A Picture of Dorian? Nay.

So, you all may have heard that Hurricane Dorian seemingly has its sights set on my home state of Florida. Thinking back to all of your comments and concerns that you all posted here on my blog a couple of years ago when Irma went up through Florida like a buzzsaw, I’ve decided to write a bit ahead of Dorian’s anticipated arrival in a few days.

Its exact path as it concerns Florida is still a bit uncertain, and it will be until probably a day or two before it actually arrives. As it stands now, the forecast cone has moved a bit southward relative to my hometown (which is inland and north of Orlando), but the amount of uncertainty is still too great to put us in the clear when it comes to winds. We know it will make landfall somewhere on Florida’s Atlantic coast, and that hurricane force winds will be present in Central Florida through Labor Day and into the following morning. It is forecasted as making landfall as a Category 4 (although on the weaker end of the Category 4), but will drastically weaken to a Category 1 the following day as it interacts with land and loses its warm ocean water fuel source. Unlike Irma, it is forecast to make landfall from the southeast before turning northward (Irma was in the process of turning northward when it made its Florida landfall), so the “buzzsaw” effect may not last as long, but it’s still gonna be a bit dicey. This forecast could very well change over the next few days, but this is what we know at the moment.

Since Irma struck a couple of years ago, we have taken some steps at our house that should help to ease some of the risks and inconveniences that we came across last time.

    Although we live within a couple of miles of a river, flooding is not a major concern for us because our house sits on top of a hill and our neighborhood itself is rather hilly to begin with.
    We have plans in place to move any potential projectiles that cannot be taken inside (like trash cans, lawn mowers) to the southern end of the house, away from the winds which will likely come out of the north and east when the storm actually passes through.
    After dealing with the effects of losing our power for five days as a result of Irma, my dad decided to invest in something called a transfer switch. A transfer switch is a device that transfers an electrical current going into a building from the utility source (power lines) to a backup source (usually a generator). In the aftermath of the 2004 hurricanes (of which we had three strike within the span of a month), we got a portable generator, although we didn’t really have to use it until our power was knocked out by Hurricane Matthew a few years ago. We then had to use it again after Irma. But after Irma we were having to run extension cords and power strips all throughout the house to power various appliances, lights, and devices. We also had to leave our back door cracked open very slightly so that we could run an extension cord into the kitchen to power our refrigerator and microwave. That was a bit of a security issue. So my dad ended up ordering and installing a transfer switch that connects to the house’s load center so that in the event of an extended power outage, all my dad has to do is hook up our generator to the transfer switch, and he can bring power into the house in a safe manner: safe for us because we aren’t having to run all sorts of cords into the house (and he can also control which appliances and rooms run off of the generator power so that it doesn’t overload the generator’s capacity), but also safe for the utility workers as the switch takes the house off of the utility line and prevents what’s called “back feeding”, which can be dangerous and cause electrocution to workers working on a power line. Note: Never ever directly connect a generator to a house’s load center. This is what causes back feeding. That’s why you use a transfer switch. There are transfer switches that work automatically by being connected to a standby generator, and there are switches that work manually so one can connect a portable generator.
    The power thing, of course, is more or less for comfort. And given my mom’s condition, her comfort is a top priority for us.
    Last fall, we had some trees that were in our front yard (and could have posed as storm hazards) cut down and cleared out, and we had the branches of an oak tree next to our house trimmed. We sold the Chrysler last year, and my dad’s trailer (which can hold things like motorcycles) now occupies its spot in the driveway, while my dad’s Jeep is just a little further down. So, if anything from that oak tree comes in that direction, that trailer can take a hit or two…or a branch or two.

About the only thing we may be without for an extended period of time in the event of power outages will likely be internet. Which means I may be disconnected for a few days after Dorian has its way with us. But I do have my books and my knitting here to keep my mind busy in the event of an internet outage. Heck, it may let me read more of Ghost in the event I can’t access my ebook of Jane Eyre (although I believe it’s already downloaded to my Books app on my iPad, so I shouldn’t have issues as long as my iPad has a charge). Both books are going well for me. The first discussion for the buddy read of Jane Eyre I’m doing on Instagram is supposed to be on Wednesday, but we’ll see if we have internet at that point.

If we make it through all this in one piece, I will post here again once things are relatively back to normal. I’m not a religious or spiritual person, so I’m not gonna be praying, but any good mojo would be appreciated. This storm’s coming, whether we like it or not, so the best we can do is be prepared, right? I always get stressed out when things like this happen…I’m gonna try and do my best to manage it, but I probably won’t feel better until this is all over and done with. Knowing that there are people out there thinking of me does help me feel better.

Hope to see you all on the other side of this hurricane!

On the Importance of Pride

Since I started this blog in March of 2017, each June 12th I have published a post in observance of the anniversary of the PULSE Nightclub massacre in Orlando. The first post was about the massacre itself and its impact on Orlando. The second post was in tribute to an influential writer who was also a victim of hate, Anne Frank. This year, I have decided to write about Pride Month (which is being observed this month in the United States) and why standing up with and for people in the LGBT+ community is important to me.

(I have decided to use the acronym LGBT+ so as to be inclusive of all different orientations and gender identities without making an overly clunky acronym. So in addition to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, the plus sign includes those who are gender fluid or non-binary, pansexual, asexual, queer, intersex, and just about any alternative identity under the sun.)

The History

This month is especially important in the history of LGBT rights in the United States because it marks the 50th anniversary of one of the first and most important events in sparking the modern LGBT rights movement: The Stonewall Riots. In the years leading up to Stonewall, the American legal system was quite fervently anti-gay, and while the exact laws discriminating against LGBT people were quite numerous and there are way too many to list here, some of the more common ones included laws against sodomy (all of the states but one, Illinois, had anti-sodomy laws on the books at the time of the Stonewall Riots), “sex psychopath” laws that allowed police to detain a person suspected of being homosexual, and in seven states castration of gay men was legal. The 1960s was one of general social upheaval (the civil rights movement, the counterculture/hippie movement, the sexual revolution, and the anti-Vietnam War movement), and the movements that constituted this upheaval helped contribute to the catalyst of the Stonewall Riots. The Stonewall Inn was a Mafia-owned bar in Greenwich Village, New York that was one of the few establishments during this time that openly welcomed gay patrons (at this time, “gay” referred to the whole of the LGBT community), and its patrons included gay men, lesbians, drag queens (and drag kings), transgender people, and homeless youth. Bars were often one of the few social establishments where LGBT people could socialize publicly, but even then these bars were often suspect to police raids, which is what happened at the Stonewall Inn in late June 1969. In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, plainclothes officers announced to the bar that the Stonewall Inn was being raided. According to the Wikipedia article on the Riots,

The raid did not go as planned. Standard procedure was to line up the patrons, check their identification, and have female police officers take customers dressed as women to the bathroom to verify their sex, upon which any men dressed as women would be arrested. Those dressed as women that night refused to go with the officers. Men in line began to refuse to produce their identification. The police decided to take everyone present to the police station, after separating those cross-dressing in a room in the back of the bar. Maria Ritter, then known as male to her family, recalled, “My biggest fear was that I would get arrested. My second biggest fear was that my picture would be in a newspaper or on a television report in my mother’s dress!” Both patrons and police recalled that a sense of discomfort spread very quickly, spurred by police who began to assault some of the lesbians by “feeling some of them up inappropriately” while frisking them.

As the raid continued, those who weren’t arrested walked out the front door, but they didn’t leave the premises; around 150 were eventually gathered outside. Some of the people leaving began posing and dancing, which got huge applause from the crowd.

The article continues:

When the first patrol wagon arrived, Inspector Pine recalled that the crowd—most of whom were homosexual—had grown to at least ten times the number of people who were arrested, and they all became very quiet.  Confusion over radio communication delayed the arrival of a second wagon. The police began escorting Mafia members into the first wagon, to the cheers of the bystanders. Next, regular employees were loaded into the wagon. A bystander shouted, “Gay power!”, someone began singing “We Shall Overcome“, and the crowd reacted with amusement and general good humor mixed with “growing and intensive hostility”. An officer shoved a transvestite, who responded by hitting him on the head with her purse as the crowd began to boo. Author Edmund White, who had been passing by, recalled, “Everyone’s restless, angry, and high-spirited. No one has a slogan, no one even has an attitude, but something’s brewing.” Pennies, then beer bottles, were thrown at the wagon as a rumor spread through the crowd that patrons still inside the bar were being beaten.

