31 October 2013

My Favorite Things: October 2013

Happy Halloween, dear readers! And happy end of October, and happy ONE YEAR of official monthly editions My Favorite Things. The adorable pumpkins from last year’s October edition haven’t made an appearance in my neighborhood this year, but we do have this giant SPOILER ALERT from my neighborhood bookstore window.

I mean WHY EVEN.

Nonetheless! Let’s move on to my favorite things, only-kinda-Halloween edition. Ready set go!

Welcome to Night Vale

I really, really wanted to tell you all about this on Tuesday’s Halloween roundup, but I figured saving it for today would lend at least a little spooky cred, since today’s the Hallowed Day itself. Welcome to Night Vale is a podcast of spooky stories from a fictional town where every conspiracy theory is true, told in the form of a news broadcast by Night Vale Community Radio. It’s entirely scripted, told mostly in one voice, and IT. IS. HILARIOUS.

It’s hard to describe exactly why it’s hilarious, but it’s totally silly and surreal, deadpan and delightful. (If you followed my recommendation to read The Rook by Daniel O’Malley – and why wouldn’t you?! – it’s much in the same spirit.) And I’m not the only one obsessed with it - right now it’s the number two most-downloaded podcast on iTunes, second only to the nation’s radio heartthrob This American Life. It’s perfect for Halloween, so go download and enjoy NOW RIGHT NOW! I know I’ll be marathoning it all day.

Slate Political Gabfest

Before I became obsessed with Night Vale this month, the Slate Political Gabfest was going to be my big audio recommendation for this month. I’ve been a faithful listener to this weekly podcast for years (I can remember listening during the 2008 election season), but I particularly was excited about it this month because of the government shutdown. Not that I was excited about the government shutdown itself (unless by “excited” you assume I mean “anxiously concerned about my career”), but because every day, the Slate Political Gabfest team put together a short daily podcast in addition to their hour-long weekly podcast.

It just reminded me how grateful I am to learn every week about political issues from Emily, John, and David - pundits I highly respect, who can communicate “inside Washington” concepts clearly to outsiders. It’s not unbiased, I admit, but it is highly self-critical, and that’s something I need in political discussion. They’re not broadcasting daily anymore now that we have a (theoretically) functional government, but their weekly podcast will be out tomorrow for you to try!

30/30 productivity app

I have more discussion about the New Year’s resolutions intentions I set out in January forthcoming, but for today, let me just remind you that one of my intentions was to clean my house daily for twenty minutes. How do you think that went? If you guessed "CRASH AND BURN", congratulations, you are correct! But that’s if we’re being strict about the "twenty minutes a day" rule. I do think our home has been (generally) cleaner and more organized this year, partly because we had company more frequently, partly because I just made the most of five minutes here or there to clean up.

But that may change soon because of this app. 30/30 is really, basically, a fancy timer. You set a list of tasks and times in which to accomplish them, then hit GO. I have an hour-long house-cleaning program, broken down by room, that I can do at least every weekend. It’s great for being efficient during my workday, too. And it’s also good for my morning routine, so I don’t sit for an hour at my kitchen table playing...

Paint it Back

Full disclosure: my boss is married to this game’s creator. So I suppose I have an interest in this game, the interest being “if this app is popular makes a lot of money, my boss will be happy and that will indirectly make my life will be better”. Still, my honest assessment is that it is fantastic and SO ADDICTIVE. I wouldn’t tell you about it if it wasn’t one of my favorite things in October, after all. I am real with you, dear readers!

Paint it Back is a “picross” game, almost like Sudoku but simpler – you just paint squares in a grid. When my boss told me about it, I’d never tried a picross puzzle, and it really didn’t sound very exciting to me. But I downloaded the game to try it anyway (which is free), and ended up loving it and buying the full game (for $4 one-time). And despite the fact that I solve a puzzle or two every day, I’ll still be playing this game for months. I’d pay twice as much for lunch in one single day, so I think that’s a pretty good deal.

My boss’s husband built the whole thing from soup to nuts, even creating the puzzles and the promo video above (that’s my boss’s hands doing the demo). Just the fact that it was basically a one-man operation makes it impressive enough to check out.

The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling

Confession: I am still a huge Harry Potter fan. Like... I still read fan blogs and listen to fan podcasts. So when The Casual Vacancy came out, I quickly learned that the Harry Potter fans... were not pleased. Shocked, actually, would probably be a better phrase. The Casual Vacancy is SO NOT Harry Potter. There’s awful language and poverty and drugs and sex and everyone is basically miserable and it seemed no Potter fan was able to finish it.

So I was reluctant to read it at first, but I still hopped on my library’s waiting list. In the meantime, I read Cuckoo’s Calling (her book under the pen name Robert Galbraith) and thought it was delightful. When my turn finally came to read it, I was ambivalent but open-minded.

And here’s the deal: It’s so not Harry Potter. It’s so not a happy book. But it’s such a well-written book, and definitely worth the time spent reading it. The characters are so well-drawn that I feel like I know them and developed very strong feelings about them, even if they were negative. (Potter fans, remember Umbridge? There’s several characters you’d equally love to hate in this book.) I wanted to re-read it – the storylines interconnect so intricately that it would be worth a second readthrough – but my borrowing time was up. So I’m back on the holds list to read it again! It’s worth it.

Quizzes, quizzes, quizzes

For some reason, this month I ended up taking a number of quizzes that I found pretty interesting. Here’s how I tested!

The Dialect Quiz – Unfortunately the quiz is now closed, but I had a chance to take it when it was up. And guess where my “native” accent” places me?

Uh. Huh. Well, that’s interesting. I know I don’t sound like I’m from rural Tennessee, but I don’t think I really sound like a “native” St. Louisan, either. I mean, I don’t eat dinner with a “fark” or drive on “Highway Farty”. And I definitely giggle every Sunday in church when I hear the lector say, “Let us pray to the Lard.” Ah well, at least I fit in otherwise?

Which state do you belong in? Turns out I belong in North Carolina. Considering how frequently I’ve looked at jobs there, I suppose that makes sense! I always did like that state.

The Color IQ Test – I’d done this test before, but when it popped up again on Apartment Therapy I gave it a try. And booyah, people: I scored almost perfectly. See, Mr. P! I’m not totally nuts when I talk about a blue having too much red in it, or insisting that a gray is actually purple!

And finally, the link roundup:

These airplane bathroom portraits make me want to be less cranky and more creative when I fly.

In honor of my blog name. “I’m a ginger, so I’m ten times more likely to make up a statistic.”

I’ve read enough Buzzfeed posts to appreciate these re-titled children’s books.

Why this city is pretty great, even if they do talk about The Word of the Lard.

If you’ve ever enjoyed David Sedaris’s essays about his family, maybe you should take this punch in the gut. One of his most touching essays yet.

And let’s close today with a reminder of how, in my secret private brain, our next-door neighbors are the Burtka-Harris family and their perfect Halloween costumes.

Have a great Halloween, errbody! Leave some of the good chocolate stuff for me!