Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I Touched Harry Potter

The last time I went to a Broadway opening, I must admit was a tragedy. The show was, without reservation, excremental. It didn't take long for the wide-eyed child who delighted in A Chorus Line and Into the Woods to become a teenager and adult who would rather watch Papillon on TV than go see a Broadway musical. It is our uniquely American art form, but it ain't my cup of tea. This is probably sad for my father who delights in the American musical. Whether sheer nostalgia or a true love, or most likely a combination of both, I am the child of a musical lover. And I do feel bad stomping on his enthusiasm every time he asks if I would like to go see such-and-such a show with him.

Every now and again, though, I've relented. I even dragged devoted partner to the crapstorm that was Dracula: The Musical.

So it was with trepidation that I agreed to accompany my father to opening night of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying - a capital-M musical. It didn't help that none of my evening dresses fit. Ok, one fit. The one I wore. The one I originally wore to my brother's Bar Mitzvah and the only reason it fit me then was that I had spent the month prior suffering from a wasting disease that clipped 20 pounds off my frame and left me as naturally pale as most goths spend lifetimes trying to achieve.

My father looked dashing as ever in his tux and, this being one of his all-time favorite musicals, he was hyped up. I was cautiously pessimistic.

The show was fine. Listen, my expectations were way low. After all, normal humans do not communicate through song and since musicals are in English whereas most opera is in a language I don't understand, it's hard to ignore the overwhelming artifice. This show, however, was immediately saved by truly excellent set design. I know that sounds ridiculous, but the set, in its heavily Mad Men-ish, self-consciously retro get up set the stage, literally, for a production that I felt wasn't about to take itself too seriously. It was a period piece that didn't try to demonstrate rampant relevancy and also knew that it was a throwback. I felt winked and nodded at.

For a musical, there wasn't a lot of oversinging. As someone who can carry a tune myself, one of my biggest objections to musicals (and, frankly to the cast of Glee) is that the vocals are always always overstylized. I doubt seriously that any of the singers actually sounds like that. And since the result of their musical-theatre-voices is so deeply cloying, I have difficulty listening. Yes, this cast sounded like it was singing in a musical, but just a normal amount. And the book is funny. I laughed a couple of times. John Laroquette helped this since I find his deadpan amusing.

But I didn't catch myself, at any point, finding god simply so I could pray for the end of the show. And from me, that's a mark of distinct praise for the production. My father's client was very funny and this helped when I saw her later being able to honestly convey congratulations.

It was the after, though, that was just silly. The party, held at the Plaza, was so big as to be patently ridiculous. The production had something like 20 distinct producers, and there had to be over 1000 people at this party. When it comes to celebrity, I am the product of the massively jaded New Yorker scene that judges celebrities to be neighbors to the point of downright ignoring them wherever possible. Truth be told, there are only a handful of celebrities whose presence would deeply enthuse me: Tom Jones, Joan Collins, to name two (though I realized at the show that I would like to meet Sian Phillips, who played both Livia in I, Claudius and the Reverend Mother in Dune and who was married to Peter O'Toole, and who is generally awesome). So I guess my taste in celebrities is quirky. After all, a story I love to tell is being halfway through a conversation on the street with a very handsome man before I realized it was JFK Jr.

But I had promised my knitting group I was going to meet Daniel Radcliffe, so meet him I did (apologies to the many many many little girls who didn't get to, I think mine was one of the last hands this poor guy shook). Sadly, my heart was far more aflutter when I met Umberto Eco (Umberto, call me).

Later, at home, I remarked to devoted partner that the whole idea of the opening night party was yet another example of the self-indulgence of the performing set. I mean, when you finish a project at work, how often is there a huge catered affair to commemorate it? Yes, putting on a show is an endeavor, but it's also a job, and the idea that every successful job needs a party is, well, silly.

