Monthly Archives: December 2010

The Kitten Whisperer

Well, 2010 is just about done and dusted now and I can’t think of a better way to close this decade but with some adorable pictures of kittens as captioned by a six-year-old girl.

As if pictures of kittens weren’t enough…this video also provides hilarious narration!  How is this different from the mirth provided regularly by icanhascheezburger.com you might ask?  Well, whilst the captioning featured in ICHC is more considered–some even featuring recurring jokes and an ongoing drama about bucket theft and ceiling cats, this is just pure stream of consciousness style humor.

For example...

I gotta tell you, this kid is priceless.  And I’m not really the type that fawns over children.  This might seem odd, I know.  When people are around me, they always assume that I’d be just great with kids.  This is because I’m an immature moron who still reads comic books and poses action figures on my desk.  They think that because I’m tons of fun that I’d be absolute magic around the wee ones.  But it’s for those very reasons that I don’t think I’d be a great Mom at all…or even a particularly effective babysitter.  Last time I watched my god-daughter, she hit her head on furniture not once but TWICE!  I’m way too easily distracted.  I don’t want to share my toys.  I’m easily bored.  I have no child-care knowledge.  And most importantly, I don’t have that biological pull towards children.  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my nieces, they are both whip smart and stupidly cute…and if I’ve met YOUR kids, I probably like them just fine too.  But those kids have homes to go to when they’re through visiting.  I’m the sort of person who when let’s say, for instance, someone brings their six-year-old to work–whilst everyone else is cooing and asking how school is going and looking to engage with them on their level, I’ll barely look up from my desk.  If anything, I’ll just hope and hope that they don’t come over and bother me whilst I’m watching The Rachel Maddow Show on my lunch break.

My friend Paul hit the nail on the head the other day when we were discussing our similarity in this area.  He said that it’s because you have to change your levels of engagement.  Your conversation style has to change and you can’t really be yourself anymore around kids.  That, in itself, can be a bit draining.  And he’s right.  I can’t even use swears when I’m around them.

I think I’m destined to be the old lady who keeps your frisbee if it comes over to my lawn.  Not to be mean…just so I can play with it.

But this kid can hang out for a while if she wants.  It’s amazing!  I’m not even related to her, so I don’t have to feign interest at all!  Please enjoy this video of Maddie Kelly…a six year old verbally captioning photos of kittens from a picture book.

157.  Kittens Inspired By Kittens

Am I right?  What a stitch!  It’s no wonder that it’s made Time Magazine’s list of “50 Best YouTube clips”.

Now how did this little nugget of fried gold wind up on the internet in the first place?  Well, from what I can suss, her Dad works for an ad agency Fallon.  Watching his daughter goof about with a picture book of kittens, he manages to capture her on film and he posts it for the world to see on YouTube.  Fallon, of course, concerns itself in the monitoring of trends and on their own blog, they analyze the public’s delight with this clip.  You may read it here:

FallonBlog

Here’s an excerpt from their post:

The success of “Kittens…” (and hundreds of goofy vids like it) often flies in the face of much of our well-produced, branded, and strategized factory “virals”. So what gives? Is “viral” still just a roll of the dice – particularly for brands? Do we embrace the more-faster-cheaper ethos that drives the users? Do we recruit 6-year-olds to generate ideas for us? Do we get her to replicate the magic – this time for a brand? And it makes me wonder, if we had pitched “Kittens…” to a client would they ever have approved it? And if a client would’ve approved “Kittens…” would they have added too many brand mandatories that would slow down its “viral” appeal?