But upon the sight of a woman being forcibly removed from the bar in handcuffs and then being beaten over the head for complaining her handcuffs were too tight, was when the gathering began to turn violent. The crowd attempted to overturn a police wagon, started throwing beer cans, and the police soon lost control of the crowd, which at this point now consisted of 500-600 people. Accounts of the riots state that there was no preplanned demonstration involved, and the riots broke out spontaneously in response to the events happening around the crowd. The crowd started throwing all sorts of projectiles at the building and police officers ended up trapped inside the bar; they were eventually freed when the riot squad was called in. Rioting continued until well into the early morning hours before the crowd dispersed for the night. Despite suffering fire damage from the riot, the Stonewall Inn opened the following night, which was accompanied by a second night of rioting, which once again went into the early morning hours. All told, the riots lasted just two nights, but the impact it would have on the LGBT rights movement has lasted for the ensuing 50 years. Within a couple of years of the Stonewall Riots, activist groups sprung up all over the United States, Canada, and parts of Europe to publicly begin the fight for LGBT rights.

This YouTube video goes into the Stonewall Riots and other related topics into much more detail, if you’re interested in learning more.

In those fifty years, the LGBT+ community in the United States has seen a lot of progress: In 1974, homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) as a mental disorder. In 2003, the Supreme Court struck down anti-sodomy laws as unconstitutional, effectively ridding homosexuality of its criminal status in the United States. In the early 1990s, the Department of Defense opened up military enlistment to LGBT individuals, but under the caveat of “Don’t ask, don’t tell”, which essentially forced these people to remain closeted during their military service, even though they couldn’t be discriminated against by their superiors because of their sexual orientation. Thankfully, this policy was repealed in 2011, although there have been some setbacks in recent years. Several states have put in place anti-discrimination laws for LGBT+ citizens, and there are also such laws in place for federal employees, but nationwide protection has not come yet, though there is at least one proposed bill that would do so (however, given that our current president is a Republican, whose party traditionally opposes the expansion of LGBT+ rights, I don’t see it being signed into law any time soon). In 2016, Mississippi became the last state to remove a ban on adoptions by same-sex couples, which means that adoption by same-sex couples is now legal in all 50 states. But the biggest legal victory for the LGBT+ community came one year earlier in 2015, when the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex couples were guaranteed the fundamental right to marry by both the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Some more conservative states have attempted to challenge the ruling in recent years, but this ruling essentially legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states and most of the United States’ territories.

There have been some setbacks as well, though. Not all states guarantee the same amount of protections to either sexual orientation or gender identity when it comes to discrimination or hate crimes. Earlier this year, the Trump administration barred transgender people from serving in the military (which had previously been allowed under the Obama administration), although Congress has been attempting to push back against the ban. Several states and municipalities have either passed or attempted to pass so-called “bathroom bills”, which would essentially force transgender women to use the men’s public bathrooms and vice versa for transgender men. Tragedies like the murders of Matthew Shepard and Brandon Teena (a transgender man whose life story and murder was told in the Academy Award winning film Boys Don’t Cry) have made us take a closer look at our hate crimes laws, and in 2009 the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed into law, which added crimes motivated by actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability as federally prosecutable hate crimes, expanding on a law originally passed in 1969. (Byrd was an African-American man from Texas who was lynched by dragging by three white supremacists in 1998, the same year of Shepard’s murder in Wyoming. Two of Byrd’s killers have been executed for their role in Byrd’s murder, while the third is serving a life sentence.)

The LGBT+ community in the United States has come a long way, but there are still many battles to wage on the way to achieving equality with our straight and cisgender citizens in the eyes of society and the law. This is why Pride Month is such a big deal. It is not only a way for LGBT+ people to show pride in living freely, openly, and honestly, but it is also a way to raise awareness for the continuing the fight for LGBT+ rights and for those who can’t live freely, openly, and honestly either because of religious or family pressure or because they live in a country or society where homosexuality is illegal.

What Pride Means to Me

I am what is called a “straight ally”, someone who does not identify as LGBT+ themselves, but is a supporter and friend of the LGBT+ community and supports LGBT+ rights. This is not a new label to me, in fact I have been a straight ally for most of my life, since I was around 15 or 16 years old.

I don’t think I met any openly LGBT+ people until I was in high school (although I did have a huge crush on a boy in middle school who later turned out to be gay; I had suspicions that he was by the time we were in high school, but I didn’t find out for sure until I found his Facebook page, and by that time I thought, “I’m not surprised at all, and good for him!”). And as I got to know them, I found they weren’t that much different than I was. I’ve had quite a few friends in the LGBT+ community over the years, including some really close friends. In my close-knit little group of Facebook friends (which only numbers about 25, all of whom are people I’ve known since childhood through high school and college), four of them are openly LGBT+, and several others are proud straight allies like me.

Even as a knitter, as I’ve made headway into the online knitting community, I’ve had the opportunity to meet all sorts of people online who are of all different sexualities and gender identities. We all bond over a shared love of creating and crafting. We exchange crafting tips and life advice and we’ve been able to foster these friendships, even though many of us have never met in person. A substantial portion of the knitting and crochet community is LGBT+ (especially those who identify as male), but I’ve always felt the knitting and crochet community is for everybody, no matter who you love or how you identify. We yarnies should be loving, encouraging, and supportive of each other, right?

Anyways, because of the positive impact that people in the LGBT+ community have had on me personally, I’ve seen myself as a friend and ally to that community, and the issue of LGBT+ rights has always been one that I have been very passionate about. I look up to fellow outspoken straight allies like Judith Light (who costarred on Who’s the Boss?, and has been a longtime LGBT+ rights activist and advocate for people with HIV/AIDS since the 1980s), Cyndi Lauper, rapper Macklemore (who even did a track in collaboration with then music partner Ryan Lewis called “Same Love” which documents his feelings about his support for the LGBT+ community), and of course…my favorite “Golden Girl” herself, the late, great Bea Arthur, who in her will bequeathed $300,000 to the Ali Forney Center in New York City, which provides shelter and services to homeless LGBT+ youth in the city. In 2015, six years after her death, the center broke ground on a new homeless shelter for LGBT+ youth named in her honor, the Bea Arthur Residence, since her bequest helped the center to stay open during the Great Recession that was going on at the time of Arthur’s death. The shelter opened in 2017. She was once quoted as saying, “I would do anything in my power to help children who are discarded by their parents for being LGBT.”

Pride is not just being proud of who you are and who you love, it is also about standing up for and standing with those who have been marginalized and discriminated against because of their sexuality or gender identity; standing up in the face of hatred and bigotry and saying “No more”; and being bold enough to declare the belief that the LGBT+ community should be recognized in ways that straight and cisgender people take for granted. It is a stance that first came into the public eye with the Stonewall Riots and is still making waves today, as we come upon Stonewall’s 50th anniversary.

And also, for the 49 lives stolen on this date at the PULSE nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Those 49 included members of the LGBT+ community, but among the dead were also friends, family members, and allies who supported their loved ones in the LGBT+ community. Let them not be forgotten, let their deaths not be in vain.

I end this post with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ groundbreaking anthem, “Same Love”, a song that I think captures perfectly the mindset of a straight ally and why he supports the LGBT+ community, featuring Mary Lambert in the chorus. There is some slightly coarse language, but the song is worth listening to.

As Macklemore says in the song, “No freedom until we’re equal…damn right I support it.” To my friends and readers in the LGBT+ community, I love you, I appreciate you, and I thank you.

(I have an idea for a new knitting project/pattern now, but I think it may have to wait until next June to share. It’s only in the concept stages right now, but perhaps I can make it a reality in the next few months.)

So, What is This “Eurovision” Thing, and Why am I Obsessed? – Part Two

When we last left off, I had just finished giving a pretty detailed rundown of what Eurovision is and how it works.

Now, it’s time to talk about my personal experience with it.

The Beginnings of an Obsession

The year is 2003. A year earlier, I had watched the very first season of American Idol and I had also been introduced to the wonders of the Internet within the last couple of years, although at that time I had kept my surfing to, primarily, a fan site dedicated to the actor Daniel Radcliffe, the Harry Potter fan site Mugglenet, and CBBC’s Newsround site (it was basically a news show for kids, but it was my primary source for news online at the time). And it was this exact picture that got my attention in the spring of that year, and it was on the Newsround website for a very dubious reason.

