12.23.08: harrison ford in the cupboard*

joe took great interest in the tree we brought home on sunday (which makes sense, i suppose, since i made him carry it). i thought sister emily and i did a fine (if slightly haphazard) job of draping it with white twinkle lights; they can be rearranged so very easily once the tree is established in the window, and all. instant perfection, she isn't a must. he started grumbling as strand after strand clumped together near the bottom of the tree, though, and thought we should pull everything out and start over, and when we refused, he staged a twinkle light coup and insisted on redoing the whole thing. i made fun of him for being so fussy, but he did in fact do a much snazzier job.

gunslinger xmas tree (4 of 5)

the original plan to use the wee army men i turned into ornaments two years ago foundered when they went AWOL in the hall closet (such a small space, yet so voracious with the stuff-eating; i wouldn't be surprised to learn the moth colony in there has developed a taste for plastic human flesh), so i repurposed the wee rubber cowboys and indians i'd ordered at the same time. they...are kind of politically incorrect when mixed together (which is not to say i haven't placed fake cowboys in sniper positions on the tree above fake braves, and vice versa), but hey. i haven't made any smallpox blanket jokes, and that's what matters.

*anyone else remember the indian in the cupboard books (about a little boy whose plastic toys come to life)? i have a feeling i'd find them wildly offensive these days, but the first few were pretty exciting when i was seven.

12.19.08: intimate waters

alas! i won't be Blogging until the new year (something about corporate upload and a truck), so i can't share my obsession with holiday gift wrapping with the ladymag-public. i can, however, inflict it on you:

cristina's christmas present (1 of 2)

transporting, no? i realize that everyone else got tired of chopping up fashion magazines in the eighth grade, but i still dig it.

we're in the middle of both a ferocious snowstorm (get home safely, jacob!) and a ferocious february close (i don't care how awesome hair dye is, i'm not dyeing my ladyparts purple!*) here; i hope to be out in time to make a big pot of snow day chili, but we will see what we will see. how are you, internets? i hope you're holidaying.

*the scariest thing to swoop across my desk all month, though bidet in a bottle was close on its heels.

12.16.08: ring of fire

(text) 1: what the hell is this?
(text) 2: it looks to me like a cartoon story of a cigarette going on a date.

morality play
12.10.08: während du schliefst

i am neither a big list-maker nor a particularly effective self-starter, but i get all hot and bothered about Gettin' Things Done (and then Recording Said Things) when joe is out of town and i'm forced to amuse myself. what's gone down since he left for mexico* on sunday? well, let me tell you.

(icelandic thrillers and other) reading: abbreviated, as the key to our mailbox went to mexico with joe and i can't pick up our new york (no big loss) or our new yorker (nooo!). i did, however, just finish voices, the third arnaldur indriðason thriller now in translation. this one takes place over the week leading up to christmas - it's about a murdered hotel santa claus, actually - and gives what i imagine is a fairly true-to-life idea of what it must be like to be in reykjavik in december. murder aside, it sounds really lovely: i'm starting to feel like a visit during the off-season (instead of next summer, which was my original plan) might not be the worst idea ever (even though we'd be limited to reykjavik, since domestic travel when iceland is choked with snow is not so feasible). it's so much cheaper (though the icelandic economy is in the crapper, airfare from new york is still exorbitant once spring gets going), and we're already going away twice next summer for weddings...but it's hard to justify such a big trip in such a weird economic climate. hold on, iceland! i'm doing my best!

gymgoing: also touch and go, since i'm getting over an especially pernicious sinus infection, but i squeaked out my customary six miles on the treadmill yesterday. our gym has discontinued towel service, for they are cheap bastards, and i discovered that the leetle bit of lung capacity i'm still missing made, as frost would say, all the difference - so in terms of workout-related sex appeal, last night might have been a personal best for me. i'm heading back tonight, but i am not running.

the craft: the stag beetle needlepoint (beetlepoint?) i picked back up last week is tootling along nicely; there is very little on television that i need to absorb this week, so i've been stitching away while listening to jarvis cocker and various scottish bands.** in bigger craft news, i was seized last week with the unexpected urge to pitch myself as a lifestyle expert and, after doing circles around our building with furrowed brow, nail-biting over mock posts, checking with our editor in chief, and hunting around for a thumbnail photo that doesn't make me look like an asshole, i'll be Blogging for the ladymag. i'm guessing that i won't make much mention of Blogging here, since the 'champ is wee and personal and i would like it to stay that way, but if you'd like to know more about the site (once it's up and running, probably in a month or so), drop me a line. Blogging, with capital letters and everything! i'm nervous but happy, i think.

*yeah, the missus went to mexico with his folks for the week; after the political shenanigans of the last few months, he's due some rest and relaxation (and has a ton of vacation time to spare). i too have a ton of vacation time to spare - and i love mexican food and the beach even more than he does (especially the beach; he refuses to get involved with the ocean, due to a bone-rattling fear of sharks, whereas if i could figure out how to swim while eating nachos i would never come back to shore) - but we're closing an issue of the ladymag this week, and now is not a good time to look less than utterly committed to print publishing. i told him to bring me a friendship bracelet.

**i used the joe-absence as an excuse to netflix a bunch of stuff he'd hate (come to me, the diving bell and the butterfly!), but see above re: the mail key. he'll be returning to a postal bomb of subtitled sadness.

12.03.08: stopping by woods on a snowy evening

1: you know, some people have coverlets that they put over their beds during the day to catch cat hair and things. we could do something like that for barf.

2: like a tarp.

1: i was thinking more like a blanket.

2: we could get some rubber sheets.

1: you want rubber sheets? you want the cats to sleep on a rubber sheet?

2: [...]

1: "fetish."

11.26.08: craft interlude {sew, very old one}

jacob and megan are one of our favorite couples in the whole world, so it went without saying that we wanted to really rock their wedding present. jacob was kind enough to feed my perpetual need to discuss event DIY by supplying me with some of his planning details, and one of my favorite touches was how they were going to use charley harper's "redbirds and redbuds" (with harper's estate's permission) on their programs. i was going to try to hunt down a print, but as it happens, the stitchin' community goes nuts for harper (no surprise there, since modernist stuff lends itself so well to needlepoint grids). i scored an authorized canvas on ebay,* built a frame and dry blocked with some thumb tacks, sewed like the wind - and underestimed project time by almost two months (did i learn nothing from the sockshund?). as with the sockshund for baby james, however, the story has a happy ending: i'm jazzed by how the project turned out,** and long autumn nights of stitching haven't soured me on needlepoint (i'm back to working on the stag beetle i started two years ago).

framed and ready for train travel

secret project: concluded! DIY: huzzah!

*i prefer to design my own (this was actually the first time i've worked with someone else's plan instead of freestyling), but i had a deadline - and i liked the fact that this canvas had the estate's blessing.

**though i will never let someone budget fiber for me ever again; i ran out of medium brown 433 on my very last night of stitching and nearly had a nervous breakdown.

11.24.08: culture blotter {twilight}

i spent a sliver of saturday afternoon scuttling around a few stories above times square* in search of an escalator with a fellow gal-on-a-date-with-herself-at-the-movies (the undermanned snack bar on our floor of the megatheater was swamped, so we were both headed elsewhere for diet coke). i probably sounded schizophrenic when i responded to her question about what i was there to see: "twilight, i know! but i read the books, so. but they weren't very good! but i like trashy things. my husband has to work today. also, vampires!" all that for one question: scary, no? she told me in return that she was there for danny boyle's slumdog millionaire, which i hear is very good, and that her elementary school students hide copies of twilight in class all the time. "oh, no," i gasped, "it's a terrible example for little girls!" "so you wouldn't let your daughter read twilight?" "NEVER!"

twilight the movie is, oddly enough, just fine for daughters, especially if they see it in a crowd. i nearly applauded when robert pattinson (as edward the vampire heartthrob) confessed that he liked to watch kristen stewart (as bella the situationally spineless heroine) sleep...and a ripple of titters and "'cause that's not creepy!"-ish comments moved across the theater. let your peers know that lines like that are laughable, girls! i'd like nothing better than for twilight to be your generation's incarnation of the mysteries of udolpho (udolpho via northanger abbey, that is). bella and edward are, after all, high gothic camp - which is why they were so readable in the first place.

*i know, i know, i said i'd never times square a movie again; sometimes i'm a slave to stephanie zacharek. ("If you care about pop culture at all, you owe it to yourself to see "Twilight" -- Catherine Hardwicke's** adaptation of the first volume of Stephenie Meyer's blockbuster vampire-romance saga -- with an audience full of teenage and preteen girls.")

