Balloon Poodles and Petite Pomeranians: This Week’s Obsessions.

Feeling crabby?

Feeling crabby?

Like many children, I had an obsession with balloon animals. I loved the complicated ones, twisted and sculpted by adults in clown costumes–usually at a birthday party or a carnival. I loved the ones with multiple colors of balloons, and especially the ones with multiple elements. The deflatable artwork never lasted long, but while it did, I found it awe-inpsiring. And generally worth fighting over with my younger sister.

One thing led to another (as so often happens with childhood obsessions) and by late elementary school, I didn’t have to wait for carnivals or birthday parties to get my balloon animal fix. Christmas came, and I was thereafter the proud owner of my own balloon animal book, plus a packet of pencil-sized balloons in every color of the rainbow. I seem to remember some bizarre balloon “hand pump” as well, but it never worked. Plus, I was mesmerized by the mouth-feel that accompanied blowing up those slender, impossible balloons. Just at the moment I thought my cheeks would surely explode, the balloon would magically inflate.

I wish I could say I got as far as the awesome balloon crab above, but I’m afraid that this obsession did not exactly lead to complete mastery of the craft. I sculpted my fair share of balloon dogs and, their cousins, the balloon poodle. I made some balloon flowers and a balloon hat or two (lame). I remember attempting a monkey once. But it exploded in my hands and I kind of lost my nerve. Balloon animal PTSD? I think I may have had it.

My love for balloon animals, however, remained, which is why I went absolutely nuts this week when I saw this amazing piece about a dinosaur sculpted out of balloons. If only someone had told 10-year-old me that my balloon animal obsession was monetizable. Perhaps, then, I would have stuck with it.

Five Things I’m Obsessing About This Week (and maybe you should, too): JUNE 5, 2013

1. Nothing tops dinosaurs, but these balloon sculptures are pretty cool, too. (Though I’ll skip the balloon dress for prom, thank you very much.)

2. As someone who loves all things food-related, I can’t stop laughing at this.

3. I can hear the vows now: With this ring, I thee…/May the force be with you.

4. Past and present collide in this hilarious cartoon about dance.

5. As far as cuteness goes, these beat balloon dogs by a mile. And yes, clearly, they ARE the secret to world peace.

Happy Wednesday!

This Week’s Favorite: Orphan Train

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This week’s favorite is one I just had to read in one sitting. You won’t be able to put it down, either.

In a shocking twist, I have a new favorite book. Maybe not a favorite favorite. But certainly one I’ll be reading again–and I don’t say that about many books these days.

In Orphan Train, Niamh (pronounced “Neeve”) is just nine years old when a tenement fire kills the other members of her family, all recent immigrants from Ireland. Though Niamh is no romantic–she’s well aware of her father’s drinking problem, and of her mother’s lazy, entitled temperament–even the warmth of her dysfunctional family is preferable to what happens to her next. Packed up with a group of New York City orphans, she rides the train to the Midwest, where “good Christian families” will surely save their souls from destitution, and the horrors of early 20th-century Manhattan.

The reality, of course, is much grimmer, especially for a girl like Niamh. With her red hair, she’s unmistakeably Irish–a problem during this prejudiced era. Worse, she’s “nearly grown”–and let’s just say that the “good Christian ladies” of the Midwest aren’t keen to invite a young lady of questionable origin into their homes.

Niamh, however, is a survivor. I won’t give away what happens to her once she reaches the Midwest, as the cruelties–and small comforts–of her odyssey are what make this book so compelling. Life in the far, cold reaches of Minnesota isn’t easy for anyone in the 1930s. But it’s especially difficult for Niamh, who fights for her rights, her dignity, even her life, before she finally finds a place to call home.

Some reviewers of Orphan Train have complained that what makes this book a great book instead of a really great book is the way Niamh’s story is interwoven with that of a present-day adolescent: 17-year-old Molly, who has been shunted between more foster homes than she can count. And I agree: At least during the first half of this book, I struggled with being ripped away from Niamh’s story, which was both the more compelling, and the better realized, of the two.

