Monday, February 28, 2011

Why else did I keep a livejournal all those years?

I'm sure you all thought I would be updating this with disparaging remarks about James Franco's recent Oscar hosting performance. I would love to oblige, but unfortunately I only watched the first part of the Oscar's and then only in the background while trying to come up with ways to make the difference between GDP and GNP interesting and relevant to teens. I will say he gave the impression, during the part of the broadcast that I watched, that he would rather have been napping. Did anyone else feel like he really didn't want to be there?

Anyway, I'm plowing ahead on that book this week, so in lieu of a classy, fresh update I'm giving you another blast from the past. After all, just because I have writer's block now, doesn't mean I didn't used to have loads of stuff to write about. Actually, looking back over my old journals and blogs, I realize the reason I wrote so much is because I had a lower standard for what I thought people might find interesting. But, at any rate, desperate times call for recycled tales of my youth. Here's one about embarrassing myself at college functions back in 2007.

Tonight there was a Lesbigay party at a local pub. Jill and I felt it was necessary to make an appearance because a) its high time we prove our loyalty to the organization by going to a function that doesn't offer free food and b) because it was a theme party with the theme of "dress as your favorite fictional character." Now I love a good theme party, but unfortunately I left most of my bizarre and/or costume-y clothing at home. However, what I did have was a red semi-formal dress which I brought just in case I had a semi-formal red dress wearing occasion while abroad. As I had not yet gotten a chance to whip that sucker out, I knew it would have to feature prominently in my costume. Serendipitously, Jill had a similar predicament with a red dress. Naturally, we decided to wear our red dresses, make our hair crazy and big, give ourselves sultry eyes through the power of makeup, and draw snakes on our faces and chests with eye liner. Sound like any fictional characters you know? Yeah, we couldn't think of any either. That's why we decided to be from a book no one has really ever read--and enter Ulysses. Yep, we were the two red dress twins from James Joyce's much ballyhooed epic.

Feeling cheeky and clever as we often do, we were all excited for people to ask us who we were. We had planned out dialogues where they would be skeptical and we would say "Oh come on!" (a la Gob of Arrested Development) "The red dress twins? You really don't remember them? Haven't you read Ulysses?" However, when at the party, an instance finally presented itself and Jill was able to utter our tagline, we realized something: while our little skit was all well and good to people who knew us, feigning disbelief and implying people are stupid and lacking in literary knowledge is actually quite rude when done to strangers. So much for making friends over at Lesbigay.
If livejournal weren't requiring me to "upgrade my account" in order to post a picture from this evening, I surely would. As it is, if you ever want to see a picture of me doing my version of "sexy" while sporting eye-liner snakes with their tongues sticking out--well, all you have to do is ask.

Luckily, I've switched to blogger since 2007 when this post was made. And thus, I can post a picture of us:

I enjoy looking back at 20-year-old me even if she is a wee bit insufferable. So much so that I'm considering posting something else I wrote back then. For those who regularly read the Modern Love column in the New York Times magazine, they're currently advertising their annual college essay contest where they welcome submissions from college students on the fate of modern love for the youth crowd. I wrote one back in 2007 (or possibly 2006?), soundly rejected by them, all about how my relationship with my very first boyfriend ended in a tragic (if not entirely undeserved) facebook dumping. It's less whiny than it sounds, I swear, but reading over it I'm still pretty glad it never made it to the New York Times. It might just make it to my blog, however. Really it just depends how much my readers want to read about me as an awkward teen...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Every block...within sixteen U.S. cities

I've been back for a few days and just realized at some point the shine on my last post will wear off and I'll probably be expected to write another one. Unfortunately, nothing is really going on. Not anything worth committing to Internet anyway. I'm suffering from post-vacation ennui coupled with a mild cold. The latter is nothing a little NyQuil lulling me into a few 9-hour nights of sleep can't fix, but the former has left me unable to write much of anything. (This writer's block unfortunately extends to a book I'm contractually obligated to complete in a couple of weeks.)

Per the usual, when my life isn't giving me much material to work with, my first thought is to return to the roots of this blog and focus on the "Astoria" aspect of Living the Astorian Dream. I do a little google searching to find out what is fresh and exciting in my always fresh and exciting neighborhood. Unfortunately, this week, the better news is all happening in the other Astoria, the coastal town in northern Oregon. They have bald eagles being rehabilitated, all we have is a kid practicing for the winter Olympics by sledding in Astoria Park.