**throwback story aside, it's exciting to see hardwicke rock an almost $70 million opening weekend (the biggest yet for a female director).

11.23.08: you can't gain, i maintain

since 11.23.07:

140 trips to the gym
17 pounds lost
0 cigarettes

i'm taking this anniversary to iceland.

11.20.08: the inner aspect

as tofurky (where's your E, tofurky?) day is fast upon us, it's probably time for me to start bothering you all about taking pictures for ye olde orphan thanksgiving photo pool. you don't need to be an orphan (or to cook orphans) to throw your images in with ours: almost any festive eats will do. for more on the concept (and to talk some kitchen smack), come on over!

on thanksgiving and kitchen smack, i confess that i just received my first weekly newsletter from gwyneth paltrow's goop. what is goop? per la paltrow,
Whether you want a good place to eat in London, some advice on where to stay in Austin, the recipe I made up this week, or some thoughts from one of my sages, GOOP is a little bit of everything that makes up my life.

Make your life good. Invest in what's real. Cook a meal for someone you love. Pause before reacting. Clean out your space.* Read something beautiful. Treat yourself to something. Go to a city you've never been to. Learn something new. Don't be lazy. Workout [sic] and stick with it. GOOP. Make it great.
goop infuriates just about everyone. i get that - she does swan about like she invented pilates and long blonde hair, as they say - but she's been so impressed with herself for so long that i've mellowed into being amused by rather than disgusted with her.** come on, people: she has sages. as i commented on wabes's site the other day, i think she might be my new mischa barton (with less triangle leg***).

that said, gwynnie's thanksgiving dessert joint sounds tasty.
Pumpkin Ice Cream Pie with Maple Whipped Cream

A cool alternative (literally) to traditional pumpkin pie. If you can find pumpkin ice cream, by all means use that. If not, here's a quick and easy way to make some using vanilla ice cream, good canned pumpkin and lots of wonderful spices. When you first make the mixture the spices might seem strong, but remember that their flavors get a bit muted when they're ice cold. If you're doing Thanksgiving for a large crowd, make two of these. One is good for a small crowd and the ice cream alone is a simple, fun desert [sic] for a party of two.

SERVES: 6, very generously
TIME: 20 minutes + at least 3 hours in the freezer

- 1 cup of graham cracker crumbs (about 1 sleeve, ground in the food processor)
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 5 tbsp melted butter
- 1 pint vanilla ice cream, softened
- 1 can pureed pumpkin (or 1-3/4 c fresh)
- 1/4 tsp each ground allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves
- Maple Whipped Cream (see recipe below)****

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and melted butter in a pie pan (why bother washing a mixing bowl?). Mix together with your fingers and then press evenly to cover the bottom and sides of the pan. It helps to press the mixture with the bottom of a small measuring cup. Bake for ten minutes or until light brown. Let cool while you prepare the filling.

In a large bowl, beat together the ice cream, pumpkin and spices. Spread evenly into the cooled pie shell and stick in the freezer for at least three hours before serving. When ready to serve, spread the top with Maple Whipped Cream.
potentially delectable, no? i say the sages turned in a solid effort this week.

we're trucking our goop up to providence for the holiday, where we'll be frolicking with jacob and megan. there's a chance that we might make it to plymouth rock itself, and the prospect is making me feel extra-festive this year: i'm hoping to convince everyone to rock costumes for dinner (best-case scenario: clue characters). our orphan thanksgiving photos...would be amazing.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 are you as excited as i am about photos of other people's food? last year we had pork buns shaped like pandas.

02 how do you feel about gwyneth paltrow and/or goop?

03 why does chris martin dress like a nutcracker?

04 what's on tap for your holiday?

*given our current economic climate, this phrasing is rather unfortunate.

**also, her husband draws most of my ire. he seems like a lovely person, but i ha-a-ate coldplay.

***which is sung to the tune of "particle man," in case you were wondering.

****1 c heavy cream and 2/3 tbsp maple syrup whisked into stiff peaks.

11.10.08: the dirty dozen, part II {love and affection*}

it's been a quiet week here at kidchamp HQ: tuesday's merry midnight cacophony (in hell's kitchen, as throughout the city and apparently everywhere else, the buildings themselves seemed to howl with glee) made way, on wednesday, for news of prop 8's passage in california (and its nasty relatives' success in other states) and bad news close to home (i remain employed, but i knock on wood every time i say so). i spent my second day off running overcomplicated errands and donating platelets - my reptilian responses to changes in the environment.

04 10 minute apple sauce, courtesy of alton brown: easily the coolest thing to happen to my microwave since i learned to nuke eggs properly back in san francisco. dump a handful of basic ingredients in two big plastic yogurt containers with lids, zap them for 10 minutes, then stick-blend everything together - voila! breakfast (or dessert) for a week, and the kitchen smells amazing. i'm already on my second batch (though i cut the honey down to one teaspoon and don't use the booze).

05 want to read thrillers you can still snoot about? meet arnaldur indriðason, the rock star of icelandic crime fiction. i had his jar city (a groomsperson's gift from jacob; the title refers to icelandic hospitals' organ archives) on hand when a downed power line stranded us on the tracks in delaware last month, and crawling around in reykjavik's dark-and-seedy-but-somehow-still-adorable underworld made the seven hours we spent returning from baltimore almost painless. i'm now reading silence of the grave (on doomsday orgies and world war II) and just picked up a copy of voices. icelandic reading group? anyone?

06 armchair foliage, my ongoing photoset of central park's annual striptease, isn't the most consistent series out there: i switched cameras about a week in when joe gave me The Professor for my birthday (and then i had to swap the old sony cybershot in again a few days ago when he needed it for work), so viewing it as a time-lapse slide show carries some risk of whiplash. that said, manhattan as it autumns! relaxing when it isn't jerky, no?

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 was there an election night primal scream in your neighborhood, too?

02 how are you autumning? any clever recipes i should know about?

03 that nelson song is probably the most terrible thing i've ever demanded from itunes. what's your secret shame?

*those who bought your selections also bought:
"in the heart of the young," winger
"trixter," trixter
"vixen," vixen


11.04.08: election notes from nyc II: electric boogaloo {updated throughout the day}

21:55 just spoke with my indefatigable friend tom, who's up in wisconsin counting absentee ballots (fine work up there, lad, by the by): "set your tivo for ten," sez he.

21:20 FOX predicts ohio for obama - HOLY SHIT!

20:50 wow: on CNN, david gergen just told anderson cooper that tonight could be "not just a win, but a very big win" for obama. gergen is the king of cool, so i take that seriously (i feel jessi klein a bit on him).

20:40 jacob reports that "rachel maddow needs to chill out," which i can neither confirm nor deny (having watched ABC for the last hour), but 1) she did tweet that barry has yet to wish any bush states and 2) often needs to be "talked down," as she calls it. i feel you, rachel: i think a lot of us need to be talked down right about now.

19:55 meghan mccain's song of the day is journey's "don't stop believin'" - which is a good omen. i couldn't begin to tell you why, but it's a good omen.

19:10 MSNBC sez the new house will split 261/174, "a total repudiation of the republican party" (joe scarborough). this is killing hamlet in the first act, guys.

18:50 see, this is why i distract myself with photo safaris and food: numbers are pouring in on MSNBC now, and even the expected stuff (like obama getting shellacked in kentucky) is making me sick to my stomach.

18:00 encountered my first line of the day at the times square ben & jerry's (one of only two in manhattan, someone said). naturally their corporate photographer showed up and took four thousand pictures just as i got to the door: "hi, i have nothing better to do than wait for ice cream all night." i...probably deserved this.

17:20 CNN on the brutal wait times at some polling places: "sing songs, do whatever you have to do. er, bring a book."

15:30 CNN's times square HQ gets this season's spiffy election digs award; NBC/MSNBC in rockefeller center is a close second, and FOX's avenue of the americas efforts sadden me.

14:30 sitting on the floor in penn station, photographing a doughnut. good on you, krispy kreme.

13:50 the national republican trust PAC is still running its jeremiah wright attack ad on CNN; i'd laugh, but CNN showed an illinois voter flipping a coin to settle on a candidate fifteen minutes ago.

13:00 fitness (and thus news) hiatus: since the sets at the gym* were all tuned to sportscenter, the closest i got to political news was "it's election day, go vote! who's getting the heisman this year? who's in the BCS championship?" the wait to vote in downtown brooklyn is, at present, four hours(!).

