Monday, December 19, 2011

Tradition

There are some people (read: my brother Shane) who are all about traditions.  Eating certain meals on certain days, hanging decorations in the same places every year - doing things that your people have done before you and that your progeny will continue after you're gone.  I don't quite buy into that, nor do I eschew it altogether.  I guess my strategy is something of a hybrid, picking and choosing those traditions worth carrying on, and leaving others behind in the dust.

During the holiday season, though, more of my old family traditions tend to rear their heads than at other times of the year.  Here are some of my favorites, ones that I hope that the Bug and the Bunny will carry on themselves:

  • Cookies.  I don't have much of a sweet tooth.  I don't buy cookies (or other treats) on a regular basis, and I only make them when one of my kids has a birthday or a school obligation.  But I love making - and eating - Christmas cookies.  But I have a half dozen Christmas cookie recipes from three of my four great-grandmothers, and I make three or four kinds each year.  I think it's so neat that the recipes that my great-grands never even needed to measure out still make the best cookies in town.
  • Advent calendar.  We had one that looked like this when I was a kid, and when the Bug was born my mother found a seamstress who could make one for us.  The girls love pulling the ornaments out of the pockets and finding a place for them on the tree, and the Bug counts down the days until Christmas after each morning's ritual.  Here's hoping there are still people who can sew when my girls are ready to start families of their own!

  • Family.  I love spending time with family over the holidays - from our extended family's annual Christmas party pot-luck, to Christmas Eve at my Grandma Jan's house (where, if you were ever curious, I learned that gin is the better spirit to add to a bloody mary), to the full-day eating affair we fondly refer to as "Christmas."  I don't much care if the venue, the meal and even the participants rotate, but I care very much that I spend time with family.
  • Photo Christmas cards.  Yeah, they can be cheesy (trust me - we've gotten some doozies over the years), but I love them.  I love receiving them, and I send them myself.  We just don't see our friends and their kids often enough - the cards are a simple way to follow the goings-on of people in our lives.
I'm pretty sure I'm forgetting some of the big ones, but this is what came to mind today.  Hope you're having the merriest of holiday seasons!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Great Expectations

So I've had a tough time finding a rhythm for reading and reviewing.  We moved, then I was finishing my twin nephews' stockings... excuses, excuses.  But now I am again gainfully employed (more on that soon), the stockings are done and I think I will be able to be back in a groove.  May not be the frequency of prior years, but no more 3-months-between-book-reviews bullshit.  Promise.
***
I had very modest expectations about Great Expectations, a classic by Charles Dickens that I have not heard of anyone reading outside of high school English classes.  I'd read A Tale of Two Cities as a sophomore in high school, and I hated it.  My impression of Dickens was that his books became classics because he was old and British, and he'd written the impressively bizarre and dark A Christmas Carol along with some other old British crap.  Well, apologies to your memory, Mr. Dickens.  Your other books are bizarre and dark and kinda hilarious, too.

The book begins with the back story of our narrator and protagonist Pip, whose first and last names are not really relevant.  Orphaned at a young age, he's been raised by his sister (who pretty much resents him) and her husband Joe (who is pretty much bullied by his wife).  He ends up being forced to assist a felon with the completion of his escape by providing the convict with a file and a parcel of food.  This memory tortures Pip, who sees his convict in every shadow.  After a subsequent run-in with the same convict, Pip doesn't hear from him again.

Several years after this misadventure, Pip finds himself befriended rather mysteriously by the (totally insane) Miss Havisham, an elderly-ish woman of indeterminate age, who dresses in her one-time wedding dress with all clocks in her mansion eternally reading the time of her being left at the altar.  Pip becomes enamored with the somewhat unexplained Estella, has a run-in with a young gentleman who tries unsuccessfully to kick his ass, meets a whole pile of strangers who hate his guts.  And ultimately, he learns that he has been left a fortune by an unnamed benefactor.

Not to give away the story - it's quite compelling and takes several very unexpected turns - but Pip goes to London to live out his great expectations.  Hence, the title.  He meets a number of dark and maybe-evil supporting characters, and nothing that happens early in the book should be forgotten.  I'm not going to go as far as to call this one "highly recommended", but I will certainly not shy away from more Dickens in my future.

Next up: Out Stealing Horses by Norwegian novelist Per Petterson.  It was released in English translation in 2007 and appears on quite a few best-of lists for that year. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Key West: you should totally go there

Sunset from Mallory Pier
First, a huge thank you to Mima and Boppie for watching the girls last week so that Joker and I could get away to Key West, Florida.  We couldn't have done it without your help, and the girls both thought that THEY were the ones on vacation... worked out perfectly for us!

We met two other couples down there for a weekend of eating, drinking, sunshine, laughs and a couple of trips under the water.  And the city didn't disappoint - we had a wonderful time!  What a treat to spend the weekend with friends we don't see often enough!

There are so many reasons that Key West is one of our favorite repeat destinations.  It is an easy trip from the east coast (though not so much from Denver), it's a walking-friendly town, the seafood is fresh and plentiful and it's a great party scene.  The people are laid-back and friendly.  The sun is shining and the sunsets are breathtaking.  There are a few cool shipwrecks to dive.  And there are sometimes pirates.

Sunset from The Top, the highest point in KW

Just after the sun has set, from The Top

Halloween meets Christmas... meets pink lawn flamingos















And it's quirky.  The biggest party of the year is Fantasy Fest, which is the week leading up to Halloween.  From what we hear, the town turns out its crazy and visitors flock from all over the place.  Last weekend was the Christmas parade and there were already decorations aplenty. (Including a few houses which seemed to just throw red and green lights on top of the existing Halloween decorations.  As I said, it's quirky.)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Parental crap boxes

Now that we're firmly established as Colorado residents - and despite the fact that we don't yet own a house - my parents managed to return the seven or eight boxes of my crap that they've stored in their basement for years.  The suggestion was innocent enough: that I might want some of my old books, which of course I did.  Then, while I was tenderly remarking about every title ("Oh my gosh - The Incredible Journey!" "This is the first copy of Little Women that I totally read to death!" and etc.), the other boxes came out.

Among other treasures we found: my letter jacket, a box of ribbons, an un-cashed check for $10 for winning a talent show in 1984, my entire cassette tape collection (which you know is awesome), 4-H record books from showing sheep, a bunch of Garfields, a slide rule... As you can imagine, this stuff is really great.

One shoebox within another larger box really made me chuckle.  It's filled with notes, passed between my friends and me in high school.  Why they didn't end up in a landfill 20 years ago is a great question, but for some reason I kept them.  What struck me most was not the banality of the things we deemed noteworthy.  Rather, it's the massive presence of handwritten words.  In the age of email and Facebook and texting, the art of writing has all but disappeared.  Handwriting is elegant.  Paper feels substantial.  And written correspondence can be saved (perhaps for that day when I'm a person of historical significance and my past writings are all cataloged).  It's unlikely I'll ever read them all, but I'm not going to toss them out just yet.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Bunny is 2!

I'm not sure how it's even possible, but the Bunny turned two last Sunday!  We celebrated with her grands, my grands and her birthday buddies Aunt Jessie and Great-uncle Chuck (and family).  Fun to have so much local family, fun to actually fit 14 people around our table!

