Friday, December 30, 2011

Monopoly and myrrh

Okay, I actually got photos a few days ago (very efficient uploading, parents!), and if I don't post them before New Years their relevance will certainly be devalued. However, I'll keep it short because I have friends and family in town and would rather hang out with them than write in my blog (just as I would prioritize hanging out with all of you, readers, were you to visit me in person! Well, unless I don't know you, in which case it would be on a case by case basis). Suffice is to say, Christmas was fun and basically time spent can be divided into the following categories: food eating and playing board games. Luckily, these are a couple of my favorite things. I will alternate them thusly.


Here we gather around the island at my uncle's house that is perpetually covered in junk foods and sweets otherwise known as the Alter of Gluttony.

Board game:

My cousin gave his friend this strategy game that took about an hour to explain, so once we finally understood it, we played it about 20 times.


Christmas Eve dinner tradition: hibachi. See if you can pick me out on the other side of the smoke.

Board game:

I didn't participate in this train-themed board game that I might eat chex mix by the hand full (which thankfully you can't see in my hands or else I would have no choice but to label this one food).


Semi-annual family reunion at an Italian restaurant that severs Alfredo by the vat. I'm proud of myself for being the only one to turn away from food long enough to notice a picture was being taken.

Board game:
One of several monopoly games played. This was National Parks monopoly of course when Boardwalk becomes Yosemite and hotels transform into ranger stations.

Hope your end-of-Decembers were as merry and bright and board game filled as mine. Here's to good things in 2012!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Everything's awesome and nobody's happy

I promised a run-down on my trip to Richmond, VA, and a run-down of my trip to Richmond, VA you shall receive! However, it will not be today because I'm waiting until my parents send me some photos of the occasion (and am actually hoping they will read this very blog post and thus save me an email). In the meantime, I'm updating anyway because no one is at my office right now because who would come into the office the week between Christmas and New Years? Thankfully, unlike last week, they left the heat on for me.

At any rate, the topic I'm choosing to write about while slowly amping up the anticipation for stunning photographs of a Richmond Christmas (seriously, I haven't technically seen them yet, but I'm expecting photographic fireworks), which is only tangentially related to my trip, is air travel. I'll try to make it more interesting than it sounds.

My flight yesterday was supposed to be leave a little before 1 and get in at 2 (actual air time is about 45 minutes, but they have to account for 30 minutes of taxiing and being delayed apparently). Anyway, we were on the plane exactly on time and even pulled away from the gate a little early, so I was both surprised and optimistic to think that both legs of my trip would be perfectly on schedule. Of course, that was not to be due to a storm coming through New York that caused traffic to back up in La Guardia. We were told that we would be sitting on the runway until 2 to see if the airport in New York would let us land, and if not, we would go back to the terminal and deplane. The reaction to this was a plane full of pissed off people. I can't help but think part of this reaction was a result of the usual post-holiday crankiness felt particularly by those who see their families once a year for a reason and are all too happy to finally get to head for home after an uncomfortable weekend. But from my perspective, the protesting seemed a little much.

One woman in a plaid coat kept flagging down the flight attendant to ask more questions about the delay. Plaid coat had recently gotten off the phone with her friend/family/therapist in New York who had told her that it wasn't yet raining there. She preceded to tell the flight attendant this and that she really didn't understand why weren't leaving now so as to get ahead of the storm, as if her phone contact's weather observations would really supersede the ruling of the air traffic controller. To her credit the flight attendant just nodded and smiled and, apparently, brought this woman's concern to the pilot, who then explained in detail on the loud speaker how airports work and how air traffic might be affected by an approaching storm even if it could not yet be noted by laymen on the ground. Plaid coat then spent the rest of the grounded hour on the phone with various people talking about her anger for all of the following: La Guardia, the Richmond airport, the city of Richmond, airplanes, and stupid people. I thought it was nice of them to let us turn our phones on to contact people and let them know we would be late, but overall, I think the waiting would have been a lot easier if at some point they had made up a need for people to turn off all electronic devices again. Although, had they, I would have missed the plaintive whines of the young woman behind me asking whoever she was talking to "why do these things always happen to me?"

The positive thing about being delayed on the airplane instead of in the terminal is that it allowed me the chance to peruse the entire Sky Mall holiday catalogue yet another year in a row. Which leads to the following questions:

Who's idea was it to try to sell adult footie pajamas with sex appeal?

If anything shouldn't this man be more offended if people assume this muppet fuzz is coming from him rather than his "Flair Hair Visor"?

Why? And also, why $24.95?