Not to be discouraged, I've decided to share a site that always has the up-to-the-minute info on Astoria. Better still, it has information on many other cities as well, as many (if not all) of my readers are not Astorians themselves. The site is EveryBlock and it provides information, as the name would suggest, for every block in a number of cities. You can locate your exact block and find information on crimes reported recently, businesses requesting permits, restaurant inspections (not to mention the number of violations they received), real estate listings, lost and found postings, business reviews, and ever photos people have posted. You can literally spend hours looking at every felony assault reported in your precinct and every local cafe that forgot to clean the slime from their ice machine. It's a surprisingly engrossing way to spend an afternoon (provided you're putting off writing a book about economic indicators).

This is the last photo posted on the page for Astoria. Not sure where it is, by I appreciate what the artist was going for here.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy studying minutia as I do, or else there was no point to my sharing this site. However, never let it be said that I use not having anything to write as an excuse for not writing anything.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Hailing from Britannia!

I've proudly returned from merry old England. The trip was a much-needed break, and I was pleased to meet a number of wonderful new people. Per the usual, my travel writing will rely on the valuable crutch of photos. Bill Bryson I am not, but I can operate a simple point-and-click. For the most part.

After a lovely six hours of enjoying the hospitality of British Airways and an even lovelier hour on the Underground, we arrived at the Royal National, a hotel that seemed to hope its guests would overlook the lack of expected amenities because of its convenient location. Admittedly, it was conveniently located by the British Museum which we stumbled to first on this first sleep-addled day. All pictures from this first day make me look fairly out of it. Also, blog readers will get a rare chance to see me in my glasses, as the first thing I did on getting to the hotel was lose one of my contact lenses. At the museum, they let you touch a replica of the Rosetta Stone. Naturally, they don't allow the public's grubby fingers on the real one.

After the museum, we wandered down to the South Bank. My boyfriend's 8-year-old niece made us promise to go on the London Eye, but we decided sitting for that long would probably cause us to pass out, so we skipped it. Hopefully, she doesn't read my blog. You can't tell from this picture, but this was actually an absolutely beautiful day. Mostly blue skies--just evidently not at this moment. Whoever said London is dismal in February is mostly right, but our first day was a welcome exception.

We walked along the bank past sand artists on the Thames and the restored Globe Theater (oddly beset by some sort of furry convention) and wandered into the Tate Modern. Currently there is some exhibition by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. It's a collection of 5 million individually crafted porcelain sunflower seeds. Apparently, you used to be able to walk on them before it decided that was potentially toxic. This photo pretty much sums that up. Please feel free to use it as a jumping off point for your discussions of modern art, Communism, globalization, and the future of China in the comments section.

My boyfriend's aunt and uncle were kind enough to drive us out to Windsor Castle for the day. (For the record, they were also kind enough to invite the whole family over for a party, make delicious Persian food, ferry us to and from Oxford and a number of other places, let us stay in their home for most of our trip, and provide us with a full English breakfast every morning. But these are more just things I need to remember for the thank you card.) At any rate, Windsor Castle was quite impressive. The queen was present while we were there, but, not surprisingly, we did not meet her. We were, however, there for the changing of the guard.

Observe, Henley-on-Thames, where the largest (or at least, most important) rowing race occurs, the Henry Royal Regatta. Of course, it occurs in the summer, but it's still a pleasant place to walk in February. Interestingly, the regatta at Henley appears in the movie The Social Network which I happened to catch on the plane over. Thanks, British Airways!

After a journey around Hyde Park one day, we decided to take in tea at the Dorchester. This is an experience I very much recommend. All the finger sandwiches you can eat! Also, some excellent scones with clotted cream and a selection of pastries. The photo of me actually drinking tea showed my bad breeding and atrociously poor tea drinking technique (my pinkie lacked the proper lifting), so please accept this photo of scone eating instead. You can't screw up scone eating.

I'm not sure what to say about it, but I couldn't not put up this picture of Trafalgar Square. The National Gallery there was enjoyable, although they kicked us out to close it shortly after we arrived.

Mid-week we journeyed by bus up to Sheffield in South Yorkshire to see the many sites of this former stainless steel industry capital. Also, and perhaps more importantly, we visited a friend of mine from college. Those unfamiliar with Sheffield may recall it being the setting of the film The Full Monty. My friend, knowing we were eager to take a break from cities, took us to the Peak District, a national park composed of verdant hills and dales. We launched our Peak District tour from Castlton, a small town a short bus ride from Sheffield. As the name might suggest, they have the ruins of a Norman castle there.