As for the Bunny herself, she's doing awesome.  According to her pediatrician, she is "perfect," though anyone who has to vacuum under her chair would probably be able to identify at least one area for improvement.  Here's her general update:

  • Her height is in the 70th percentile or so, and her weight is in the 20th (give or take).  Her tummy and thighs, truth be told, do somewhat belie the slender, fashion model build the stats would otherwise portray.  Simply said, she's super healthy.  Yay.  And if you haven't seen her, you'll have to trust me that her curly mop is both unexpected (given my serious lack of curls) and totally to die for.
  • She is also a little jabber-jaws.  She talks virtually non-stop, she's really into identifying colors and she knows the names of all the Disney princesses.  She also loves to spot our local deer, elk, birdies and ladybugs.
  • Her disposition is extremely happy.  She's all grins nearly all the time, and she makes generous use of "please," "thank you," "I love you" and hugs/kisses.  
  • The only true issue the Bunny currently has is that she is a pretty poor sleeper.  Last night she made it through the night, as she did one or two days last week... but more often than not we're up every hour or two to lie her back down in her "big girl beddie" and hope for the best.  Joker and I are pretty much always tired.
  • And back in the plus column... Probably because she has observed the Bug doing it, she's totally into the concept of the potty.  No, we're not in panties yet.  But we have already had a successful #1 and a successful #2.  
So that's our sweet little Bunny!  She's truly a pleasure and it's been fun spending so much time with her - eating lunches together, playing in the playgrounds.  She gets along fabulously with the Bug and mimics her every move. We have every reason to expect this year to be even more fun than the last.

Program

The Bug's Thanksgiving program was today, following the traditional (and surely non-chaotic) school feast.  I was pleased to see that the rather non-PC Indian headbands are still featured on all kids, though I did miss the paper-bag-made-into-an-Indian-vest that we wore in kindergarten.  Plus, they call them "Native Americans" now.  And not only were the dreamcatchers stunning, as you can see clearly here, but the story Mrs. C told the audience about them was super charming.

Anyway, I am so thrilled to report that the Bug did swimmingly.  She sang loudly, she bowed deep and she totally kept her composure even when the Bunny shouted her name above the general din.

Anyone who was watching a few years ago wouldn't have recognized her... the Bug was the kid who completely freaked out at school programs, screaming and/or crying as soon as she set eyes on me.  Zoiks.  We had more than one notable disaster.  But now, the picture of maturity.  (Though not an actual picture... those are all of the backs of the heads of all the moms in front of me.)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Conference

Last week was the first parent-teacher conference I've ever attended.  You remember: the ones most of my friends were terrified of when we were kids, but I secretly looked forward to.  I liked school, and rather took to it, at least in the early years.  And my (perhaps obnoxiously) confident self enjoyed knowing my accomplishments were being discussed at that precise minute.

Anyway, this one was for the Bug's Junior-K class.  And truth be told, I was a little nervous.  I mean, you know your kid is awesome.  But what if there's something concerning about her tendency to wear fifteen hair clips every day?  Or if her teachers worry that a dress and tights and other weather-inappropriate clothing might indicate larger problems at home.  [N.b., She dresses herself!]  Or if her lunches aren't sufficiently healthy or sustainably-farmed or whatever?  Or if I send the worst snacks of any class mom?

First off, I can't praise highly enough the professionalism of the staff at her school.  Her teachers had prepared a written report that detailed the good - and the bad - of her academics and social progress since the beginning of the school year.  And we spend a good deal of time discussing, and formulating an action plan for, the one issue they've identified. 

In a nutshell, the Bug is nervous around grown-ups.  She freezes, forgets her lovely manners, and it comes off as disrespectful, which none of us think is OK.  Lucky for her, she's still just four.  We've got time.  And even luckier, she's got a whole team who loves her and wants to help her through it - Joker and me, her teachers and the staff at her school, her grandparents and great-grands and aunts/uncles/cousins, even her friends' parents and Joker and my friends.  So she'll be great.  And it's lovely to know that the school believes this is an important social skill for her to have and to cultivate.

On the positive side, her friendships with the kids at school are at or ahead of where the teachers would expect after a cross-country move.  And perhaps less surprising to those of us around her, her academics are at the top of her class.  So kindergarten next year is all systems go, and her teachers only want to ensure she isn't bored when she gets there.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Best. Gate. Ever.

After the snow had sufficiently melted at the end of last week, we took a walk around the Evergreen Lake.  There are lots of things to love about this town, and the lake is one of them: a 1.25-mile loop that the Bug hikes with ease, beautiful and right in town.  Plus, it has my favorite gate just off the path.

Perhaps it's not the most useful gate of all time, but it's definitely the best.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Chianti and cupcakes

Sounds delicious, right?!

After spending a little time in Rome, Mima and Boppie made their way to their primary Italian destination: a week in Tuscany.  I've seen the photos - it was beautiful, the wine was delicious and the food was decadent.  What a fabulous trip - I can't believe I've not yet been to Italy myself... this certainly provided some motivation!

***

In other news, I baked 8 dozen mini cupcakes for the Bug's preschool Halloween party tomorrow.  My thoughts:
  • Do you think this is enough to get me on the teacher's good side?
  • Is it odd that I still feel a need to get on a teacher's good side, particularly when I'm not even the one in class? 
  • How'd I get on her bad side, anyway?
  • Thank heavens said teacher considers icing and sprinkles to be an appropriate and fun in-class activity so I didn't have to frost 8 dozen freaking cupcakes myself. No good side in the world is worth that kind of hassle!
  • 4-year-olds love to help.  For about 10 minutes.  Then you're on your own with the pressure to make ninety-fucking-six adequately delicious, nutritious and fun-to-decorate tiny cupcakes.
  • What the hell am I supposed to carry them to school in, anyway?  Please tell me that several layers deep in a giant tupperware is acceptable with these things.
I guess that's it.  Don't get me started on the glue gun I wielded with authority in the creation of her masterpiece wings.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Surprise!

My family is big on surprises.  I mean, really big.  Various of us have shown up unannounced at graduations or birthdays.  We've been flown to Mexico to catch Boppie unawares.  We've thrown several surprise pig roasts (all at the houses of the surpriseds, which takes some pretty major orchestration).  We love surprises.  And there is no bigger fan of the surprise than Mima.

So imagine our collective pride when we pulled off the ultimate: a surprise birthday party for Mima herself, complete with a great band, delicious food and drinks, beautiful flowers and over 60 loved ones.  The party was Saturday night right in Mima's stomping grounds.  And we got her but good - she really had no clue.  Out of town guests came from New York, Iowa... and my brother with his wife and baby twins from Maryland. 

So Mima, happy birthday to you.  May this year be the most fun - and surprise - filled one yet!  We love you!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Echo Lake and the pumpkin patch

Since Joker had yesterday off in honor of that first great American who stole the lands of our indigenous peoples, we decided to keep the Bug out of school and enjoy a family fall day together. 

First stop was Echo Lake, a very picturesque lake located a stunning 18-mile drive west of Evergreen, at about 10,600 feet elevation.  They'd gotten almost a foot of snow two days prior, and the paths were navigable but clearly covered in snow.  The lake wasn't frozen, but it won't be long up there!  It was beautiful, and we enjoyed a short hike part of the way around the lake.

After we got back home, we hit the pumpkin patch to select our seasonal treasures.  We carved and/or decorated them, and you can see the masterpieces here.  From the left, the Bug-Pumpkin (you'll see she wanted the mouth carved and everything else drawn in marker), the Daddy-Pumpkin (he always goes in for scary), the Bunny-Pumpkin (too small to carve, just right for markers) and the Mommy-Pumpkin (which is pretty much as dorky as mine usually are).


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Rome

Mima and Boppie - and, apparently, this kitty that looks eerily like Buffy - are in the midst of an Italian adventure!  They get back later this week, and we are all excited to hear about their travels.  As they reminded us on this card, the girls have many adventures of their own in their futures... and we're looking forward to showing them this wonderful world!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

First snowfall

O Colorado and her wacky weather!  Yesterday I went for a jog in shorts and t-shirt and Joker had the convertible top down.  Today?  First snowfall - an inch or so before we woke up, and it kept coming down all morning.