But I had a nice date with my dad, who still looked dashing as we sat on the stairs at Grand Central waiting for my train. It may have been 20 years since the first time he took me to an opening, but we were both wearing essentially the same thing, and I was just as pleased to be his date.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Before and Almost After

I was going to wait and do this when the end arrived, but I was just looking through some pictures and needed to share. Please, however, do not construe this as a plea for accolades. The fact is: I should never have permitted myself to look like the "before" picture, so no longer looking like it isn't so much a triumph as a "d'uh, fatty."

But here is the before. Taken in 2008. Please note the food aggression in my eyes as I look at the cake (I think the more distasteful the photo the better able I am to convey the complete lack of okayness that is before):


MMMMMM yumyum cake. Yelena want cake. Yelena kill anyone who interferes with her and cake. Yelena eat cake. Omnomnomnomnomnomnom.

This photo was taken this week. Please note how there is no food in the picture. Also my head isn't in the picture, but I assure you it is I. See Mr. Sparkles?


As I dream of how good steak frites with some maitre de buerre would taste, plus about a half dozen eclairs, I look at these pictures. These pictures will get me through the next several months.

I hope you are amused.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Because It's More Fun Than Tablecloth Colors

Given the number of changes that have occurred since we betrothed, I hesitate to say anything about our nuptials with certainty, but I think we have come to a decision on that most important of topics: the honeymoon.

If you've spent any time around us, you know that we're a little crazy when it comes to travel, a little adventurous, and a lot unconventional. This made the honeymoon decision a mite bit difficult. We pride ourselves on fairly frugal travel and a honeymoon does not lend itself to frugality. So, stepping into the world of imprecise math, we agreed that we would double the budget of our most expensive vacation to date, and that would be our honeymoon budget. Sounds about right, no?

This is, strangely enough, the one topic of conversation that we've had throughout the years. Yes, we were gunshy about getting married, but not at all gunshy about fantasy honeymoon planning. The usual suspects came up: the Maldives, Polynesia, but then when we start having to actually think about it, we realized that while we like the idea of one week at the beach, three weeks is pushing it. We just need more stuff.

When we have been to islands in the past, for a week, there has always come a time when we just had to get in a car and explore. Heck, when we went to St. Thomas for the weekend, we ended up hopping the ferry to St. John for diversion. The simple fact is, we like cars. Driving is relaxing for us. And you can't drive on an atoll. So, exit Maldives and Polynesia, and enter insanity.

We thought about Madagascar until I remembered that, in addition to some political instability, I was certain that I had read in National Geographic about how much of it was impassable. Armed with many positive memories of reading and rereading Redmond O'Hanlon's Into the Heart of Borneo, we started thinking about a trip to Malaysia. It would have stupid driving, lovely beaches, interesting culture, and that wow factor. We were pretty sold on the idea. But wanting options, we considered Myanmar. And, since it had always been my top honeymoon fantasy, safari in Africa followed by some scuba diving somewhere Africanish.

We entered the poorly stocked White Plains Barnes and Noble (remind me that I want to devote another post to the extreme differences between New York and suburban bookstores), grabbed as many books as we could find on our three potential destinations, ordered our fancy pants coffee drinks, and started to read.

At which point we discovered, or rediscovered, that different places have different weather. Since our last international trip to Nicaragua was such a monumental disaster, we were both very concerned about dedicating three expensive weeks to being rained on. And wouldn't you know it, November sees half of Malaysia in a monsoon. [INSERT EXPLETIVES HERE]! And Myanmar, as it turns out, has some issues of it's own, namely fuel rationing. You get 4 gallons of fuel per week and then you're getting the rest on the black market. And the books all said that if you were looking to dive the Myanmar territories, you were going to end up catching your boat in Thailand. [INSERT ADDITIONAL EXPLETIVES]!

Much as we like adventure, we didn't want this trip to be so adventure packed as to have us spending most of it haggling for fuel or avoiding mudslides.