The judgmental woman at the information center said we lacked the proper footwear to do this walk. We proved her wrong.

Some sheep.

I could post an endless quantity of pictures from that day because they are all beautiful, but I shall limit it to those three. I'll post the rest online soon though, so let me know if you'd like the link. At any rate, I had a wonderful time this past week, which I'm afraid pictures just can't fully capture. It was fun to meet so much of my boyfriend's family as they are all such friendly and welcoming people. It was also great fun seeing my friend again, seeing where she's studying and living, and meeting some of her friends and housemates. We tried (and failed) to impress them by cooking a southern feast. Turns out chicken takes a long time to fry and "biscuits" don't really translate.

Anyway, thanks for reading about my experiences! This was a bit longer than I I'll just blame the jet lag.

Friday, February 11, 2011

I bet James Franco wouldn't have made it to 30 days

I've promised to give you updates on my p90x progress, and the 30-day mark seemed like a good place to make good on my promise. That's right, as of today I am one third of the way done with the program. Amazingly, I've found time between making batches of ridiculously unhealthy (and, by extension, ridiculously delicious) cookies and have yet to miss a day. Getting up at 6 am everyday has helped with this. Sadly, that streak is about to end as I'm taking the next week or so off (more on that in a minute), but I will be picking up phase 2 on my return from vacation.

Impressions thus far? I haven't noticed any major changes in my physical appearance or overall fitness. Perhaps if I actually played a sport or did anything routinely that required physical fitness, I would be better able to gauge if my performance had improved. A severely obese smoker would have no problem finding the lung strength to play the tin whistle, so that's no real testament. I do note that I don't get winded going up the stairs to the 5th floor of my office anymore, but I also feel it more in my legs (especially after the p90x Legs & Back dvd. One-legged wall squats are deadly). I took my 30 day progress pictures, but I won't be posting those. To actually see any results I have to show way more skin than I'm comfortable displaying on the internet.

In lieu of my actual progress photos, please except this reasonable facsimile.

Aside from physical changes, I've noticed more subtle ways Tony Horton (p90x's energetic host) is influencing me. Litte phrases, that I think of as Tony-isms, have been leaking into my everyday vernacular. I certainly say "bring it!" in a challenging tone more often than I used to. I also have taken to heart his frequent axiom: "do your best, and forget the rest". Actually, having now seen many of the dvds at least 4 times, I'm starting to remember all of Tony's jokes and witticisms, and frankly the more times I see them, the funnier I find him. Tony (according to Wikipedia) originally moved to LA to be a comedian and actor but, when that inevitably failed, he became a personal trainer to the stars.

I've learned to associate the different routines with Tony's commentary. The Shoulders & Arms routine is the one where he seems high and compares large backwards arm circles with flexed hands to a "pterodactyl backing out of danger," naturally with the appropriate sound effects. The Legs & Back routine is the one where he does his Groucho Marx impression by making up his own one-liners about exercise. My personal favorite Tony bit is what I call the "soup test." In several of the workouts, one of the ballistic stretches is called "stirring the pot." Basically, you hang down and circle your arm as if stirring a giant pot of soup. Every time, Tony asks the other people in the class what kind of soup they're stirring. Correct answers can range anywhere from lentil to split pea or even tomato basil. However, Tony is not above correcting those who answer this question wrong. One p90x grad says she's making lobster bisque which Tony wastes no time in telling her is not on the p90x nutrition plan. Oddly enough, in another video Tony himself says he is making lobster bisque, but quickly specifies that it's for someone else. These are the kind of mind-games and melodramas that I find fascinating at 6 am when I'm all sweaty and confused.

Anyway, I'll update you again in another 30 days when I'm 2/3rds of the way through. Actually, it will be more than 30 days because, as mentioned above, I'm taking a week off before starting phase 2. I'm certain Tony would not approve, but I have non-refundable plane tickets to London and that completely outweighs my devotion to fitness. That's right--it's vacation time! Thus, you won't be hearing from me in the next week as I'll be far too busy drinking tea and eating fish and chips. However, I do promise pictures and tales of British adventures on my return.

Monday, February 7, 2011

What's better than a chocolate chip cookie? This is not a rhetorical question.

