Thursday, December 18, 2014

Little White Christmas Lies

When I was about 5, I started to doubt the existence of Santa Claus.

I think it started when I was playing in the front yard, looked up towards the roof and noticed how small the opening of the fireplace on our house was. I'd been a first grader for four months already, and I was starting to get smart. Logically, it just didn't mke sense that Santa's girth could fit into an opening that small. Plus, some kids in my class were spreading a rumor that there was no such thing as Santa Claus.

I didn't believe them. Well, I didn't want to believe them. But doubt started to creep in, so I started dropping little hints here and there at home, and my parents knew that I was questioning the existence of a jolly old rotund man in a red suit who was supposed to drop down the chimney and leave presents under our tree. But at the same time, I was worried that Santa was able to fit down other larger chimneys, but because ours was so small, he might just skip over our house, and not pay us a visit at all. I was also a little bit concerned that he might try to fit down the chimney and get stuck in the fireplace, and we'd be hated the world over for squeezing Santa to death.

So there were were, Christmas Eve, practicing our tradition of opening one present the night before Christmas. Mine was one of the best ever. My two older half sisters in Texas had sent me their well loved but long outgrown Barbie & Ken dolls from the mid 60's, and a box full of outfits.

I'd never had a barbie doll before, and I was in heaven.

Until I realized that my father  had built a great, roaring fire in the fireplace.

That skeptic, the one that was pondering if Santa even existed? She was now positive that he did exist, would see smoke coming from our chimney, and just keep moving on to the next house, not wanting to chance burning his feet. I turned into a crying, blubbering mess, throwing a huge fit that we had a fire burning in our fireplace.

My parents told me all the things a parent has to think up on the fly to console their kids on Christmas Eve. Don't worry, Santa's got experience with this kind of thing. It's not going to stop him from visiting our house. The fire will die out. Stop with the crying. By the time he gets here, it won't be hot. If Santa has to, he'll use the front door. No, we're not leaving it unlocked. Santa knows his way around a locked door. It's okay, go play with your Barbies.

Finally, we settled on a compromise. My father promised not only to make sure the fire was completely out, he'd clean out the fireplace to leave a nice, polished landing zone for Santa. Finally, I could take my barbie doll and go to bed, solid in the knowledge would take care of things.

Cut to Christmas morning.

My little sister and I woke up, then pounced on our parents in their bedroom, and once they were up, we ran into the living room to see what waited for us under the tree. I was immediately distracted by what I saw in the fireplace. Couldn't believe my eyes. It was still full of charred wood and ashes from the newspaper comic strips my dad has used as gift wrapping since time began (and still does). My dad had failed me. He had one job. One job that he promised to do, and he failed.

I immediately started wailing, because my dad had just totally ruined Christmas. I was convinced that either Santa had seen smoke from our chimney and skipped our house altogether, or worse, the glowing embers of the raging fire had melted the rubber on the bottom of his boots and Santa hightailed it back up the chimney, vowing never to come back to that house again.

My dad and mom, who had to be operating on less than 3 hours of sleep as is common for most parents at the crack of dawn on Christmas morning, tried to calm me down. My dad apologized, telling me he totally forgot all about it.

And then my dad said, "Well look at that," pointing inside the fireplace.

At a pair of giant boot prints in the ashes.

Then my mom pointed over by the tree. "And look over here, Valerie. I think Santa's been here."

Indeed. There were presents galore. There was a Timey Tell doll (she wore a watch, and told you what time it was when you pulled the string in her back), and a Barbie Airship, and a little nurse's medical kit with a hat, stethoscope and thermometer (let the mile high club and playing doctor jokes commence).

Santa wasn't mad at us after all, and now I had proof in the fireplace that he existed.

The things parents will do to keep the belief alive when their kids are starting to doubt.

Now that I'm a mother (and an aunt, and a great aunt, and a godmother), I've been doing my share to help keep the faith alive over the years with the coolest little tradition that we started when we moved to Redding 13 Christmases ago. We started candy cane farming.

Sophia was 4 when we tried planting candy cane seeds for the first time. We took a handful of candy cane seeds and planted them outside in the yard, sprinkled them with magic elf fertilizing dust, and the next morning they had already grown into candy canes! Forget about all the presents under the tree, Sophia just wanted to run outside and see if her canes grew. In fact she still loves it, and now enjoys passing the tradition on to younger members of the family.

There is a definite science to candy cane farming, but I'm here to help you successfully grow candy canes of all shapes and flavors year after year. Here is Candy Cane Farming 101, in just a few easy steps.

Candy cane seeds are easy to come by. You've probably been ignoring them for years when they've been handed to you, most likely at a dining establishment, served on a tray along with the bill. They're usually round, red & white striped, featuring the aroma of peppermint. A bit more rare is the green & brown candy cane seed (it smells a bit chocolately), and every once in awhile you'll come across a mutant seed with purple or blue stripes. This can throw an inexperienced candy cane seed farmer for a loop, especially if you're dealing with a child who pockets mutant seeds without your knowledge, saving several different colors to bring out unexpectedly around bedtime on Christmas Eve.

Magic Elf Fertilizing Sprinkles
This amazing substance is sprinkled over the candy cane seeds as they're planted, allowing them to grow from seeds to full grown candy canes over night. But this secret sauce, probably made from the dandruff of Santa's redheaded helpers, only fertilizes candy cane seeds on one night a year, and is absolutely useless on any other night. It's easy to find though, and can be secured in the baking aisle of grocery stores. It should be red (or green if you're in a pinch), in little granules, and if you touch the little sprinkles to your tongue, they'll taste sweet. Like sugar. Like the sparkly sugar sprinkles you might dust across the top of sugar cookies.

Planting them is easy. You can do it anywhere. Outside or inside. In the grass, in potted plants, in gravel. Candy cane seeds are hearty, drought resistant and reindeer tolerant. The first year, Sophia asked me if we were supposed to take the plastic off of the seeds before planting them. I didn't know, I'd never done it before. So we tried an experiment and planted half with plastic, half without.
I'd recommend keeping the plastic on, because if you do, the candy canes that grow overnight have plastic on them the next morning. The others that didn't were more than just sticky, they were pretty slimy. They may be drought tolerant, but they're not very dew tolerant. And if you've got a snail problem in the back yard, well, they're even more slimy.

We've actually done quite a bit of experimenting over the years. It turns that if you plant a small candy cane instead of a seed, that a bigger candy cane grows overnight. And if you plant a bigger candy cane, but mom accidentally breaks it while sticking it in the ground? You get a giant candy cane stick the next day! And those random, mutant candy cane seeds? Turns out mom was paying attention when Sophia started saving the weird ones, and turns out they grow into wildly colored candy canes kind of similar to some variety packagea of Jelly Belly and Lifesavers Candy Canes I might have come across at the drug store.

We've collected a few little ceramic holiday containers over the years and keep a stash of candy cane seeds and magic elf fertilizing sprinkles in them to give to friends with kids who are enthralled by the idea of growing candy cane seeds. It wouldn't bother me at all if you started to do the same.

Just keepin' the faith alive, my friends.

I hope you're surrounded by friends and family over the holiday, and enjoy a time that is filled with joy and light, humor and wonder, and a little bit of faith and magic.

Below you'll find a playlist for every holiday mood, click on the one that suits you and enjoy!

Feeling Jazzy? Check out the Jazzy Little Christmas playlist:
Jazzy Little Christmas by Valerie Ing-Miller on Grooveshark

Wanting to impress the grandparents with something more refined? Try the Classical Christmas playlist instead:
Classical Christmas by Valerie Ing-Miller on Grooveshark

And finally, here's a playlist with a bit of kick! I call this one Smells Like Christmas Spirit:
Smells Like Christmas Spirit by Valerie Ing-Miller on Grooveshark

Thursday, December 4, 2014

It's My Party, I Can DJ If I Wanna

It's not easy being a Sagittarius, lemme tell ya.

