Thursday, December 31, 2009

Big Effin Deal!

So as the moments dwindle down to the new year, I am a little overwhelmed by the sentiments I'm reading pretty much everywhere about the horrible year 2009 was and how we're well shut of it - good riddance 2009.

Might I be so bold to tell everyone to get over himself?

This is one of those things that might drive me a little crazy. Yes. 2009 hit some low points. We're poorer for one. But the (I guess entirely predictable) overdoing of the import of the horrors of 2009 make me, a cynic if ever there was one, want to reach into the annals and pull out some good things that happened in 2009. Mostly to shut all the crybabies up.

But before I do that, I'd like to explain myself. One of my main complaints with the society I currently live in is that we are self-involved to the point of comedy - except we don't know it. Gas prices go up 25c and the news badgers local pumpers to bitch and moan about the extra 3 bucks they'll spend each time they fill up; an unmarked van is abandoned in Times Square causing police activity, and 1010 WINS finds some brainless midwestern tourist to complain about how it ruined the trip for her kids. This is to say nothing of the Mexicans who take your jobs, the socialists who turn your kids commie, the gays who engayenate your kids and, so I don't seem overly partisan, the ban-all-gun nuts, PETA-freaks, and sugared soda crazies. Isn't anyone at all not miserable about everything?

Life sucks. I paraphrase Hobbes, of course, but who told you (collective) that life owed you dick? Yeah, sometimes the economy tanks and your 401k gets eviscerated. Sometimes a giant frickin wave obliterates your town. Sometimes you must choose to fill your car with gas as opposed to buying your latte at Starbucks. War means people die; pluralism means you don't get your way all the time; and frequently you have to pay for things you don't necessarily think are important. Welcome to the real world - you've been living here all along, just with your ears plugged, your eyes closed, and pablum oozing from the sides of your lips.

But you know the nice thing? Even a brief glimpse at the recorded history of the world will tell you that ups and downs are NORMAL. Yeah, you lost half of your savings, but it will come back, and then it will grow larger. Currently religious freaks of every type are intervening where I, personally, would rather they didn't, but that too will pass. Currently Mad Men is on hiatus, but I'm pretty sure there will be another season, so I'm not going to maul a local news reporter to get on camera saying the producers of Mad Men should think of my needs and wants and broadcast new episodes every week of the year.

I'm tired of being surrounded by entitled complainers (and I count myself among them from time to time). I'm tired of being labeled a loony liberal by certain friends and occasionally devoted partner, and a slowly turning republican by my loony liberal parents - frankly I think both sides are worthless POS (this just in: I am seriously considering running against Joe Lieberman for CT senator - my slogan: I couldn't possibly do a worse job than Joe) and are more interested in entertaining me, Jerry Springer style, than doing anything remotely substantive. But the reason they suck so hard is that we want them to. Substantive discourse is way beyond our soon to be outsourced brains, so we'd prefer to watch politics the way we watch television: numbly.

So saying 2009 sucked hard, even if it didn't suck that hard for you, is jumping on a bandwagon that I'd just as soon see pushed off a cliff. People got married in 2009. They had babies. Some bought their first homes. Some realized that getting fired or laid off was the best thing that ever happened to them because if forced them to take stock of their lives and choose things more meaningful to them. Some people me the loves of their lives, others escaped bad relationships. Some people saw Paris for the first time; the Great Wall; the Pyramids. Some people read and wrote good books, started new companies, sold their first paintings. I would be willing to bet that here, in America, there isn't a single person who can't find something good that happened in 2009. So stop bellyaching already! Every year isn't going to be a non-stop date with Brad Pitt eating chocolate cake in a jacuzzi full of money.

I always hope the year to come will be better than the year that was simply because it's nice to look forward to things, and I certainly hope that 2010 will be better than 2009. But not because I'm owed it.

I wish everyone a good 2010, but I implore you, in these last moments of 2009, think of something good that happened in 2009. To do otherwise is beneath you.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Delayed Gratification: A Grownup's Tale

Neighbors decorated their bare
Japanese maple with xmas balls - love!
Originally uploaded by reallyct
I am an Econ 101 textbook in action. I am the definition of marginal propensity to consume. When I have money, I buy the things I want. When I don't have money, I don't buy much of anything. Recently devoted partner have been having conversations about how this fiscal strategy is unsound. There has been a lot of kicking and screaming and, "but I want it now!" from my corner.

But, and it pains me to confess, he's completely right.

However, this accelerated, though long past due, grownupifying could not have come at a worse time. I want a new camera, and I almost had the money for it without invading any personal savings (paltry though they may be). We decided (and I would like you to read into this a sincere tone in my voice because it is there) that a better use of my money would be to put it in a retirement account.

But I still want a new camera. A shiny DSLR so that I can learn to take better pictures.

Aha, but here's the rub. The camera won't take better pictures for me, it will merely be the tool by which I take better pictures. Enter Plan B. In Plan B, I will study in advance of getting my sweaty hands on said pricey electronic device. I will apply what I have learned to the adorable point and shoot I currently have, and in that way demonstrate to myself that my desire for a shiny camera is about wanting to step up my game, and not about having shiny things (and I do like shiny things).

But some of the lessons involve my being cold and tired. The first book I read, courtesy of best friend's holiday gift, told me I could have the fanciest camera known to man, but if I tried to take my pictures at noon, they'd always come out looking like crap. Good photos must be taken at dawn or at dusk.

For three consecutive mornings I have lain in my warm, comfy bed, looking out the window at the magic hour light and then busying myself deeper under the covers. But not this morning. This morning, I heaved myself out of the bed and into a pair of sweats, a sweater, my llbean parka of winter wilderness, and boots, and made the long my backyard. I won't lie or pretend I am harder core than I am - it was effin' freezing!

The rose in our driveway that will not die
Originally uploaded by reallyct
I took a couple of pictures before realizing my neighborhood is not especially photogenic, and simultaneously realizing that my window of being able to walk around my neighborhood early in the morning with a tripod and not having someone call the cops on me was slowly closing.

