Monday, July 30, 2007

welcome home my friend, welcome home


the drama continues

After a grand total of three phone calls totaling an aggregate of three hours and twenty-five minutes and one very strongly worded email, I have to go to the airport to retrieve my bag. The reason? An impatient gate attendant advising me that my bag - already on its way to New York on a prior flight - would be delivered to me but failing to tell me that I needed to fill out some paperwork that can only be completed in the airport. If I had only filled out some simple form I would have already been reunited with my bag. Instead, after two people in India telling me my bag would be sent to me COD, I learn the only possible way for me to retrieve my red suitcase is to go to the airport.

Rest assured a lengthy, painstakingly detailed letter will be mailed (not faxed or emailed as I was advised those do not get reviewed for some reason) to Delta describing the whole debacle. Just wish me luck that when I arrive at the airport, they will be able to locate my bag.

*************************

On a different note, after I received the discouraging news that I needed to go to the airport, my friend AS IM'd me that she wants a chocolate chip cookie. I quickly agreed I could use one myself. So we decided to snoop around the conference room floor for leftover post-meeting goodies that hadn't been cleaned up yet.

We have never done this before but the conference room catering cookies are really good so I agreed.

After checking out a couple of rooms with open doors and attempting to linger long enough to wait out a meeting that appeared to just be ending, we became discouraged. After one seemingly promising failure I became emboldened by our quest for a cookie. The lights were out in the next conference room so I peeked through the crack in the door and then swung it open. On the marble countertop along the wall catering had arranged a full buffet of sandwiches, fruit and the desired cookie tray.

We stood staring at the vast array and I said, "But no one has opened them yet."

To which AS hastily replied "It doesn't matter. . . you watch the door!" as she noisily pulled at the plastic covering. I gave in and helped her pull the top off and we each grabbed a cookie from the neatly arranged ring, pushed the top back on the tray and suppressed giggles as we each held our stolen cookie behind our backs and darted back into the elevator bank.

Once in the elevator we burst out laughing and relished each nibble of the illicit treat.

After finishing the cookie and returning to my desk, an IM message blinked on my screen and AS said "we should have stolen the whole tray"!

The moral of the story? A good cookie can cure anything.

Recommended Reading

Despite my busy weekend, I managed to finish reading an intriguing book called The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. The book is written from the unique perspective of an autistic teen-age boy. It is quirky and funny and endearing. I haven't had a lot of exposure to autism so it was a fantastic, and from what I have read elsewhere about the book, accurate peek inside the autistic mind. His reactions and behaviors that would have been viewed as startling, confusing, funny and/or weird from my normal perspective felt so much more rational when explained from his point of view. It is a quick read that makes you laugh and breaks your heart. One of the best exercises in challenging biases and judgments you may not have known you had. Pick it up when you get a chance, it is lighter reading than it sounds.

During my airport fiasco yesterday, I picked up a new book which helped me cope: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. I stumbled onto this in a bit of reverse order from my normal preference and saw the movie before picking up the book. So far I am impressed at how true the movie is to the novel (other than switching locations from Boston to New York). I am about half-way through and can already tell I am going to be sad when I am finished and would much rather be home reading it now than sitting in my office working (or rather avoiding work, which is what I am doing at this moment).

I have been on a bit of a reading rampage recently and I also highly recommend Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life by J.M. Coetzee, which was from the NY Times article I referenced last month. Coetzee used a third person narrative in his memoir to, I believe, separate himself from the apartheid South Africa in which he grew up. An excellent thought-provoking read.

I also read The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan for the first time ever. I am not sure how I missed this one earlier but it is beautiful.

Finally, the last book I will push on you today is Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith, who is also the author of A Tree Goes in Brooklyn (also an excellent book, hence the decision to purchase Joy in the Morning). I cannot adequately explain what is so compelling about this book. I loaned it to a friend and she agreed, there is something about her writing that draws you in and keeps you there. It is simple and for the most part uneventful. In fact, for most of the book I was propelled through each chapter with the anticipation of the bottom dropping out and something horrible happening . . . I won't ruin the book but I will say I finished with a smile and a feeling of contentment, but still longing for a bit more.

