Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Long weekend

I think I used to put more effort into the title captions, but a couple of years in and puns just don't have the draw they used to. Nevertheless, I was told by a loyal follower that I needed to update today because I normally do Mondays, but I was given a pass for Memorial Day. Never one to disappoint those admitted readers, I'm updating despite my weekend being pretty quiet. As such, and because it's really hot in my apartment and I'm not really thinking straight, I'll keep this post pretty quiet as well. 

On Saturday, I finally went to see the Keith Herring exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. This is the one photo I got from the exhibit, but knowing I would post it on my blog later I probably should have picked something with a little less angel bestiality.

On Sunday, I went for a hike in New Jersey at the Pallisades. There was this Revolutionary War era house that let us try this hoop and stick catching game. This photo makes it look like we were doing better at than we were in actual fact.

Some of New Jersey is actually kind of pretty.

Wearing a sundress while hiking because you didn't pack appropriately for the weekend is not entirely recommended and is actually probably a good way to get Lyme Disease. Luckily, since I've never had poison ivy after 26 years of not being especially careful, I've decided at this point I'm probably one of those people who doesn't have a reaction to it. I've never had the guts to knowingly test this theory, but until it is otherwise disproven I will continue to wander bare legged through the forests.

And now it's back to the daily grind as I sit in my apartment contemplating how long I can last before putting the air conditioner in. I'm waiting partially because I'm cheap and hate to see the electric bill go up and partially because I'm testing my survival skills. Welcome, summer!

Thursday, May 24, 2012


As one of the souvenirs of my trip to Chicago two weekends back (other souvenirs acquired : a red sundress and a mustache on a stick), I got a 1-gallon tin from Garrett Popcorn. I opted to fill it not with their classic Chicago Mix (not that it isn't delicious), but with their caramel pecan corn for reasons the word pecan should clearly explain. Ostensibly it was a gift, but as I work from home now and the gift recipient does not, I ended up doing most of the tin emptying.

Once the popcorn was eaten, a process that took far less time than it probably should have, the fun was just beginning! For you see, Garrett Popcorn has a blog series of "Tinnovations" in which they show you how to reuse their aluminum tins and turn them into fun things like candles or clocks or stilts. Always one to support the green movement, I tried to think of my own way to tinnovate. My boyfriend, ever forgiving of my pilfering his corn, thoughtfully suggested we turn the base into a zoetrope. After realizing that that would require some serious precision and metal cutting tools, we opted to dispense with messing with the tin (which has a lovely photo of the Chicago skyline on it anyway, and would be a shame to destroy) and using just the lid. The result: 

 This zoetrope is actually sporting my first attempt at a cartoon before I realized that the movement had to be bigger to really see when it spins. The plot of this 10-frame cartoon is that a piece of popcorn flies out of nowhere and a man in a bowler hat opens his mouth and eats it. He then licks his lips. While it failed a zoetrope animation, I might flesh it out a little and try my luck on Broadway.

For this tinnovation you will need:
A long piece of black paper 3'' high
A long piece of white paper 1.5'' high
A Garrett Popcorn Tin lid (I used the 1-gallon size, but the larger would probably work too)
Pen or pencil

1) Curl the white paper and place it inside the lid and mark with a pencil where the paper overlaps itself.
2) Decide what your animation will be and how many frames you want. Use the ruler to measure the length of the paper from the line you marked in step 1 to the end. Divide the measurement by the number of frames you want.
3) Use the number you figured out in step 2 to divide the paper into segments. Draw a small line at each measurement. You should end up with lines spaced across the paper in equal frames.
4) Draw your cartoons in the frames. Make small changes to show movement. Make sure each drawing is identical other than the movement you want to make. Use tracing paper if needed.
5) Lay the white paper on top of the black paper so the bottoms line up. Draw line across the top of wear the white paper hits the black paper (this line should divide the black paper in half lengthwise).
6) Extend the lines dividing the frames on the white paper to make marks of the same distance apart on the black paper.
7) Use the scissors to cut windows 1/8 of an inch wide at the marks you made in step 6. The windows should extend from the top of the black paper to the center line you drew in step 5.
8) Punch a hole in the center of your tin lid. Push a pencil or pen through it so that the lid is on a stick.
9) Run a line of glue along the inside edge of the lid. Press the black paper against the glue so that the windows are facing up. Allow to dry.
10) Place the white paper inside the black paper so that all the frames of your cartoon are visible.
11) Hold the zoetrope by the pencil or pen and spin it around. Watch your cartoon in splendid zoetrope animation.

