thing I’ve eaten into a database is a pain in the petookis. I think that’s where the utility of food journaling as a weight loss tool comes clear: it is such a hassle to enter in all these foods that you will think twice before eating anything, knowing you have to enter it all into a database and keep track of it.

On the first day of my diet, I was faced with the task of entering half of a Gordito’s burrito into the Calorie Count database. I had to guesstimate the amount of beans, tortilla, rice, onions, lettuce, cheese, sauce (what's IN that sauce?) that was in the burrito. What a nightmare! Next time, I thought, I’ll just have an apple instead.

Another problem with food journaling: How many minutes would it take the average person to enter all this information into their computer? Wouldn’t that time be better spent working out or at least moving around?

If you’ve had the good fortune to lose weight while keeping a food diary, I celebrate your success. I think I’ll use my computer time for downloading music and creating iTunes playlists instead.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Am I Making Progress?

On February 22, I planned to lose 7 pounds by May 17. If I don't lose those pounds, I'm supposed to return my new iPod to the store where I bought it. How have I done so far?

One third of the way there, I have lost about 1/3 of the weight. Yay! On target. And I haven't even quit sweets or alcohol entirely; I’ve just generally been eating less. The first week of this diet was the hardest, because I was hungry, but once I got past that first week, my body had adjusted to eating less and I wasn’t really that hungry.

I haven't walked 5x a week like I had hoped. I really want to walk more, but my daughter has been sick on and off and has missed some days of preschool. Some days, the rainy weather has deterred me, though I have walked in the rain a few times. My favorite routes are at Carkeek Park and Green Lake.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Like Mother, Like Daughter: Dig Those Music Videos

In the early 80's I used to watch MTV for 16 hours straight when I'd visit my grandmother, since she had cable TV and we didn't. My nearly four year-old daughter appears to have inherited my appreciation for music videos. Recently she latched onto this new one from Steven Wilson:

I am actually a bit surprised that my little Teletubbies girl who fears "Shrek" enjoys such a post-apocalyptic video. In places the video reminds me of the Korean version of horror film "The Ring" as channeled by Joel-Peter Witkin. It shows people with bird-heads and gas masks, showers of sparks, things on fire. Nevertheless, my daughter has been watching it three times a day.

The music video fare I was watching in my youth was a bit tamer. Like this classic from the era of the girly-men: "Oblivious" by Aztec Camera. The YouTube version has gone missing, and the one I've linked to has a brief ad at the beginning of it, unfortunately. But it's worth looking at if you like to see cute boys wearing eyeliner.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Bread is the Devil

Many years ago, I was eating lunch on the floor with a group of people who were mostly from Middle Eastern and Asian countries. A bit of sauce spilled on the carpet, and without thinking, I grabbed a small chunk of bread and used that to sop up the sauce. Someone immediately chastised me, saying, "That's food! Don't treat food like a cleanup rag!"

I gave it some thought and realized that I can't remember when I last considered bread as food. It ceased to be food for me so long ago. What is it then? Why, bread is pure evil, that's what. It is an addictive, horribly fattening substance. It is a vehicle for butter, another addictive, horribly fattening substance. It is the basis for pizza, another addictive, horribly fattening substance.

I must not be alone in my notions about bread; many of the popular diets of today (such as Atkins and South Beach) eschew bread as something to be avoided, at least in the early weeks of the diet. And when bread is reintroduced back into the dieter's diet, they say it should only be the whole grain variety, not the pasty white bread that is rumored to coat the insides of your intestines with a sticky crud.

This Q&A by Dr. Andrew Weil refers to a study where they found that dieting people eating refined grains like white bread lost less belly fat compared to those eating only whole grains.

Even whole wheat is problematic because it tends to be addictive. This sets up a craving cycle, which is unhelpful when you're dieting. For this reason, Phase 1 (the first two weeks) of the South Beach Diet has you avoiding bread entirely.

In addition, bread (even whole grain) is somewhat high in calories, especially when it contains a sweetener like sugar or honey. I checked the Nutrition Facts on a certain local baker's bread which we often buy and found even the whole wheat version contains 125 calories per slice. And this is the "good" bread...whole grain, hippie-dippy bread with no unpronounceable ingredients!

For now, I think I will be avoiding even home made bread, because I cannot restrain myself from eating half the loaf in one day. Evil yummy bread, get thee gone!

I leave you with this quote from Dr. Andrew Weil
"...there is universal agreement that high fructose corn syrup, white flour, white sugar and hydrogenated fats have no place in any diet. And there is near-universal agreement that a diet should be rich in vegetables and fruits and quality sources of protein, especially fish." Source.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Forty and Proud of It

If you are under 35 and reading this blog, you may be thinking "What kind of rock has this woman been living under? Who gets excited about things like RSS and Internet Radio? Those things are so...2004."

Well, you may be right, but I don't care. I have always been the sort of person who happily plays the role of the bright-eyed bushy-tailed dweeb. I ask the questions other people are embarrassed to ask for fear of people finding out they don't already know the answer. I translate the new technologies for those who aren't as tech-saavy as today's Generations Y and Z. I also enjoy anticipating the criticism people may have before they actually voice it, and responding to criticism before it comes to light.

