Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Three Weeks from Today

Three weeks from today I'm going to France to wear dresses and ride bicycles.

Well, not technically. Three weeks from today I'm going into the Missionary Training Center to learn how to be a missionary and to learn how to speak French.

And even once I get to France, I probably won't be riding bicycles, thanks to their rockin public transport system...
and to their cobblestone streets. 

And I don't have a dress like that.

So whatever, three weeks from today I'll be smiling like this while I parade around the MTC.


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Place You Should Eat // Mongo's Stirfry, Provo UT

Back when I lived in Idaho, one of my favorite places to eat was Mongolian Barbeque. I spent many-a-high-school-lunchtime and many-a-high-school-date there with friends. I am not exaggerating when I say that Mongolian Barbeque is a locus of friendship, of plenty, of exotic tastes and hearty servings.

And then I moved away from my beloved Eagle, Idaho and have lived sans Mongolian Barbeque ever since. A few years ago, on a particularly Mongolian-BBQ-starved day, I found one an hour or so south, in Springville. I went. It was bad. I vowed to never again eat any Mongolian but that served at that sweet sweet respite in home-sweet-Eagle.

Until this December. I'd hit a wall in my current writing project (analagous to this moment), and sought to drown said frustrations in food. I wanted stir fry. I wanted Mongolian. And then, in an act of divine inspiration, I remembered seeing a promo poster for a new Mongolian grill down the street. Could this be it? Could this be the Mongolian grill to fill the yearning years-long ache in my soul?

I am happy to report that yes, it is delicious. Yes, it filled my every noodley stirfry craving.

What is "it"? It is Mongo's Stirfry, in Provo. If you are in Utah, go there.

For those of you whose gastronomic voyages have never led you through the sweet, sweet waters of Mongolian Barbeque stirfry, let me explain: the whole thing is a buffet. It can be a little tricky navigating the ropes, so here are some tips for first timers.
  1. You pick a bowl size, 
  2. then walk down a long table of various raw vegetables, meats, roots, nuts, etc., piling everything and everything you want into your bowl. Pack it in tightly. Save the noodles for last (they can be piled high without falling off the bowl. The same cannot be said of pineapple pieces or carrot slices.). 
    1. First reason I love Mongo's: they have signs by the bowls encouraging you to pile the thing 4" above the rim of the bowl. Many other Mongolian BBQs frown upon such behavior.
  3. You then mix up your own concoction of sauces, from a spread of garlic, sesame oil, ginger, plus, lemon, orange, barbeque, teriyaki, curry, etc. 
    1. Second reason I love Mongo's: they give you separate bowls for the sauces. If you've ever tried to pour 8 ladles of sauce into an already stuffed and over-piled bowl of noodles and veggies, you know that it's only a matter of time before the whole bowl starts seeping over the rim with oily sauce.
    2. Getting the right mix of sauces is pretty important. After years of experimenting (10 years to be exact...what can I say, good things take time), I'd recommend the following sauce combination:
      1. 3 ladles House Sauce, 3 ladles BBQ Sauce, 1 ladle Sesame Oil, 1 ladle Sweet and Sour, 1-2 ladles Garlic
  4. Hand both the sauce and the noodle bowl to the chef. Before your very eyes, he throws them on the grill, cooks and cooks and cooks, and then, with a final flourish of his wooden wand (literal, not figurative), he whips the noodles into a fresh bowl. It's about I warn you, the fragrance alone, so exotic and complex, has been known to send grown men to their knees.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Valentine's Gift Guide:
for the kid who built his own bridge, taught himself how to crochet, and would sleep outside every night if he could

Giving gifts is tricky. Especially on Valentine’s when you are trying to say more than just, "I remembered it's Christmas!" The thing is, candy, flowers, and gift cards say, “I love,” but often they don't really say, "I love you." As in I love you specifically, with all your idiosyncrasies and passions and dreams, and I know all those things better than any other human, so BAM here's the perfect gift for you because BAM I love you. YOU, YES YOU. 

