Friday, April 30, 2010

Real Women

Recently there's been some brouhaha because ABC and FOX passed on a Lane Bryant lingerie commercial. Whether or not the whole thing was a publicity stunt or FOX and ABC hate fat chicks interests me less than the reactions it has produced, both on the anarchic internet and in my mother. To paraphrase pretty much everyone, "ABC and FOX would rather show stick figures with bolt on plastic boingboings than real women."

Far from cringing, this kind of sentiment causes my blood to boil.

What in the bleepity bleep bleep bleep is a "real woman?" Want to know why Hilary Clinton isn't president (aside from some personality flaws)? Because women like to take the piss out of other women. Hate your thighs? Console yourself by saying that real women have jiggly thighs. Ok, I'm all for lying to yourself in the interests of self-preservation, but what, oh, what, does that make women with non-jiggly thighs? Fake women? What is she's slim, has fake boobs, but also jiggly thighs? Is she half-real? Half-fake?

This fanatic need to diminish other women who, let's face it, look better than we do because THEIR JOB IS TO LOOK BETTER THAN WE DO, is ugly, childish, and just plain wrong. One of my least favorite things to hear from people, whom I know are saying it to be nice is, "oh, I'm so glad you have curves like a real woman." Ok, in fairness, I'm glad I have curves too. I wish they were less filled with butter, but I like that in the figure lottery, I got the basic shape I got. But I like it because I like it, not because it may make me better or worse of realer or faker than someone else. My mother, a diametric opposite of me in the figure department, is no less or more beautiful because of this. My mother is beautiful because she has spent a lifetime embracing what she looks like and I am an aspiring beauty because she taught me this lesson. Which may have been difficult considering she had to send me first bra shopping with my aunt because she herself didn't own one. But to say my mother isn't a real woman because she has been slim her whole life is offensive. Oh, but maybe because a) my mom is old and b) she doesn't have fake boobs, she might get grandfathered in to the real woman category. But if my mother had gotten a breast enhancement, I don't know if that should have catapulted her from the stratus of the real. (And by the way, my mother was solidly on the side of the ABC should show real women crowd...)

And when your jeans are too tight, when your bust isn't full enough to flatter you in that awesome dress, when your legs are too stumpy for that short skirt, or your arms to flabby for that tank top, do you really, honestly, care how flippin' real you are? At that moment wouldn't you, somewhere, kill a man to look like Cindy Crawford or Angelina Jolie, or Taylor Swift, even if only for the evening? When I hear someone talk about real women, what I hear is deep, ugly insecurity. Because I am not perfect, I must be something else that purportedly perfect women are not. And that something is "real." Now I can feel better about myself because while she's perfect, she's inauthentic.

If we, as women, spent, oh one-tenth the time improving both ourselves and our lots in life as we do disparaging other women whom we envy, whose successes we don't understand and can't seem to emulate, I think the life of a woman would look radically different. And I say this as someone who has written about watching the Oscars and wondering why all these young famous people have crows' feet. Now I'll try to walk it back so that I appear ever so slightly less hypocritical, but the urge is in us all. Just, please, stop it short of trying to compliment me (or any other non-perfect woman) by dissing another woman. I'd like to get to a point where that sort of behavior is beneath us. All of us real women.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Wednesday Nopropos

Yeah, I'm in a crap mood because I just spent 90 minutes at the dentist. I am now ready to assert that dental hygienists are bigger sadists than aestheticians who specialize in waxing. Therefore I am only in the mood for crying and ice cream and not so much for being entertaining.

That being said.

Having admitted my addiction to the wily yarn, I went to a weekly stich n bitch last night. And I might be hooked. First of all, grouping with women I don't know is an outside my comfort zone activity and, as such, a good thing. Secondly, these women were my age and certainly personable. Thirdly, I successfully managed to order nothing at Panera Bread save an iced tea which I sweetened with (gasp) splenda.

This weekend is the annual North Shore Animal League Adoptathon. We went last year, I got my picture taken with Cesar Milan, I played with puppies. We're going again this year. Some might say this is tempting fate, but unless I can line up some babysitters (puppysitters) for the third week in May and the second full week in June, I think we'll be coming home empty handed. I'm just hoping the people who work there don't recognize us from last year and accuse us of coming with no intent to rescue a puppy (last year we just didn't meet our dog - we met lots of cute dogs, but none of them was a love at first sight).

I am still flummoxed by people who hear that the conductor is coming to check tickets and still wait until he asks them personally before they go rifling through their bags to search for their tickets. This isn't rocket science, people, have your ticket out. The conductor has a whole bunch of other tickets to check so help him out by not sucking.

I am not green. Not by a long shot. My next car is going to be a clean diesel. Since my driving mainly consists in 3rd gear shuffles to and from the train station, I am getting abysmal mileage out of my fillups. I sort of fist pump when I make it past 20mpg.

My teeth hurt, they're making me go back in two weeks, I want a puppy, and a suntan, and a banana split. So excuse me while I go whine less publicly.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Too Stupid To Eat

Ok, so we've been all shiny and happy around here for a while and I haven't gone totally apeshit over something in a while which I guess means I'm due. Now, while I could go totally apeshit about The Great Mexican Menace and the good people of Arizona who apparently want to mow one another's lawns for pennies on the dollar, I think that topic will be pretty well mined by others who are less prone to accusing great swaths of people (who only recently started celebrating MLK day and still don't acknowledge daylight savings time) of being retarded. See how Ciceronian that was?

No, instead I'd like to talk about a different kind of menace; one that I encounter at least once a week when I do the most benign of activities: grocery shopping. Now I've done some good long research on this (I just googled it) and it appears that my statistical needs and preferences are not being met so that a small and deeply annoying minority's can be. I think you know who you are. Yes, I point my finger accusingly at the following groups:

The gluten-free
The nut allergic
The vegan
and to a lesser extent the lactose intolerant.

Let me break it down.

1. The Gluten-Free
About .5% of people have celiac disease. This could not suck more. As an avowed bread-o-phile I cannot think of a worse infliction (including perhaps cancer as you could continue to eat bread while having cancer). I feel deeply for you people and hope you can find some way to carry on because I would not know how to. Honestly. That being said, way way way way more than .5% of my Whole Foods's shelves are filled with gluten-free items. As a person who enjoys wheat and wish it were incorporated into more foods (like spinach), I do not appreciate being told that something cool and yummy I was about to buy contains no gluten. I like gluten. I am glutinous. What offends me more is seeing the label "gluten-free" on items that obviously are: like rice. We'll come back to why this offends me later.

2. The Nut Allergic
About 1% of the people are allergic to nuts including, in certain cases, my best friend. Yet now we cannot have nuts in schools. Soy butter and jelly anyone? Listen, being allergic to things must suck. I, for one, am allergic to idiocy and it totally rules my life. I have to plan my days around avoiding idiocy for fear of the physical ramifications such encounters would produce. But, again, I'm not sure if nut allergy sufferers are, by definition, idiots. Which means you probably don't need to list on a carton of milk that it contains no nuts.

3. The Vegans
Aw man, you people. I have a whole host of moral problems with you, not least of which is the whole, it must be nice to be so bloody rich and well-fed that you can start moralizing about what foods shouldn't be eaten. I want to send you all to re-education camp in sunny Somalia and see how soon you would kill another vegan for a chance at some goat meat. But, we're talking about why I hate you when I shop. Accurate numbers are a trifle difficult to come by, so I'll give you the upper level of the estimate because I'm a nice person. About 1% of the people have chosen, despite all rational arguments to the contrary, to be vegan. Much like our friends the gluten-averse, however, your vegan crap takes up way way way more than 1% of the shelves. And most of it with crap that only tells me you don't want to be vegan in the first place: vegan "chicken" nuggets, rice milk, soy cheese, garden burgers. You know what tastes better than those things? Try chicken, milk, cheese, and cow. Similarly, I think it's underestimating the slowly disintegrating brain power of the vegans to label things like salsa as vegan.

