Monday, October 5, 2009

Making science "sexy" with Francis Collins

Before I came to work at my job, and before Dr. Francis Collins was executive director of the National Institutes of Health, the then NIH Human Genome Research Institute Director delivered our opening keynote speech.
Collins, far right.

Collins is a rock star of science. He's an extremely dynamic and engaging speaker as illustrated at our 2008 grand opening. Collins spoke of the fictitious "Betty", a woman who experienced two alternate existences - one with the aid of new genomic-based therapeutics and diagnostics and one - decidedly more bleak - one without.

Collins speech inspired our Save Betty campaign, encouraging people to use resources like the NIH family history tool to be aware of your personal health history.

Anyway, Collins recently appeared on The Colbert Report, updating Stephen about advances in personalized medicine and explaining why Colbert might not want crab claws to replace his hands.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Francis Collins
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMichael Moore

Love how Collins isn't afraid to be a little goofy to access audiences who are normally uninterested and unengaged in the sciences. I never considered myself a science type, and I'm still not that way inclined. However, learning about the specifics of the kinds of research that go on in my institute, in my town has been fascinating. I more than likely won't be a scientist any time soon, but continuing a career path of communications and outreach for these guys becomes more attractive by the day.

Get it, Francis.

I Could Have Told You That...

My friend Trav over at An Ocean of Noise just posted about Pitchfork's top 10 best songs of the decade. Sooo... who'd they list at number one?

I have been evangelizing this song for years now. Since freshman year in college, B.O.B. has been the obligatory pre-night out pump up song. I love it because it's pure cardio for those nights when you didn't have time to get a work out in before the debauchery. (Also, for those of you who have seen Zombieland - amazing - you know the importance of cardio in surviving zombie apocalypse...)

The high-minded types over at Pitchfork did go into a little more depth about why B.O.B. is so amazing. Other than the pure, jumping up and down cardio the song affords:
"B.O.B." is not just the song of the decade-- it is the decade. Appropriately, the contemporary hip-hop act most in tune with the Afro-Futurist philosophies of Sun Ra, George Clinton, and Afrika Bambaataa, wound up effectively crafting a fast-forwarded highlight-reel prophecy of what the next 10 years held in store. The title-- aka "Bombs Over Baghdad", a phrase that sounded oddly anachronistic in 2000, sadly ubiquitous two and a half years later-- is only the start of it. In "B.O.B"'s booty-bass blitzkrieg, we hear an obliteration of the boundaries separating hip-hop, metal, and electro, setting the stage for a decade of dance/rock crossovers. We hear a bloodthirsty gospel choir inaugurating a presidential administration of warmongering evangelicals. We hear André 3000 and Big Boi fire off a synapse-bursting stream of ripped-from-the-headlines buzzwords ("Cure for cancer/ Cure for AIDS"), personal anecdotes ("Got a son on the way by the name of Bamboo") and product placements ("Yo quiero Taco Bell") that read like the world's first Twitter feed.
Yeah, I do suppose I like it because of all of those reasons, too. I do recall thinking that the repeating "bombs over baghdad" phrase was catchy, if slightly odd, in 00. And then thinking how oddly relevant it was (again) in 03, with Bush standing on that air force carrier announcing that the war was over. "Mission Accomplished." Right.

Anyway, the others in Pitchfork's top 10?
  • Daft Punk - One More Time
  • Beyoncé - Crazy in Love
  • Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Maps
  • Missy Elliott - Get Ur Freak On
  • M.I.A. - Paper Planes
The others are from indie groups like Radiohead, Animal Collective and Arcade Fire - groups I typically categorize as high-minded and snotty. But with the selection of the top 10 I've listed above, perhaps I should give up my preconceived notions and download the others. Give them a shot. Have a dance party. Yesss.

Power music, electric revival
Power music, electric revival
Power music, electric revival....

Repeat 43 more times while jumping up and down, flailing your hands in the air, in your college dorm room.

Monday, September 28, 2009

I Gotta Feeling...

That tonight's gonna be a good night,
That tonight's gonna be a good night,
That tonight's gonna be a good GOOD night!

I love this song. It's inexplicable. I know the Black Eyed Peas are totally cheesy. And pop-y. But I adore most of their stuff, and especially this little number.

Check 'em out on Oprah. J showed me this video last night and it completely made my evening. I, by the way, am 100 percent that one girl in the front - jamming out while everyone is looking at her like she's having a seizure. Hilarious.

There's a sharper version on YouTube (here), but I like this one because you can see the girl completely spazzing out before the others join her. Heh.

Erm, I hope this will counteract the intensity of my previous post a smidge. Considered removing it, but decided that that would be a cop out. A person can't be all sunshine and happiness all the time. It's all cyclical. And I'm on an upswing. :)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Patrick Swayze edition.

I have a great deal of faith in faith; if you believe something strongly enough, it becomes true for you. I would like to believe [...] that there's life after death -- because if there isn't, why are we here? I don't believe that just flesh and bones can contain from the point of view of physics this very real recorded energy inside of us. Whether it's true or not, we need to believe it.
...Said Swayze in his June 2009 interview with Barbara Walters - the first one he ever gave after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

He was facing the cancer that kills four out of five people who are diagnosed with the disease within a year. He was skinnier than I have ever seen him on T.V. or in the movies - frail and jaundiced looking. Terrifying. And terrifyingly familiar.

Every time someone notable is diagnosed with the cancer that killed my dad, I can't help compulsively following the story.

Randy Pausch - the college professor who wrote The Last Lecture, becoming a YouTube and Oprah phenomenon before passing away this summer. Whose book my friend has loaned but which I have yet gotten the guts to read.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

There's also this guy on the radio, former journalist Leroy Sievers (had to look him up to remember his name) who I used to listen to talk about cancer in my car in DC and cry on my way to painting class in Alexandria.