But if this book has one fault, it’s not so much Molly’s story as it is the lack of care I felt was lavished on her story. While the characters in Niamh’s portion of the book are well-drawn and nuanced, many of the characters in Molly’s felt like caricatures.

As things started to come together in the second half, however–as Molly’s story merged with Niamh’s–I began to forgive the author her shortcuts in the telling of Molly’s tale. Truthfully, Molly was not so much a second protagonist as she was a supporting player in Niamh’s story. And the payoff–the interwoven tale that emerges in the end–enabled me to forgive the faults in Molly’s segments, and to revel in a poignant, pitch-perfect ending.

Not a flawless book to be sure. But like I said: A new favorite, at least for now, nevertheless.

Ghosts of Obsessions Past

Yes, she's a doll. And yes, I'm still obsessed.

Yes, she’s a doll. And yes, I’m still obsessed.

Do unfulfilled childhood obsessions ever really leave us? Perhaps their presence isn’t felt with the same intensity. But they linger somewhere in the background: Ghosts of obsessions past.

I was reminded of this recently when a friend’s daughter greeted me with her newly-gifted American Girl Doll. This wasn’t one of the original dolls–the historical ones that masqueraded as “educational toys.” This was a straight-up expensive-as-heck little girl doll–with the same hair color as my friend’s daughter, and even, for the giant of wallet, the same clothes.

Back before dolls were the literal extensions of our childhood selves, I dreamed of an American Girl Doll of my own. I oscillated between Kirsten (of Swedish ancestry and pioneer spirit), and Felicity (a feisty redhead from the Revolutionary War), ultimately deciding that Felicity was a better fit for my personality type.

Unfortunately for me, Felicity was not a fit for my parents’ bank account.

So I did what every American Girl-deprived female of my generation did: I checked all the AG books out of the library. I pored over every AG catalog that came in the mail. And then I made do with my family of dolls from Toys ‘R Us, knowing that my parents were not to be budged.

Several years later, when I was nearing the end of my doll-playing days, my sister was the lucky recipient of Molly, the spirited (were any of the AG dolls not some iteration of “spirited”?), bespectacled doll from World War II. I had a raging case of jealousy, and an older sister’s wisdom: My parents could hold out with one daughter, but not, in the end, with two.

Because I know my mother will read this and leave me a message on Facebook about it, I’ll add here that it was at this point, at the age of 14, that I was finally offered a doll of my own. And though I wrestled with the temptation that accompanies every girl’s unfulfilled AG obsession, teenage self-knowledge eventually won out. I still wanted Felicity, and I wanted her bad. But I knew I was too old to give her the attention she deserved. (OK, yes, I also couldn’t imagine the post-Christmas conversation with my friends. “So what did you get for Christmas?” “Oh, you know. Just an American Girl doll.”)

And yet, as my friend’s five-year-old regaled me with tales of choosing her doll, as she showed me each piece of miniature clothing, each darling little accessory, I felt that old childhood longing rise within me once again.

“I wish I had an American Girl doll,” I told her, as we fixed her look-alike’s hair.

She looked up at me and, with the wisdom of a child suggested, “You’re a grown-up with money. You could just buy one for yourself.”

5 Things I’m Obsessing About This Week (AG dolls included): MAY 29, 2013

1. Based on this post, it won’t be hard to figure out who I am on this list. Will I ever NOT be obsessed? (Don’t answer that.)

2. Trippy. (But good for summer reading.)

3. I’m just a little excited about this recycling project. How cool is that?!

4. And speaking of recycling, all hail the giant stomach!

5. It’s almost time to turn off my oven during a long, hot summer. But before I do, must have THESE.

Happy Wednesday!

Reading Rituals: Comfort Books

"Parting is such sweet sorrow." But books help make it more bearable.

