Touché, Winter, Touché

By Catherine Breese

chairYesterday we drove a round trip from Radford, Virginia to Charleston, West Virginia and back. On that drive we were confronted by heavy fog, light rain, torrential downpours of rain, snow showers, sleet, freezing rain, and a few blizzard-like white-outs.

This morning we took our dogs Henry and Pancake to the dog park. It was 28° Fahrenheit and the wind was blowing steadily at about 25 mph. It was raw and biting. Tiny flakes of snow pelted our eyes and faces. Strangely, no one else was there.

As winters go, this one has been a little tiring, in the way that a room full of toddlers all revved up on Easter candy is a little tiring.

As winters go, this one has been like a healthy case of herpes.

As winters go, this one has been a lot like a really bad boyfriend who just keeps coming back even after you call him an asshole to his face and tell him you never, ever, ever, ever want to see him again.

As winters go, this one has been a nasty beast.

We bought bicycles for Christmas. They’re sitting in our back hall. I’d like to ride them during this lifetime.

tikisWe have a weather app on five different digital devices in our home. Our iPhones have two or three different apps, in fact. One of the two of us checks the current forecast and the other opens a new app for a forecast against forecast competition. We spend hours obsessing over upcoming snowstorms. We talk and talk and talk about it. We could be mistaken for a pair of New York octogenarians based upon our recent behavior. It’s really the number one topic (about which no one can do a thing) that we all discuss as if we can bring spring on through the sheer force and power of complaint. Ahhh, if only.

I loved winter as a kid. I played outside, building snow forts and snowmen and ice-skating on our neighbor’s pond until I turned blue. Hot chocolate and roaring fires and dripping wet snowsuits. Even now, I still think fondly of winter when the summer’s heat drags on a little too far into October. It’s all comfort food and fuzzy mittens and It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s cozy soft sweaters and corduroy pants.

Of course that’s not the real winter. Winter is dead branches and fallow fields. Winter is rock salt and static cling and frozen locks and cold dry hands. Winter is miles and miles of garbage strewn by the side of the road that you can’t see during the green summer months.

Winter is real. That’s all. It won’t be denied. And I concede.

Craft Beers for All, Whatever It Takes

By Catherine Breese

half a blondeDespite a lot of tee-shirts that purport the contrary, Ben Franklin did not say that beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. But whoever did say this was not only clever, but correct, in my estimation.

When I am standing in the beer aisle of our local grocer, I am in awe of the many choices offered by the burgeoning craft brewing industry: beer that is delicious, traditional, and brewed locally. I am not clamoring to be dubbed a beer snob here. I just have to be honest and say I actually feel pity when I watch some poor college kid pick up a case of light yellow fizzy lager and put it in his/her cart.

tanksI am not alone in my adoration for craft beers. In fact, a recent report from the Brewers Association shows a 20% growth in only one year, 2013. Back in 1980 there were only eight craft breweries in the United States. That’s eight, the number one less than nine. Today there are 2768, or so! We live in fortunate times.

Parkway Brewing Company,  established in 2012 in Salem, Virginia, is brewing some really delicious beers way out in the middle of nowhere, or Southwestern Virginia, as we like to call it. This past weekend we attended their First Annual Beer and Oyster Festival, and, as Bryan said, “You had me at ‘beer’.” If you are interested, they are currently brewing a delicious blonde, a fantastic IPA, a beautiful porter, and a sexy Belgian dark. The beer was complex and flavorful and happiness inducing. Here are the pictures, which in this case, tell a better story than I can with words.

eatersLast, here’s what Ben Franklin really said, “Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.” (Yah, not beer.)

 

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The 10 Most Unwatchable Movies on Netflix

by Bryan Ward and Catherine Breese

netflixWe’ve seen lots of great stuff on Netflix. We especially love their original programming like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. However, this story is not about viewing pleasure—this is about viewing pain. So, here is our list of the 10 Most Unwatchable Movies on Netflix.