10:30 free coffee acquired! i tipped the tired-looking guy at my local starbucks. voting itself was hassle-free as well, though the police officer at my polling place busted me for wearing an obama button on my coat (wearing it counted as campaigning, which obviously isn't allowed there). i apologized and tucked it in my pocket - and sent psychic waves of sympathy to people who show up to vote wearing obama shirts (hope you wore the good underwear).



09:45 off to vote / snap hell's kitchen polling photos / smile pretty and ask for free coffee.

08:39 live TV feed of barack obama voting with his daughter on ny1: vote, guys, vote!

08:15 okay, so a recap of the voting-related national freebies: a doughnut for voters at krispy kreme, a tall coffee for voters at starbucks, ice cream for the hell of it from ben & jerry's (5-8 p.m.).

*to which i wore my threadless robot tee to hail our obama-bot overlords.

10.31.08: yes we carve


change: it has a flavor.

it has a flavor.

10.27.08: culture blotter {W.}

does anyone remember what life was like before this election season (back in, what, 2006)? i shudder to think of what might rush into the media vacuum created when it's over and i stop gulping down coverage for hours every night (and bouncing around political sites for hours on top of that). there's nothing inherently wrong with following this stuff, of course, but the feedback loop gets intense (especially when i get absorbed in my current stealth craft project and don't realize i've been stuck on MSNBC for a few hours: at the end of last week, when rachel maddow sat down to talk about keith olbermann and chris matthews's coverage of brian williams's comments after his mccain/palin interview, my head nearly exploded).

so we detoxed this weekend with W., which is about totally different elections. note: the weekend before the weekend before a national election is not the best time to roll up to a theater on the upper west side sans advance tickets for an oliver stone movie. the 2:50 show sold out years before we got there, so we had to dash through the rain to times square, where liberals of a a certain age fear to tread (and a bunch of guys sitting behind us nearly got into a seat-kicking-related fistfight). the popcorn was terrible, but the movie was entertaining. josh brolin is reasonable in the title role, although he's a bit larger and more dapper than i think he should be: the real dubya is kind of chimpy, and i've never been sold on the manly-man, texas cowboy vibe he's supposed to emit. i feel a bit sorry for this fictional dubya; he's stupid and charming enough that i have a hard time blaming him for the terrible things his minions have done to our country. elizabeth banks as (parker posey as) laura is equally winning: she obviously loves her husband, and his scenes with her feel much more authentic than (most of) his scenes as commander in chief do. a brief guide to other key players:

ellen burstyn (barbara bush): formidable.

james cromwell (bush senior): not a lookalike, but effective as a chilly father figure.

richard dreyfuss (dick cheney): will get a best supporting actor nod. really, really great.

toby jones (karl rove): good, but an evil lawn gnome; the real rove is an evil baby, as we all know.

thandie newton (condoleezza rice): should've settled for looking like condi. her one-note impression stole and destroyed all of her scenes.

jeffrey wright (colin powell): should've tutored thandie newton; looked and sounded nothing like powell, nailed the character anyway.

joe appreciated how the camera followed a character as she stepped on a corncob just before introducing laura to george at a backyard barbecue; i loved it when barney hopped into the presidential bed to steal bush's warm spot (joe has similar problems). those little moments of "authenticity" kept the movie from sinking under the weight of its umpteen Bush Moments. i appreciate stone's research, to be sure, but every time a well-known phrase rolled out of brolin, we were forced to remember that we were Watching a Movie About Our Crappy President (meta phooey). i preferred forgetting that i hate bush, though i hate myself for the preference. does that make sense?

how are you counting down, internets? how are you holding up?

10.22.08: central park phones it in again

new york phones it in again (1 of 2)

october lunch breaks are the worst.

10.17.08: the dirty dozen, part I {charm city}

01 maryland is serious about its crabs. i knew this before visiting baltimore, much as i know that florida is serious about its oranges and california is serious about its avocados, but the mania is more intense than i'd expected it to be. jacob and megan hooked us up with utz crab chips* in our "welcome to weddingfest!" guest bags last weekend, lexington market is like a giant dark offering to a lovecraftian crab god, the vegetarian buffet at the wedding reception featured crab cakes,** maryland drugstores sell crab-shaped cheez-its...it was incredible.

02 amtrak, in turn, is serious about its quiet cars, where passengers who chat loudly, use their phones, or play bleepy-whoopy handheld video games are killed and (quietly) eaten by other passengers. joe loves quiet cars for his work-related jaunts between new york and DC, and i love them because you can feel passive aggression crackle up and down the aisle, and people who get worked up for no reason are hilarious. i think the lady sitting across from us on the way to baltimore was fake-working just to have an excuse to sit there and hiss at people when they entered the car (she actually preempted noise). i could feel young skywalker's anger, and i basked in it.

03 baltimore's national aquarium is crowded. sure, it was silly of us to go on a sunday over a holiday weekend and expect anything other than hordes of children, but yowza! i am a tough aquarium audience, having grown up with regular access to the monterey bay aquarium and steinhart aquarium, so it took me a while to really get my fish on - though i do appreciate how maryland answers california's touchy-feely dolphin pools with a colossal, open water ray and shark pool (with one stately green sea turtle. L: "i wonder how he lost that one flipper." J: "probably living in a pool full of sharks."). we escaped the crowds in the basement frogs! exhibit, where the disapproving little tomato frogs reminded me that it's alright to be a curmudgeon.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 what's the saltiest thing you've ever eaten?

02 are you, like joe biden, a fan of train travel? what about the quiet car?

03 which aquarium exhibits reign supreme? i went frog this time, but i'm normally an eel girl, as eels look like grumpy old men.

*which do not contain crab, as it happens, but are seasoned as crabs are. they are, as of this post, the saltiest thing i have ever tasted: i could feel myself dying a little more quickly for hours after i ate a bag (and i say that as an unrepentant MSG enthusiast).

**also crabless - made of zucchini, i think, and really tasty. hats off to you, gertrude's!

10.16.08: baltimore

flower girl

jacob and megan get the first and only kidchamp thoughtful wedding music award: henceforth when i think of their nuptials, or of surrendering to my thirtieth birthday, or of baltimore, i'll think of their first dance. it's one thing to mist over when you hear your own song; it's quite another to react that way to someone else's. gah, that extra glenns youtube link (up in this post's title) is doing it to me again: the DJs in love, they are lethal.

i have decided that being a groomswoman is much more fun than being a bridesmaid: at one point, i thought i was going to wear a boutonnière and carry a bouquet, it was a great excuse to go out and buy a little black dress (that i would now like to wear every day), and i got to skip extended primping and watch television with joe, david, and jacob at guy prep HQ, née our room ("should we turn on sports? yeah, we should probably turn on sports."). i had to duck out to the balcony with a new yorker when the groom changed clothes, but otherwise, i think everything worked out: most male attendants don't have multiple lint rollers, and girls have much nicer tweezers and scissors. also, putting my arm around a bridesmaid during the vows wouldn't have been nearly as fun. married groomspeople, internets! the cuteness is unstoppable!

the cuteness was kind of unstoppable in general, really. joe started sniffling before the wedding coordinator gave us the cue to cross the patio, and by the time jacob and megan turned to each other under the chuppah, the whole wedding party was crying with happiness. watching those kids get hitched was rocktober in its purest form.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 been to any weddings lately?

02 have you ever been part of ye olde jewish wedding chair-lift? i was all excited about that, but apparently it happened while i was in the bathroom.

03 are you a weeper?