We celebrated by spending about an hour getting the kids into their snow gear, and then going to "Dinosaur Park" here in town.  One of the Bug's school friends was already there, and the two of them ran around like maniacs for over an hour.  The Bunny, on the other hand, stood still and sported the saddest face you've seen.  Like we'd put her in an iron maiden instead of puffy pants and snow boots.

It looks like curtains for our window boxes...

...but 50 bucks says hammock season isn't over yet!


Friday, September 30, 2011

Housewifing

[Try singing that to the tune of Iggy Pop's "Nightclubbing."  Yeah, it's incongruous.]

Since before we moved here, I've been among the glorious ranks of the unemployed.  I'm looking for something, but since the media industry never quite flocked to Denver, and since the economy is in the crapper, it's slow going. 

In the mean time, though, I have really been enjoying myself and my (presumably temporary) housewife gig. I didn't expect to like it this much, but not working during a Colorado summer is pretty hard to beat!  I'm outside with the girls (or just the Bunny during the Bug's school days) every day, usually a couple of times.  We've gone to museums, the zoo, parks, tourist attractions.  It's cool!

Still, I struggle with it a little.  So much of my time - of my identity - has been wrapped up in my career for years now.  Then all of a sudden, no commute or job or colleagues.  I don't make any money, nor do I wear makeup or (for that matter) shoes other than flip-flops.  My closet is wasting away while I wear jeans and t-shirts. I actually like to talk about politics and the economy and travel and other subjects that don't often come up when I'm pushing my kid on a swing.  It's a change.  Plus, I am a lousy housekeeper.  I seriously dislike cleaning, I'm not even very good at it and I am really, really slow. 

I miss work, and I am grateful to have a couple of projects to keep me sharp.  Every conference call reminds me that I really do enjoy working, and that I am pretty good at it, too.  I love my kids, but running errands with me all day has nothing on the fun and stimulation they get at school or even the super daycare we found for the Bunny.  It'll be great to have our routine back, but until then, I'll just keep on chilling at the park.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

San Diaaaago, which of course is German for...

Aunt Jessie sent this to the Bug and the Bunny from a weekend wedding party in San Diego (of which you probably know the word origin, if you've seen Anchorman).  Anyhoo, the Bug loves the koala in the picture and has been carrying it around since it arrived in our mailbox!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Lair o' the Bear

The Colorado Indian Summer is something to be savored; September has got to be the most beautiful month here!  So on Saturday, we bailed on our errands and took the girls on a hike. 

The Bunny and the Bug, hiking together.
One superior thing that Jefferson County has done was to fund "Open Space" parks, some of which are pretty spectacular.  Yesterday I went on a trail run in Elk Meadow, which is near our house in Evergreen, and Saturday we explored Lair o' the Bear, which is between Evergreen and Morrison.  We'd learned of it in a book about great Colorado hikes for kids, and it did not disappoint.  The flat path along Bear Creek was a blast for the kids, with a bunch of places to walk right down to the water and make mud pies.  After crossing a bridge, our path led us slightly uphill for a while, too, and the girls loved the view.  It was such a pleasure to get fresh air on a beautiful day, doing something we could all enjoy - and the girls hiked about a mile on their own!

Bear Creek runs between the meadow and Bruin Bluff.

An artist had set up easels along the creek.

Looking down Bear Creek from the Dipper Bridge.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

MLK, Jr. Memorial, Washington DC

We finally got our first postcard sent to this house - Mima visited my sweet twin nephews Caleb and Wyatt last week.  While on her Maryland adventure, she, Shane and Ali took the boys into Washington, DC for their first visit to The Mall.  They got to check out this lovely new memorial, visit with a couple of friends and have a wonderful day in general.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Welcome to the doghouse

The Bug continues to be an enthusiastic artist, and her work is increasingly recognizable.  She also has an incredible fondness for scissors and tape, so rare is my opportunity to whisk anything away for the scanner (or the fridge or the wall or her grand/great-grandparents).  Today she did a marvelous self-portrait, complete with knees, earrings and rain clouds, but since it was partially done in highlighter (rather than marker), it won't scan.

This gem, however, was created last night.  It's multimedia: construction paper, marker, tape and (it bears inclusion since its presence is felt if not actually seen) scissors. 

In the middle is the doggie.  Clockwise from lower right you see the door, his bed, his chair... and his skateboard.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

9.11, ten years later

It's 10pm in Colorado, and the tenth anniversary of 9.11 technically begins in two hours.

I will never forget September 11, 2001.  I can't.  Every minute of that day, and of the days that followed, is burned into my brain.  I wrote about it when bin Laden was killed, so I don't need to remind you of my 9.11 story.  But every New Yorker has one, and we all remember.  But I have avoided all of the ceremonial hoo-ha as much as possible. I don't like it.

I know New Yorkers who feel differently.  Those who believe the ceremonies are important; that they'll help our nation to stay vigilant.  I do not.  I may no longer be a New Yorker, but I spent many years as one.  And from this New Yorker's point of view, we don't need ceremony.  Ceremony was of no consequence when bin Laden was dumped overboard, and there's been no other milestone that mattered.  The tribute lights went back on at the Trade Center this week.  While they are on, let them shine bright.  Let these lights tell the world that New York was not bested; that the United States was not bested.  Let the lights give passers-by a reason to pause, or a reason to remember the dead, or a reason to think warmly of their unharmed loved ones.  Let these lights remind us all of the democratic revolution that is well underway in the Middle East.  Remind us that Al Qaeda was always destined to be the loser.

September 11 may be a date that many people will remember, but city memorials and firefighter fundraisers and other crowd-rousing events don't mean a thing.  Yeah, I'll remember September 11.  I'll remember it until I die, privately.

And you know what else I'll remember?  Fuck you, bin Laden.  You lost.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Two-month post-move report

So apparently we've been in Colorado for more than two months - time, she flies!  It's been great, and I have learned a ton about everything from the difference between houses and condos (the former is much bigger, with larger potential mishap) to the difference between elk shit and deer shit (the former is much bigger, with larger potential mishap).  Here are some of my initial thoughts and reactions:

  • Elk.  Love 'em.  Seriously, can you ever get tired of seeing them?  They are huge (the Bunny initially thought they might be ponies), but funny looking (she was unconvinced).  Their herds can number in the scores, with mamas, babies, daddies all together - and in Evergreen, they hang out in yards.  Today, we passed one huge herd at least six separate times RIGHT DOWN FROM OUR HOUSE.  This, my friends, is cool.  Really fucking cool.
  • Running.  Hard.  Not only are we at 7300 feet of elevation, but in case you missed the news flash, mountains are hilly.  In other words, what goes down (ahhhh, easy-peasy), must come up (bugger this!).  I've finally gotten to where I don't feel like I am going to die every time I finish a run, but there is no question, it's harder here than at flat, Connecticut sea level.
  • Other wildlife.  So cool.  The kids love it - and the Bug mentioned the other day that she doesn't like a day to go by without seeing a deer or an elk.  I loved that.  There's a deer that has made his home around our place, and we miss him when he's not there.  We see squirrels and chipmunks and rabbits and hummingbirds and jays... not to mention the rainbow of wildflowers that grow right in our yard!  It's so beautiful and fun and the girls are in love.  Me, too.
  • Schools.  Awesome.  The Bug is in a fantabulous preschool program with amazing teachers and awesome parents and kids.  She loves it, even though she misses her old babysitter and school.  I've also visited a totally great potential daycare for the Bunny, where they take the kids on hikes every single day.  Don't get that in NYC, do you?
  • Friends.  Tough.  Being a married-with-kids grown-up in a new city doesn't provide tons of opportunities for mingling.  But the parents at the Bug's school seem cool, my family is close and both Joker and I have friends in the area.  It'll come.
  • Family.  Awesome.  I've seen my grandparents almost weekly, and the girls have the layout of their house totally nailed - they know where the toys (and the M&Ms) are without asking.  Hell, tomorrow I'm taking lunch over to their house because it's the Bug's fave place to go on her non-school day.  We see my parents and my sister super often.  It's a big reason why we moved here, and it's awesome.
  • Climate.  Mostly awesome.  Colorado weather is the best in the country.  It's sunny almost every day, and the seasons each explode with their unique excellence.  It is also extremely dry.  You will need your NetiPot, believe me.
So there you have it: two months of Colorado.  