Of the pictures I took, I got four I sort of liked. In all fairness, I let the cold get the best of me and fled for the warmer climes of my house before truly giving my picture-taking finger a workout. Now I am thinking that perhaps this needs planning. I should scout a location I would like to take pictures of at dawn and then GO THERE. I would like the weather to be a little less polar because I am a delicate and sensitive flower when it comes to the cold (the less generous among you might call this wimpy). So if you see me outside of your especially bucolic house with my camera and tripod, could you at least ask the cops to pick me up some cocoa on their way to arrest me for trespassing and criminal surveillance.

Ultimately, I will get a new camera, unless during this wake-up-at-dawn trial period I decide that no hobby is worth this kind of inconvenience, but in the meantime, I am considering this a "learning experience." Kind of how normal people don't buy everything they want everytime they want things. I'm going to try that on and see how it works.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


So I would like to have a conference with you wherein we discuss how I would like our future conversations to run.

You: Hey, Yelena, I see you've taken up a new hobby.
Me: What?
You: Eating cookies!

Why is it that the only person who can, with no embarrassment, call me an Orca to my face is my brother. He'll take one look at me and go, "shut your piehole, fatty." The rest of you are in severe dereliction of duty. Chances are I know I've fallen off the cookie wagon, but your reprimands keep me honest.

In lieu of your assistance, I have taken up with Todd. Todd is a pixelated trainer, and his name is not Todd. He doesn't have a name, but he looks like a Todd, so I have decided to call him Todd. I have no illusions that Super Hula Hooping for 10 minutes a day followed by Rhythm Kung Fu will be any kind of antidote to the cookie-as-meal conundrum, but I hear tell that some movement is considered better than no movement, and spending 30 minutes a day with Todd and the Super Hula Hooping avatars is, at least, fun. And can be done from the comfort of my own house.

The surprise in all of this is the Wii Yoga. You may have heard me mock yoga, or at least mock yoga practitioners, among whom my mother may be counted. Yoga on its own seems innocuous, but it is frequently followed by faux-Buddhism and vegetarianism, two things I think we should eradicate sooner rather than later. When in college, I tried my hand at some yoga. It was an unmitigated disaster. In the best of shape I am not what one would call especially graceful, add n pounds and I start to resemble the elephant seal using its stomach to flop itself onto shore. So I was in a yoga class with my college classmates, the vast majority of whom were at least 20 pounds slimmer than I, and therefore, even if not graceful, not graceful while taking up less space.

I lasted two classes before I crawled back to my room to sit in the dark, eat M&Ms, and cry over my poor coordination and lack of rear end definition.

So yoga and I were on the outs until Todd came along. He told me I could try out yoga in the safety of my own home, where (even though I rationally know no one was looking at me before) no one would look at me and giggle at my falling down thing, nor where I would have to see myself in bike shorts and a jog bra writ large on a massive workout room mirror, and where I could discover that, hey, yoga is like really good stretching.

It's not going to make me thinner, but it might strangely, make me more coordinated if I do it from time to time (fine, twice a week). Yes, there were some poses - I'm looking at you shoulder stand; are you kidding me with that? what possibly makes you think normal people should bend like that - that perhaps should be reattempted when I am overall more comfortable, but I can stand on one leg while holding the other leg out and stretching with the opposing arm. In fact, it feels really nice. Like when devoted partner pulls on my leg.

So Todd and I will continue to work out together - he tells me I'm doing a good job and, unlike real life trainers, does not require $75 every time we hang out. I look forward to my Mii looking slightly less like a ball and slightly more like a person. Now if only I could find out whether or not there are any more songs worth unlocking on Dance Dance Revolution.

Monday, December 28, 2009

I Wasn't Nearly Drunk Enough

The suburbs really do put a damper on serious stress drinking. After all, if you can't tie one on at Christmas, what other good excuse does a functioning adult member of society have?

Christmas Eve. A nice if noisy restaurant with lots of starchy Italian food. Ordinarily, this would be a great excuse to chug down cheap red table wine. And most years, I would have. But this year I was able to excuse myself from church services because I had my own car and lived nearby. Though, having one's own car means one must be sober to drive it. And judging by the number of police officers I encountered on the 15 minute drive home, Christmas Eve is a big drinking night in Fairfield County.

Christmas Day started really really early. There were good reasons for this, but I was at mother-in-law's by 10 minutes past 9AM - so it would have been indelicate to commence boozing - though there was bloody mary mixtures available. But what if devoted partner, a devoted bloody mary enthusiast, wanted to drink. One of us should stay sober to drive us away from mother-in-law's and back to our house so we could exchange gifts with one another.

The day after Christmas Day, I came into Manhattan (yes, I know I was supposed to slothfully enjoy wii all weekend lone) to spend time with best friend. So I had to drive to the train station (no morning drinking) and be sober enough to drive back (no evening drinking).

The first holiday drink I had was at about 8:00pm last night - a single glass of red wine to finish up the bottle I had opened earlier in the day to make a braise with.

I do not have records of holidays' past and how much liquor I consumed, but I do have a very poignant memory of Christmas Eve in, I guess 1996 (or 1997), with Jamie, his college roommate and wayward Irishman Nick, stumbling out of Doc Watson's on 78th and Second and singing Christmas carols and the Spice Girls loudly into the frigid Christmas night. I also remember an earlier Christmas (let's call it 1994) walking across the transverse at 4:00am quite drunk (and for some reason all out of money for the bus or a cab - possibly the money had been spent on drink). More recently, I remember spending a Christmas Eve at Davy Byrne's the Port Chester bar devoted partner and his friends have been frequenting since high school (which is coincidentally walking distance from our current house), almost getting into a fight with a local. Sigh. Memories.

So next Christmas, I hope to be drunker. If our plans come to fruition, this seems to be all but impossible not to achieve, since the family we will spend Christmas with is very into wine and apparently trots out the oversized bottles come Christmas.

I hope you had a sedated Christmas, either naturally or artificially, and that, without knowing it, you raised a glass on my behalf.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Twas the Day Before the Night Before the Day Before We Can Play With the Wii

The gifts are wrapped: under the tree if the recipient is me or devoted partner, under the tv stand table if the recipient is a member of devoted partner's family, and, blissfully, already distributed if the gift was for a member of my family. There is only one more gift arriving today that it is my responsibility to wrap. I therefore, hereby close this shopping season!