10.03.08: culture blotter {echo & the bunnymen @ radio city music hall}

lone 3rd mezzanine perk

the 'salute to dinosaurs' portion of rocktober continued apace with last night's radio city, orchestra-backed performance of echo & the bunnymen's ocean rain, an album released when i was six. goofy glowing drinks aside, radio city's not a bad place to take in a show, and i quite liked getting to kick back in a seat like the old woman i am. i wasn't as excited about being in the third mezzanine: sure, i bought the cheapest seats, but i bought them a twelfth of a second after they went on sale. at the other end of the spectrum, due to some infernal algorithm i don't want to know about, ticketmaster failed to release a bunch of the seats near the stage until yesterday morning - and they sat empty all night. the night's lessons: cough up the extra $10 or $20 per seat when possible (as rocktober comes but once a year), and ticketmaster is still the devil.

the show began (on time!) with glasvegas, a bunch of adorable scottish feedback enthusiasts who gave us post-punk via the brill building. we heard a grand total of two of their songs, but they were both catchy (particularly the doo-wop "daddy's gone"), and i'm a sucker for self-effacing weegies. seriously: when the second depression becomes official and the ladymag goes under, i'm going to scotland to be a roadie. or to apprentice with timorous beasties. i haven't worked out the details yet, but glasgow is in there somewhere.

the main event was all over the place, mostly in a good way. rumors of ian mcculloch's ferocious egotism (he's said to have called ocean rain the greatest album of all time shortly after it was released) appear to be true: he's quite the strutter, and his many comments about how much he was enjoying himself started to seem like straight-up cues for applause. rumors of how his voice has given out seemed exaggerated, at least for the first few songs of the "greatest hits" set (about a dozen songs, played before ocean rain): "lips like sugar" was fabulous, and "rescue" was pretty great. "bring on the dancing horses," on the other hand, was a hot mess: the vocals had clearly been tweaked for ian's abbreviated range, and he sounded rough anyway. he sounded a lot like lou reed when i saw him in 1997, actually, which became ironic when the band launched into an horrific medley of "people are strange," "walk on the wild side," and "in the midnight hour" (?!). i think they were going for sinister, and joe said he liked the effect with "walk on the wild side," but as simon cowell would say, mac was like some ghastly singer in a hotel lobby. the ocean rain set, in turn, was unequivocally wonderful: hearing "silver" with the orchestra was thrilling, and "the killing moon" is devastating in any setting. sung by muppets; performed in semaphore; doesn't matter. it was the last song on our wedding playlist: wildly inappropriate, sure, but too awesome to omit. hearing it live gave me chills: take that something, my bloody valentine!

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 how goes your rocktober, internets? seen anyone zesty since last we spoke?

02 what's the worst cover you've ever heard?

03 what will you do when america collapses and we all have to wear barrels with suspenders? aside from wearing a barrel with suspenders, of course.

09.27.08: mississippi mudslide

liveblogging a debate isn't nearly as fun as popping in all day to talk about a primary.* if you ever try such a thing, internets, be prepared to re-watch each exchange like four times - and maybe resist the urge to liveblog the soup you're making at the same time.

20:57 still recovering from the sarah palin beauty pageant video linked over at wonkette. swimsuit-related dry eye!

21:02 i always forget about jim lehrer's irisless muppet eyes. he seems like a nice enough guy, but they're terrifying.

21:04 ooh, barry's first shot at mccain (on deregulation)! why mccain isn't now noting that bill clinton's the one who signed the financial services modernization act in 1999...is beyond me. it wasn't bipartisan, but it was on our watch.

21:05 whoop, reducing broth volume probably means simmering without the lid. i am a great chef.

21:07 that overdone "wall street blah blah blah main street" construction could be this debate's drinking prompt. it's come up twice already.

21:09 nice eisenhower anecdote, john, but it makes you sound old. i'd steer away from coded messages to the greatest generation, as those dudes are asleep already on this coast.

21:10 multicolored heirloom tomatoes are lovely when they're intact, but this soup is totally going to look like barf.

21:11 don't remind us of the chairman of the SEC, john! we all laughed at you when you claimed you were going to fire him! fun fact: christopher cox was my congressman when i lived in the OC. less-fun fact: the OC went belly-up in 1994 (it was the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history).

21:12 "...main street" - drink! also, jim lehrer sounds like a marriage counselor.

21:14 i get that pork barrel spending plays well on the stump for mccain, but it's hardly the issue on everyone's lips.

21:15 was there a CSI joke buried in mccain's line about bear DNA in montana? palin would know. wait, touchy subject.

21:17 how do two giant bay leaves just disappear in a stock pot? fuck.

21:20 if we don't get the income tax under control, all of our jobs are going to...ireland. raise your hand if you would mind moving to ireland.

i stopped there, as i was getting soup all over my notepad, and pausing the debate every forty-five seconds got old fast. i think that though obama could've used better language when he agreed with mccain (a point rephrased is much harder for your opponent to replay in campaign ads), he was telegenic and sure-footed, which is all he really needed to be last night. i wanted him to kick mccain's deregulatin' ass across the stage, but obama's always had a long fuse; ideally, the undecideds will realize we could use a bit more of that. at the end of the day, what's said about the debate will matter more than what was said at the debate, of course: how was it with you and yours?

*which i attempted back in early february (apologies for the lack of a specific post link - i ripped that code out of the 'champ's template years ago and never figured how to reinsert it).

09.23.08: culture blotter {my bloody valentine @ roseland ballroom}

rocktober, the month or so in which joe and i do most of our concertgoing for the year, began not with a bang but a...something, at the first of my bloody valentine's two NYC shows at roseland ballroom last night. locals who caught their sunday show in the catskills warned that the complimentary ear plugs were a must-have rather than a suggestion ("you're gonna fucking need 'em to endure their noisy 20-odd minute climax"), and they weren't kidding: i actually needed one of the spare pairs i'd brought along, as the...something jiggled my first set right out of my ears and down to the grotty venue floor.

but i'm getting ahead of myself. my bloody valentine: a shoegazer band famous for using every pedal ever made and spending something like £250,000 (nearly bankrupting their record label) to create loveless (1991), their second album, which tops all sorts of critics' lists and sounds like seraphim snagged in a garbage disposal. they're genius if you're fond of a certain kind of brown noise and insufferable if you don't (poor jen had a rough time with my shoegazer phase when we lived in england; as a brooklynvegan commenter put it, "the only band that inspired more shitty bands than MBV, is Pavement." [sic]). i fall somewhere in the middle and vastly prefer a few of MBV's contemporaries (slowdive and ride); i turned london upside down to find the you made me realise EP back in the day, but loveless only joined my CD pile when The Man With 42 Blue Coats, my abrasive ex, made it my twentieth birthday present (right after we broke up, as i recall - very emo). joe discovered that copy and loves it (and is hipster-mean's polar opposite), so hey hey circle of life!

we squidged in our MBV-approved plugs and settled in for the main act at about ten last night, and as soon as the band kicked into "i only said"'s siren loops, joe lit up like a boardwalk carnival. it's a real pleasure to see the missus bliss out that way: having to wait for two hours as rude beer-fetchers knocked us across the floor was less than cool, but his holy shit that's kevin shields right there! face made up for it. i...don't have the best hearing anyway, and between the sonic assault (MBV show recaps - positive ones! - are full of superviolent descriptors, which is sort of weird when one isn't talking about metal) and the foam, i couldn't always tell which song i was hearing. i just barely heard the "thorn" chorus, but i'd known it was coming: i'd seen the set list for the previous show.

then, most of the way through "you made me realise" at the end of the set, came the something, a feedback apocalypse that's apparently closed all of this year's shows. it lasted roughly twelve minutes, came in at about 130 decibels (that is, above the threshold of pain and right around jet takeoff), and was loud enough to break up a kidney stone, as joe put it (as someone twittered, "my bloody valentine is shattering my bones"). forget feeling the crunch of the reverb in your sternum: this twisted around in my guts (i'd be willing to bet that a few of the people who left early went to throw up), got my skin buzzing, and made it hard to breathe. some people loved the effect and flung their arms out to absorb the waves, at least at first. me, i'm kind of shocked, strongly suggested ear plugs or no: sitting through the end of that show without them would have blown our eardrums. kids irish fortysomethings today!

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 is tinnitis a performer's fault or a fan's? should MBV be liable if someone went deaf last night?

02 loudest show you've ever seen? was it worth the ringing ears?

09.19.08: international talk like a pirate day

Q: what's a pirate's favorite sarah palin* hobby?

A: arrrial wolf hunting.

*per the baby name generator, palin would have called me soup landmine. joe, in turn, works out to speck backfire, which makes me glad i'm vegetarian.

09.15.08: everything is green

it's just as well that our wireless was down for the weekend. on saturday night i got a call from paul, who did me the kindness of telling me my favorite author was dead. he thought it would be better to hear of it from him than to hear of it from the media, and i think he was right. one's best friend is usually right about things like that.

david foster wallace was supposed to become the sleek old seal of postmodern literature. he'd metamorphosed from the cockeyed, scarecrow-haired punk on infinite jest's dust jacket (though it was hard to imagine him breaking a sweat over prose, that photo always made me think his tongue would stick out of the corner of his mouth as he wrote something especially excellent) to a heavier, ponytailed grownup, like the big lebowski's Dude after a makeover. i always imagined that, when i finally met DFW at a book signing, he'd be a bit like The Dude. plus paul, plus my favorite high school teacher. i would tell him the story of how someone in oxford once asked if the infinite jest quote on my wall was something i'd written, giving me the biggest, most ludicrous compliment of my life.

i miss you sounds much better in french (tu me manques) than it does in english, both literally and figuratively: se manquer is a reflexive verb, and is closer to to lack. it's visceral in a useful way. i lack david foster wallace. we lack him.