Luckily, our flight was not canceled and after being delayed for an hour, we were released by the ground crew to soar above the clouds. And remarkably, even after being delayed an hour I reached New York hours before my sister who had left from Richmond by train several hours before me. I guess there's something to this air travel thing after all. The whole experience reminded me of this Louis CK interview about, among other things, whining on airplanes. So I guess this whole post was really just an excuse to post that link.

Anyway, I'll post soon with details about my Christmas in Richmond (surprise sneak peak: we ate a lot), just as soon as I get photos from anyone who was there and took photos and wants to send them to me!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Winter celebrating not necessarily associated with a particular holiday

I think this will be another Christmas-type post. I guess all I do anymore is celebrate the Christmas season. I was actually invited to a Hanukkah party on Sunday, which might have lent my blog some much needed balance and perspective (and also granted me my annual opportunity to gorge on latkes). Sadly, a prior engagement kept me from attending. Nevertheless, the weekend was still wonderful, for the following list of reasons:

1) People played board games with me. This is an all too rare occurrence sadly. I can't count the times I have hopefully dragged board games to a get together only to have the night end game-less. There's nothing lame about Scattegories. And I stand by that.

2) An enjoyable tree-trimming party at my friend's apartment (well, I showed up too late for the tree trimming, but was just in time for the brie and mulled cider, so it was a party nonetheless!). Also, I made these little guys:
They're Texas snowmen! Or I guess the snowmen of the warm climate-d place of your choosing Some of them are blissfully unaware of their fate, but the more self-aware snowmen have the appropriate expressions of horror. And what is any holiday party without morbid, sentient snowmen death?

3) My first shopping spree with a Make-a-Wish child. It was a wonderful experience and it was totally worth braving the toy stores on the last shopping weekend before Hanukkah and second to last shopping weekend before Christmas.

4) The discovery of absurdly tacky quantities of Christmas lights in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. I suppose I wasn't the one to discover this as the Dyker Heights Christmas lights are apparently the stuff of legend, but for some reason I only read about it this year. I have quite a history of going on tacky light tours. There is a neighborhood near(ish) my parent's house that requires homeowners in their deed restrictions to put up absurd quantities of lights and obey their block's theme in the grand tradition of taking things way too seriously. That said, it makes for some great displays. Also, when I was a kid I went on a tacky light tour through Richmond, Virginia that involved a limo, three hours (plus an additional 30 minutes for us because our limo almost instantly sprung a flat tire leading to countless Gilligan's Island references while we waited impatiently in the cold), and driving all over the city to see Richmond's tackiest homeowners' handiwork.

This was not one of the beautiful, professionally decorated houses (because those didn't come out in photos quite as well), but this was definitely one of the tackiest.

5) My boyfriend's family coming over for lunch allowing me an excuse to make this:
Yep, that's asiago mac and cheese with caramelized brussell sprouts and cranberries. You can probably tell I didn't take this picture, and I don't want to take credit for it either way because this chick is awesome.

Really, that wasn't as Christmas-centric as I thought. Perhaps my next post will be though, as I'll be celebrating Christmas in earnest next weekend in Richmond, Virginia--the land of tacky Christmas lights and high-end outdoor shopping malls.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas time in the city

If you like being crammed against other people, there is no better place to be for the holidays than New York City. And apparently thousands of people do enjoy just that as there are more tourists than ever this year. I too wanted to partake in the holiday spirit of the city (well the free part anyway--not the paying $25 to ice skate or $75 to see the Rockettes do high kicks), so on Saturday I went to 5th Avenue to see the window displays and the tree at Rockefeller Center. More importantly I wanted to walk down to Bryant Park to get some delicious hot chocolate. These are the dreams that a secular Christmas is made of!

Of course, due to the aforementioned crowding, this journey of approximately 15 blocks took close to an hour of fighting tooth and nail with people people with Midwestern accents who use their strollers like tanks to push through the crowds. That said, there were lights and Christmas cheer and a nice December briskness in the air, so I didn't mind the crowds (and minded them even less once I had my $5 drinking chocolate). My boyfriend got a few shots on his iphone (somewhat reminiscent of the same outing we did this time last year), so I'll post them that you might enjoy the experience as well, although enviably more crowd-free.

The Bergdorf holiday windows are always a sight to see. They have sort of the reverse advertising affect on me because seeing how much money clearly goes into making the window displays just reenforces my realization that I should never actually enter the store as I clearly won't be able to afford anything. Then again, maybe this is exactly the kind of advertising they do intend as it keeps the hoi polloi like me out. At any rate, while looking at one of the windows I heard one tourist remark on how they were pretty but "not very Christmasy." If a life-sized polar bear in a chef's hat covered in silverly tasseling isn't Christmasy, than I really don't know what holiday I've been celebrating every December for the last 20 odd years.