And that is what I have been reading over the past two months. What about you? After my last book post Katie recommended The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini which I read last summer and thoroughly enjoyed as well as My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult which will be in my next Amazon purchase along with On the Road, by Jack Kerouac (Autumn's suggestion) because I feel a bit behind for never having read anything by Kerouac. So take heart, I welcome and follow through suggestions left in my comments.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

the longest flight I never took

Seeing the clouds and thick air outside my hotel window this morning, I questioned my decision to fly home rather than take the train. Pushing these doubts aside, I packed my suitcase knowing I was over the FAA's requisite amount of liquid with my 4.6 ounces of contact solution (must be in a 3 ounce bottle!) and I thought I probably had too many lip glosses and lotions to fit in a single plastic bag. In retrospect, I should have tossed the contact solution. . . The train would be easier but three and a half hours is longer than a 45 minute flight so I stuck with the original plan. My flight wasn't scheduled until 230 but I was tired of the sub-par food at the Ritz Carlton (seriously, it wasn't that good) and in desperate need of some veg out time in my own apartment after a full weekend of meetings with co-workers, so I checked out at 11 and headed for the airport assuming I would be able to get on an earlier flight and be home before 3 at the latest. Normally, there are shuttle flights between DC and New York every hour, I didn't think that Sunday would be different.

Another mistake. At 1130 I discovered, despite the listing of a 1230 flight on the airport departure board, the next flight wasn't until 130. So I bought a new book at Borders and waited patiently. Just before 1 the sky turned dark and the rain began to beat insistently on the terminal windows with intermittent flashes of light and low to roaring thunder. The announcement was made that the 130 plane was circling but could not land due to the lightening.

Then the announcement came that the airport was shut down. SHUT DOWN! No one allowed outside with the lightening.

I continued to read my book and listen to my ipod, all the while regretting my earlier decisions that resulted in me sitting in front of this gate without my suitcase.

The next announcement was around 200 when the gate area was bursting with anxious passengers clutching bags and hunting for a place to wait out the delay. We were told the 130 would leave first. Crowds of people from the 130 and 230 shuttle crowded into two clumps not resembling lines. We were advised that the plane was on its way back (from wherever it was sent during the rain). I bought a bottle of water and a croissant to tide me over and continued reading not seeing the point of standing in the herd, even though the shuttle doesn't have assigned seats I didn't feel anxious to get a primo seat for a 45 minute flight, especially when it was leaving first.

Finally, after the lines were clarified and I saw an actual airplane at the end of the silver walkway out the window, I lined up at Gate 20, wondering why all the 230 passengers at the next gate were nearly all on board when the 130 was supposedly leaving first. The door to my gate shut without passengers.

No announcements were made.

But passengers at the front of my line were being routed onto the 230 flight.

No announcements.

People were restless, I read and re-read the same passages in my book, unable to concentrate as people explained their predicaments around me. It was then that I learned the 1130 flight boarded, may or may not have taken off, then unloaded and some of those displaced passengers as well as a growing number of 330 people were all milling around my line forming a mob of very impatient New Yorkers.

The 230 door shut and the crowd speculated. Rumblings of cancellation fluttered through the line. I approached the desk and waited for answers. A very short tempered gate agent explained on the intercom that everyone who wanted to go to Laguardia needed to put down their cell phones, take out their ear phones and LISTEN because she would only say this once. The 130 flight was canceled, we could go wait for the 330 at Gate 15.

The herd of us, bonded by our new common enemy, rushed to Gate 15 to wait.