And now, Swayze. Star of two of my absolute favorite movies as a kid - Dirty Dancing and Ghost. And of two of J's favorite movies - Point Break and Roadhouse (har har).

There's something cathartic about reliving stories like my dad's over and over again. Feeling the punch in the gut and the subsequent lost of wind to the lungs of hearing another person to have pancreatic cancer. Watching the news and RSS feeds for any news of the person's condition to hear how they're battling with the disease. Grieving all over again when the inevitable news of their death makes the papers.

And for me, casually asking the scientists and grant writers at the institute if they're ever going to do work on pancreatic cancer. There was a grant apparently, but it didn't go through.

I guess that's part of it - telling your story over and over again in the hopes that someday it will all make sense, then seeking out others like you who are going through the same scenario. And watching. And waiting. And wondering if this will be the person who triumphs over the disease.

According to the American Cancer Society, for all stages of pancreatic cancer combined, the one-year relative survival rate is 20 percent, and the five-year rate is four percent. And if Patrick Swayze can't make it, things don't look so good for less visible patients.

What a downer.

Something happened today, though. A group of Clearview Cancer Institute volunteers toured the institute came to tour. During my time with them, I learned that all of the group members are either cancer survivors or caretakers of those with cancer. And they are touring the institute learning what work we're doing here in the laboratory is on it's way to their clinic. This made me feel good - and also interested in looking into volunteering at CCI. More on that as I find out.

In lieu of favors at our wedding, J and I will be making a donation to the American Cancer Society for our loved ones lost, my dad and his grandmother who died of brain cancer a few years ago. A friend
walked for my dad over the summer in a Relay for Life in Ohio and sent photos of his luminaries along the track. Things like these help; and talking, and following the stories of others.

If you ever want to hear about my dad sometime, ask me. I'll gladly tell you all about him. Or tell me about your story. Something about the telling and re-telling helps us process, I think.

I want to have a co-ed Patrick Swayze movie-viewing party to honor the life of another who should be celebrated for his living accomplishments more than the grace with with he faced death.

Yeaaaaah Swayze:

Friday, September 18, 2009


Hello there, blog.

I seem to be leaving you in the lurch all the time lately, don't I? I really do feel guilty on one level. But on another, a neglected blog means a busy and full real life. So yeah. That's a good thing. What have I been up to...

View from a deck at the event space.

Lots of tours and layout and web at work. Lots of plotting and scheming outside of work for this little event we have coming up in May. Got quite an impressive amount of work done this week on that front.
  • Ordered a wedding dress
  • Picked a venue (um, gorgeous?!)
  • Ordered bridesmaid dresses (Aqua on super sale at J.Crew. I am trying to be a good, recession-conscious, bargain savvy friend...) The J.Crew customer service rep informed me via email how nice "my girls" are to work with and how great my friends are. I couldn't agree more, Veronica. But hearing someone else appreciate them in the way I do makes me feel even better.
  • Made an appointment for deposits on the food, photographer and venue.
I am so looking forward to this low-key, understated (gorgeous, fun) observation of the start of our marriage and most of all recognizing this huge event in our lives with our nearest and dearest: Veronica's "best friends ever" and family from all over. And family friends.

We start "how-to-handle-your money-now-that-you're-attached-forever-and-ever classes" early next month and pastoral counseling sessions start in December. Is it strange that I'm looking forward to this? I guess these are so attractive to me because I really feel like we're entering into this with eyes open, and minds open. Ready to not just love each other unconditionally and eat lots o' good food, but aware and ready for the real world stuff. The paying off grad school loans and saving for retirement stuff.

Can't remember who - whether it was mom, dad or both, who always said something to the effect of, "money can't buy you happiness, but a lack of it can make you miserable." I want us to be real happy, like comfortable in our lives happy. And I have faith that this will come together for us. With lots of work at it.

Hrm. Aside from financial rants, other interesting things -

Headed to San Francisco in November! I booked airline tickets yesterday and will be spending some time out West. Half with the fam and the rest at a Dreamforce conference. Exciting.

Also, my friend Michelle started a blog! She's too cute and I loved her inaugural post about creative uses for leftovers. Totally keeping an eye out on her for posts like this... extremely useful. She's an entertaining writer, too. Check her out!

Still totally enjoying Glee. For those who haven't watched yet, please do. I am aware that I have a fixation with anything dance and/or musical-related and that not everyone dies over SYTYCD like I do. I can honestly say that this show will be a perfect Wednesday night pick-me-up for anyone. Musically inclined or no. Campy and hilarious. And current/relevant. Quality viewing.

Heading to the Monte Sano art fair this weekend. I love it up there (even more now... :) and the art show is always a blast. It's become one of the first signs of fall here, probably because it's a bit cooler up on the mountain... delightful.

So, blog, again - I apologize for the abandonment. But as you can see, I've been a busy lady. I think less frequent, more action-packed posts are acceptable. And they are going to have to work for a while. This is a fun hobby. Not another job duty. Thankfully.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Me and my zombie alter ego.

It's been a busy few weeks. Social South was amazing. I met a ton of people that I look forward to keeping up with in my circle of social network friends. I reunited with some great old friends, including Katie and my Style & Design teacher Robert, who taught me everything I started out with about Web design. All in all, a great weekend of new and old friends paired with novel and familiar concepts in the world of SM.

Immediately upon returning home, J and I took engagement photos. We're not usually huge on over-hyping life events (a few photos at the wedding itself would have been fine for us) but a good friend of mine, Meghan, is quite the hobbyist photographer. Anyway, Meghan took some fantastic engagement photos that she posted on her Web site and we got to keep. Win/win!

Here's Good Melanie:

The pictures were lots of fun, but quite honestly, neither J nor I are the most comfortable with these intentional, posed photo sessions. I was feeling a bit... hm, precious, after we got our really cute, newspaper announcement-worthy images.