My final effort. Simpler design more movement. Can you tell what I was going for? Also, is anyone else excited that I finally got the video function to work?

Thanks Garrett Popcorn! I look forward to future Tinnovations. Specifically, once I figure out to do with the drum of this tin. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Scenes of a late spring weekend

This weekend the weather was absolutely gorgeous. I feel like this is the sort of trite statement about the weather that can only begin uninspired blog posts, but nevertheless, it needed to be said. Never one to let a blue sky and 70 degree day go un-experienced, I spent the majority of it outside. After all, the weather in New York is pretty crappy 9 months out of the year. We are currently in the short window between when it is cold and miserable (which it actually hasn't been this year) and when it becomes hot and muggy and everything sticks to you and makes you acknowledge just how grimy this city actually is. These few weekends in the spring and the fall when it is perfect must be cherished. Below are a couple of isolated images from my weekend. 

On the way to brunch on Sunday in Williamsburg, we passed this mural. I thought it blended nicely with the cloudless sky. Do you see it? Talk about blue!

The brunch place had delicious Brazilian food and was very quick (perhaps too quick) to refill the caipirinha pitchers. They had a band playing samba music. Sitting outside in the sun, you could hear the band, but not be overwhelmed by it. The waiter took this picture, and I stole it from a friend on facebook. I like how my face is perfectly obscured by a hand. 

After brunch I'd bought tickets to Brooklyn's Folk Festival. Nothing wrong with folk music. Also, this particular folk festival had carnival games where you threw wiffle balls through a spinning banjo. We were entered into a raffle to win a banjo, but since they haven't contacted us, I can only assume we're still banjoless. Instead, we got the instant gratification of a free kazoo. Unfortunately, after a few too many pitchers of caipirinha (and this is the downside of drinking in the daytime) we had trouble finding the place. And when we finally did find the place, we were both a little tired and didn't stay for more than one set (a lovely girl's quartet called The Calamity Janes) and a few minutes of the open hootenanny jam downstairs. I tried to take pictures, but it was too dark (which is why you should never go inside on a beautiful day). Thus the only pictures we have of the Brooklyn Folk Festival are these from the photo booth. Just two people soberly enjoying folk music on a Saturday evening. 

 On Sunday, I met some friends in Astoria Park to play cards and enjoy yet another beautiful day. At one point we kept hearing all the kids repeat "Will you marry me?" which we thought was a weird game given their age group. Finally, we looked up and realized there was a sky writer. By the time, he finished the "marry me" part, the first bit with the name was already erased so we never got to see the name. We didn't hear any screams of excitement from the park, which was odd considering it seemed like the writing was directly above us. So either it didn't go well, or the guy had the good sense to charter a romantic cruise of the East River (one of the most romantic possible places to mount a proposal, to be sure). Also, this picture was taken on my cell phone, which is why it has that same grainy je ne sais quoi of all of my Chicago pics.