So there!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Effect of Weaning

If the truth can be told (and I'm telling it), I am still nursing my daughter, who will be four years old in May. I'm planning to wean her completely over the next couple of months (she only nurses a few minutes a day now anyhow) and have been trying to determine what effect (if any) weaning will have on my weight loss plans.

I have heard rumors that your body hangs on to a little bit of fat (especially midriff fat) while you are still nursing, but that it will go away once you wean completely. I have also heard that it is common for some women to gain weight once they wean completely. This makes sense, too, because the child is no longer sucking calories out of you, but you may still be eating as if she is. I guess my own situation will come clear once I actually do it.

I've been nervous about calling it quits on nursing entirely for several reasons. One is that breast milk -- even in small quantities -- provides valuable antibodies to a child. Children's immune systems don't reach adult level of functioning until the child is around six years old. (Refer to the article "The Natural Age of Weaning" for reference) So I've been afraid that if I cut her off too soon, she's sure to get some horrible stomach flu or something right after and I'll wish I hadn't weaned.

Another reason (and a more selfish one) is that I'm worried about the hormone havoc that awaits me post-weaning. I realize I'm only delaying the inevitable, but there never seems to be a convenient time to have a hormone-induced nervous breakdown. If you think I'm making this up, read this.

So in a month (or two, or three) I'll let you know how it went, if there's anything interesting to report.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Dreaded Muffin Top

One of the reasons I never wear low-rise pants is the dreaded muffin top.

I never had a muffin top until after I had a baby. Within four months I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight, but I still had this roll of extra skin and flab around my mid-section. Will it ever go away? The extra skin part is especially scary. I mean, I have an idea of how to lose fat, but I have never heard of a skin-loss program. Have you?

First lets approach the fat question. What's the best way to get rid of that flab around your mid-section so you resemble the slender person you are, rather than the Michelin man?

My research tells me that walking quickly -- with two minute "cardio bursts" -- is the way to go. What is a "cardio burst"? That's the point when you find yourself unable to speak during exercising. It's that fast walk/slow jog (or whatever it takes you to become breathless) section of your exercise routine.

I found a couple of articles that tout this type of exercise as the way to lose your flabby middle: One from MSN and one from Prevention.

So the best thing for getting rid of -- or at least reducing -- a muffin top is a combination of walking, cardio bursts and exercises that strengthen and tone the "core" muscles in your abdomen.

As for the extra skin leftover from pregnancy, alas, there doesn't seem to be anything one can do about it, short of surgery.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Joy of Being Alerted

Have you ever been blindsided by the news that a favorite band or performer released a new album, rushed to the store and found it already sold out?

Have you ever heard too late that a favorite band or performer is going to be playing live in your city and missed your chance of getting tickets before the venue sold out?

Thanks to the Internet, you can be alerted to the latest news about the music you love, and virtually anything you are interested in.

For example, login to Ticketmaster and customize your "PerformerAlerts" to list performers you are interested in, and Ticketmaster will email you when they are going to be playing in your area.

Fun with RSS 

Be one of the first to know when a favorite band is releasing a new album: use Google Reader or a similar aggregator to subscribe to RSS feeds published by a favorite band web site, or music magazine.

I found these and subscribe to them...

NME news:

Rolling Stone:

Pitchfork Media:

...but would love to hear about any favorites you might have. If it wasn't for these feeds, I would never have  learned that Spinal Tap will soon be touring North America or who is playing live on which TV show this week.

Other feeds you can subscribe to include a performer's Flickr photostream (even Barack Obama has one), or You Tube channel, for example, here's the one for Sigur Rós.

Just look for the RSS Feed icon: 

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Road Ahead

Typically, I like to have a plan before I do something. Losing weight isn't just going to happen if I go about it willy-nilly, I figure. Any time I make a plan, it starts with research.

So here's the plan:

1. Research the topic of "how to lose weight." This includes polling friends for advice, googling, reading up on various popular diets like the South Beach Diet, and posting questions on forums.

2. Spend the first month researching, trying to apply the advice that is easiest for me to apply (seriously cut back on sweets, eat less starchy and simple carbs, eat more fruit and vegetables, go walking several times a week for at least 45 minutes). Then weigh in around March 22 and see if I've lost any weight.

3. Depending on the results of March 22nd weigh-in, I either keep doing what I'm doing, or do something new (I don't know what yet) that will be based on the research I culled in the first month. Then I go another month and weight-in around April 20 or so.

4. If I am on track April 20, I keep doing what I'm doing. If I'm not losing weight at a rapid enough rate (you'd think that losing 2-3 lbs a month is a reasonable goal), I look at more drastic solutions. Perhaps the Atkins diet? My husband is going to blow a fit when he reads this.

The Wonderful World of Internet Radio

Years ago my husband told me about, a website that recommends and plays music to you based on what musicians you already enjoy. I refused to listen to it, annoyed that some program purported to know what music I ought to like.

