The Best Show You Aren’t Watching: Call the Midwife

Call the Midwife
Call the Midwife Cast (Source: PBS)

Up until I moved out of my mother’s house to go to college, I had a strict 30 minutes of television per week rule. There were a couple exceptions—I could watch anything and everything on PBS (I watched A LOT of Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, and Yan Can Cook as a kid) and as much of the news as my heart desired. The upshot to this was that I was a well-informed child (my mom likes to tell people about the time when, at age 5, I asked her what a prophylactic is) who took a great interest in cooking, and learned to carefully and artfully arranged the many egg-based creations I concocted in the kitchen. And, because I’m a child of the 90s, I chose my weekly junk TV from ABC’s now defunct TGIF lineup—a heartwarming assortment of family sitcoms delivered live in front of a studio audience. Every episode was filled with sanitized hijinx, and ended with a moment where any and all conflict was resolved with a huge bear hug. My world of television was safe and tame, warm, and happy.

 
My arrival at college and freedom to watch whatever I wanted coincided with the resurgence of reality television—I remember eating pizza in my dorm room and watching Joe Millionaire with a friend (if you are not familiar with this show, it’s like The Bachelor except the women are tricked into believing the bachelor is a millionaire, and then they find out he isn’t, but not until the end), watching knock down drag out fights on The Real World: Chicago, and, around my senior year in college, my university ponied up for HBO in our dorm rooms, which opened up a whole new world of television. I became obsessed with Rome, a sex and violence drenched drama about the Roman Empire.

 
In the years since college, my television watching habits have only gotten more and more voracious. I pay Comcast more than I care to admit, my DVR gets more of workout each day than I do, and I spend a good chunk of my weekend mornings catching up on the shows that I couldn’t manage to watch during the week. Last fall, during a bout of unemployment, and in desperate need of inspiration, I started looking through my DVR in search of something positive. I came up short—though my DVR is filled to the brim most days of the week, almost every show is a beautifully shot, beautifully acted tour through a cast of wildly unlikeable characters. There are very few modern, adult equivalentsof the TGIF lineup, most shows now leave you crying because “OMG WHAT DID I JUST WATCH?!” Which is great—not every show needs to be fluffy and wonderful and uplifting. But it felt like sometimes, it might be nice for just one show to fit that bill. And that’s when I discovered Call the Midwife.

 
Set in post-World War II 1950s London, Call the Midwife is a BBC-produced gem that airs Sunday nights on PBS. It centers around a group of nurses and nuns who deliver babies in London’s East End—the area of the city hardest hit during World War II. The premise is simple—each episode focuses on a birth or two. Some births are straightforward (well, as straightforward as any act that involves bringing a new life into the world can be) and some are more complicated, occasionally involving teen pregnancy, interracial affairs, and health problems. And though the subject matter itself may lead you to believe the show is all puffery, pink cheeked babies, and pious nuns, it is much more than that. The nuns and midwives are wonderfully fleshed out into actual, relatable human beings. These are people who have their own sets of issues—pride, vanity, stubbornness. But you always root for them and always want what’s best for them.

 
It’s rare to find a show that is both well-written and heartwarming, but Call the Midwife combines all the elements of other popular shows—stylized period dramas with a high attention to detail, multi-faceted characters, wonderful costuming, excellent acting. Rarer still is the idea that I don’t have to put aside my ideas of right and wrong (like *ahem* on my favorite show Scandal where I root for a murderous President to continue a kind of emotionally abusive relationship with a woman outside of his marriage) to root for these characters. And the show is unabashedly sentimental, giving great care and detail to the amazing, miraculous, and Herculean act of childbirth. I have joked to friends and family that the show makes me want to staple my legs together, but really, watching women give birth, at home, in a time without ultrasounds or epidurals, gives me a greater respect for the act of childbirth than I ever had before.

 
It is by no means a show for everyone—it is slow, there are no special effects, no one will ever be beheaded, and there are no supernatural creatures. But it is a beautiful show, one that celebrates the very act of bringing life into this world, and the journeys we take once we’ve arrived.