This will be a kind of short one, ironically about some very tall cookies. I took on more freelance writing projects this week (figuring if I'm going to be taxed this much on my freelance stuff, I may as well make enough to compensate for not getting a return. I miss the days when TurboTax seemed to really be in my corner.) So while I'm off working on writing a new book (this one on the scintillating subject of economic indicators), I'm leaving you with a recipe. I made these for a game night (specifically a party centered around playing board games, not to be confused in any way with a party centered around watching the football game--and especially not the Superbowl). These, I think, successfully encapsulate all the gluttony and excess of American culture in a single (if it can be described as such) delicious cookie.

Behold! The Oreo Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookie!

My friend, who co-hosted the party with me, came across these on a baking blog and we had to try them. I just love that someone eating a chocolate chip cookie somewhere paused for a moment to think: "This isn't sweet enough. What would make this more excessive? Aha! I could put a second cookie inside it! Specifically, the second greatest commercially produced cookie of all time--the Oreo." It's Eureka moments like this one that make this country great. Naturally, we had no choice but to try them.

If you wind up with cookies slightly smaller than tennis balls, then you're doing it right.

Oreo Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 sticks (1 cup) softened butter
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla
3 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
10 oz bag chocolate chips
1 pkg. Oreo cookies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugars together with a mixer until well combined. Beat in eggs and vanilla.

In a separate bowl mix the flour, salt and baking soda. Slowly add to wet ingredients along with chocolate chips until just combined. Take one scoop of cookie dough and place on top of an Oreo Cookie. Take another scoop of dough and place on bottom of Oreo cookie. Seal edges together by pressing and cupping in hand until Oreo cookie is enclosed with dough. Place onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet and bake cookies 9-13 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool for 5 minutes before transferring to cooling rack.

You should end up with about 2 dozen cookies the size of an average human fist.

Cookies filled with both love and transfat.

I hope you will all consider these for your next gathering. They were well-received by our slightly overwhelmed guests. My only advice would be to not attempt to make them when you're not having a party or get-together. Eating one of them is enough to last you quite some time, I found.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Turning some light on Spiderman: a review

When I first heard they were making a Broadway musical of Spiderman, I was perplexed. I mean, don't get me wrong, there are plenty of family shows on Broadway that are very successful; however, this particular one didn't seem to lend itself to the stage. I'd mostly ignored a lot of the buzz about this rock musical featuring original songs by Bono and The Edge: that it was the most expensive show in Broadway history, that it has a seemingly endless preview period, and that the only reason it has been consistently sold out is because people are curious to see stunt people plummet. Despite my morbid curiosity after hearing about all the accidents and actors quitting, I hadn't really planned to see this one. But when a friend mentioned she could get a deal on tickets, it was hard to say no to a chance at making fun of the show close up.

True fans of the show can get this emblazoned on a t-shirt. For the perfectly reasonable price of $45.

Before the show began, they made an announcement that they were required by the Department of Labor to read a statement promising that they all the stunts had been approved for safety regulations. Ushers also gave special instructions to those of us in the balcony to not, at any point, try to "hitch a ride with Spiderman." This is the first Broadway show I have attended that came with government and safety disclaimers, beyond a basic explanation of the location of fire exits.

The first act started off a little slowly. They tried to cover social issues ranging from bullying and domestic violence to the problems of over-zealous genetic engineering. They needn't have really bothered, as most of the audience members, I assume, were just patiently waiting for the aerial stunts to begin and trying their best to ignore the spotty storyline. The writing was clearly not the focus of Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark, but that is to be expected from a show whose 4-word subtitle already raises troubling questions.

The first act pretty faithfully followed the exact plot of the first Spiderman movie (with the notable absence of the character of Peter's best friend Harry Osborne--an omission that, for personal reasons, I consider a marked improvement). It was a bit more post-modern than I would have thought. And actually one scene involving the U.S. military reminded me a lot of the Metropolitan Opera's production of the Damnation of Faust two years ago. The set pieces and stunts were admittedly amazing. This is definitely one of the few Broadway shows where sitting in the balcony might give you a better view than the orchestra. On both balconies there were landing pads that Spidey would use as jumping off points, so the character would spend a few minutes crouched a few feet away while preparing to jump back into action.