The United Kingdom’s 2003 representative, Jemini.

It was the British pop duo Jemini, made up of friends Gemma Abbey and Chris Cromby (in other words, “Gem and I”…get it?). I learned they had been selected to represent the United Kingdom at something called the Eurovision Song Contest with a song called “Cry Baby”, and ended up giving the U.K. its worst result ever: 26th and last place in the Grand Final, and it had failed to get a single vote on the leaderboard, scoring 0 points (or what is referred to in Eurovision fan circles as the dreaded nul points or nil points, both pronounced in French, although these terms are not officially used by the EBU). It was the first time the U.K. had ever finished last at the Contest and the first time the U.K. had failed to receive a single vote, and thus any points (although it has happened twice since then, in 2008 and 2010, and in both those instances the U.K. did receive votes.) Some blamed this on backlash against the U.K. getting involved with the U.S.-led Iraq War that year, but once I finally got a chance to actually watch the performance several years later, the more likely reason for Jemini’s last-place finish became pretty obvious and it had nothing to do with politics. Warning: your ears may be offended by this performance.

As you can hear, the singers (especially Gemma) sang way off-key, by the sound of things (to my ears) at least a half-step sharp.

The news of this duo was my first-ever introduction to Eurovision.

Fast-forward three years to 2006. I was 19 and I hear of this heavy metal band from Finland who had just qualified to the Final with a song called “Hard Rock Hallelujah”.

Mr. Lordi, the frontman of Finland’s Lordi, winners of Eurovision 2006 with “Hard Rock Hallelujah”.

I remember watching video of the band’s semifinal performance and saying to myself, “This band has to win this year. Their song is too awesome.” The name of the band was Lordi, and as it turns out, they did in fact end up winning the 2006 Contest.

Over the next few years, Serbia 🇷🇸, Russia 🇷🇺, Norway 🇳🇴, and Germany 🇩🇪 all won (“Molitva” by Marija Serifović, “Believe” by Dima Bilan, “Fairytale” by Alexander Rybak, and “Satellite” by Lena, respectively), and the last Eurovision winner I had heard before my self-imposed sabbatical from anything to do with computers was Azerbaijan’s 🇦🇿 first and only winner to date, “Running Scared” by Ell & Nikki. Little did I know over those next few years, the Contest would produce a few gems.

Marija Serifović, center, accompanied by her backing singers during her winning performance of “Molitva” at Eurovision 2007. This performance gave Serbia a win in its debut as an independent country. It had previously won once before as part of Yugoslavia in 1989.

Emerging from a Hiatus

I went into a self-imposed sabbatical from computers and the internet that lasted about three years, from May 2012 to May 2015. It began right after Eurovision 2012 (but I didn’t follow it that year) and ended right after Eurovision 2015. During that time, though, I did hear about Conchita Wurst’s victory for Austria at Eurovision 2014 through The Graham Norton Show (yes, we know who Graham Norton is here in the States: his show airs weekly on BBC America, and he is thoroughly entertaining and sets up a fun environment for his guests). Graham even had Conchita come on as a musical guest on his show and, of course, Conchita brought down the house.

For those of you unfamiliar with Conchita, Conchita Wurst is the drag persona of Austrian singer Thomas “Tom” Neuwirth, who first rose to fame finishing second on an Idol-like show called Starmania (which is not an official Idols series in Austria; its run ended a decade ago and Austrians are currently allowed to compete on Germany’s version of the Idols format, Deutschland sucht den SuperStar). After some time spent in an Austrian boy band called Jetzt Anders! (which consisted of finalists from Starmania), Neuwirth re-emerged on the music scene as his drag persona, Conchita Wurst. Conchita was noted for being a “bearded lady” character, and after coming second in Austria’s national final in 2012, the Austrian broadcaster selected Conchita to represent Austria at Eurovision 2014 with the song “Rise Like a Phoenix”. After advancing to the Grand Final, the song won Eurovision 2014 with 290 points, marking Austria’s first win in nearly 50 years (its first victory was in 1966, “Merci, Chérie” by Udo Jürgens).

When I made my return to technology in 2015, Måns Zelmerlöw had just delivered Sweden 🇸🇪 its sixth Eurovision victory (now one win away from tying Ireland’s 🇮🇪 record of seven wins). The following year, I finally got to watch a Grand Final when Eurovision broadcast the first of three Grand Finals in the United States on the cable channel Logo, and I got to see Jamala win for Ukraine 🇺🇦, Salvador Sobral for Portugal 🇵🇹, and Netta win for Israel 🇮🇱. Sadly, it looks like Eurovision will not be broadcast on American television this year, but I hope the internet will provide a source for me to watch it anyway. Although American Eurovision fans are few and far between, we do come in all shapes, sizes, colors, genders, and orientations. One of my favorite fan sites to go to is Wiwibloggs, which covers the Contest and its alumni year-round with correspondents from all over the world. I’ve also recently discovered a YouTuber named Alesia Michelle who has an entire channel dedicated to her love of Eurovision and I hope to get a chance to check out her videos in depth.

Eurovision’s Wackier Moments

Finally, I can’t go without mentioning some of the stranger performances and moments that have taken place in Eurovision’s history. While Eurovision was presented as a straightforward song competition for much of its history, in the last two decades, it has become known for being a visual spectacle (especially after the live orchestra was discontinued) in addition for the songs competing in it. Although one notable moment did come about before then: Bucks Fizz, Eurovision 1981. This moment is really best experienced in motion.

That infamous “skirt rip” caused quite a stir for the British pop group, but it ultimately helped the group win that year’s Contest with their song “Making Your Mind Up”, and the skirt rip is still considered an iconic moment in Eurovision history.

And some other memorably wacky moments in Eurovision history:

Montenegro’s Slavko Kalezić whipping his braid around while performing “Space” in 2017; sadly, he did not make the Final. He later tried out for The X Factor UK (after previously being a contestant on the Balkan version), getting cut at the Judges’ Houses stage.

Slavko Kalezić of Montenegro performing “Space”.

Or German comedian Stefan Raab famously asking in joke German “Wadde hadde dudde da?” (“What is it that you there have?”) at Eurovision 2000 while in this getup:

Stefan Raab of Germany performing “Wadde hadde dudde da?”

A few years before Conchita’s victory, the Austrian rap duo Trackshittaz (yes, the EBU let them compete with that name, even though it technically contains a profanity) failed to advance from their semifinal in 2012 while telling us “Woki mit deim Popo”, which is colloquial Austrian German for “Shake Your Ass”, along with the accompanying booty shaking.

Austrian rap duo Trackshittaz, with backing dancers, performing “Woki mit deim Popo”.

In 2010 a meme was born when Moldovan saxophonist Sergey Stepanov (one third of the group Sunstroke Project) made a few dance moves and became the Epic Sax Guy during their performance of “Run Away”

Sergey Stepanov of Sunstroke Project in 2010…

…and then brought back his Epic Sax Mojo when Sunstroke Project returned for Moldova 🇲🇩 in 2017 with their song “Hey Mamma”…and made it all the way to 3rd place 🥉, giving Moldova its best Eurovision finish ever.

…and in 2017.

In 2014, Romania 🇷🇴 featured this as part of its performance of “Miracle” by Paula Seling and Ovi.

Ovi and his circular piano during Romania’s performance of “Miracle”.

In 2012, the Buranovskiye Babushki (The Grannies from Buranovo) managed to touch Europe’s adorable granny nerve and got all the way to second place 🥈 with their song “Party for Everybody”, losing out to Loreen’s mesmerizing performance of “Euphoria”, which gave Sweden its fifth Eurovision win.

The Buranovskiye Babushki at Eurovision 2012.

And one of my favorite joke acts was when Ireland 🇮🇪 sent a literal turkey 🦃 (actually, a puppet called Dustin the Turkey) to Eurovision 2008 and poked fun at the whole shebang (and Ireland’s more recent Eurovision flops after winning the Contest seven times, including a run of three consecutive wins in the 1990s) with “Irelande Douze Pointe”. True to Dustin’s name, the performance was a turkey (one of a few slang terms we use in the States to refer to a flop), and he failed to advance from the semifinal.

Dustin the Turkey performing “Irelande Douze Pointe” at Eurovision 2008.

Who knows what memorable, crazy, or wacky moments we could be in for this year? The Grand Final is set to take place this Saturday.

