27 March 2016

Glassblowing in New Orleans

I've never been particularly crafty, but making something in a blazing inferno was something I had to try, even if I only made a cheesy paperweight. So when I read about the two-hour short course offered by New Orleans Glassworks I knew it had a place on our itinerary.

I tried contacting New Orleans Glassworks prior to flying out there with no luck. Luckily, the day we stopped by they had time available.

Our instructor (Kyle) gave us thorough instructions and made things both safe and fun. At no point did I feel like I was about to burn off my face or any other body part.  

In the beginning, my technique definitely sucked, but it didn't blow!* We each made three items starting with a paperweight. It wasn't until the second item that we actually did any glass blowing. That said: the first steps were always the same.

* You had to know a joke like this was on the way. 

We started with a globule of clear, molten glass on the end of a metal pipe that Kyle "gathered" for us from the main inferno. Then, we rolled the glob in one or more bowls of colored glass. 

The next step was to turn that spike-y collection of glass into an even blob. By exposing the hot mess to an intense heat source and turning, turning, turning, the room temp colored glass and molten clear glass melted together.

The next step was to train the glass. For the paperweights, we used shears to introduce air bubbles (see image below). What you can't tell from the picture is what color the final product is going to be. When the piece cools, it will be the same green and blow shown in the bowl picture above. But while it's being manipulated, the color is red hot!

The second piece we each made was an ornament. This is a beginner glass blowing piece because there isn't much to do to shape it. That said: Kyle was instrumental in creating the initial air bubble inside the glass. Getting a nice, even shape to grow within the glass is much more complicated than, say, blowing up a balloon.

Also, real glassblowers can blow the glass and turn the rod solo. The two-person set-up below allowed us a chance to practice the act of glassblowing without a subsequent trip to the emergency room. 

Tom's third item was a vase. This required some shaping with a board and use of tongs to get a flat, even opening.

After the pieces were done, Kyle took them over to the "knock off table" where, using tongs dipped in water, we used water droplets to create (I think) weak spots at the connection point between the rod and the piece. A few droplets and separation was easy with a quick tap (or knock, if you will).

The pieces were then transferred to an oven that would gradually cool the glass from 900 degrees down to room temperature. This is called "kneeling." If glass cools too rapidly it can crack, or even explode.

I don't have the final pieces yet. The New Orleans Glassworks staff takes care of polishing the items after the kneeling is done. They will be shipping them to America's Vancouver sometime this week!

25 October 2015

Experience Whore

The other night, as I was hanging upside-down by my hips, I thought to myself, "I've turned into an experience whore."

I remember when bungee jumping started becoming popular. I scoffed at it. I'm only into mental thrills...from books...and knowing obscure trivia. Then every one got into mud runs and warrior dashes. Bah! Running. Only if I'm being chased.

Yet recently I've found myself trying things like:

Aerial yoga

An escape room

F-14 flight simulator

NASCAR driving (not a simulation)

Belly dancing (my hips lie)

Immersive theater

Indoor skydiving (on the to do list)

and a trampoline park.

Just because I have a subscription to Sunset magazine and almost bought a veggie spiralizer last week does not make me a lamewad grown-up (I said almost bought). Am I collecting random experiences so I can seem like a rare jewel in a sea of khaki? Perhaps. But it's fun. Some of these things also burn calories! 

I will, however, draw the line at a simulated Mexico / U.S. border crossing experience. You may have heard the podcast about this awhile back. If not, here's a brief overview

Makes you wonder how far these experience things will go. Perhaps one day we'll have a simulated Oregon Trail where you buy supplies from a hipster dressed as an old timey merchant and have a go at hunting your own food and sleeping in a wagon? 

I might do it... but only if I get to write what's on my tombstone. Want one of your own? Someone has kindly made this tombstone generator. 

18 October 2015

Alternative Fitness, Calories and Cricket Protein

Has it finally come to this? It's been so long since I did a blog post that I kinda feel the need to apologize. But it's not like you guys have been sitting around, staring out the window, occasionally sighing and waiting for the next blog post.  Right? You're busy. Me too.

More specifically: I've been busy being an experience whore. More on that later...

The past few years, but especially the last several months, I've become obsessed with alternative fitness. I'm putting it right up there with self-serve yogurt as one of the unsung innovations of this decade.