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Double and The Gambler

It has taken me an extremely long time to finish this book, mostly because I have struggled to find a dedicated reading time like the one my afternoon commute used to provide.  I think I'm getting into something of a routine, and hope to be closer to my old reading pace.  Fingers crossed!
  ***
The brilliant Russian translators Richard and Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky brought together two of Fyodor Dostoevsky's short novels, The Double and The Gambler, into a single volume.  Both were gambles of sorts on Dostoevsky's part, the former dating to 1845 and the latter more than 20 years later.  I enjoyed them, but not in any way approaching how much I love Dostoevsky's other works.

The Double is something of a "rethinking" of Gogol - not a plagiarism or an imitation, but more of a tribute.  The protagonist is a poor government clerk named Goliadkin, not the most likable fellow and something of a scoundrel.  During a bitter cold November day, he finds himself spiraling into a nightmare of a situation: someone was quite literally taking over his identity, and there was nothing Goliadkin could do about it.  This story displays some of the earliest signs of Dostoevsky's genius, but frankly, I did not enjoy it all that much. 

The Gambler was risky for a very different reason: Dostoevsky himself struggled with a gambling addiction, and the general setting for the story closely resembles one of his own trips abroad.  The protagonist and narrator, Alexei Ivanovich, is a young man in the mold of Alyosha Karamazov from Brothers K or Prince Myshkin of The Idiot.  He is young, somewhat innocent and imminently likable.  He is in the fictional gambling town of Roulettenberg working as a tutor for a Russian general with whose stepdaughter he is in love.  The supporting characters - especially the kooky Grandmother - are superb and well written, and Alexei's descent into a gambling addiction is both inevitable and believable.  In contrast to the first story in this book, this was extremely enjoyable and easy to read.

I'd suggest that everyone read Dostoevsky's novels, but would only recommend this to his biggest fans.  It won't get you hooked the way Brothers K or Crime and Punishment will; neither will it be the worst book you've read.

Next up: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.  I have really read nothing by him since high school; time to give him a chance.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

This concert should be played loud!

A way overdue posting from our celebration of Joker's 40th birthday: one of the most amazing live music experiences I have ever been to.  Along with two of our dear friends, we headed up to Woodstock, NY (sans kids!!!) for a night to attend Levon Helm's Midnight Ramble.

Levon Helm was the drummer for The Band, and has been an active musician for maybe five decades.  He lives outside of Woodstock where built an awesome studio in his own house that can hold about 200 guests and as many as 16 musicians on an intimate stage.  He hosts these Midnight Rambles on Saturday nights year-round.  It's billed as a concert, but the experience is so much more than that.

First you drive up an unmarked driveway, recognizable only by the mailbox on the side of the road, which opens up into a parking lot with attendants.  Everyone in the car needs a wristband, essentially a proxy for your ticket.  Once you park, you're free to wander the beautiful grounds.  But before taking a look around, grab a beer from your cooler and pour it into a plastic cup (if you don't bring your own, you can get cups at the venue).  When The Barn, as it's called, opens to the public, people with seating tickets (as opposed to standing-only) toss jackets onto the chairs they stake out, perhaps contribute a dish to the potluck table, and return to the tailgating party.  Throughout the show you're free to come and go as you will, the rule being only plastic cups and water bottles are allowed inside.  It's Levon's home, remember?

The music was intoxicating.  We danced our asses off.  Levon's band is 13 or so pieces, including his 30-something, uber-pregnant daughter who sings some of the lead vocals.  Levon himself plays so enthusiastically you'd think it was his first time in front of an audience.  They played songs from this band's repertoire, songs from the Dead, from The Band and more.  The show went on for a couple of hours, and we would gladly have stayed for more.  A concert-going experience for the record books - we only hope to enjoy it again someday!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Yep, I'm a Gleek

Have you seen Glee yet?  Seriously??  It is like the most awesome show since Buffy, I shit you not.  How in the world am I only just discovering it?

We just finished Season 1, and the third season starts in a few weeks.  Do yourself a favor: GET IT!!  STREAM IT ON NETFLIX!! It's excellent.

The show is about a show choir filled with misfits: a social outcast, a gay guy, a kid in a wheelchair, a stuttering Asian girl, a fat black chick.  Then, under the guidance of a new club teacher, things begin to change.  The kids are awesome, and they are totally a lesson in perseverance and acceptance.  The singing is out of this world.  Doogie Howser has a 3-episode guest star run (and other stars like Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenowith, Olivia Newton John appear), Joss Whedon directs an episode, the songs range from Journey to Lady Gaga with everything in between.  Sue Sylvester is a character for the record books in both bitchiness and awesome.  In short, there's nothing not to love. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Shine bright, Firefly

Two weeks ago a light went out too early.  A dear, wonderful, gregarious, warm woman who was just my age lost her battle with cancer.  I have had a really tough time processing this.

Christy wasn't a friend I saw often.  Hell, it'd been years since I'd last seen her.  But from the moment she and her family parked their camper in our yard she was my friend.  We must have been in middle school at the time, and Christy was everything I admired: confident, beautiful, hilarious and kind.  We were fast friends from that day forward, writing letters between family visits, sometimes even coughing up for long-distance calls.  But years passed and our friendship became somehow less immediate.  Even then, I thought of her far more often than my correspondence would attest.

When I learned of her illness I wanted to call, to give her support, to tell her that I loved her and was hoping against hope for her triumph.  But I didn't.  I suck at saying "the right thing" during difficult times.  I felt like my sorrow and anger paled in comparison to her own, like I didn't even deserve to feel it.  I felt like talking about my wonderful family in our great health doing our whatevers would sound trivial.  So many excuses, and I didn't call.  I thought of her and I feared for her.  But the cancer was fast and I was slow.

Still I believe - from our Facebook correspondence, partly, but mostly because of her magnanimous and loving and generous nature - that she knew.  I had the honor of spending a day with her parents, as they began their healing process.  I feel unfairly lucky - it's not fair that I get to have two beautiful daughters and a house in the mountains and a glass of red wine and my health - but while it is not fair, they helped me to see that it isn't my fault, either.  And I promise you, Christy, that I will never again let the fear of saying the wrong thing cause me to say nothing.  Shine on, beautiful woman, shine on.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Georgetown's narrow-gauge railroad

During one of our local adventure days last week, Joker and I took the girls a few miles west to the town of Georgetown.  There's a pretty neat old downtown with the highest per capita number of Victorian houses in the country (if I recall correctly), and if antiquing is your thing there is a ton to do there.  After we grabbed a quick lunch, we went to the historic Georgetown Loop Railroad.

The line dates back to around the turn of the century (1900, not 2000), when train travel was popular for day trips for Denver's well-to-do.  Passengers would ride up from Denver, have a picnic lunch and spend the day in Georgetown or Silver Plume and return in time for dinner.  The train is notable for two major reasons.  First, it is a narrow-gauge train, meaning the rails are only three feet apart versus the standard gauge of 4' 8".  This was popular for mountain rail in the heyday of the railroad.  Second, it crosses a pretty incredible 100 foot high bridge which offers beautiful views along with a little anxiety for anyone with a fear of heights. 