This enormous Norway spruce is the tree lit in front of Rockefeller Center each year. As you can see there are hundreds of people crammed into the plaza to see the tree and the ice skating rink at its base. Some friends apparently went to see the tree last week when it was 30 degrees and pouring rain and said there was not soul there except for some poor security guard. I think it would be a really neat sight to see, but as I recall I spent most of that miserable night tucked happily indoors, so perhaps I'm not tough enough to endure the elements and beat the crowds.

This isn't from my 5th Avenue jaunt (I realized there weren't as many pictures as I thought), but from my friend's annual cookie making party (well annual in that she did it last year too). Those who saw my Halloween post might recognize the cookie in the center. I didn't make the beauty, but I admire the artistry nonetheless.

I hope you are enjoying the holiday spirit wherever you are. Or, if you're not into that, I hope you are enjoying the fact that Monday is nearly over.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Blogging about bloggers' blogs

So I've been thinking lately about why I keep a blog. Is it to keep a record of when and what I do for myself? Is it just to keep myself writing consistently? Is it to let friends and family know that I haven't yet become a hopeless shut-in? Or is it to communicate with strangers who will be wowed by my subtle cynicism on big city living and ability topost photos that I didn't take? I think at this point, it is only some mix of the first three things. And I've decided I'm okay with that.

For a while, I'd entertained the idea that people I don't know would enjoy my thoughts (which I guess is the goal of any would-be writer). I think I'd hooked one for a while, but she drifted off around the same time that I stopped reading her blog (which probably had something to do with it.) The thing is, I read a number of blogs very faithfully and almost all of these blogs are from strangers or near strangers since only a handful of my friends really write. So I guess because I do this, it surprised me when strangers or near strangers didn't stumble on my blog, or stay when they did stumble.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of this post; however, it's one of my favorites of the "50 incredible animal photos taken in 2011" that has been circulating the Internet lately.

Consequently, I've been trying to figure out what it is that causes me to continue to read certain blogs, and I've come to a conclusion. The blogs I read regularly very in theme from food to television and even several Christian housewife blogs (more on that in a minute), and I realized that none of them are really terribly interesting or special, but that they all have one thing in common: they post daily. Well, if not daily, they post on a very strict schedule. I work in an office job and am in front of a computer with some downtime five days a week. I like having blogs that I can reliably check each morning and know that they will have new posts. That really is the entire draw.

On the subject of Christian housewife blogs (were we not on the subject? well, we are now!), I started noticing I was reading a number of these. It started with just a handful of Mormon mom blogs, and then has expanded to any number of conservative women writers. There's one in particular who is fairly political and routinely updates with views that are the antithesis of my own. The only thing she has written that I have ever agreed with is that people should probably eat less sugar and more whole foods. But for some reason, even when her anti-feminist views frustrate me, I still keep reading it daily. I guess it's just interesting to see how the other half lives. Most of my friends are also city-living, godless singles without kids so it's interesting to see another perspective on life.

Or maybe it's not interesting at all, and I only find it so because I'm here, predictably at my desk writing book captions and talking to sales reps while somewhere in Kansas City some woman I don't know is baking bread and homeschooling five children. After reading this particular, polarizing woman's blog for a while, she frequently talks about how great a housewife her daughter-in-law is and how Christian and feminine and submissive she is. She also mentioned that her daughter-in-law was writing a book, so I continued my voyeuristic stalking and discovered she too had a blog. I had assumed it would be along the same lines and that she would be a carbon copy of her mother-in-law, but the thing is, she's actually a fantastic writer, a really interesting person, and doesn't at all define herself solely by her faith or her husband or her job as a housewife, although all of these things do help inform her writing. Which is really neither here nor there, but it does remind me why I enjoy reading the blogs of strangers to begin with.

In the end, I guess none of my conclusions or musings are terribly helpful to me in my hopes of getting people I don't know to read because I have no interest in updating every day or in updating with something just for the sake of doing so. So I guess I'll stick with those loyal readers I do know and treat this blog as a way to keeping a record of what I do for myself, as well as for anyone else who cares to read them. Maybe it will evolve beyond that at some point, but for now, that's where we are, and I'm enjoying that.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Let it slide

A few weeks ago, a friend wanted to go to the New Museum to see their "Experience" exhibit not so much because we are aficionados of cutting edge art as because we wanted to ride their three-story slide. However, when we rolled in at 2 in the afternoon, we discovered that we were not the only slide-loving people in New York and that particular exhibit had an hour and a half wait. So instead we went and got donuts. We are, if nothing else, people who appreciate life's simple pleasures.