So here are some nontraditional Valentine's gift ideas. Give em something that says you know them better than anyone else. Give em something that you love them more than anyone else.

[Ten bazillion points for anyone who has the guts to give a Valentine's gift to someone who doesn't know of their love. I will be awaiting your stories.]

Volume of Smith Journal ($11.95 for one volume, $46.17 for a 6-month subscription)
Bonsai tree kit ($24.95)

Harmonica (I'd recommend the Weekender, $14.99)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

a guide to vintage shopping

Here's a fun factoid for you: as of today, I own more secondhand clothes than firsthand clothes.

I'm gonna go ahead and leapfrog over all conversations about how this proves I'm hipster (that conversation's been had, son.) and get to the weightier matters. Like how I came to be the world's best vintage clothes scout and what I plan to do with this superpower!

First, when I say "vintage," what I really mean is "clothes some grandma somewhere gave to charity." I do not mean "clothes from a store in California that says they're secondhand but charges as much as firsthand stores." Those stores have some great finds. But this guide is specifically about finding the gems in the sometimes scary sea of truly-secondhand clothing.

Second, when I say "a guide for vintage shopping," what I really mean is a guide for finding skirts, blouses, dresses, blazers, and the like. The classy wardrobe items. I'm not talking about Christmas sweaters with jingle-bells hanging off the hems and Napoleon Dynamite-style tee-shirts. You people are gonna have to go elsewhere for guides like that. (Actually, I take that back. Here's your guide: Go to the tee-shirt rack at D.I. Close your eyes. Grab any shirt. Congratulations, you've done it.)

Some Reasons to Shop Secondhand ('Cuz I Know Some of You Think You're "Too Good for It" and Whatever):
  1. The Obvious: It's cheaper. Like 5-6x cheaper.
  2. The Not-So Obvious: No one--and I mean no one--will have your same outfit. I'm not really one to care one way or the other if I'm wearing the same thing as someone else* (I get it if you do, though). So I guess what I really mean here is that by shopping vintage, you will find items that feel modern but that have one-of-a-kind details. Blouses with triple pleats down the front, mid-calf skirts with high waist-bands and deep pockets, suede heels with silk bows on top.
  3. The Cut: Maybe it's just that my body and the cut of modern clothing have it out for each other, but I'd say these older tailorings fit bodies so much better. Let's talk about those high-waisted skirts and how they make anyone look like Grace Kelly. Let's talk about blouses that are cut long and roomy but somehow manage to be incredibly ladylike.
  4. The Bravery: It's an adventure. We're talking treasure hunt every time, people.
  5. The Artistry: It engenders constant imagination, reinventing how you pair things in your closet, what colors and what patterns might unexpectedly go together. If you have any creative bones in your body, this is gonna become something really fun for you.
  6. The Environment: Save the whales. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Carbon footprints, blabbaty-blah, okay next section.
The General Idea:
Find a thrift store. Enter. Mosey. Find a clothing rack that interests you. Nonchalantly browse until you find something that catches your eye. Look a little closer--still like it? Cool, try it on.
The Rules:
  1. Only buy it if it fits perfectly annnnnd  looks smashing on you.
  2. Avoid the ratty stuff. You know, pilly fabric, stuff with stains, things that have that "washed-too-many-times" color.
  3. Be open-minded, try things that are kind risky, and then think in terms of layers. Sometimes a blouse's pattern is a little freaky, until you realize it'd look really good with a navy cardigan, or a mustard scarf, or a blingity-bling necklace you already have at home.
  4. You have to go not expecting to find anything. Just go to browse. That's when (no joke) the Vintage Gods drop gifts from the heavens.
  5. Be creative! I sewed some wide white lace around the bottom of an otherwise plain pink skirt and now it's one of my favorites.
  6. Go regularly. This isn't something you do in one fell swoop. Sometimes you find stuff, sometimes you don't. It takes cultivation, incubation, one piece here, one piece there, until you've got a hand-picked, carefully selected closet of one-of-a-kind, just-for-you clothes.
Some Insider Tips:
  • You don't have to look at every piece. Look over the racks quickly to see if any fabrics jump out at you. If you are looking for something specific (like a skirt, for instance), go through those racks a little more thoroughly, but the same rule applies: look first and only for fabrics with good colors, interesting patterns, or good texture. Then look closer at things like the cut.
  • Don't pay much attention to sizes until you get in the dressing room. You'll know if something's going to be way too big or way too small so obviously filter those out, but generally the size on the tag won't be equivalent to our sizes today and generally the stores are no better at guessing what the actual size might be than you are. So if you like it, just try it on.
  • Some times are better to shop than others. I like going during the day, when it's less crowded. Part of me bets that a week after Christmas would be a great time to go, but I'm usually still hibernating with a quilt and good book around that time, so I can't vouch for this.
  • The second you start getting overwhelmed or tired of it or everything starts looking the same, GET OUT OF THERE. As soon as it loses its capriciousness, as soon as you start caring if you find something, it loses its magic and all you will find for the rest of the day are leather-fringed denim vests and shirts with "Abercrombie" emblazoned across the front. I'm sure these will again have their day in the sun, but today is not that day. Save those for when our kids want to dress vintage.