Now about that Wii...

We know a Wii is coming - so much so that I instructed my brother to feel free to buy Wii games for devoted partner. I estimate that the Wii will be unwrapped at approximately 10am tomorrow, but we will not be able to use it for many many festive hours. The problem becomes making sure that our small personal gift exchange celebration of the evening does not become co-opted by Wii-time. And let it not be implied that one of our party would be more guilty than the other; considering the Wii is devoted partner's gift, I know he gets first dibs on playing it (and the sooner he gets to play with it the sooner I get to play with it...). But our tree looks so happy with all the wrapped shit underneath it, that I would like to savor the moment of opening, commenting, oohing and ahhing, staring meaningfully at one another, before we need to collect coins and step on birds with turtle shells to kill them once and for all, all the while hoping the trajectory of their shells might go on to harm other turtle birds.

That being said, please, if you have our telephone number, do not call this holiday weekend. We will be locked in our house playing Wii. This goes doubly for family members who would not be content sitting quietly on the couch and watching us play Wii. I have a magical vision of my future Christmas sloth and it is beautiful (ok, in reality, it's making me wish I owned a garment that fell in between comfy pants/dirty t-shirt and full-on dita von teese vampwear - perhaps next year I should invest in some nice menswear-style pyjamas) - furthermore, the house is pretty much out of edible, non-frozen food, which means that if the Wii keeps us suitably entertained, we could lose all the holiday weight in one weekend simply by not eating.

Xmas lights - woot
Originally uploaded by reallyct
I guess what I'm trying to say is, Merry Christmas. Whether you're just like me and consider this an awesome secular holiday where people are generally nice to complete strangers and smile at them and make donations to charity and stimulate the economy and decorate their houses in a baffling array of ridiculousness, or you're one of the many people who believes we are celebrating the birth of the son of god into his mortal coil complete with virgin births and wise men and myrrh, may the next four days of your life be only as drunk as you need them to be to have a good time. No, that's not festive enough: may the next four days of your life be relaxing whether with family, friends, or on a vision quest. You know where to find me, I'll be with the Wii.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Becoming Part of the Problem

It's a slippery slope, and I fell hard.

It wasn't until I heard my voice and realized I wanted to modulate that I realized I had asked for sister-in-law's phone, had dialed brother's number, and was speaking to him. While on the train.

I can give you a sackful of rationalization, like I didn't anticipate running into sister-in-law and her beau, and that since they were spending the day in Manhattan it seemed a perfect idea to send them to eat at brother's restaurant, and since I was getting off the train at 125th and they at Grand Central, there wouldn't have been a moment to call on their behalf when we weren't on the train. But none of that makes up for the fact that I used a cellular telephone on the Metro North this morning.

And it was easy. I wanted to do something at that time and I didn't think about the consequences, as I'm sure most of my fellow passengers do every day. I'll only waste a small amount of breath when telling you that the call was short and I didn't scream into the receiver, but I know that hardly matters.

So I will do penance and cherubically ignore everyone else's conversations for the rest of the holiday season. I will not excoriate them here, nor will I secretly wish them ill. I will magnanimously assume that, like me, they inadvertently behaved in a manner that is rude, and that humans err - even those as prone to perfection as moi.

I cannot promise that this peace on earth and good will towards blah blah blah will last indefinitely - after all, the holidays are stressful - but I will be practicing my serenity until 2010.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Why I Hate Your Teenagers

Back in the good old days when I was a youth, before smoking bans, before Giuliani, we city teens had it good. Five bucks and a face that looked at least 16 got you a six pack of beer; the same five bucks, were you intrepid enough to wander uptown, bought you a bag of mild narcotics - most probably oregano mixed with a hint of THC. You bought your substance of choice and enjoyed it among friends in the comfort of someone's apartment (because there was always someone with an absent or absent-minded parent). Perhaps you ordered a pizza. Watched a movie. You know, kid stuff. In this way, the majority of your weekend nights were passed, the only difference being the number of people around you and the location (ok, our location was 9 out of 10 times the same location, but I will protect our hostess's identity - it is entirely possible her lovely parents still don't know what we got up to in their spacious home). We weren't bothering anyone, and none of us grew into a felon or even an antisocial member of society (including me).

I knew of a place called the suburbs - it was where camp friends lived. In these places, it was rumored, drugs and alcohol were both more taboo and more difficult to acquire. Also there were the twin problems of either being too young to drive, or driving while intoxicated and thereby killing yourself, your friends, and the innocent. The excellent movie Heathers also taught me that teens in the suburbs either tip cows, participate in date rape, or kill the popular kids. The suburbs sounded like no fun at all.

But then I met devoted partner and his tales of teenage antics sounded familiar if a little less vehicularly safe and thought that perhaps I had been too harsh on the suburbs.

I take it all back. You suburban teens are a bunch of maladjusted glue-sniffing f^$^&ktards!

What kind of meth-addled mouth breather steals a hubcap off a car parked at Stew Leonards? Really? I want to know. First of all, Stew Leonard's parking lot did not appear to be a happening location for a Friday night. I saw no groups of future WalMart greeters necking by the dumpster or trading their parents' prescription medication by the shopping cart stands. Stew Leonards is a family place. So either you little shits stole my hubcap while your parents were guzzling down free samples of cheese loaf (in which case I am going to revert to my earlier stance of requiring sterilization as part of the Senate health care plan), or you little shits cruise the Stew Leonards parking lot on Friday nights looking to rip off unsuspecting yuppies.

Furthermore, you obviously had time to do more damage, why didn't you take ALL of my hubcaps? Better yet, why not smash the window and steal my GPS? - that thing is at least worth money - you know, the stuff you buy whippits with. Yeah, I remember it used to be funny to steal the door lock casings from taxi cabs, back when those things were analog and made of metal, and I see that was wrong now, but I never, in my wildest idiocy, would have stolen a cab's hubcap!