Enter the Thriller dance. Huntsville's Dixie Derby Girls roller derby team hosted a Thrill-HER (uh, MJ, anyone?) themed final home derby bout for the 2009 season and put out a call for Thriller dancers. About 10 of us responded. We practiced hard though, had a blast and performed for the masses (seriously, about 700-plus people) on Saturday, August 29. It was incredibly fun. And now I have a new party trick. Everyone needs to know the Thriller dance, I've decided, to be a functioning part of society. Ironic, since MJ himself was a bit touch and go at the end. Let's remember him fondly in his pre-creepy days...

Here's Bad Melanie:

My makeup job was AWESOME
. A girlfriend happened upon a professional makeup artist out the night before the dance. My face was covered in liquid latex. I had craters and bruises and it looked like my nose had rotted off. My mother was horrified. Like I said, awesome.

Here's the video. Two full minutes of MJ-80s-hayday-fabulousity. Enjoy!

Unfortunately, the vid was originally posted on Facebook. Hope everyone can get there...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

SoSo 2009 not the name of a conference featuring all things mediocre.

According to them,
SoSo stands for Social South - the Deep South’s Social Media Conference. It’s your chance to hear nationally recognized social media professionals at an affordable and easy-to-get-to location.
Their tagline is "Deep Fried Social Media", which cracks me up. The conference is next Friday and Saturday, so I'll be roadtripping to Birmingham for the weekend.

Other good things about the conference?
  • It's close - Birmingham. And I get to reunite with (and crash with) my good friend, fellow blogger AND Auburn classmate, Katie!
  • A whole slew of my Twitter friends (I WILL NOT use the term Tweeples) including @burhop, @lorimillerwhnt and @southernplate will be in attendance!
  • My Style & Design in Public Relations messages teacher and social media mentor, Robert French will be presenting. This will be the first time I've seen him since college as well!
Tracks include:
  • Social Media Tools – You’ve probably heard that you have to be on Facebook or Twitter, but has anyone told you why? This track explores not only the why, but the rest of the tools out there.
  • Social Media Communications – Talking to your clients though social media using traditional media language won’t work. Track 2 explores why and how to change your message.
  • Social Media Strategy – Learning the tools of the trade and the new language is just the first step, without a strategy neither have much of an effect. Track 3 explores how to tie the two together into something effective.
  • Social Media Case Studies – Are you a business in the Southeast that is seeing results from social media? We want to hear your story – apply here to present it at Social South.
Looking forward to learning how to wrangle all of the social media outlets we use at work into one cohesive message that will drive traffic to our Web site. Also looking forward to seeing old friends. Social media is a funny thing for me because I've been neck deep in these applications since I was a sophomore in college, but that doesn't necessarily make me the best manager for outreach and business uses. I think that a meeting or two on the topic will help me reign all of these outreach efforts in to form something more functional.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

SYTYCD recap: eight years late.

I was just skimming back through my "recent" posts and realized how compulsive about So You Think You Can Dance I was in the beginning and then how I totally cut it out.

I guess I was too busy Twittering about it.

Anyway, I'm pretty pleased with the results. Jeanine came out of the clear blue after being paired with that awkward hip hop guy that everyone loved to take the win. I'm glad she did, even though I was a bit partial to Kayla. That girl could dance... not the brightest crayon in the box, maybe, but a killer dancer. Those lines!

I was so excited about the season at first and then there were a few episodes in a row where I was underwhelmed by most of the performances so I kind of lost my momentum. That said, I do have some definite favorite dances of the season. I'll try for a top five:
  • Kayla and Brandon's final four Broadway number to Bye Bye Love. Stellar dance, and I love that song.
  • Kayla and Jason's zombie dance. Bad ass. The make up smearing, the crazy partnering and that neck lift...
  • Jeanine and Jason's sex dance. Rawr. I downloaded the Jason Mraz album on iTunes after watching this number on repeat (thanks DVR, thanks Kristen) during the finale episode.
  • Kayla and Kupono's Addiction Dance. This one made me tear up. It was so unflinchingly intense and to me was way more powerful than the breast cancer one. (Sorry. It just was.)
  • Karla and Jonathan's contemporary. I just finished saying that basic contemporary numbers are boring. But this one was so familiar and beautiful to me... and Falling Slowly from Once is one of my all time favorite songs.
Not much longer to wait for another season of SYTYCD. I'm unsure how I feel about that. It's exciting in a way, but part of the fun for me was the anticipation for an entire year for the following summer. And I despise the first six episodes or so of freaking auditions. Arghhhh. But it's okay. Glee comes on in September too, YIPPEE!


Hi. I haven't posted since June 25. Holy crap. I need to pick up the pace. So here begins a spate of new posts.

I recently got engaged to a fabulous guy. One of my favorite things about him is his willingness to check out uncharted territories. He's a great traveler too - good sense of direction, go with the flow attitude about experiences - which makes life awesome. What bugs both of us is that we have never been on a large scale adventure together. I've spent the summer in London, visited Norway and Paris, all while in college studying abroad. He's been to China, seen pandas and walked the Great Wall, all with other friends while I worked in DC.

Naturally, we want to have our first major adventure together for our honeymoon. I'm thinking a tour of the Spanish paradores.

Paradores de Turismo de España are a chain of Spanish luxury hotels. They were founded by Alfonso XIII of Spain as a means to promote tourism in Spain, with the first opening in Gredos, Ávila in 1928.

A profitable state-run enterprise, the hotels are often in castles, palaces, fortresses, convents, monasteries and other historic buildings. They stretch from Galicia in the North West through Catalonia to Andalusia in the south of Spain, the Canary Islands and to the Spanish cities in North Africa. (Thanks, Wikipedia)
My parents met in the south of Spain. My mom was traveling with girlfriends, fresh off of a stint in Australia and my dad was stationed in Rota, Spain with the U.S. Navy post-Vietnam. They knew each other for approximately three months before my mom went off to Norway on a road trip with my dad's cousin. When she returned (by plane) he greeted her at the airport, and there it was decided that they'd get married.