The entire round trip to Silver Plume takes less than an hour and a half, which is perfect for kids the ages of mine.  All of the cars and engines are super cool, dating back to around 1900 as well.  The ride is beautiful and fun and a great way to spend an afternoon.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Camping at Long Draw

We spent last weekend camping with my parents - the first time in over 20 years for me, and the first time ever for Joker and the girls.  What a blast!  It was such a wonderful way to relax and spend time together!  We all loved it, and we're already looking forward to our next camping trip.

Boppie picked the location: a wonderful campground on Long Draw Reservoir, over an hour up the stunning Poudre Canyon.  We lucked into a perfect site with a beautiful view, privacy and superb spots for both tents.  The only drawback was the 200 yard hike down the hill, which we shlepped our stuff up and down each night for bear-proofing. 

The Bug could not have enjoyed fishing more.  She even picked out her own fly: a giant black ant with two pink spots.  She learned how to cast out, and never wanted to quit.  The adults' best luck was just before dusk on the canoe - we floated out and were catching a rainbow trout on practically every cast when we hit out limit.  Trout for dinner, and again for breakfast, which is my personal fave.

The reservoir itself is below the Never Summer Range, which true to its name still has snow caps.  In the mornings, the water was perfectly still, even in the inlet where we camped.  The first morning it frosted, and a captivating mist rose from the lake. 

The girls loved throwing rocks in the lake, hanging out by the campfire and sleeping in tents.  They had so much fun the entire time, and the grown-ups did, too.  I predict many more camping weekends in our future!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Butterflies and dinosaurs

Since we are new to living in the Denver area and I'm home with the girls full time (for now), we are trying to see some of our local sites.  Joker is even able to take the week off so that we can adventure together - yesterday we visited with family, today we went to the Butterfly Pavilion in Denver, tomorrow we're taking the narrow gauge railroad between Georgetown and Silver Plume, and we're going camping this weekend with my parents.  I hope to have lots of pictures to share from our Colorado fun week!

The Butterfly Pavilion is pretty amazing.  The first rooms are filled with tanks that house spiders (including an entire "tarantula tower"), scorpions (some that glow in the dark), beetles, walking sticks, millipedes, a beehive, roaches and more.  Creepy.  But pretty cool.  Then you enter the rainforest environment, which is the main attraction.  Here, thousands of butterflies are flitting and sitting and eating... they're all over the place, all sizes and colors.  Total wow.




A couple of weeks ago, I took the girls to the Morrison Natural History Museum.  It's basically in our back yard, and the Bug has recently become very interested in dinosaurs.  The museum is tiny, but has some amazing fossils and casts - the first Stegosaurus and Apatosaurus (which was still a Brontosaurus when I was a kid) discovered in Colorado, T-Rex, Pteranodon, mammoth, saber tooth cat and more.  The highlight for the girls, though, was the fossil dig pit outside, where kids can find real fossils in the sand. 




Saturday, August 6, 2011

Dam Ducky Derby

Evergreen, our new town, is a very family-friendly place with loads of activities.  Among other things there is a summer evening concert series, art and music festivals every couple of weekends, a farmer's market right downtown.  And today was the Dam Ducky Derby, something totally foreign to us.  A fundraiser for a great local program for special needs kids and their families, 7,000 rubber ducks were sold for $5 a piece.  These ducks were then released at the Evergreen Dam, and floated down Bear Creek to a chute and finish line on the other end of town.  I haven't yet gotten the call to tell us that one of our ducks won, but I'm pretty much banking on it.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Garden of the Gods


On Sunday afternoon we went on a quintessential Colorado outing to the Garden of the Gods, a public park located just outside of Colorado Springs.  With the kids in tow, hard core hiking isn't possible, so we are keen on identifying places that qualify as "a walk" but are still fun for the grown-ups.  Garden of the Gods fits the bill perfectly: incredible natural beauty that is completely accessible to everyone!

Typical Colorado, the weather rolled in as we got to the farthest-away point.  We got totally and completely drenched.  Luckily, it was a warm-ish downpour, and everyone was more or less amused.
 After the rain, the clouds begin to thin out...
...and we ended the day with clear, blue skies.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sorry, Harry, but you were wrong about that

Maybe you noticed it, but the final Harry Potter movie was released this month.  In the run-up to this blockbuster event, there were myriad behind the scenes, character overviews, plot reviews and uncountable conversations with friends.  Anyway, during one marathon of HP extras, I kept hearing one of the most memorable quotes of the first film.  When Hagrid tells Harry that he's a wizard, Harry replies, "But I'm just Harry."  As Hagrid's reply indicates, nothing could be farther from the truth.

I was drawn into the wizarding world in late 2000, when a group of friends selected Sorcerer's Stone for a book club read.  I flew through that one and the two subsequent books, catching up with the books' release dates.  Joker and I stood in line at midnight for one of them; we've bought two copies of every one of them so that neither had to be second to read it.

The books excited generations of readers.  Kids who hadn't picked up a book before were now voraciously tearing through thousands of pages.  From my middle-school cousins to an octogenarian great aunt, hundreds of people I knew ranged from casual readers to completely obsessed. 

Then the movies came out.  Casting of the kids was perfect, but the secondary and tertiary characters... wow.  Talk about a who's who of British actors!  Major stars from screen and stage were called in to portray Harry's friends and foes, and they all brought their A games. 

I took my own magic wand (a replica of Hermione's, if you're wondering) to see the final film.  It was amazing.  I cried from the get-go.  Like, from the first time I saw the first trailer until the end of the movie over a year later.  But it had nothing on the sobbing that happened when I read of Sirius's death, or that of Dumbledore.  I cried when I finished the last book (and the last movie) because I knew I'd miss my friends.  The Harry Potter series is so much more than just a bunch of movies and books.  It really is magic.

Monday, July 25, 2011

This must be the place

We are finally settled - more or less - in our new house in Evergreen, which is a small town about half an hour west of Denver.  It smells like the mountains, looks like the mountains, feels like the mountains so it can probably be considered to be a mountain town.  Our view is of the mountains and the big, wide Colorado sky, and we have hummingbirds and deer and elk right in our yard on a daily basis.  We finally have internet connectivity, which means I can return focus to two heretofore ignored pursuits: blogging and looking for a job.

Back to parenting for now, but I have a few posts waiting in the wings... stay tuned; my online yet unemployed self has much wit and wisdom to share!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Doing the limbo

I found blogging to be difficult while housewifing, but it had nothing on the challenge of blogging without a computer.  Apologies for the major delay!  Since my new computer arrived today, here's hoping I can keep up a more regular schedule.

So it looks like this whole moving thing is really happening!  The girls and I (along with Sirius and Buffy) have spent the past week at my parents' house.  We flew out last Wednesday and our stuff left on the moving truck on Friday.  Joker stayed behind to coordinate work on the condo before we rent it out, and barring any further delays he'll be joining us Saturday night.  I'm planning to pick up our cars tomorrow (with the valuable assistance of the parentals and my sister), and based on the last update, the movers will be delivering our belongings to the new house on Friday. 

Packing was an intense multi-week effort.  I labelled the boxes with as much detail on contents as possible, in the hopes that it makes the unpacking phase as smooth as possible.  I've had a week to basically hang out with the girls and my parents, but beginning tomorrow I'm back on my game.  It'll be a very busy July 4 weekend, but it's going to feel so great to be in our own house with Joker... can't wait!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Yale + 15

This weekend was my 15th Yale reunion.  I hadn't planned to attend.  Since I wasn't sure of our moving schedule, there was a real possibility I'd be frantically packing all weekend.  Plus, both Joker and the Bug have birthdays around Memorial Day Weekend, and since neither of them are Yale alums it didn't feel very fair.  But as the weekend drew near and I saw the Facebook posts of people arriving on campus, I got a little bummed out.  Joker suggested I head up on Friday evening for a few hours, and I hopped on the Metro North bound for New Haven.