So I hope you had at least a half hour of laughter over the theft of my hubcap. And then I hope you contracted herpes. Yeah, I said it. For the 50 bucks, plus or minus, you cost me, I have wished on you an incurable disease. Wanna know why? It's not that you stole from me, it's that you stole from me in a stupid manner. You stole something useless, which leads me to believe that you yourself (selves) are pretty well useless, so it's not like herpes will really decrease your value too much. Also, you seem to have a lot of time on your hands, time I think you should be spending remembering when to take your daily cocktail of anti-herpes medication.

Parents, I think it's quite clear that having normal teenagers who drink cheap beer and smoke cheap pot is infinitely preferable to having idiot teenagers who steal people's hubcaps from supermarket parking lots. Harvard has a long and storied history of admitting pot smokers; but I'd be willing to bet the number of hubcap thieves matriculating there is statistically insignificant.

In the meantime, that burning sensation is my vengeful god dealing on you!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Puppy Love

Update: if you still don't have my xmas gift. Click here!

I hath been smote.

Our home had an unexpected visitor yesterday, and she left a lasting impression on me. Her name is, as yet, undecided, for she is a new addition to our friend's family, but she was the cutest visitor our happy home has yet welcomed.

This little puppy, all of 11 weeks old, looked to my untrained eye, like a part dalmatian, part pitbull, part something else kind of small. She was speckled like baby dalmatians are with two adorably floppy black ears, and she was just delicious.

As many (ok everyone who knows me) know, I have a small dog problem. I love dogs. I stalk dogs. I go to dog adopt-a-thons and ogle dogs. I do not have a dog. And until we sort out whether or not our landlady would approve a dog and what we would do with our dog when we traveled, we will not have a dog. So I am the crazy dog lady who follows your dogs. But, strangely enough, I had never spent this much time with a tiny puppy until yesterday.

They are even better than their advertisements. They make little puppy sounds and when they open their mouths they have little milk teeth; they smell sweet and are oh so soft; and, best of all, this one just oozed love. While her daddy was in the yard tiring out her older brother, a charming but overenergetic pitrador (labrapit?), she just hung out in the kitchen with me, looking up at me with those eyes.

Later, when it looked like she was tired, devoted partner made a fatal mistake: he made her a little puppy bed out of one of our beach towels and swaddled her in the corner. Why he was foolish enough to do that in my presence, one can never know, but his considerate affection was palpable betraying his puppy love vulnerability. And she looked so cute napping in our beach towel.

This morning as we were readying ourselves for the day I asked devoted partner how long he thought I could carry a mastiff in a bag (thereby being allowed to take it on public transport), and if he thought I could pass off an army duffel as a bag. He thought I had maybe eight weeks of being able to conceal a mastiff on the subway.

I know well that this Christmas will not see a small dog object with a ribbon round its neck, but snuggling with someone else's new puppy served as a reminder that the ending of my days of puppylessness will be on the agenda more and more as we explore non-urban living.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dear God, How Many Shopping Days Left?

So the perfect presents for my non-biological sister Kate have not yet arrived. Celebration with my family happens on Sunday. I realize that means they have time yet, but I just have a bad feeling about it. The boy and I aren't even bothering with pretense: I told him I wanted money towards the camera I'm buying myself, he said he didn't want anything but would accept Wii games if that made it easier. We're going in together for both gifts for our parents, and my dad still whined on the phone about how he finally knew what he wanted. Too late, sucker. Meanwhile, devoted partner found buying Wii games easy enough, but frankly shopping for my father, in particular, is a nasty chore. And while my mother will, indeed take anything, it's nicer when it's something she'll remotely use.

Fast forward to devoted partner's family. Year in and year out I buy father-in-law books on history. I find this boring. Mother-in-law once asked for 20 pairs of Hanes knee-highs and this year sister-in-law has asked for an assortment of 5 dollar street pashminas.

Is it possible that gift giving among people who are blessed with a decent standard of living is, dare I say it, a bit ridiculous?

Sure, there's stuff I want. A really expensive camera is one thing. And I'm sure there are some pricey things everyone on the list could do with. My brother has been musing over wine storage solutions since he bought his place; devoted partner and I are debating dive watches; and I'm sure the other people in our lives have big ticket items on their wishlists as well. But since none of us is going to pony up that kind of money for the others, what is the true use of all of this gift giving?

It's not that I don't like getting things people like; what I mind is the pressure. Of the gifts I have purchased this year, only one feels good. Now I just have to hope the recipient likes it as much as I hope. The rest are merely trinkets designed to let the people in my life know I thought about them. Except that half of them know what they're getting anyway.

Should we just throw in the towel and start giving gifts to charity? It feels less festive to celebrate without gift exchange, but I'm starting to feel rather jaded about the whole thing. I simply don't need trinkets. And when I do feel the urge for something, for better or worse, I generally just buy it.

Next Christmas will be different in at least one respect. We are planning to not be here for it. My goddaughter will be 3 1/2 and I would like to spend the holiday with her when she is old enough to have a good time with it. So that should be a change. But that's one year out of the rest of our lives.

And I like the holidays. I am not one of those grinch types. We got our tree on Monday and I love looking at it. I sprung for the ridiculously expensive, yet hypnotically metallic, Chanukah candles at Whole Foods, and we're batting about .600 on nights we've lit them. But the gift part keeps getting more difficult and I seem to be among the only people willing to dispense with it.

Now I must return to the gift hunt. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Lack of Color

Originally, I was going to devote today's meditation to my love for Umberto Eco and similarly objectively unhandsome people, but Christmas shopping got in the way. Specifically intercontinental Christmas shopping.

I have a goddaughter whom I adore even when she's in a bad mood and doesn't want to talk to me on the phone. She's 2 1/2. Now that she is of an age where she has manual dexterity, shopping is way more fun. For her second birthday I got her playdoh!

I discovered that due to my hate and distrust of the United States Postal Service, it was far easier to ask lovely French companies to send her gifts rather than asking lovely American companies to send me gifts which I would then be responsible for sending her. Also, it's good for the environment. See, honey, I care about the future of the earth you will inhabit. And the global marketplace makes it entirely reasonable to find playdoh in France as easily as in America. Generally through the magic of - just like real amazon, but with funny words.