“Parting,” wrote the Bard, “is such sweet sorrow.” Count on books to make it more bearable.

My friends are moving away. This isn’t accompanied by the bleak, devastating sadness I felt the first time they left. (Yes, they’ve already moved from Boston to the West Coast once, then returned, and are now en route to the West Coast once again.) We’ve seen that our friendship endures, in spite of location. And the proliferation of Skype and FaceTime has made keeping in touch, even seeing each other, possible in a way that helps to ease the ache–at least a little.

Still, after we hugged goodbye last night, I came home knowing that I needed something. I needed a good book–a comfort book.

Books have comforted me throughout much of my life. When I was fourteen, and indentured (er, I mean, when I’d hired myself out) to a new mother for several weeks, I sought refuge in Nancy Drew Double Mysteries when Mommy Dearest turned into a raging crazy lady. During my afternoons off, I would use a carefully-designated 1/3 of my week’s earnings to purchase as many Double Mysteries as I could afford. Back at the asylum, I would count the hours until my blessed release from childcare duties (and outbursts from Mommy), when I could lock myself in my room and be whisked off to the land of immortal teenage sleuths and their harrowing exploits. During that brief interlude with Nancy each night, Mommy was out of the picture; I was comforted.

This isn’t to say that I still go running to Nancy when the going gets tough. My comfort books have changed over time. Also: Comfort books do not necessarily = my favorite books ever. My need for a read that soothes the soul doesn’t usually send me reaching for From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. A Wrinkle in Time isn’t usually high on the list, either. Comfort books, it seems, are a breed of their own. And so, too, are the reading rituals that accompany them.

Reading Rituals, Part 3: Comfort Books

Ritual #1: Select the book. There is an art to this process that begins with gauging my mood. Do I want to lift my spirits, or revel in a purgative cry? Am I looking to escape through a portal to another world, or steep myself in the warm bubble bath of a good, old-fashioned story? If I want to be entertained, I generally go for a Roald Dahl classic, or something by Astrid Lindgren. Catharsis sends me toward books by Cynthia Voigt or anything by Lois Lenski. Portal to another world? Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, or, here’s an exception to the favorite books rule, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. As for a good, old-fashioned tale, there’s nothing like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy to soothe a troubled heart.

Ritual #2: Read it all the way through. I mean in one sitting. Comfort books are not meant to be eaten daintily, like some kind of finger sandwich at high tea. Comfort books are meant to be gorged upon. Comfort books are meant to be devoured in one delicious marathon.

Ritual #3: Revel. I can’t explain why my comfort books are my comfort books, or why any given book may end up comforting me at any given time. I can’t recommend comfort books to other people; they’re distinctly personal, and unique to time and place. But I know I’ve found a good one when, after I finish the last page, I can revel in the warmth the story has left behind. When I can feel, for one brief moment, like a child again–the child who first read and loved that book.

Of course, I’ll still miss my friends. But at least I have books to comfort me in their absence.

Haul Out the Challah

Challah is supposed to evoke this kind of loveliness. Mine evoked frustration and mania.

A loaf of challah is supposed to evoke this kind of loveliness. Mine evoked frustration and mania.

As an avid baker, nothing gets me obsessed like a recipe that doesn’t turn out quite right. Baking, after all, is a science. There are reasons why certain cookies are chewy, and why some are crunchy. There are reasons why your loaf of bread is dense and gummy instead of airy and chewy. I like baking because of the chemistry, because of the way I can tweak an ingredient and predict the result.

Except when it comes to challah.

I was not intimidated at the thought of baking challah, but maybe I should have been. I’ve baked hundreds of loaves of bread at this point. I wasn’t feeling cocky exactly; but with all that experience, I kind of figured, How hard could it be? Plus, I was enchanted by the photo of the loaf that my college friend had posted on her Facebook page. I had to have it. I needed to make it. I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into a slice of bread that was rich with egg, and possessed of a lovely pull-apart texture. I stared longingly at the strands of buttery dough, then fired off a message asking for the recipe.