4. The Lactose Intolerant
Ok, you guys were hardest because apparently there are a lot of you. That being said, from what I understand from the people I know who are afflicted, this pretty much means you don't drink milk, go easy on the cheese and, sob, push away a plate of ice cream after a single bite. Therefore, you have the easiest job in avoiding what you can't eat. From which I can infer that you don't need to be told that a can of tomatoes is dairy-free.

Perhaps you see the pattern here. My best friend, a lifelong allergic to yummy things like almonds and hazelnuts, ASKS before he eats. Even at super super fancy restaurants. Similarly, he uses his EYE HOLES to read ingredients if there is doubt. I know reading is hard, so perhaps our Blackberries and iPhones will one day be equipped with virtual eyes that can read for us, but if you're going to effing DIE if you eat a nut, perhaps you have some responsibility to yourself to be a little vigilant. Similarly, I don't know if I'm ready to believe that we are stupid enough as a society that we need the equivalent of labels on apples that read "vegan." Apples are vegan by definition. Any vegan stupid enough to not buy an apple because it didn't have a vegan label is too stupid to be allowed to eat in the first place.

Once upon a time I lived a life that was bereft of bacon. It was a sad life, but one that was founded on unbreakable rules about what could and could not be eaten. While many foodstuffs had a secret code that would let me know if I could eat it, others didn't. And some of those others were permitted provided I read the ingredients to determine if offending items were included. And I was all of eight. As precocious a reader as I may have been, if an eight-year-old can read through a set of ingredients and put the package down when she encounters the words 'lard,' 'animal shortening,' or 'gelatin,' I think we should demand just as much of full grown surburban moms. Most of whose kids don't have any allergies at all, it's just that the mother read an article in Idiots Weekly that said any of the following: "gluten will turn your toddler into a fat chick," "nuts can make your kid gay," "milk weakens the immune system in families with a net income of more than 500K," and "meat is murder."

And just so we're clear. Meat IS a whole food. As is milk. And are peanuts. Soy chicken nuggets? Not so much. Those have less whole ingredients. If you're wondering what they are, they're the things that make something as utterly repulsive as a soy nugget taste kind of like fried chicken. If you'd like to get an idea of how whole those ingredients are, I invite you to take a little trip down the Jersey Turnpike which is where those "flavors" are created. After visiting, please let me know if you wouldn't just rather buy some happy, free range, chicken and fry it up in breadcrumbs and egg.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My Secret Obsession

Bamboo Camisole
Originally uploaded by reallyct
I may have hinted at it. If you've seen me recently it might even be hard to ignore. I'm not embarrassed qua embarrassment about it, and yet I haven't mentioned it. Which is strange. Because I do it all the time. All. The. Time. So, I'll just come out and say it: I'm a knitter.

There. That felt better.

I've known how to knit for years, but I had a lot of anxiety about actually completing projects. There was the ridiculous misshapen hat I made in eighth grade which I insisted on wearing; the two tone mohair v-neck; some shiny scarves. But anytime I attempted something really big, I left it in pieces, afraid that when I sewed them together, the result would look like a Frankensweater.

All this changed when we moved. I got rid of somewhere between 200 and 400 books because I was tired of going from place to place with titles like James Joyce and Pudding: A Critical Study. That left me with just enough bookshelf space for the books I already owned and not enough room, comfortably, for another bookshelf. Something had to give. I knew that having the commute every day filled with new books would quickly result in a massive storage crisis and something about storing extras in the attic still doesn't sit well with me. So I needed a new, absorbing hobby and fast. I honestly can't tell you how I chose knitting, but choose it I did. I walked into a store asking for a cool sweater dress pattern and walked out of the store with a book that had an even cooler riding jacket. Which I made. And which I wear.

That was in September. Since then, I have also made the following: a camel colored handkerchief hemmed jacket, a midnight blue tweed shawl collared sweater (a total winner - I'll be making more next winter), hats for my mother, father, sister-in-law, and Chaters and a scarf for the boy, a red daisy stitched jacket, a forest green cabled cropped turtleneck (deeded to my mother after it was apparent I could be more flattered by a garment), a sea green cropped bamboo cardigan, a fuchsia ruffle sleeved sweater. I am in the midst of three projects as we speak: the bamboo cardigan in the picture (mother's day gift), a dark green jacket for next winter, and (if the yarn ever comes off backorder) a hooded lightweight sweater for me. There. I have both bored you and looked like an insane person at the same time.

I even joined a knitting social networking site that allows you to track your own projects and see other people's. It is actually invaluable for tips, tricks, and best of all, buying other people's excess yarn at a discount. I now buy a lot of yarn. Like I used to buy a lot of books. So the net expenditure is similar, but the storage issue is different. The yarn eventually becomes a piece of clothing and we have ample closet space. I mean I have a closet I only sort of use and I mostly use it as a place to chuck things that don't have a good place to live and so live on the floor until we have guests when they go in the closet. It also saves me from having to buy clothing!

So, I admit my obsession and now I can feel like I'm not hiding things from you any more. Add knitting to my list of nerdy things.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Low Light

Originally uploaded by reallyct

I don't remember where I read about this (though my gut feeling is that it was a link off some piece of Clay's in the Examiner), but a couple of weeks ago I discovered that every Sunday you can go into the bowels of Brooklyn. Hmmm, couple nerd archeology with New York history with demi-spelunking and you've got an activity primed and ready for devoted partner and me. Throw in the knowledge that a Montreal-style delicatessen is four blocks away and you have a full day.

You can find out more about this at the website, but I'll start by telling you what they leave off: there's a bit of a wait to get into the tunnel. We lined up at 11:00am and by quarter of noon we had descended. We were told to bring flashlights and, being the strange household we are, what we came up with was one supersized maglite - the one that weighs about 10 pounds - and a head lamp. It was a diverse group of people agewise if not in other ways and people were really really excited to see underground. Having done no research myself save getting directions from our house to the meeting point, I didn't really know what to expect, though I assumed rats would be involved (actually, they weren't).

You do descend through a manhole cover and down a ladder (I might have chosen a different ladder, this was a pretty standard, fairly rickety Home Depot $9.99 ladder) into, well, underground. I'm not going to say it wasn't awesome in a "I am 8 and I should definitely not be doing this" kind of way. After ducking under some pipes and walking down some wood plank stairs you're in the tunnel. And they're not lying. It's dark and it's tunnelicious.

I took this opportunity to see just how well my new fancypants camera worked in low (no) light. And I was impressed. Yes, every little movement became a wild blur, and there is a fair bit of noise, but when I tell you that the only illumination came from bare 60 watt bulbs spaced approximately 50-100 feet apart and the ambient light from people intermittently turning on their flashlights, you should be impressed with the power of the camera.

As for the tour itself, I'll be honest: the man who rediscovered the tunnel in the 80s and who leads the tour is a trifle long winded. It's true he's incredibly knowledgeable and there isn't more than 300 yards or so of tunnel to see, but there was a lot of stuff I could have skipped (or heard a more Reader's Digest version of). Still we were in a defunct subway tunnel and that was unspeakably cool. It had a "From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" vibe to it that may or may not appeal to people who didn't grow up in New York, but for this nerdy city kid, it was a broken taboo of fantasticness.

And Mile End, the deli, was pretty good too. If you like brisket. Especially brisket as part of poutine.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Home Invaders

One of the most difficult adjustments I've had to make since moving from Manhattan is to reprogram myself in the area of imminent physical harm. The other evening as I sat upstairs I heard the garage door open and awaited the sound of devoted partner's feet coming up the stairs. About 3 minutes passed and I heard nothing. I first wondered if I had in fact heard the garage door open, and assuring myself that I had, decided, almost conclusively, that bad men had gained entrance to the house and were, at that moment, plotting my dismemberment. In truth, devoted partner had opened the door and then walked two houses down to talk to our landlady (making me wonder why he opened the door at all since he hadn't even pulled the car in).