09.08.08: frosting shot $1.50

understated civic engagement has been our unofficial theme for the past several days. on thursday we had tickets to the colbert report: i expected an all-palin show, as i'd seen something on colbert's website about endorsing her for president and she'd given her speech to the RNC on wednesday night, but our half hour was equal parts convention criticism, palin material (an interview with the remarkably game creator of draft sarah palin for vice president), and ron paul interview. such a winning kook, that ron paul! like jon stewart, colbert is charming in person - more so, perhaps, since his character compels him to amuse the audience at all times (he groomed his makeup artists as they walloped him with concealer between takes and made eyes at us as he studied cue cards). the production assistants were very aggressive about making the distinction between Colbert in Character and pre-show colbert - those few minutes before the cameras rolled were our only chance to rap with The Real Stephen, man, and we were not to forget it. i suppose that means that our interstitial entertainment was ironic, but i like to tell myself he's a coy man either way. the audience was small - about 100 of us, compared to the 200 or so who see the daily show - which was nice and intimate, though there was less collective body warmth to compete with the arctic conditions in the studio (seriously, are the lights really that hot?). i would go again, though joe feels that we should try to see other shows for the first time before repeating. conan o'brien? saturday night live? contemplating my next move.

on saturday evening we thumbed our noses at the hanna-related storm and headed out to sound fix records in williamsburg for the burg for barack, a bake sale / silent auction / miniconcert to raise funds for obama. it's sort of weird to watch a group reclaim their stereotypes:* as the ethereal songstress who came on first noted, "we're all doing what we can to get this man elected! we can bake cupcakes, and...there are a lot of good-looking people here tonight...and we can listen to indie rock!" we (read: joe), in turn, can eat baked goods like nobody's business, and the lemon bar i took down for obama was excellent. it was also oddly pleasurable to dig around in my pockets on the way out, discover that we had money left after cookie-buying, and dump said money in the collection box on the way out. "merf merf crowdnoise," said the woman at the food table when we passed her in the silent auction." "what?" i replied." "you two are just the happiest people," she repeated. "you smile all the time." that's a first for me, internets (like generations of women in my family, i am famous for looking angry): apparently this election is good for my soul.

sunday was the broome street block party, an event our friend melissa organized with sponsorship from transportation alternatives. she worked her ass off putting the afternoon together, and it turned out wonderfully: the street was covered with chalk drawings by the time we got there, ice cream-covered kids were ricocheting around the block like sticky little superballs, and a decent crowd gathered when the musical acts (including melissa's band, last year's model) got going. as is customary, i refused to dance, but i had an excuse: i donated blood at the health fair down the street (the poor van people only had four other donors all day; they tried to get me to take a sack of the surplus snacks they'd brought, but i couldn't inflict reduced fat cheez-its** on an unsuspecting public with a clear conscience). by the time i got back from the blood van, joe had patronized most of the nearby eateries (the roasting plant, doughnut plant, babycakes). i accused him of being pregnant and then made him queue with me at gus's pickles; he retaliated by going back to babycakes. so dancing would have been difficult for a couple of reasons.

now joe is covering for his counterpart down in washington DC, and i have switched to salad and salon. how was your weekend?

*very 2001: a space odyssey, really.

**dear blood banks of america: if you're going to give the people fruit punch and regular old cookies, you might as well give them the real cheez-its. even mayor mike eats them.

09.04.08: the dirty dozen, part III {lipstick}

10 i had to sign for a very heavy, very serious looking inter-office envelope from human resources the other day. "i'm handing out a bunch of these today," my mail guy said, his voice full of doom. alas, i thought, i'm getting fired. it's a ladymag dirty bomb (i imagined some forcible retirement in an explosion of tainted lip gloss; we've been watching a lot of the last season of the wire and the first season of the x-files*). actually, it was a box from a fifth avenue jeweler: it's my five year anniversary with the company. have i really spent a sixth of my life working for Big Media? i spent a few months freelancing after the unceremonious end of my career as their PR lackey (thank god; that was a dark year, to put it mildly), but i interned in '03, so - yeah, i guess that's right. weird.

11 our stable of print subscriptions is getting crowded: we puttered along with just the new yorker until last year, then a year's worth of free esquire jumped in, and now we're getting new york (not bad, but hard to keep up with on a weekly basis), readymade (cool, but it's getting auto-archived until i can put a stake in a few ongoing craft projects), iceland review, and now one story. per their "about" page,
One Story is a non-profit literary magazine that features one great short story mailed to subscribers every three weeks. Our mission is to save the short story by publishing in a friendly format that allows readers to experience each story as a stand-alone work of art and a simple form of entertainment. One Story is designed to fit into your purse or pocket, and into your life.
i just read my first story, thomas grattan's "foreign girls," and loved it; this newest mail-friend doesn't come cheap, but it's most welcome. i might start keeping a little fan of stories on my coffee table, provided that i can convince the cat to leave off puking on it (everyone's a critic).

12 hey, what's the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? pits are adorable. i admit that i've been avoiding political conversations with non-liberals for the past few weeks (not cool to yell at friends, and i'm too far in the tank for obama to debate politely at this point); after sarah palin's faux-populist, condescending, phonetically teleprompted "there is no spoon" performance last night, i might have to start avoiding television, too. at the very least, i'm starting the election season equivalent of a swear jar: every time that woman's bullshit turns my knuckles white,** i'm dropping in more funds for the democrats. anger management. baby steps.

*it is horrifying, by the way, to go from the unstoppable pulchritude of smooth-cheeked young david duchovny on our tv at home to jowly sex addict david duchovny on californication billboards now in times square. he was only a few years older than i am in his early days as fox mulder; is that the sort of decline i can expect in the next decade? turning thirty sounds worse all the time.

**the safest option. a palin-themed drinking game would end badly.

09.02.08: the dirty dozen, part II {the seduced seducer}

07 fall/winter (when fragrances are launched) is a magical time at the ladymag. i generally end up with our sample of the newest jo malone cologne, which works out well: i love the stuff, but who drops nearly $100 on an odor? i also get to sift through wonderful, cracked-out ad copy: god bless press packets for perfume. a few of my favorites from the class of '08:
This bottle of sculpted glass shimmers with a new golden glow. The gold blends with the silver and creates the instant desire to possess it.

Such a mirage, a voyage to the ends of the senses.

Although at first glance, Antonio Banderas appears as the initiator of the game, it is his partner who leads the essence of the courtship, leaving Antonio in the irresistible role of "seduced seducer."

08 mean beans: spicy green beans spiked with cayenne and dill, made by a local pickler (rick's picks) and worth every penny of the $8 a jar costs at whole foods or the farmer's market, speaking of expensive sensory experiences. i'm already soaking carrots in my first jar of leftover brine, and could actually be convinced to brunch someday if i can bring some of these for bloody marys. pickle (or giardiniera) fans, take note.

09 i keep forgetting that, though joe and i hunkered down in front of our giant cable-dispensing idiot box for at least three hours a night last week, most people were more moderate in their democratic convention coverage consumption. if you weren't tuned in for john kerry's speech on Red Meat Wednesday, go watch it right now: it's easily the best speech he's ever given, and second only to obama's, i would argue, in terms of the whole convention. his 'senator mccain vs. candidate mccain' breakdown was fantastic, his denunciation of torture was awesome (why didn't anyone else talk about shutting gitmo down?), and the cold, controlled fury of the whole performance* was just stunning. i like an inspirational speech as much as the next girl, but smackdowns like that are things of beauty. speaking of - no, still not ready to talk about sarah palin.

*as salon's walter shapiro noted, "bill clinton, in contrast, opted for the rapier rather than the shiv." his point seems to be that kerry was brutal, but the shiv image works because kerry had clearly been whittling for years.

08.27.08: the dirty dozen, part I {her smell is not possible}

01 via the people's popsicle, a crew that makes frozen treats out of greenmarket goodies at brooklyn flea every sunday, a recipe for peach, chamomile, and honey pops: now, where was this when i brought peaches home from the upper west side last month? verily, i'll be hunting for a bouquet of chamomile flowers down in union square this weekend.