There’s something weird about dissecting the appeal of this clip to such fine detail.  Don’t get me wrong…I get that pop-culture analysis is sort of what I do on this blog too…But, I worry about too much experimentation/social study when it comes to kids.  The closest I ever came to being a Mom was with my dogs…just in the sense that I was responsible for their care.  And this Fallon blog post reminds me of how I used my dog Wolfie  for a science experiment in high school.  It ended unhappily for both me and the dog.  I had won a science award the year before for using his olfactory senses for a sort of consumer reports experiment I did with various saran wraps.  I won’t bore you with the details.   Anyway, all the judges loved Wolfie’s involvement and I thought I’d use him again.  I had wanted to be a veterinarian at that point in my life and I had been reading in DogFancy how it was becoming more and more important for owners to take care of their pets’ teeth.  So, I thought I’d test a specially marketed dog toothpaste over a human toothpaste over baking soda and water and of course a ‘control’ portion of Wolfie’s mouth where I didn’t brush at all.  To start out, we made an appointment for him to have his teeth cleaned at the veterinarian.  I wanted a blank slate and I was assured that it was an uncomplicated procedure.  Well, didn’t he just have a heart attack on the table due to an allergic reaction to the anesthesia.  I was crushed and I’m still not entirely over it.

So, I guess, what I’m saying, Mr. Maddie’s Dad Kelly is, don’t take your daughter to get her teeth cleaned.  That makes sense, right?

Plus, to be honest, overanalyzing this is only standing to make it less funny.

Like the FunnyOrDie.com videos featuring Adam McKay’s daughter, Pearl…it’s probably best to cap the fervor the nation has with the wee girl before it gets out of hand.  Pearl starred in a grand total of two videos.  As much as I want to see dozens more of these videos by the adorable Maddie Kelly, I think McKay’s two video maximum was a wise choice.  At least until she gets old enough to start and manage her own YouTube page.  But, let’s enjoy the sensation of “Kittens Inspired By Kittens”  while we can.  This handy link takes you to some of the spin-offs that the video has inspired…and boy are there lots.  Some are even worth watching!:  KnowYourMeme

Anyway, Happy New Year everyone!  Double head!  I’m her Mom!  Nooo she’s not.  (I’m finding the video entirely too quotable and will continue to torture my colleagues with an insufferable amount of repetition all throughout 2011.)

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Merry Misery!

Making up my Christmas playlist on my iPod this year, the final tally reached an impressive 160 songs.  That’s a jingly jam session that includes Rat Pack versions of classics, some choral tunes, the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack and some pop standards like The Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping“. But, even with over seven hours of holiday listening, one can grow weary of hearing the same tracks over and over.  (I listen to my iPod A-LOT).  So, I was on the hunt for a few new and worthy Christmas releases to add to the collection when I stumbled quite accidentally upon today’s great thing:

156.  The Hives and Cyndi Lauper A Christmas Duel

Cyndi Lauper has a Christmas album all to herself that I enjoy thoroughly.

Christmas stockings!

But this new(ish) addition to her repertoire is a terrific surprise.  Cyndi is such an old favorite of mine that it truly pleases me when more modern acts also recognize her brilliance.  So, I thought it was pretty cool that Swedish rock band The Hives sought her out.  They’re a respectable band and you may know their killer track “I Hate To Say I Told You So”.   Of the team-up a Hive says:

“We came up with the song and we figured it was a duet, and we’d always hoped to do a duet with Cyndi Lauper.”  Good enough for me!  I’m pretty sure the process also included  shopping at Ikea, playing some Abba, and chasing it all down with some meatballs and Akvavit..and other stereotypical things that I know about Sweden… and finally there you have it, a modern Christmas classic was born.

Fashion by H & M?

The charm of this song is that it’s about a miserable married couple having a ‘one-up’ sort of argument.  A song done years earlier in a similar vein is “Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues (and featuring Kirsty MacColl).  Now, to most here in the UK this will sound like sacrilege, but I do not like “Fairytale of New York”.  All the cool kids over here rank it seriously hight.  I get that it’s supposed to be bleakly humorous, but for my tastes it’s too bleak.  Even if the lyrics are funny, the music never picks up.  It’s like an awful dirge with no spark of cheer in it.  And I just can’t abide that at Christmas.  That’s why I find this track a bit of an improvement.  It’s got the black comedy in it…but it also has a bit of jingle jangle.  In fact, if you listen closely, it sounds absolutely inspired by Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.

Listen now and judge for yourself.  There’s no official video…so this is just the track over some stills.  I hope you dig it.