And now it's Monday, and it hasn't stopped raining all day. This is the natural order of things. Also, it makes for an excellent day to work from home.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Chicagoan dream

I spent last weekend in Chicago. A place where the rents of conveniently located, 12-foot high ceiling apartments are listed at Astoria prices. Also, the grocery stores are as big and wonderful as the grocery stores of the suburbs. It's a magical place Chicago. I had only been to the city once before, and it was in college with my Model UN team (we were representing Moldova). While we did some exploring during unmoderated caucuses (turns out, no one really missed Moldova), we were a bunch of college kids who didn't really have any idea where to go (as I recall, we ate at a Bennigans one night). As such, I consider this my first real trip to the windy city.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find my camera battery charger, so I was without a camera for the trip. The friend I was visiting had to work the first morning I was there, but it was a lovely day, so I spent most of it wandering around Millennium Park (and a bit of Grant Park) and taking grainy pictures on my cell phone. If Instagram can give modern photos the filtered authenticity of the 1970s, than my phone can make any photo have the shadowy look of early to mid-2000s camera phone technology.

 The famous bean! If this were a better camera (more of a phone than a camera really) you could probably recognize that central dot as your faithful blogger and photographer.

 Weirdly, even though it was a beautiful day, the park was not as crowded as Central Park is at all hours of the day (another plus for Chicago!). In the couple of hours I spent wandering around the park most everyone I saw fell into two categories: large groups of school kids on tours or homeless people sleeping. The people in this photo mostly fall into the former category.

 I'm not really sure what was up with this amphitheater, but it kept projecting weird noises. Sometimes it sounded like underwater whale sounds and other times it was a voice, sounding sort of like Droopy Dog speaking in tongues. There was no sign I could find to explain it.

My friend gave me tickets to one of the double decker tours around the city. I learned a lot about the architecture, but this is the only photo I took. After all, we all know what the John Hancock Tower looks like. The bus also marooned me at a Garrett Popcorn store where I got my delicious free sample of their signature Chicago mix (cheddar cheese and caramel corn). Luckily they have a New York branch too!

Speaking of things with a New York branch, I visited the 826 location in Chicago. They have a spy store (officially called "The Boring Store") to complement Brooklyn's Superhero Supply Store. My friend and I posed with a few of their clever disguises.

 You probably can't tell this is the same people from above, but remove the facial hair and we clean up nicely. This was right before we took a free water ride.

Chicago has some great public art. 

Chicago also have Hannah's Bretzel, the sandwich place that uses delicious pretzel bread. I think this would transfer nicely to the East Coast. Specifically in Astoria.

 My friend took me to a work function that served tons of fancy desserts. It was basically a cross between a prom and what I imagine a cruise ship would be like. These adorable push-pop parfaits were topped with coffee cavier. They were adorably delicious!

Luckily my friend had a fancy phone, so she got better old-timey photos than I did. The work thing had people dressed up as great moments in Chicago history. This Michael Jordan impersonator was kind enough to pose for a photo with us. My friend made a much more concerted effort at getting the ball than I did, but then you can't really jump with wine. 

Overall, it was a lovely trip and really made me appreciate what a great city Chicago is!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Done dyed it

I am not someone who embraces change easily, at least not in my appearance. A look at my drivers license photo (taken when I was 18) or passport photo (taken when I was 19) underline the fact that I have changed very little over the last decade. I no longer wear my hair at hippie lengths to be sure (and can't imagine why I ever did, thinking back on the 6 hours I would spend watching re-runs of Law & Order and waiting for it to dry); however, I otherwise look almost exactly the same. Normally, I'm fine with that and embrace the youthful 18-year-old glow that gets me frequently carded at bars, but recently I wanted to shake things up a bit.

Disclaimer: As the title and first paragraph would suggest, what follows is a very detailed discussion of dying my hair. If lengthy, self-absorbed descriptions of routine minutiae bore you, continue at your own risk.

I think this feeling was first bred by being dissatisfied with my hair generally. My usual money-saving "6-months-between-haircuts" plan had, due to being busy and forgetting about it, gone a solid 8 months. My hair became bushy and shapeless, which was only compounded by New York's recent rain forest level humidity. During the time leading up to finally getting my hair cut, I decided I wanted to do something drastic. I started looking at henna because I wanted something natural but that would leave a dramatic change.