 
You can find seasons 1 and 2 on Netflix, and the new episodes air every Sunday at 8/7 Central on your local PBS affiliate.

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Friday Five: Here Comes the Sun

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetAs a child, spring cleaning meant a trip to my grandma’s house to help her clean the baseboards, dust her beautiful tea service, and shine my Easter Sunday shoes into sparkling white submission. As an adult, spring cleaning has taken on a dual meaning–yes, definitely baseboard cleaning, but also taking time to overhaul my beauty routine for the change in seasons. I use spring as a primer for summer, a time to repair my winter weather beaten skin, hair, and sun and prepare them for the coming of (sometimes fleeting) warm weather months here in Seattle. Here are the five products that help me shift into high gear for the return of the sun.

  • Caudalie Eau de Beaute ($18 for a 1 oz bottle, $49 for a 3.4 oz bottle) This darling of the beauty blogger world is actually all it is cracked up to be. I like to think of it as a combo toner/liquid version of the smelling salts fancy ladies use in movies about the Victorian era. It’s filled with essential oils and the soothing smells of mint and lavender, and leaves your skin feeling refreshed, while adding a wonderful glow to your skin. After a winter of loading my skin up with moisturizer, it’s nice to use something so lightweight.
  • The Body Shop Almond Body Butter ($20 for a 6.75 oz tub) I wandered into The Body Shop one day a couple weeks ago–I hadn’t set foot in a store for years and years, but the smell of an Almond Body Butter sample being distributed out front drew me in. Despite the name, this will not clog up your pores. I use it after I shower–it doesn’t leave a greasy film and it’s actually lighter in weight and texture than the body moisturizer I use in the winter. I think the scent is a good spring scent–light, bright, refreshing.
  • The Body Shop Shea Body Scrub ($20 for a 7.9 oz tub) I recently read some horrible statistic on Twitter (one of those accounts that has “facts” without sources, so I definitely should’ve taken it with a grain of salt) about the amount of dead skin cells that make a sort of layer of filth on top of your actual alive skin. That, coupled with my increasingly gray winter pallor, creeped me out on a level I’m not totally comfortable with, so when I saw that body scrubs were on sale during my trip to The Body Shop, I snatched one up immediately in the hopes that I could make my skin feel totally clean and new again. This scrub does the dirty work of essentially dusting (exfoliating) your skin, but also rehydrating it, and boosting it with Vitamin A and E. Perfect for the spring cleaning your skin so desperately needs post winter weather.
  • Oribe Gold Lust Nourishing Hair Oil ($36 for a 1.7 fl. oz travel-sized bottle, $48 for a 3.4 fl. oz bottle) During the winter, I generally use one of Oribe’s Leave-In Conditioners as my hair moisturizer. But in the spring and summer months in Seattle, when the moist, humid, marine air returns, the leave-in conditioner becomes too heavy and leaves my hair a little greasier than I’d like. So I switch to Oribe’s Gold Lust Nourishing Hair Oil–it’s lightweight but packs a heavy punch in terms of protecting your hair from heat damage (I love my flat iron) and also keeping your hair shiny and healthy looking, without being too heavy. It’s not cheap, but I only need to use a pea-sized amount for my thick, curly hair.
  • Julep Nail Kit (Free With Julep Manicure) I am not really a mani/pedi kind of girl. I categorically loathe not just all feet, but mine in particular, and because I am incredibly clutzy and hard on my hands, nail polish chips away in record time (yes, I have tried Shellac manicures. EVEN THOSE CHIP.). But I still see the importance of well-groomed nails, so I recently stopped into a Julep Salon for the first time. The whole experience was blog post worthy, so I might save that for another time, but one of the things I loved most about the service was that they send you home with some of the tools the technician used on your paws–a nail buffer, nail brush, and nail file. After a few months of shoving your hands deep into gloves and pockets for warmth, your cuticles and nail beds could probably use some love. And this mini kit sets you up nicely with all you need to make your hands worthy of warms rays of early spring sun.