I was even (mostly) undaunted by the fact that the recipe was in metric. Featuring weights, not volumes, of ingredients. I pulled out my trusty scale and gave myself a pep talk. But halfway through measuring the flour, the scale malfunctioned.

Panic ensued. Thankfully, we live in the age of the internet, when anything–and I mean anything–can be Googled. So I began to Google challah recipes. From there, I was able to approximate the volumes of the rest of the ingredients. The dough, after it had risen once and been braided, looked perfect. The baking bread, developing an enviable tan in the oven, smelled perfect.

The baked bread, cut into and consumed with perhaps a little too much zeal, was not perfect. My loaf didn’t pull apart to reveal challah-colored cotton candy strands of glorious gluten the way my friend’s did. My loaf, in fact, was a little dry. A bit dense. It had a good flavor, but as I stared longingly at my friend’s loaf once more, I felt that familiar baking feeling: frustration tinged with mania.

And thus began the second round of Googling. Apparently, a somewhat cake-like texture is the norm with this bread. But as I traveled deeper into the wormhole that is the mastery of challah, I discovered that there’s a lot of disagreement out there about what makes the perfect loaf. Some recipes call for honey. Some for sugar. Some are adamant about butter. Others rely on oil. The deeper I got, the more obsessed I became.

Something tells me I’m going to be eating a lot of challah.

5 Things I’m Obsessing About This Week (besides challah recipes): MAY 22, 2013

1. Ellen is my hero. “Fitch, please.”

2. As readers, we should all appreciate these totally insane outlines, made by authors we know and love. As a writer, I’m having a sudden moment of validation regarding the index cards that are taped all over one of the walls in my living room.

3. And while we’re on the subject of writing, here’s something for those days when you feel like the revisions are never going to end. Should I be comforted by this, or alarmed by all the work that is to come? (Either way, I’m obsessed.)

4. It’s feeling like summer here, but I can’t go on vacation–yet. Good thing I found these photos this week. Now I can travel someplace magical…in my mind.

5. And just FYI, once I master the standard loaf, I’m going after this challah recipe. Victory, you will be mine. (You had to know there would be a challah link, didn’t you?)

Happy Wednesday!

My Favorite Book. This Week.

A new favorite. At least until the next one comes along.

A new favorite. At least until the next one comes along.

Just because a book doesn’t make it onto my Top 10 list doesn’t mean that it can’t be a temporary favorite. Ask any of my friends, and they’ll tell you that I can hardly go a week without rhapsodizing over one new title, or another. Or, in the case of this book, which fell into my eager hands at the beginning of 2013, I went several weeks, possibly longer, without letting up on my relentless championing of a story I was sure that everyone would love as much as I did. (Um, p.s. They did.)

I can’t say that this week’s favorite rises quite to the level of Code Name Verity or Out of the Easy, but that’s partly just because it’s a very different kind of book. In The Milk of Birds, pen pals K.C. and Nawra are living lives that are worlds apart. K.C. has her share of problems–low test scores and failing grades being among them–but her life in Suburbia USA is nothing compared to what Nawra faces as a refugee in Darfur. The girls’ letters, however, slowly bridge the cultural, economic, and national divides, and a remarkable friendship develops.

One of the things that makes this book a more unusual addition to my recent favorites list is that there’s not a lot of plot. The story is much more about character, and about the relationship, cultural understanding, and self-knowledge that emerges out of K.C.’s and Nawra’s correspondence. That could make a novel like this feel slow, but both these characters, and especially Nawra, whose experience is so “exotic” (that is, so far removed from my own), are compelling enough to carry the book forward at a decent pace. I was genuinely invested in both these teenagers–almost from the start. And my desire to see how their lives–and friendship–took shape is what propelled me forward through this novel’s 380-odd pages.