Being born anytime between Thanksgiving and Christmas can pretty much guarantee that you get one gift that covers both holidays. If I had a nickel for every time someone said, "Happybirthdaymerrychristmas!" I'd probably have enough saved up to get new double pane windows for my house.

Which reminds me. Another downfall of being a December baby? This might not be such a big issue when you're a kid, but as an adult I have a hard enough time thinking of items to put on my Christmas wish list (at least things that cost under eight thousand dollars, but having to come up with more ideas for my birthday list too? It sends me over the edge every year, although lately people who really know and love me just bring me a bottle of cheap champagne or expensive vodka.

Another problem I've been complaining about for years is the fact that going out to eat dinner with friends on my birthday has become next to impossible because either all the good establishments are booked for parties on my birthday, or all my friends are booked with their own holiday office parties.

My efforts to get Christmas to step aside and move to another month have been fruitless. Christ just won't budge his mass for little ol' me.

When I was a kid, I was jealous that my little sister, a Leo, always had fun August outdoor birthday parties with lawn games and slip 'n slides, while all of mine were indoors and very happybirthdaymerrychristmassy. In addition, half of my friends were missing because they were sick with whatever runny nose-cough-sore throat-vomit malady was going around.  Let's call it the Bahum Bug.

Finally, when I was about 10 and a big snowstorm shut down my birthday party (I'm making this up, I have no idea what finally triggered this), I threw a tantrum over it. My parents sat me down and said, "Christmas is basically a big birthday party for Jesus. But everyone knows he wasn't actually born in December. And you don't have to celebrate your birthday in December either. Why don't you have your birthday party in April or May, when it's warm outside and everyone can play in the backyard?"

I know. My parents are brilliant.

So I did that, for a couple of years. And it felt like I actually had two birthdays instead of one.
But to be honest, I love being born on 12-12. In fact I was born on 12-12-66, and 6+6=12. For awhile there I was even under the impression that I was born at 12 o'clock (totally not true). So when I turned 12 on 12-12, I went back to celebrating myself on the 12th of the 12th month. A few years ago when my birthday fell on 12-12-12, it was a pretty big deal, although I also had myself convinced that I was 12+12+12 that year, a whole decade younger than I really was.

The other thing I've learned as I've started to embrace 12-12, is to just invite friends over to my house instead of trying to venture out into the big office party-filled world. And I've got to say that some of the best times I've had on my birthday have been those where I just stayed home, and for the most part stayed out of the room with the Christmas Tree. I hold court in my kitchen, open a few presents, over indulge in good food and bubbly, and don't even have to drive anywhere afterwards. It's glorious. Almost like…Christmas!

A few days ago my friend Monica asked me who was going to DJ my cozy birthday gathering this year. You already know who, dontcha? The Mistress of the Mix, that's who. And so, even if you've already got office party plans on my birthday, you can still tune in to the 12-12 birthday party playlist, pour yourself a glass of cheap champagne, and party with the Mistress. And you're always welcome to drop off gifts ahead of time at the office!

Here it is, the birthday girl's party playlist. 48 songs for 12-12-2014.
48 by Valerie Ing-Miller on Grooveshark

  1. Jim The Jinn - DePhazz
  2. Mambo Craze - DePhazz
  3. Uptown Funk - Bruno Mars & Mark Ronson
  4. Don't Stop Til You Get Enough - Michael Jackson
  5. Got To Get You Into My Life - Earth Wind & Fire
  6. Good Feeling - Flo-Rida
  7. Bang Bang Bang - Mark Ronson
  8. Birthday - Selena Gomez
  9. Let Me Be Him - Hot Chip
  10. Call Me The Breeze - John Mayer
  11. Hayloft - Nickel Creek
  12. Rabid Animal - Lake Street Dive
  13. Funky Vodka - TJF
  14. The Whip - Locksley
  15. Uh - Fujiya & Miyagi
  16. Brick House - The Commodores
  17. You Sexy Thing - Hot Chocolate
  18. Good Times - Chic
  19. Short Skirt/Long Jacket - Cake
  20. Once In A Lifetime - Talking Heads
  21. Ride On/Right On - Phosphorescent
  22. Sexomatic Venus Freak - Macy Gray
  23. Planet Claire - B-52s
  24. You Don't Know Me - Bend Fold & Regina Spektor
  25. L'Amour - Rouge Rouge
  26. Toujour L'Amore
  27. Waters of March - Sergio Mendes
  28. Arrastao - Ursula 1000
  29. The Golden Age - Asteroids Galaxy Tour
  30. Yo, Deejay - Jah Sound
  31. Over & Over - Hot Chip
  32. I Know You Want Me - Pitbull
  33. Back in Time - Pitbull
  34. Come Get It Bae - Pharrell
  35. Valerie - Amy Winehouse & Mark Ronson
  36. Dangerous - Big Data
  37. It's My Birthday -
  38. Sexy Back - Justin Timberlake
  39. Get Lucky - Daft Punk feat. Pharrell
  40. In These Shoes - Kirsty MacColl
  41. Secrets - Mary Lambert
  42. Happy Birthday - Altered Images
  43. Happy Birthday Valerie - Birthday Song Crew
  44. Satisfy My Soul - Bob Marley
  45. So Nice - Bebel Gilberto
  46. Close Your Eyes - Bebel Gilberto
  47. Tudo Bem - Trio Mocoto
  48. Latazz - Funky Lowlives

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Chip Off The Old Block

When I was in high school, I didn't see myself having a career in broadcasting. I knew I would write, it was like I had words bursting from every seam, screaming to be let loose from my brain, through my fingertips and onto a piece of paper. And I certainly didn't have any issues with getting up in  front of a classroom full of my peers to spout off about anything.

But a microphone? Made my heart palpitate. A television camera? Move me to the back of the room, please. I was terrified of the things. I was rarely photographed, even more rarely recorded back in those days.

Not that I was a wallflower. But you knew that. I just had a ridiculous fear of being broadcast over the radio or television waves. My mother will back me up on that. One time, when I was about 5, she brought me and my little sister into a TV studio, and pretended to turn the camera on.

I climbed under a chair and tried to hide behind my little sister's legs.

Obviously I got over that fear, but it wasn't until I was about 18 years old, already a freshman in college. And once I worked through my phobia, I realized that while I would always write (as evidenced here), that broadcasting was calling me as it had called to my mother years before, and my father as well. Dad had hosted a jazz show on his college radio station back in Texas in the early 1950's, while my mother spent most of her time in the newsroom at several NPR stations. I ended up doing both, but also dabbled in television broadcasting.

More than a dozen years later, I had my own child, and she never really seemed interested in that broadcasting stuff.  Her dad was a radio guy, mom was a radio and TV gal, and while Sophia would dance around the living room with wild abandon instead of hiding under a chair when I turned the video camera on, it wasn't something that really captured her interest. She starred in a number of cute little movies I made to cure my own boredom when she was little. Straight to video hits like "The Chocolate Chip Cookie Show" and "Pup Fiction." But if you asked her what she wanted to do when she grew up, depending on the year she'd tell you that she wanted to be a forensic psychologist detective, a grade school teacher or a fashion designer. Never once did I hear the words "I want to do what you do, mom" come out of that girl's mouth.