There you go. Happy hunting!

*There was actually one time when I did care that I was wearing the same thing as someone else. It was at a My Morning Jacket concert. He was 15. I was not (*ahem*: mid-20s). We were both wearing the same tee-shirt. He had bought it (appropriately) from the men's section at H&M. I had also bought it from the men's section at H&M. I think that means he won.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sundance Film Review // Ain't Them Bodies Saints

What the film is technically about:
A Texas outlaw treks across the country to make it back to his wife and child, who are trying to build peaceful and new lives for themselves until he can come for them.

What the film is really about:
It is about loving someone so much, you can sense them walking down the street.
It is about just wanting to hold her.
It is a love letter; it is an elegy.

What I have to say about it:
Ain't Them Bodies Saints feels like a story you've heard your whole life, and never heard before at all. The script is refreshing, the cinematography folds you into the film, and somehow David Lowery manages to write a final act that simultaneously gives nothing away and yet completely appeases your expectations.

The story is simple but compelling. When the director asked for questions at the Q&A after, it was silent for a while, I think for this very reason. We couldn't figure out how to put into words the questions we had. You sense there are deep currents in this film, and yet it is all put forward so sincerely and unpretentiously that it takes some careful words and some careful thoughts.

And as for the music, well, it is perfect. There is clapping. There are mandolins. The score couldn't be more imaginative nor more perfectly suited for the film.

Things you should know:
1) director: David Lowery (with Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara starring)
2) run time: 104 minutes
3) about the thumbnail image: yes, this film lives up to everything you would imagine from that snapshot. it is mesmerizing and haunting and completely beautiful.
4) content: there's some shoot-out scenes (as one would imagine in a film about outlaws), some blood, and a few swears. nothing gratuitous, either in blood or in language.
5) the title: brilliant huh. Ain't Them Bodies Saints. David Lowery said it's from an old Americana-sty;e song he misheard all these years. Sometimes mishearing can be the best kind of hearing.
5) you might cry. But it won't be because your emotions have been manipulated by cheap tricks. It will be because you recognize the characters in yourself, and because what you recognize is sweet and sad and so so worthy of love.

Do I recommend it?
If you have a heart, you need to see this film.

Monday, January 21, 2013

music monday

This week's music is brought to you by a CD stolen out of the car of some girl in Dallas.

I've never done dedications before, but what the heck, it's a new year. I suppose the first one's for all my ladies living in the District, and for the rascally man who stole the CD out of the car of that girl in Dallas. The second song goes out to all you lovers. And the third is for James, who used to have hair of similar magnitude, but especially for Raymon, who belongs in nothing more completely than he does in this video.