One other aspect of note. Books juxtaposing first world countries with third world countries, American teenagers with teenagers in developing nations, can be difficult to pull off. I’ve read enough of these types of stories that have been unsuccessful that I was on high alert for anything in this one that could register as a kind of savior complex, or condescending pity in place of genuine care and understanding. Kudos to Sylvia Whitman: I really feel like The Milk of Birds dials the first world/third world dynamic in perfectly. In fact, it is Nawra, with her wisdom and understanding, who is the real star of this book, and what K.C. (and we, the readers) feel for her, is respect. Her strength, in spite of the horrors she’s been through, forms the backbone of this amazing story.

I could say more, but that might not leave anything for the upcoming Pick of the Week featuring this newly-beloved title. Instead, I’ll leave you with the plea that my friends have heard far too often: Get this book. Read it. Love it. ASAP.

You Light Up My Life

There is actually deep significance to every aspect of this picture. Which is why I chose it. So you're forced to read the books.

There is actually deep significance to every aspect of this picture. Which is why I chose it. So you go so crazy with curiosity that you’re forced to read the books.

In Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy, the neon-glowing aurora borealis aren’t just otherworldly; they’re actually the doorway to another world. If you haven’t yet read The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass, I won’t spoil the magical universe of these books by revealing anything more about the significance of the Northern Lights. But you should know that you won’t be able to read Pullman’s stories without wanting to experience the aurora for yourself.

In middle school and high school, I lived in Minnesota and spent a few summer weekends in the northern parts of the state where the (aptly-named) Northern Lights tend to make their appearances. But I never saw them. I experienced Lake Superior water so cold that it took my breath away (in August!) and mosquitoes the size of drones. But the aurora remained elusive.

The elusiveness only heightened my obsession.

This week, thanks to a photographer in northern Michigan, I was finally able to experience the heavenly phenomenon that had taken on such epic proportions in my imagination. And no, watching a time-lapse video of the Northern Lights isn’t the same as experiencing them in person. But: baby steps. Sometimes, with obsessions, you have to take what you can get.

5 Things I’m Obsessing About This Week (and maybe you should, too): MAY 15, 2013

1. Northern Lights. Northern Lights. Northern Lights!

2. Last week, I talked about the princessification of our society. Here’s one photographer mom who is teaching her daughter what it really means to be a lady. LOVE IT.

3. And speaking of girl power, check out this woman, who’s breaking all sorts of boundaries (and stereotypes). I’ve been running all week thanks to her.

4. It wasn’t me–I SWEAR. (Even though typos on signs are sorely tempting for my inner editor.)

5. From the sublime to the ridiculous: CAN’T. STOP. LAUGHING. at THIS. Caption to #18: “Byeeeeeeeee!”

Happy Wednesday!

Reading Rituals: Scary Stories

the witches

Thanks, Quentin Blake, for an image that has been permanently seared into my memory. (Illustration from Roald Dahl’s “The Witches.”)

I have never been good with suspense. Perhaps I was scarred for all time after my second grade teacher decided that it would be a “fun treat” to show “Poltergeist” to a class of seven- and eight-year-olds. I’ve always had an active imagination, but even 15 minutes of watching bloody children whipped around in a paranormal frenzy was enough to kick it into overdrive. I fled the room and swore off scary movies forever.

Cut to a decade later. I’m watching “Prince of Egypt” with a group of college friends. I already know how the slaughter of first-born sons goes down–I didn’t go to Sunday School for nothing. But when the Egyptians are portrayed, only in shadow, raising weapons that look like meat cleavers, I can’t help myself. I scream and duck behind a pillow.

“Babe,” laughed my best guy friend at the time. “It’s a cartoon.”

My attitude about all things scary/suspenseful wasn’t much different for works of literature. Although a class I took later in college–“Tragedy and Horror” (I know, it just screams “Jenny,” doesn’t it?)–exposed me to enough truly terrifying fiction, and the philosophy behind it, that I began to find I could handle a little more of the suspenseful stuff.