And then somewhere along the way, something changed in my girl. I think it was when she got her first cell phone that could take pictures. She had a real eye, and started taking photos of everything. Asked for a camera for Christmas. And a better camera the next Christmas. And this year for her birthday the only thing on her list was a Go Pro. She signed up for a video production class, and became the first Junior Photo Deputy on A News Cafe. I still wasn't completely convinced that something was changing within her until she came home one day a few weeks ago and told me that she was trying out as the host of her high school's weekly video news broadcast: The U-Prep Panthercast. And she made it  quite obvious to me that if she didn't make the cut, she was going to be crushed. Because she really, really, really really wanted the gig.

To the parents out there, haven't you had a few of these moments when you're so so so proud of your kid that your heart just about explodes? When you want to cry big juicy tears and jump for joy because your lifelong dream of molding a life form into what you think a perfect human should be has finally happened? That was one of those moments.

I don't know if she's on her way to a career in broadcasting (because honestly, a forensic psychologist is so much cooler), but I'm just thrilled that she's trying on her mother (and grandmother's) shoes for size, and apparently they fit, because she got the gig (thanks Mr. Bird)!

And so it's with mother's pride that I present to you this week's Panthercast featuring my daughter, who it turns out is a chip off the old block.

I've also put together an Anchorwoman Playlist that brings together every decent song I could track down that relates to radio and TV broadcasting and anchoring the news, plus a little Panther love thrown in at the end. Enjoy!

Anchorwoman by Valerie Ing-Miller on Grooveshark

  1. Radio Broadcast - Wax Tailor
  2. Afternoon Delight - Ron Burgundy& the Anchormen
  3. The News - Jimmy Cliff
  4. Stay Tuned - Wax Tailor
  5. Second Hand News - Fleetwood Mac
  6. The News - Jack Johnson
  7. She's An Anchorman - Sparks
  8. Morning Paper Headlines - Granite State
  9. News - Dire Straits
  10. I Got The News - Steely Dan
  11. On The Radio - Regina Spektor
  12. Radio Radio - Elvis Costello
  13. Video Killed The Radio Star - Buggles
  14. Chip Off The Old Block - Glenn Miller
  15. Mic Check - King Rizza
  16. Pass The Mic - Beastie Boys
  17. Panther Power - Tupac Shakur
  18. Pink Panther Theme - Ska-J

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Bang! Bang! Bang!

Ever have one of those weeks where you wish you had a do-over?

I've just had one of those weeks.

It was one of those weeks where you wish you could just line up every bad interaction, every bad moment, every negative thought, every awkward discussion and every nasty disagreement like ducks in a carnival shooting gallery and hit bullseye after bullseye after bullseye.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

If only that was possible.

Alas, it ain't. So I'm stuck with that.

We're not Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, or Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow, or the incredibly adorable Domnhall Gleeson in About Time (my favorite movie of the year). There just aren't any do-overs in real life to hone our life skills. I wish there were, but we're pretty much stuck with the day we just lived, every time.

But you know what always makes me feel better?


When I've had a really horrible day; a really rotten, no good, horrible day, there's one sure fire way to put a smile back on my face and make me forget about all my problems, and that's an upbeat song I can sing along to.

So enjoy today's playlist. I think the underlying theme is pretty obvious, and every one of these songs should help get you grooving right out of the fast lane of a bad mood, and onto the good mood expressway like a shot.


To listen to today's playlist, click on the play arrow in the embedded playlist below or check it out directly at the Grooveshark website.
  Bang Bang by Valerie Ing-Miller on Grooveshark

  1. Bang Bang - K'naan
  2. Bang Bang -
  3. Bang Bang - Jessie J, Arianna Grande & Nicki Minaj
  4. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang - Nitzer Ebb
  5. Bang Bang Bang - Mark Ronson & The Business Int'l
  6. Bang Bang Boom Boom - Beth Hart
  7. Bang Bang Bang - Christina erri
  8. Bang A Gong - T. Rex
  9. Bang Bang - Joe Cuba
  10. Bang On - Propellerheads
  11. Bang Bang Bang - Selena Gomez & The Scene
  12. Bang The Drum All Day - Tod Rundgren
  13. Bang It Out - Breathe Carolina feat. Karmin
  14. Bang Bang - Dub Incorporation
  15. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang - High Contrast
  16. Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang - Shirley Bassey
  17. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang - Specimen

Thursday, September 25, 2014

And The Winner Is..

Reverend Ray Welles shows me a rock wall in the Pilgrim Congregational Church. Parishioners gathered the rocks themselves to help with the construction.

And the winner is. . . us!

A few days ago the adorable and spunky Sue Lang rushed through my office door, excitedly waving a piece of paper. "We won! We won!"

Sue was there to tell me that we had won the Governor's Historic Preservation Award for 2014 for The Wright Time, a documentary film we had collaborated on about the building of the Pilgrim Congregational Church, one of the last buildings designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright before his death.

The Wright Time was a joint Jefferson Public Radio/Shasta Historical Society effort. It was the brainchild of Sue Lang, who serves on the board of the Shasta Historical Society, who recruited videographer and co-board member Charley Williams and then asked me if I'd perform the interviews and narration for the project.

I jumped at the chance, because I've always had a fondness for local history, and I'd been in the Pilgrim Congregational Church a few times, and have been mesmerized by the rock walls and the angles of pretty much everything in the building.

 Over the course of several months, Charley, Sue and I met with about ten people who had been involved in the building of the church, including former church pastor Ray Welles, several parishioners now in their 80's and 90's, and a number of youngsters in their late 50's, who really were just youngsters back in 1960 when ground was broken on the last holy place Wright designed, but never had the opportunity to visit.

 We ended up with about 12 hours of footage. Poor Charley, who had to slog through all those interviews, trying to figure out what to include and what stayed on the cutting room floor, and how to put it all together in a way to artfully tell the story of the little congregation that could, and how the they built a world class design with their own bare hands because they couldn't afford to hire someone else to build it for them.

 We found out that families would go out on the weekends and bring back loads of boulders, which were later used to create the walls of the church. We learned how the triangle designs in the floors and in the windows represent the holy trinity. We also heard from pretty much every single interviewee that when it rains, the roof leaks. In fact I could see a stream of water running down one of the rock walls while I interviewed Ray Welles during a stormy November morning.

 I learned a lot, and we ended up with an amazing film.

The Wright Time. We held the premiere at the Cascade Theatre last Spring with an audience of at least 800. A few months later Whiskeytown Park archeologist Danica Wright nominated the project for the Governor's Historic Preservation Award. The honor recognizes individuals and organizations whose contributions demonstrate significant achievements in preserving the heritage of California. It's the only award given by the state for historic preservation, and we didn't think we had a chance.

 It's rarely bestowed upon a film, although a few years ago it was presented to a group of producers who created a documentary about San Diego. In my research, I only noticed one other award going to far northern California, and that was for a cultural gathering in Humboldt County related to the history of the Karuk Tribe. So yeah, chances were slim.

 But we won!

 We'll travel down to the state capitol in mid-November to receive our award. If you're interested in seeing the film, it's available for purchase (and mayhaps for viewing) at the Shasta Historical Society, and there's a good chance it might be shown on local television in the near future. You can read more about the honor, check out a photo slideshow and even listen to a Morning Edition piece that incorporates some of the interviews from the film that was produced when the film premiered on the JPR website.