Several years ago I had asked he-who-has-shot-animals-all-over-Africa where we should go and he said that if we only could go on one Safari in Africa, it had to be in South Africa. But devoted partner and I are avid nature documentary nerds, and the lure of Ngorongoro crater and the Serengeti was a powerful one. That was until we learned that the nice people of Tanzania really discourage self-drive safaris. I got some great advice from a former classmate who had honeymooned in Tanzania and looked over some tour companies and then went back to my fuzzy math and realized that there's a big difference between what you CAN afford and what you WANT to afford. We'd be going to Africa to see and do stuff and the organized safaris, even the private ones, put a premium on lodging and food - two things we would, if given the opportunity, choose not to spend on. I'm not saying we want to sleep in a communist-era poorly lit bunker (thanks, Nicaragua), but I don't need five-star accommodation while I'm on Safari. And I certainly don't need to spend for it. Even if it does look nice, I think we're more of a quantity vs. quality couple when it comes to travel.

So I googled DIY safari and found out that the nice people of Kruger National Park will welcome you in your own vehicle. You can stay in the park if you like, and there are many options for that, you can hire guides if you like, you can pretty much do what you like. I like. So then it was a question of where we go after we see our big five. Mauritius was a top choice because South African airlines fly there, but we checked out the diving and it's not brilliant (and, oh yes, it's not cheap). But look at your map and you will notice a little country quite near Kruger National Park that seems to have a lot of coastline. And our 50 Dives to Do Before You Die book mentioned something about Manta Rays. So much as we anticipate he-whose-country-used-to-own-this-country making fun of our choice to vacation in a former colony, we think we'll just take our car over the border to Mozambique, spend up a little on lodging, and dodge bull sharks in the lovely waters of the Indian Ocean.

This sounds like our kind of crazy. That being said, given border crossings, rental cars, and the out-there nature of the trip, I am seriously considering soliciting the assistance of a travel agent, despite the pride I take in planning our trips.

So while we still are iffy on appetizers, we are far less iffy on where we're going afterward. And frankly, the idea that our honeymoon will consist of an orgy of nature on land, in the air, and underwater, is pretty much perfect!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Biting the Cheap European Bullet

Midway through week 3 of rifling through the goodwill bags looking for something I could get away with wearing, I caved and went to H&M. I simply had to admit that I had run out of clothing and that, despite the Saturday Night Live sketched of my youth advising me that most fit problems could be solved with "cinching," I had few alternatives to actually replenishing my wardrobe.

However, since I had been burned before and now have an unfortunate number of unsalvageable skirts in sizes I won't be again, I decided to do the honorable thing and go to the cheapest store in the mall to buy two things: one black skirt, one tan skirt. I figured between those and my one pair of jeans, I could be ok until June.

Oh dear, I forgot how unpleasant it is to shop at H&M. If attention deficit has a mascot, it would be this clothing store. I have a lot to say about "kids today," but if the layout of this store is any indication of how their brains work, please excuse me because I am way behind on my Mandarin lessons. There is no rhyme or reason to the store and no salespeople to answer questions. A reluctant shopper like me has to navigate by color.

And boy is this clothing cheap. I have shopped at H&M over the years for disposable clothing (and I was extremely sad to notice last summer that my favorite piece, a simple khaki skirt that had seen me through many an island vacation, was literally threadbare), but the quality is really appalling. Nevermind, I was there to buy temporary clothing. Something to get me from my current shape to my final shape without looking like I was wearing sacks.

And luckily, there were skirts. Mostly plain skirts. Tailored in such a way that not a centimeter of fabric was wasted. I gathered up as many as I could find in as many sizes as I could possibly be, and tried them on. For much of my life, I bought the smaller size as an aspiration and ended up squeezing myself into horribly undersized garments. Of late, I have attempted to correct these years of mistake-making and buy the size that actually fits. I considered this admirable until it dawned on me that I was, actually, losing weight and the clothing of right now only remained so about a month and a half. So I bought two skirts that barely fit right now, but that will fit perfectly in 5 pounds and won't stop fitting for another 15 or so - and that's about how much I have left to lose.