At Gate 15, nothing happened. After a bewildering wait without communication, just weary and restless passengers waiting for direction and the gate attendants refusing to make eye contact, an angry old man demanded information and turned to share his precious news with everyone in a booming voice -

"THEY HAVE NO CAPTAIN FOR THE 330!!! WE AREN'T GOING ANYWHERE!!"

More speculation, more re-reading of paragraphs until the announcement shortly after 3 that the people on the 230 flight would be on the runway for at least 2 hours and when they boarded the 330 flight we would be facing a similar wait. For those who did not feel they could handle this, we could get a refund or reschedule for tomorrow.

After inquiring about the location of my luggage and being reassured that it would be delivered to my home because it was already on board the 230 flight, I left. I exchanged my ticket for a refund voucher and caught a cab to Union Station and took the 400 pm Acela train to New York without incident. By 730 I was walking home over the damp New York streets from my subway station.

It wasn't until I was home that I realized the woman who issued my ticket this morning did not give me an envelope with the baggage claim number, instead she stuck it on the back of my ticket. So although I made it home, my cell phone charger, toiletries (including daily asthma medication), MAKE-UP!, shoes, toothbrush, dirty laundry and other sundries, did not.

With one red bar on my cell phone I am sitting on hold with Delta's baggage claim after 36 minutes . . . excuse me I have a live person again. I was just interrupted and told that I could either go to the airport and pick up my luggage or pay for COD for them to deliver my suitcase tomorrow! I did not yell, I did not scream. But I very calmly explained that this is not acceptable. I was told my suitcase would be delivered. Not that I would have to pick it up or pay for it to be delivered. So now I am back on hold to see what can be done to retrieve my small red rolling suitcase that should have accompanied me on a train at 1130 this morning instead of taking its own solo plane ride to end up sitting in a musty back room with countless other lost, unclaimed bags hoping to be reunited with their owners.

46 minutes and counting . . .

still no final word at 1 hour 2 minutes. . . this is precisely how I had hoped to spend what little time I had left in my Sunday evening.

While I'm waiting, I should share some good news. I am going to see the Police Wednesday night! I am really excited. So while I have been on hold I downloaded some classics which include:

Roxanne
Message in a Bottle
Can't Stand Losing You
Don't Stand So Close to Me
Every Little Thing She Does is Magic
Invisible Sun
Every Breath You Take
King of Pain
Wrapped Around Your Finger
Murder By Numbers

I'm pretty proud of my little red battery for holding in there, here is what else I've done on hold:

  • written this post
  • caught up on my blog reading/commenting
  • browsed Target's website for an inflatable mattress
  • finished off my bottle of water from the airport
  • gone to the bathroom (had to, sorry, I was on hold at least!)
  • watered my plants
  • did a couple of pilates roll downs to stretch out my back
  • followed by a couple of twists
  • removed my contacts
  • charged my spare toothbrush
  • turned my a/c off and back on again
  • made a list of things to get for my upcoming vacation
At 1 hour and 12 minutes, I hung up. I was told my bag is at LaGuardia. They cannot reach anyone at LaGuardia but it should be delivered, COD, to me at my office sometime tomorrow. Unless I could just go to the airport and collect it myself - which would include a minimum of two hours of travel time and at least $60 in cab fare. Plus a guaranteed runaround once I am there. Bottom line, I just spent over an hour on the phone to be told to call back tomorrow.

p.s. I went to DC on the train Thursday night without incident. Spent both Friday and Saturday in meetings from 830 to 5 each day followed by 45 minutes or so of "free time" and dinner with the group. Yes, I spent all day Saturday with work people in a hotel conference room. . . I deserve another weekend.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

1997

You've Changed 48% in 10 Years
You've done a good job changing with the times, but deep down, you're still the same person.You're clothes, job, and friends may have changed some - but it hasn't changed you.
How Much Have You Changed in 10 Years?




I have actually been thinking about writing a post about where I was ten years ago for a while, then I stumbled onto this little quiz, thanks to Pepper and all her fun quizzes, which gave me a jump start with this sophisticated determination that I have changed 48% in the last ten years.