 In the meantime, I'm basking in the glory of hard work paying off in amazing rewards, and I leave you with a playlist of songs that pay tribute to winning, great architecture, and there's even one song paying tribute to the late great Frank Lloyd Wright. Enjoy by clicking on the play arrow below, or going clicking through to the Grooveshark website!
Winning by Valerie Ing-Miller on Grooveshark

  1. We Are The Champions - Queen 
  2. You Win Again - Jerry Lee Lewis 
  3. So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright - Simon & Garfunkel 
  4. An Architect's Dream - Kate Bush 
  5. You Win - Cats on Trees 
  6. Win With Me, Baby - Roomful of Blues
  7. Win Your Love For Me - Sam Cooke
  8. Win Some, Lose Some - You Me At Six
  9. To Win The World - Puggy
  10. Like A Champion - Selena Gomez
  11. Champion - Buju Banton
  12. Lyric Architect - Westbound Train
  13. All I Do Is Win - DJ Khaled
  14. Win - David Bowie
  15. Win, Lose or Draw - The Allman Brothers
  16. First Place Winner - Lil Wayne
  17. We've Won - The Who
  18. Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect - The Decemberists
  19. The Architect - Monty Python
  20. Award Tour - A Tribe Called Quest

Thursday, September 11, 2014

And The Beat Goes On

It's no secret that Pink Martini is pretty much my favorite band in the world. My crush first developed the first time I heard the French lyrics to "Sympathique," while vacationing in Greece, and I fell head over heels when I was introduced to a live bootleg of "Hey Eugene."

I've seen them in concert five times, and cried salty tears over the performances I had to miss, like the time I was stuck in Redding while the rest of my family was in the front row at their New Year's Eve show in Portland that was broadcast live on National Public Radio.

But the real tears - real, actual tears - came a few weeks ago when I got the news that Derek Rieth, one of the founding members of Pink Martini had died. I was prepared to hear that he'd been in a horrible bike accident, or died from a sudden, undiagnosed brain aneurysm. But when I heard it was suicide, I was in shock all over again. I wasn't prepared for that.

I still don't really know how to adequately express how I feel about Derek Rieth's passing. But I'll do my best.  I know I'm going to sound like every single other person on the planet who mourned Robin Williams' suicide ( which was just days before Derek's), but I am having such a difficult time understanding how someone so talented, so creative, and so universally loved, would take his own life.

And this might sound a little bit selfish and totally self-centered, but I'm devastated that someone who made me so happy by giving me one of the greatest gifts I've ever received could selfishly take himself away from the rest of the world.

You might have been there, actually, when Derek gave me that gift.

It was almost five years ago. October 5th, 2009. Pink Martini's first appearance in concert at the Cascade Theatre. I could barely contain my excitement, knowing that not only did I have front row seats for the entire family (I pulled strings, I called in favors, I resorted to guilt tripping), but I was also going to introduce my favorite band in the world.

If you were there, you might remember that I joked from the stage that night that I'd pushed China Forbes down the Green Room stairs and she'd broken her ankle. I said I'd be replacing her that evening as lead vocalist (not true), but everything was cool because I knew all the words to all their songs (totally true).

I finished the introduction, and then skedaddled off stage, but hung out side stage for a moment until all ten members of the band entered and started to play, led by pianist Thomas Lauderdale, with his adorable spiky platinum hair and thick black rimmed glasses.

Derek, the percussionist, was still standing backstage. We chatted for a moment, and he complimented my beautiful green necklace, which was actually silver, but was glowing green as it reflected the exit light by the stage door. And then he said, "Hey, do you want to come back up on stage during the encore and perform with us?"

Have you ever had one of those "I'm so happy I could die right now" moments? That was mine. Derek had just given me the best. gift. ever. I mean, seriously. Would I like to perform - really, actually perform - with Pink Martini? Hell yes!

Could it get better? Hell yes! Later, he pulled me aside during intermission and told me that he'd seen the kids with me in the front row (my daughter Sophia and my godson Garrett), and he told me I should bring them along too.
My friend Edie captured the moment. China Forbes is singing Brazil at the Cascade Theatre. That's Derek, behind the red congas.  Sophia is in the blue t-shirt, Garrett is the short guy between us, and then me.
If I could compare that evening to any other time in my life, I'd have to say it was like my wedding last year. Glorious, wonderful, but my memory's a little hazy. Just like my wedding day, I think I was just so excited that I'm not sure I ever stopped to breathe and take in the moment. I recall writing that I was grinning like a fool, and felt like the luckiest woman on the planet at that moment. Derek let us choose between a smattering of instruments (I think I had maracas or some Brazilian clacking sticks that my Dad would know the correct name for), and we joined the percussion team for their last song, Brazil. Derek was at my right, playing madly on the congas, while China Forbes sang her heart out, and I did the same, only without a microphone.

Playing with Pink Martini was truly a dream come true, and I have Derek Rieth to thank for it.

I thanked him then, profusely I'm sure, and I probably thanked him all over again when I introduced them again last year when they returned to the Cascade. But I won't get that opportunity again, because he's gone. Took himself out of the game.

And I'm so disappointed, because that guy was loved. By a lot of people. He wasn't just the percussionist and one of the founding fathers of my favorite band. He had an insatiable appetite for music, and traveled around the world to understand the rhythm behind the music of other cultures, and brought it back home. He was revered as the guy who made Samba popular in Portland, and co-founded the popular and provocative percussion & dance ensemble Lions of Batucada. He surrounded himself with bongos and congas, and he even made the triangle cool.

He also had a deep, tender, sensitive heart, and struggled with depression.

He left a note that said he wished he could love himself as much as others loved him.

I wish that for you too.

So it's with a pretty heavy heart that I share today's playlist. Music from my favorite band, featuring my favorite percussionist, a guy who helped give me the best day ever. Every single one of these songs is from the Pink Martini songbook, even the very last one, which is so fitting for today's playlist, even though it features the unmistakeable voice of the late Phyllis Diller, and Derek sat that particular one out.
RIP Derek Rieth by Valerie Ing-Miller on Grooveshark

  1. Sympathique - The one that got my attention
  2. Hey Eugene - The one that made me fall in love forever
  3. Brazil - Their signature encore, the one where I got to stand next to Derek on stage
  4. Hang On Little Tomato
  5. Bolero - The one I can actually play on my radio show
  6. Amado Mio
  7. Donde Estas, Yolanda
  8. Sway
  9. Syracuse
  10. Tuca Tuca
  11. And Then You're Gone
  12. But Now I'm Back - The one where another public radio guy, Ari Shapiro, sings with the band
  13. Una Notte A Napoli
  14. Mas Que Nada
  15. Everywhere
  16. Quizas, Quizas, Quizas
  17. Smile (featuring Phyllis Diller)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Being Lily Tanner

Lily Tanner

I received a Facebook message last November that went like this: "I was thinking about my life and the future, and I came to the conclusion that being you in the future would be pretty cool."

That was Lily Tanner's opening line when she approached me about the possibility of being a summer intern at Jefferson Public Radio. "Not in a Fatal Attraction kind of way," she clarified, "but more in like I can see myself doing the things that you do."

I remembered Lily. 

Back when my daughter was a 6th grader at U-Prep, she tried out for the high school musical, which allows middle school kids to audition. She came home, excitedly telling me that not only had she made it into the chorus, but a high schooler named Lily had been very nice to her, making her feel comfortable and welcomed among all the older students. 

As the years passed and my daughter became a seasoned musical veteran at U-Prep, she's continued to pay forward the niceties Lily had shown her that first day. She's always made a point of putting her arm around the shoulder of younger theater newbies, making sure they felt part of the gang, and weren't terrified around the bigger, older students.

So of course I said yes.

Then I heard from Victoria Reed, another former U-Prep student who's now studying at UCLA. She was also interested in an internship over the summer, and I took her on as well.
Victoria Reed, in the audio production studio
It was a good thing I did, because the two young women had barely arrived when all hell broke loose. 

To be more accurate, a bunch of fires broke loose across six Northern California counties and two Southern Oregon counties, all within the JPR listening area.

