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.


one of my coworkers grabbed a bunch of laundry supplies from the casa de ladymag free stuff table and realized she'd gotten a bunch of fabric softener and no detergent. since no one has room at home for three bottles of fabric softener, she offered some to me: "aw, no thanks," i said. "i don't do my own laundry." a chorus from the nearby cubes: ho ho ho, milady! doesn't do her own laundry! i tried to explain the sketchy laundromat situation near my apartment, and how joe and i only have a little time to go to the gym and eat and loaf after work and - no, too little too late. i'm the asshole who doesn't do her own laundry.

i loved (well, didn't mind) washing our stuff when we lived in san francisco: the missing sock just above us on hyde street tried pretty hard to be the nicest laundromat of all time (well lit, good magazines, fellow customers who didn't steal your stuff, little missing socks hand-painted on the floor tiles - really, it should have been neil patrick harris's laundromat in dr. horrible's sing-along blog). i had no problem holing up there with a book for a few hours at a time - i even felt comfortable making trips back to the apartment to drop off clean loads and bring down more dirty ones. doing laundry, in short, was sort of a joy.

laundry...is a different critter out here. we're within a few blocks of half a dozen laundromats, but none of them seem interested in my hands-on business: there are no chairs, tables, or aisles, really, and most of the washers and dryers at any given place are full of the laundry people have dropped off. if you're lucky enough to snag a machine, you guard it with your life until you're finished with it: unattended clothes are fair game. you don't snag a machine, though, because the laundromat wants you to surrender your bag and vamoose. and...i do, because i figure that after paying manhattan prices for detergent and dryer sheets and use of the machines, i wouldn't save all that much by washing my own underpants. if i factor in how much a few hours of my time are worth (mentally and literally), less-than-impressive ladymag salary or no, i wouldn't even break even by washing my own underpants. so i hand them over to a stranger, and after five years i have stopped feeling like marie antoinette. i wonder every now and again if the guys at the laundromat pay attention to what we give them ("ah, miss haphazard hot sauce is back!"), but i tip well, and i don't give them gross stuff: i don't lose sleep over it. i do lose sleep over the demise of our local, which went down suddenly while we were in california last month and caused laundry havoc on surrounding blocks (never did i think i would bond with a bartender over how delicately a third party folded our jeans). no one knows quite what happened to our guys (renovating? lost their lease, like our vet did on the same block last year? got sick of our underwear?), but i hope they're okay: they weren't the missing sock, but they were good neighbors.


the dirty dozen, part four: fin

10 new york, she is like a fancy european cheese: her footiness is detectable at low temperatures (fall and winter), but it's when she sits around and has a chance to warm up that you really get a feeling for the funk she can perpetrate. i'm talking about the celebrated smells of summer, mostly, but we're learning that the funk can be palpable, too: poor joe has been waking up with various combinations of sinus headaches and phlegmy coughs since june, and i've been feeling a little foggy in the AM myself. it sucks, but i figured we were doomed to pay the price of superpolluted city living (we're not about to close the bedroom window overnight: it would get way too stuffy in there*). cue the 'duh' moment, when i read a coworker's blog post about the life-altering air purifier she bought to tackle her fiancé's asthma. it worked for him, predictably, but she started waking up feeling like a million bucks. a fancy airway makeover for the non-asthmatic, you say? from a space-saving beetlejuice-esque pod that activates our dorky design receptors? i asked the coworker if her paean to her purifier was sincere and aye, she said, it's been worth every penny - so a little white 'henry' is now on its way to us. here's hoping the splurge is worth it.

11 according to walk score, san francisco is the most walkable large city in the US. to quote the excellent tara ariano,
I don't want to start, like, an East Coast/West Coast rumble, but IN NO WAY is San Francisco a more walkable city than New York. With all those goddamn hills, it's barely a more driveable city than New York! The last time we were there, I swear we drove up a hill that you couldn't walk unless you had a harness and a spotter. Bullshit.
hee. apparently the "walkability" index considers factors like population density and ignores things like elevation (which, as i discovered in san francisco in the months i made regular trips to the nearest supermarket on foot, via lombard street, is rather key). the city by the bay is cuter (and smells a lot better) than new york, but more walkable? i'm unconvinced.

12 so, the nancy pelosi Q&A in harper’s bazaar: like her look in the opener, both powersuitastic (the armani top) and a little Gypsy Queen of Congress (the trailing bill blass skirt). i think she handled the inevitable beauty regimen and shopping questions well, and struck a few nice strong notes (on sexism and how she'd like to be remembered). i’m kind of fixated on this exchange:
HB: In your book [Know Your Power: A Message to America's Daughters], you write about not cooking.

NP: My daughter Alexandra once told me, “Mother, you’re a pioneer. Now hardly anybody cooks, but you were one of the first to stop.” After 20 years of cooking, I started to appreciate the value of other people’s work. So I would, say, go get a duck in Chinatown. I always had the salad and set the table, but I didn’t have to clean the pots.
a substantive quote about cooking – about not cooking! – from one of the most powerful women in america, and it’s completely inoffensive! really: the little hyperdomestic part of my brain that worries about such things actively tried to be offended by it, and no go. hats off to the pelosi press team: there’s hope for lady dems yet.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 do you use a purifier (or a humidifier, or an atmosphere-altering-fill-in-the-blank)?