Our landscaper is a nice guy; he overcharges us, but I think that's mostly the fault of our zipcode. Still, when I'm home alone and the truck pulls up and I see unfamiliar men puttering about my lawn, I do still imagine the possibility of being dismembered.

Recently, devoted partner has worked some late nights. And it's dark out in the suburbs. And things make noises. And I have seriously heard very possibly bad, breaking and entering sounds on these late nights.

But I know that while a lot of my paranoia will stand me in the good stead of self-preservation, the remaining bits are unattractively lunatic. So this morning, when the guys showed up to repair the leak in our water pipe, I opened the door, let them in the basement, and returned upstairs to take a shower. In the room with the fewest potential weapons (eyeliner and curling iron?). I finished my shower and got ready for work, knowing they would still be in my house. It is true, my landlady would be coming by, but she wasn't there yet. I simply trusted that a) they weren't planning to steal from us and b) even if they were, they were going to be sadly disappointed with what we had on offer. And I left.

This is how it's done in the suburbs. Which is pretty bizarre coming from a background where neither I nor my parents ever let our superintendents have copies of our keys.

I did however, just in case, wear my grandmother's ring to work today.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


So I'll start off by saying it was way less scary than I thought it would be. It was delightfully informal. The first hour was mostly meet and greet. I met two of the hostess's lovely sisters, some of the moms from preschool and mommy group, and friends of friends of friends. I engaged in small talk - something I don't think I'm good at - and tried to keep track of names. Then the speaker took the floor and spoke about her experiences on the road to becoming a life coach for about 15 minutes.

She was cute, and definitely spunky, and certainly very invested in her experiences. She did assume a little more background knowledge in her audience about the sphere of personal improvement, but perhaps that's bias - I didn't really know the names of the people she referenced though it's possible I've seen one of the books she mentioned advertised on a bus shelter. She did not use a lot of hocus pocus words, nor did she speak like a drone or a robot - all good things. And, as I had expected, what she said was elemental; and she admitted as much while asserting that it's precisely the elemental things we find it so easy to overlook.

Then she opened the floor up for questions. I asked one. I even made it honest and truthful and not designed to trick her into admitting she was a massive fraud, or a thetan, or a seller of snake oil. She responded as best she could without giving away strategies best learned through purchasing her book. And she's a businesswoman above all else, so I don't blame her for that. After question time we returned to speaking to one another, only this time, we spoke about what we had just heard. I was gratified to hear more skepticism from the other women than I would have expected. The refrain I kept hearing was to the tune of, "that's all well and good in the abstract, but how do I improve my life starting now?"

The crux of the speaker's thesis, and her name is Marie Forleo if you are interested in learning more, was that we all need to live in the moment more. Now that's one of those catchphrases that twitches me almost immediately, but I attempted to translate it into something more palatable for my snobbish ears. What I came up with is that we all need to learn to be fully invested in our activities if we want them to succeed. That makes a lot of sense and I don't need to dig too deep to discover how rarely I'm fully invested in anything. I'm more of a dabbler, really, and my bank account and self-esteem show that. The how was the ingredient we didn't get for free.

But she said one thing that really resonated with me (see admission of dabbling above): she said that we are programmed to think that success comes, for the most part, in a single arena; that we have to commit wholly to one thing and one thing only and be a success in that; that attempting to be successful more than once and in more than one area is to set one's self up for failure. She called bullshit on that. She said that as long as you are able to be in the moment fully invested in each of the activities that drives you, you don't have to pigeonhole yourself. I can buy that.

But here's the rub: my personal problem, for all of you who are interested, is I'm completely devoid of that initial all-encompassing inspiration. There are a lot of things I could be interested in and could devote my time to, I just am so incredibly wishywashy, indecisive, and self-critical that instead I do nothing. The real development that took place on account of last night's event was the conversation, poorly timed, that devoted partner and I had this morning. And shocker of shockers he said something that is going to stick with me. He said there's a difference between a career and an avocation.

Well, shit, that's true. I started making and selling chocolates while I was unemployed and decided that instead of going to get a stable job, I would hack away at chocolates until it became a stable job. Thing is, it never became a stable job. Why didn't I go back and get another technology job and make chocolates at night and on the weekends? I can answer that question: because that would have been difficult and time consuming and not fun. Sitting around in my underwear and responding to intermittent orders was fun (if non-lucrative). I never made the chocolates my job, I just made the chocolates.

So here's my takeaway: for eff's sake stop quitting your jobs. You have ideas. They constantly percolate. Start following through. Stop thinking that all it takes is an idea and start attempting to make the ideas work. No one will pay me just for having neat ideas (although I always thought that's what working at a think tank was). In the meantime, start thinking about things I could do as a career - perhaps my ideas and my career will intersect, perhaps not, but I shouldn't think of it as a binary system: either I have a career or I have a thing I really like to do.

Oh, and to the one person who won the 258 million dollar jackpot in Missouri... I totally hate you.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Until I found myself actually weighing the relative merits of my wardrobe this morning, I hadn't thought that I would devote two posts to this evening, but now I realize I've devoted enough psychic space to it that I can lend thoughts to words.

Aidan is a former classmate from high school. But not really. I mean, yes, we went to the same school, but in different years and if I'm being honest, we knew each other, but mostly by, "hey, how ya doin'?" and not by coffee and cigarette breaks together during interval. But then I found her website and we started chatting occasionally by email. Aidan, for all intents and purposes, has a pretty optimum life. She is happily married. She has two children she seems to like. Her first novel comes out next month. She and her husband have purchased and are renovating a Manhattan apartment. She writes for a living. She's pretty. And slim. She goes nice places. Ordinarily this would mean that my deepest desire would be to bludgeon her with mallets of envy, but, to her credit, like the rest of us, she doesn't see her life as perfect yet. Though she might not worry about how she's going to put her kids through school, she does worry that she will totally hose up parenting - you know, like normal people. I look at her life and sigh that I'm an unmarried renter, variously ambivalent about kids, with no idea of what I want to be when I grow up, and with far more than 10 extra pounds lying about. From my patch of unmowed browning grass, her yard looks pretty good.

Which is why I'm doing something completely out of character tonight and it's her fault.

I'm going to an event she's hosting where the entertainment is in the form of a, for lack of a better word, life coach. Aidan is a master networker (or so it seems), and she has invited a group of women to listen to a successful woman entrepreneur talk about how we other women can have better lives. Or so I imagine. Now I can poo-poo all I want, but from what I've learned about Aidan, she's open to new things and, since her life seems way better than mine, perhaps I can fudge my logic for a moment or two and lend credence to the idea that one or two new things could contribute to my having a better life.

So before I go, I'll air my prejudices in the hopes that tomorrow's post holds some surprises. When I gave up on the idea of religion sometime in my teens, and despite a powerful course of brainwashing, I gave up on all groupthink. Man is an individual, I said, and must live or die by his individuality. Let us pass over, for a moment, that this kind of absolutism shares quite a bit with religion and groupthink. I decided that my destiny was my own and no formal course of thought would really change it - any change would be merely superficial and a result of my subordinating logic and reason to a more comfortable invented reality. How's that working out for me? It doesn't help that, for the most part, when I have encountered people who have participated in and benefited from secular improvement regimens, they talk funny. Of the truths I hold self-evident, elocution being a barometer for intelligence is certainly one of them, and a lot of improvement regimens use their own vocabulary which is frequently at odds with basic rules of grammar. This itches me from the start and I can barely hold back my ire at any group which would, just for the sake of commonality use nouns as verbs and such.

But here's the thing: most of these improvement groups aren't doing anything new. Whether AA or NLP, successful groups draw on memes inherent in our culture. They're not breaking new ground, merely translating tenets of philosophy, psychology, theology, and sociology into a regimen more easily accessible to all. So even if they use funny terminology, someone, like me, who actually knows the source material, can figure out what the goal is. Which is both a blessing and a curse. If you know someone, for the simplest example, is using reverse psychology on you, it's far easier to ignore it - you know the trick. Sure, it simultaneously prevents you from Kool Aid moments, but you're also able to tune out the message.