I could not be happier about having done it!  I was only there for a few hours, but it was so much fun!  I shaded out by sneaking in to my third reunion (the story of my 5-year is a classic; remind me to tell it sometime).  I had a few beers, talked to a whole bunch of people I haven't seen in years, and had a thoroughly enjoyable evening.  I really wanted to return to campus the next day, but as Joker reminded me, reunions are like crab dip: you really should stop before you think you've had enough.

So to the '96ers (and spouses) I saw, it was a delight - thanks for a fun time!  To those I missed, I plan to be there for the 20th.  And maybe that time I'll actually pay at the gate.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Moving plans: moving forward

Our moving plans have finally begun to take shape.  Since my last post (sorry about the hiatus!) I've quit my job to focus on the move.  I spent last week in Colorado looking for houses, and found a great place in Evergreen, CO with a lease beginning July 1.  Movers will come the week prior to load up all of our stuff, and the day before that happens I'll be flying on a one-way ticket (with the girls and the cats) to Denver!  After he bids our stuff adieu, Joker will join us a few days later.

Packing is proving evasive.  I made some progress in clearing out our storage space, but hopefully a little time pressure will help me to motivate on the house itself.  Amusingly, I did have to order a bunch of boxes to house Joker's extensive comic book collection, so I'll be reboxing them next week.  So much to do... it's almost too intimidating to start. 

Anyhoodle, I'll be back to regular posting - it's been tough to find a routine with my new gig as a housewife.  I'll do my best!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Why I love NYC #5: Food and Drink

There are few pleasures like good food and good drinks, and New York is home to amazing options across the board.  If eating is your pleasure, options range from pizza to raw oysters to every ethnic cuisine imaginable.  You can find excellent Thai, Chinese and Japanese, but also Burmese, Ethiopian, Caribbean, Argentinian, French... you name it.  You want fried grasshopper tacos?  (Try next door to Irving Plaza.)  Looking for a traditional Irish breakfast?  (Thady Con's in midtown is pretty good.)  The fierce competition ensures that across the city, restaurants are superior, regardless of price range.  You can spend a couple bucks on a slice, or a couple hundred on an omakase, and there's a time and a place for every option. 

But your experience wouldn't be complete without the booze.  And New York is a city for drinking.  Whether it's pitchers of cheap beer with free hot dogs on the side or $20 specialty martinis, finding a drink in New York is even easier than finding a meal.  People sip bottomless mimosas with brunch, drink rose wine outside on summer afternoons, do shots.  We slug down beers and toast with champagne.  New Yorkers can make every occasion an occasion to drink.  It's all made possible by the city's reliance on public transportation; there's never a reason to drink and drive here.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ashes to ashes

It's taken me a few days to decide exactly what I wanted to write about the death of Osama bin Laden, so first, a few collected thoughts.  I didn't like the jubilant celebrations I saw; I thought they were tacky.  I don't care whether he was armed or not when they shot him; he knocked over two buildings in my town, so he'd proven his capacity for destruction.  I don't want to see a photo; I am glad that a bullet was buried in the spineless rat bastard's brain.

I remember exactly where I was on September 11, and I watched the second tower fall to the ground in real time on the news.  It was a Tuesday, and the Broncos had played the Giants the night before.  I was in Altanta for a conference, so I watched the game with one of Joker's friends at a bar in Little Five Points.  Nursing a slight hangover, I stepped out of the conference for another cup of coffee, and that's when I saw one smoking tower.  I was puzzled; I now know that I could never have conceived of what really happened.  I couldn't take my eyes off the TV.  I saw a plane fly around the tower and asked the guy next to me if it was "one of those fire fighting planes."  It wasn't.  Those don't actually exist.  The second plane hit the tower, the one that wasn't smoking.  I ran into the conference and grabbed my friend by the arm, told her she had to see what was happening.  By this time, there were a handful of people in the break room watching with me.  We saw one tower fall.  We watched until the second tower fell.

I remember the impossibility of trying to reach my friends in New York.  I remember the difficulty with which my parents reached me.  I wanted to be home, but didn't want to get on an airplane.  I wasn't the only one - there wasn't a rental car to be had in the city of Atlanta.  A good friend of mine from Atlanta was in Philadelphia for business, so I borrowed his car, drove to Philly and handed off his keys.  During the drive, my colleague read aloud from the papers.  We ate at Cracker Barrels.  We finally had to take a break from the news by listening to books on CD (which the Cracker Barrel has, in case you're wondering - you pick them up and drop them off at the next location; selection is crap, but the concept is cool).  There have been few sights in my life as welcome as my friend in Manayunk when she opened the door and gave me a hug.  Joker picked me up, and I didn't go into New York until the following week.  We spent the weekend drinking excessively around his table, talking to friends, speculating about the best way to dispose of bin Laden and his followers.

I didn't know very many people who worked in the Trade Center, and I was fortunate not to have lost any friends.  But three thousand of my neighbors were killed that day, and I took it personally.  Almost 10 years have passed, but the impact has hardly diminished.  Obama's decision to send in the best of the U.S. military to execute bin Laden was courageous.  A bomb would have been a lot easier, but the outcome would have been murkier - civilians would have been killed, bin Laden might not have been.  So Obama called on our most bad-ass commandos, and then he put on a tux and cracked jokes and was given shit for not yet finding bin Laden at the Correspondents' dinner.  Obama, he's a hero.  And bin Laden, he's fish food.

I didn't hear the news on May 1; it was announced after I'd gone to bed.  I got ready on the morning of May 2, got my kids dressed, ate some breakfast.  I picked up my newspaper but tucked it under my arm without looking at it.  I got in my car, switched on the radio and heard that bin Laden was dead.  I cried, and I called Joker, and since then I've relived 9-11 a hundred times in my mind.  Al Qaeda's relevance has waned, being replaced by the democratic movements now taking place in the middle east.  But bin Laden was an evil piece of shit, I am glad he's dead and I am glad I was still in New York when it happened.  Now we can move on.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Handful of Dust

Every book I read by British satirist Evelyn Waugh seems to make me into a bigger fan, and A Handful of Dust is no exception.  It is superbly funny, until it turns wickedly macabre in one fell swoop.  It is a biting satire of the idle British landed class, and it ends with one of Waugh's notable short stories, "The Man Who Liked Dickens." 

The novel opens with a glimpse into the life of John Beaver, a rather unlikable man (with which description most of London society apparently agrees).  He's a social climber, lives with his mother, has neither money nor a job and connives for free meals and lodging whenever he can.  He invites himself to Hetton, an unfashionably Gothic estate owned by his not particularly close friends Brenda and Tony Last.  Tony loves Hetton and is unspeakably irritated by Beaver, making himself scarce for the weekend.  Brenda, left in the position of entertaining Beaver, finds him duly annoying, and ultimately begins an affair with him anyway.

The ensuing pages follow the unraveling of the Lasts' marriage, and the further unraveling of Tony specifically.  It is hilarious and clever and expertly well written, and I will tell no more about it for fear of ruining the fun.  I recommend it unconditionally.

Next up: The Double and The Gambler, two novellas (published together) by my dear Fyodor Dostoevsky translated by - you guessed it - the genius duo of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

Friday, April 22, 2011

Why I love NYC #4: Central Park

This one is so non-controversial as to be almost boring, but Central Park is an urban oasis and cannot be overlooked. 

In the mid 1800s, New York was the most populous city in the country and on its way to becoming the capital of the world.  As such, real estate on the island of Manhattan was already proving far more valuable that the load of wampum and muskets that it had been purchased for.  The city was stretching north, with the mish-mosh of lower Manhattan giving way to the delightfully orderly uptown grid.  Yet despite this trend, the city planners had the incredible foresight to carve out almost 850 acres to house an amazing public work.  The original design from Frederick Law Olmsted and English architect Calvert Vaux remains virtually unchanged today.  The variety of flora is breathtaking, with different varietals in bloom for most of the year. 