So, What is This “Eurovision” Thing, and Why Am I Obsessed? – Part One

The following post is quite long and detailed, but it is about something I have grown quite passionate about. So bear with me.

So, you may have heard me mention something called “Eurovision” on here from time to time. For my readers outside the USA and North America, most are probably thinking, “So, it’s no big deal, it happens every year and it’s just a part of our cultural zeitgeist.” But I imagine many of you in the U.S. and Canada are like, “What the hell is she talking about?”

Well, this year’s Contest is beginning with today’s first semifinal, and I feel like now is a good time as ever to talk about what has become my biggest pop culture obsession since…well, the obsession it’s overtaken in recent years, American Idol. Actually, the Idols format itself owes a lot to Eurovision. But before I talk about Eurovision’s effect on me, here’s a primer on the Contest itself (and since Eurovision’s full name is the Eurovision Song Contest, I always capitalize “Contest” when referring to Eurovision directly).

Eurovision: A Primer for North Americans

In order to understand the Eurovision phenomenon, we must first look at its roots, and there are two important factors behind the genesis of Eurovision: World War II and Sanremo. Europe was left heavily damaged both physically and emotionally after the horrors of World War II and in the decade following the war was looking for a way to heal and come together. In early 1955, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), based out of Switzerland, held a meeting in Monaco and came up with an idea based off of Italy’s Sanremo Music Festival (which had been founded a few years earlier in 1951), where different countries around Europe would submit original songs and then perform them in one big contest to be simulcast live across Europe (remember, the first artificial satellite was not launched until 1957, so television transmissions by satellite were a long way off; in the early days the EBU would rely on microwave transmission for the Eurovision broadcasts). In October 1955, the idea was brought to a wider vote from the full EBU, and it was approved, with the first Eurovision Song Contest Grand Prix (as it was known in English then) to be held in spring 1956 in Lugano, Switzerland 🇨🇭.

The inaugural Contest was held on 24 May 1956, with seven countries taking part: host nation Switzerland 🇨🇭, the Netherlands 🇳🇱, Germany (more specifically, West Germany; Germany would not compete as a unified state for the first time until 1991) 🇩🇪, Belgium 🇧🇪, France 🇫🇷, Luxembourg 🇱🇺, and Italy 🇮🇹. For this Contest only, each country submitted two songs. After all the songs were performed, two jurors from each country cast a vote for their favorite song (although it has always been against the rules for a country to vote for itself), and the song that got the most votes was crowned the winner. This ultimately went to the song “Refrain” by Lys Assia of Switzerland 🇨🇭 (who actually sang both of Switzerland’s entries that year, although not all participating countries were required to send just one singer). And even though the winning song was in French, Lys was actually a native German speaker, from the German-speaking Canton of Aargau (her other entry was sung in German). We don’t know the full results of the 1956 Contest, as only the winner was announced, but the 1956 Contest was enough of a success that a second Contest took place in 1957, and has been held every spring since then.

Lys Assia, the winner of the very first Eurovision’s Song Contest in 1956.

Beginning with the 1957 Contest, each participating country submitted just one song. Although the rules of the Contest have varied over the years, the basic rules are as follows:

  • Countries in the EBU are eligible to participate (and do not necessarily need to be located in Europe, which is why countries like Turkey 🇹🇷, Israel 🇮🇱, and even Morocco 🇲🇦 have been allowed to participate), although the EBU does reserve the right to invite Associate Members to participate if it so chooses (which is why Australia 🇦🇺 has been allowed to participate since 2015; Kazakhstan 🇰🇿 is also an Associate Member but has only competed in Junior Eurovision to date).
  • Each participating country submits only one song.
  • All participating songs must be completely original (with no interpolations or samples of other existing songs); have no profanity, religious, commercial, or political content; and may not be released publicly/commercially before 1 September of the year preceding the Contest.
  • Songs must be no longer than three minutes in length (instituted in 1958 after Italy’s 1957 entry, “Corde della mia chitarra” by Nunzio Gallo, lasted 5 minutes, 9 seconds). However, there is no rule limiting how short a song can be. (Finland’s 2015 entry, “Aina mun pittää”, holds the current record for shortest-ever Eurovision entry, clocking in at 1 minute, 27 seconds.)
  • All participating songs must have vocals. (The 1995 winner, “Nocturne” by Secret Garden from Norway 🇳🇴, was mostly instrumental, but got around this rule by having vocals at the very beginning and the very end.)
  • Lyrics can be in any language, including artificial languages, but this has not always been the case. From 1956-1965 and from 1973-1976, there was no restriction on language, but from 1966-1972 and again from 1977-1998 entries were required to be performed in one of the participating country’s national languages. In 1999, the national language rule was lifted for good, and since then, only two winning songs have been performed completely in a language other than English: “Molitva” (Serbia 🇷🇸 2007, Serbian) and “Amar pelos dois” (Portugal 🇵🇹 2017, Portuguese).
  • All vocals must be sung live, no live instruments allowed (instrumentalists must mime to a backing track; this has been the case since the live orchestra was dropped in the late 1990s; prior to that, each country provided its own conductor to conduct the live orchestra for their entry; interestingly enough, Sanremo still uses a live orchestra in its festival).
  • No more than six performers (including singers, backing vocalists, instrumentalists, and dancers) are allowed onstage during their Eurovision performance.
  • Performers must be at least 16 years of age on the date of the Contest (also called the “Sandra Kim Rule”, named after the Belgian singer who won the 1986 Contest who, despite singing she was 15 in her song “J’aime la vie”, was later revealed to be just 13; this rule wasn’t instituted until 1990, after it was revealed that two performers in the 1989 Contest were just 11 and 12 years old). Since 2003, though, the EBU has held a separate Contest for kids aged 9-14 called the Junior Eurovision Song Contest.
  • Five to six countries each year automatically qualify for the Grand Final: the host nation (if not one of the “Big Five”) and the five biggest financial contributors to the EBU, or the so-called “Big Five”: Germany 🇩🇪, France 🇫🇷, Spain 🇪🇸, Italy 🇮🇹, and the United Kingdom 🇬🇧. All other countries must participate in one of two Semifinals, where the 10 countries with the most votes/points qualify to the Grand Final. Each of the automatic qualifiers is required to broadcast and vote in one of the two Semifinals (along with the countries participating in each semifinal). All participating countries (regardless of qualification to the Final) vote in the Grand Final.
  • The winning country gets the right of first refusal to host the following year’s Contest, but is not obligated to do so. (This was common after this was first established in the late 1950s, but the most recent time a winning country declined to host the following year’s Contest was 1980, when reigning champ Israel 🇮🇱 withdrew from the 1980 Contest after winning both 1978 and 1979, citing financial strains from hosting the 1979 Contest and the coinciding of the date of the 1980 Contest with the Israeli version of Memorial Day, which is always a very somber day in Israeli culture. The 1980 Contest was awarded to The Hague, Netherlands.)

And while the voting system has varied over the years, it basically works as follows, using the rules of the current voting system implemented in 2016:

  • There are currently two sets of votes cast by each country: the Jury vote (which is cast by five member juries of music professionals representing each participating country) and the Televote (which is cast by members of the viewing public either via telephone, text message, or through the official Eurovision app in each participating country, with the exception of San Marino; San Marino uses 100% Jury voting because it has no independent phone system due to its small size and thus piggybacks off of the Italian phone network). In the event of a televoting failure, a separate eight-member backup jury is used.
  • Each country cannot vote for itself.
  • The jurors rank all remaining songs (other than their own country’s) in order from first (for their top-ranked song) to last, with the top 10 songs getting points from that particular jury. The songs are allocated points based on rank from that Jury: 10th gets 1 point, 9th gets 2 points, 8th gets 3 points, 7th gets 4 points, 6th gets 5 points, 5th gets 6 points, 4th gets 7 points, 3rd gets 8 points, 2nd gets 10 points, and the top ranked song gets 12 points. (The 12 points, in a throwback to when results were announced in English and French, is often referred to as a douze points or “DOOZ PWAHN” and even now will typically see the host announce the 12 points for each country in the Grand Final in French; for example, the Netherlands getting 12 points from a Jury would be announced as “Pays-Bas douze points!” in French.)
  • The Televote points from each country are awarded in the same manner, using the televoting percentage ranks to determine which ten countries receive points from that particular country. The same points for ranks apply as the ones used in the Jury voting, with the country winning a particular country’s televote getting 12 points (for example, if the Netherlands won the televote in Germany, Netherlands would get 12 points from Germany in the televote).
  • The Jury points are presented individually in the Grand Final, with a spokesperson announcing each country’s 12 points while the rest of the points given by that particular country’s Jury are automatically added on the leaderboard in real time. For example, Eurovision 1978 winner Izhar Cohen (who gave Israel 🇮🇱 its first victory with “A-Ba-Ni-Bi”, which is from the Bet/Hebrew “Pig Latin” for “I Love You”, ani ohev otach, which reads in Bet as a-ba-ni-bi o-bo-he-bev o-bo-ta-bach) will be presenting Israel’s Jury points during the 2019 Grand Final.
  • The Televoting points are presented aggregately (or in total) in the Grand Final; from 2016-2018 this was done in order from fewest televoting points to most, but for this year will be presented in the same order as the participating countries finished in the Jury voting, from fewest to most.
  • The country with the most overall points wins the Contest. (And is not required to win either set of voting; in 2016, Australia won the Jury vote and Russia won the televote, but both countries finished much lower in the other set of votes…this ended up giving the 2016 Contest to Ukraine, who had finished second in both sets of votes and got the highest total score.)
  • And there are tiebreaker procedures in place in case of a tie. (This was instituted after the 1969 Contest ended in a four-way tie for the win, and no tiebreaker, which resulted in four winners: the UK 🇬🇧, Spain 🇪🇸, France 🇫🇷, and the Netherlands 🇳🇱. A tiebreaker has since only been used to settle a tie for first once, in 1991 between Sweden 🇸🇪 and France 🇫🇷, which was eventually awarded to Sweden, although the tiebreaker used for that Contest is no longer in use, which relied on counting on the number of votes worth 12 points each of the tied countries received and on downward if still tied. The current tiebreaker procedure begins by determining which of the tied countries received more overall votes, or how many countries actually awarded points to each of the tied countries.)

Eurovision’s Cultural Impact

Eurovision, in its six decades of existence, has sort of become the entertainment world’s version of both the Super Bowl and the World Cup. It’s always been a source of light entertainment (which was desperately needed in the wake of World War II), and as technology and cultural tastes have evolved, it has also acquired a reputation for being camp (corny, kitschy, and a bit cheesy) and has acquired quite a following in Europe’s LGBTQ+ community, so much to the point that it is sometimes nicknamed the “Gay Olympics”, but still has a bit of a family-friendly vibe as well due to the songs being relatively clean in subject matter.

Eurovision has proven to be a launching pad for many internationally known acts throughout the decades of its existence. In fact, it only took two years after the first Contest for one of the songs to cross over into international popularity, including in the United States. Following the 1958 Contest, Domenico Modugno of Italy 🇮🇹 released his Eurovision entry, the third-placed “Nel blu dipinto di blu”, as a single internationally, including in the United States. It debuted at #54 on the very first Billboard Hot 100, and jumped to #2 the following week. In its third week on the chart, it dethroned the very first Hot 100 #1, “Poor Little Fool” by Ricky Nelson, and began its reign of five non-consecutive weeks at #1. To date, it is the only Italian language song to have topped the chart. So many covers have been made of the song over the years, that it is now popularly referred to by the first word of its chorus, “Volare”.

Domenico Modugno of Italy became Eurovision’s first international crossover star after placing third in 1958.

In the years since, many artists have become internationally known since appearing in or even winning Eurovision, including:

  • Lulu (won for the U.K. in 1969 with “Boom Bang-a-Bang”, also had a number one hit in the States with “To Sir, With Love”)
  • Olivia Newton-John (represented the U.K. in 1974, finishing fourth; she would go on to have several Top 40 hits and number one singles in the United States, including “Hopelessly Devoted to You”, “I Honestly Love You”, “You’re the One That I Want” from the Grease soundtrack, “Physical”, “Magic” from the Xanadu soundtrack, and “Have You Never Been Mellow”)
  • ABBA (who had a top 10 hit with their Eurovision winner “Waterloo” and several top 40 hits, capped off with the #1 hit “Dancing Queen”; they are also the only Eurovision act to have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as part of the Class of 2010, thanks in no small part to the strength of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus’ songwriting partnership)
  • Céline Dion (who won the 1988 Contest representing Switzerland, despite being Canadian, with the song “Ne partez pas sans moi” in the closest non-tie finish in Eurovision history by finishing just one point ahead of the U.K.’s entry; she has gone on to have tremendous success in both the English language and Francophone markets, has amassed four #1 singles on the Hot 100 and a bunch of top 40 hits, and also is about to conclude the second of two hugely successful residencies in Las Vegas that have lasted a total of about 14 years)

Not to mention artists that have become known as Eurovision legends for memorable and/or multiple appearances in the Contest:

  • Dana International (who won for Israel in 1998 with the song “Diva” and became the first transgender performer to win the Contest; Dana identifies as female, transitioned in the early 1990s and received her gender confirmation surgery in 1992)
  • Verka Serduchka (the drag persona of Ukrainian comedian Andriy Danylko, who gave Ukraine a runner-up finish at Eurovision 2007 with the song “Dancing Lasha Tambai”, with only Serbia finishing ahead of the song)
  • Johnny Logan (the only person to win Eurovision three times, all representing Ireland: his first victory was as a performer with “What’s Another Year?” in 1980, his second as a performer/songwriter with “Hold Me Now” in 1987, and his third victory came as a songwriter for “Why Me?” in 1992, sung by Linda Martin)
  • Lena Meyer-Landrut (or simply Lena; she won representing Germany in 2010 with “Satellite”, and then opted to defend her championship in 2011 with the song “Taken By a Stranger”, being the first to do so since Corry Brokken of the Netherlands in 1958…Lena finished 10th in her second shot, much better than Corry’s last place finish in 1958)

Olivia Newton-John represented the UK at Eurovision 1974, placing 4th.

ABBA won Eurovision in 1974 with “Waterloo”, giving Sweden its first of six wins.

Lulu, representing the U.K., was one of 1969’s FOUR winners (tied for first) with “Boom Bang-a-Bang”

Céline Dion gave Switzerland its second win in 1988, and still holds the record for closest margin of victory (not tied), winning by one point over the UK.

Verka Serduchka gave a legendary performance for Ukraine in 2007 with “Dancing Lasha Tumbai” and almost won.

Lena gave Germany its second victory (its first after reunification) with “Satellite” and a year later became the second winner to defend their win (finishing 10th in 2011).

Eurovision’s status as a major pop culture event and its evolution from song festival to music’s equivalent of the Super Bowl is an interesting study in how pop culture has evolved in the last six decades.

Stay tuned for a post all about my personal experience in becoming a Eurovision fan and why it’s become such an important part of my own pop culture consciousness; all that and more in Part Two!

Game of Thrones: Not My Cup of Tea

So, this past Sunday, most of the country…actually, probably most of the world plunged into Game of Thrones mania with the premiere of the show’s eighth and final season.

I was not one of them. In fact, I spent most of the evening watching American Idol for the first time in about three weeks because it was the season’s first week of viewer voting. (Admittedly, the ABC version of the show hasn’t interested me as much as the original Fox version of the show, but that’s also because in the year the show spent away from television, Eurovision song selection season and the ensuing Contest ended up becoming my new music television obsession…and it’s one that has been around over six decades. Oh, the beauty of the Internet and YouTube. With the 2019 Contest coming up next month, perhaps I’ll write about my Eurovision obsession a bit more in detail as the Contest draws closer.) Once Idol wrapped up for the evening, I turned the channel to ESPN and watched the tail end of a game that one of my favorite teams, the Atlanta Braves, ended up winning over the New York Mets. I did not watch Game of Thrones, and I feel no less of a person for choosing not to watch.

In fact, I have something to admit: I have never watched a single episode of Game of Thrones. In fact, I have actually watched more episodes of Breaking Bad than I have of Game of Thrones (all of season 1, and the first four episodes of season 2, in fact, my dad recently discovered this show after his co-workers were raving about it, so I may return to watching Breaking Bad eventually). I have even had old friends beg me to watch it through Facebook…and I briefly considered it, but then I remembered the reasons why I didn’t care to watch it in the first place.

So, here are the various reasons why I have chosen not to watch Game of Thrones.