I'm not talking hot yoga here... or even hot yoga with weights. I'm talking:

This isn't me, but I did this move.
Belly dancing
Aerial hoop and silks
...that sort of thing.

Later this month I hope to try a trampoline fitness class. If I had started this 20 years ago, I like to think I'd be a contender for some community theater version of Cirque du Soleil.

I've also tried a dozen varieties of alternative protein. Because that's what you freakin' do when you live in suburban breederville, okay? Fitness obsessions and overly-complicated dietary needs some of the very few things The OC and I have in common.

Purely for S's and G's I tried rice protein, hemp protein, chia, and even crickets. Honestly, the crickets weren't bad...when they were ground up into powder and formatted into a snack bar with coconut and ginger.

The rest of it was pretty terrible. It's all pretty bad though, even whey or soy, unless you buy flavored protein or mix it in with something. Personally I don't care for the flavored kind. There's always some kind of spooky artificial sugar like malitol. It may be perfectly fine, but the name makes it taste sinister.

The other thing I did was to record the calorie burn of some of the more heart-pumping activities.

Aerial silks (especially climbing) was intense. Aerial yoga, not so much.

In fact, I was disappointed by the calorie burn of pilates, belly dancing and aerial yoga. Each of these burned around 200 calories an hour.

Aerial, boot camp and spinning were all the top calorie-burners. My wristband registered 350-400 calories burned per hour for these.

Coming in at around 300 calories burned per hour: hot yoga, TRX kettlebells and kickboxing. 

still not me, but a move I can do

16 December 2014

2014 Best of Mix

2014 Best of Mix - Hear it on 8 Tracks

2014 Best of Mix - tracklist and run down

I racked my brain to think of a theme that defines this year's list. I couldn't think of one other than the artists are from several different countries: alternative hip hop from Edinburgh, electro-pop from Iceland (FM Belfast), Tinariwen from Mali, my favorite MC Ana Tijoux (Chile), and we kick things off with New Zealand's most famous chanteuse:

1. Yellow Flicker Beat / Lorde - I was late to the Lorde party. There was so much hype I didn't give her music a chance. Then I listened to Heroine for basically six weeks straight in January and February.

So just like they gave Judy Dench the Oscar in 1999 for Shakespeare in Love  when it was really for Mrs. Brown in 1998, I give Lorde the #1 spot in my 2014 mix for her work in 2013. Though I do like this song...

2. Somos Sur / Ana Tijoux (feat. / Shadia Mansour) - my beloved Ana teams up with the first lady of Arabic hip-hop for a very political song that is also the most catchy on Ana's 2014 release Vengo. Read the lyrics (when page loads, scroll down for English translation).

3. The Devil In Me / Pony Boy

4. Soon Come Soon / Young Fathers - putting Edinburgh alternative hip hop on the map, Yo!

5. Everything / FM Belfast - Here's the twee song with a male and female vocalist you've come to expect. Who new that first Belle and Sebastian record would have such long term effects on my musical taste?

6. Neuromancer / EMA - I really like the way this song starts. I really dislike that she uses the word selfie.

7. Go (Blank Sea) / Zola Jesus - If this song had come out when I was sixteen it would have been my anthem for this lyric alone, "I go downtown where they don't know my name." The atmospheric 4AD sound is just icing on the sweet cake of darkness.

8. Two Weeks [Explicit] / FKA Twigs - the 2013 mix included the first ever inclusion of a slow jam (Rhye's Open). 2014 follows in its footsteps with another baby-makin' tune.

9. GIRLS (cover) / Sizzy Rocket - My choice for best cover song of 2014 - this chick covers / re-writes the famous Beastie Boy ditty.

10. These Days (cover) / Chris Hansen, Matt Pond, Laura Stevens - In case you missed it, an album came out this year with covers of songs used in Wes Anderson movies. It's called I Saved Latin. I like this version of the Nico / Jackson Brown tune the best out of all of them. Matt Pond's guitar sound gives it a different flavor without compromising the overall feel of the tune.

11. Every Other Freckle / Alt-J - If you get a chance to see Alt-J in concert - go! This is my favorite track (so far) from their new album, which you'll probably like if you were a fan of the first one.