Organized spaces contrast with the wild Ramble, enormous lawns are flanked by tiny bridges, there's a wide range of playgrounds for the kids.  Central Park houses a sailboat pond, a fishing pond, a couple of my favorite sculptures, a random obelisk, a zoo and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Free concerts draw huge crowds, as do speakers like the Dalai Lama.  Joggers and rollerbladers and enjoy the park paths year round, couples canoodle on benches or blankets, ice skaters flock in the winter and the free tickets to Shakespeare in the Park go like hotcakes. 

Upper East Siders and Upper West Siders each claim the park for their own, but it really belongs to the entire city.  I don't know a person here who doesn't have a fond memory or two of Central Park, and it's a must-hit stop on the tourist circuit.  If only every city could have invested half so well in their public spaces a century and a half ago!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Finker Question

I've read some reviews of Howard Jacobson's 2010 Man Booker Prize-winning novel The Finkler Question, and am rather surprised by most of the descriptions.  Perhaps I missed something core to the book, but I would call it neither a "wonderful comic creation" nor a "riotous morass of jokes."  It is a book about Jewish identity, with a protagonist who is not particularly endearing.  For that reason, it recalls a bit of Philip Roth or John Updike, though it's neither as good as Roth at his best, nor as boring as Updike.

Set in London, The Finkler Question focuses on Julian Treslove (the rare non-Jew in the book) and his two friends Sam Finkler and Libor Sevcik.  Treslove and Finkler were childhood friends who remained in touch as they grew older, and their mutual disrespect was, in many ways, what kept them close.  Libor, an old Czech who had a second career as a Hollywood gossip journalist, was their former teacher.  Now a widower who dearly misses his beloved wife Malkie, Libor hosts frequent gatherings of the trio, where they drink wine and reminisce about loves lost.

Treslove is an ex-radio producer who left an undistinguished career at the BBC to become a celebrity impersonator.  Finkler, by contrast, is a popular television personality, a sort of self-help guru whose massive ego and self-aggrandizement have only served to increase his fan base. Finkler has always represented all things Jewish to Treslove; hence, the titular "Finkler Question" is really a "Jewish Question," which Treslove hashes time and again in his own mind.  He's not Jewish, but obsessed with Jews (though not necessarily with Judaism).  When Treslove finds himself the victim of a supposed anti-Semitic attack, this obsession triggers a reinventing of himself as the perfect Jew.  He somehow believes it was Finkler's fault, but gets past (or, perhaps more accurately, dwells on) the attack by emulating what he perceives as Finkler's Jewish essence.

Reviewers have found this book to be hilarious; I found it rather dull.  Critics praised Jacobson's prose and writing style; I found them to be ordinary.  Perhaps this book just wasn't for me.

Next up: A Handful of Dust by master satirist Evelyn Waugh.

Monday, April 18, 2011

An intro to Loire Valley wines

Joker and I had an absolutely delightful mid-afternoon date yesterday: we got set up by my brother-in-law to attend a wine class focused on the Loire Valley.  It was at the Tarry Market, an Italian market in Port Chester opened late last year by celebrity chef Mario Batali.  It was a blast!

The class was in their event space, which is a really cool room upstairs from the market and adjoining wine shop.  They brought in Jenn Zala, a woman who's spent  a great deal of time in the Loire region, to teach the class.  The wine was great, and Jenn described everything from the grape growing and harvesting process to the vintners to the wines with obvious joy and regard for it all. 

French wines intimidate the hell out of me.  Something about the naming conventions (the region? the grape?) confuses me from the get-go.  Plus, knowing as little as I do about them (and having as limited a budget as I do), I find that it's easier to stick with wines from places I'm more comfortable with.  But Jenn really gave some great insight into this wine region.  Plus, she used adjectives that I could understand, describing the mood of a wine (wines were "jumpy" or "energetic") rather than sticking to pretentious-sounding language like "oaky" and "a hint of cherries" and what have you.  I'd highly recommend this pleasant experience to everyone local.  Or at least, everyone local who enjoys drinking wine.  We hope to attend the next one, too!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Why I love NYC #3: Live Music

New Orleans has its funk, Nashville its country, Austin its indie, Los Angeles its hip hop, but New York is the place to see it all.  I have seen hundreds of shows in dozens of venues across the city, every genre you can imagine, and I haven't come close to cracking music scene. 

I have seen Garth Brooks and the Metropolitan Opera play free shows in Central Park.  I fondly remember seeing Jerry Jeff Walker at the long-gone Tramps, bands I'd never heard of at CBGB, all sorts of noodly jam bands at the Wetlands.  Deep Banana Blackout at Irving Plaza, Phish at The Garden, Angelique Kidjo at the Apollo, Doughty at the Bowery Ballroom, the Allmans at the Beacon. I've banged my head with Metallica at Giant's Stadium, shaked my pregnant ass with Ozomatli at Irving Plaza and smoked pot with the String Cheese Incident in Radio City Music Hall.

There are more concerts seven days a week than any person could ever hope to see.  There is no such thing as the "concert season" here - live music is year-round.  If you're a music fan in New York City, there is always something fun to do tonight.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Why I love NYC #2: Tourists

This is a controversial one.  Lots of New Yorkers absolutely abhor tourists.  Yeah, they walk too slow.  And yeah, they justify the existences of some of the worst abominations in the city, like Jekyll and Hyde or Times Square.  But I love 'em.

Tourists flock to the city that I have called home for years, and that just doesn't happen everywhere.  People from all over the world - families with children, young couples, old people, hard partying 20-somethings - want to see the sights and hear the sounds of New York City.  This place inspires the imagination because it is the biggest and the best in practically every category.  Even the fat midwesterner in his bad shorts and fanny pack got off his ass to see the big city, because New York is amazing.

And tourists remind me of travel, because they're doing the things I do when I'm in foreign cities: sight-seeing, people-watching and taking pictures.  They sip coffee in corner parks while the commuters flood past.  They stand in line to see famous paintings.  They hump miles and miles in a single day so as not to miss anything on their to-do lists.  They photograph the skyscrapers and the sports stadiums and the parks and all kinds of strange and wonderful items of interest just to them.  (Just this morning, an adorable young European couple asked me to take their picture in front of - I shit you not - a bus stop billboard.)

I'm proud of New York, I love New York and I love people who want to see the great things about New York.  So when a pack of Asian retirees is blocking the whole sidewalk, trying to find the Empire State Building which is all of one block away, I just step around.  I might laugh at them a little, but really, I'm glad they're here.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Bucket lists for you and me

With my NYC departure looming in the not-too-distant future, I'm working on compiling my New York Bucket List.  So far, it includes:

  • Take the Bug and the Bunny to the Statue of Liberty
  • Bring the Bug to work
  • See a Knicks playoff game
  • Take the audio tour of Grand Central
  • Visit the Morgan Pierpont Library
I'll keep adding to it (and crossing things off), and I am solicitous of any suggestions! 

On the flip side, I will be posting about some of my favorite things about New York - things that I hope you add to your own bucket lists!  So here goes, the first in that series...

Why I Love NYC #1: Grand Central Terminal


Sitting in the shadow of the art deco Chrysler Building, Grand Central Terminal has a history as storied as New York City itself.  It was a technological ground-breaker when it was built, and every great new invention was embraced here first.  The exposed lightbulbs throughout the terminal, for example, date back to the invention of the incandescent light bulb, when no one wanted to hide that cool new invention behind a fixture. 