The track reached number 4 on the Swedish charts.  Not too shabby.  It’d be nice to see it get more play worldwide though.  For further reading, here’s a link to a Rolling Stone notice of the track:  A Christmas Duel

Now, for an extra holiday treat, here’s a second great thing for you today.  Let’s call it the B-Side to today’s great song.   The Killers’ “Don’t Kill Me Santa Claus” is a fabulous blend of 60’s style dramatic narration, coupled with mod rock beats, and Brandon Flower’s patented rock-boy keening.  Released in 2007, it was an AIDS charity single.  It’s got a good beat and I can dance to it.

Party on!

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She gets an A+++++++++++++

Chances are, if you’re an American, or have lived in The States for at least a calendar year, or maybe even just visited around Christmastime, you’ve seen the much celebrated and beloved holiday classic A Christmas Story.  Heck, TBS runs it for 24 hours…so the opportunity is there in spades.  I’ve covered an aspect of the film before in this here blog (see:  Crazy Santa Scene ).  But, I love the film so much…and it is that holiday time of year, I don’t think it does anyone a disservice to talk about it again.  But for this post, I want to look at one of the best performances in the film instead of a favorite scene.  That’s why today’s great thing is:

155.   Melinda Dillon in A Christmas Story

To give proper credit, they’re all great in this film.  Darren McGavin, Peter Billingsly, even the Bumpus Hounds…but there is something that’s a bit unsung about Dillon’s performance as Midwestern Mom, Mrs. Parker.  She suffers through the humiliating episode of the leg lamp, her husband’s blue rantings against the household boiler, and even her son getting into some major fisticuffs with a raccoon-capped thug and she does it all with a certain goodly warmth and humor.  She brings to the screen one of the most realistic portrayals of a Mom ever committed to film, methinks.

A spoonful of whatever this is helps the sugar go down...

Of Melinda Dillon, Wikipedia notes that she is notoriously private and not much is known about her as a person.  Boy, are they ever right about that.  I couldn’t even locate an interview!  For a woman who has been nominated for Oscars twice (Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Absence of Malice) AND is a major featured player in one of the greatest cult classics of all time, that’s a pretty impressive level of media avoidance.  Briefly (because it HAS to be), here’s what I know about Melinda Dillon.  She was born in Arkansas.  (Good for her for escaping!)  She studied improv with Second City in Chicago.   (Good for her for being awesome!)  And, she was married for a while and has a child but is now divorced and the child is now a grown-up.  (Good for you for having what passes as a pretty normal life nowadays!).  This year she is 71 years old.  She’s five foot eight and studied the Lee Strasberg method of acting.  She played Honey in the original Broadway production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf…and, that’s about all the info I could garner.  Oh, here’s a random quote about working with Sylvester Stallone that I found:  “I’m taller than Sly and that bothers him and we kid about it so I take off my shoes in some scenes. I can’t slouch or I wouldn’t be Anna. She’s very upright. So, that’s as nosy as I could get.  I suppose I’ll just have to focus on why I think her performance in the film is so ace and not worry about stuff like how come I can’t find her blouse size or what her favorite pizza topping is.

1.  As a Mom, her character is firm but fair.  The Parker children, Ralphie and his kid brother are relatively good kids…but we’re all scamps of a sort at that age aren’t we?  They get into their fair share of mischief, what with Ralphie tangling with Farkus, Randy (kid brother) refusing to eat, and Ralphie dropping his very first F-bomb.  I especially like how after she makes Ralphie suck on a bar of soap after his foul-mouthed tirade she does try a bit herself to see what it’s like.  Later, when she can see the poor kid has had enough after his incident with Scott Farkus she even covers for wee Ralphie with his Dad (who would’ve lost his shit.)  What a nice Mom!

Worse than waterboarding?


2. She perfectly plays the ‘fun’ parent.  Watch her encourage Randy to eat, in a fun way which she knows he’ll engage in, whilst Dad Parker looks on in disgust.