12. Suspiro / Rafi El 

13. Imidiwan Ahi Sigdim / Tinariwen - For better or worse, about a third of the artists on this 2014 mix have appeared in previous "Best of" mixes. Tinariwen is another repeat, but this is their first appearance since 2007.

14. From The Night / Stars - Here's another repeat offender. You know I love Canadian depress-pop. That said, the latest Stars album is, surprisingly, a dance record!

If you're keeping track of the typical elements of a Megan mix, this is where you'll find the handclaps.

15. We Only Come out at Night / The Sugar Stems

16. Bury Our Friends / Sleater-Kinney OH MY GOD THEY'RE REUNITING.

Well, that about wraps it up for this year. No banjos or mandolins this year, sorry! Also no really bass-thumping songs. If you're jonzing for Check out Best of Mixes from previous years. .

13 December 2014

I'm Kind of Older Than I Was When I Reveled Without a Care

The stationary bike I use at work makes you enter your age during start up. The age defaults to 35 and then you can move the number up or down and hit enter. When I first started I thought nothing of toggling it down, down, down to 24. In a few weeks, I'll be leaving that number to its default position and next year, well, I'll be toggling it up.

This, among other things, have given me pause for reflection. It happened earlier this year at a music festival.

In 2001, was too cool to dance to the grooves of Outkast's Sorry Miss Jackson (Oooo! I am for real). Back then I swore I didn't care what other people thought. Yet, I wasn't about to put my hands in the air and wave them like I just... didn't care.

Then, at some point I emerged from my 20's. This year I saw Outkast's reunion tour and danced and sang along to all the words I knew. I also spent last Friday night eating cereal for dinner and watching UHF. So there you have it. Not moving the maturity toggle up or down either.

The guy who sits behind me at the hockey games (Gene) told me about a conversation he had with his dad when he was a little kid. He said to his dad one year, "You're 35? Your life is half over!" So his dad waited years and years until Gene turned 35. Then called him and said, "How does it feel to be 35? Your life is half over!" I kind of love this guy for waiting almost 30 years to deliver a joke.

Anyway, I'm not feeling morbid or pensive about my birthday later this month. Maybe that comes next year when I have to hit the age "up" button. I'm kind of waiting for it to happen so I can use it as a reason to quit my job and travel the world like my friend Carmel and her husband.

On the other hand, I kind of like that I'm finally old enough to get respect at work. Some might say I'm doing a better job presenting my ideas or arguing my points, but I really think age and tenure has more to do with it. Funny thing.

We're finally getting some rain here in SoCal. As my mom says,"Rain is God's car wash." So I'm off to drive around in Little Red so I can scream along to Mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas is You. Because I'm not too cool not to...

30 September 2014

Cars That Live Forever, World's Greatest Car Turns 20

Here we are in 1996 when both of us had fewer dents

This October marks the 20th birthday* of my little, red 1995 Mitsubishi Mirage.

We've had a few adventures over the years including moving more than 13 times in ten years, transporting an entire drum set, accidentally ending up in the bowels of the Hanford Nuclear Reserve, and getting pulled over at Christmastime - by an officer who wanted me to know that her festive holiday lights would be very distracting to colorblind people. When I asked if it would be okay if I replaced the colored lights with white ones, the officer replied MY NEIGHBOR IS COLORBLIND!

After nearly 175,000 miles, I'm glad to say our adventures continue. She got a new stereo this year (with bluetooth). The kid who installed it wasn't even been born the year my car was made, but that's okay. He admired my repurposing of the cassette storage console as an impromptu cup holder.

* In case you're wondering how I know her "birth" month, her manufacture info is on the inside of the driver's side door jam.

Exploring the California coast
Little Red and I first made each other's acquaintance in 1995. She was a repo, actually. One of these days I intend to find out where she came from before she found her way to a car dealership in Spokane.

In 1996 we passed the Washington state driver's test together. I still think it's the hardest driving test out there. One of the skills is backing around a corner while staying within 18 inches of the curb. I am not making this up.

Little Red has worn two more state license plates since then. I was pleased to get NW GRRL as my first vanity plate when I moved to California. I was not pleased when everyone thought it meant "new girl." Buying an I (heart) Oregon bumper sticker to clarify my vanity plate was not my finest moment as a creative writer. Oh well.