But then there's Aidan. Pretty, happy, not-poor Aidan. If there's a group I can belong to that gets me closer to that? Shit, I'd be a real idiot to not, at least, give it a shot. Now, granted, Aidan isn't a student of this speaker, she just learned about her, found her interesting, and organized an audience for her. But there will be other people there. Other women. As someone who, were a traditional wedding in the offing, seriously consider hiring bridesmaids to make up the glaring deficit, I could stand to meet some more people. Some more women. As I have learned, to my detriment, I won't really be making new men friends from here on in. They'll be the husbands of my friends. Or the friends of my "husband." Thirtysomething women don't really get to make new men friends. And I'm assuming that some of the women I meet tonight, by their life examples, could also teach me a thing or two.

Finally, there's an air of nostalgia about this that appeals to me. I am not the same person I was when I graduated high school. I am both less crazy and also less optimistic. The former clearly a plus; the latter an unspeakable minus. I'd like to get some optimism back and I'm prepared to make some ego sacrifices to do it (devoted partner claims I have nearly insurmountable ego walls). I'll have more to report tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

That Word: I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

Rare is the moment when devoted partner is critical of my physique/style/beauty and equally rare are the moments I solicit his opinion, so when an unprompted critique comes along, I pay attention. It must really bother him if he's going to talk about it. So it is with, of all things, my choice of summer shoes. As has been related in the past, I have a healthy assortment of spiky shoes and little else. When summer comes along I need shoes that will go to the beach and occasionally to the supermarket and to work. Since I have a mental block against paying money for flats, especially of the flip and flop kind, I have, for the past several years, purchased my summer casual shoes at CVS. For $8. That seems about right. The flip flops are of the more fashionable style - where the thong part is besequined, but these are clearly cheap shoes. And devoted partner, apparently, thinks I can do better.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, and ready to embrace my new suburban surroundings and cultural touchstones, I visited a place I felt certain would provide me with inexpensive, yet stylish, casual summer footwear. It is a little enterprise known as Designer Shoe Warehouse (or DSW). Now, I know what you're thinking: "certainly a warehouse of designer shoes will satisfy both your fashion sense and your parsimony!"

But you'd be wrong.

The term 'designer' has been used here to mean 'someone who has made a shoe.' For example, I would not have been at all surprised to see a piece of tire with some rope on the shelf. And 'warehouse,' a word that calls to mind places like Costco, where things that are normally expensive are not, more aptly described the decor and less aptly described the prices, which were clearly marked as being $5-$15 cheaper than had you gone to the 'designer's' store. For the record, I won't buy a pair of $55 Steve Madden flip flops for any more than, say, the $8 I would spend at CVS for the simple reason that both enterprises have used the selfsame materials. These shoes - ALL OF THEM - contained no leather. They were all made of plastic. Which is fine. Petroleum products have long served us well, but they should be priced accordingly. If I can fill my tank with sweet sweet petroleum product for around 40 bucks, certainly I should be able to find shoes made of petroleum product (made from far fewer than 14 gallons of the stuff) for less than 40 bucks. And $39.95 doesn't count.

I sort of giggled every time I picked up a shoe. Not only were they, nearly all of them, seriously ugly, but picking them up I got the same feeling as when I throw Wonder Bread to ducks: "um, I think if those ducks don't get to the bread soon, it will simply disintegrate!" And again, disintegrating shoes are not necessarily a deal breaker (though I have been immensely impressed with the longevity and durability of my CVS flip flops), it's just that it's hard to swallow after the $15 mark.

So I will be returning to a CVS to select this summer's sequined flip flops while keeping my eyes peeled for sales of actual designer shoes that would fit the summer casual bill. And I will remember that there is a very good reason I don't like shopping at strip malls.

Monday, April 19, 2010


Originally uploaded by reallyct
I think that I will forever be a person with snobbish attitudes about what constitutes a city. I realize that I could use a different set of vocabulary to make things easier and transfer my notions of 'city' to 'megalopolis' thereby preserving the word 'city' for such places as Lincoln, Charleston, and Tucson which I am sure follow the dictionary definition. But I'm not really going to do that leaving me to call places 'town' that really are more than that. It's just that I don't even consider Los Angeles a city as it is more a sprawl than anything else and has never had a center. Hong Kong is a city; London is a city; Chicago is a city. You other places? I don't know what you are.

Stamford, therefore, is very much a town. A town that plays host to UBS and R(u)BS and some other glass menagerie dwellers. It has a couple blocks that could be called a downtown plaza, a shopping mall, and a host of undifferentiated condos. I have known of Stamford for many years because it was where devoted partner and I traveled when we had need of items Greenwich didn't provide. Devoted partner, a Greenwich native, knew the bars, the Mongolian restaurant (sadly defunct), and the various houses of ill repute. But we never spent much time in Stamford.

Recently, however, we have made a couple of forays that led me to a new found appreciation of the town. I don't know from whence it developed, but Stamford has some pretty spectacular architecture, from a strictly kitsch point of view. Take this, my favorite building in Stamford, the one I never feel I adequately capture. Does this not fill you with Saarinen JFK terminal bliss? Come on, look closer.
It makes me want to go out and buy tons of impractical furniture. It makes me want to paint things obstreperous colors. It makes me want to wear a white minidress. It makes me want to drive a vintage Jaguar. In short, if you can't tell, I love this building. One day, I might love it so much as to find out what's inside.

So when work yet again took devoted partner's Sunday, I decided to head on out to Stamford and practice with my camera a bit. I was shocked by one thing: the streets were entirely empty. It was a beautiful Sunday morning, the kind of Sunday morning which, in a city, would see young couples pushing strollers and people lining up for brunch. Stamford was so deserted that I found myself grateful that the people who were out and about were patrolmen. I had hoped to take pictures of people, something I am notoriously crappy at (why must you be so blurry, people?), but there just weren't any.
As I rounded the corner back onto the main drag, I was quite pleased to see church letting out as it at least gave me the opportunity to try to catch better people pictures (still failing, methinks switching to manual and jacking up my shutter speed might be the answer). But the people dispersed immediately. They returned to their cars without stopping for brunch or coffee or a leisurely walk. Whatever else was going to happen on this beautiful Sunday, it wasn't going to happen in Stamford.

And I think that's where I come to the problem of calling places cities. A city is alive all the time. Stamford may thump to the beat of the markets Monday-Friday from 7am to 7pm; it might even have some thumping on the weekend nights, but it doesn't sustain its pulse. Places like Dallas, which have a downtown business district, but where most people live in surrounding suburbs, are different. Life, the life that happens between families and friends, happens elsewhere.
The downtown is a utility, a place for work and shopping, but not a place for being together. So I don't know what to call it. There are people who live in Stamford proper, the neighborhood boasts these dramatically ugly, yet fascinating, round tenements and, as mentioned before, cookie cutter condos and rentals for the singles who UBS and RBS, but the areas surrounding both types of lodging were empty. And, frankly, that made me a little sad. Because the more I walked around Stamford the more I saw the twins opportunity and failure. The number of empty storefronts for rent and the number of cute places that were still open spoke to great potential.
The town of Stamford has done a great job with greenspace and gleaming sidewalks and buildings. I wanted there to be more cafes with outdoor seating and people in the seats because here I saw something cute just waiting to be realized. Last summer we visited the farmer's market that was in one of the squares and after my morning peramble, its problems were brought into focus: very few vendors, several not even selling their own wares, and fewer people in attendance. Stamford, for reasons a citygirl like me finds incomprehensible, doesn't make it as a hub. People who live in the area don't want to go there in their free time. They'll got for the Target, but they won't stay for long. It's not hip, it's not desirable. But, for me, it has certainly made a good argument for repeat visits.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Bienvenido A Miami

My knowledge of Miami, our seventh largest population center, is, well, specific. From birth through age 14, Miami was the place grandma and grandpa, and then just grandma, lived. In a condo full of other old, tan, Jewish people. Very tan. Very Jewish. Like the place where Woody Allen characters go when they're too old to be in the movies. Muumuus, melanoma, and meshuggah. My brother and I swam and learned to play shuffleboard. We went to the beach. We ate dinner at the red sauce Italian joint that was not shy about its garlic use. We stopped at the bakery for prune danish, black and white cookies, and napoleons first thing after deplaning (I swear, my eating disorder...totally nurture and not nature). True, my last visit to Miami took place when NKOTB was an acronym that meant something, but we never did anything while in Miami that could remotely be considered hip. And I swear, I never encountered anyone even remotely Cuban.