Recipe for Success: Wardrobe Planning

photo(1)Spring is slowly unfurling its leaves here in Seattle–beautiful cherry blossoms providing technicolor relief from the rows and rows of evergreen trees, and an occasional burst of Vitamin D and warmth from the elusive sun mean that I will soon have to retire my trusty Spanx tights in favor of bare legs. Which means this is a great time to do a inventory of my closet, and get started on updating one of my Sunday night rituals–planning out a wardrobe for the week ahead.

As I noted in my Dress for Success post, I lay out my clothes for the next day every night before I go to bed. It’s a habit hard wired from childhood, and one that I love more and more with each passing year. I’ve recently upped by type-A quotient by laying out my entire wardrobe for the week on Sunday nights. Insane? Possibly. Wildly efficient? ABSOLUTELY. I wake up at 5:45 each day (my dog requires a long a.m. walk), and even though I’m a morning person, I would be lying to you if I told you I am at 100 percent the moment my feet hit the floor. So, in order to avoid repeating that one time where I wore two different black shoes to the bus stop, I plan pretty far in advance now.

Here’s what you need:

  • Five hangers
  • Five Ziplock/Plastic Storage Bags
  • Your Local Five Day Weather Forecast
  • A hole punch

Sunday morning is laundry time chez moi, so as I fold my clothes, I make a small pile of things I think I might want to wear the next week. I then take a look at the five day weather forecast for Seattle, have a good laugh and make sure my trusty umbrella is in my purse (people will tell you that Seattleites don’t use umbrellas. This isn’t true. People who walk/take the bus/have curly hair live and die by umbrellas in Seattle), and figure out how I will layer things to ensure that if the sun does come out, I won’t be boiling in a thick sweater. I put my clothes (usually dresses, to be perfectly honest) on the hanger, and then put any accessories, as well as…under things, in the Ziplock bag, and loop it onto the hanger. Hang it up in your closet, with the shoes that you’d like to wear with your outfit underneath it.

I know it sounds a little insane, and maybe over the top.  I like to think of it as the low-tech version of Cher Horowitz’s closet. But, all jokes aside, people frequently ask me how I look so put together each day at work, and the answer is that I am in fact a deeply lazy person who enjoys planning. With my wardrobe planned out for the week, all I have to do each morning is get up, clean up, and get dressed. There’s no thinking about where an earring back is, or where those tights might be, or where that one shirt is. It’s all laid out, and I can get ready in 20 minutes or less. So, embrace your inner type-A, Cher Horowitz, and do a little wardrobe planning in advance of your work week. It’ll save you a few minutes each morning, and give you an extra dose of sanity before heading into the office.

Adventures in Shopping While Black

When I first started shopping alone as a teenager, my mother cautioned me about how to behave–never carry too big a purse, don’t fiddle around in your purse, never linger too long, always keep your hands in plain sight. Why? Because some people will think that since you’re a black person, your first instinct at a store is to steal. Like most advice my mom doled out to me as a teenager, I filed it away under the “she worries TOO MUCH” category. Until one day when we were shopping together at a GAP store in suburban Houston. The moment we walked into the store, a woman tailed us. She offered to take the clothes we were holding and keep them at the register, and at every turn, she was about three feet behind us, watching us closely. My mom, annoyed, and probably a little embarrassed, tried to get us to leave and shop some place else. But at 13, I was headstrong and stubbornly insistent upon wearing the then steadfastly preppy clothes sold at the GAP. So we stayed. At the cash register, before my mom could even open her wallet, the saleswoman who had tailed us through the store told us that they didn’t accept checks, even though there was a sign at the register clearing indicating that they did. Words were exchanged, and in the end, my mom wrote a letter to the GAP. But the biggest lesson I learned that day nearly two decades ago was that my mom was right–some people will assume you are only in a store to steal.