I hope when next I must wardrobe augment, I'm in the financial position to skip H&M, but for the moment, I am inordinately pleased that for $50 I can avoid looking slovenly and aesthetically lazy.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Pour Some Saccharin On Me

This weekend, we will celebrate out 14th anniversary, and the last anniversary we'll celebrate unmarried. Strange to say, I have mixed emotions.

Yes, I am very much looking forward to being Mrs. Devoted Partner, but I've been saying for years that I don't like the idea of renumbering our anniversaries. October of 2012 won't see our first anniversary, it will see our 15 1/2, more or less.

Conventional wisdom, coupled with conventional scare tactics, dictates that Everything Changes (TM) once you get married. Obviously, I'm not buying that. And while it sounds pretty macho to say that we've been married in all but name for years, that does diminish the importance of deciding to legally wed, and I'm not into that either.

As we go through the massive checklist of wedding needs, I realize that the devoted partner moniker is more than just cutesy. For all the years when I felt the term boyfriend was insufficient and referred to him as my partner, apparently it wasn't just vanity. When we joke about being willful and stubborn enough to work through the problems we encounter in the future, beneath that joking is the knowledge that we have worked long and we have worked hard at this partnership and that's what will enable us to weather the unavoidable storms of a lifetime together.

Happy anniversary to my devoted partner from his devoted partner.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Unexpected Consequences

At this time yesterday, I was merely excited to have finished my first self-designed sweater.

Today? Well today I have test knitters and patterns to write in different sizes. My little sweater got a really nice reception and other people want to make it. Imagine that!

I remember when I was in elementary school, the hot topic among educators was the achievement gulf in math and science between boys and girls. I went to a fairly stellar school that was both highly demanding and highly nurturing, but it was still apparent that, by the time students reached high school, math and science were a boy's club. And much as I wish I had been the exception to the rule, I wasn't. I made decent enough grades (ok, well maybe not in advanced chemistry, sorry Ms. N), but my heart wasn't in it. And it had been earlier on. Whether or not it was the style of teaching is something I don't feel fit to judge, I only know that if the choices were between Moby Dick and plotting something on a graph, I chose the former (even though I didn't actually like Moby Dick).

Fast forward to adulthood. An adulthood that did not have the benefit of a single math or hard science course in college. And where did I end up?

Computer programming. Soft, front-end computer programming, but computer programming nonetheless. Also confectionery, which any pastry chef will tell you depends more on science than creativity. And now, pattern design. While I'd like to believe that my shining prose will carry the pattern, the truth is that, provided the math is correct, no one will care about the flowery words.

This has gotten me thinking about math education because, in my wildest dreams, I would not have spent my adult life interacting in any way with math and science. I was going to edit books or magazines. Or write them. But logic loops, hygroscopy, and geometry? Please! Those things were for math people.

Now I deeply believe that applied math and science aren't worth a damn without the basics (I am a big believer in the basics: thou mayest not read Henry Miller if one has not read Chaucer first), but I wonder if my experience with math and science would have been different if the disciplines had been presented as not merely the precursors to careers in hard sciences. I'm not saying I might not have enjoyed the life of a nuclear physicist, I'm just saying it might have been a stretch. But I didn't know how big a part chemistry played in cooking until I had to start doing it.

And, forgive me, tenured English professors, but my brain has to work a lot harder with far more satisfactory results, when I challenge it with math and science. At this point I feel confident reading and understanding what I read, especially as much of that is subjective, but when faced with a problem that has a single solution? My mind delights.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Family Guy May Well Have Ruined Star Wars For Me

Star Wars (the original, actual Star Wars) was on television last night, and since there was nothing else on, I watched intermittently. And great sadness filled my heart.