Ten years ago to the very day, I was sharing a dorm room with a very odd girl whose name I don't recall in the small town of Neuchatel, Switzerland. I was studying French at the University there with a group from the University of Utah. We spent June touring around Europe and July living in Switzerland, I travelled with a couple of friends in the south of France and Paris before returning home in mid-August. It was idyllic in so many ways, even the hard parts. It was my last quarter of school, although I had walked at graduation a few days prior to my first international adventure. I tearfully left a boyfriend behind knowing (but not wanting to admit) it really would not work out when I returned. I was divorced, having escaped a miserably doomed marriage the previous July but contemplating jumping into another one. I needed the summer abroad to think and play with complete independence.

My days were full. In Switzerland I managed to transform myself into a morning person. Perhaps it was my desire to have the communal bathroom to myself in the early hours that got me out of bed so early. More likely it was the walk to school. Our dorm was up on a hill, and when I say up and hill, I mean straight up a steep mountainside. So steep that the roads and walking paths had to switchback multiple times on themselves to prevent people and cars from tumbling head over heels and landing in the Lake below. The commute to school required two bus rides or a bus ride and a walk. Many mornings that July I opted to rise early before the dorms erupted in chaos and slip out after having a quick bowl of cereal with the strange warm milk from a box that could only be tolerated about once a week.

I vividly recall walking along the side of the road to the gated path that wound the hill through overgrown vineyards and gardens. At one point the path dipped under a road with cold damp stones covered partly in moss bridging overhead. Water was always pooled there regardless of the weather. I continued my journey through the small gardens and onto a larger street until I reached the small train station. Sometimes I arrived at the train station at the same time as the bus with my fellow students and they joined me for the tightly zigzagging walk down to the University and past the pink church. Yes, I said pink church. And believe me it was PINK! At one point some friends and I rode the funicular to the top of the mountain behind our dorm and the pink church was the only way we could locate the building where we attended class a couple of blocks away.

We spent the morning in a small class room with students from around the world with a short cafe break in the middle. After class we rode the bus back to the dorms for lunch, a nap and a bit of studying before afternoon class with the 80+ Dr. Barton who urged us to perfect our verb conjugations and accents with gentle proddings such as "it doesn't take a genius!" He was old and crotchety. On the Tuesdays when we didn't have classes he arranged excursions to other destinations in Switzerland. He often told one group of students to be back at the bus at one time and another group a completely different time and then yelled at whatever group did not arrive when he expected them. We were supposed to tour a chocolate factory. A SWISS CHOCOLATE FACTORY! Ever since we arrived in Neuchatel we had made it a priority to sample as much chocolate as physically possible by dropping by the Super Coop and picking through the vast selection of chocolate bars. Dr. Barton tantalized us with stories about the free samples and the entire process. I envisioned some sort of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory episode with uumpa luumpas and everything.

Sadly, Dr. Barton's senility and the adjunct professor's failure to check the arrangements, resulted in our bus pulling into an empty parking lot and Dr. Barton explaining that they often shut down this late in July. But he asked us to get out of the bus anyway and smell the chocolate in the air. The free samples were yanked right out from under us. We got back on the bus and went to Gruyere instead to tour the cheese factory. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE cheese. I love cheese more than I should. But we arrived a bit late and all we saw was a video of the cheesemaking process as described by a cartoon mouse with a red hat (strangely enough the same video I once saw on PBS) on screens overlooking the plant that for some inexplicable reason was shut down. We did get to peek into the cheese cellar through a small glass window in the door to see the giant wheels of cheese. Then we were each able to take a piece of cheese on a toothpick off a sample tray as we milled around on the lawn wondering when we were heading back to school and if we would arrive early enough to head to the lake.

Lac du Neuchatel was beautiful. There were sandy beaches, volleyball nets, picnic tables and other activities on the shore. We spent sunny afternoons baking in the sun and rainy afternoons playing cards in the dorms and eating chocolate.