At any rate, this preamble is all to say that this past weekend I was much more dogged in my pursuit of experiencing art through attractions more often seen on playgrounds. I insisted friends arrive by 11 (the museum's opening time) and that I would bring donuts lest we get distracted. I correctly deduced that the type of people who go the New Museum are likely the same people who don't like to get up early on Sunday morning. I deduced correctly and my friends and I (well, at least those friends who didn't bail because they preferred not to get up early on a Sunday morning) were part of the first 10 people in line. We were informed that the "psycho tank" was closed because the heater was broken. Apparently, this is a part of the exhibit where you float naked in a sensory deprivation tank, which seems very much just like a regular elevated hot tub, but I guess it's cool because seldom are you invited to disrobe in a museum. We were willing to overlook it's closure; however, and accept that we would have to go home and "float weightlessly" in our bathtubs to compensate. Thus, after signing a few waivers, we were soon once again slide-bound!

Actually before he hit the slide, we made a concerted effort to appear to look at other art first. We were some of the few people who stopped for a couple of turns on the random mirrored carousel that was adjacent to the slide entrance. This meant that we allowed a good 10 people to slide first, but having paid $16, we wanted to patronize the exhibit to its fullest.

Note that all the other chairs are empty. Some people have no respect for interactive art that does not require a helmet.

My friend embarking on her slide voyage. This photo and that previous sentence just made me realize how lame this post is.

This was the next floor down (the 4th floor). You could watch people sliding through. This person was not one of my friends, but he/she is a good stand in. I think that's pretty much what we looked like.

Here we are at the slide's endpoint (on floor 3). My friend and I are standing by that blue baby gorilla for scale (well for scale of the slide, it's hard to tell how large the baby gorilla is, but, based on my knowledge of primates, I'd say assume it's about life sized).

Okay, I hate to disappoint, but this final photo will have no slides to speak of in it. In fact, the rest of the exhibit was a photographic snooze, so this last photo wasn't even taken on the New Museum premises. However, I have to include it because it's the bacon and kale quiche I made last night. It's one of the better things I've done with my life.

It's just hard to go wrong with bacon and kale.

I hope you all had excellent weekends as well! I'm going to try to depart from my usual, "let's talk about what I did this weekend" commentary. I'm not sure what I'm going to replace it with though, so stay tuned. If I don't's because I'm still thinking of ways to make myself more interesting.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pink berries, but not Pinkberry

The week after Thanksgiving should logically be a time of contemplative fasting in preparation for the onslaught of holiday festivities that all seem to center around the creating and eating of baked goods. Or maybe that's just my Unitarian upbringing and other people's holidays don't revolve quite so much around gingerbread. At any rate, this year a wrench has been thrown in my post-Thanksgiving salad and proper portions eating (to be fair, I've never actually done this the week after Thanksgiving). Namely, my parents gave me an early Christmas present when I saw them over Thanksgiving: an ice cream maker.

This new toy, plus the fact the weather has been unseasonably warm here in Astoria, means I had no choice but to start the holiday season (for indeed: it has started in force here in New York) with a nice frozen treat. My only concession was to make frozen yogurt instead of ice cream, but it's really not much of a concession because I insist on using only full fat yogurt. So to break in my present I made this:

Raspberry chocolate chip frozen yogurt. It would have been fine without the chips, but I do like a little texture. It was deliciously tart with just the right amount of sweetness.

I don't really have a recipe to post because there isn't much to make frozen yogurt, but I can work through my process, such as it is. I mixed about 2 cups of plain, unsweetened organic yogurt (full fat, naturally) with an entire bag of frozen raspberries (at $4.99 for a 12 0z bag, it was only slightly cheaper than buying two 6 oz cartons of fresh raspberries, but I knew if I bought the fresh ones I would eat all of them before I made the yogurt), about a teaspoon vanilla, and maybe a quarter cup of sugar in the blender until smooth and outrageously fuchsia. Then I dumped it in the ice cream maker and turned it on. After about 20 minutes, I stirred in a handful of chocolate chips. And that, my readers, is how you make heaven in a bowl.