3.  She’s interesting to watch in a scene even when she’s not the central focus (which she rarely is.)  Watch her chuck Randy around like she’s putting a new cover on an especially unwieldy comforter in this snowsuit scene.

Snowsuits are great.  I don’t know why we don’t continue to wear them as grown-ups.  I have about a twenty minute walk to work…a perilous one at that…nobody shovels their damn sidewalks over here.  It’s icy as all get-out and falling about in a nice puffy snowsuit hurts far less than falling about in jeans.

4.  Finally, and admittedly unrelated to A Christmas Story, let’s just take a moment to appreciate how awesomely Melinda Dillon has aged.  Here is a still from Magnolia.  She will have been about 61 here.

She must use good moisturizer.

A final clip for you here.  Unfortunately, no  sign of  Melinda here…mainting her publicity-shy past…but it’s a nice story about a recent reunion and fun for fans of the film (like myself) to see some of the players all grown up:


Bye for now!


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Filed under Movies, People

Amazon Women of Manchester

OK, so…if you’ve read the last couple of posts, you’ll know that I had the recent pleasure of taking a holiday in Ecuador.  I was  looking forward to it in a major way.  By UK standards, I feel that I’m not very well-travelled.  My Facebook ‘Places I’ve Been’ map (as sponsored by Tripadvisor) includes trips across The States, journeys around England and Scotland, Canada, Switzerland, Italy, and France.  That’s it.  Not bad by suburban girl from Pennsylvania standards but  pretty poor, when you consider that I’ve got all of Europe within three hours flight time now.  The average Brit has been twice as many places as I have, it seems…even if their travels often involve just going to the British style pubs and clubs in hotter and sandier locations.  (Apparently Tenerife is like a boiling hot version of  Liverpool nowadays.)  So, I was stoked to be going somewhere so exotic.  Nobody goes to Ecuador!  I have to say, it started out beautifully.  The prospect of going to Quito frightened my partner Karey a bit.  She had nightmarish visions of a third world country…the type where nuns get murdered and dictators get overthrown on a weekly basis.  Coincidentally, our journey was timed for three weeks after a coup attempt.  That didn’t help.  But, Karey’s nerves were quickly assuaged when we landed in the world-class city that Quito really is.  Ecuador may not be the wealthiest country, but Quito has all the amenities you need and more culture than you can shake a maraca at.  At any rate, we were only there for a day of rest before we started an amazing jungle adventure.  We were booked in at an eco-lodge in the Amazon rainforest for 4 days and 3 nights.  And that’s what I’m going to yammer on about for today’s great thing.

154. Yachana Lodge

To get to the lodge, which is secreted away where the Napo river meets the Amazon, we first took a quick cab ride from our hotel to the VIP departure lounge at Quito’s airport…VIP was the private airline that flew us to Coca…  It was a small plane…but not crazy scary small.  It sat about 20 people, I’d say.  Coca, we learned once we got there, is a rather small and slightly impoverished city.  But, it was the nearest port of call to where we could meet our guide.  At the VIP lounge, we met our liaison who helped with our original booking.  She checked in with us and passed us a copy of this New York Times article about the center and its founders.  It excited us about our journey even more:  NYT

Yachana has many missions…rainforest preservation, eco-tourism, and education of the locals (they have their own school located in the nearest village which teaches students the basics of languages, sciences and math but also tradesmen type stuff like tourism and responsible farming).  Pretty angelic when you consider my missions for the day:  Refresh my Facebook page for the 70th time, watch today’s episode of The Apprenctice on BBC, and finish that bar of chocolate that I started yesterday.

It turned out, Juan Kunchikuy, the native of Ecuador mentioned in the article was going to be our guide.  A super cool guy…growing up hunting with blow darts and living a life that I’ve only read about in adventure stories.

Blowin' darts and kickin' ass.