The criteria to make our list of the unwatchable are as follows: we must have watched at least 10 minutes before turning it off. We must have turned it off before the end. Finally, it must have originally attracted our legitimate interest (in other words, we did not watch it because someone told us it was bad, i.e. Troll, Rubber, Sharknado, etc.).

In no particular order, here are our picks:

Drinking-BuddiesDrinking Buddies (2013) 1 Hr. 30 Min.

Romantic Comedy. Not. We watched this movie because of the setting (brewery) and because it stars Ron Livingston (hero of Office Space, one of our favorite movies of all time). We admit to watching almost all of this movie and being thoroughly disappointed throughout, wishing someone would commit a crime or at least say something interesting. Can you write a script without a climax? Yes. Will people be able to watch it? No.

The Expendables 2 (2012) 1 Hr. 43 Min.

Action/Adventure. Everything that was cheesy and cute in the first Expendables was icky in the second. Schwarzenegger and Dolph Lungren look post-mortem. Bruce Willis should really do other things before it’s too late. Full of cliché lines and an endless parade of exploding heads, it parodies itself. How dare they make this awful movie longer than 90 minutes! Sadly unwatchable, even if you like action movies.

daddy & themDaddy & Them (2001) 1 Hr. 41 Min.

Darkish Comedy. We watched 11 excruciating minutes. Billy Bob Thorton directed this star-packed woofer of a movie that boasts himself, Laura Dern, Diane Ladd, Kelly Preston, Jamie Lee Curtis, Andy Griffith, and Ben Affleck! Seriously. Dubbed a “screwball dysfunctional family movie” by Netflix, it is just plain mean-spirited. Were they actually mocking poor, Southern, alcoholic, dysfunctional-types? Yes. Why? We don’t know. The only word to describe this film: tragic.

High, Wild, and Free (1968) 1 Hr. 44 Min. high wild free

Vintage Documentary. Remember the clickety-clack of the 16 mm projector during science class? High, Wild, and Free is a trip back to seventh grade. Gordon Eastman, famous outdoor cinematographer, travels the wilds of British Columbia shooting with a camera and a gun almost everything he sees. We watched 41 minutes. After a brief, pleasant adventure catching trout, the graphic killing of a wide variety of larger critters ensues—a beaver that is shot and cooked whole over the open fire, a bighorn sheep, a fluffy white polar bear, etc. Cringe-worthy.

Inseparable (2011) 1 Hr. 36 Min.

Dramedy. Chinese. We watched 61 minutes. We love Kevin Spacey, but he was not paying attention when his agent said yes to this one. If you’ve watched a foreign language film on Netflix then you know just how annoying their captioning is. They translate everything into text, including the English into English, and this movie has a lot of English. The script is weird and Kevin Spacey is miscast as a figment of someone’s imagination. He is an oak tree of an actor. Not particularly funny and basically unwatchable.

Not Fade Away (2012) 1 Hr. 52 Min.

Drama. A film about a struggling 60s rock band that doesn’t seem to struggle all that much. Despite a great first 12 minutes, it quickly becomes vacuous and self-indulgent. We watched the beginning and the end, and left the room for the hour in the middle. The end? Young girl spinning carelessly in the street. Ugh—kill me now.

soylentgreenSoylent Green (1973) 97 minutes

Dystopian drama. Charleston Heston, one of the worst actors ever, carries this misogynistic dog of a movie like a lead weight. He is horrible. And don’t eat the crackers, they’re people. Oh, spoiler alert.

 

Sightseers (2012) 88 minutes

Comedy? We love road trip movies and thus were drawn to this film immediately. Unfortunately they left the words “violent murderous rampage” out of the description. We watched for a while, until we couldn’t hold our mouths open any longer. If you like dark, dark comedies, you will get your fill here. We blame Netflix on this one. Unbearable.