Once I decide it's close enough to the holidays that I can stop feigning seasonal spartanism, I'm going to make this deliciousness. Now there's an ice cream that appreciates the reason for the season.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Giving thanks for mad quantities of pies

After a lovely few days away holidaying in Texas, I've returned with a new blogging perspective and vigor for writing. Actually, I have pretty much the same blogging perspective, but at least now I have some time. I've been enjoying Thanksgiving with my grandparents and aunt (and immediate family, of course) in Arlington, Texas for most of my life (well except for one unfortunate year where my family stayed home, I volunteered at a soup kitchen in Houston, missed my ride to dinner across town, and ended up eating reheated mac & cheese and watching a rerun of Dr. Phil. Although as regards the Dr. Phil, I suppose I have no one to blame but myself and maybe a little bit Oprah.) Over the years, we have honed the perfect meal and enjoyed good wine (now that I'm of age) and company. It's definitely one of the traditions I'm most thankful for.

This year, my boyfriend was able to accompany me down, which was nice because he could not only meet more of my family, but also add two more Texas cities to his scrapbook. That is, if he scrapbooked, which he does not. I'm including a few pictures from this weekend for my own little virtual scrapbook.

My sister and I. Making pies and taking names. We expanded on our usual plain pumpkin pie repertoire with a bourbon pumpkin pie this year. If you ever wanted to know a simple way to dress up a pie, it's in the liberal addition of bourbon.

My dad and our 20 pound bird. We would reduce that bad boy to a mere carcass by days end. Which would be a more impressive statement if a good portion of it didn't end up in tupperware.

A Dallas possum very near the house of Eagle's co-founder Don Henley.

At the Nasher Sculpture Garden in Dallas. At first glance, this looks like one of those sculptures of sad people commemorating the Russian Revolution or something you would otherwise feel like a jerk for smiling in front of and/or posing with. However, the actual title of this piece was something about morning train commuters--a plight of which I am a sufferer, which means I'm not a jerk for posing here, and neither is my mother.

After the success of our pumpkin bourbon pie on Thanksgiving, we kicked it up a notch because we had extra pie crust, pumpkin, pecans, and an insatiable need for more pies. Pictured is a bourbon pumpkin pie with pecan streusel topping. You can't make this stuff up. Because we already did.

A collection of some of my favorite people in the world.

Having gone to Dallas the previous day and walked around both the museum district and Dealy Plaza, on Saturday we went to the Stockyards in Fort Worth. Every day, twice a day, they do a cattle drive through the stock yards just as they would have done in the 1800s only with fewer head of cattle (about 10 in total for the recreation) and with fewer people herding cattle and more people herding toddlers off the curb.

We also went to a local rodeo at the Stockyards. The bull riding was a win for the bulls, but the man pictured above was truly impressive. Michelangelo with a lasso.

Thanks for reading! I hope your Thanksgivings were as enjoyable as mine (which I trust to be true as many of my readers were with me).

Monday, November 21, 2011

Perchance to post

I haven't had time to update lately, but for some reason, despite pretty much everyone reading this knowing why I haven't been posting, I still feel like I need to post something. Perhaps this is out of guilt fueled by the delusion that someone I don't know reads this, or, more likely, the onset of some sort of obsessive compulsive disorder.

At any rate, here I am, posting about the fact that I won't be posting. In the meantime, enjoy these photos of Astoria in autumn until I return post Thanksgiving.

The last one, for those of you who scrolled down this far, is actually Astoria, Oregon which should your first clue that I took none of these.

Monday, November 14, 2011

When life hands you an abundance of root vegetables...

Maybe it was because I had the first of two Thanksgivings this year at my boyfriend's parent's house this weekend, or because I just spent some time researching and otherwise contemplating the perfect pie recipes for Thanksgiving with my family in Texas, or maybe just because I have a natural tendency toward gluttony, but today's post will be about fall recipes. These are not necessarily Thanksgiving recipes, mind you, just things that I've created in the last few weeks through the bounty of my farm share. I'll be sad to it come to an end this week, but I chose to not sign up for the winter share, but rather rejoin next spring. I know I'll be traveling a bit more in the winter, so it's for the best. That and I'm thinking I need a break
from squash and carrots for a couple of months. But before I besmirch the good name of root vegetables and the harvest season, here's some of what I've been making lately (all photos are not of actual food I have made, but are thanks to the good people of the Internet and serve as suggestions of what my food looked like or would have looked like if I gave more emphasis on proper plating.)