"I like music because of its structure and emotional content, not because of its superficial texture!" I insisted pompously. Many times someone has come up to me and said, "Oh you like this band, so you'll probably like this other band which sounds similar" and so I listen to the recommendation and usually find I don't like it.

Then a friend mentioned "Edith Piaf radio" on Pandora (thanks Denis!) and that inspired me to give it a try. I played with Pandora for a few weeks. I tried Edith Piaf radio, Cocteau Twins radio, Sigur Rós radio. But eventually I got annoyed that it seemed to be serving up the same songs over and over again. It is possible, however, to add variety to your station by adding additional artists or songs as "seeds." I have only just recently begun experimenting with this feature. (which you can access via Station Options > Add Variety to this Station.

I've had better luck with, especially with the "Sigur Rós radio". Of course, your results may vary depending on the performer you input. introduced me to the music of Max Richter, Stafrænn Hákon and Yndi Halda, which I could not find at all on Pandora. Each artist page on provides easy access to all available tracks by that artist, and also has videos, photos, news and more.

Although Pandora and both call themselves "Radio," their playlists are customized for the listener. There are plenty of other Internet radio stations out there that simply serve up playlists in various musical genres.

For example, tune into SomaFM which features playlists for musical styles underserved by regular radio, such as ambient, house music, American roots music, lounge, avant-garde jazz and indie pop. They even have a Halloween station called "Doomed." SomaFM requires a third party music player like iTunes or WinAmp

Then there's AOL Radio, which has more traditional music categories, like metal, hip-hop/rap, rock and world/international. It has it's own player window that comes up and shows you the album cover for the song that's playing. One thing that's nice about the AOL Radio is that you can skip ahead to the next song if you don't like what's currently playing. and Pandora have that feature, too.

Radio-locator provides a search engine to over 10,000 radio stations from around the world. From there I can easily locate, for example, WVUD (the station I used to dj for in the late 80's and early 90's when it was called WXDR). You can search by music style or country. Bonanza! When you listen to these "real" radio stations, you are typically hearing the live broadcast, complete with dj comments and commercials.

If you keep an open mind (and open ears) Internet radio is a great way to discover new music.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Exercise Me

I love to exercise. Really, I do. I feel so much better afterward and sleep better, too. But there are obstacles to exercise; let me count the excuses:

1. I have a little kid at home. I can't take her with me to the gym or go on a good, fast walk with her. When I try to do yoga or pilates or stretching at home she sometimes tackles me or screams "no!" or demands I play with her instead.
2. I live in Seattle, where it rains a lot. Granted, I could carry an umbrella. But if I wear my walking shoes (my sneakers) out I'll get wet feet. Do I need to spend even more money -- on waterproof walking shoes -- to motivate me? Can I get the same workout pacing back and forth in the living room?
3. Pain and injury (as well as fear of pain and injury). I walked an hour the first two days of my venture, and my ankles and legs hurt afterward. I know it will get better if I keep at it. But what if too much walking makes the bursitis in my left knee flare up? Or I hurt myself so bad that I can't walk at all?

Getting past these excuses is as much a mental game as a physical one. Your advice is welcome!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

For the love of music

This blog is currently focused on two things: my attempt to lose weight and my love of music. These things are connected for right now, since I have made a pact that if I do not lose 7 lbs. in 85 days (weigh-in day is May 17, 2009), I will return the iPod Classic that I have recently purchased.

I have been wanting an iPod for a while now, and part of my motivation for getting one is that I believe it will get me out of the house more if I can just put my tunes in my pocket and head out the door for a walk. So now I have to make good on this notion, and actually exercise more. Today I took a walk with my iPod, up a neighborhood street to Carkeek Park. I walked for an hour! See, it's working already.

Being a natural sedentary individual, I attack any new undertaking by first sitting down at my computer and researching it. So today I googled things like:

calorie agave honey sugar xylitol stevia 

(I learned that agave syrup might be bad for you ... too much fructose, and that stevia has no calories)

Well aware that I should be exercising instead of sitting at a computer, I merrily googled some more, looking for weight loss web sites. I also posted status messages on Facebook about my quest to lose weight and got advice from friends. And for dessert, I started a blog about it. 

I was aware before I made this agreement with myself (with my husband as a witness) that in order to lose 1 lb. a week, a person needs to take in 3500 calories less over the course of the week, OR burn 3500 more, OR (better yet) some combination of the two. So I can simply burn 250 extra calories a day, eat 250 less calories a day, and lose 1 lb a week. Easier said than done?

Trouble is I've never actually dieted or tried to lose weight before, so I can't be sure my body will cooperate with this. I was 105-110lbs until I was around 27 years old. Then began the slow steady upward climb toward plumpness, which peaked in 2005 when I was pregnant with my daughter. I gained 35 lbs with my pregnancy and topped the scale at 171 lbs. Four months post-partum I was back in my pre-pregnancy clothes (thanks to my daughter's enthusiastic breastfeeding).

But then what happened? Over the course of the next 3 years, ten more pounds showed up, squeezing me out of my trousers, and rendering a chunk of my wardrobe unwearable.

So over the course of the next three months, I will be chronicling my attempt to lose 7 pounds, as well as lavishing you with the music I love.