In small doses. With the lights on. With my blankie by my side.

OK, I’m kidding about the blankie. But there are certain rituals that accompany my reading of scary or suspenseful books. Today, I still steer clear of most stories high in the creepy factor. Every once-in-a-while, though, when I’m in the mood for a small, carefully-calibrated adrenaline rush, I’ll pick one up–and commence with:

Reading Rituals, Part 2: Scary Stories

Ritual #1: Do not read after 5pm. Just DON’T. Yes, I am a wuss, and I wholeheartedly embrace my wussiness. I’ll read my scary stories, thankyouverymuch, but just don’t expect me to do it when it’s dark outside…or close to the time when I’m trying to fall asleep.

Ritual #2: Read another book at the same time. A happy book, full of ponies and sunshine. OK, scrap the ponies, but I’ve got to have another title that I can switch over to at a moment’s notice–just in case things get too intense. Ramona Quimby books work well for this purpose. Or any book on my favorites list.

Ritual #3: If it gets too scary, flip to the end. I know, I know. Here I am, one of literature’s great champions, actively advocating for spoiling a story. For some people, knowing how a book turns out ruins all the fun. For me, it makes the read more fun. My heart rate slows considerably when I can go back to Chapter 4 knowing that so-and-so dies, but that someone else doesn’t. I used to try to soldier through–to enjoy the feeling that the escalating suspense left in my chest. But I couldn’t enjoy it. So now I spoil stories for myself and have a merry old time going back to the beginning afterward.

Ritual #4: Don’t end on the scary book. I just can’t. No matter how busy I am, once I set down the tome of terror, I have to find something else to read–even if it’s a few pages of a food magazine, or a series of blog posts from one of my favorite sites. Whatever my final exposure to the written word that day, it better be cheery and suspense-free. After all, I’ll have plenty of time for my imagination to run away with me…later.

What will you be reading this weekend?

Cover Girl

booksYA author Maureen Johnson thinks too many people judge books by their covers–especially those in charge of designing the artwork intended to grab readers’ attention. Why so many female-centric cover designs? Why not more books with gender-neutral covers that appeal to all segments of the population–not just the excessively girly types?

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised about the princessification (yes, I really did just make up that word) of book jackets. Somehow, Disney has managed to brainwash the under-eight set into believing that life is all about becoming a tiny-waisted, doe-eyed prince-magnet, complete with pastel-colored flouncy dresses. Taking their cue from this wildly-successful princess-industrial complex, designers and marketers (including those in the publishing industry) have apparently decided that when it comes to selling to the young ladies, the girlier the better.

As a female, I’ve been alert to this phenomenon, and often annoyed by covers that telegraph “chick lit” even for books that clearly aren’t. Princess-ness (however that theme may be interpreted by cover artists–rainbows? butterflies? girls with long Disney hair, blowing in the wind?) has never appealed to me–and has appealed even less over the last few years as dozens and dozens of uber-girly book jackets have tried to woo me with our shared “femininity.”

But what irks me more is that, in Ms. Johnson’s own words: “…if you are a female author, you are much more likely to get the package that suggests the book is of a lower perceived quality. Because it’s ‘girly,’ which is somehow inherently different and easier on the palate. A man and a woman can write books about the same subject matter, at the same level of quality, and that woman is simple more likely to get the soft-sell cover with the warm glow and the feeling of smooth jazz blowing off of it.”

Every fiber of my women’s college-educated being joins with Johnson in railing against this kind of ghettoization. Because that’s what it is. It’s saying that books women write shouldn’t be taken seriously. Here’s just one interesting compare and contrast moment. Jennifer E. Smith and Pete Hautman both wrote books about falling in love. But check out the cover of The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight in comparison to the cover of The Big Crunch. Now try to tell me we don’t have a problem.