The Oregon newsroom was covering the fires in their own backyard, while the interns and I got to work on the overwhelming task of finding an efficient way to cover the dozens of fires burning more than 150,000 acres in Siskiyou, Shasta, Lassen, Modoc, Trinity & Mendocino Counties on the south side of the border. Victoria wrote about how firefighters were using four-legged firefighters in the rugged Trinity Alps. Lily wrote about how neither rain, sleet nor snow will stop the U.S. Postal Service, but a fire can shut down a whole bunch of post offices. 

For the first time ever in the history of JPR's presence in Northern California, we had three people working on getting the news out there on our website and on the airwaves. We had thousands of hits on the site, and we were generating fresh news every day.

It was a glorious moment.

But news is just one little component of a day in the life of a public radio station. Especially an outpost that's run by a single individual. In a regular workday for me, half of it is spent hosting a music program on the airwaves. At the same time I'm still greeting people who walk in off the street and answering the phone (usually to help a listener find a song they heard, or fielding signal complaints). Other duties during an average work day include working with businesses and organizations who sponsor programming on the station and writing up contracts, recording promos, or serving as Mistress of Ceremonies at the Cascade Theatre (which sometimes turns into bartending at the concessions stand). Not that I do it very often, but I'm also the head of dish washing, stocking office supplies and janitorial.

And on top of all that, there's this column.

To give the interns a complete, well-rounded experience at the station, I guided them through the art of picking a classical music radio show, and how to find their way around the music library. I taught them how to run the board, and how to enter information into our real-time on-line playlist (which is far more difficult than you might think; you pretty much have to fool a database into admitting that it has the information you're looking for). The interns also learned how to use audio editing software, and on a few lovely occasions I convinced them to widen the breadth of their experience by taking out the trash and clean up puppy pee. Olive, the new puppy in the Ing-Tompkins household, has now been banned from the station.

Lily also completed a project that JPR fans and music lovers of all kinds should appreciate. On occasion we convince some truly spectacular musicians to come into the JPR studios for a live interview and music performance. People like Michael Franti, Jeff Bridges, Chris Thile and Ottmar Liebert. The program director had hours and hours of live in-studio sessions that he wanted edited and uploaded onto our website so they could be accessed (like a podcast, but with a photo slideshow). He provided Lily with audio & photos from several years with of performances. In record time, she had edited and uploaded an online live session archive of more than 50 performances. You can now listen to Jake Shimabukuro, Sara Watkins, Los Lonely Boys, Colin Hay, Jamie N. Commons and Andrew Bird. She worked so fast, that the program director had a hard time keeping up with her. "Damn her and her efficiency," he said.

Today is Lily's last day at the station, as she heads back to UC Davis for her Junior year, and I gave her one last task to complete. I figured if she really wanted to see what it was like to be me, she needed to learn how the Mistress of the Mix puts together a column. I told her what I was going to say, directed her to write a short companion piece to go along with it, and to come up with today's playlist.

And of course she did it in record time.

Lily, take it away!

Hi there. Lily Tanner here. I am honored to share this playlist with you, especially since Valerie rarely has guest DJs on Mistress of the Mix. 

I was given carte blanche insofar as the theme of this playlist, and since y’all are only privy to one short glimpse into my musical life, I have decided to create a sort of musical profile of my summer. It’s like the movie Being John Malkovich, with you in the John Cusack role and me in the John Malkovich role. But less creepy.

The songs that appear on this playlist are either my perennial favorites (“Our Days Are Numbered,” “Happy Banjo,” “Whistle for the Choir”) or tracks that I have only recently fallen in love with (“Take Me to the Pilot,” “Superstar,” “Yer So Bad”).

Welcome to my playlist, “Being Lily Tanner,” and thank you for listening.

Mistress of the Mix by Lily Tanner on Grooveshark
  1. “Our Days Are Numbered” - The Mr. T Experience
  2. “Mushaboom” - Feist
  3. “When You’re Home” - Original Broadway Cast  I believe that every playlist should have a song from a musical in it, and as this is a song about a young college student who is trying to figure out her life, I thought it was appropriate.
  4. “Whistle for the Choir” - The Fratellis
  5. “Another Girl, Another Planet” - The Only Ones
  6. “Take Me to the Pilot” - Elton John
  7. “She Doesn’t Laugh At My Jokes” - Jonathan Richman  I included this song to be ironic, because Valerie actually laughs at all my jokes. ALL of them.
  8. “Broadripple is Burning” - Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s
  9. “Fox On The Run” - Sweet
  10. “Ottoman” - Vampire Weekend
  11. “Superstar” - Carpenters
  12. “Come On Eileen” - Dexys Midnight Runners
  13. “Yer So Bad” - Tom Petty
  14. “Happy Banjo” - Dark Mean

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Water We Gonna Do?

I played by the rules, and now my tomatoes are dead.

 Yes, I was one of those people who took the city of Redding's new water restrictions to heart, and I'm kind of sorry I did.

 Northern Californians have actually been doing a bang up job conserving water since the Governor declared a drought back in February. Those of us who live in the shadow of a snow-less Mount Shasta and an almost empty Lake Shasta saw the reality of the situation right away, and managed to cut back our water use by 13%.

We should be proud, you know. Because that's the best in the state. Meanwhile, down in Southern California, where they drink water piped in all the way from Lake Shasta, instead of cutting back a little, water usage increased by 8%. There's so many people in Southern California, that they're selfish actions actually increased the entire state's water consumption by 1%.

 It makes me kinda mad. I'm sure it made Jerry Brown mad. It definitely ruffled some feathers on the State Water Board, because they passed a new regulation that allowed them to fine municipalities $10,000 a day if they didn't turn around their customers' bad water habits. And to help them do it, they gave communities the authority to fine their own customers up to $500 a day for wasting water.

 So Redding came up with a plan to help us Northstaters cut back a bit further. They came up with some rules. Watering limited to 3 days a week and only between 9pm and 7am. No washing the car without a nozzle. No hosing down the pavement. No water allowed to run out into the street.

 On August 1st, the day the new water rules took effect, I spent some quality time with my automatic watering system, and changed each zone so that I now watered each zone in the yard on the specified days. I'm on the even side of the street, so I'm watering Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday. And no refilling the cool tub, even though this isn't specified in the Redding rules. In the summertime at our house, we turn off the heat and our hot tub becomes a cool tub. But since I haven't put fresh water in for a few weeks, its a hot tub again. Just doing my part.

 This means my poor tomatoes had to suffer through roasting temperatures Sunday & Monday with no water. Nothing to quench their thirst. Not a drop of water for two long days. If this was the Bay Area, it probably wouldn't have been a big deal. But this is Redding. And this is the time of year it's 100+ almost every single day.

 It didn't take long for my tomato plants to turn brown, and for the leaves to fall off. And now they're pretty much just dead.

Maybe you already heard about this, but meanwhile, down in Los Angeles, they've decided to do their part by setting up a giant, 3 block long Slip & Slide through downtown.

I shit you not.

A week after my tomatoes started silently screaming for agua, news outlets began reporting that Slide the City would take place in September. It looks fun and all, but TIMING.

Now I don't have anything against the concept of bringing a 1,000 foot water slide to a community. And Slide The City is making the rounds to a lot of places right now. In a few weeks, it'll be in Boise. Where the Governor has NOT, I repeat NOT declared a State of Emergency due to a drought.

I checked out, and this incredible waste of water is supposed to also be coming to Orange County, San Diego, San Jose and San Francisco in the near future (date TBA). I've got a suggestion for our cities in the south: how about scheduling the event as a reward for reaching the state's 20% conservation goal after the fact, instead of before?