1. "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" (Birdy)
2. "Time Left for Love" (Shout Out Louds)
3. "Never Gonna Give You Up" (Rick Astley)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Sundance Film Review // Valentine Road

It's that time of year again! Time for Ryan Gosling and James Franco sightings, for getting lost in Park City trying to find parking, for waiting in lines, and for otherwise freezing in the subzero temperatures of the Wasatch Back. That's right folks, it's time for the Sundance Film Festival: the two weekends a year that Utah has more to offer the world than skiing and the oddities of Mormon culture.

I'm hoping to see a few films over the next couple of weeks (Have you seen the lineup? How is anyone supposed to choose only one?!), and I actually got to see my first last night, at a special exclusive premiere night! (I know, I know, lifestyles of the rich and the famous.) I know it can be hard to choose from the 200 films Sundance offers every year, especially when all you've got to go off is the paragraph in the Film Festival Guide. So I thought it'd be fun to do a couple of reviews of the ones I see. To kick it off, probably the last film I would have chosen to go to but one that I was incredibly moved by, Valentine Road.

What the film is technically about:
Valentine Road is about the school shooting of 8th-grader Larry King by his fellow classmate, Brandon McInerney. Valentine Road follows the friends, family, teachers, and lawyers of the two 8th-graders through the aftermath of the event.

What the film is really about:
Justice. Mercy. Tolerance. Intolerance. The penal system. The education system. Nature and nurture. Crippling regret. Slow-to-come healing. Bravery. Forgiveness.

What I have to say about it:
You know a film is good when its hour and a half length elicits an hour and a half discussion afterwards. We talked the whole way home about right and wrong, justice and mercy, parenting and schooling, objectivity and manipulation in film-making, context and characterization as a key to swaying opinions, and most of all penitence and real change.

This film made me ask questions I haven't asked before. The story unfolded piece by piece, until this seemingly simple incident between two 8th-graders becomes rich with the many heartbreaking and inspiring side-stories of the people who knew them. With incredible finesse and captivation, Valentine Road shows the complexity of any moral decision. It shows how similar we all are, and how much each of us need love love love.

Things you should know:
1) director: Marta Cunningham
2) run time: 89 minutes
3) about the 80s-looking thumbnail image: don't be deceived into thinking the filming will be lackluster. It is refreshing and engaging and not for one moment did I disconnect from what was going on onscreen.
4) content: there is some language (a few f-words) and a couple of pictures of the blood at the crime scene. The content itself is already heavy (as Ira Glass would say, the film does acknowledge the existence of homosexuality (Larry identified as transgender), drugs, domestic violence, and hate crimes), but all is handled tactfully and gracefully.
5) and yes, there are funny moments in Valentine Road too. This one runs the gamut of emotion.

Do I recommend it? 
Yes. Highly. Go with someone who has things to say about the world, someone who is naturally curious and who likes discussing ideas, and then after the film, go to a restaurant in Park City or find a ski lodge at Sundance to sit in or drive for a few hours so you have the chance to process all the incredible things that Marta Cunningham makes happen here.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

music monday // a new year

1. "Swim Club" (The Cave Singers)
2. "Tender Mending" (Brooke Waggoner)
3. "Open Season" (High Highs)

Friday, January 4, 2013

on seeing fireworks at midnight

January 4th. Oh what is to be done.

It's incredible, scary really, how the more you write, the more you can't be torn away from it, and how the less you write, the more there is nothing in all this wide earth that can get you to pick up the pen again.

I've been in hibernation.
Possibly extinction.
But just as possibly resurrection.

I'll tell you one thing: today I spent six hours knitting. Nothing about knitting feels like resurrection. I feel I have lost a part of my soul today, all tied up in those gray little bumps and lumps.

Yesterday I was at my Grandma's, and she walked me through her whole house and told me stories of pieces of furniture, of a chair that used to sit at her kitchen table when she was a little girl. It's now in the basement bedroom, to the left of the stairs.

I went to the train station to see someone who never should have left in the first place. He had a beard and it made me think about time.

And sometimes I feel more tied down and sometimes I feel cut loose, and both of them terrify me.

Two more months
Six more weeks
Some days
An hour

And it passes and it passes and it passes.