02 what are the must-haves in a walkability algorithm? should, say, weather be a factor? how about neighborhood safety? hell, how about odor?

03 how much cooking goes on at your place?

*vaguely related: "why i hate summer," a chord-striking essay by rachel shukert. i love her lines about the heat, which "brings a unique blend of fury and lethargy -- I feel like I could murder someone, and be totally indifferent if they killed me back."


the dirty dozen, part three: the latest issue of the ladymag is dead and you, dozen, you are next

07 my friend meg, a sort-of newcomer to san francisco, asked me about "adorable yet affordable" restaurants in russian hill (the neighborhood where joe and i lived for three years) yesterday afternoon. oddly, i had nothing for her:* we didn't do a lot of dining out close to home, and we also lived in SF at the height of dot com weirdness and flux ('00-'03): a lot of things that existed back then are long gone now, even in our slowest-to-change old 'hood. i'm not especially helpful with recommendations here in new york, either, come to think of it: only a handful of restaurants in hell's kitchen get my seal of approval. is it that proximity breeds contempt?** that i'm extra-conservative when local cred is at stake? that when we bother to get up from the couch, we go far, far away to make the most of inertia? is this problem familiar to you?

08 speaking of food that is awesome, i am frequently disparaged for recommending and/or preparing things that are too spicy for most people to enjoy eat. the feedback that fire burns out the other flavors in my chili is particularly hurtful; i can still taste everything else, thank you. i asked the internets to exonerate me, but science flavors the bland, at least on this point: researchers have found that capsaicin decreases sensitivity to sweetness, bitterness, and umami (the element of taste triggered by MSG). that said, sensitivity to sourness and saltiness aren't affected, and everyone knows those are the two best elements of taste, anyway. also, capsaicin prevents cancer, has anti-inflammatory properties, increases metabolic activity, and makes you a better lover. you can take or leave my chili; i'm just saying.

09 after returning to salon's broadsheet blog to re-read a horrifying post on pre-wedding dieting (one fifth of the women in a fitness survey said they'd postpone their wedding if they hadn't met their weight goal in time; more than half of the women in a cornell study said they'd use "extreme dieting methods" to lose weight), i hopped to a new post on a love song for ladies' rooms from the wall street journal online:
[L}adies' room banter is an endless source of wisdom and comfort. My ladies' room crowd includes a fashion maven, a globetrotter who knows every good cheap restaurant in Paris, Berkeley and Hong Kong, a marriage counselor, several cancer survivors and a bevy of super-moms. They've guided me about how to survive pre-school interviews and college tours and which internist to choose in my health-care plan. They've advised me about where to get the best cocktail dress, haircut and beach house that won't break my budget. The time I've saved shopping, searching for doctors and worrying about my daughter because of advice gleaned in my office ladies' room has added up to months of work for my company and saved me from numerous multitask meltdowns.
the WSJ piece feels wildly outdated to me: i have the occasional significant conversation with my boss in the loo, but that's because we coincide there more than anywhere else (she's almost never at her desk). my office chats graphically all over the place all the time, which could be because we're one big ladies' room; i think the candor is more generational than gender-based, though. then again, i've been in situations like this one for most of my working life: how would i know?

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 do you find yourselves resenting strangers at the gym, internets? if so, what are their crimes?

02 spices: proof that the universe is fond of us, or brutish dish-killers?

03 is the ladies' room a special, special place?

*i of course thought of something just now, though. go to nick's crispy tacos (a nightclub that turns into a taco shack during the day), meg! draped velvet and cholula, together at last!

**lord knows i'm hard on The Canadian Whimperer, a frighteningly hairy old regular at our gym who cranks his treadmill too high and grips the heart rate sensors like his life will end if he lets go.


the dirty dozen, part two: fruit of the luge

the sexy peaches i brought home from the columbus avenue farmer's market this weekend seemed to want to be made into something other than a dessert (probably because i'm not especially handy with desserts), so i got very excited about the peach chutney recipe* i found yesterday afternoon. it is indeed a very good recipe (the kind that makes your kitchen smell fantastic, and it doesn't require any hard-to-reach exotic spices - i had everything but the fresh stuff in my kitchen already), although whoever noted that it yields eight cups of chutney is smoking the crack: i'd say i ended up with three cups of savory-sweet peachy marvelousness. i haven't actually followed the serving suggestion of chutneying with goat cheese and flatbread, but if the combo tastes as good as it sounds, i may have a new secret weapon for potlucks. apparently i am now the sort of person who uses "secret weapon" and "potlucks" in the same sentence; maybe i'm ready to turn thirty after all.