So, Spain has definite appeal to me. What better place to start a marriage, than the Mediterranean coast? And on top of that, in the country where my parents met, and kicked off a happy 30-year marriage? There must be something in the water there.

My parents always used to talk about driving up the coast and having fancy dinners at the paradores - paella and fresh fish. Yum. And it looks like they're still at it with the food (uh, YUM!?)

The other day I began my online parador research and discovered the amazing, comprehensive and completely tantalizing Web site. Seriously considering going to the courthouse to push this marriage thing through so we can honeymoon next week. Ha. There will be some saving of the money before any of that happens, though. But if we do decide to go this route, I will have a goal to push me through the bitter Alabama winter: sunny May skies in Spain. :)

Here's what I'm thinking for the vacay: the site offers rates for routes, scheduled for either three or seven days. (Hello, did I not say that their site is amazingly comprehensive? It's an internet planning addict's dream). All of the
routes are themed - culture, nature, WINE, legacy trails through other cultures... Anyway, one of the seven-nighters is a coastal trail. All the way from the northeast corner of Spain, down the Mediterranean coast to the southern tip.

They say on the site that this route takes visitors to some of the best beaches along the Mediterranean coast in Alicante, Murcia, Almería and Malaga. This area is well-known for its tourist attractions but still harbors many pleasant surprises.

I like it. Beach vacation plus culture in Spain. Beach honeymoon meets global trek. And they drive on the right side of the road, don't they?

Don't they??

By the way, I promise this isn't going to be a wedding planning blog from now until May. I have lots of other exciting stuff going on that I'll be posting about, including a Social South new media conference in Birmingham next Friday and Saturday and a trip to San Fran for the Dreamforce (Salesforce users) conference in November to learn how to integrate my work's Facebook, Twitter and other social media efforts with our Web site as well as with our non-profit Salesforce software. Interesting stuff. AND I just signed up for Santa's Village PR again. Whoooeeeee, here comes fall and winter. May will be here before I know it...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

My 25-year life status report

This post needs a little back story:

My mom has her masters degree in counseling. As in, secondary school-age kid counseling. She's an education manager now, but she still has these pesky guidance counselor tendencies, and being the child of this made me the subject of lots of life goal related experiments...

Which brings me to life goals. Mom has never been the type to push my brother and I in any particular direction (we weren't expected to be virtuosos at the piano/violin/viola/fluglehorn/all of the above at age 2 1/2. Nor were we coached into oblivion at soccer/tennis/racketball practice. But mom did like for us to have goals. Not set in stone "I-WILL-be-a-hedge-fund-manager-making-six-figures-by-thirty" goals, but nice things that we'd like to achieve in our lives.

So, here's the card that mom had me create a long time ago and rediscovered during her kitchen remodel. I wish I'd dated it, because I can't recall exactly how old I was when I made this list. Judging by my handwriting, the fact that the pen was pink and my spelling... I was somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-12 years old. Classic.

For everyone's enjoyment, here's my quarter century check-in on my 11-year-old self's life goals. Let's see how I'm doing, shall we?I will answer them in the order in which they were originally penned (wonder if this was a prioritized list... it would be pretty darn random if it were.)
  1. Speak Japanese: Negatory. I do remember dribs and drabs of my college level French. Heck I even conjugate french verbs in my head from time to time if I get bored. And I DO know how to order "two beers" in at least six different languages. Perhaps if I learn how to do that in Japanese I could partially claim this goal. (Nice! "Beer Please" in 26 languages?!) Japanese? Check. Bee-ru ip-pon ku-da-sai?
  2. Be a better dancer: Awwww, this one is really sweet! At some point in my life, I reached for the stars, see?! Since this was written at age 11 - and I started dancing at age five and stopped at age 18 after high school (and Ann's Studio of Dance) graduation - I can fairly say that, yes, I believe I did become a better dancer! And while I was always more of a "let's stick her in the back because... she's tall" kind of a dancer, I do think I improved over the years. And while I may not be prima ballerina material, all of that dancing did make me a much better dancer at parties (woot!) and improved my overall posture and carriage, this was quite a good expenditure of so much of my time as a kid. Dancing? Check.
  3. Be come (sic) an author of books: So, I might not have become an author, but my writing (and *ahem* spelling) skills sure have improved over the years! A couple of hardass English teachers in high school and Journalism 1100 at Auburn certainly did whip me into shape here. My first story as a volunteer for The Auburn Plainsman even made the front cover! One day I might even buckle down and attempt a novel... I'll get back to you on that part of this goal, but.... Writer? Check.
  4. Learn more about geogaphry (sic): Again with the spelling! At least I improved upon that. Hmmm... geography improvement, hey? Well, I've been a lot of new places since age 11. I've visited Europe and hit many more states. I've become more and more aware where global places of interest are by following the news... and following the news is a good citizen thing to do, right? So. While it could use continued improvment, I have definitely learned more about "geogaphry". Geography? Check.
  5. Get my bedroom painted: We didn't "paint" my bedroom, we did better. I somehow convinced my parents to put up a giant, full wall width mural of a deserted island beach on my bedroom wall. I managed to (a) get my mom on board with my rather out there decor scheme and (b) get my dad to actually put that puppy up on my wall. There were a lot of expletives coming from my bedroom that weekend. I'm obviously still using those persuasive skills I used to get what I wanted in a new field - PR! Perfect career choice for my skill set, I think! And, I still do enjoy design and again, can't wait to get my bedroom painted... in a house I own. I'm so tired of white rental house walls! Painting? Not exactly. But what I got was something much more involved and AWESOME. Bedroom? Check.
  6. Have my own little garden: As in, not part of my mom's massive garden... hel-lo! And lo and behold - I DO have my own little garden! It's a rental house garden, i.e. all in pots and hanging baskets, but it's gorgeous, in full bloom this summer and I completed it myself! Nice one, Sollid. Garden? Check.
  7. Be an "A" (scribbled out "B") student: BUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. So, who wants to bet that my mom was looking over my shoulder on this one and encouraged me to reach even further for the stars? "Hmm, that's great Mel, but don't you think you could probably make all A's? We don't want you selling yourself short, now. This is a goal list, after all." So, thanks mom, for making me botch a goal. How's a B-and-a-half student? Half A's, half B's the occasional C in an Algebra course? I came out all right didn't I?! Geez. Decent student? Check. I'm giving myself this one. Argue with me. Dare ya.
  8. Make two new friends: I've made WAY more than two new friends, but this is still one of my favorite things to do. I made all new friends when I moved away to D.C. and had to or totally forefeit a social life. I continued to make more new friends when I moved back to Huntsville as a part of the workforce and wanted to meet other young professionals (I hate that term, I need to coin a new, less yuppie-sounding one) like me. Thank God for friends, they make being a grownup bearable! Friends? Check.
Thanks, mom, for finding this note card. And for making me write it in the first place. I really like the person I was back then - in all of her spastic, nerdy, do-goody glory. And I especially like that, by reading back, I am coming to realize that I am still in a nutshell my 11-year-old self. Because she was pretty awesome.