Unfortunately for my spirit of adventure, there is the Internet. After reading a few too many horror stories about blond hair and henna (turning green! becoming brassy! lasting for months!), I chickened out. Not only did I back off from henna, but I transitioned from permanent to semi-permanent dyes. If it was semi-permanennt, I reasoned, I could go for a more ballsy change without worrying about messing up my hair for months. Also, I wouldn't have to worry about roots.

But then I cut my hair, and it looked good (see Figure A below to make your own judgement on that). It had a shape and hope again. Suddenly, I no longer hated my hair and wondered why I ever had. This thus torpedoed all hope of drastic change. I ended up choosing a shade of semi permanent dye that was just a few shades darker than my natural color. Still. Baby steps.

Figure A: The Before. Well not really the total "before" as this was already post-hair cut. You don't want to see the true before...

In process. My awesome friend not only supplied adroit hair dying skills, but also wine and pizza! A true full service salon experience.

The after. My hair was pretty frizzy because of the aforementioned humidity, so the only reason I'm posting this photo is because my friend also did my makeup while I was there (see? full service), so my face is all pretty-fied.

The final result this morning, properly straightened on a less humid day. Weirdly it came out sort of red, which is different from the lady on the box, but I'll take it!

So yeah, that's what I look like now, just so you're up to date. No anonymity here on Living the Astorian Dream! If any readers see me walking around the neighborhood, feel free to say hi. If you're lucky, I might even give you my social security number. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

At least it's not one of those boring annual things

My loyal commenter (one day I will figure out your secret identity, Anonymous!) suggested I do something fun or interesting this weekend in order to have something to write about this week. I made a good faith effort, but I can't in all honesty say I was entirely successful. I had been meaning to check out the Whitney Biennial because even though I didn't particularly like the last one, something about a show only happening once every two years makes it instantly more appealing. I actually liked this year's show a little more than the last one (I think partly because my expectations were pretty low). Also, my friend who lives near Brooklyn Kolache Company brought me a couple of those bad boys which I ate later in the Whitney cafe. So that obviously helped.

I'm attaching a couple of choice shots from the exhibition, although honestly I think they speak more to the quality of the photographer (not me) and his medium (an iphone from 2009) than the quality of the art. Is that too harsh? Do any Whitney artists read this? Nevertheless, I stand by my statements. Unrelated to the Biennial, I may be too much of a prude for the Whitney curators, but I found the exhibit on Forrest Bess could have used a few more warnings before subjecting viewers to photographs of the artist's self-inflicted genital "surgeries." Props for featuring a Texas artist though...I guess.

I don't remember what was actually on the screen, but I think this photo came out really cool. Well done, photographer! Well done, iPhone. 

She kind of reminds me of E.T. There's some artistic merit there.

This was a cool painted staircase thing with nifty gold thread curtains around it. I'm not sure what it meant, but at least it was cool aesthetically, which is the most I was really asking of the Whitney. Does this mean I just don't 'get' it?

This isn't actually from the Biennial at all (hard to tell...I know). After the Whitney, we went downtown to watch the Kentucky Derby at an Irish pub with some friends. (Side note: my horse Hansen lost kind of badly, which the experts attribute to the Kentucky heat being too hard on him. "He looks almost pink out there" was the actual quote.) Anyway, I thought this image of the in-progress Freedom Tower extending into the mist was cool. As of sometime last week (or possibly the week before) it surpassed the Empire State Building to be the tallest building in the city.

For my next attempt at doing something fun, I will go to a museum I actually like, I think. I'm also planning to dye my hair (for the first time ever!!) in the next couple of days. So stay tuned for a self-indulgent post about that.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Other-borough April

By limiting what I wrote last month to just Queens occurrences, I felt like I did stifle the exciting things going on in other boroughs. After all, I wasn't quarantined on this side of the river all month, and I'll admit Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx do have some things going for them, too. (I can't comment on Staten Island; however, because I didn't go there once all of April. Or once in all of 2011 for that matter. There's hope yet for 2012 though). As such, I thought I'd mention a happening in each of the other non-Queens boroughs that I visited this past April.


