This month, the AE team is bringing you our Pop Culture Picks from our home offices! We’re focusing on the things that support our physical and mental health while practicing social distancing. Keep scrolling to find out what’s helping us through these challenging times – we hope they can help you too!
In short: Bill Bryson takes the reader through his Victorian Parsonage, room-by-room, detailing the history of things in our homes.
We’re all spending a lot of time at home right now, so it made sense for me to finally open up Bill Bryson’s non-fiction book, “At Home: A Short History of Private Life.”
Each chapter is structured around the rooms in Bryson’s Victorian Parsonage, built in 1851. As readers we start in the hall and meander through historical, scientific and cultural events that tie loosely to the chapter’s title.
I love this type of nonfiction. Bryson combines anecdotes, historical letters, statistics, sarcastic humor, and major scientific discoveries together into a fascinating look at why we live in the places we do, how items arrived in our homes and how things are named. Here’s a little bit about sugar:
“Even though sugar was very expensive, people consumed it till their teeth turned black, and if their teeth didn’t turn black naturally, they blackened them artificially to show how wealthy and marvelously self-indulgent they were.”
If you’re looking to improve your trivia game this is a book that will add to your general knowledge. If you love understanding the context of things this book will give you a new appreciation for your dwelling. At a time when many of us are itching to get outside it’s nice to shine a different sort of light on our homes.
Crash – Nilüfer Yanya (single)
TL;DR: Nilüfer Yanya’s new single Crash takes you down a winding musical path that keeps you on your toes.
My PCP this time around is a short and sweet recommendation for a new single by Nilüfer Yanya called ‘Crash’, which will also be on a new upcoming EP called ‘Feeling Lucky?’.
I really enjoyed her debut album last year, ‘Miss Universe’, and ‘Crash’ carries on the style of leading you down a bit of a winding musical path, changing up styles mid-track or near the end and keeping you on your toes.
In interviews for the release she has mentioned that while on tour last year she started to develop anxiety around flying, and really started to notice turbulence more and more. Although Crash isn’t about flying specifically, this is the imagery used in the video. I can see how the song conveys that sense of a bumpy turbulent ride that eventually settles down.
Check out the new single and I also recommend her debut album.
9Round (kickboxing circuit gym)
TL;DR: Follow me in my new exercise routine if you want to burn 700 calories before 9am every day.
This month AE went back to full working-from-home (thanks, COVID). I immediately tried to brainstorm how to not get caught in a slump of despair, and decided to start an aggressive new exercise routine. I joined a gym!* My new routine is to wake up early, bike the 20 minutes to the gym, do a 9Round workout, bike 20 minutes back home, and then start my work day. So far it’s been a lifesaver!
The 9Round gym is a specific kind of workout – think HIIT meets kickboxing. There are 9 stations like jump rope, various punching bags, abs, weights, dip bars, and more. The workout takes about 30 minutes as you make your way around the circuit. You spend 3 minutes at each station, with 30 seconds between stations. Those 30 seconds aren’t for rest though as the trainer will have you doing things like jump squats and burpees between stations.
When I signed up I got all the equipment I needed, including boxing gloves, hand wraps, a bag, a fob to check in, and a heart rate monitor. There’s a tv on the floor that shows everyone who is currently working out and their heart rate. The section with my name will be a colour (blue-green-yellow-red) and the goal of the workout is to stay in the “yellow zone” as much as possible, which for me is a heart rate around 160. The colour takes up the whole screen and is great for quickly glancing over to see how I’m doing.
I love this gym and it’s quite fun to be able to jump in there with a jab-cross-hook-elbow combo. Having this new exercise/leaving-the-apartment routine has been the saving grace for my mental health lately and it is awesome being able to feel proud of myself every day for doing something challenging and fun. As one of our AE alumni employees used to tell me, it takes hashtag willpower lifestyle 🙂
* Covid cases are pretty low here on the Island, and that combined with 9Round’s covid procedures made me feel comfortable this was ok as my one “out of the house” activity. They’ve limited the gym to 4 people per workout (so one person at every second station, you have to book your spot online) and the trainers clean all the equipment constantly. If anyone is curious here’s some more info.
Let Me Roar – Northcote (album)
TL;DR: A great local Victoria musician comes back strong after 5 years off to release one of his most personal and easy-listening albums to date.
One of my favorite local Victoria artists, Northcote, are back with their first album in ~5 years called Let Me Roar. The thing that really stands out to me about this album is how accessible it is, even if you’ve never listened to Northcote before or haven’t loved a previous album (though how could you not…). Sonically, the album is incredibly cohesive and never seems out of step from track to track, without any one song feeling buried by another or feeling like there’s any filler.