Now my little princess enjoys art, so I want to naturally buy her as many art supplies as she could conceivably use in a lifetime - in fact Martha Stewart turned me on to a colored pencil of the month club that I might enroll her in down the road. For the time being, though, I was content to ship her the de rigueur 64-piece box of crayola crayons. You had them, I had them, if devoted partner is reading, they still make an awesome stocking stuffer (see also colored-pencil-of-the-month club). So naturally, this would be something we Americans would be eager to share with the world. The perfect embodiment of our culture: 64 unique crayons (and yes, I know that the intrepid searcher can find boxes of 96 and dare I believe 128 colors - and yes, devoted partner, these would make even awesomer stocking stuffers). Sure you can live a fulfilling life knowing only one shade of red, but is it really living?

So you can imagine my disappointment at the crypto-socialists running that they do not deem 64 (or 96 or 128) colored crayons to be an item worth stocking! Yes, you can draw a perfectly decent picture with 16 colors, but you can be entertained from the time you are 2 until the time you are, for argument's sake, 32 with 64 colors. How else will she learn about the differences between orange-red and red-orange; the delights of burnt umber and sepia; the surprising wonderfulness of cornflower? While I realize that crayola probably no longer produces Indian Red or Flesh, I feel certain they still have apricot and lilac and sea green - these are important colors.

I've been to France a lot of times and I know that France is made up of far more than 16 colors. So, my darling C, until the next time we meet, when you can be sure I will have packed a true, and correct, box of crayola crayons, you must be satisfied with the sad box of 16 that is being sent to you (and I think we made up for the poor art supply showing with the Duplo); while you wait, allow me to whet your appetite:

Cheese case, Dijon market
Originally uploaded by reallyct
Midnight Blue is the color of the cheese case at the market

Blue Green is the color of the sea near where Great Grandma lives

Violet Red is the color of the little flowers by the side of the road

Sea Green is the color of the cardigan you wore to your bapteme civile

From Dijon, June 2008
This picture has Yellow Green, Goldenrod, Forest Green, Aquamarine, Green Yellow, and White, and probably a few more.

So while my box of many crayons might be indicative of the conspicuous consumption endemic to my culture, I consider it a part of childhood no philosophy should repress. And a note to mom and dad: don't worry, the markers are Ultra Washable!

Monday, December 14, 2009


When I started this I wanted to write every weekday, and I've mostly kept to that schedule. Some of you may have noticed, though, that there have been a couple of missed days recently. Those are my chocolate days.

On a chocolate day, I get up around 7:00am and by 8:30am I am already covered in chocolate - and you can take it from devoted partner this is not a sexy-covered-in-chocolate thing at all. I work pretty much straight through, filling the time during which the chocolate has to reach temper by making ganache or caramel or a batch of pates de fruit. I do not stop and check email or even, generally, eat or use the bathroom. It just seems to be the way I work. At night - generally between 7:00pm and 9:00pm, I finish, search for a starch and a seat, and sometimes take a washcloth to my chocolate parts. This is a day in the life of my little chocolate niche.

I've been busy this December for the first time in a long while, and that has been nice. But, having been away from the process, I'm looking at it with new eyes, and these eyes do not like what they see. The meticulous way that I make my confections makes them take a really long time. Over the years, I have tried to be ever so slightly less exacting, but the fact is, every piece has my hands on it at some point in its lifecycle. As I think about the future, I realize this might be unsustainable. I can't imagine that the successful chocolate makers I see are physically interacting with each piece produced under their auspices.

This passes the time while I decorate, or stir, or clean.

This week should be the last production week - I have some outstanding orders and some personal ones, oh, and a whole bunch of people are coming to my house on Saturday and I expect they'll want to eat something. So I didn't write on Friday and I apologize - I hope this was a decent excuse.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Welcome to Post-Racial America; I Live There

I think the most culturally significant piece of media to come out of my childhood was Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing. No matter your color, shape, or brand of religious superstition, if you lived in New York, this movie hit you in your face, your gut, and then stomped on you for good measure. (I'm sure if you lived other places this was a meaningful movie too, but hot damn if it wasn't like looking in a mirror and realizing just how fat and ugly you'd become as a New Yorker.) My brother still hasn't gotten over it, and he's nearing 30 (though this speaks volumes about what our parents considered appropriate material for the 8-12 crowd).

And we came from the most stereotypical pinko commie liberal family you could imagine. There are racial epithets I didn't even hear until I went to college - I was like the Skinner Box liberal kid. I remember in school there were countless discussions about race: "would you cross to the other side of the street if you saw a group of black teens heading your way? What if the teens were white?" and frankly, I didn't have much of an opinion either way, if the white boys from Collegiate were coming down the street towards me shouting, "I'm gonna cut a bitch," I would consider taking another route to my destination, and likewise couldn't see the logic in crossing to the other side of the street when faced with a group of black kids who, you know, just seemed to be walking.

But still, for all my pretensions of total blind equality, I never told a black teenager who was playing his music loudly in the subway to sit the eff down and shut the eff up. Why? Because the statistical possibility (or so I was told) that he would have a weapon he would then use on me was too high. The lesson was: don't tell the minority kids to act like civilized members of society, they might have guns and knives.

I officially call bullshit.

Yes, the Koch/Dinkins years were a trifle unsafe, but now that I have lived in a depressed neighborhood, I've learned something: it's not the extroverts who are packing. The loud kids on my corner were just loud. It was the quiet, stealthy, I've-got-business-to-conduct-here guys who were armed. And since they didn't mess with you, why on earth would you mess with them? Similarly, like with bullies of every stripe, chances are when you stand up, they stand down.

It's racist to assume that because a kid is black, or hispanic, or wearing a certain kind of outfit, that he's a potential violent offender who shouldn't be admonished for fear of bodily harm.

Fast forward to yesterday on the train home. A group of five kids sits down across from me. They are loud in the way teenagers can be (I recall several similar groups during my return commute). Generally, they settle down because it's a long train ride and no one can keep up that kind of prattle endlessly. Not these children, though. They were shouting something that sounded like "bunnyfuzz" over and over again, using their phones/mp3 players to audibly blast music, calling one another on their phones and speaking at the tops of their voices. I gave them two complete stops before I mounted my passive resistance.