02 last friday, to my great surprise, george and joe agreed to watch teeth, better known as "jaws meets the vagina monologues!" (per the village voice). we were all fairly unmoved (saved! did a better job of spoofing the abstinence movement), though joe and i did enjoy adapting and singing songs with "vagina dentata" rhymes under our breaths for the next few hours ("hakuna matata" in his case, "escape (the pina colada song)" in mine). what a wonderful phrase indeed.

03 in bruges (the first feature-length film by martin mcdonagh, the irish playwright) didn't inspire song, but it's the first UK gangster flick i've appreciated in years - probably because bruges itself is such a spooky beauty (and mcdonagh's sets are all about purgatory via hieronymus bosch, one of my favorite painters). i recommend it, especially if you're the sort who lets movies influence your vacation plans: i'm all about planning a belgian expedition after next year's iceland trip (i realize i'm talking about 2010, but hey).

04 karl lagerfeld on the media, from an interview in the sunday times:
"I have no problem with journalists – many are friends," he says. "Only if they are really stupid, or if they've got bad breath, or if they smell. Yesterday I had a problem. I said, 'I'm sorry, you've got to tell this woman that she needs to be taken away. Her smell is not possible.' "


"I'm mad for books," he says, sitting motionless behind his black Dior shades. "It is a disease I won't recover from. They are the tragedy of my life. I want to learn about everything. I want to know everything, but I'm not an intellectual, and I don't like their company. I'm the most superficial man on Earth."

05 as cable news crews hunted for cra-a-azy hillary fans on the convention floor after the keynote last night (they only found one, but she haunts me still), i was reminded of that oldie-but-goodie, current tv's target: women's take on suffrage ("you watch army wives? i watch army wives! i'm voting for you!").* i am over the question of whether or not PUMAs will make a difference in november; i thought hillary's delivery of harriet tubman's lines was thrilling, but i don't know that it mattered. was what she said significant for undecided voters? it's been so very long since i've seen or heard from any that i really couldn't say.

06 reusable/washable produce bags with tiny skulls! between the free stuff table here at casa de ladymag and the four thousand craft fairs i attend, i don't really need any more tote bags for the grocery store; i do occasionally take those wimpy little disposable produce bags, as the bundles of cilantro i buy at the amish market appear to be ripped straight from a bog and muddy up the rest of my veggies. these (less wasteful, with skulls) are much better.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 how can you tell if a peach is ripe without squeezing it? apparently squeezing is discouraged.

02 ever been to bruges? is it as magical as it seems?

03 what did you think of hillary's convention speech?

*the whole series (sarah haskins's comedy shorts on how women are pitched) is pretty excellent; chick flicks and birth control are especially zesty.

08.26.08: doctor omnibus

like millions of manhattanites and actors playing manhattanites in movies before me, i went to talk to a therapist yesterday. i am not unwell in any sweeping sense of the word: on the contrary, thanks to the combined effects of physical fitness, relationship zen, and not being in my early twenties, i'm happier and more centered than i've been in years. that said, i really do dread meeting new people and being the center of attention, which can be a problem when, you know, one works in the media. i scrolled through my insurance company's list of providers and found someone with an office in midtown and an earnest profile (i think he might actually have characterized himself as "tough but warm," which seemed charming at the time). he was also ex-military, which...i should have given a bit more thought.

DOC: when my daughter was little, i sent her to one summer camp for a week. then i pulled her out and moved her to another one. after a week there i pulled her out and moved her to another one. know what she learned?
LMO: [horrified silence]
DOC: to adapt!


DOC: what you need is total immersion. you need to volunteer at the front desk at a hospital.
LMO: i've settled into my misanthropy.
DOC: you're supposed to save that for when you're eighty.


LMO: i was an ENFP for twenty years. isn't that long enough?
DOC: you could always just try having a couple of kids.
LMO: [horrified silence]

i'm sure it's no picnic to psychoanalyze me, given that by seeking advice i was placing myself in just the sort of problematic situation for which i was seeking advice. that said, this guy really was singular: i felt like i had to be a caricature just to keep up. of course, when i complained to joe that i'd been accused of overthinking, he sniggered quite uncharitably. so much for conjugal solidarity.

08.20.08: three sizes that day


my husband's mother's brother's wife's son's wife, ann, a lovely woman i met four years ago at a memorial service in arizona, saw ferris pass out at 31 flavors last night called me out of the blue a few weeks ago: she and her husband and their little daughter would coming out to nyc from utah this week, and how would we feel about getting together? i thought it was a fine idea, so we met them down at south street seaport to take a harbor cruise past the statue of liberty and those olafur eliasson waterfalls all the kids have been talking about.*

it was steamy and horrible in the city on monday, so getting off the island and being breezed about for an hour was more than fine. it was also nice to have an excuse to do the tourism-in-one's-own-city thing: i can be diligent about getting out to museums and things like shakespeare in the park, but i tend to forget about things like liberty island. it was also also nice to demonstrate to myself that i can handle hanging out with people i don't know very well (silly, but a huge deal for someone as shy as i am). i'd met ann and mike a grand total of once - at the aforementioned memorial service - but they're such effortlessly warm people that my nerves stopped jangling within minutes of meeting them on the dock.

the softest high note of the day, though, was spending time with mike and ann's little daughter. at eighteen months, with wispy blond hair, bottomless brown eyes, and a fluorescent green pedicure, she's a heartbreaker. ann's fluent in sign language and has already taught her eighty or ninety signs, so she responds to speech with both typical wee girl adorableness and surprisingly complex gestures (when i asked her if she wanted a water bottle i was holding, she signed, "no, mom! - and cheese."). she got to joe, too, and the look on his face when she passed out in his arms like a little sack of potatoes gave my shriveled old heart a kick. being childfree doesn't mean that i hate kids, internets: on the contrary, we get along famously (i spent two years as a camp counselor, long ago when the earth was flat: i'm like a jukebox for the under-7 set). achtung, friends and siblings! we are totally going to spoil your children.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 what's your relationship with the touristy stuff in your neighborhood?

02 what do you think of eliasson's waterfalls? how about christo's gates?

03 new york described michael phelps's body as being like "one of those long balloons you make animals out of, except for someone filled it with water and gerbils." what on earth does that mean?

*actually, most people responded to these with a really aggressive yawn, which sort of surprised me. what's so offensive about water sculpture? i have taken other public art extremely personally, though (i really hated christo's gates, for reasons i am nowhere near understanding), so maybe i shouldn't judge.

08.14.08: cotton*

when i was a kid, i knew exactly one woman who kept her maiden name and a few more who hyphenated their maiden and married names.** i myself was of the "doodling my first name with various imaginary boyfriends' last names in my trapper keeper" school of thought, and always assumed i'd Make That Change, as michael jackson would say. i then moved out of super-conservative orange county and, eventually, to the land of professional writers, where changing your name means forfeiting your old bylines and masthead appearances (and many of my colleagues have both professional and personal names, like rock stars and spies). i stuck with my plan, though: we were going to look like a family on envelopes, by god, and i would finally get to ditch my middle name (i was going to replace it with my maiden name). i practiced my new signature and resigned myself to a new monogram (one's last name can't always begin with a vowel).

then joe totally shut me down at city hall. he'd made noise about being less than eager for me to change my name (his is a pain in the ass to spell, he said; why welcome that chaos?), but i figured he'd have a change of heart when we got down to filling out the paperwork. actually, no became NO. my fiancé bullied me into keeping my name: i can't even do the post-post-feminist math on that one.

so here i am, two years after deciding to remain the lauren i was*** - on paper, at least. appearances (and papers) are nothing, of course, but i'm wearing the lace top i wore downtown that day (and to a lunch i can barely remember, for i was blown away every time i looked across my impromptu bouquet at joe and my mom: my husband! and his mother-in-law!). we were truly married a week later when we stood before everyone in oxford, to be sure, but i won't lie: the part of me that doodled my name back then gets a kick out of today, too.

*that "how to buy a second-year wedding anniversary gift" page is the bomb: the "things you'll need" list includes chardonnay and "credit cards and loans."

**i am still tempted to do this with the cats' names, especially since they both have really long names as is. then again, my vet already has plenty of reasons to think i'm a few slow jams short of a prom.