The album kicks off with the title track, and indicating a calm and collective reminiscence from singer Matt Goud, and really sets the stage for what to expect from the rest of the album. Guitar and vocals are front and centre for the most part, while rhythm plays a strong role in holding down each track, and lead guitar pops in every once in a while for memorable hooks. The simplicity of it all is what really stands out to me, as if this is the first album since the stripped down “Borrowed Chords, Tired Eyes” that the artists really wrote a set of songs for themselves, and themselves alone. There’s nothing boastful or intense about it; it delivers what it promises from the onset. A beautiful look into the life of most of us who have spent the last 10 years kind of growing up. And I also want to mention, the first line of the whole album is so catchy and again, accessible, that it’s what my 3 year old son tells me to sing to him every night before bed – “daddy, sing I Used To Drive.” I guess I have Northcote to thank for a new tradition as well.
Avenger by Frederick Forsyth (book)
TL;DR: Avenger is a political thriller novel by Frederick Forsyth that focuses on one man seeking vengeance for the death of his son. It takes place in the international intelligence/security community in the years leading up to 9/11.
Forsyth is one of my favorite authors and I read his classic Day of the Jackal at least once a year.
In his typical style, Forsyth builds Avenger slowly with deep background on each of the major characters and many of the supporting cast:
- The son of privilege who is hideously murdered in the hills of Bosnia while on an aid mission, which kicks off the story
- A decorated WWII pilot who makes a post war fortune in Canadian metal
- The British SAS tracker who follows the faint trail of the boy’s disappearance
- The former Vietnam tunnel rat, turned small time lawyer and part time Avenger of murdered wives and children
- The leader of a secret team at the CIA using a former Balkan war criminal to flush out Bin Laden
The story is set in the real world as it was, from Vietnam to the Serb/Croat wars in the Balkans, to Desert Storm and the early intelligence around Bin Laden and Al Queda.
The 3rd act is a masterpiece of covert insertion, misdirection, stamina, will, planning and smarts. The story comes to a conclusion on Sept 10, 2001.
The rest is modern history.
The Simpsons (available on Disney+)
In short: The Simpsons is still funny after all these years.
I have a confession: as much as I love Disney movies, I wasn’t excited for Disney+ until I found out that the streaming platform would have the entirety of The Simpsons. I’ve been a huge Simpsons fan since I was young (thank you to my parents for letting me watch it!) and it’s always been my go-to, easy to watch, relaxation show. Since I haven’t had cable for the last 10 years or so, if I wanted to watch the Simpsons I would have to resort to Spanish language episodes on YouTube or other definitely totally legal methods of watching the show. There was absolutely no way I was going to drop $30-50 per season for the DVDs or three grand on the limited edition box set 😱
But now, with Disney+, I can enjoy the follies of America’s favorite mean, yellow family. And it’s been a blessing for shutting off my mind from the stresses of COVID and the world in general. Here’s 5 of my favourite episodes:
“Bart After Dark”, Season 8, Episode 5 – In this episode, Bart gets a job at Maison Derrière, Springfield’s burlesque house, in order to pay off damaging some of their property. I’m going to admit that I didn’t understand a good 80% of the jokes in this episode until somewhat recently. It’s definitely one of those episodes that makes much more sense and is much funnier when you’re an adult – especially when you finally understand what the “spring” in Springfield is referring to. Episode highlight: Is your name Bart? Does your father know you’re working here?!
“Lard of the Dance”, Season 10, Episode 1 – Like most Simpsons episodes, this episode has both an A and a B story. While the story where Lisa tries to keep up with her classmates acting older is quite good, the story of Homer attempting to make bank by selling grease is where this episode really shines. Homer’s get rich quick schemes are always hilarious! Episode highlight: No fooling, I’m from North Kilttown! Do you know Angus McCleod?!
“Treehouse of Horror V”, Season 6, Episode 6 – I’m a huge fan of anything spooky, and the Treehouse of Horror episodes always fulfill my spookiness quota while making me laugh. Every Treehouse of Horror contains 3 short stories that parody classic horror media. It’s difficult to pick just one Treehouse of Horror episode, but this one edges out the competition because it parodies some of my favourite media (i.e. the movie the Shining and the short story A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury). Episode highlight: the musical number at the end of the episode about the fog that turns people inside out.
“A Streetcar Named Marge”, Season 4, Episode 2 – Oh boy do I love a good musical episode. In this episode, Marge lands the role of Blanche Dubois in the local musical production of A Streetcar Named Desire, but it highlights how unsupportive and boorish her husband Homer is. Side note: this is also the episode where we learn that Flanders is a total babe. Episode highlight: STELLA! Can’t you hear me yell-a, you’re putting me through hell-a!
“22 Short Films About Springfield”, Season 7, Episode 21 – The episode is exactly it’s title implies: 22 short stories that are entirely unrelated other than taking place in Springfield. Every single story is a little glimpse into the lives of the residents of Springfield and it’s absolutely delightful. This is probably my most quoted Simpsons episode, and is definitely my favourite. Episode highlights (couldn’t pick just one!): Well Seymour, you are an odd fellow but I must say, you steam a good ham. and Do you find something comical about my appearance when I am driving my automobile?
Now my only hope is that Futurama will one day also be available on Disney+.