Monday, June 22, 2009

mini vacation: 21c Art Hotel

Ever since I heard about 21c on NPR during my morning commute to work last winter, I've been dying to check it out. Finally, in June, thanks to a combination of factors including J having an unheard of weekend off work and me being employed (whoo!) we're heading to Louisville (Louhvul?) Ky. for the weekend. A minibreak, if you will. And I couldn't be more excited...

Really what makes 21c different from all other hotels is it's vast private art collection, amassed by owners Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson. This is modern art: crazy paintings of men caressing mannequins, conceptual films with accompanying dioramas. Red penguins everywhere. Modern art, like my favorite - the Hirshhorn - oh how I would love to work there...

Our agenda for the weekend:
  • leisurely, five hour drive from Huntsville to Louhvul with a potential stop in E-Town (as Mr. Addis calls it)
  • if we can swing the work schedules, an organic wine dinner featuring french bistro food at 610 Magnolia
  • perusing the downtown Louhvul art scene, including two(!) glassblowing workshops
  • more eating, at Proof on Main, 21c's on site (and apparently fabulous) restaurant and wine bar
  • troll the Urban Bourbon Trail
  • music and dancing?
  • and brunch. no vacation is complete with out at least one brunch.
This "itinerary" should pretty much sums up my idea of a perfect vacation. Leisurely road trip, eating, eating, wine, eating, dancing, distillery tour, eating. Repeat.

Woohooo Friday!

Thursday, June 18, 2009


What a long lapse between posts. I've been busy, both at work and personally (entertaining out of towners... Nashville in photos part deux coming soon). I'm also extremely irritated about the way my blog is looking and haven't had time to update and beautify it. Work Web site takes precedence over personal blog, obviously.

I think the perfect way to get back into the swing of things is to discuss my summertime obsession. SYTYCD (#sytycd on Twitter!)

After an amazing first week of couples competition, yesterday's performances were kinda underwhelming. My early favorites had slow performances... still liking them better than the others, though. Everyone else seemed to love the waltz and spastic popper Phillip, who I can't stand and find painfully goofy.

Other general impressions:
  • Love Kayla, but so does everyone else. She'll be fine.
  • Also love Caitlin and I'm a bit more concerned about how she'll do this week. On an unrelated note, am I the only one who thinks she looks like Amy Smart? Like her partner too. That Bollywood number last week was incredible.
  • The only major change of heart I've had between last week and this one was for Jonathan and his partner uhh... whatsherface. They were AWESOME. I had him totally pegged as a mediocre ballroom dancer, then in comes this incredible choreographer from SYTYCD Canada and her infallible "Falling Slowly" song choice and brings the couple back to life. I feel badly that I don't remember the girls' name (Karla...there!)
  • Speaking of Karla, she's fast becoming another of my favorites, she made absolutely no impression on me last week and suddenly comes out of the woodwork with the contemporary number. And lo and behold, she's also an accomplished hip-hopper who dances in a crew! Fun!
  • So, other recaps have been calling Lil C's reviews rambling and incoherent, but I was pretty impressed with his philosophical reviews of dances. And his amazing vocabulary. Nice.
  • Love Melissa and Ade, too. But didn't fully appreciate their performance the first time, changing my attitude after the reviews and the recap. Is this bad? At least I can claim that the bf came home during this and I felt compelled to talk even though I'd really rather have just shushed everyone till it was finished...
Had to add this photo because (1) it's HILARIOUS. This dude looks so young.. and (2) because he and his partner are first dancers of the season to win me over from skepticism or pure dislike.

At any rate, it'll be interesting to see who leaves tomorrow. These reality shows are awfully time consuming with the two night performance-then-elimination format and if I watch them at all I typically skip the performance night and watch the group numbers, recaps and special guests on the results show. But this show is my drug and I can't seem to do that. Addicted.

I do kind of wish that they'd keep the show to once a year. I think that the buildup of waiting SO long between seasons is part of what makes the show so great (you know, that and the enthusiastic, talented - HOT - dancers and fun costumes and music). But as with all things, absence makes the heart grow fonder. I hope this multiple seasons per year thing doesn't kill it for me. Also, I would really like my Wednesday and Thursday nights back. My social life would suffer if this happened twice a year. :)

I really, really, REALLY want to take couples dancing lessons. After the start of this show and a fun Nashville visit, I'm convinced.