You may wonder, if the first act followed the first movie in its entirety--from speedy exposition to even speedier denouement--what could the second act possibly contain? We wondered a little ourselves during the intermission. As it turns out, the second act is best described as a train-wreck. The set is still phenomenal, although the flying effects are fewer, but the story can no longer be ignored. Seven new villains are introduced, and most of them only appear on tv screens. I mean, fancy, super expensive looking screens that move and are the height of the stage...but still. Not to mention, the creation of the main villain required a bastardization of classic Greek mythology. There was also a really weird song involving shoes. There are not words to describe it. I keep trying and coming up with nothing.

All in all, can I really recommend the experience of Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark? I will say I enjoyed some of the music. Although I still haven't gotten one of the songs out of my head, which is unfortunate because I only know two of the words. Although to be fair, those two words are most of the song. Actually, all in all, I enjoyed the whole experience. Even the cringe-worthy parts. Especially the cringe-worthy parts. The stunt people were cool (although not cirque de soleil cool), and overall I was happy that no Spidermen were hurt in the course of the production we saw.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Gravity and snow: the makings of a fine winter's day

We've had a lot of snow here in Astoria this winter. Actually, we've had a lot of snow just in the month of January. On the streets, this can turn into disgusting mayhem, but the parks of the city remain a winter wonderland. I'd taken a long coffee break last week with some co-workers to make snow angels in the park and watch the dogs frolic in the dog run with their lucky, happy owners-who-don't-have-day-jobs. However, a 10-minute romp through Madison Square Park does not a true snow day make, so Saturday I journeyed to Central Park to partake in the oldest, and only slightly reckless, snow-day pastime: sledding.

I've shown pictures of the mall in all different seasons on my blog, so this seems fitting.

My boyfriend and I approached the park woefully unprepared. I don't just mean we were wearing non-snow-repellent jeans and cloth (well, I was anyway) coats; we also didn't bring a sled. We figured this could be easily rectified once we got into the park. After all, people had to tire eventually and abandon their cheap plastic discs at some point, right? We even thought people might try selling them in the park to make a good business. After all, when it starts to rain in New York people instantly grow out of the sidewalk, as if water-activated, to sell cheap umbrellas at inflated prices.

This theory was almost immediately validated when we passed our first sledding hill. A mostly toothless man, noting our wistful looks at the gleeful sledding children asked us if we'd like a sled. We note the sled is missing a large chunk, but the man says it's only $2, which seems like a pretty good deal. We figure we can just abandon it later after using it. We head up the hill for our first ride, only once we get there, we determine that it's not so great a hill. There are too many kids, and it's fairly short, and not really that steep. There are better hills out there we are determined to find one.

We've leisurely walked maybe 100 feet from the original hill and started to discuss what a surprisingly good deal it was for the sled. Sure, it's broken, but by New York standards, a broken piece of plastic for under $5 is still pretty good. Just as we're musing over our luck, there's a tug on the sled. The sled's former owner is yelling at us about stealing his sled. Apparently, when he asked us if we wanted a sled, he meant a sled ride. This crucial distinction meant he'd chased up all the way up the hill and down the sidewalk when he saw us nonchalantly absconding with his sled. Suddenly, everything makes more sense. The now fairly angry toothless man runs back to his hill with his sled and my boyfriend and I are left with the realization that we are out $2 and didn't even get to sled.

We finally found the perfect hill: icy and slick, tall, and with hay bales against all the trees and more dangerous barriers. We inspected the ground for abandoned sleds, but found only impromptu sleds of soggy cardboard. This was not a hill for amateur sledding. It looked like so much fun though that we continued our quest by leaving the park and journeying into the Upper East Side. A short 15 minute walk later and we'd found a fancy toy store that sold disc sleds.


Back at the original sledding hill, I realized I was more scared of sledding than I thought. Not so much the actual sledding as the possibility of careening into one of the many kids. They were so chaotic, and I so feared being sued by one of their parents. Thus after only a few runs, we went in search of a less occupied hill. We eventually found one that was short, but still an excellent sledding hill. Growing up with a snow-less childhood in coastal Texas, I am not a natural sledder. Nearing the bottom of the hill, if there are any trees in my periphery, I have flashes of Sonny Bono and immediately go rolling off the sled into the snow rather than risk a high speed crash. Yet amazingly this entire day resulted in no major injuries, to myself or to any children in my vicinity. Now that's how you spend a snow day.

There I am--sledding like a pro. Causing no harm to people or trees around me.