I began to read aloud from my book. My theory on this is that if it's going to be noisy, the sound of my own voice is infinitely preferable to the sound of anyone else's (unless it's Tom Jones loudly seducing me). It was made better by the fact that I'm in the middle of some truly snotty essays by Umberto Eco. Nothing like a little lesson on the life and times of Hermes Trismegistus to enlighten a train.

My seatmates did not find this edifying. In fact they were astounded that I would have the gumption to confront them, albeit in a non-confrontational manner. I think they thought I was a little crazy. Which I think is good. But rather than get quieter, perhaps taking the hint, they got louder and crazier, until a train conductor came over to settle the matter.

Whom do you think he admonished?

Yes, the kids were black and I am white. But, lest it be forgotten, only some of us were being truly anti-social. I was reading aloud, it's true, but in my normal speaking voice, and only in response to the noise I was confronted with. The conductor made the additionally valid point that I had been sitting there first and that if they wanted to play music they could sit in the bar car or in the front of the train where there was lots of empty space. But these kids didn't like that. The conductor was being racist by calling them out over their intensely anti-social behavior. And me, I couldn't help myself. I had the biggest Cheshire Cat grin I could manage.


Because, dear children, I don't care that you're black, or Mongolian, or scientologist. I care that you're assholes. And you should start worrying that I'm carrying a knife or a gun and that anything you assholes do to upset me could set me off. I no longer want to behave in a racist fashion towards groups of minority teenagers, and ignoring, thereby tacitly approving, their inappropriate behavior because they might do me harm is racist. If the boys from Collegiate act that way, I'm sure as hell going to let them have it. Not letting you kids have it would be racist, and I'm a more enlightened person than that.

P.S. This is not the first time I've used this method of resistance. I was returning home on the subway last winter and a school group came in the train. Obviously this group was going to be loud - all school groups are. But the kid sitting next to me, obviously the Alpha, had some kind of form or questionnaire that he was loudly contemplating and then waving in front of people around him. When he finally had waved it enough in front of me, I started reading from Will Durant's The Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage. This kid, maybe he was 11, immediately got the joke. He saw why I had done what I had done, and you know what he did? He played along. He started acting all interested, nodding and mm-hmming to what I was reading. After a page and a half I stopped and smiled at him and he said, "hey that's a real interesting book, what's it called?" His teacher offered him fifty bucks if he read the book and wrote a report on it; I scribbled out the name on a piece of paper and handed it to him.

What's the moral of the story: people are people; assholes are assholes.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The What in What Comes Next

As I looked out the basement window this morning and saw water pooling at the edge of our yard, I turned to devoted partner and said, "you know, I'm glad we didn't buy this place. If we ever do buy, we should make sure our yard doesn't become a swamp when it rains." Devoted partner smiled knowingly at what he termed my "honomer" mentality.

I thought it would be a radical change, the kind from which my personality might not recover. There was a chance that I would have sat in the corner with a copy of my Zagat rocking slowly and crying. Instead, I re-took up knitting.

I also thought the residents of my new home would be way more mock-able. Sure, I am, by leaps and bounds, the fattest woman I see and one of the few who needs to work, but their eerie thinness and leisure has not made them into monsters. Few, if any of them have elbowed me in the face at Whole Foods. And yes, all of the gross stereotypes one can make about the lamentable manners of inner city youth while on public transportation have flown out the window in the face of the lamentable manners of the Skull and Bones set I take the train with. But overall the Greenwichians seem mostly human. If very very very homogeneous.

So where does that leave me and this site that I had hoped would be a scathing referendum on suburban life in a rarefied locale? Aidan asked me yesterday how I was feeling about the move and the blog and it made me realize I could either, stop blogging as frequently and only when something that adheres to the original spirit of the site occurs, or continue blogging just about every day but work a little less hard at trying to make it all about this momentous move that, like much in life, when taken in stride isn't such a big deal at all. As of now, I'm opting for the latter. I like writing and I like that from time to time people read.

That being said: street lights are important. They let people know when to stop and when to go. It has been explained to me that towns don't like street lights for some unconvincing reason that involves not wanting cars on the streets, but cars will be on the streets anyway and having traffic guards all up and down Greenwich Avenue telling you when you can and cannot walk is not only annoying but, for a New Yorker, somehow wrong. Also, I'm pretty positive a light is cheaper.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Lest We Forget About the Important Things

I was all set to huff and puff about something insanely important to life as we know it: traffic lights and their utility to modern society, when I realized that this blog is not painting a picture of me as an even remotely well-adjusted person who takes time to ruminate on the world around her. Instead she plots elaborate fantasies about destroying utterly those who speak on cellphones in her general vicinity. Surely the 5.8 million dollars spent on my education yielded something beyond the capacity to snipe at commuters and whine about the cost of exotic produce.

So I'd like to step back and examine a serious issue facing us this week so that perhaps my small contribution can help us all to understand things better. I speak, of course, about the Tiger Woods saga.

I know. You're at sixes and sevens about the whole thing. Me too. I just can't stop thinking about it or wanting to hear/read/watch things about it. The very idea of a multimillionaire professional athlete, his former nanny Swedish bikini model wife, and the tragic dissolution of their union shakes the very foundations of my worldview. How could these two kids have gotten it so wrong?

Professional athletes from Kobe Bryant to Mohammed Ali have demonstrated that, simply because a man is paid extremely well and universally worshiped for his physical prowess and strength, he need not be a serial philanderer who believes himself to be above the moral constructs of our society. Sure, women from around the world may vie for a chance to orally commingle with them, but these men are grounded enough to realize they are not gods for whom consequences are a moot point. I cannot think of a single professional athlete who has been callous enough to put his "hockey stick" in non-matrimonial "goal areas" - it simply doesn't happen. Maybe that's how the game is played if you are a stockbroker, or a patent lawyer, or a podiatrist, but that's just not how our athlete heroes roll.