Friday, May 22, 2009

ANOTHER new favorite show

Glee... I'd been meaning to watch this one after seeing some previews online and totally forgot about it. Fortunately FOX has the sneak peak episode online in it's entirety - complete with a player that plays the entire show, not annoying seven minute segments. Only a few, FOX related quick commercial interruptions, too. Nice.

Glee doesn't come until the fall but I loved the preview episode. After watching SYTYCD, I was on a musical/dance high and Glee did a great job of keeping that going. The series doesn't air in full until sometime in the fall, but I'm thinking it will be a nice nicotine patch for the end of the dancing show.

This kind of entertainment totally improves my mood. I love shows like that - ones that totally distract you from reality, sucking you in to some other universe where everyone is an amazing dancer, the music is great and there are sequins and glittery costumes everywhere :)

Thursday, May 21, 2009


My show starts tonight! Best dance show on T.V... best reality show on T.V., in my opinion. It's been a crazy, stressful month(s) but with this show signals the start of summer and consistently entertaining Thursday night entertainment until fall. Woot!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

It's not just me!

Stumbled across this article - How Bea Arthur helped my body image - today on HuffPo and cracked up.

Author Leslie Goldman writes in her piece about how even though she's not particular masculine or muscle-y, she's always identified herself with Arthur's character Dorothy on Golden Girls.

As a tall girl growing up, I often felt much...bigger. Bigger than the other girls, bigger than the boys, too big for tapered Guess jeans or cheerleading uniforms. And for some bizarre, warped reason, I always identified with Bea. I thought I looked like her. She was tall and slightly manly looking and when I watched her sipping coffee in her Florida kitchen, chastising Rose (who I now realize I am so like, it's scary) for making some inane St. Olaf remark, I thought, "That's what I look like. I'm going to wear shoulder pads and floor length caftans and look like Bea Arthur when I grow up." I am not fabricating this -- ask my mom or my husband. Of course, I could have looked to any number of tall actresses or models. Cindy Crawford, maybe? But my sweet little lost mind chose Bea.

I find this whole bit hilarious, mainly because I feel exactly the same way. The only difference is that this chick is 6'1 sometimes. In heels. Blake Lively is probably approximately the same. I, however, am six feet even. No shoes. If I bust out the hot shoes (or more likely borrow a friend's, because I rarely buy heels taller than three inches) and go out, I am positively ginormous. Like, 6'5, a-head-at-least-above-everyone-else-in-the-bar tall. Goldman hits the nail on the head when she brings up a Blake Lively interview:

I'm not alone in my Tall=Big Girl Syndrome. Recently, I read an interview with my Girl Crush, Blake Lively, in Allure, and was shocked (but strangely relieved) when she admitted, "I feel like a tranny a lot of the time. I don't know, I'm...large? They put me in six-inch heels, and I tower over every man. I've got this long hair and lots of clothes and makeup on. I just feel really big a lot of the time, and I'm surrounded by a lot of tiny people. I feel like a man sometimes."
Please don't be mistaken. This is not a "poor me, the tall girl" post. My body image is just fine, and women like Lively (though I suspect she's not the brightest crayon) and Charlize Theron and Aisha Tyler do us six-footers proud. And I can inconspicuously gain quite a bit of weight and still look A-OK. It's none of those things.

But... when we go to the drag show, or the high heel drag race in Dupont Circle, I do end up cracking a lot of jokes about getting confused for a competitor. And can you blame me?

Which of these things is not like the other?

No reason for this particular tangent, other than that I find it hilarious and refreshing that there are those out there in the same predicament. Hooray for tall (mannish....?) girls! Kidding! Sort of.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Two musical projects putting a spin on the norm

I have been all over the place for the past few weeks - planning for DNA Day, then for our first annual fundraising gala. It has been a wild, but wholly professionally fulfilling, past month. I've seen all kinds of things that have inspired me to post something but I haven't had a chance till now. Perhaps this combined "why-music-is-awesome-and-can-change-the-world" post will be more powerful anyway.

As you've probably figured out by now, most of my blog fodder comes from my daily commute to and from work listening to NPR. I really should link them on here. Anyway, this comes from two different stories I heard on the station over the past couple of weeks.

One features Ben Folds (formerly of Ben Folds Five and the epically depressing song Brick that you may remember from the late '90s). Folds decided to compile an entire a capella album of his greatest hits after seeing a YouTube clip of an Ohio University a capella group covering Brick.

Not surprising, considering how the All Things Considered segment described Folds' stage shows:
His dynamic live shows often found Folds leaping on top of the piano, dividing the audience down the middle, and conducting them in two-part (and sometimes even three-part) harmony.

Folds broadcasted the news that he was compiling an a capella album, selecting performances from different university a capella groups across the country via YouTube submissions. The results are pretty impressive, and while I typically shy away from a capella (it reminds me of my younger days and that group from Where in the World is Carmen San Diego...) this could be something to buy on iTunes.

Ben Folds, while depressing at times, could really stand to be livened up and I bet a bunch of peppy and talented collegiate a capella groups could be just the ones to do the livening. Wonder if they covered Rocking the Suburbs on the album... (awww man! Sure don't. Ben?! What happened?)

One album I DEFINITELY downloaded, right away after hearing the piece was the Songs for Peace album - a compilation by a group who call themselves Playing for Change who edit street performers worldwide into one track of a popular song.

Anyway - video of Stand By Me goes viral, producers continue to record mashup-type songs performed by street performers around the world, and they eventually create a CD.

My favorite thing about being in Paris and London were the street performers. There were sidewalk artists and musicians on the street. One girl drew The Birth of Venus in colored sidewalk chalk only to have the effort be washed away by the next rain or street cleaning. One guy played the saxophone by the Thames while balancing on a rope he'd tied between two trees.