Miami stayed perpetually off the radar because once I realized it wasn't populated solely by well-mined stereotypes of one sort, I discovered that it was a melting pot of stereotypes, from Scarface to Gianni Versace. And I'm all about the authenticity. Sure, it popped up now and again; we have certainly flown through Fort Lauderdale enough on our way to island-type places (Fort Lauderdale is the least efficient airport for international connections I have ever encountered; when I am Prime Ruler, I will be sending all FLL employees for re-education at the Zurich airport). And then there was that season of Top Chef where the guy from Miami certainly seemed to be preparing delicious looking food that he assured us was emblematic of Miami cuisine. And I guess it always is available for a quick weekend in the sun, but I was just opposed. Vehemently.

That is until someone else is picking up the hotel bill. Devoted partner has a 2-day conference in May and, seeing how it won't cost the company a penny more if I sleep in his room, I ponied up the plane ticket for the opportunity to lie by a pool and have people bring me boozy pink drinks at 10am. And since the conference is on a Wednesday and a Thursday, it made little sense to not spend the weekend. After all, we were already there. And I hear they have nice weather. And, one hopes, good fish tacos. I have done some preliminary research and, should we be so inclined, we could do a dive or two, but I have the strangest feeling that devoted partner, after two straight months of working weekends, will enjoy a couple days sitting by the pool while people bring him boozy pink drinks at 10am.

Yet I crave more. The kind of more that, perhaps, any of you who has been to Miami since NKOTB had meaning, could provide. Clay, recently reviewed a restaurant he went to while laid over in Miami, and now I hunger (ick, pun) for additional ideas. So if you know anything about Miami worthy of repeating, speak up. And if you know where the best fish tacos live and don't share that information, I shall find you and come to your house.

P.S. Sorry for yesterday's absence, we were internet-deprived at the office.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ye (plural) of Little Faith

Originally uploaded by reallyct
Though devoted partner just called me on the phone and proceeded to recite the definition of sloth to me (for which there will be just punishment) I did, in a fit of not wanting to do my taxes, start work on the table this past weekend. Ever since I attempted to paint my own bedroom in 2000 resulting in paint on hardwood floors (suck it, illegal sublet) I have been afraid of paint. I just might be a trifle too messy for paint as could be amply attested to by any of the lovely patissiers at DB Bistro who know my propensity for "getting in the confectioner's sugar." But I had been to the dreaded Home Depot, had purchased enough drop cloth to blanket Port Chester, and thought the time had come to man up and get over my fear of destroying everything within my radius.

Guided by the wise and offensively talented Amy (who makes these kinds of home improvement projects seem like no big deal), I had purchased the proper brushes, sandpaper, and paint, and knew how I was to proceed. Step 1: sand off laminate gloss; Step 2: paint. At least those were the steps I remembered. There was a polyurethane step in there as well but Home Depot didn't have that kind of polyurethane so we'll be temporarily avoiding that step. I sanded until the table no longer looked glossy, but, as you can see from this first picture, I may have stopped sanding too soon. No matter, like nail polish, I assumed this could be the base coat.

I should now mention that I sort of forgot to buy that plastic receptacle for the paint and a stirrer. Now someone in another home would have been at wit's end over this sort of oversight, but my house is different. Simply take one's food service grade (and length) plastic wrap and double wrap a mixing bowl and, voila, paint receptacle. Similarly, 3 wood skewers stand in quite well for a paint stirrer in a pinch. As for cleanup, well, what home would be complete without approximately 12 spare rolls of bounty towels. And goodness knows, if this project should require sugar at some point, we've got that well covered with the 50 gallon drum in the basement.

So I felt pretty good about my domestic prowess and MacGyver-like substitutions. True, coat one was not smooth, but coat two was definitely smoother. I remembered Amy's admonishment to attempt to paint in very broad strokes, which I attempted. Yet the space where the first and second swaths intersected was, by necessity thicker, and I felt I had to smooth it out. This in turn made neither swath especially smooth, but I felt certain that subsequent coats would even this out.

Thus far, two coats in, and I'm reevaluating my earlier logic. Even dry, it still isn't as smooth as I would like. Enter devoted partner, himself a professed knower of things. He has suggested a very fine grit sanding might prep the table well for coat three. I shudder at the inevitable return to Home Depot (though perhaps someone there could advise me on my polyurethane problem...) but still have hope that this table might be good in the end. Some things I've noted, though: the color is a little more Go Tigers! than I would have liked - something neither the paint chip nor the daub on the top of the paint can would have suggested and something I am attributing to the fact that the table was woodsy colored to begin with thus, perhaps lending a yellower cast to the whole project; though, come to think of it, once I had the base coats of blue wouldn't this have gone away? Never mind, once completed and accessorized (oh I have accessory plans, fear not), I think this will be a kind of cool table. And, depending on the overall success the first of many such painting projects because, as Amy foresaw, it's kind of addictively fun!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

On Bugs

Country living (for that is what I will call it even as people mock me for considering Greenwich, CT the country) has developed sympathies I never knew I had, and hierarchies I never thought existed.

As the weather has gotten lovely, I have noticed something troubling. Members of the outside world have been creeping inside. Specifically ants. Now, it's not actually very many, perhaps 5 in two weeks, and they're not congregating anywhere specific, and they don't seem to travel in packs. 5 single ants. Just hanging out. All five have met a sole-y end. I do not suffer ants in my house, however bucolic they might be.

In the past two days, however, I have seen two spiders. They have been permitted to remain even as they put up structural edifices that would make Frank Lloyd Wright jealous. Because here, in the country, spiders are good. Nay, spiders are awesome. Spiders are that which destroy ants and any other thing that I might not want in or near my home. The bigger the spider the better. I want to see spiders in webs trapping and digesting the hornets I have spied from time to time. May they live long prosperous lives feasting on the mosquitoes that would feast on me (and our lawn which can politely now be called a swamp is, I would assume, teeming with the bloodsuckers). Spiders are friends. They are my front line. They're out there, every day laying mines in the battlefield for mine enemies to fall upon. We're copacetic, man.

I'm not quite certain how any of our visitors gains entrance, but I do know that the spiders were there from Day 1. As someone who is if not bug averse than bug prefer-them-to-be-elsewhere, learning to live with my spider friends took surprisingly less long than I would have imagined. Certainly we had some boundary issues: I'm looking at you daddy long legs who descended in front of my face as I opened the door to the garage - not cool, but now we live in harmony.

Now I need to develop ways of targeting their activities in the areas that need it most (like that space beneath the front door that I saw the hornet fly into (though perhaps it was a spider lair which would be way cool)).

Monday, April 12, 2010


Ok, I'll admit it, I spent a fair bit of the commute trying to come up with this title and I'm still not pleased with it. Mostly because it suggests that I'm about to write a political piece on the shared histories of Jews and Muslims. But 'braronic' didn't work, nor 'brarony,' and I'll grant that this doesn't really work either, but the implicit: "The Irony of the Bra" sounded a little too 'must publish so that I can get tenure in the sociology department.'