Similarly, if you are, say, a stunningly beautiful but mentally light woman whose career experience involves caring for rich people's children, teaching rich people and/or their children a sport or hobby, planning parties for rich people and/or their children, or generally being in the rich people service industries, it is only right that the pot of gold at the end of your rainbow is a long and emotionally, not to mention economically, fulfilling permanent legal relationship with one of the members of the class you so humbly serve. Once love hits, the idea that you and the "richie" are on such grotesquely uneven footing as to make the very notion of a partnership seem absurd, becomes, again, an idea that might apply to secondary school teachers, nurses, or peace corps volunteers, but not to women for whom higher education is a hindrance not a help.

Adultery happens to other people. A subordinate woman's good looks will always dissuade her egomaniac husband from getting free nookie from other women. After all, what man would want unlimited free sex from only passably attractive women when he could have perhaps occasional sex maybe sometimes after a suitably large gift had been exchanged with a totally gorgeous woman? See? It just doesn't make sense.

So, I'm frankly flummoxed. It's probably why I can't get enough coverage of this worldshaking event. I know you feel the same way. And the reason I know this is that, apparently, this is such a major event that no other news has taken place since it began. It's like other news knew how important this was and is waiting until the dust settles before making itself known.

As for the figures at the center of this continuously unfolding tragedy, I hope you two know that you've let us all down. This isn't the way things work, and all you two need to do is look to others in your situation to realize how far off the mark you truly are. I only hope the hundreds of millions of dollars in play can be used to wipe up your children's tears - that is if you can find them among your other tokens of good fortune.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Stainless Steel Table

It's a game changer. Really.

The lovely Amy found the commercial stainless steel kitchen table I wanted on craigslist for a phenomenally good price. Devoted partner and I drove into the city, disassembled it, and miraculously fit it into the back of the Subaru. Devoted partner reassembled it in the basement, and I've been in love ever since.

I realize this needs some explaining.

If you go into any commercial kitchen, you will see these tables. They are the workhorses of the industry because little else is as easy to clean. In some of the kitchens where I apprenticed, we literally sudsed up the surface and then dumped buckets of water on top and let the run off go down the drains in the floor. They are nearly indestructible, can support any appliance save a floor-model Hobart, and are sturdy sturdy sturdy. This one had casters which made me nervous, but damn if the locks don't really hold the thing in place.

The table has gotten a bit of a workout recently as I have been producing chocolate and confections in numbers not seen in quite a while. I literally would have been unable to do this without the table. Sure, I could have used the dining room table, but then our lovely dining room rug would no longer be as nice as it currently is. Because it would be covered in chocolate. I am not neat. My apron looks like I performed an autopsy on a 50 pound block of chocolate. But no matter how haphazard I am, the table becomes clean in about three minutes. Using water and a sponge.

I wish everything I owned was like this.

For reasons that can't bode well, I have been watching the Home and Garden network and open-mouthed gasping at how much home renovation costs, and how personal style is frequently subsumed by marketability as the decisions a person makes could grossly affect the resale price of his house. When I dream of the perfect kitchen, I see a lot of stainless steel. And a drain in the floor. This means that should we ever buy a home, we should make sure we will live there forever because, from what I've seen, this is an unpopular decorating choice.

The only thing that could make my downstairs prep kitchen better would be an induction burner and, frankly, given the up and very down nature of the chocolate thing, I can't really justify the investment.

But table, you were worth every penny!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Why Diving?

Dive 7 - Oil Slick Leap
Originally uploaded by reallyct
Towards the end of this vacation I had a somewhat revelatory moment: my desires and interests bare nearly no resemblance to my 18-year old self's desires and interests. I know this is big news. I mean the chances that an 18-year old might not have accurately mapped out the trajectory of a life...

But I felt very self-actualized at 18 - even in hindsight. Yeah, I was batshit crazy as all getout, but still. And yet these unnumbered years later I find myself on some rocky little outcrop of an island with 50 pounds of gear on my back, dressed in neoprene, about to go drown myself. As the kids would rightly say: WTF?!?

So, I'm not what you'd call sportive. I was definitely a picked-last-for-kickball kinda girl (though I still maintain I was a somewhat decent volleyball player). And while scuba diving seems to embrace the rest of the picked-last kids (think underwater Harley bikers), it is, in the end, an adventure sport. And one that I've become completely round the bend over.

Maybe it's an adrenaline thing. After all, while not dangerous like free climbing, it's not safe like yoga, and there's still an aspect that scares the shit out of me. In a good way. You see, the more I do it, the more comfortable I become with it, and the more I like my chances of maintaining my cool in a crisis. When learning to dive you had to do a lot of drills, the worst of which was taking your mask on and off underwater. I hate getting water up my nose and I couldn't seem to let the tiny air bubbles out of my mouth while my mask was off that would enable me not to suck down a pint of water through my nostrils. It was very very very uncomfortable. I finally got it to a point where, if I angled my skull just right, I could do it - but only in a perfect situation i.e. the test situation where everything is controlled, and you're, you know, holding onto the mask the entire time it's not on you as opposed to hunting the deep for the damn thing. During one of the dives on this trip, I had a realization: if my mask came off (I think this was possibly after someone, not devoted partner, kicked me in the head), I'd be cool. The best case scenario is that I'd hold my nose if I was worried about water getting up it, and swim until I found my mask; the worst case scenario was that I would hold my nose and swim until I found devoted partner and ask him to find my mask. The end result would be the same: I would NOT freak out and drown.

That knowledge felt pretty awesome.

Dive 7 - Oil Slick Leap
Originally uploaded by reallyct
I didn't think I'd be any good at diving. I thought my fear would outweigh any coolness factor. But as the learning curve progressed I decided I hated the part of me that was afraid. I know how to swim. I'm a good swimmer. All this sport asked of me was to swim underwater. And breathe. Which I also knew how to do. The fear I had was not based on any rationale understanding of my shortcomings with regard to the sport's prerequisites. It was just about fear. And I didn't want to be a person who feared fear itself.

Now? I plucking love it. We threw ourselves off random piles of rock into the ocean by ourselves three and four times a day. And safely I might add. There were dives I wanted to do and didn't because the book said they were for advanced divers and I didn't think we were there yet. We never exceeded our depth or time limits. And we still had adrenaline-packed fun. Despite my fear of shattering my bones on rocky shores, the dive pictured here was begun by our jumping from a cliff into the water. That was a first for me. I'd do it again.