Since then, I’ve been in more than a few stores where I’ve been tailed–Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, LOFT, and Banana Republic to name a few. The tactics varied by store–sometimes, people will offer to keep my purse behind the counter, other times, they’ll offer to take my purse and whatever I’m holding, and sometimes, in truly awful cases, will tail me and then offer to take my purse and would-be purchases. Unlike my patient mother, I refuse to buy clothes from places that treat me and my money like second class citizens. And I haven’t purchased anything from those stores in years.

For the most part, I would like this blog to be the home to all things pleasant and lovely and/or funny–a recipe here, a recap there, some travel photographs, and maybe a few navel gazing posts on what it means to be a single, career-minded woman in 2014. But today’s post will be a little different; it will be about what it means to be a black woman in 2014.

It can be easy for people to think that because we have a black President, we live in a post-racial America. Where color doesn’t exist, and where we are judged merely on what generation iPhone we carry. But that is a stupid assumption to make. Racism in America today is simply masked differently–something I was reminded of on a trip to west elm a couple weeks ago.

But my experiences at west elm, which I’ve detailed below in the note I sent to their customer service and support team, were an unholy combination of piss poor customer service and racial profiling. In response (also below), their team offered me free shipping. So, I can’t go into your store without being trailed. But I can shop online? No, I’ll pass.

The weekend after this happened, I went to Crate and Barrel to look at sofas. Not only was their sales support helpful and knowledgeable, but no one followed me through the store waiting for me to steal things. I was acknowledged when I walked into the store, asked if I needed help, and then left in peace. I understand that stores face a seemingly endless battle with shoplifters, and that they do their best to keep people from stealing. But basing my treatment in-store on the color of my skin, rather than me actually doing something suspicious, is racism, plain and simple.

The fact of the matter is that at some level, this racism, or “racial profiling” is accepted, and probably encouraged–not officially, obviously. There’s no way that I would encounter the same ridiculous attitudes at multiple stores if it wasn’t–a one off incident of a rude, harried salesperson? Sure. But an entire store that seemed complicit in making sure that I didn’t try to drop a sofa in my purse? That is a company-wide, or at minimum, that particular store-wide, culture. I’m sure that a post on my blog won’t do anything to change the fact that this happens, but I hope it raises awareness among would-be shoppers, black and not black, that this occurs, and that maybe we can’t stop it from happening, but we can stop spending money at places where racial profiling is an unofficial part of doing business.

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The Bachelor Season Finale: Ees Not Okay

Juany Pabs, it's not okay.
Juany Pabs, it’s not okay.

“I can feel the cinnamon in my brain, like it’s frying or burning or something,” I shouted at friends at a bar this past weekend, to a smattering of laughs and also slightly worried faces. That is how I feel as I’ve watched this season of The Bachelor...my brain feels vaguely entertained, but also fried, and like there might be lingering side effects from prolonged exposure to Juany Pabs. Last season, Juan Pablo emerged as the delightfully earnest, hunky, foreign dude on The Bachelorette, all abs and honey hued hair and a winning smile. Desiree said she didn’t have chemistry with him, and women across the country smacked themselves in the head–“LOOK AT HIM,” we all shouted.

It turns out that Juan Pablo is kind of the worst. I won’t judge his language skills because there are definitely millions of French toddlers who speak better French than I do. But the beautiful, deep blue eyes that dazzled America (note to self: American woman are not to be trusted in picking out boyfriends) appear to have no life behind them, and belie a person who is about as deep as a kiddie pool. He also seems a little slow on the uptake. Like, there’s a tape delay because English is his second language which is fine, but also a tape delay because maybe there’s just not a ton going on upstairs. And it might be okay if maybe he was a little bit stupid, but he also seems mean, and a touch cruel. Much has been written about the fact that he willingly went “swimming in the ocean” with a contestant only to turn around and slut shame that same woman. His double standards regarding kissing and not kissing contestants, in addition to the fact that he is probably a homophobe have left a bitter taste in my mouth. And to cap it all off, he has made a catchphrase of that most male of instincts–glossing over bad behavior by saying “it’s okay.” That is literally his only answer to being confronted, and it is galling not just because no girl wants to hear that, but also because this show is built on easy, scripted platitudes suited for Hallmark cards. He can’t even deliver bad cheesy, let alone the good kind.