Things have been quieter since we moved to Orange County. These days Little Red only hauls scuba gear and groceries, and is generally more of a homebody. She makes the occasional trip to LA where she keeps me inconspicuous when I have to take a detour through Koreatown.

Pictured above is the Mirage ensconced in one of the many garages she has occupied over the years. I would like to take this moment to thank my various boyfriends and roommates past for giving Little Red first dibs on the single garage space. For all the haters: when you're old, I hope someone makes you f*cking live outside.

In the spirit of honoring lesser-known classic cars, I would also like to recognize a few other vehicles that never say die. It's unlikely you'll see any of the vehicles below at a car show, so it's time we put the spotlight on these beautiful beaters.

The Chevy Astrovan (1985 - 1995)
Whether it's in creeper blue or molestery white, the Chevy Astrovan remains a constant fixture in alleyways and school crossings.

chevy astrovan

The Ford Ranger ('93 - 2000 model years)
Loved by dive instructors from Hawai'i to Florida, the humble Ford Ranger endures. Seriously, these trucks practically have a cult following. The One Dolla video (1 mil+ views) has a whole bit on The Ford Ranger at the 1min 44 sec mark.

The Honda Accord (1990 - 1993)
Thinking back to my days as a carpool kid, I remember Dodge Caravans, Jeep Cherokees, and the occasional Previa. Where are these cars now? Nowhere! That's where. They were weak, but not so the Honda Accord. Damn, I think we squeezed four kids and two cellos in my The Nelson's Accord at one point.

Why is the 90's era Honda Accord still on the road? Why did the teal ones made it and the black ones did not? I don't know! I see one of these not-quite-green-and-not-exactly-blue wonders every effing day.

The Toyota Camry (1991-1996) 
Maybe it's not that weird a lot of 90's era Camrys are still on the road. It was one of the best-selling cars in the 90's... but the Saturn, Ford Taurus and the Ford Escort were also big sellers. Donde esta Dodge Neon? So where are these cars now? Not making pizza* deliveries in South Orange County. Not doing the business getting fry cooks and bus drivers to work every day. Nuh uh. 

*I'm told by a reputable source that silver Camrys deliver other substances as well.

What does Camry mean anyway? 

The Volvo 200 Series
Last but not least, I'd like to pay tribute to the Volvo 200 Series (1974 - 1993). It was my friend Gen's first car. We named it Tim? because the Volvo logo looks like a female symbol and we weren't sure if it was a boy or a girl. There's also a Monty Python reference there if you think about it.

Anyway, I've no doubt that Tim? is still on the road somewhere. These things are tanks! You don't seem them in SoCal so much, but I have to assume that's because they've all migrated north where they are truly appreciated.

I hope you've enjoyed this missive du mirage and other cars that history tries to forget. These work horses were never in it for the glory though. Just like their owners, I suppose. 

18 February 2014

A Grrrlz Mix for an Actual Girl

Last month, a friend of mine mentioned that his pre-school aged daughter was really into songs sung by a female vocalist. Of course I volunteered to make her the ultimate chick mix. It was only I after I created a short list of 150 songs that I realized I was in over my head.

First off, his daughter is barely kindergarden age. I know nothing about children. Furthermore, when I was her age, my favorite song was The Pointer Sisters Jump (For My Love).

The sort of sticky-sweet pop dropped out of my repertoire years ago. Should I go dig up Debbie Gibson and Brandy Carlisle from the musical graveyard? Seems a little wrong.

I confessed the issue to my friend. He said he hoped to spare his daughter from mindless girl pop, and he told me she was currently obsessed with Lorde. Confidence (somewhat) restored I went back to my song list...

...where I discovered most of the songs were totally unsuitable for a little kid. A lot of what I'd consider classic tunes had explicit lyrics and/or dealt with mature subjects such as gender roles, sex and death, and getting effed over by either a man or The Man.

I knew I had to dig deeper. My musical DNA was based in a lot of "dad rock" (Creedence, Croce and the like), so I went for songs that had a story. I also picked tunes with cryptic lyrics so long as they had tasty hooks.