Possibly from a higher cliff.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

And The Sign Said Long Haired Freaky People Need Not Apply

I'm a reader. I like reading a lot. I like reading so much that I look for new and interesting places to read things. Like on street corners. In unfamiliar places where direction and location are important. On the backs of potentially dangerous compounds. When handling unfamiliar electrics. I find that, more often than not, reading answers many of the questions I may have. I used to resent going to meetings at my old job because I was fairly certain the two-hour long grabassathon could have been replaced by a memo with bullet points. In short, if I can't figure it out through reading, it's a complicated matter.

This morning, I took the train from the Greenwich station. Mother-in-law has long lamented the reduction of parking spaces in the downtown Greenwich area, so I was prepared to be moderately inconvenienced while finding a spot. I drove to the outdoor lot and wedged myself into a space, noted the number, and proceeded to the parking kiosk to pay for parking.

"Please enter your space number (1-360)."
"Invalid number. Please try again."
Invalid number. Please try again."

86 is a number between 1 and 360. I know this for truth. I stopped. And reread the instructions. Step 1: select the language. OK, I select English. Step 2: Choose transaction. OK, I wish to buy a parking ticket for the day. Step 3: Enter space number. OK, I enter my space number.

"Invalid number. Please try again."

Now I try other numbers between 1 and 360. All of which the kiosk says are invalid.

I then see the train I was going to take whiz out of the station. So now I am taking the later train. I might as well take it from my station where I know how to park. I go back to my car, past all the signs that direct me to the pay kiosk. When I get to the car, I see a sign three aisles away (approximately 50 feet) that looks different from all the other signs. Curious, I walk towards it. THIS sign tells me that daily parking must be done in yellow striped spots, whereas permit parking is done in white striped spots. From the entrance to the lot to this sign, a person would travel approximately half the length of a football field. On no signpost closer to the entrance was this sentiment stated. Upon entering the lot, one wouldn't even KNOW there were yellow striped spots. The only thing one would see was signs pointing towards the pay station with an admonishment to remember the number of the space parked in.

Now, devoted partner has been trying to educate me on the ways of the suburbans. When I complain that street signs are missing, he tells me this is intentional because residents don't want non-residents driving down their blocks. I find this ridiculous, and would offer the idea of gated communities to these folks where only previously approved cars could even gain entry to the premises, but ok. Where I don't understand deliberate opacity is in municipal signage. While it is true that the municipality would derive greater income from hitting me with a parking ticket as opposed to merely collecting my parking fee, this sort of action would quickly turn me into the kind of vigilante a municipality like Greenwich would not appreciate. Much like parking garages in Manhattan state in big bold brightly colored signage at the entrance how much it will cost to leave your car, I would suggest that the nice folks at Town Hall at least CONSIDER the idea of posting parking rules at entrances - this way confusion can be averted. I'll give you a helpful example:

While looking for parking I entered the covered parking garage only to be greeted by a sign warning me that ONLY permit parking was permitted there. This sign was clearly displayed at the entrance so that a driver could see whether or not his vehicle was permitted from the start.

So it's not like you people are too stupid to understand the concept.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

We Interrupt This Vacation Reverie To Invite You To Dinner

I was in the mood for jambalaya. So enthusiastic, in fact, that I left the office without the recipe so my foray into Whole Foods was flown blind. Still, it's stew - chicken and sausage stew (I prefer this to the (?) more traditional (?) chicken, sausage, and shrimp stew) - and stew generally has a lot of similar ingredients: you'll need stock, and tomatoes, and onions, and then whatever else you like to throw into food you'll be eating.

While I recently acquired the perfect pot for this dish (and finally - literally I have been lusting after this thing for at least 8 years and Bloomingdale's finally had that recession sale I was looking for on the 9 qt. Le Creuset oven), it is still at my parent's house because it is heavy enough that I want to wait until I have the car in the city rather than trying to lug it home on the train. So I figured I'd use my trusty (and rusty) unfinished cast iron pot. Wrong. My unchecked shopping had yielded an amount of food that would never fit in the pot - hell the meat part of the recipe alone filled almost 3/4 of the 5 qt. pot. As the jambalaya had to be cooked in the oven, my only recourse was my turkey roaster.

After all the meat and veg and stock and juice and rice was added (people, remember as I seem to have not, that rice expands when cooked and don't just throw in more rice because you think it looks a little under-riced), the damn turkey roaster was filled 2/3 of the way.

But the smell was good. Really good. Sadly, too much rice and not enough liquid did create a slightly crunchy finished product (which will be rectified this evening as more liquid is added and recooked), but, aside from that, dinner was super yummy.

Which is good. Because there is enough of this stuff to last us through the winter. Literally.

But it was good, so give it a shot. I will say that, in my opinion, the special ingredient is the smoked paprika.

Jambalaya - No Shrimp Edition
Makes a bajillion servings

3 pounds chicken (I used breast and thigh) cut into bite-sized chunks
1 pound andouille sausage (or chorizo or smoked kielbasa)
1 heaping cup chopped yellow onion
1 heaping cup chopped red onion
1 heaping cup chopped celery
1.5 pounds chopped bell peppers
4 cloves chopped garlic
oil/butter - enough to saute meat and veg
1 quart chicken stock
2 quarts stewed tomatoes
2-3 cups rice (but check as cooking to make sure there's enough liquid - I would recommend keeping an extra 28 oz. container of stewed tomatoes on hand just in case)
bay leaves
smoked paprika
(all of the above to taste)
1 truly enormous pot that is oven safe

Brown meats in a saute pan then transfer to cooking vessel. Cook all veg together until cooked but not soft then transfer to cooking vessel. Add stock, tomatoes, rice, and spices (here really, go with your gut - I tend to never measure spices because I know what they sort of look like going in - that being said, I added too much tabasco and cayenne together and had to add some water later in the cooking process). Cover cooking vessel and put into 425 degree oven until done. Done is when you taste it and you would eat it - I'd say about 1.5 hours.