In Paris, I heard the Beach Boys and blues standards in the Métro and a bunch of Chilean guys played Hotel California on a pedestrian bridge crossing the Seine. I'm sure I'm idealistic and silly for thinking so, but the idea of bringing these performers from all over the world together shared songs really resonates with me. Singing along with an overplayed Eagles song in Paris may have been cheesy, but it was one of the best nights of my life.

...I'm pretty sure it was the best night because I felt connected to people in a completely different continent because the late July evening was beautiful, the stars were out, the breeze was blowing, the Eiffel Tour was glittering... and we - a mishmash of nationalities, ages and backgrounds - all knew the words to the same damn song.

I love social media at times like this. Watching a YouTube video and listening to some .mp3s won't exactly replicate the feeling of that night on the Seine or those Métro rides, but they will certainly do 'till I can get back out there again.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Susan Boyle, i love you. Part two.

Let me count the ways.

Apparently, Susan Boyle is not only immensely talented, but she's her own woman as well. I seriously can't get enough of this woman.

Ever since she's been thrown into the international media spotlight with her Britain's Got Talent performance, everyone from Tina Fey to Larry King have been speculating whether Boyle would make an almost inevitable princess transformation.

Love that she says that she feels no need to change her personality for the show. Exactly right, why should she change.

Best to you, Susan Boyle, with or without the bushy eyebrows! Nice leather jacket, too. :)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

DNA inspired artwork - good combination.

Of all of the cool things I've seen go on at work since I started last June, I think this is my favorite. Conceptualizing science into art competition was an amazing one, thought up by our Educational Outreach department. We bought the winner ($1,000 prize, for those interested in participating next year...) and get to keep her piece at HudsonAlpha. The other five finalists will have their pieces for sale during the exhibition.

From our site:
The HudsonAlpha DNA Day Art Competition was created to highlight the natural connections that exist between the scientific and artistic fields. Artists from across Alabama were invited to submit works inspired by the human genome and its relationship to health and disease. Kimberly Hart, a Huntsville artist and educator at Greengate School, created the winning submission, Code Cracked. Hart noted that the inspiration for Code Cracked was from a newspaper article describing the sequencing and interpretation of an individual’s DNA:

“The article said in the next few years everyone will be able to decipher his or her own DNA and we will be able to have a complete record of the traits we have inherited from our parents. We will all have ‘a genetic mirror’ of ourselves. That phrase made me think about my own genetic traits and how they shadow me like a reflection.”

Finalists include Gary Anderson, for Teamwork; Gail Bryant, for Life Grows Where the River Flows; Jamie Stautert, for Pieces of Life, John "Jahni" Moore, for The Grand Symbol; and Mark Blevins, for Dominoes.

Come check them out for yourself! Hart’s work - as well as those of the finalists - will be available for viewing during DNA Day activities on April 24. Artwork will be displayed at the institute as part of the DNA Day Art Exhibition until May 29.
Displayed are some highlights - check out the rest of the photos in our Facebook gallery!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Susan Boyle, i love you.

I'm not the biggest fan of elimination reality shows. Especially American Idol - except for that one season where the girl who got kicked off unbelievably early took it all after the show. There's just something painful to me about watching people who are serious about achieving their hopes and dreams by way of Simon Cowell getting it all crushed. On national TV, no less.

I kinda hate it, but I was even thinking to myself that she was going to be another weirdo who goes on these shows and warbles away. While it makes me cringe to see these people get made fun of post performance, I also kinda wish they would have had the presence of mind not to go on at all.

So this morning, my friend @griffingotgun posted this video of Susan Boyle on Twitter.

It starts badly. She's kind of frowsy. She's smiling way too much, a little uncomfortable, 47 years old and unemployed. She wants to be a superstar and Simon is warming up for a good destruction session. And then:

Susan Boyle shows EVERYONE what's up. This video makes me sooo happy.

Well Susan Doyle is not your typical Professional singer. She’s 47, has a cat named Pebbles, and has never been kissed. And of course, the audience was quite skeptical with much cat-calling and eye-rolling as Susan introduced herself and spoke of her dream to be a professional singer.

[...]The 47 year old charity worker from West Lothian, drew smirks from the audience when she revealed that she wanted a career like that of West End singer Elaine Paige. But after her jaw-dropping performance and gorgeous voice, who knows what is possible for this sweet-demeanored singer? [source]
Happy Wednesday :)

Now I need to see an unexpectedly good dancer on my favorite summer reality show. Everyone loves an underdog!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

on burning cds

During high school and college, I was the mix CD queen. You knew you were part of my inner circle if you got a hand decorated CD from Melanie. Making one of these CDs took me upwards of an hour, painstakingly selecting songs for optimal flow, no listener track skippage and the ultimate CD-listening experience. It was both an art and a science.

Then there was the decorating.

I know from personal experience that it is exceptionally hard to keep track of a CD jewel case and sleeve, so I always relied on the CD itself to convey the message I wished to share. Using a rather impressive array of colored sharpies, I would write the track list - songs and artists on the CD. I would use my (minimal) remaining space to illustrate... usually some sort of palm tree or beach motif. Or stars. Or hearts. And then add a personal message:
Dear Kristen/Greg/Jonathan/Jenn/Michelle/Chris,

Happy Graduation/Birthday/Valentine's Day/break up/reunion/got-your-braces-off
You're the best!

Those CDs, while exceedingly cheesy, were quite popular. I loved getting inspired by an occasion (I especially remember making ones for all the girlfriends before we went off to our various colleges) and fitting the music to the mood.

Lots of these are still lying around in various friends, boyfriends and siblings car consoles, CD-R holders and desk drawers and are pulled out to relive that month in our lives: headed to college after high school graduation, first valentine's day in a relationship, pick-me-up CD for a best friend during finals, big brother's 21st birthday.