In the end, Liz, Fiona, PJ, Tori, Joni, Stevie, Patti, Lauryn, Missy, Kristin and Tanya, Amy and Emily, Carrie Corin and Janet mostly got veto'd (but Wild Flag made the cut). Ella, Ani, Nina and the Wilson sisters are in, along with some international girl bands and a Madonna tune I expect most people have forgotten. The final tracklist is below.

I Love Grrrlz Mix

SHONEN KNIFE: Top of the World
BLONDIE: The Tide is High
GOSSIP: Hott Date
WILD FLAG: Racehorse
PINK MARTINI: Sympathique
THE KNIFE: Heartbeats
HEART: Barracuda
MADE IN HEIGHTS: All the Places
TLC: No Scrubs
THE BREEDERS: Drivin' on 9
ANI DIFRANCO: 32 Flavors (live)
MADONNA: Dear Jessie
NINA SIMONE: My Baby Just Cares for Me
BJORK: It's Oh So Quiet
DAR WILLIAMS: The Babysitter's Here

I'm definitely planning a part II, so if you have suggestions. Paste 'em below!

17 December 2013

minimal?'s travels 2003 - 2013

Once upon a time, there was a creature named minimal? who came from Portland. It was very fond of Portland, but it also enjoyed exploring. Having no arms or legs, minimal? was happy to find a friend who would take it places.

The first place they went was San Francisco. Here is the first known photo of minimal? shot with a Motorola RAZR camera phone. It's not the best... (the photo, that is, Coit Tower is nice).

Over the next ten years, minimal? would have many adventures. Below is a map showing where minimal? has been (2003 - 2013) and now there's a movie too - featuring 41 photos of minimal? in action.

minimal? likes to have its picture taken. Sometimes the iconic places have ugly scaffolding or machinery in front of them so the photo has to be taken in an odd way.

Sometimes minimal? just likes having its photo taken in an offbeat way. The photos in this post didn't make it into the movie, but minimal? wanted to share them with you.

Unfortunately, minimal? can't remember where this photo was taken. Does anyone recognize this skyline?

Unfortunately, minimal? doesn't have any photos of itself in Glacier Bay, Alaska or the lovely city of Montreal. Perhaps the photos were accidentally deleted, or perhaps minimal? didn't make it out of the suitcase. 

minimal? hopes someone is good at photoshop, but worst-case it will go back and see these places again because they are nice. Below is the aforementioned slideshow movie with a song you might enjoy.

14 December 2013

Best of 2013 Mix

I've been working on this blog post (and this mix) for a few weeks now. Every time I listen to it, I wonder if there's some sort of theme - melodical or lyrical - tying all these songs together.

Zanna, a good friend of mine, got a quasi-preview. She says it has all the hallmarks of a Madhapa mix: handclaps, horns, a song in Spanish (you know how I do). But what do all these songs have to say about the musical year that was 2013?

I guess if anything, music from 2013 reminds me a smidge of 1993 - that sparkling post hairband / pre-grunge moment in time that gave us Whump! (There it Is), Informer, Mr Wendel, Two Princes and That's the Way Love Goes. Also like '93 we had a lot of female artists on the top of the charts in 2013. Check out the Billboard Top 100 from 1993.

This year's mix includes an above-average number of danceable tunes and virtually nothing that could have been released by 4AD.* I even have a tune on here that pretty much falls into the baby-makin' music category (Rhye's Open). Sorry, there's no Robin Thicke here (figured you've pretty much heard that one). But if you like twerking, boy do I have a song for you (NSFW).

Alright, let's get to it. Below there should be an embedded mix from 8tracks, the cover art is Buzz Aldren's head. If you can't see it below, click through to themadhapa.com or listen to the mix on 8tracks.

Here are the tunes in playlist order:

1. Moon Hooch - Number 9
(this band is only two sax players and a drummer; you will be amazed)

2. Ebony Bones - I See I Say
(Ebony Bones studied w/ Amy Winehouse and recorded her album with the Symphony Orchestra of India. How 'bout that?)