The ceiling of the massive lobby includes a representation of the major constellations of our galaxy, including Pegasus (above the gate to Track 21) and the signs of the zodiac.  One of my favorite trivia nuggets: it's exactly backwards from what you see standing on Earth; rather, it was painted as the view the gods have when they look in to the Milky Way.

Grand Central is part of my daily commute, and every time I walk in I am struck by its magnificence and beauty.  And not every old-ass building can accommodate the sheer volume of traffic that it handles day in and day out with remarkable accuracy.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Looking to western skies

As many of our friends and family already know, Joker and I are planning to move to Colorado this summer.  It's a beautiful place to raise our girls, his work has given him an outstanding opportunity out there, it's closer to my family (including Aunt Jessie who's back in Denver herself!) and the Bug and the Bunny are young enough to make the transition seamlessly.  The cat is now out of the bag at my office as well (or rather, it was forcefully expunged from the bag by a rather indiscreet colleague), so no need to keep it a secret here any longer.

Colorado folks, looking forward to seeing more of you!  New York, Philly and Connecticut friends, we will miss you dearly... and hope to entertain you out west!
So many times I've looked to western skies
Nowhere I go is quite the same
As that sweet home waiting for me
At the end of the day
Details and progress to follow... impending job search, moving logistics... exciting times, these!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is the debut novel by Susanna Clarke, and what a triumph it is!  It's an 850-page behemoth that so completely nails the characters, the pacing and the plot it never grows old.  I've described it as a psuedo-historical Harry Potter for adults, meets Jane Austen, meets Infinite Jest, with a little The Master and Margarita thrown in for good measure.  You're probably asking yourself something along the lines of, "How does that possibly make any sense?"  Well, I will tell you.

It's about magic (this is the Potter part).  And it's set in the early 1800s (Austen, with "surprize" and "chuse" and other old-fashioned English-isms).  And there are lots and lots of footnotes - some rather lengthy - citing all these made-up historical texts (about magic) (David Foster Wallace, of course).  And there's a supernatural dude (in this case, a fairy) who totally wreaks havoc on things (Master and Margarita). 

Gilbert Norrell believes himself to be the only practicing magician left in England.  In fact, he has taken great pains to ensure this continues to be true, buying up all the magical texts he can find and squiring them away in his library and discouraging non-practicing (or "theoretical") magicians from continuing to call themselves such.  When he determines the time is right, he leaves his York estate to move to London where he offers his magical skills to assist England in its war with Napoleoon, this in an effort to bring magic back to England.

Meanwhile and elsewhere in England, the young man Jonathan Strange has been thoroughly unable to find a profession with which he can stick for more than a short period of time.  A bizarre encounter with a seemingly insane vagrant leads him to believe he is the second of England's magicians, and he pursues the profession with elan.  He seeks out Norrell, convinces the older man to take him as his apprentice and begins his formal magical education.

Mayhem is introduced into the book in the form of the gentleman with thistle-down hair, a fairy who develops strong and unexplained attachments with a couple of English humans, and despises anyone who gets in the way of his goals... the two English magicians in particular.

The book is imaginative, sarcastic and funny, impeccably written and one of the greatest reading pleasures I've enjoyed in years.  I could not recommend it highly enough, and I only hope I didn't spoil anything by my vague description above.  Do yourself a favor and read this book.

Next up: The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson, winner of the 2010 Man Booker Prize and a gift from my brother.  I'm also reading the manga Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hiyao Miyazaki, the creative genius behind Spirited Away and other wonderful films.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Chatty, chatty bang-bang

I was given a hard time the other day about not giving enough updates on what the Bunny's been up to.  So, in an effort to remedy that, here's a little catch-up.

...She's becoming super communicative, which is a little surprising since her vocabulary consists solely of the words "mama," "dada," "happy," "up," "uh-oh," "yeah!" (always said that enthusiastically) and "no."  She answers questions, provided the answer is one of the aforementioned words.  And she's got an unexpectedly deep little voice. 

...She's a huge eater (with the chubby cheeks and round belly to prove it).  She loves fruit (grapes, bananas, berries, melon) and quite a few vegetables (notably members of the squash family, which seems odd).  She gobbles up pasta, bread, pancakes, couscous like it's her last meal.  She's not so big on meat, but I suppose that'll come eventually.

...She loves to dance, and she's got a better spin move than I did when Joker and I met. 

...Which should probably be taken with a grain of salt given she toddles around like a drunken sailor.

...She has a cute little head of curly hair, and I have not a clue how to style it.  When I comb it, she kinda resembles Art Garfunkel circa Bridge over Troubled Water.  So I just let it fluff out, and figure eventually the path will become clear.

...She adores - and emulates - everything her big sister does.  It's pretty awesome.  They love to hug and kiss, though I am at a loss as to why, in a house filled with toys, they always have to have the same one. 

...At 16 months, she remains as sweet a baby as you could ever hope to find.  She rarely cries, she loves to cuddle, she is admittedly just a so-so sleeper (goes down easy, but we rarely get to sleep straight through the night) and she makes us all laugh. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

A visit to Baltimore

Just after finishing a show that depicted the absolute worst of Baltimore, I had the good fortune to go there myself and see the good side of that city.  I met a few of my college girlfriends for a get-away weekend, and we ate great food (especially crabs), went to a totally strange art museum, saw the harbors and docks and drank way too much.  Totally fun time!  And Baltimore is a really pretty city with a nice downtown, plenty of live music and friendly people.

If you haven't heard of the American Visionary Art Museum (I had not), you should totally check it out.  Totally cool building, and it's full of crazy weird stuff. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Wire

Joker and I just watched finished watching the five-season HBO series The Wire.  It is fantastic.  It might be the best show ever created, and it earned constant critical praise during its run.  The series is a gritty, realistic portrait of inner-city Baltimore, with a large ensemble cast that includes the police, drug gangs, the dock workers, lawyers, politicians and the press.  Each season focuses on a specific area of Baltimore crime, with several storylines continuing through two or more seasons.  I cannot strongly enough suggest you watch it, if you haven't already.  Here are a few reflections on the series:

...There are two single characters with incredible arcs over the five seasons: Bubbles and Omar Little.  We meet Bubbles as a homeless heroin addict and police informant, see him truly hit rock bottom a couple of years later, and after a few bumps in the road he finishes the series having inspired a journalist to do his best reporting, and is on a clean path that'll allow for reconciliation with his sister.  Omar is a homosexual street vigilante who metes his own brand of justice with a sawed-off shotgun.  I can't say his story ends particularly optimistically, but his character is probably the most memorable of the series.

...Every character is seriously flawed (with the arguable exception of Prezbo).  The heroes are not clear-cut heroes; many of the villains have sympathetic qualities, and have endured such shitty circumstances you understand where they're coming from.  Cops cross the line.  Teamsters cross the line.  Politicians cross the line.  Jimmy McNulty, a cop who's essentially the main character, is a total scumbag... but somehow, despite that, I rooted for him through the end.  These characters are not my friends the way the Scooby Gang is, but they make for rich and compelling television.

...Baltimore sure looks like a shit hole.

...Drugs are bad.  Real bad.  And drug dealers?  The lowest of the low.

...The kids break my heart.  Season 4 focuses on four young friends: "corner kids" who are on the precipice of being dragged into the gangster life.  They waver between trying to stay in school and getting involved in dealing, while saddled with crappy, abusive and sometimes homeless families.  They are all good kids, they each end up drawing a different lot, and there's frankly not a lot of hope to go around.  In other seasons, kids commit murder, they beat up homeless guys, they do bad stuff.  And the circumstances that drive these kids to do what they do make my heart ache.

Without putting any more spoilers out there, I can only say that if you have never watched this series, you should.  It's as good as TV - or as any entertainment I've seen - gets.