But now we know what we're talking about. I've been wanting to write about this for a while, but, as with most great ideas, I had a mild epiphanic moment in the bathroom this morning and decided today was the day. As I'm sure you can guess, we're going to talk about foundational garments. To declare some bias from the start (not news for anyone who has ever lived with me or come to my house or gotten changed with me or been to summer camp with me), since arriving at the age where foundational garments were necessary, mine have always been pretty. I had a friend in adolescence who looked bangin' in the calvin klein panties that were popular in the late 80s, but I absolutely didn't. I was not then, nor am I now, best flattered by sportive styles. So I was always a lace and tulle kinda girl.

And when I came of foundational garment age, Victoria's Secret still made lingerie that could make a girl feel pretty. Just off the top of my head I remember the lace balconnets I had in orange and lime; the satin hunter green with autumnal accents (again if we went to summer camp together, you remember this one too); and the two rickrack pattern balconnets in red and navy, both of which ended up in a girlfriend's possession sometime during college for reasons I can't quite remember, and the latter of which is memorialized on my high school yearbook page.

But then something changed chez Vicky. Bras were all 'miraculous' and lace and tulle and satin were replaced by lycra, spandex, and cotton. Gone were designs and in were seamless styles in beige and beige and, occasionally, taupe. Not only were the padded designs not at all flattering, but I didn't want to walk around all day knowing I was wearing a cotton-blend seamless taupe bra. That does simply nothing for permitting a woman to acknowledge her inner bombshell.

So I searched elsewhere and, stereotypically, found myself shopping with the French. A simple look at ANY French lingerie website or store will underscore a major cultural difference: the French find underwear important. If you are not at work, I urge you to compare and contrast our mid-range store and theirs (and I would like to say that these are the landing pages for each site's bras; I didn't go hunting for pages that would prove my point).

My main problem is that the undergarments popular and readily available here fall into two, and only two, categories: eminently practical and self-mocking. Whether you shop at Victoria's Secret, Frederick's of Hollywood, Trashy Lingerie, or Agent Provacateur, there is an undercurrent of mirth. Bras as costume. Sex appeal or desirability as merely dress-up. When I pass by a lingerie store, I see t-shirt bras and things you would only wear on joke night. The idea of quotidian sexuality simply doesn't exist.

And I hate that.

Hate. Hate. Hate.

Because I think it says something incredibly dangerous about our attitudes towards sex. In the same way I have major major problems with the popularity of a certain series of books/movies that revert to Victorian ideas about women being taken/protected/unable to make rational decisions because they are being devoured by supernatural creatures, I have a problem with the idea that sexy lingerie must be subjected to ironic filters in order to be acceptable. If a women wears sexy lingerie unironically, she's probably a 'rhymes with more' (literally or figuratively). And just so we're clear, I'm talking about wearing the kind of things on the Darjeeling website, not anything more risque or complicated. Simply put, I advocate a woman wearing something nice under her suit. I know that for me, knowing that I am beautiful underneath my clothing is a huge confidence booster throughout the day. And I thought this even when I wasn't coming home to someone who would see it.

And it's getting worse for reasons I don't quite grok. Ten years ago the lingerie department at Sak's still had a variety of options, including popular brands from Europe. Now they have beige and the occasional tee-hee garment. One of my favorite French producers closed their American operations because there wasn't demand. And while you can find a simply dizzying array of control-top pantyhose, you have to search far and wide for a pair of stockings and chances are you'll pay for them as if they were made of saffron.

I have wiled away many an afternoon dreaming of opening a shop that stocked lovely things only to remember that I cannot singlehandedly create a market and that the current market says no to lace, no to color, and no to style.

And I say, as someone who can stress-test the hell out of a garment, that this is not a comfort issue. I would put my undergarments up against any t-shirt bra in a comfort test and a support test. Simply put, if the garment wasn't comfortable or supportive, it wouldn't be on my body. No I think the sole issue is fashion and availability, and I am deeply troubled by the underlying implications. Mostly because I no of no easier better way to go from blech to va-va-voom than by putting on a nice bra and panties. Even under sweats, even just to do the laundry, even when you're just going to see your accountant. Spanx might make you feel thinner, but they won't make you feel pretty. You'll be reminded all day of your imperfections and the garments you have to buy and wear to mask them. Wear a beautiful bra and panty set and suddenly those extra ten pounds, the loose skin from childbirth, and the thighs that are never quite tight enough DON'T MATTER AS MUCH ANYMORE. Trust me on this. I am an imperfect woman who most days would rather ONLY wear my underwear because it makes me feel exponentially prettier than what goes over it.

Friday, April 9, 2010

New Shoe

New Shoe

Originally uploaded by reallyct
For years really, I have suffered the rolled-eye comments about my footwear. How it can't be comfortable/practical/good in any way even as I think we all can agree my footwear is best described as fierce. And when people asked dumbass questions like, "how do you walk in those," I, for the most part, politely replied with platitudes like, "oh it just takes practice," or "my mom taught me," when what I really wanted to do was go all batshit crazy on the person asking. We all know that, "how do you walk in those" is ladycode for, "how dare you flaunt your sexuality in this public manner by unironically wearing stilettos!"

But, as I recorded herein, I was on the lookout for some flat shoes that I could wear on days when P90X kicked my ass in such a way that teetering on high heels would do more harm than good or on days when I just wasn't in the mood to wear ye olde Chucks. So I went to the French Sole outlet yesterday, purchased the above pair of brown/black flats, and wore them out of the store.

Let me just say that all the people who ever teased me about my heels can go jump in the lake. I can now say, with the ultimate assurance, ALL SHOES HURT THE FIRST DAY. I don't care if they are towering platforms or your new Asics, unfamiliar shoes hurt feet. Sure, there are degrees of hurting, but until your foot softens the rough edges, stretches the tight arts, and acclimates to the shape of the shoe, it will hurt. I am wearing just as many protective bandaids with these flats as I do with any pair of 4" heels.

I mean, just think about the flip flop blisters you get when the part between your toes starts rubbing the wrong way. So it is with these flats. Both pinky toes and both heels engage rough spots. So, like I do with any shoe, I'll wear these until the hurt goes away. But just remember that, ladies, the next time you leave an awesome pair of vertiginous pumps on the rack because you think they'll hurt too much.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

More Projects To Unfinish

I see a pattern developing. The table I've been meaning to paint blue...still not blue. Even though I have all the equipment downstairs in a bag. The iron lawn furniture we bought last summer...still not finished being spray painted. The only reason the Amy Guest Bed has sheets and pillows is that I bought them the same day the bed was set up. I have some difficulty with these domestic projects even as I presume that a life spent Martha Stewart style is what I crave. Martha would have finished spray painting the lawn furniture and, what's more, would have painted little birds on it or something.

So nothing makes more sense than the new spring projects I wish to embark on. Our lawn guy mushed up some soil in front of the house for my heirloom tomato transplants which should arrive today. I'll now need to go back to Home Depot to get some fencing stuff to keep out our menagerie of coyotes, foxes, opossums, and feral cats. Much hilarity, I feel certain, will ensue. Also, I'm not really a talented gardener. I kill plants. All plants. With alarming frequency. But I like the idea of having a dizzying array of tomatoes at the ready this summer. I'll also plant some herbs I think.

With that project firmly destined for failure, I envisioned another. We have, in addition to a profusion of land mammals, some avian visitors to the manse. I don't know much about birds, but I'm pretty sure the blue one is a blue jay, the really red one is a cardinal, and the one with the orangey chest and brown back is a robin. I never gave much thought to birds and their relative attractiveness because for most of my life I lived in a place with only one variety of bird: the pigeon. Which doesn't invite much thought save for the most expedient ways to destroy it. I'm also aware of gulls which are on the beach and also worthy of extermination.

But as the weather has warmed and the ground has yielded bird yummies, there seem to be more of them around and, dare I say it, they are attractive. And kind of peaceful. I'd like to get them to sit still long enough for me to photograph them. Clearly what I need is a bird feeder. Now I know of the pitfalls of the bird feeder: most notably bird crap and an open invitation to squirrels; also there's a good chance they'll eat my tomatoes. Still, I feel as though were the tomatoes and the birds on opposite sides of the house, both could live unmolested.