Butternut Squash Ravioli:

Did you know that you can make ravioli without a pasta maker using wonton wrappers? Okay, likely you did, but I've been meaning to try this trick for years, and only recently discovered wonton wrappers are actually very easy to find in my grocery store (right next to the tofu--of course!). I don't remember exactly what I stuffed these bad boys with, but here's an approximation of my process:

1 small butternut squash (roasted with a little olive oil and salt in the oven for 30 minutes until soft enough to scoop and blend with a fork)
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese (or rather, I just grated until I got tired)
1 tsp chopped fresh sage
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 pepper
minced garlic (in whatever number of cloves you want)
wonton wrappers
1 egg white

Mix all ingredients together (well except for the last two). Scoop a small spoonful of filling onto the center of each wrapper. Beat the egg white and a little water in small bowl with a fork. Rub some of the egg white mixture on the edges of the wonton wrapper. Fold wrapper over filling so that it forms a right triangle. Press edges to seal and crimp with a fork. Once you've finished all the ravioli, put them in boiling water for about 5 minutes or until the ravioli float and the skins look slightly translucent. I served these with some browned butter with more sage, some toasted chopped walnuts, and a little more parmesan cheese. Excellent way to make squash as unhealthy as possible.

Sunchoke puree:
Cook peeled and chopped sunchokes with a peeled and chopped potato or two and whatever root vegetables (turnips, parsnips, what have you) you desperately want to rid of with enough vegetable broth to just cover. Simmer until vegetables are soft (takes about 30 minutes). Drain off some of the liquid, but retain enough to blend smoothly in a blender or food processor (or using an immersion blender if you didn't buy yours from Bargain Stop and find that it lacks the wherewithall to so much as froth milk). Once blended add a couple of tablespoons of butter, a tsp salt, and a little milk if it needs to be thinned. Serves nicely with a spice crusted salmon. Also, judging by the image I found, it would pair fairly nicely with a panko crusted scallop. Something to think about.

Green Tomato Bread:

At the end of summer, there is apparently always a plethora of green tomatoes left on the vine that never ripened. This is something I only learned when my farm share started heaving green tomatoes on us by the pound-ful. My first instinct was to fry them as that's the only use for green tomatoes I know of. However, in the interest of being healthier and not immediately giving into every impulse I have to deep fry something, I researched further. Turns out there are tons of green tomato recipes to choose from. I wasn't that interested in the relish or the chutney, so I opted for the green tomato bread (which, yes, I realize is arguably just as unhealthy as deep frying them). I didn't tweak the recipe at all, so I'm not going to write it out here. It was a pretty tasty bread though--similar to most spiced quick breads, but with an underlying tartness from the tomatoes.

So tell me, readers, what have you been making this harvest season?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Don't Forget to Write

Last night, I skipped my weekly tin whistle class--something I never do without a very good reason (previous good reasons have mostly entailed being out of the country). Last night's reason was for a book launch party for Don't Forget toWrite, a new publication from 826 National (see previous posts for more info on my involvement with 826) compiling lesson plans from some of the workshops from 826's around the country. The purpose of the book is to help teacher's inspire kids to find writing fun again--something I never felt was emphasized enough when I was in school. As David Handler, speaking for Lemony Snicket, said in the promotional video, "Kids all have the potential to be great writers. They're all born with stories they want to tell, and sooner or later they can all hold pencils."

On request, I had contributed a lesson plan for a workshop I designed and ran with a friend on making stories through mashing together literary genres. We had gathered the materials together and sent them to the editor a while ago, and up until I received the invitation to the launch party a week or so ago, I had completely forgotten about it. So why was this worth my getting behind on learning to play slip jigs? Mostly, it was just exciting to go to a launch party for a book I had contributed to. As fun as it is writing freelance and having my name on the front of a book, it doesn't have nearly the same fanfare when my author's copy arrives at my inner office mailbox as it does when I get it while enjoying free wine and assorted meats and cheeses.

Also, as I hadn't known that much about the project when I agreed to contribute, it was exciting to see who else was in it. Dave Eggers wrote the foreword, and while I haven't read any of his recent books, I will always be a fan or his starting for 826 and then marketing it so well at a speech he gave at the University of Central Arkansas that I remembered to look up the organization a year later when I moved to New York. Jon Scieszka contributed a chapter which was exciting to me because I remember when he came to my elementary school when I was in the 5th grade. He autographed my copy of The Stinky Cheese Man. I was also a fan of his Time Warp Trio series, which I see, through a quick google search, has expanded greatly long after I aged out of reading them. Also, submitting a lesson plan was Jory John, who I only recently became a fan of when a friend sent me a link to his book. He has another one called I Feel Relatively Neutral About New York that I can perhaps relate to more, as I live here and so many of my friends are alive. Anyway, this fandom led me to stalking his twitter and also learning that he works with 826 (the original in San Fransisco) as well. An admirable person to be compiled in a book with, to be sure.