I have been quite vocal on my opinion of George Lucas and his inspiration-less greed (I believe my exact words on exiting the first Lord of the Rings was, "I hope George Lucas sees this and kills himself" in reference to how craptacular his cgi was in comparison), but I have maintained, with a manic fervency that the three original Star Wars movies shall never have an equal.

However, I deeply enjoyed, and repeatedly watched, the Family Guy sendups and I might be changing my tune. Obviously Seth MacFarlane is as big a fan as I am, and he somehow edited out all the boring parts, amped up the stuff we all find so funny about the movies, and created a work that rivals the original and takes less time to watch. As I was watching Star Wars, my mind kept wandering to Blue Harvest, remembering how funny such and such a scene was in the cartoon. I don't know how much of this is due to the deep and overwhelming ire I feel towards Mr. Lucas and the three new movies he made (to put this in perspective, I would rather watch the Matrix trilogy than the second Star Wars trilogy and, as we all know, Matrices 2 and 3 are unwatchable), and how much is real, I only know that I am currently more entertained by Family Guy Star Wars than actual Star Wars.

Sadly, this means I will be forever waiting for Family Guy to do, well, pretty much every other iconic film ever made. Family Guy The Godfather, Family Guy Lawrence of Arabia, Family Guy The Towering Inferno (ok, so I'm the only one who finds The Towering Inferno an iconic film, I can live with that), and this makes me wonder if I have been infected with the short attention span of the internet generation. I damned Audible, repeatedly, for having the cojones to sell abridged books, believing that abridged books exist for abridged humans, but what does it say about me that I prefer the 50 minute animated Star Wars?

Given, my affection for media, this will haunt me, at least until I'm distrac-

ooh, look, ponies!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Phase 1 Complete

To the person who inquired about our potential wedding venue mere days after I inquired first, thank you for forcing our hand. Your inquiry allowed us to get off the mat and answer to something in the affirmative. Would we have made the decision anyway if given the traditional long mulling we give things? Probably. But now, thanks to you, we don't have to mull, we merely have to act. And I, for one, am glad about this. It is one less thing to think of.

But dear baby Jeebus are there just so many many many many other things to think about now.

I have really wanted to avoid overtaxing the blog with wedding planning, but it might become unavoidable as it does seem to require a dogged faithfulness. No sooner do you choose a date and a location then you have 9 million other things to think (argue) about.

So in this first iteration, I will discuss how my plan of having things simple has spiraled completely out of control.

The stereotypical representation of the bride has her agonizing over how to make things as special snowflake special as possible, taking things that are simple and making them complex. But don't let that fool you into thinking things are simple from the beginning. Apparently the Wedding Industrial Complex doesn't want things to be simple and the couple who is looking for simplicity will have to do just as much legwork as the couple who needs ice sculptures, chocolate waterfalls, and napkin rings with each attendee's name engraved on them.

Issue #1: Vows. We don't want to write our own vows. We want the traditional ones. In my head, I can hear them. On paper? Not a chance. Whether or not the vows in my head have ever been spoken, or whether I have created what I think are the traditional vows from samplings of other vows is yet to be decided, but a nearly exhaustive search of the internet has led me to the conclusion that we're going to have to write our own vows. And what I mean by that is take the bits and pieces from what the internet tells us are traditional vows, excise the god parts that make me crazy, and present whomever officiates with a script that must not be deviated from. I cannot stress enough that the one of the things that stresses me out most is the idea of extemporaneous speaking by strangers (and family and friends).

Issue #2: Registry. I didn't want one. I'm happy people will come and celebrate with us, and I'll be happy about that regardless of whether or not people bring gifts. The thing is, after over a decade of cohabitation, there's little, if anything, we don't already have. I look at making a registry as having to come up with things I want (and even when I try, it's like four things). Devoted partner suggested we register for careers. This caused much laughing. Now, don't get me wrong, I can come up with frivolous things I want, a PacoJet comes to mind (and it's come down in price; now it's only four thousand dollars), but let's be honest: I don't need a four thousand dollar ice cream maker. Not really. And come on, you've been to our houses throughout the years, do you really think we can handle having 100 dollar Waterford wine glasses? We have extra boxes of 1 dollar wine glasses in the attic to replace the ones we constantly break. We also wondered if we could register for a maid.