05 i was tempted, while politely explaining to a terrified-sounding obama fundraiser that i'll almost certainly donate to the campaign again but am unlikely to drop $100 at once and/or give my credit card information to some guy over the phone, to ask about the infamous "politics of fear" new yorker cover. the local news told me yesterday morning that i should be buzzing about it, and buzzing about the buzz about it, but i'm having a hard time: even the missus, a professional democrat, said, "enh, it's more that it wasn't very funny," and lost interest. the buzz-about-the-buzz is a bit juicier, especially (when i'm wearing my magazine journalist hat) the part about how it's the media's responsibility to present information in small, soft chunks for society's most vulnerable thinkers. then again, as i find myself arguing every election cycle, conservatives consistently underestimate the american people, and we liberals overestimate them - and we frequently get our asses handed to us for doing so. is "the politics of fear" a recruitment poster for the right wing'? probably, but what isn't?

06 friday was a dark day here at the ladymag: someone gave me a facebook transcript to support a few facts we're including in an upcoming piece. social networking as bibliography: really, internets? i hate facebook, hated myspace before it, and hated friendster before that. i'm not a public figure, and ye olde kidchamp is the only patch of web i need to expose myself to strangers; most of the people who need my contact information already have it, and searching for it online can't be all that difficult for the few who don't; i am perfectly satisfied with my non-facebook access to scrabble. but! my editor in chief is registered, as are most of the senior editors and all of the associates and assistants i know. that transcript feels like a last straw, and i sometimes feel that i should suck it up and join for professional reasons. i also feel that caving would mean having a high school / college / family reunion in my office, except some people would be tipsy, others would have no pants, and there would be weird strangers milling around trying to sell us shit. and i am too old for that shit.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 any other peach recipes i should know about? potluck weapons in general?

02 what's your take on the new yorker cover?

03 facebook: evil?

*the link is currently down; perhaps oprah's site has been overwhelmed by survivors of those who spontaneously exploded after following her lead** and trying the vegan-no-sugar-no-caffeine-no-booze-no-gluten quantum wellness cleanse.

**that link is down too, natch. don't worry, i'm sure the oprahbots will be on both of them soon.


the dirty dozen, part 1: back from CA for a week, still catching up on work (hooray!)

01 my new favorite thing about ikea (admittedly, not a hotly contested thing): free shuttles to the new red hook location (where people camped out for several days to score free sofas*) are filling up with non-shoppers. according to gothamist,
The free coach style shuttle buses that deliver riders from two Brooklyn subway stops to the new Red Hook IKEA are filling up with passengers who never set foot inside the Swedish retailer. "I'd say before one o'clock, about half the riders from Smith and Ninth Street don't even go into IKEA," one bus driver told the Daily News, adding that many riders are going to a local methodone [sic] clinic for treatment. And, as predicted, freeloaders are pulling the same move with the free Water Taxi between IKEA and lower Manhattan, an area also renowned for its methadone.

02 while it is not my custom to think highly of bars that think highly of themselves, i did fancy s bar, one of the stops on our one-night-only los angeles bar crawl with little sis and her boyfriend. the s probably stands for (philippe) starck, as he designed the place, but in practice it stands for satan in a most excellent way: the bar is lit by dozens of elegant, mismatched table lamps, suspended upside down from the ceiling. the effect is ever so slightly fucked up - how one would imagine a possessed room might look (the bathrooms give the same vibe: each stall is lit by silent movies playing from televisions embedded in the ceiling). old scratch appears on the menu and a few wall murals, so the devil thing is literal too, but it's really all about the lamps. they (and, okay, the fact that we got past the velvet rope even though joe was wearing his "support the right to keep and arm bears" tee shirt) are the reason i didn't break a bottle and start a bar fight when asked to pay like $16 for souped-up hard lemonade.**

03 two months after deadline, i finally made headway on one of the most infuriating items on my 101 in 1001 list (089 frame my college diploma). my dad's garage was the very last place the wily diploma could have picked as a hiding spot, and it wasn't looking good - until i mentioned that it had been wrapped in some kind of blanket, which turned out to be as significant as the "jesus was a carpenter" line from indiana jones and the last crusade. "oh," said dad, "like this!" - and there, right in a cabinet by the door, it was. thank god, as The University wanted $50 for a replacement diploma that 1) wouldn't have the all-important gerhard casper signature and 2) would say COPY at the bottom (assholes). now i have to frame the thing, which is a new problem: should my frame be identical to joe's? i kind of want to go my own way, but i worry that getting something other than the ol' alma mater special will look weird, since they'll be hanging next to each other. then again, he has a white mat and mine would be black (the design changed a bit over the past few years), so we'd have the spy vs spy effect to offset the cheesiness. hmm.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 what's your relationship with ikea? harvard friends told me years ago that in their circles, thrift store hodgepodge was considered wildly unhip and ye olde mass swedish design was much more acceptable (then again, most of them were tech guys); i'm at the other end of the spectrum, obviously, though i'm also extra-mean about big box stores.

02 would you feel guilty about freeloading on the swedish bus?

03 do those of you in long-term relationships find it weird to hang out at It Bars?

04 what did you do with your college diploma?

*the most horrifying of those was a woman who told a local news crew that she didn't really want the sofa but had "never camped out for anything before."

**which is TOTALLY RIDICULOUS, i acknowledge, but worth it for the one-time design inspiration. my drinks usually cost about $3, so it all evens out in the end.