I too am frightened by these mental developments and what they imply.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Wednesday Nopropos

Yeah, you got me. I have the spring fever and my brain can only contemplate warm things. Ergo, I shaft you, my readers with short snippets of things running through my brain. Now with links!

Issue #1: Listen to this. yes, I know it is a video, but it's the music that is important. I would like to find about 100 other songs like it. It is happy-making music. Also, I like sampling and the 80s.

Issue #2: Watch this. In the words of Liz Lemon, "I want to go to there." But seriously, how can you not want to hang out here? Something you might not know about us, but we name our rays. It all started in the Bahamas when we went fishing with a local who then cooks what you caught. He throws the inedible bits into the water and stingrays come to eat it, and then you can play with the stingrays. We decided they needed names: Ray Charles, Billy Ray Cyrus, Man Ray, Stevie Ray Vaughn. Etc.

Issue #3: Can I recomplain about Cablevision? It keeps shows that are no longer on the air on my DVR recording schedule, but fails to record shows that I have asked it to that are actually on. I'm sure this has something to do with the inexplicable rule that should you not want to record one episode of a series you have set to record, Cablevision decides you will never again record any episodes of that series. Honestly, monkeys on tricycles could make a better DVR system. You people suck. Hard.

Issue #4: Bearing in mind that I am not a fan of sushi, where should we take the Frenchies' parents for dinner while they're here? We've thus far posited: Tabla (a non-French food fave of ours), Hill Country (they do not have brisket in France), and Grimaldi's (yes I know it's not the best pizza, but it's a good take out-of-towners place). I'm also thinking maybe a good burger. Or Ippudo for ramen. Think on that, and while you're at it, will there be any nice upscale bar that would have seats on a Saturday night for after dinner drinkies? You know we never go out, we're practically useless.

The weather forecast says it will get cooler tomorrow, and perhaps my brain will start working again. Please accept my warm-weather apologies in the meantime.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Where The Wild Things Are

Originally uploaded by reallyct
So something you might not know about me is that I'm not opposed, either in theory or practice, to the outdoors. Sure, there are things that exist in the outdoors, bees, opossums, drifters, that I'm not especially partial to, but oftentimes the outdoors is pretty and I like pretty things. I also have this fancy new camera which I need to learn how to use. And it is far nicer to take pictures of pretty things than to snap shots of, for example, your collection of dustbunnies.

With this in mind, I decided to find myself some attractive outdoors for a little photo practice. I looked at a google map of my house and found the nearest bits of green which denote nature. About 30 minutes from my house is the Ward Pound Ridge park. It looked quite green on the google map.
And in fact it was greenish in person. And by green, I mean nature-y. It had the requisite trees and hills and rocks and water. Armed with my camera, two tripods, and a phone that probably wouldn't have gotten service any way, I proceeded to hike. It wasn't the loveliest of days and there was quite a bit of precipitation on the ground from one of the many deluges favored by our region of late, but it mattered not, for I had wisely chosen boots as opposed to Converse. For I am not an enemy of nature. Yea, I am pro nature and am quite at home amidst the wonders of creation.

Wait. Did you hear that?

That was clearly not a nature sound. That was very very very much a human sound. A male human sound. And, while it was just momentary, I heard crazy in that sound. And now that I've paused, I see another person. A male person. Most likely crazy. And only about 50 yards behind me.

I should pause now and say that bears, rabid deer, snakes, poisonous toads, none of these frightens me. Because they are part of nature and nature is good. Other people in nature, however, are, with practically zero exceptions dangerous crazy people of the I-am-coming-to-rape-and-dismember-you variety and should be avoided at all costs. And, as luck would have it, one was less than half a football field behind me.
Fortunately, my cunning survival skills were at the ready. The first, and most important thing was to put down the camera because there would clearly be more moss to photograph later at a time when I did not need to protect my person from raping, and get to higher ground. I should be able to see my attacker from above (where I could rain rocks down on his head etc.). As I scampered uphill, I kept my eyes peeled for nature's weapons: pointy sticks and rocks for braining. A pointy stick would be preferable, but in a pinch, I felt certain I could hold a rock in my fist (roll of quarters style) and fend off my attacker with my Mohammed Ali-like grace and agility.

I guess now would be as good a time as any to explain my particular brand of hubris. In pretty much any fight I give myself at least even odds. This is why I don't fear small (under 6 foot) sharks, black bears, pythons, and the religious right. I figure that in a showdown with any of them, I stand as good a chance, if not better, of being victorious. There is no basis for this in fact, but my thoughts are: if the shark is about my size, I'm sure I could inflict as much damage on him as he could on me. Devoted partner assures me this is ABSOLUTELY NOT THE CASE, but I think he's just being a worrywart. So, even though I only caught a glimpse of the crazy man in the woods on his way to chop off my body parts, I am completely positive that with a pointy stick at hand, I could incapacitate him prior to losing any limbs I really care about (I also spend no time wondering exactly how much blood a person could lose before she would be a less effective fighting machine - math is for people not as primed for a fight as I).

So the stick in the first picture was what I settled on (albeit long after I had lost sight and sound of my attacker - presumably he found a nice squirrel to torture). And, I won't joke, for a good fifteen minutes I was in super fight/flight mode. My pulse was up, I tasted metal, and I prepped myself heavily for the coming battle. I reached high ground quickly and surveyed the area below, assessing all possible routes of ascent. The good news is that when the threat of imminent ouchiness was deemed neutralized, I was up on top of high ground able to look at the pretty bits of nature that surrounded me.

I can't decide, in retrospect, if hiking alone in an unfamiliar place is a horridly stupid idea, or if thinking that what essentially amounted to a solo walk on a marked trail in a state park is a stupid idea is an even stupider idea. The good news is that I found a pretty and large (4000 acres) green area nearby that I can explore further as the weather improves. And I can arm myself with the greatest weapon of them all: devoted partner.

Monday, April 5, 2010

I Am A Pretty Pretty Princess

Originally uploaded by reallyct
Or so I feel when, in the course of a hellaciously busy couple of weeks for devoted partner, he finds time, at 6:30am on a Sunday, before going into work for 5 hours before Easter brunch, which is merely a 3 hour respite from more office time, to hide Easter eggs around the house for me.

But let's backtrack a little. In January, we discussed vacation plans for the year. Devoted partner is going to be participating in a year-long project and said he was pretty sure we wouldn't be able to do anything until Q3.
Originally uploaded by reallyct
We had, in the past, discussed going to Turkey so I set about pre-planning a 2.5 week trip to Turkey and Northern Syria for September. In my way I started spreadsheets, downloaded itinerary information, tracked plane fares, investigated hotels, dive operators, visa requirements, etc. I also took out books from the library so we could look at pictures. Meanwhile, it turns out that this is not going to be a good year for a 2+ week vacation because the timetable for devoted partner's project changed. This was mid-February.

Originally uploaded by reallyct
No problem, I am a roll with the punches kind of girl (sometimes). And I love to travel plan. Yes, I love it more when it results in actual travel, but even when it doesn't I have a good time. So we were looking for a plan B. Devoted partner has a conference in Miami in May. Originally, I was going to go down with him, spend the conference days lounging by the pool, and then we would take the weekend and go to the Keys or something. Now that we were looking at Plan Bs, I thought this conference might provide the perfect launchpad for a shorter vacation. And since we were already at the bottom of our continent, I started looking for locations in Central and South America.

Originally uploaded by reallyct
My first thought was Buenos Aires until I realized it wouldn't be exactly warm. My next thought was Colombia. And I'll explain. The trip to Turkey would have been a nice combination of sightseeing and attractive nature/beach time; having been on a number of mostly beach vacations recently, I was looking for something a little more adventurous. Colombia might just fit the bill. So I took a look at flights to Cartagena and then, for giggles, googled Colombia and scuba diving to see what came up. The result that caught my eye was for a teeny tiny island far closer to Nicaragua than Colombia that had only 6000 residents, was inaccessible from every airport save the one on the next island over, shared the barrier reef system of Honduras and Belize, and had exactly no large hotels and pretty white sandy beaches. We are big big fans of deserted beach.