3. Kobo Town - Joe the Paranoiac

4. Major Lazer - Bubble Butt

5. Iron & Wine - Grace for Saints and Ramblers

6. Stealing Sheep - Shut Eye

7. Mean Lady - Bop Bop

8. Daft Punk feat. Panda Bear - Doin' It Right

9. Haim - Forever

10. CHUVRCHES - The Mother We Share

11. Neko Case - Man
(was there any doubt this would make the best of mix?)

12. Phosphorescence - Song for Zula
(Zula was the stand out for both people who got the preview mix)

13. Los Master Plus - El Extraño
(cover of Radiohead's Creep)

14. Rhye - Open
(possibly the first slow jam ever to appear on a best of mix)

15. Augustines - Cruel City
(reminds me of U2 from 20 years ago, plus a little somethin' extra)

* I'm still digesting the new Throwing Muses album and reserve the right to go back and add a tune from Purgatory / Paradise.

I'd also like to sneak in a tune from 2012. A couple weeks after I published my Best Music of 2012 post I was in Portland (of course) and heard Fitzpleasure (another great track from Alt-J's excellent album An Awesome Wave). My favorite track ended up being Dissolve Me, which you can hear in the first 1min 30 sec of this year's diving video.

A few years ago I started calling out my favorite new artist of the year. For 2013 it's Haim (the pronunciation rhymes with "time"). Three sisters plus a (male, non-relative) drummer you never see =  Haim. Mary at  Rats Off has my undying love for a lot of reasons, but especially for the great music she finds.

Haim definitely has a '90s thing going that I can't exactly put my finger on. Mary accurately predicted that there would be lots of quirky vintage hats at their show - right on as always, Miss Mary.

Best Cover Song: El Extraño
(Radiohead's Creep in Español)

Officially, my favorite cover song of 2013 is El Extrano. Unofficially, it's Brian Williams rapping Warren G's RegulatePeace out...

27 September 2013

Scuba Diving Indonesian Borneo: Derawan Maratua Sangalaki

For better or worse: it's impossible for me to find a scuba diving destination where someone I know hasn't already been there done that. So when I stumbled upon the islands of Derawan, Sangalaki and Maratua in Indonesian Borneo and my co-workers said, where?!? I knew I had a winner.

I'll be honest with you. When I say the words Indonesian Borneo in my head, my mind adds ...where she contracted a rare, flesh-eating virus. I don't know if it's because my mom worked for the Health Department, the inflamed STD pictures they showed us in high school, or too many zombie movies. Still, I had to go. As the plane took off I wondered if my last words (with friends) would be: PLOW and POOD. Read more about my Indonesian air travel adventures (earlier post).

Since joining the scuba diver tribe ten years ago, I've become a reverse-travel-snob of sorts. If someone recommends a destination where I'll deplane using an actual jetway - forget it. If I'm going to spend hundreds of dollars, I expect to walk across the tarmac and find myself in an airport terminal with one gate and one luggage carousel.

The one thing I have to get over is trying to find places where US corporations don't have a presence. At the Suribaya airport there was a guy who would shrink wrap your cardboard box so it could be used as luggage....and a Starbucks. D'oh!

So why Indonesian Borneo? Well, there are three things I wanted: muck diving, coral gardens and large pelagics. This is a surprisingly tough combo to find, and we got all three.

Derawan had quasi-muck diving. For those of  you who don't scuba dive, muck diving describes the sediment where you find interesting little critters. Sangalaki is where we saw Mantas, and Maratua is where we saw some lovely coral gardens and also a barracuda tornado and an seven foot leopard shark. Oh yeah, and I saw my first hammerhead!

We also visited a village on one of the islands - you can see it in the video below. The little kids all shouted Hallo! Hallo! Later the next evening we went to another island where we saw a turtle laying eggs on the beach. When she was through she gave a long sigh of exhaustion that sounded very human...or perhaps sometimes we humans sound like exhausted turtles.

Riding back to the dive boat that night on the dinghy there were an impossible number of stars overhead. Looking up was almost as cool as looking down at the bio-luminescent water that was as equally twinkly as the sky.

Moments like this that make me feel like I'm a real adventurer. At the same time, I recognize how lucky I am to travel thousands of miles of ocean in an airplane instead of a boat. To think I crossed the Pacific Ocean in about ten hours and it took my ancestors weeks! Makes me wonder what world travel will be like when I'm an old fart.

minimal? visits Indonesia

Check out the scuba diving highlights in the three-and-a-half minute video below. In addition to the barracuda tornado, there's a shot of a black manta and a turtle scratching its butt. Not shown: a mantis shrimp that was a bit camera shy.