I am of two minds about this season–on the one hand, it’s the first season of the show that I’ve watched that has really highlighted (instead of making oblique references and explaining those away with chivalrous bullsh*t) the double standards The Bachelor/ette brand traffics in. But on the other hand, I absolutely don’t watch this show so I can have sociological discussions about the implications of dating on national television, nor so I can engage in watching assholes casually mistreat women–if I wanted that, I would pick up with one of my ex-boyfriends. I watch this show for the occasional contestant who may or may not have borderline personality disorder, for contestants who inexplicably (and adorably) bring along dogs, to see contestants with occupations like “Mineral Coordinator,” “Dog Lover,” and “Free Spirit,” for the amazing dates in exotic locations, and of course, to witness people falling in love. This season has ruined that, and I hope the producers have taken note–and will pick out some suitable suitors for the inevitable next Bachelorette, Andi.

And now, on with the review!

(Spoilers ahead, natch)

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Friday Five: My Favo(u)rite London Things

The Houses of Parliament
The Houses of Parliament

I have a well-documented love affair with Paris. It is a city that long ago captured my heart and imagination, and there isn’t anywhere else in the world that fills me with the kind of inexplicable joy I feel as I walk down Paris’ frequently crotte-covered cobblestoned streets.

That was until I made my most recent visit to London. I have visited London more than half a dozen times, and each time, the city has meant something different to me. On my first visit, I was a college senior who inexplicably chose a cold city for my final spring break. Subsequent trips saw me alternately as a lovestruck would-be graduate student, a confused young professional, an actual graduate student, and now as a not-so-young, nor as confused professional. And my view of the city changed and shifted each time I viewed it through a different lens.

London never struck me with its beauty and charm the way Paris did. London requires you

The famous warnings on the Tube to "Mind the gap between the train and the platform."
The famous warnings on the Tube to “mind the gap between the train and the platform.”

to earn your charmingly English experiences. It’s not as obviously beautiful as Paris, and Londoners aren’t particularly friendly. Every corner in Paris reveals a scene that could’ve been plucked from Amelie, but London is not this way–I have never had a moment where I felt like I was living in a Richard Curtis film (and maybe that’s a good thing). But the biggest difference between my respect for London and affection for Paris? I can never quite see myself living in Paris–my American sensibilities are still too strong for me to live in a city where striking is an art form–I could absolutely see myself living in London. It could be because I have friends in London, or that the language is my native tongue. It could be that the quiet, somewhat taciturn people jive a little bit more with my own introverted nature. All I know is that London finally grabbed my heart this time ’round. And here are my five favorite things from my most recent trip.

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The Budget Traveler: London House Hotel Review

I am weirdly cheap about certain things–as much as I love Uber, nine times out of ten, I will take public transportation to/from most airports. In fact, I will bus most places unless absolutely necessary that I take a car (for example, last month, I got hopelessly lost in an area of Seattle that I am deeply unfamiliar with and which does not have sidewalks, so had to summon Uber). When I first started making my solo travel adventures abroad, I eagerly booked into cheap hostels, where I met some great people (some of whom I still keep in contact with) and managed to save a lot of money to keep me in the clear as I ate and drank my way through Western Europe. But somewhere along the line, maybe around 25 or so, I began to let go of my desire to pinch pennies when it came to where I lay my head down. Gone were the days where my body could withstand hours of liver abuse and rally on three hours of sleep that were interrupted by loud snoring from the person in the bunk above me. So, I spent a considerable amount of time scouring the Internet for hostels and hotels that offered single rooms (preferably with an ensuite shower, because I was also tired of packing my own shower shoes) for a reasonable price. And you know what? Those places exist. They’re just very hard to find.

Enter London House Hotel, located in Bayswater, London. It is by no means a fancy hotel–there’s no room service, no on-site restaurant, no bar. But what it lacks in on-site services it more than makes up with in price, location, and room quality.

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