An online petition has been started to stop the event, and another to save it. Last I checked it was 8,547 votes against, with 168 for it.

There's only one way out of this potential public relations nightmare as I see it:

Find some way to capture the water used for the event and recycle it in some savvy manner, calling attention to the crazy amount of water wasting going on in Southern California.

Meanwhile, I wonder of the State Water Board is paying attention, and plans to fine L.A. and any other city in California $10,000 a day as allowed by law for wasting water with a giant Slip & Slide.

Enjoy today's Grooveshark Playlist, which is in honor of my poor, departed tomatoes. May they roast in peace.
Water by Valerie Ing-Miller on Grooveshark

  1. Black Water - The Doobie Brothers
  2. Drink The Water - Jack Johnson
  3. Don't Drink the Water - Dave Matthews Band
  4. Treading Water - Alex Clare
  5. Got No Water - Matisyahu
  6. Salt Water Sound - Zero 7
  7. Down By The Water - The Decemberists
  8. Glass of Water - Cold Play
  9. Cold Water - Damien Rice
  10. Water Runs Dry - Boyz II Men
  11. Water of Love - Dire Straits
  12. Water From The Well - Ray LaMontagne
  13. The Water - Feist
  14. Deep Water - Portishead
  15. 90 Mile Water Wall - The National
  16. Wade In The Water - Eva Cassidy
  17. You Left The Water Running - Otis Redding
  18. Water - Brad Paisley
  19. Cool Water - Marty Robbins
  20. Dirty Water - The Standells
  21. I Come From The Water - Toadies
  22. Down By The Water - PJ Harvey
  23. Smoke On The Water - Deep Purple
  24. Water - Breaking Benjamin
  25. That's What The Water Made Me - Bon Jovi

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Smile Experiment

I'm conducting a scientific experiment. It's really not that scientific. I'm not clad in a white smock, there's no laboratory filled with bubbling beakers, and there's no control group. But I've got a hypothesis, and I'm testing it out. And I think you should join me.

There's been so much talk in these parts lately about the de-evolution of Redding. I've been part of the discussion, I've had my own run-ins with squatters and panhandlers in my neighborhood. I've got my own theories about why this is happening and what needs to be done on a regional statewide effort to try to combat it. And my theories might not fly with anyone else. They're just wild ideas.

Someday somebody's going to come up with a brilliant plan, it'll be mulled over by committees, proposed to a government entity or maybe the voters, and eventually (a few years down the road), this grand plan might start to make a difference.

But until then, what are we, the average citizens of Redding going to do? I'm talking about those of us who give a crap about our community. Those of us who aren't spending our days shooting up in local parks, breaking empty liquor bottles on sidewalks, panhandling on the edge of the grocery store parking lot or shuffling in pajama pants and slippers and a tank top up Market Street, pushing a baby stroller with no baby inside of it. Those of us who aren't spending our nights trying door handles to see if there's the teeniest thing of value to steal from someone else, or riding up and down the streets on bicycles looking to score or sell drugs, or find someone to threaten or injure just for fun. I'm talking about you and me.

Well, I'm definitely sure I'm talking about me, and I'm pretty sure I'm talking about you two. In fact, from here on out, I'm just assuming everyone who's taking the time to read this falls into the category of 'us' and 'we'. So what are we going to do?

 I've decided to smile. People tell me all the time that I'm a pretty smiley person, but I'm smiling even more. I'm making a conscious effort to be happy and engaging in a positive way with the people I come into contact with every day.

I'm engaging everybody. I'm engaging the people I see on the streets that I see on a daily basis. I'm talking to my neighbors. I want to make sure that we all know each other, and we all know what we look like with a smile on our faces. I don't want the good people of our city to give up on it because they're not feeling good about being out on the streets. I want us all to have more positive experiences every day. So I figured the best place to start is by being someone else's positive experience.

I'm having conversations with the people next to me in the checkout line at the grocery store, or people shopping next to me in department stores. I had a long conversation with Willy, who everyone mistakes for homeless. He may be formerly homeless, but not for several years. But he still hangs out on the street corner near my office a lot. I told him I liked his new haircut and beard trim, and he told me the crazy story of why he got it. If you want to know, you'll have to ask him yourself. We always end each conversation with a smile.

I've decided to look people in the eye, and acknowledge them. People that normally I would've pretty much gone out of my way to look the other way for, mainly because I didn't want to be given some lame excuse for why they were in desperate need of a few dollars.

Please don't get the idea that I'm going to start enabling panhandlers. That's not happening. But what I'm planning to do is be friendly and engaging in conversation, but be straight up that I have a policy against enabling, and that means I'm not handing out cash.

I just want to see what's going to happen.

Weirdly enough, just yesterday when I arrived to work in the morning, a guy was riding down the sidewalk toward me. An adult man, on a bike built for a ten year old. As I was getting the key out to unlock the door, I made eye contact with him and smiled. He smiled. He stopped his bike and said, "Beautiful day!"
I agreed.
"What's your name?" he said.
I told him.
"Mine's Chris. And that is a beautiful dress you're wearing, Val."
I thanked him, and then he just toddled off on his tiny little bike.

I thought to myself, maybe he's doing his own experiment. Seeing what happens if he starts smiling and engaging those weird people who work and pay taxes and have mortgages and utility bills and stupid stuff like like that.

We've got a long road ahead of us to make our city safer. But in the meantime, let's work together to make it friendlier, especially for each other. For you and me. So let's just keep smiling. Perhaps you'll do that with today's playlist streaming through your earbuds as you walk around the city, grinning ear to ear at people.

Click the play button below, or go directly to the Smile playlist at Grooveshark.
Smile by Valerie Ing-Miller on Grooveshark

  1. God Put A Smile Upon Your Face - Coldplay
  2. Smile - Uncle Cracker
  3. Sara Smile - Hall & Oates
  4. Smile Jamaica - Bob Marley & The Wailers
  5. Smile - The Vamps
  6. Wild In Your Smile - Dustin Lynch Like this guy? He's coming to the Cascade!
  7. Tied Together With A Smile -Taylor Swift
  8. Just To See You Smile - Tim McGraw
  9. With A Smile - Eraserheads
  10. Smile Like That - Esperanza Spalding
  11. Smile - Madeleine Peyroux Charlie Chaplin wrote this song. Seriously. No, really!!!
  12. I Smile - Kirk Franklin
  13. I Love Your Smile - Charlie Winston This guy may be my new favorite singer!
  14. U Smile - Justin Bieber Don't hate me cuz I played the Beeb.
  15. Smile - Avril Lavigne Avril Lavigne has a potty mouth. Makes up for the Beeb.
  16. Smile - Lily Allen
  17. Smile - Poole
  18. Smile - Portugal. The Man
  19. Smile - Weezer
  20. Smile - U2
  21. God Put A Smile Upon Your Face - Mark Ronson

Monday, June 30, 2014

Old School

1984. I'm either laughing my head off or screaming because my shirt's buttoned too tight. 
To put it mildly, I was kind of a rebel back in the day. I was the kind of kid who liked to march to the beat of my own drum. I just thought I knew what was best for me, and nobody else was going to tell me what to do or how to do it. In fact, if someone attempted to get me to march to the beat of someone else's drum, that was pretty much a guarantee that I was marching the other way. It made things difficult at home, made things difficult at school, and made things difficult at a couple of jobs.

By the way, welcome to a special Independence Day edition of Mistress of the Mix. To show you what an independent soul I am, today's column won't be used to wax on poetically about our founding fathers or the Declaration of Independence (even though I'm related to Thomas Jefferson). Instead, I'm going to talk about my own stubborn independent spirit and how it's sort of come back to bite me in the ass.