  1. For most of the show’s run, we did not have HBO. For many years, our house had satellite TV, and the cost of subscribing to premium cable channels like HBO (which broadcasts Game of Thrones) was way too much to justify subscribing to it in the first place. When we switched back to cable last year, the way the subscription packages were set up, HBO was included along with the sports and niche channels we like to watch, so we ended up getting HBO for the first time in about 6 years. I have nothing against HBO itself, in fact, I enjoy watching Real Time with Bill Maher and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. (It should come to no surprise that my politics are a bit left of center, which is one reason I find Maher entertaining, but he is also willing to call out fellow liberals when they screw up, too…not a lot of liberal people do that, and I find it refreshing.) The last time we had HBO, The Newsroom was airing and Veep and Girls had begun their runs, and I watched the first seasons of just about all of them. Then we dropped HBO, so I didn’t get into Game of Thrones in the first place.
  2. Fantasy has never been a favorite genre of mine to begin with. My Harry Potter fandom has been (much like the Mongols) the exception rather than the rule. One of my closest guy friends growing up loved reading fantasy novels that often had wizards and dragons on the covers, not far from the subject matter concerning the Song of Ice and Fire series (which is the book series Game of Thrones is adapted from, being named after the first book, A Game of Thrones). I haven’t seen him since our graduation day 14 years ago, but I imagine he would absolutely love the show because it would have been right up his alley in terms of what fiction he liked. Unfortunately, I was never really into that type of literature. The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings bored me. Discovering Harry Potter at the age I did (about 11 or 12 years old) was unusual, but I think I got into it because Harry was about the same age I was when I first started reading the first book in the series. Age wise, he and his friends were characters I could relate to, not otherworldly characters like hobbits and dwarves and elves 🧝‍♀️. Since the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I have gotten exactly two fantasy novels: A Game of Thrones (whose issues I have with I will get to shortly) and Children of Blood and Bone (a more recent novel written by Nigerian-American author Tomi Adeyeme that is set in West Africa, where her family is from, and combines elements of the fantasy genre with her family’s Yoruba culture; I plan on reading this one a little later in the year). Those of you reading probably have seen by now that I tend to go more for dystopian fiction, classics, and books that challenge me mentally. I don’t particularly stick to one genre when I read. In fact, in recent years I’ve adapted a mantra from food and travel expert Andrew Zimmern that sums up my reading philosophy perfectly: If it looks good, read it! (Andrew’s version goes, “If it looks good, eat it!”) I go by what interests me.
  3. Frankly, the content of A Game of Thrones disturbed me…really disturbed me. I did try to read the first book in the series, A Game of Thrones, about three or four years ago. The format of the book confused me a bit, as there weren’t traditional chapters telling a linear story, but rather sections focusing on a different character, with multiple storylines that were hard to follow and difficult for a casual reader (who doesn’t read fantasy on a regular basis) to get into. What ended up absolutely disturbing me, though, was the amount of sexual content involving young teenagers, especially Daenarys/Dany, who is thirteen years old at the start of A Game of Thrones (I had no clue if her age was retconned to an older age for the TV series, but I imagined it was, as standards & practices at HBO would’ve likely had a problem with it had Dany remained 13 for the TV series; a quick googling confirmed this). For one, Dany is basically forced into being a child bride, getting married off to Khal Drogo to provide an army for Dany’s brother. Although married, the sex acts that Dany performs with her husband would frankly result in arrests, prison time, and having to register as a sex offender in our real world. It basically amounts to child rape, which is incredibly disgusting and incredibly illegal. Apparently in the series, she was aged up to 17 (which is still weird, but closer to a legal age of consent), but the fact that George R. R. Martin came up with these scenes involving a thirteen-year-old in these books, no matter how close to medieval culture or custom they might be, makes me seriously wonder what he was thinking when he wrote those scenes all those years ago. He could have easily aged up some of these characters in his books, but he didn’t. And that disturbs me. And it’s something I cannot clear from my mind. Needless to say, I never finished the book.

So, needless to say, I have no plans to watch the final season of Game of Thrones. And I have friends who absolutely love the series. Honestly, I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything by choosing not to watch it. I’ve always felt a little weird about expressing my opinions on a water cooler show like this, but sometimes you end up being that person who could care less about the water cooler show of the moment. I guess now is my time to be that person.

Even in a Hurricane of Frowns

In case you haven’t already heard, Hurricane Michael struck the Florida Panhandle yesterday at a very strong Category 4, and the damage up there is looking catastrophic, especially where it made landfall at the coastal town of Mexico Beach.

Some have (rightfully) expressed concern for me in the wake of Hurricane Michael, so I figured I’d write a quick post to let you all know that I’m fine. I’m lucky that we live quite far away from where the hurricane struck. Michael hit the Panhandle region (Northwest Florida), while I live in Central Florida. We weren’t spared effects from Michael’s wrath, as we did experience some squall line storms from Michael’s feeder bands, but thankfully my part of Florida was spared the worst of the storm.

The one casualty on my street related to the storm was a pine tree in a neighbors’s backyard (which was already dead) that was snapped in half by the wind. The top half of the tree landed on a neighbor’s roof, but since the branches of our pine trees are spread out wide instead of conical like a Christmas tree, the falling branches seem to have caused minimal damage to our neighbor’s roof. The bottom half is still standing, and I can see it sticking out over my other neighbor’s roof.

It is going to take a long time for our fellow Floridians in the Panhandle to clean and rebuild, but if anything we are a resilient and tenacious bunch and I send them all the good mojo (I guess you could say it’s a way of sending positive energy) I can.

As for the title? It comes from the Capital Cities song “Safe and Sound”: “You could be my luck / Even in a hurricane of frowns / I know that we’ll be safe and sound.”

On “The Golden Girls”

Hello, there. If you don’t know me or are coming by this blog for the first time, there is something you must know about me: My name is Crystal, I am 31 years old, and I am a massive fan of The Golden Girls and absolutely unashamed of it. Those who have known me through the years know that if they come across a meme of the show, to send it my way. Those who’ve followed me on Tumblr are very familiar with me either reblogging screencaps from the show or posting quotes or even whole conversations (often from an episode I was watching that day). I’ve watched the entire series numerous times since I discovered it. I’ve been known to work random moments from the series into everyday conversations and I’ve even made the occasional reference to it on this very blog!

Today is National Cheesecake Day, and thus it is also Golden Girls Day. (Need I say why?) Today, I’m gonna talk a bit about why I’m such a fan of this show and also talk about some of my favorite moments and episodes from the show. I hope it will help those who know me understand a little better why I relate so much to the show and its characters.

I discovered The Golden Girls a year or two after I had graduated from high school just by randomly coming across it on a channel where it was running in syndication (probably Lifetime). When I made the decision to drop out of college at 19, what I didn’t realize at the time was that it would trigger a period in my life where I was dealing with a lot of self loathing and turmoil. My personal insecurities (shyness, difficulties with talking to certain people, and feeling like I was ugly from a young age, maybe 8 or 9 years old), my difficult relationship with my dad (which I have previously blogged about), and my inability to find or hold down a steady job gave me feelings of depression. I’d cry myself to sleep at night thinking about what I did to make myself (what I thought was) a disappointment in my father’s eye. I constantly felt like I bringing shame on my family because I was so chronically unemployed. I felt ugly, useless, and I felt like I needed to deprive myself of things because I hadn’t earned them. It took a toll on my body, as I gained weight that I am still trying to control to this day. At times, my hair would get so matted that I needed large portions of it cut off (three times, to be precise). There were times where I would go outside on a beautiful, sunny day and I would feel nothing inside; I could see the blue of the sky and the green in the trees, but it was as if my soul could only see black and gray. Thinking about this now still makes me cry. I didn’t have religion to turn to in those times, because I had realized years earlier that faith and prayer had no effect on me or the state of the world and I had decided at 16 to walk away from it entirely. I knew it would provide me no comfort (not to say that it doesn’t provide other people comfort, but I am only speaking for myself here). It was during this time that The Golden Girls would provide me moments of brightness and positivity in what I have otherwise termed “My Lost Decade”. Even though I had memorized so many of the quotes and punchlines, those same jokes would put a smile on my face when I needed it the most. Watching and studying baseball also helped at times, as did knitting. While I’ve never been able to completely proclaim myself happy in that time and while I never ended up seeking professional help for my issues, I’m in a much better place now than I was when I was in my early twenties. My dog looks at me without judgement, and really her coming into my life when she did (in 2010, when I was 23) was one of the best things that could ever happen. I still deal with the insecurity and the low self-esteem at times, but knowing that my dog and (nowadays) my mom both need me at least gives me a little solace.