Along with the registry comes the wedding website. Which I also didn't want. There was a time, and we were all alive for that time, when there weren't wedding websites. We must have found a way to survive (wait, come to think of it, our Euro friends didn't have them). I know this comes from the Luddite who has no cellular technology to speak of, but I just feel like every decision brings us farther away from simple.

So now that we know when we're doing it and where we're doing it, the list of things that need doing has expanded geometrically. I apologize in advance that I don't know if I'll have other things to talk about as I have to bridezilla in reverse: excessively micromanage to make sure things stay simple.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Obligatory Post-Oscars Post

I guess I should have done this yesterday, but I was sleepy - that thing really does go on, and I was a bit behind because my strategy is to DVR the awards and start watching 45 minutes in so I can fast-forward through the commercials which, on a side note, had some winners I was too lazy to fast-forward through (on a second side note: Mercedes has gone a whole new direction with its ads and I, for one, am loving it - the ad for the gullwing? ok, admittedly I have the hots for gullwings, but this was an awesome ad).

This was yet another year when I hadn't seen any of the nominees (because movie theaters really do prefer if you wear pants when visiting, and I prefer to watch my movies in a robe), but that doesn't stop me from enjoying the show. I can root for people merely based on my general feelings for them and not the quality of their work which, I would guess, I am not alone in doing. So let's start with what I didn't like:

#1: The kid who isn't Michael Cera. I watched the red carpet show and watched him being interviewed (he has no tv, he hates fame, he is really working the giant douche persona) and all I could think was, oh dear god get over yourself. If you don't want to be famous, go work as a cashier, or a mortgage banker, or an oil prospector; but since you decided to be an actor, STFU and be a good sport. Your ennui doesn't begin to approach compelling.

#2: James Franco. Yawn. Anne Hathaway should get down on her knees and thank you because you made her look relatively amazing.

#3: The ladies and their talking. Devoted partner and I fondly remember Sidney Poitier's honorary Oscar acceptance speech because it rocked. Like, I don't know, he had taken elocution and rhetoric at the University of Awesome. Everyone else, not so much. But as a woman, I take exception to actress acceptance speeches that hew more closely to prom queen acceptance speeches. Where's the dignity? Where's the gravitas? Why can't you ladies string together words into sentences that sound like you make your living from speaking sentences? The tittering, sobbing, and ohmygodeveryonei'veeverknownissothebest crap is tiresome. I think, maybe, Cate Blanchett can pull it together (I just checked, and she was pretty good, with some "ums," but overall well put together, so it can be done).

#4: Gwynneth Paltrow. In addition to being one of the ineloquent Oscar acceptees, she really needs to stop singing in public. She isn't any good. And she's so smug and self-satisfied that I just want to throw potatoes at her.

#5: Christian Bale. Your low-class accent is fake. I say it here and now. A) You are Welsh and you sound nothing like Tom Jones and everything like a character from Oliver! B) We all saw you in Empire of the Sun, you can talk like you don't have Yorkshire pudding in your throat. C) Has nothing to do with your fake accent, but please shave.

#6: Where was Jack Nicholson? He's always good for being the butt of a couple of hooker jokes.

And some things I liked:

#1: Alec Baldwin. I wish he was in everything.

#2: Mila Kunis's dress. Best of the night, I think.

#3: Aaron Sorkin's pre-planned, but still cute enough reference to respect and guinea pigs.

#4: Cate Blanchett's dress. Ok, I love her and she can do no wrong. She's like the anti-Paltrow.

#5: ABC's exclusive look at the green room. Ok, no, that's a lie. It was stupid and a time-filler and who cares anyway?