If you are in need of a book with over 50 creative writing lesson plans for elementary grades (which I'm afraid, many of my readers may not be...), don't miss out on the book that film producer/director Judd Apatow calls "unconventionally brilliant." At any rate, that's enough tooting of my own horn for now, but I will say, this is so going on my resume.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Procrastinating through culture

I have an extra hour today, so I might as well update. Actually, that's more a reason I should be outside enjoying the beautiful day and perhaps ringing cowbells at marathoners because today the sun sets at 4:47. That's not an acceptable time for nightfall in November, and I go on record as against daylight savings time again this year. To celebrate the last day of pre-5 pm sunlight for a while, I did very little outside yesterday, and in fact, spent much of it inside at the museum. I recently renewed by membership to the Moma (after their many emails and thinly veiled threats about raising prices on membership fees if I didn't renew in the next few days), and yesterday seemed like a fine one to check out the much ballyhooed de Kooning retrospective.

What I learned from this exhibit is that I really didn't know much about de Kooning (which actually is fairly true of any modern artist). I like him better than the Cy Twombly's of the world though, and it was a well put together exhibit. While at the museum, my friends and I also checked out the labyrinth made of sheets in the atrium called Sum of Days. I'd read about it, and the idea sounded really cool in theory: you walk through a maze of hanging sheets that extend the six stories to the Moma's ceiling and while walking through microphones record the sounds of people walking through and project the sounds of previous days into the labyrinth. However, I think this is an exhibit that is much better in theory than in practice. One of my friends, who knows a fair bit about sound, said the way the microphones were hung basically ensured that after a few days all that you would hear would be a static white noise. Which incidentally is what we heard. I was more concerned with the fact that the "labyrinth" was more of a single concentric circle leading to the exit. I realize they were limited by space, but can you even call that a labyrinth if it takes you less than a minute to get to the center and back out? The curtains were cool though, and in smell and opacity kind of reminded me of huge dryer sheets.

This is the center: your reward for following the crowd through one turn in this not terribly grueling labyrinth. This makes me regret not springing the $10 for the corn maze at the Queen's Farm Museum this fall.

The other major exhibit on at the Moma right now is one called "Talk to Me" and explores how people communicate with objects. I think I didn't give this one the mental energy I needed to in order to fully understand it, but man, did I just not get this. The trouble started when I noticed I was glazing over while reading the description at the beginning of the exhibit. Then there were a series of videos played that seemed to have no connection (but likely did). One of them was 3D and had several pairs of 3D glasses hanging from the ceiling on wires. My problem with this was that they hung the glasses so that you couldn't really use them at eye level unless you were 5'7'' (something I am not) or above. Why not hang the glasses at multiple lengths? Or hang them on a stretchable bungee that short (or, in my opinion: average height) users might also partake?

From this point on, I was more prioritizing chatting with friends than following the cohesion of the exhibit, so I can really only comment on individual things that caught my eye. There was a working Metrocard selling machine (or I assume it working, although I never actually went so far as to put money in it). There was a series of headsets where you could listen to the innerworkings of a tree. There was a box of what (I hope) was fake, brightly-colored feces that was made my engineering certain e coli (is this really communication?). There was also a creepy bunny with a red light on it. Anyway, to sum up these vignettes, I think I need to go back and see this exhibit with a more open mind, which thanks to Moma membership--I can do for free, because right now it's making me feel dumb.

I will say, I think E. chromi is the perfect name for this.

Confession time: I'm actually writing this I realize, not so much to avoid enjoying these scant hours of daylight outside but because I'm avoiding working on what I'm supposed to be writing. There is a reason I should be inside at my computer on a lovely fall day, and sadly, blogging is not it. Therefore, I had best wrap this up and try to find other ways to eliminate writer's block.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Zombies take Manhattan: Full Sequence

Last night was the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade where I and 99 other zombies danced our way along 6th Ave from Spring St to 16th. Today, naturally my back is sore from repeated stomping and leaning back to exaggerate my Thriller walk arms. It was a lot of fun though, and, as always, over all too quickly. Because the parade was shortened from 23rd street due to budget cuts for the second year in a row, at some point it was decided that we would skip the Vincent Price rap in our music and just do the dance nearly back-to-back several times in a row. Zombie bouncers provided water, but I was still concerned I might sweat off my carefully placed flesh wound.