Juan is the real deal.  Check out this BBC article about his time spent in East Yorkshire meeting with school children:  Juan Karey and I, amazingly, came at a time when it was just going to be the two of us in his group.  Through a great stroke of booking, guests left when we arrived and arrived when we left.  They must have been warned, somehow…Maybe a Tripadvisor alert…avoid travel to Yachana on these days if you don’t like chatty lesbians…  Paradise was ours and ours alone for 3 days!  Juan, handy with both a machete and a Swarovski telescope (for bird watching), knew just about everything there is to know about jungle life.  He pointed out critters that I would have never seen even if I’d been staring at the tree that they were perched in for hours.  He’d find the smallest frog, pick it up and show us, and then find its younger, smaller, offspring 20 feet away and show that to us as well.  Mad skills!

Vroooom...glub glub glub

Anyway, back to the first day.  2.5 hours down the river from Coca, we finally reached our destination, Yachana Lodge (pronounced Yuh-Chaw-Nuh).  We climbed the plain and utilitarian-looking stairs up the river bank but once we were up the trail towards the housing, we were surrounded by gorgeous gardens filled with flora that I’d never seen before.  It was like entering the Avatar planet.  Naturally, I immediately started clear-cutting and mining for unobtainium.  The noise of the surrounding jungle was also immediately evident.  Bird and bugs can make quite a din when they want to.  There was one bird that made the weirdest little sci-fi noise.  I’ve spent ages scouring the net for a clip (a difficult task when you can’t remember the name of the bird) and I FINALLY found one…it’s the second bird featured in this Attenborough show…the Screaming Piha, it’s called.

We took one night-time hike and two daytime hikes (on separate days).  Juan pointed out where the primary forest differed from the secondary forest.  Primary is the stuff where the trees are bigger because it’s never been levelled or clear-cut.  The secondary forest is land they’ve reclaimed from farms and that is basically growing back in.  To be fair,  when walking through the secondary forest…I thought that was pretty bushy/green/and that the trees were aplenty.  But, when you step into the primary, the canopy just gets that much thicker and taller.  Over the two hikes, we did tons of birdwatching.  Juan found woodpeckers, toucans, parrots, kites, buzzards, kingfishers, rainforest orioles amongst others for us to gaze at.  One of the absolute best sightings was of these prehistoric era weirdos.  The Hoatzin are also known as ‘stinky turkeys’:

What the what?

Juan showed us how they use tree sap for candles and incense, we saw some sleeping bats, army ants, scads of spiders, loads of toads and frogs, and one coatimuntdi.
On another trek, about two hours in, we’d been inundated with frog, bug, spider, and bat sightings, when I heard Juan say “Oh look…jungle crap.”  I thought, in a very slangy-American way, that he just meant ‘more cool stuff to see’.  Ooh, what other jungle crap do you have for us, I said?  “No…jungle CRAB, explained Juan–looking mildly insulted.  Look at this little lady, come up from the stream to do some huntin’.

Keep the crabby patty recipe safe!

As one final photographic example of the cool animal stuff we saw…oh…I just can’t choose.  Let’s do three things!  Here are the A.) Best Spider I saw, B.) Best Frog I saw, and C.) Best Monkey I saw.

A:

Flippin' Heck! And Holy Skull Island! Check out this Tail-less Whip Scorpion (or Whip Spider). This guy was big but harmless.

B.

This was hella-big for a tree frog, I thought. Those must be powerful little suckers on its feet. Plus, maybe the best name for an animal...Rocket Frog. That's gotta be a web domain already, right? Some sort of home delivery service or file sharing site?

C.

When it comes to monkeys, the rule is pretty much: smaller = cuter. This pygmy marmoset is proof positive.

The treks were more than just animal spotting…Juan also pointed out tons of the flora and explained what they were good for.  We tasted raw cocoa (tastes of pixie sticks), Juan made us each a thin bracelet out of palm tree leaf fibres on the spot, and I got to swing across a pit on a vine!  This picture of me swinging on a vine does not credit how far the vine actually was off the ground.  I was about ten feet up..so, what I’m saying is I’m a hero.  A big brave one.  Maybe the greatest one the world has ever known.

I took a few rides. Because I had to pretend to be Indiana Jones first...then Tarzan...and finally Spidey.