***on the third anniversary of the biggest blackout in north america.

08.12.08: the cheese stands alone

feats of kitchen magic i attempted this weekend, arranged by vivacity of reception (ascending):

ye olde vegetarian chili. i still love this recipe - hell, i nearly marched up and congratulated the woman who created it when i recognized her at a bar in brooklyn last month - but it's not as easy as it once was to eat it for three days in a row (i'd halve the ingredient portions, but what does one do with partial cans and peppers?). joe has started scooping out an extra-small quantity for himself when we execute the Vegetarian/Omnivore Couple's Mid-Recipe Split for Meat or "Crumble"-Adding, which is as close as he will come to saying he's over it. this batch of chili was a bit more interesting than the few that preceded it, as the red habanero i added was made of witches and at least twice as strong as i'd expected it to be, but that's not the sort of interesting i had in mind.

fourth of july roasted tomato salsa. i knew i wanted to try a roasted salsa for our friends' barbecue in jersey on saturday, and this recipe (from one of jen's favorite food sites) beat out a similar one (from a pepper porn site, which can be the best or worst place to search for salsa, depending on your audience) because it calls for a dried guajillo; i've been looking for an excuse to visit our local mexican deli/grocery (a wondrous place with both huitlacoche quesadillas and a whole wall of dried peppers for sale; it's second only to penzeys in my spice-hunting affections). the roasting tomatoes and caramelizing onion made the apartment smell glorious on friday night, and the guajillo did indeed give the salsa a deep earthy flavor. in concentrating on keeping the heat level under control, though, i managed to forget about keeping the onion in check: if you like them, like me, you'll dig this salsa (which functions like a sweet tapenade, almost). if you don't, like joe, well...make sure you use a small onion (i didn't), and maybe cut the amount in half. also, keep LOTS of salt on hand: salt makes everything better, but it makes most salsas sublime.

"don pablo's" queso dip. salsa was my first barbecue contribution, but a fellow jerseygoer's paean to all things nacho stirred up my own feelings; when i suggested bringing queso as well, i had a cheese mob on my hands. i've tried making queso fundido with authentic queso blanco, but the finer cheese, she is temperamental and clumpy (and forms big unsatisfying curds without a constant heat source). i needed something that would withstand an hour in a tote bag on the A train and revivification in a microwave, and that something was, er, queso ghetto. i didn't actually find the two-pound brick of velveeta the recipe required, so i bought forty singles and spent five minutes peeling and dropping them into my vat of buttery onions and off-brand ro*tel. i ended up cheating on the heat - i added two diced jalapenos to the sauteed onions and two pickled jalapenos to the finished vat - but i must say, internets, my hat's off to the processed queso. when we switched from chips to dinner, the cheese came along and ended up on hot dogs, too. god bless america.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 how much does a velveeta log cost in your neighborhood? have you ever thought about buying one?

02 do you guys have any good chili tricks i should know about? note: pork does not count.

03 how about mosquito bite relief tricks? those jersey bugs hit me like we hit that cheese: i suffer, internets.

08.08.08: culture blotter {hair @ shakespeare in the park}

to paraphrase julia roberts's ex-husband, i don't like hippies, and i don't like musicals, and i don't like much. that said, the delacorte is the perfect place to check out hair, ye olde american tribal love-rock musical: james rado and gerome ragni wrote it about the kids who hung out in central park's sheep meadow in the sixties, and a free show outside at dusk in the summer softens even the hardest haters. so do a picnic dinner of panini and olives from the ninth avenue vintner and an aluminum thermos of kitschy shakespeare wine.*

so did the massive summer storm that galloped across central park twenty minutes after the show started. it was big and mean, but came as no surprise: the unruffled onstage band pulled a plastic tarp around itself like a giant shower curtain and stayed put. umbrellas sprouted like mushrooms all over the theater, and we pulled out one of the hamlet ponchos we'd picked up back in june (and the shakepeare wine). we also shared an umbrella and gave our spare to the guys on our left, which i thought was very hair of us. when the cast crept back to the sponged-off stage forty minutes later, we all looked like dirty love children, the wine was gone, and i was prepared to try to appreciate counterculture via broadway.

according to artistic director oskar eustis, "hair was the last time that a stage musical became our national soundtrack; that's what gives it an unbelievable pull." the show's big stick is, for younger non-broadway types, also its biggest liability: for me, songs like "aquarius" and "let the sunshine in" recall the dance number at the end of the 40-year-old virgin, or recent commercials for retirement funds and antidepressants.** most unhelpful when one is to be thinking of flower power and/or the horrors of war. the tune i liked best - the wistful, belle & sebastian-ish "frank mills" - was unfamiliar to me, and lovely. the ones that have been knocking about in my head for the last week - "manchester england" and "hair" - are two of the most pernicious earworms i've ever heard (very disconcerting to jolt awake at three, as i did last night, singing "oh say can you see my eyes / if you can then my hair's too short"). all things considered, the songbook was pretty muscular, and the cast (led by jonathan groff, who was nominated for a tony for spring awakening) had great pipes. plot, on the other hand, was virtually nonexistent: hair is a revue that develops themes (musical and political), not characters. there's a vague draft - deployment - death - denouement at the end of the second act, but most of it happens in the last ten minutes of the show (i understand that being forced to go to war is a shock, but "because it was barely mentioned before" is disappointing). it's telling, i think, that the production's most affecting lines are shakespeare's ("what a piece of work is man" is straight outta hamlet), not rado's or ragni's.

all things considered, hair was imperfect but winning: as i learned by spending nine months in a teensy dorm room with an extremely charismatic phish enthusiast from vermont, hippies can wear you down. who needs pride?

*which turned out to be quite fine. my original plan had been to find wee boozy-school-lunch boxes of french rabbit (which is both lovely and dirt cheap), but they don't seem to be available yet; the samples that materialized at work must have been promo only.

**it's easy to see why madison ave loves hair so much - the fifty- and sixty-year-olds who danced onstage at the end of the show were so transported by nostalgia that i think they were actually weeping.

08.05.08: culture blotter {stephenie meyer's twilight series}

stephenie meyer is pretty inescapable these days: breaking dawn, the fourth and final book in her vampire series for tweens, spawned harry potter-esque* release parties at bookstores all over the country this weekend. the stars of the first twilight movie (in theaters this december) landed on the cover of entertainment weekly (and, as a result, on go fug yourself) a few weeks ago. bloggers who haven't been tweens for a long-ass time (like ariel and, well, me) confess to mowing through her books almost against their will. what gives, eh?

me, i'm loose when it comes to the bloodsuckers. i've spent time at the highbrow end of the spectrum - i wrote my first college research paper on vamps, and i've lost count of how many times i've seen nosferatu - but i'll happily stare at a box of count chocula on a grocery store shelf if it's the only game in town. i've watched more than 70 episodes of dark shadows, one of the most amateurish shows i've ever seen (there are boom mike shadows in 15% of the interior shots, and the production assistant who holds the chalkboard at the beginning of each episode can't always be bothered to stop smoking), in anticipation of the celebrated barnabas collins. when my quest for guidebooks on iceland took me to the columbus circle borders in the middle of its breaking dawn hoopla (that is, when there was a pile of $10 copies of twilight crouched like a beast in the middle of the store), well, i was sold.

on the vampire continuum, twilight is hanging with count chocula. that's no secret, really, as meyer herself says she's a storyteller, not a writer. her breathy, hyperbolic language is made for YA fiction: she sounds like her teenage heroine (i think she should have been edited much more aggressively because of that: she's got a seventeen-year-old's infectious energy, but she's got her cloying stock phrases and anemic vocab, too).

so there's that, and then there's what time calls "the erotics of abstinence." forget sex - twilight's bella (a human girl) and her beloved edward (a vampire) can't even make out, as that sort of charged contact would compromise poor ed's ability to control his lust for bella's blood. per time, meyer (a practicing mormon) offers
an alternative to the hookup scene, Gossip Girls for good girls. There's no drinking or smoking in Twilight, and Bella and Edward do little more than kiss. "I get some pressure to put a big sex scene in," Meyer says. "But you can go anywhere for graphic sex. It's harder to find a romance where they dwell on the hand-holding. I was a late bloomer. When I was 16, holding hands was just--wow."
if we're talking contemporary booty-laden bodice-rippers, well, okay. if we're talking plain old romance, i would beg to differ - and point meyer toward just about anything published before lady chatterley's lover - but hey. she's got her hot hand-holding, and that's fine. chacun à son vamp action.

it's not really fine, though, because bella catches hell every time she tries to kiss edward; she sort of catches hell every time she initiates something he doesn't fancy. edward is jealous, sulky, and prone to fits of rage. as jessica of go fug yourself notes,
[A] lot of the plot points which are presented as being Super Romantic are actually creepy and stalkery and, listen, you just should not be okay with it if you find out that this dude you're seeing has been sneaking into your house unbeknownst to you and watching you sleep all night, every night, even if it's under the guise of "protecting you" or something because for one thing, if you need protection, don't you have a right to know that from the get-go instead of being treated like someone from a 1940s three-hankie weeper where the doctor and Bette Davis's husband, like, make the executive decision not to tell the little lady that she's got a giant brain tumor? ....I'll stop there.
i'm okay with The Youth of Today reading some sloppy prose, and with their exposure to some "true love waits" hype in the process - we do what we must to get our vampire fiction fixes - but i don't know how i feel about girls envying a character who's convinced she's ugly and dumb compared to her flawless immortal boyfriend. a lot of ed's "i know what's best for you, and you could never love me the way i love you" speeches read like emotional abuse to me; that's misogyny, not romance.

but! i've only read two of the four books, and bella has plenty of time to grow a spine and stop fainting every ten minutes. stephenie meyer has umpteen opportunities to go for dynamic adjectives. i'm not especially hopeful, but people can change, internets. if you've read these monsters, what did you think?