Several zombie and MJ enthusiasts have posted the dance online, but it's not always easy to see me in any of them (by virtue of it being dark and because I assumed my rightful place in the back). This is the best one I've found so far. At :45, you can see me Thriller walking toward the camera. I'm in the black dress and red tights, toward the right half of the screen. Next year, I'll have to wear something a bit brighter to be more recognizable.

However, that video doesn't give much of a sense of my make-up which, thanks to the gory artistry of my friend Kim, was top notch, so I'm posting a few additional pictures.

Attractive, no? Who knew you could achieve such realistic flesh wounds using nothing but liquid latex and a few layers of single ply toilet paper?

Me with a few of my zombie cohorts. People kept taking pictures of us, and it's weird because as soon as someone puts a camera in your face, your instinct is to smile for the photo, quickly forgetting you are a member of the soul-less undead. At this point, we had finally mastered the art of staring vacantly at things.

Thanks to everyone who came out to see us last night! And a merry November 1st to all my readers!

UPDATE: Here are a couple more videos: here around :38 and in this one you can see our MJ.

UPDATE #2: Apparently we're huge in Japan. They even came to our practice to watch us rehearse. You can see me messing it up (this was our last practice and everyone came in a little bedraggled and hungover from Halloween parties), in a black and white striped shirt and gray yoga pants toward the beginning.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A white Halloween: Second Sequence

Despite inches of slush in the streets and cold, wet snow and rain falling from the sky, we actually had a pretty decent turnout at the Halloween party last night. Naturally, a few people bailed (and I didn't blame them at all--it was ridiculously miserable outside), but we had plenty of friends to eat all the food I prepared as well as go through many a bottle of wine and pitcher of Ginger Alice punch. We decorated the apartment with fairly minimalist decorations: cobwebs in various colors, jack-o-lanterns with fangs, a well-placed REDRUM facing the bathroom mirror. The real focus of party funds and energy, as with any party I plan, went toward the food. We served the following:

Monster brains! Actually, guacamole served in a hollowed out cauliflower. Always a good addition to any party.

This is just regular gouda, but I really like this new mouse trap cheese board and slicer I found in San Francisco. Also, not pictured here is the delicious lavender honey goat cheese a friend brought later.
The cupcake graveyard was one of the least popular items in terms of actual consumption because full sized cupcakes are a lot to commit to when compared to mostly bite sized finger foods. People were willing to steal the milano tombstones though.

I'd seen this recipe absolutely everywhere online lately, so I had to make them. They're almond shortbread cookies with almond fingernails (and a little strawberry jam for just the right touch of gore)

Here's the whole spread including a couple of things I didn't get good individual pictures of. Next to the cupcake graveyard is the bowl of weasel brains (bacon wrapped dates stuffed with almonds) and adjacent to that are the mummy dogs (I really wish I had a good picture of these, but they looked similar to this, except that I cut the hot dogs in half for more of a baby mummy effect).

I also wanted to post a few pictures of the party people who consumed these edibles:

We'd talked of having a costume contest and even bought a prize, but then in the heat of the action completely forgot to award it. The next morning we awarded it to the person who had crashed on our couch because he was the only guest still in attendance. He's pictured at right and was "The Economy." However, the three of us all agreed that the man to his left had the best costume of the night as some sort of masquerading Mozart. Hopefully, he won't be too upset that he did not receive his well deserved award, because the prize was actually just a yellow ribbon that said "I'm very special!" If only he read my blog, he could receive his proper accolades.

More friends: Sookie Stackhouse of True Blood, creepy "I like Santa" kid from A Christmas Story, egg, tiger, and bacon.

Our friends Rocky and Bullwinkle. Bullwinkle did a decent impression of himself. It's a hard voice to master.

You can't really see me that well, but I was the one legged table lamp from A Christmas Story. I stood sideways in all picture so it would appear as if I only had one leg. However, in this picture, you can't really see my leg, so the illusion was for nothing.

Hope you all had happy Saturday-before-Halloween nights! And hopefully better weather than we had here in Astoria. Luckily, it's now sunny and beautiful (if a touch chilly) today and tomorrow. It is especially important that the weather be decent on Halloween itself because I'll be dancing in the Village Halloween parade again this year. Those of you longtime readers may remember I danced "Beat It" in the parade last year, but this year have upgraded to the more Halloween-themed "Thriller" group. I will continue my marathon of posts by updating on Tuesday on what is hopefully a successful parade Monday night. Which means I need to figure how to zombify myself sometime today.