AlaskaAlaska: The Last Frontier (2011) Series, 42 Min.

Discovery Channel Series. The Kilcher family lives off the grid and off the land in America’s north country. One of us enjoyed this show and watched the entire series devotedly, every last episode, over a couple of snowy days this winter. The other one of us thinks this show is the viewing equivalent of the “real housewives of …” except with smelly greasy men outdoors. I leave the identity behind those opinions to your imagination.

If you’re a stickler for details, you’ll notice that there are not 10 movies on this list. We are not the numbers-types. Just ask our bank. We know there are plenty of other horrible movies out there, though. Feel free to leave your unwatchable movie picks as a comment.

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Dixon Ticonderoga: American Pencil Tragedy

by Bryan Ward

Finger and PencilFor years, I have proclaimed that the Dixon Ticonderoga was the Cadillac of pencils. For years, I have told my students—and anyone who was nearby when I picked one up—that it was the best pencil in the world by far. Now, at this point in my life I have mostly accepted that I will not be able to own the vast majority of the best things in the world. But, when I used the Dixon Ticonderoga I was on par with the giants of industry and men of genuine power and authority. Proudly, I explained that it was made in America. The world stared with envy when they laid eyes on the green text against the bright yellow shaft with the striped ferrule (the technical name for the part that holds the eraser). The eraser alone was worth the price of the pencil because it never failed or popped out when you used it. In the part of my brain where I store the file of awesome things, the Dixon Ticonderoga was in the first file folder.

Last week, after I was forced to use a cut rate Dollar Store pencil, I lectured Catherine yet again about how awesome the Dixon Ticonderoga was, and I figured that the least I could do was to write a blog post about how much I loved it.

DSC_0301This is not the blog post I wanted to write.

For when I did the research, two things caught me off guard. The first was that ESPN College Football personality Lee Corso was also the spokesperson for the company. He consistently shakes a Dixon Ticonderoga at viewers when he makes his Game Day football picks. Secondly, I learned that the Dixon Company was purchased by an Italian company and that the Ticonderoga pencils were NO LONGER MADE IN THE USA!

Gap ShirtI was stunned. Not again! Another American iconic business would be managed abroad. Over the past decade Budweiser, Butterball and Jim Beam have all been gobbled up by foreign corporations. First, it was Anheuser-Busch who was purchased by the multinational InBev corporation in 2008. Last year, Smithfield Foods, the parent company of well-known brands Butterball, Tyson and Sara Lee, was purchased by a Chinese company. Just last month, the whiskey brands Jim Beam and Marker’s Mark were purchase by a Japanese company. All of these trouble me greatly, but since I don’t use most of these myself, I wasn’t personally devastated. I gave up Budweiser a decade ago in favor of more delicious microbrews and as many local brewed beers as possible. Growing up with the great pies made by my Grandma Kinneer has made me a pie snob to such a degree that I don’t even consider Sara Lee to be a pie. I have learned that whiskey should be used in moderation, but I still haven’t figured out where moderation is. I usually overshoot the mark, so I have learned that brown liquors such as Maker’s Mark are best reserved for special occasions. But, the Ticonderoga hits me hard.

Pencil ArtIn my ideal America, companies are proud to wear the Made in the U.S.A. label. I want my neighbors in states both near and far to make products, real things to sell to real people. I want them to be proud of what they do and what they make. I want truckers to cross the continent to deliver them to me. I want to buy these American made products. I want to spend more for those products because of their quality and because workers earned a fair wage to make them.

If you’re interested, the pink lawn flamingo (link below) is, in fact, made right here in the USA. Is it a better quality lawn flamingo? I don’t know. But, I just know that if I wanted one, this is the one I would buy.

For me, I will no longer be sharing my love for the Cadillac of pencils until I find an American made pencil worthy of such praise.

Plastic Lawn Flamingos ~ Original Don Featherstone Design ~ Made in the USA!

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