 I was suspended from junior high for a week after standing up in English class and flipping off the teacher, in a verbal manner. She'd given me a C on a creative writing paper. I still don't think I deserved it. I lost my entire allowance countless times because my father would try to get me to behave by methodically docking money every time I didn't shut up. It didn't work. I left my first (and last) fast food job after six weeks, when the Taco Bell night manager instructed me to work the drive thru from register 1 (all the way across the building) instead of putting my drawer into register 6, right next to the window. I thought the way we did it during the day was far more efficient, and he wanted me to do it his way. So I let him do it all by himself.

 When I got to high school, I already knew I'd never run with the 'popular' crowd. I never played any sports, never officially joined any clubs and never got involved with any of the drama or music productions. The closest I ever got to joining anything was signing up for journalism and landing the position of Editorial Editor of the high school newspaper. Because you know how I am. Never seem to have a problem telling anyone how I feel about anything. I was never a cheerleader, never ran for any kind of student office, because I wasn't a dummy. I knew I never had a chance at any kind of major popularity contest. I ran with the punk crowd, was in a punk band and put on punk rock concerts, although truth be told, I was more of a new wave fan.

 But I was most definitely a known entity.

 I was loud, never shut up in class, and spent a lot of time in the vice principal's office. I shopped almost exclusively at garage sales and army surplus or secondhand thrift stores. I had a closet full of 25-30 year old clothing that was probably just as ugly and garish when it was brand new. I wore a lot of little old lady dresses covered with gigantic flowers with a studded belts, rubber rain boots and brightly colored fishnet stockings. I was kind of a cross between Cyndi Lauper, Boy George and old school Madonna. I even had earrings made of barbie doll heads, weird hats that I wore over ultra-teased bangs, and the ugliest of ugly chartreuse shirts (which I think I wore for Senior Picture Day). Seriously. Compare these photos with the one above. Don't you see it? Less makeup and no recording contract, but other than that….

I'll tell you just how rebellious I was. Up until the year I graduated, our school had a senior graduation party that was very inclusive. All the students were invited, not just the Seniors. It cost $3.50, but covered the cost of roller skating from 10-midnight, dancing at a disco from then until 2, a movie from 3-5, swimming at the university pool after that, and breakfast at the vice principal's house. If you had a sweetheart that went to another school, no problem….bring 'em along. $3.50. It was a blast. I had so much fun, that I looked forward to my senior all-night party for three years.

And then, just when I was getting ready to graduate, along came M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers), and the universal, transcontinental idea of tossing the seniors a party in one location so that there's no driving around, and searching their bags when they come in the door so there'd be no opportunity for any hanky panky.

When the parents gathered all of the seniors together to tell us they were throwing us a party so we didn't have to worry about it, they'd take care of all the details, we were all for it. Until they told us there would be no roller skating. No swimming. No underclassmen invited. No boyfriends from other schools or over a certain age. And the cost? It was somewhere between $25-$50. Doesn't really matter which. We'll pretend it was $25. It was still a buttload of money in 1984, almost ten times what it had been in years past. It was outrageous, and a lot of the students were pissed. The whole school was abuzz. Some started talking about throwing a giant kegger up in the mountains.

I wrote perhaps the best editorial of my young life, listing all the issues we students had with their M.A.D.D. party, and asking them to make some changes to accommodate the students. I showed it to Darin Kavinoky, another Senior, to get his opinion. He turned the paper over,  wrote a quick petition supporting my thesis, signed it, and then passed it around school, where it was signed by several hundred other students, and then printed in the school newspaper, the Rogue News. Later, Darin became a lawyer. I see him giving his expert opinion from time to time on cable TV news shows about the court case du jour. He's even got his own show.

The editorial and petition got the attention of the moms. They wanted to have a meeting. So we met. Just me and them. I had a list of demands. They were unwilling to compromise. On any of them. Even the request to have a room with some pillows where partygoers could simply relax, maybe catch a little shut eye during the 8 hour party. Because what better way to celebrate the graduation into adulthood of 200 eighteen year olds than to search them, lock them in a room for eight hours, refuse to let them sleep, and then raffle off a used car at 6am?

We were at loggerheads.

So I told them I'd just hold my own party. The Ashland Senior High Alternative All Night Party.

I rented the disco for a 2 hour dance party, followed by a movie on a giant wall-sized screen, gave away tons of prizes donated by local businesses, and all of this was followed by breakfast, also donated by a local grocery store. I sold tickets for $3.50.

I'll be honest with you. The M.A.D.D. moms probably thought they'd won the battle, because most of the Seniors went to their party. Even Darin Kavinoky went to their party. In fact he won the freaking car. But my party was also a success, because all of my friends were with me. All the underclassmen were with me. There were friends who went to other schools who were at my party. And we had a blast. Best. Party. Ever. And since all of my friends liked the same weird music that I did (and since I was providing the DJs with the music), it was a bonafide new wave post punk alternative dance riot.

 Sometimes its hard to believe that 30 years have gone by since this all happened. Now I'm a 47 year old mom. Still loudmouthed, opinionated and on occasion I make some pretty strange fashion choices (just ask Linda Bott about the time I thought it might be a good idea to wear a table runner as a scarf on stage). I may be a responsible adult who's pushing 50, but otherwise I'm pretty much that same wild rogue that threw her own alternative all night bash, and this 4th of July weekend is my 30th high school reunion.

 I'd be lying if I told you that my feelings weren't just a little hurt that I wasn't taken up on my offer to create the perfect playlist for the reunion party. Everyone I went to school with probably thinks they'd be subjected to 3 hours of Wall of Voodoo, The Sex Pistols and The Cramps if I was in charge of the music, so I don't blame 'em.

Do you think they'll believe me when I tell them that the associated parents at my daughter's high school asked me if I'd be willing to chair her Senior All Night Party when she graduated from high school in 2015? I tried to tell them that I might not be the best choice. But they didn't listen. We were already at loggerheads right from the beginning. But I did tell them I'd be the DJ. They had no idea what they were in for!

Now that I've spent a few weeks thinking back on my high school days, I have a lot of music to get out of my system. You already know what I did, don't you? Below is a playlist of my very very very favorite alternative new wave post punk dance music of the 80's (plus one song that came out in 1979 - I'll let you figure out which one it is - that kind of put me on the alternative music track to begin with). This playlist could've been hundreds of songs long, so I forced myself to whittle it down to one for each letter of the alphabet, except for a little extra B.S. And by that I mean I couldn't bear to make that Sophie's Choice kind of decision between Bauhaus, the B-52s and Bow Wow Wow, so there's a few extra B's. Same thing for the letter S. Enjoy today's A-Z New Wave playlist from the 80's!

  1. Adam Ant - Ant Music
  2. B-52s - Planet Claire
  3. Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead
  4. Bow Wow Wow - See Jungle
  5. The Cramps - Goo Goo Muck
  6. Devo - I Can't Get No Satisfaction
  7. The English Beat - Can't Get Used To Losing You
  8. Flipper - Ha Ha Ha
  9. The Go-Go's - We Got The Beat
  10. Hoodoo Gurus - Death Defying
  11. INXS - Original Sin
  12. Joe Jackson - Baby Stick Around
  13. The Knack - My Sharona
  14. Love & Rockets - So Alive
  15. Madness - One Step Beyond
  16. New Order - Bizarre Love Triangle
  17. Oingo Boingo - Little Girls
  18. Psychedelic Furs - Love My Way
  19. Quarterflash - Harden My Heart
  20. The Romantics - What I Like About You
  21. The Specials - A Message To You Rudy
  22. The Stranglers - Golden Brown
  23. Talking Heads - Once In A Lifetime
  24. UB40 - Many Rivers To Cross
  25. Violent Femmes - Gone Daddy Gone
  26. Wall of Voodoo - Ring of Fire
  27. X - The Once Over Twice
  28. Yaz - Goodbye Seventies
  29. Zounds - True Love

Thursday, June 19, 2014

La Fille De La Maîtresse Du Mix

C'est moi & le Tour Eiffel

I don't know what you've heard about French stereotypes, but I can tell you that -for the most part- none of it's true. At least not in my limited, 10 day experience earlier this month staying with a family in the village of Epernay in France's Champagne region. The home of Moet & Chandon, which I have never tasted. By the way, this is not the Mistress of the's La Fille de la Maîtresse du Mix, Sophia. AKA the little pumpkin. The Mistress has taken the week off so that I could tell you whether or not the fears she talked about in her last column ever came true.