Ok, now stumbling onwards from the excitement and discovery of the jungle treks and onto a new topic.  I wouldn’t say that I’m food obsessed, but I do love eating delicious things and I find that whenever I’m on vacation,  I have to document my food with photographs of the stuff that’s especially nice/interesting/tasty/or weird.  Here’s just a few of the cool things I ate whilst at camp:

This ginormous grapefruit with honey drizzled on it. I made Karey hold it up to her head so that you have perspective. Karey may not be a very big lady, but she's still got a big Scottish noggin

This traditional breakfast of mashed plantain, egg, and peanut sauce. It was a delicious mess

This heart of palm ceviche...so relieved that it wasn't seafood. Because...you know...frickin' gross.

Not pictured here is a cup of Ecuadorian coffee.  If you like coffee…man oh man, this stuff was beautiful…thick in the cup even with a little bit of natural sweetness.  They also served liquid chocolate in the mornings as a dip for the bananas and homemade bread that were always on the breakfast table.

On the third day, we were treated to a cooking lesson, the camp chef showed us how to cook in banana leaves…and had a nasty surprise for me.  Please excuse my disheveled appearance.  I had just been in the jungle.

Admittedly, Karey isn’t the best cinematographer.  And to be fair, I shouldn’t call the surprise ‘nasty’.  The grubs are a delicacy in the area and though they just tasted like fatty water when eaten live, they are bacon-y and very nice after being cooked over a smoky fire.

After eating my fill of grubs (that’ll be two then…one live one cooked), we were taken to see the local medicine man. This is where the fun and games slowed down a bit and the reality of the cultural differences between middle class society and jungle living were made crystal clear.  The medicine man lives a true village-style life, away from the lodge.  He must’ve been about 50 and although he was spry, he looked his age.  Weathered and wizened, he had a slightly younger looking wife who must have been exhausted.  She was a mother of 11..  11.  That’s right 11.  Probably only because they didn’t have a TV and therefore had never seen 8 is Enough.  Their home was a one room house on stilts.  I suppose they didn’t spend much time IN the house…they had small gardens to tend and some chickens were fluttering about the yard.  The first thing I noticed about the medicine man was how rough his feet were.  I’d imagine he only had one pair of shoes, if that, and he obviously didn’t wear them much.  Tiny ants were swarming all over his feet but he took no notice.  Though he had an appointment with a sick villager, he spent about a half an hour with us.  He gave us a blessing, which involved him brushing herbs about our heads and faces and singing a song.

We also learned how to throw spears and shoot blow-darts at the medicine man’s house.  Karey turned out to be the best shot with the spear and I was slightly better with the blowdarts.  Interestingly, Juan admitted that tribes usually were more skilled with one over the other.  He came from people who were better with the blowdart.  Mad blowdart skills.  Juan also confessed that his tribe, generations ago, had been a war-faring one.  His Grandfather had the shrunken heads of slain enemies as trophies.  Frickin’ shrunken heads, dude!  Anyway…here’s me trying out the blowdart gun.

You can see the medicine man in the shot (wearing a yellow shirt and having a giggle when the second blowdart that was loaded in for me got stuck.)  Again, nice camera work there, Karey.

Here she is faring better with a spear.

Have some of that!

After the spiritual session–followed by our meagre attempts to blowdart and spear the shit out of a wooden toucan –we took to the river.  About 2.5 miles upstream from camp, I reckon, the swim was pretty easy as the current pushed us back.  I flapped about with a breaststroke and Karey braved it in an inner tube.

The days were busy and flew by in what seemed like moments.  On the canoe ride back up the river to Coca, I was definitely ready to check back into a hotel where there were bathrobes in the closet, but I still wonder happily at the things we got to see and do in the jungle.

Even though the trip to South America ended with me getting the wheelchair treatment through our flight connections back to the UK, (I had contracted some sort of stomach bug and was barf-tacular by the end of our vacation…Karey had it to…but she got it first and was on the mend by the time we left),  I’m so glad we went to Ecuador.  Mostly, because our time spent in the Amazon rainforest, at Yachana Lodge, was absolutely…wait for it…AMAZON-ING!

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