Brooklyn Kolache Company

All readers from Texas should already know what kolaches are, but for the rest, feel free to learn. Ever since a friend showed me a woman was raising money on Kickstarter to bring kolaches to New York City, I have been waiting for Brooklyn Kolache Company to open. Before that, I'd gone to such lengths to get kolaches as having a friend bring them on a plane from Austin and even making (or failing at making) them myself. I consider myself an accomplished baker, but I seldom make breads, and I never could get the consistency quite right. 

The week after they opened, I had a friend who lives down the block from them bring me one. Even after three hours in her bag, it was already better than the only other kolache I'd had in New York (from the now defunct Kolache Mama near Grand Central). On a Wednesday a couple of weeks ago, I decided to make a pilgrimage to Bed Stuy to try them fresh. I decided to work from the kolache place for the first half of the day after realizing they had free wi-fi. It was a 40-minute trip from Astoria, but well worth it. I tried their chorizo, egg, and cheese kolache (something that certainly would need to be purchased hot and fresh) and a blueberry and sweet cheese one. It hardly feels like work when you have a kolache by your side. I plan to make Brooklyn Kolache Company an occasional work at "home" pilgrimage. Especially because I stupidly "liked" them on facebook and now I'm bombarded with the delicious photos they post every morning. 


I went with a couple of friends to see Porgy and Bess on Broadway (before it was apparently nominated for ten Tony awards!). I have never seen the opera, so I can't really comment on purists' concerns that it is too truncated from the original to be good. I thought two hours was actually plenty. But then I'm not one for long operas. If it's a weeknight, it's after 10:30, and we're on the second thirty minute intermission, there's a good chance I'm leaving the Met (so apologies to Renee Fleming's Rusalka in 2009). But I digress. 

Going into Porgy and Bess, I knew nothing about it plot-wise except that it was a love story. The themes of love and redemption are very simple, but overarching. It also had a higher body count than I expected, although perhaps I should have, as it is based on an opera. The cast was amazing, and while I didn't have the same top-tapping good feeling of when I walk out of the more comic musicals I usually attend, I certainly credit it with being an excellent performance. Whenever I see a Broadway show, I wonder why I don't see more of them. Then I remember I work in publishing. 

The Bronx:

When my friend asked if I wanted to run a 5K with her, I agreed only because the 5K route was through the Bronx Zoo. Well, and because it was to raise money for lions (thanks to everyone who donated!). Running a 5K (or really any race) has never been one of my ambitions. I like to run okay, but I don't ever measure the distance, and I certainly don't run in huge groups of people dodging each other to get to a starting line. My friend assured me her group was very laid back (they went by the moniker "The Lazy Lions"), so I figured, why not? Turns out running 5Ks are actually really fun. Or actually, I can't speak to that generally, but I can say: running 5Ks through the zoo are really fun.

I hadn't trained at all (other than just my usual morning runs) and didn't really know if I normally run 3.2 miles or not, so I was wary of my performance. However, running (or really, who am I kidding? jogging) is much easier and less painful when you get to look at animals along the way. Some of the animals (namely the hyena and a small heard of antelopes) even got in on the excitement and ran with us for a little bit (on the other side of the enclosures, that is). There was also a new baby giraffe that was just born in March. Many runners stopped to gawk at him, although part of that might have been because it was around the two mile point, and they wanted an excuse for a break. 

After the race, and walking around the zoo for another few hours, I felt like this little lemur. 

After the race, they gave us bagels and yogurt, and we got to explore the zoo more. I hadn't been since I was 4 or 5 (and don't remember going then). Not a bad zoo at all, although I don't think it's right that you have to pay more to see the gorillas. Gorillas should come standard.