*time magazine's april profile: "stephenie meyer: a new j.k. rowling?"

08.04.08: culture blotter {the dark knight}

imax tickets are still in short supply out here, so george and joe and i had our date with batman at the faux-old movie house up by lincoln center yesterday afternoon. it was a decent date, if a bit longer than i would have liked: i wasn't thinking clearly when i bought a tureen of diet coke on the way in, but i think my soda and director christopher nolan share the blame for my thinking/hoping the movie was over at about six different points. i agree with david denby, who noted in his new yorker review that the early scenes in hong kong ate up screen time that would have been better spent fleshing out more important plot points later on (the financier's little story arc was completely superfluous, and the technology introduced in china could've come up in a short scene later on). i also agree with the crowd predicting awards for heath ledger, who deserves them all: after campy, stylized jokers like cesar romero's and jack nicholson's, it was fairly shocking to watch a plausible one. batman has always been less fictional than the rest of the supers: he's got great gadgets and a lot of time on his hands and...that's kind of it. his origin story is unlikely, but it's not impossible. in letting us follow his work over his shoulder - letting us see the little vulnerabilities and psychoses that add up to his character - heath ledger gives the joker the bruce wayne treatment: he's terrifying because he's not impossible, either. the dark knight wasn't great, but that was extraordinary. what did you think, internets? i've tried to avoid spoilers, but comment boxes just love 'em.

08.01.08: on the sewage premises

my friday morning coffee-glugging and internet puttering began with a thorough investigation of L.A.'s top dogs (via my sis) - that is, an integrated database of dog names and breeds in los angeles county (also searchable by zip code). a magnificent subsection: lord of the rings names. it makes my heart smile to know that, somewhere in los angeles, there is a dachshund named gandalf.

a home entertaining pitch then led me to yesterday's new york times and "the dining room takes to the streets," a piece on how locals are reappropriating public space for personal use: throwing dinner parties on the brooklyn bridge, turning the empty loading dock next door into a home office, and so on.* the loading dock lady sounds pretty irritating from where i'm sitting, and i haven't decided how i feel about sharing the sidewalk with socialites on safari: "conscious gesture[s] of civic engagement" sound lovely, but what about bringing enough to share with the whole class? that said, times readers' weird, marvelous comments on the article (on memorable 'public' meals) pretty much charm my pants off. easter dinner on a submarine! a banquet in a chinese sewage plant! i need to befriend some foreign dignitaries, or throw together some flash fiction about those meals.

we'll be sticking to personal spaces this weekend, i think: poor joe is in his second week of a tolerable-but-exhausting mystery malady that has stumped new york city's many lazy specialists (seriously: it took two days for the vet to give us the three-legged cat's full blood panel, and it took joe's doc a week to figure out whether or not he had mono), and i will finish a craft project or die tryin'. air will be conditioned! soccer games will be watched! dunkin' donuts workout socks will be worn! i'd sell you the whole seat, internets, but you'll only need the edge.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 heard any good pet names lately?

02 how do you feel about private parties in public spaces?

03 ever strolled by a sidewalk cafe and had an almost irresistible urge to grab one of a stranger's french fries?

*on the flip side, a san francisco-based art collective has gone national with PARK(ing) day, a project that transforms parking spaces into temporary public parks. i loved that idea when it got rolling on the west coast: hooray for pop-up parks out here!

07.24.08: while visions of bolludagsvöndur danced in her head

a fellow ladymag editor is going to be out for the next couple of weeks; when i wished her a happy vacation, she said that she was going to paris (hooray!) but felt like it would be the last trip she and her husband took until they were forty, thanks to the worthless dollar (bah!). oh, i hear that: i told her about how joe and i were in a similar position with our trip to iceland (we're their age and have the same budget). of course, our trip isn't actually on the books yet: i've talked about it as a distant future, pie-in-the-sky thing for several years (since '02, according to the 'champ archives) and as a "when i've saved enough money by quitting smoking" thing for the last year, but nothing has actually been puzzled out...which is getting ridiculous. our '08-'09 rent increase aces out the butt money i would have socked away (cheers, new management company!), iceland is always expensive (like, switzerland-expensive), and we're not getting any younger. as bill o'reilly would say, fuck it. we'll do it live! we're not leaving tomorrow or anything, but i plunked down my $22.99 for a lonely planet iceland* yesterday, and this trip will happen in 2009 (and get planned ASAP, so i have a sexy trip to anticipate) if it kills me. i'm announcing it to the internets, so it must be so!**


cold weather is a friend of mine (and iceland's practically-'round-the-clock summer sun makes me think of insomnia, from That One Summer Robin Williams Played a Bunch of So-So Villains), so part of me thinks that we should try to save money by going toward the end of the off season. according to icelandair, that's march, when flights from new york city to reykjavik jump from $302 each way (on 3/16) to $850 each way (on 3/17). i have no idea (yet) why monday to tuesday is such a key flop there: the closest holiday appears to be "beer day" in reykjavik on the first of the month (to celebrate the end of icelandic prohibition), which...god, iceland is adorable. the bad news is that we're not big sportspeople and wouldn't make much of the snow, at least in the skiing-and-snowboarding sense (i could be convinced to snowshoe): the good news is that november to mid-march is the best season for viewing the northern lights, so i could run around in the middle of the night and pretend to be lyra from the golden compass.

then again, high seasons are high seasons for a reason: iceland's green hills are supposed to be jaw-dropping. i've also read that some of the smaller, more far-flung villages (read: most of what's outside of reykjavik) are only accessible via public transport in the warmer months. if we do manage to get to iceland more than once in our lives, that second visit probably won't happen for a very long time - so we have to see everything we need to see this time. which brings me to august and the flight of the pufflings. according to national geographic,
Iceland is home to one of the world's largest colonies of puffins, and every August millions of newborn puffins leave their burrows in the cliffs of Heimaey—the main island in the Westmann Islands chain off the south coast of Iceland—to fly off over the north Atlantic. They leave at night, using the moon to navigate. But the streetlights of Heimaey seem to throw off some of the young birds' flight plans.

When that happens, it's time for the children of Heimaey to launch the Puffin Patrol—basically a search and rescue operation for the befuddled birds, which, instead of flying out to sea, fly into town where they crash-land and end up on the streets.

"They don't survive if they stay in the town; cats and dogs eat them, or they just die. It's really good to save them," said Einar Karason, a young Icelandic boy.

Each night during the month of August, moms and dads lead troops of kids through town looking for stranded pufflings. They use flashlights to search the ground near buildings and streetlights.

When a bird is spotted, children rush to scoop it up and bring it in off the "mean streets" of Heimaey for the night.
the next day, the kids chuck the pufflings back into the air like footballs, which apparently gives them time to get their bearings and ride an updraft into the sky (or at least splash-land in the ocean instead of in a town square). it sounds adorable, and i might need to see it (especially if i can't be in iceland for bun day before lent, when icelandic children beat their parents with cream puffs).

i'm new to this research, internets, and would be grateful for your land-of-bjork-visiting guidance, if you have any (or want to make something up). know anyone who's been to iceland? when would you go, and what would you want to do there? planning any overseas jaunts of your own?

*damn, even the guidebooks are getting crazy expensive; also, damn, i could have saved like $7 by not seizing the day and ordering by mail instead.

**hey, it worked for smoking. i have great faith in kidchamp announcements.