Alas, as much as I’d like to rail against the art departments of various publishing houses, I think the problem is bigger than that. Not just culturally bigger. I’m talking about a society-wide shift that needs to take place, and in fact, I think that shift has more to do with readers than it does those supplying us with books.

The problem, in my mind, comes down to the painful reality not just that we do judge books by their covers, but that we also judge readers by the covers of their books. It saddened me to hear that male readers feel uncomfortable picking up some of Johnson’s books because their jackets don’t exactly telegraph manliness. But to that I say: So what? Why should it matter what book a guy or girl reads? (Answer: It shouldn’t.) Why does it seem to matter? Because as a society, we’re simply too caught up in finding ways to assert our masculinity or femininity, or whatever aspect of our gender we feel is necessary to define us.

So while I’d love to see publishers exercise a little more creativity (and gender neutrality) in their design choices, ultimately, I think the burden is on us. The burden is on us to see that masculinity and femininity can be expressed in a million different ways–yes, by both genders–and that it’s just as possible for a woman to be strong as it is for her to be gentle, or for a guy to be sensitive as it is for him to be authoritative. We are more than our soft hips or broad shoulders. We are the thoughts we choose to think, and the qualities we choose to express. And our society (and, by extension, the publishing industry) will be benefited to the degree that we embrace this fact.

On the other hand, we could all just get e-readers. No one will ever know (or judge us for) what we’re reading again.

Paging Thelonious Monk

I wasn't always so diligent about practicing during my childhood...

I wasn’t always so diligent (or obsessive) about practicing during my childhood…

Obsessions aren’t necessarily passive. They aren’t just about listening to a song over and over (though you know I’ve done that, um, a lot), or re-reading a favorite book, or re-making a favorite recipe. Sometimes, obsessions spur us to action–serious, all-consuming action that may seem a little off-the-beam to anyone who happens to witness it.

Some people get trips abroad, or a car, or fine jewelry when they graduate. My parents gave me a piano. Since I was moving to Boston, to a small apartment in a four-story walk-up, a real piano wasn’t practical. So we settled on a digital piano with excellent key action (for non-musicians, this just means that the keys are weighted, so they feel and act like real piano keys) and a sound that gets as close to the real deal as you can in the world of simulated piano sounds. Lucky for me, novice organ player that I am, it offered an organ setting as well.

Like all digital and electronic keyboards, this piano also possessed a demo function, featuring 30 seconds of music for each of its instrumental settings. These aren’t bona fide pieces of music–nothing recognizable from Beethoven or Bach or Brahms. But one of the ditties caught my attention. It had a certain free-spirited, I’m-making-this-up-as-I-go-along jazz piano feel to it. I had to learn it. And so the obsession began.

I won’t bore you with the details of how I went about figuring out and mastering this unknown, probably un-scored piece of music. Suffice it to say that what commenced was an unseemly number of hours spent listening to, then playing back (as best I could) portions of this “song.” By the end of the weekend, though, I had it. Right down to that last, triumphant note. Success, sweet success, was mine. (Though I do wonder if the screaming I heard from the neighbor’s apartment had anything to do with my unrelenting practice session.)

None of this week’s obsessions rise to the level of my whirlwind weekend of digital piano music compulsiveness, but that’s probably a good thing (both for you, and for our collective neighbors). What I hope they will do, however, is bring you a smile or two to the middle of your week. So, without further ado, here are my 5 Things I’m Obsessing About Right Now (and maybe you should, too).

MAY 8, 2013

1. I kind of think this send-up of us ladies and our nighttime routines is genius, especially the denouement. (p.s. I may have watched it so many times that I now have it memorized. May have.) Caution: profanity.

2. Last week, we had tiny books, this week: tiny libraries! Awwww, aren’t they cute?!

3. Love Macbeth, love Alan Cumming, WISH I could see this play in its entirety live!

4. It’s almost strawberry season! (But I kind of want this now.)

5. Gahhhhh. SO FREAKING ADORABLE!

Happy Wednesday!