These days, The Golden Girls is still a morning staple in our house, and even my staunchly conservative father finds a lot of humor in what was then a very progressive show for its time and is still considered quite progressive today. Though it revolved around four older women, the appeal and values that make up The Golden Girls has spanned multiple generations. Its fandom consists of people of all ages, colors, genders, and sexual orientations. Heck, I saw a video on Instagram recently of WWE Superstar Xavier Woods at San Diego Comic-Con where he had found the Golden Girls merchandise section and just listing off how much of the merchandise he “needed”. He explained it by basically saying, “I want to breathe air, I need these Golden Girls shot glasses!” It was a show unafraid of taking on things like HIV/AIDS, marriage equality, and chronic fatigue syndrome when it wasn’t cool to talk about those things. It tackled LGBT issues, sexuality during one’s later years, dating people with disabilities, teenage pregnancy, and even immigration (both of the legal and illegal variety). Its appeal has reached so many people in the three decades since it premiered. Although Rue McClanahan, Bea Arthur, and Estelle Getty are no longer with us, their jokes and memorable moments still seem so fresh that it’s as though they never left. And Betty White is at this point still a living legend; the day she eventually leaves this planet will be a sad day indeed, but her place here will still stay with us, bringing joy and laughter to so many people in her long and illustrious life.

Before I close, I’d like to pay tribute to some of my favorite episodes and moments from the series:

  • “A Little Romance” is my favorite episode of the entire series; it dealt with a lesbian character (an old friend of Dorothy’s) and the passing of said character’s partner with dignity, and although her crush on the very straight Rose was played for humor (mainly because Rose reminded Jean [Dorothy’s friend] of her late partner…and yes, I’ve been in Rose’s situation before, but both situations, on TV and in real life, turned out with a nice positive ending), it still provided for one of the best scenes in the entire series, which I only need to sum up with three words: “Not Lebanese, Blanche.”
  • “Scared Straight”, where Blanche’s brother Clayton comes out as gay. The scene where Sophia figures out he’s gay after asking just a few questions is hilarious (as well as Dorothy mistaking Rose for saying “Blanche’s brother is a hobo”). For the record, Sophia figured it out because she had heard Clayton singing in the shower and she noticed he was “…the only man who knows all the words to ‘Send in the Clowns’!”
  • “Sophia’s Wedding”. The fact that Dorothy caught Sophia in bed with any man (let alone Sophia’s late husband’s business partner, Max Weinstock), Sophia’s answer to what had happened (“Afterglow!”), their wedding with a whole bunch of Elvis 🕺 impersonators as guests (including, if you look closely enough, a young Quentin Tarantino), their attempt at opening a pizza/knish stand, and the flamboyant wedding planner who responds to his referencing Susan Hayward’s speech in I Want to Live (and Blanche’s criticism of it) with “Well, excuse me for living, Anita Bryant!” (Anita Bryant was a singer who did a lot of commercials for Florida Orange Juice in the ’70s and ended up becoming an anti-gay activist during that time opposing a pro-LGBT ordinance in Miami; her ire with the LGBT community resulted in a protester throwing a pie in her face during a speech she was making.)
  • The episode where Blanche dreams that her late husband George has returned from the dead, while Sonny Bono and Lyle Waggoner are fighting over Dorothy. (“Sonny Bono, get off my lanai!“)
  • The episode where Blanche dates a man in a wheelchair (“He suits me to a ‘G’!”, and that’s not a typo. Ladies will obviously get this joke, men will have a hard time finding it. 🤣). She doesn’t dump him for his disability, but because she realized he was already married.
  • “The Commitments”: Dorothy backs out of a blind date and unloads him onto Blanche so she can go see “BeatleMania” at a dinner theater. Dorothy ends up bringing home the guy who plays George (“And Paul, when Ernie’s sick!”), while Blanche falls head over heels for her date Jerry (played by Ken Howard, of 1776 fame…he played Thomas Jefferson in the movie), who won’t even so much as kiss her (let alone go to bed with her, despite her attempts). Sophia gets pissed at Dorothy for bringing home a guy almost as yutzy as her ex-husband Stan (The Once and Future Yutz), and Dorothy ends up dumping him out of sheer embarrassment when he tries to perform his own material (he started with I’ve Gotta Be Me and ended with Everybody was Kung-Fu Fighting, and she left when he started performing “Dot, Dot, what a girl I’ve got…when we shower together we don’t have to turn on Hot.”). As for Blanche, one of her sweetest, most vulnerable moments comes when Jerry tells her that he wanted to take things slow (he and his late wife were virgins on their wedding night) and romance her the old-fashioned way. Blanche later remarked to Rose that she “…felt like a lady.” He gives her one sweet, sensuous kiss before leaving. If there’s one unresolved storyline that I would’ve liked to have seen be resolved, it would be that one, because Blanche ends the series single and the question of her happiness is left unresolved.
  • “The Monkey Show” (Everybody’s got something to hide except for Stan and his Monkey.)
  • And finally…”My Brother, My Father”. When Sophia’s brother Angelo reveals why he backed out on becoming a priest, I end up in laughter every time. (“Lucious lips, a full bosom, and a behind so firm, so round, you gotta fall down on your knees and cry out at its magnificent, regal beauty! I’m a butt man.”)
  • Wherever you are, whoever you are, I hope your Golden Girls Day is filled with lots of love, laughter, and cheesecake.
  • I’ll Take My Snowless Knitter Re-Caf

    This is a follow-up to my previous post, “I’ll Take My Snowless Knitter Decaf”.

    So, it turns out we didn’t order a replacement brewer to be delivered. Luckily, though, my dad was able to find a local store that carried the brewer that he was interested in…but not before asking my opinion. This is a big deal for me, because I was in a state of mind for a long time that my opinion didn’t necessarily matter, for a litany of reasons that I don’t feel like discussing. The fact that he asked for my opinion on a brewer feels like a big step. I didn’t commit to either option (either a new Keurig or a Ninja), but I did point out that regular coffee grounds were cheaper than K-Cups, and was thus open to going for the Ninja (especially since I knew he’d been wanting to switch to the Ninja for a couple of years now).

    He finally bought the Ninja this morning. Specifically, a Ninja Coffee Bar, which has all sorts of brewing options from classic all the way to super strong (like you’d use in a coffeehouse style drink). I have no idea which store he got it from, but he was able to find it. I consider us especially lucky that we were in a position to be able to get it, considering the price (it’s not cheap, but it’s supposed to brew quality coffee). Heck, I would have been okay with a Mr. Coffee, as long as I’d be able to enjoy my favorite morning brew once again! But my dad is a man of technology and gadgetry; he’s always been interested in the latest of just about everything, from TVs to computers to coffee makers. He likes to wait a little while before he’ll spring for something, but he usually ends up getting his hands on it eventually. It makes me think of when we got our first PC, a Packard Bell that ran (I kid you not) Microsoft Windows for Workgroups…Old School Windows. I remember when the icon to close an application was that little dash mark in the upper left-hand corner! I remember when we upgraded to Windows 95…remember the ad campaign with The Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” playing? The “Start” button was a big deal, as was the X button closing an application! Our first HDTV ran on a cathode ray tube system! Remember when HD was top of the line? Now there’s Universal HD and 4K. I remember when my dad’s first cell phone was a flip phone, and his first smartphone was secondhand from my brother (when that iPhone became obsolete, he finally got his current iPhone, which I think is either an iPhone 5 or an iPhone 6). It’s amazing how technology has evolved just in my lifetime alone! Even with coffee makers!

    Our Ninja also comes with a frothing device, and my dad has already encouraged me to experiment with it and try to become my own at-home barista (he’s even willing to be my guinea pig 😂). It came with a recipe book, and I am itching to make my first caramel macchiato!

    Okay…I haven’t talked much about crafting lately, so I figured I’d fill you in. I haven’t knit much in the last month, partly because I was distracted by a crochet project, but I was also dealing with a nagging back issue that is only just within the last few days finally starting to resolve itself.