To me, the mix CD is more thoughtful at times than a handwritten letter - and this coming from a writer. While both are used express the mood of an occasion, music is powerful. Hearing the first strain of the hit rap song of 2002 brings back dancing around the dorm while getting ready to go out your first semester of college. The chorus of Wonderwall brings back sitting on that pedestrian bridge in Paris, singing along, in English with kids from all over the world, enjoying the July evening in the City of Light.

They say that smell is the most instantaneous link to memory, but for this hyper-allergic writer, sound is just as equally powerful.

On that note,
Dear Christina,

Congratulations, love! You're getting hitched. Let's take this weekend to symbolically recognize all of the time up till now that this group of girls has spent together. Let's celebrate the current gorgeous, immensly intelligent (and charming) and successful - working for Calvin Klein in Manhattan - you, by taking trip back to less complicated times. Here's to you. And us. And what we have become through all of those fun times.


track list:

Outkast - Bombs Over Baghdad
Destiny's Child - Bug-a-Boo; Bills, Bills, Bills
Any crappy rap song from the early '00s
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
The Beatles
Britney Spears
anything Gwen Stefani and No Doubt

Missy Elliott
Nelly Furtado
Jimmy Eat World
...and more
Yeah, yeah... laugh it up. Most of this is pretty passé by now, but at the time, that was our music. Embarassing as it may be now, this weekend these songs will take us back to the happiest, easiest times of our lives. Before jobs and rough economies. Before committed relationships and car payments. Now that I have the CD burner back up and running, I might have to get back into the practice.

It's like what they said about mix tapes before we made the switch to burning CDs - all of the effort had gone out of the endeavor. There was no longer copying one song at a time using two tape decks. Now, there's no more dragging and dropping, labeling and burning. There's just the iPod cord and the on-the-go list, all downloaded remotely. I might keep up this dying art for a little longer, if just for the happiness a palm tree and some x's and o's provide a friend. Congrats, Chris.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Mail goggles and other life savers

This just in: Google creates idiot-proof Gmail. Love it. Too bad even though we use Gmail for work, I feed it through Entourage. Potentially even considering switching back to it's pure form 'cause these features are priceless:
  • Five second send delay - in case you spot an awkward typo or accidental.
  • "Are you sure?" reply all - so that (potentially snarky?) response intended solely for the sender doesn't reach all of those unintended recipients.
  • The ever popular "Mail Goggles" (Doesn't this sound like one of their April Fool's jokes?)
  • Facemail... corresponding photos with emails showing up in the to: line so that you don't accidentally autofill the wrong name...
  • Attachment check. I do this at least three times a week. "Hmm. Sorry - here's the attachment." And I always catch it seconds after the darn thing sends.
[...]the lawyer for Eli Lilly who wanted to e-mail her co-counsel Bradford Berenson details of a negotiation but instead sent them to Alex Berenson, a reporter for the New York Times. The result was a front-page scoop revealing that Eli Lilly was talking with the government about a billion-dollar fine for improperly marketing its anti-psychotic drug Zyprexa. (And so much for the effectiveness of those lengthy legal disclaimers at the bottom of corporate e-mails.) - from Slate
Because sometimes doing something as easy as activating "Undo Send" in Gmail Labs under Settings, and you’ll see a new “Undo” link on every sent mail confirmation. Click “Undo,” Gmail grabs the message before it’s sent and take you right back to compose. Woohoo! Check out the full post here.

Now if only they'd create similar features for Facebook...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The cooking and eating post.

I've been catching a lot of interesting food stories lately:

Cultural Tourism D.C., one of my go to resources for things to do in the city (sign up for their e-newsletter if you're planning on a trip anytime soon), had an Embassy Chef Challenge as part of their fund raising gala last night. What a cool idea for a fundraiser... CTDC hosted all of the embassy chefs in a judged competition where they presented hors d'oevures, main courses and desserts. The panel of judges were
Chef Carla Hall, Alchemy Caterers and "Top Chef" finalist
Chef Rock Harper, Ben's Next Door and winner of "Hell's Kitchen"
Chef Ris Lacoste, ris (coming summer 2009)
Chef Kaz Okochi, Kaz Sushi Bistro
Chef Michel Richard, Michel Richard Citronelle and Central Michel Richard
Gail Scott, author, Diplomatic Dance: The New Embassy Life in America
Chef Art Smith, Art and Soul
Joe Yonan, The Washington Post Food Editor
So, pretty much, all rockstars - especially Michel Richard. Such a clever gala idea. Need to keep this in mind if I ever work somewhere that's not all science, all the time... The event was open to the public. I'd be interested to see what their attendance numbers were.

And in more local news, Frank Stitt of Bottega, Highlands Grill and Chez Fon Fon, among others has been nominated for (another) James Beard Award. Highlands Bar & Grill has been nominated for Most Outstanding Restaurant of 2009. I'm more of a Chez Fon Fon person, purely for financial reasons, but this news has inspired me to save up and check out the nominee next time I'm in Birmingham. Apparently the Highlands Web site is frantically being rennovated... which I find comical from a marketing standpoint. "Crap! We've been nominated! We need to get this site going so people will want to come visit." Wonder if they offer some sort of prix fixe menu...

Last food thought for the day... Slate ran a piece about the dilemma of what to do with the random veggies people get in their CSA (community supported agriculture - doesn't everyone know that? Cause I didn't have to look it up or anything...) boxes at the end of winter. W
hich, while comical, highlights the fact that instead of having a similar dilemma, I have the problem of having no veggie box at all. I wonder if we get those in Huntsville. I did a cursory Google search without a satisfying result.

I think I've heard a rumor about veggies getting dropped off at Lowe Mill, but have been unable to find anything about that on the internet. Maybe you need a password or a secret code or something there on Saturday mornings. Like a vegetable speakeasy or something. Now that would be exciting. The thrill of the chase. It would take so much work to get them that you'd be thrilled to figure out how to cook a bunch of turnips. Well, maybe not that excited. But I digress... If I find something out I will post it.

Is it time for lunch yet?!