I was so sleep deprived when my plane landed at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris that I didn't even know what day it was. But everyone else seemed to be making a big deal out of the date: June 6th, D-Day. President Obama landed in Paris just a few hours after me to make a speech with the President of France. In the United States, D-Day is something we learn about in school, and then promptly forget about after taking our history final. But as soon as I met my host family in Epernay, they began thanking me for what America did for France in World War II. Everywhere I went, people asked if anyone in my family had been a part of D-Day (they hadn't. Although two of my great grandfathers were involved in the war effort, they never left US soil). I heard stories from people about how when the Americans arrived to help get the Nazis out of France, the first thing they did was hand out chewing gum to everyone. When the French say it, it sounds like "Shwonghum." Throughout the entire trip people smiled and thanked me (as if I had anything to do with it) when they found out I was une Americaine, totally blowing any preconceived notion about the stereotypical 'Snobby Frenchman.'

 Another stereotype that turned out not to be true was that the French eat VERY slowly. I'd heard that because of this you might end up sitting for a long time waiting for your next course. Though it's possible that I'm just an extremely slow eater, I ALWAYS finished my food after everyone else. It's not the eating that makes them slow. It's wanting to enjoy their time with each other. Every time I had dinner, people ate fast, but then spent a long time talking. And talking. Oh, and also talking. Also present at every meal were multiple baguettes, different types of fromage, and dessert. I was talking to one of my friends about how all these French people managed to stay so fit, even with all the bread and sugar they consumed, and we came to the conclusion that exercise probably had something to do with it. Though the US isn't the most obese country in the world as its typically advertised, it IS in the top 10. So what is it that makes the French so fit? Well in the US, people have a strange phobia of exercise and will try any diet to get away from it, whereas in France, they will walk or bike anywhere. There are entire blocks specifically for pedestrians.

Although I spent a few days in Paris with my American classmates, for most of my stay I was with ma famille in Epernay. It was glorious. The parents were very welcoming and wanted to help me dive into the deep end of French culture right away. They took me to local shops, churches, cathedrals, champagne vineyards, and the family farm, where I picked cherries and hung out with the sheep. The French like to stick to small shops rather than huge malls and grocery stores. But there was one supermarket in the area, and mon pere took me there. He pointed out aisles upon aisles dedicated solely to wine, from the 2 euro wines imported from California to the thousand euro wines imported from Paris; he directed me to the horse meat (and laughed at my reaction); and he presented a huge array of cheeses, fruits, and seafood.
Pierre. Such a shy kid.
A la maison, I hung out with the kids, Marie (my 15 year old host sister), her 13 year old sister Alix and 10 year old Pierre. We played games like Uno and Badminton (both of which Alix were very good at), threw some hoops, and sang songs. Pierre and Marie were constantly laughing whenever we were together. We all sang "Zizicoptere," (included in today's playlist) and I taught Pierre the lyrics to "Cotton Eyed Joe" and the correct words to that old 90's song "Everybody Dance Now." Until he learned them in English, Pierre sang in gibberish that sounded a little bit like "Ebber gebben get now."

 Probably the only stereotype that proved itself true during my entire trip were the street vendor/pickpockets. So here's the scam: you're walking down the street, when a guy asks you if you want to buy a bracelet for 1 euro. When you say no, he throws a string around your wrist, so you can't get away, and asks you again if you'd like to buy the bracelet for a euro. From there, they either try to steal your purse, sell you the bracelet for much more than 1 euro after its already been permanently attached to your arm, or watch where you put your money and follow you to pickpocket you later when you're not paying attention. For me, it was a little bit different. I was hip to the scam, so I was prepared to keep my arms to myself, and to either ignore the vendors, or say 'non!' and keep walking.
The Montmarte Carousel
So there I was, minding my own business, walking through Montmarte, past one of the filming locations de mon film Français préféré, Amelie. You know, the place with the carousel and the telescopes. I was with a good sized group of American classmates, but that didn't stop one of the 'street vendors' from grabbing my wrist to pull me towards him to try to strongarm me into buying a friendship bracelet. Unfortunately, the guy didn't take non for an answer. I knew not to give in and just kept walking, but every time I took a step, the guy tightened his grip and tried to pull me closer to him. Luckily, one of the chaperones in my group, who also happens to be a British soccer coach, turned around and yelled at the guy, "Bugger Off!" The guy let go of my arm and I ran back to the group. Disaster averted; stereotype confirmed.

And there you have it, mon voyage a France in a nutshell. My mom didn't ask me to buy her any gifts while I was in France. She only asked that I pay attention to the music that was popular and write it down so that when I returned I could become La fille de la maîtresse du Mix for a day, put together my own playlist de musique populaire and tell you a bit about my journey.

Check out the playlist at Grooveshark or click on the play arrow in the imbedded playlist below:French music by Valerie Ing-Miller on Grooveshark

  1. Sebastien Patoche - Zizicoptere
  2. Keen'V - Ma vie au soleil
  3. Dezil - San Ou (La Riviere) This song was a huge hit in France; the band is from Seychelles.
  4. Karimouche - P'tit kawa
  5. Zazie - J'envoie vaiser
  6. Stromae - Tous les memes Stromae's réal name is Paul van Haver, he's Belgian.
  7. Khaled - C'est la vie An Algerian rai singer
  8. Margaux Avril - L'air de rien
  9. Christophe Mae - Dingue Dingue Dingue
  10. Magic System - Bouger Bouger They're from French speaking West Africa & popular in France
  11. Jenifer - Je Danse
  12. 1789, Les amants de la Bastille - Maniaque the soundtrack from a popular stage musical
  13. 1789, Les amants de la Bastille - La nuit m'appelle
  14. Emmanuel Moire - Beau Malheur
  15. Matt Pokora - Pas sans toi
  16. Jena Lee - U.S. Boy Jena was born in Chile, but adopted as a baby by a French family.
  17. Keen'V - Prince Charmant
  18. Daft Punk - Harder Better Faster Stronger Did you know Daft Punk was French?
  19. Shy'm - Et alors!
  20. Fauve - Sainte Anne
  21. Coeur de Pirate - Comme des enfants This singer is from Montreal, Canada.
  22. Admiral T & Daddy Mory - Hum Riddim Admiral T is from the French island of Guadeloupe
  23. Collectif Metisse - Laisse-Toi aller bebe
  24. Italobrothers - Stamp on the Ground Very popular in France, but this group hails from Germany
  25. Maitre Gims - J'me Tire The lead singer was born in Zaire, but immigrated to France at 2.
  26. Alex Beaupain - Apres moi le déluge
  27. Saule ft. Charlie Winston - Dusty Men Saule is actually from Belgium, Winston is British.
  28. Brice Conrad - Songe
  29. Joyce Jonathan - Je ne sais pas
  30. Zaz - On ira