    The crochet project: I was reading through some other blogs last month when one of them (I think Mad Man Knitting) was talking about a corner-to-corner project. I decided to try it out for myself, and using some leftover stash yarn, I started working on a corner-to-corner piece of my own. I’m not quite ready to show you pictures just yet (maybe in a future post), but it has a nice look so far, a mix of solid and variegated, each separated by a soft white stripe. I’m hoping it will be a sofa-sized throw when it’s done.

    My back: About three weeks ago, I had to unclog a toilet in the middle of the night, and in the process, I must have either pulled a muscle or pinched a nerve. The following morning, my back was stiff as a board, my range of motion was gone on my left and limited on my right, and I had to walk at a snail’s pace. Bending over was next to impossible without feeling excruciating pain and when I did bend over (even just to get ice out of the freezer, which is a pull-out freezer), I’d have to do so while supporting myself on something nearby. Laying on my side or sitting with support behind me would ease the pain a little bit. I was able to walk at a regular pace after a couple of days, but the stiffness and the difficulty bending over remained. Sleeping in my parents’ bed (which I do when my dad works in order to help my mom out when she inevitably awakens in the middle of the night) did me no favors either. It took well over a week, almost two to finally get all of my range of motion back, but I am still dealing with a little knot of pain in my left lower back (though now the pain is just annoying instead of excruciating), and I still cannot stay bent over for long periods of time, but it has slowly been improving. My back is at its stiffest when I first get out of bed or when standing after sitting for an extended period of time, but it relaxes after I stand for a few minutes. Whatever I did to it, it’s been slow to heal, but it has been healing.

    So, as I write, I have been drinking my first cup of coffee ☕️ in over a week. We brewed a pot on the “Rich” setting, which makes the coffee just like my dad likes it: strong and stout. The carafe that came with the Ninja has a tube going down into it that essentially fills and mixes the coffee from the bottom as it fills, making for a smoother and more flavor-consistent cup of coffee. Mine is Folgers medium roast, with sugar and vanilla creamer added, and it still tastes like a strong cup of coffee.

    I hope you all are having a good day, and if you drink it, enjoy your coffee!

    And since I mentioned it, here’s “Start Me Up” by The Rolling Stones!

    ‘Tis the Season: My Five Favorite Christmas Songs of All Time

    With the holiday season in full swing and Hanukkah already underway, and Christmas coming just a week from now, I thought I’d celebrate with some of my favorite things about Christmas. Today, I share with you my five favorite Christmas songs of all time. One song you won’t be seeing on this list? “All I Want For Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey. I’ve never cared much for that song, and hearing it sung every year on The X Factor (both the US and UK versions) was enough to finally turn me off from the song for good (thankfully, they didn’t do Christmas songs on The X Factor UK this year, and the US version hasn’t aired since 2013).

    So, here are my five actual picks. The only criterion was that the song had to be Christmas or winter-themed. I make no distinction between hymns and secular songs.

    5. Billy Squier, “Christmas Is the Time to Say I Love You”

    This song comes from a time when rock music was just as popular on the radio as pop was (something that long fell by the wayside by the time I was coming of age) and Billy Squier was one of the most popular rock stars of the early ’80s (only to have his popularity wane after a particularly disastrous reception for the music video for his single, “Rock Me Tonite”). This is one of the few Christmas songs by pop or rock singers I’ve heard through the years to not come across as cheesy. And the fact that he did this version with the “MTV Chorus” is even more awesome.

    4. “Carol of the Bells”

    This has got to be my favorite Christmas carol, with all the complex layers of vocals. The version featured here is one done for South Park by the South Park Elementary School guidance counselor, Mr. Mackey. (The random “m’kays” sprinkled throughout this version always make me giggle.)

    3. “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon

    Another rock Christmas classic, this song combines Lennon’s singing talents with his songwriting, which often incorporated themes of peace and justice. This one is no different. Originally written as a protest song against the Vietnam War, it has since transcended its original political origin and has become a beloved Christmas standard throughout the world.

    2. “It Must Have Been Love (Christmas for the Broken-Hearted)” by Roxette

    You didn’t know this was a Christmas song? It was originally written by the Swedish pop duo as a Christmas song about heartbreak and lost love and released in 1987. A couple of years later, it was selected to be part of the soundtrack for a film that would eventually be regarded as a classic romance film, Pretty Woman. A slight lyrical change the year after its original release made it less Christmas-y (the line “It’s a hard Christmas Day” became “It’s a hard winter’s day”), and it ended up becoming one of four number-one singles in the United States for Roxette (along with “The Look”, “Listen to Your Heart”, and “Joyride”) and one of the most popular songs of the 1990s. The video featured here is from the original Christmas single.

    Honorable Mention: “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” by The Chipmunks

    This didn’t quite make the main list, but I must mention that this song was on replay constantly when I was a kid and we wore out the cassette tape this song was featured on! It’s also the only Christmas song to ever top the Billboard Hot 100.

    1. “Mele Kalikimaka” by Bing Crosby ft. The Andrews Sisters

    Okay, I’m from Florida, not Hawaii, but this is still the only popular Christmas song that has a distinctly tropical vibe to it. The title is taken from the actual Hawaiian language greeting for “Merry Christmas” (the language lacks the sounds for R, S, and T; the R becomes an L sound, the C is rendered as a K, and S and T become K sounds, turning “Merry Christmas” into “Mele Kalikimaka”). I first heard this song in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation in a memorable scene where Clark Griswold (played by Chevy Chase) is daydreaming about the swimming pool he wants to get with his Christmas bonus, including a spoof on Fast Times at Ridgemont High where he envisions a lingerie saleswoman he was talking to earlier in the movie taking off her swimsuit (in a nod to Phoebe Cates in a similar scene in Fast Times) and diving into the pool, although actual nudity is not seen in order to preserve the film’s PG-13 rating. Even on its own, this song is still a favorite of mine. And though Bing Crosby sang a lot of Christmas songs in his career, this one is still my favorite. The scene is featured below, and the studio version above this paragraph. (And if you care to venture over to my Instagram, I posted a brief little video of me singing the song this afternoon, if you’re brave enough to check it out.)

    Do you have any favorite Christmas or holiday tunes? Share them in the comments.

    Maybe It’s Cold Outside?

    The weather here is becoming more winter like. Granted, it’s not the snow-covered Shangri-La that only Bing Crosby or Idina Menzel could sing about, but this is winter, Florida-style.

    Of the four seasons that visit Florida each year, each varying in intensity and heat, winter is by far my favorite. The air is much cooler, in the 70s at its mildest and sometimes as low as the 20s Fahrenheit at its coldest. It’s also much drier and less humid, which can be hell on my dry skin at times, and a big reason why Florida itself is generally snowless. I love being able to wear my sweaters and other hand knit items out in the cold weather, but I am also crazy enough to wear flip flops in 40 degree weather! Most Floridians get their sweaters and hoodies out once the temperature dips into the 50s, but I think that’s because our blood is so acclimated to warm weather that when the temperature dips that low, it’s hard to handle. It is demonstrated quite effectively in this cartoon shared by the Facebook feed, “More Florida Memes” that appears to have originally appeared in the Palm Beach Daily News:

    Source: Facebook / More Florida Memes

    We’ve had a couple of cold blasts here since the beginning of the season, but the one we’re about to get this weekend will be the strongest one yet. The last couple of days have seen a stationary front sit right over Central Florida, while the low pressure system to the north of it has been dumping snow on my best friend’s home up in Georgia. Yesterday, my house was in the cold side of the stationary front, with us staying in the 60s while Orlando was in the 70s. The clouds yesterday hung so low that the two broadcast towers that are visible from either side of my house could not be seen, with a misty rain falling for much of the day. Today, that front lifted a bit to the north, which put us on the warm side, with fewer clouds and a high temperature of about 81.

    Tomorrow will be an unusual day when that front comes through because it will mean that we reach our day’s high temperature in the morning: a projected high of 62 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperatures will drop into the 50s during the day, and then will plunge into the upper 30s on Saturday night. Sunday may be just as cold, and we may not get back into the 70s all week.

    I can just imagine all the blankets Floridians will wrap themselves in, the heaters that will inevitably be turning on, and all the hot beverages we will be brewing. This will not be a winter wonderland or a White Christmas, but it will be the first taste of winter as we Floridians know it.

    I leave you with this Golden Girls classic moment. While not specifically a winter song, it does mention winter in the lyrics, and part of me wishes this would be a rally song for my Miami Dolphins. Anyways, this is “Miami, You’ve Got Style”.

    Until next time!