Originally uploaded by reallyct
And now we were rolling again. Plane fares were being tracked, hotels being contacted, dive specifics determined. That is, until last week. Last week one of the vendors alerted devoted partner to the reality that it might not make the deadline by which we planned this trip. Devoted partner was not amused. On the bright side, we hadn't bought our plane tickers yet; on the dark side, we had been looking forward to getting away. So devoted partner did what he does: started working to fix the problem. His already long hours got longer as he tried to shore up all potential leak points so that a delay by the vendor wouldn't push the deadline any more than was absolutely necessary and, possibly, allowing us to still take the vacation time.

Originally uploaded by reallyct
Of course, this schedule left little time for Planning Wednesdays and Date Night Thursdays and any of the weekday moments we spend in between. While the rest of his company had Good Friday off, devoted partner worked from 8am until 1am. We had company coming on Saturday evening, so devoted partner worked from 9am until 5pm and then came home and was a wonderful and gracious host. And of course Easter Sunday he was back at the office. But not before setting up the Easter surprise I have cataloged here. Despite all his stress and sleeplessness and irritability, he made a little egg hunt for me in our house. When I saw the first egg, I assumed it was the only one and called him at the office to tell him how cute it was; then he told me there was one in every room of our upstairs. I spent the next five minutes on the phone with him finding the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th eggs, and the next 30 minutes on my own finally finding eggs 5 and 6.

It really was the sweetest thing. Made all the sweeter because it came in the midst of adversity. We still don't know if we'll make it on vacation in May, but I've already started brainstorming alternatives. In the meantime, though, I've left the eggs where they were found as a reminder to myself of how lucky I am.

Friday, April 2, 2010

On Not Being Disappointed With Dinner

Originally uploaded by reallyct
I cry "Uncle!" Thomas Keller, for all of his persnickety OCD, has won my heart once and for all, and while I climb on the bandwagon rather late, I like to think I do so because I have permitted myself to be skeptical before jumping. It is true, I have only ever eaten at the Bouchon in Las Vegas, but I own three of the man's cookbooks and I am here to say:

I have yet to make something bad from any of them.

Now, it is true, the cake in the photograph was my creation, not his, but I didn't manage to photograph anything else we ate Tuesday night because I was in the kitchen making it. The entire main course of Hebrewpalooza 2010 was from Keller's Ad Hoc at Home and, if I may be so immodest, it was all delicious.

This is the fourth iteration of Hebrewpalooza chez nous and the years have experienced varying degrees of success: Year 1's rack of lamb - utter fail; some people didn't get their food until others had long since finished. Years 2 and 3 tried to arrest that problem by featuring braised and stewed meats that do not have time sensitive components. But stew is kinda unfestive and I wanted to do something different this year. Originally I was going to roast chickens until I realized that roasting multiple chickens sounded time-complicated especially if I wanted people to eat warm food. So I paged through the book (which had already been used for a weeknight chicken paillard that won high marks and a cod which, if I could bring myself to enjoy fish, would have been excellent as well) and hit upon duck breast.

Cool. I like duck. In fact, duck is one of my favorites. Yet, somehow, I had never made duck breast before. I very ambitiously (and using Keller's recipe from his Bouchon cookbook) tries my hand at confit, but I had never gotten around to making duck breast. So, a week before the guests arrived I bought two duck breasts and tried them out.

They were good, even as they were a trifle overcooked. They were good enough and frankly simple enough to prepare, that I decided we would have duck for everyone. So I searched for some side dishes to go with my duck. Being the feast of You Can't Eat Anything, many delightful side dishes were ruled out, but I settled on the Rainbow chard with wine soaked raisins and pine nuts (no one ever said Keller wasn't, frequently, a trifle precious) and garlic potato puree. So I had to make a couple of adjustments to keep with the spirit of the holiday, and this necessitated exchanging butter and cream in the potato recipe for delightful, super nutritious, duck fat. Come on everyone, say it with me: " fat."

I am frequently super judgmental when it comes to my cooking because most of the time I know I could have done better, but this time, I am safe in saying I did well enough. While there was certainly room for improvement (I'm looking at you duck breast that for some strange reason didn't cook through while some of your brethren were a touch past medium rare even though I moved you throughout the pan during cooking so you would be evenly done), I may have been more pleased about the complete package than I have been at any other meal.

And while Keller can be a little fussy, this book is really really accessible. And I fought myself on whether or not to buy it, thinking I already had his two other books, what did I really need with this one. No. I needed this book and if you like cooking you might need it too.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Too Purple

I've been resisting going with this idea because of the potential to piss people I actually like off, but this month's National Geographic rekindled my concern. But first, some self-effacing preamble.

As a lass, I had dreams of the stage. Some of which I experimented with on small, school-sized stages. Except there was a small problem which became more obvious with the passing years: I wasn't any good. I was a pretty crap actress. Mostly because I wasn't acting. I was saying the lines, properly inflected, properly emotive, but as I, Yelena, would say them. Instead of getting into the character's head, I let the character get into mine: this is what Yelena would do if in this situation - who cares what Juliet or Blanche or Antigone would do? Obviously this was a major fail. So I stopped acting because I realized it wasn't in my makeup.

But now we get into trickier waters. For a time, I wrote. In high school, in college, and a little bit beyond. But I ran into a similar problem. I just wasn't any good at fabricating a tone that wasn't my own. What this meant was a) whether set in ancient Sumer or a diner in Queens, the people sounded the same; b) when I deviated from my own tone, the piece sucked; and c) the best pieces I wrote were stream of consciousness ones where the voice clearly belonged to me. Now, I've read my Wikipedia, and sadly I cannot blame this on Narcissistic Personality Disorder which, I am loathe to admit, I do not have, but using a voice not my own results in inauthentic sounding prose.

And yet, I know writers, my friends among them, who are able to fabricate not only characters and situations, but voices. So this is a personal fail.

Or is it?

You see, this month, National Geographic asked a famous author, Barbara Kingsolver, to pen a piece on water (the theme of the issue). I am a cover-to-cover National Geographic reader - I love the magazine - and I stopped reading this piece after the third paragraph. Want to know why? Because this wasn't her fiction (which I have tried and which is not bad), this was essentially an opinion piece, and I couldn't believe in any way shape or form that, in normal conversation, Barbara Kingsolver would say that 'water is the briny broth of life.' Cause real people don't talk like that. And in that moment, I didn't like the author, I didn't like National Geographic's editors for not saying, "come on, Babs, get real," and I didn't like that those kinds of clever turns of phrase are considered deep and meaningful. Take away the word 'briny' and it becomes better; take away the word 'broth' as well (and the of and the) and you have what the author MEANT TO SAY: Water is Life! Which, let's face it, is, kind of duh. Also, it makes me think of Dune.

I did not like Hemingway when we first met, but I am seriously considering giving him another shot simply because here is a man who is not so slutty about his adjectives. There is a difference, to my mind, between 'it was a humid day' and 'all day long she had humid thoughts.' Note to the latter: no she didn't! People don't have humid thoughts. No sane person has ever said to herself, "gee, my thoughts are humid right now," so I take exception to having to read the line in print.

I'm reconsidering how I evaluate books in this light and am concerned about rereading some of my favorites if, in fact, my tastes have changed over the years. Now maybe part of this is my discomfort with the discipline of crafting words as opposed to merely typing them (and I have a notorious laxity vis a vis editing - in case you couldn't tell), but I doubt it's the whole story. I think maybe I'm just becoming less comfortable with all manner of bullshit and the briny broth of life was the last (brittle) straw.

Yet, I will acknowledge the following: it is possible that while Barbara Kingsolver's shtick is stupid and unnecessary adjectives that purport to make simple statements sound profound, my shtick is vocally not having a shtick.

It's possible.