Weekends we traveled. I went to Milan one weekend, Bern another and begged for someone to go to Prague with me but that never worked out. I hiked in the Alps and drank from a real Swiss spring only to laugh with my friends that we were going to get Mad Cow's disease from the crazy Swiss cows. Don't ask why but it was funny then and I still remember that hike that looked almost too perfect to be real with the deep green grass growing all on its own and littered with wild flowers of every color. The somehow beautiful black and white cows with their large bells strapped to their neck with thick leather collars. The cabins scattered along the mountainside looked like Heidi's grandfather would soon hobble out with his cane and beard. The fresh pure air we sucked in as we paused to "look at the view" as we stared in disbelief when a little old man with two walking sticks jetted past us without stopping. I'm pretty sure he was wearing lederhosen.

Another Saturday a friend and I went to the Montreux Jazz Festival on the shore of Lake Geneva. We were too poor to buy tickets but we wandered through the festival booths and listened to street performers and admired a statue of Freddy Mercury and a bust of Miles Davis with a trumpet in the stand. I wanted so badly to go in and I could have had my wish if I had been willing to compromise a few things for a couple of guys from Amsterdam who had tickets to share if we shared . . . we figured this all out without a common language. We also visiting the castle at Chillon where Lord Byron was imprisoned.

It was also that month, as I sat writing the pros and cons of my distant boyfriend on a page in my journal that I realized no matter what - whether I married him or didn't - I would be happy. I was sitting further up the lake and away from the activities of the other students on a pile of rocks watching the waves lap against the rocks and occasionally splash up against me. With the realization that I could be happy, even alone, I started the life that led me to where I sit now, still hoping for more but happy nonetheless.

Where were you 10 years ago?

Because I've been negligent and I'm not sure when I will have a chance to write a real post as opposed to stealing and adapting this one

Tiff interviewed herself earlier this week and invited other's to do the same. Here is my interview. I omitted a few questions I couldn't answer relatively quickly.

What characteristic do you strive for most?
Balance. When I moved back to New York a couple of years ago a close friend told me I seemed more "zened out". I wasn't completely sure what she meant by that but I know I am happiest when work, home, family, social, physical and spiritual worlds achieve that delicate equilibrium of contentment.

How do you treat a headache?
A Diet Dr Pepper (or Coke Zero or Diet Coke, in that order) and 2 Excedrin

How do you think birth order affected you as a child?
Obviously it taught me to be the responsible leader I am today and not the despot of terror described by my younger siblings.

What’s your worst habit?
Eating when I'm not hungry. Shoot, I might be doing that right now, but Quakes rice snacks don't count, right?

What is your biggest regret?
There is the obvious one of the failed marriage in my very early 20s which is tinged with regret from the start. But I am not sure I would term that my biggest regret since it is so far in my past and mostly (mostly) forgotten. I think my biggest regret is more tangentially related to that episode - having my college years hijaked by a situation that buried my spirit and stole what should have been much happier years.


What are you most proud of?
My career. I know I didn't do it completely on my own but I certainly did not have the advantages of advice and tutors and monetary support the majority of my co-workers appeared to have in their climb to a similar position. I had the more important emotional support from a family that believes I can be anything.


What are you good at?
Making red velvet cake, chocolate chip cookies and brownies. I also believe I make a good friend.

What are you bad at?
This is a significantly longer list that should probably be topped with singing. I wish I could.

What is spiritual to you?
Family, intimate relationships that no longer require explanations, music, nature. Specifically, my most spiritual moments occur when I am alone in nature - sitting on a rock watching the ocean (or a river, stream, etc); hiking the trail to Crystal Falls (I think that is what it is called) on Cedar Mountain; sitting at the top of the Summit lift at Solitude gathering courage to stand up on my board as I feel the contrast of a bright sun dancing on the snow and sharp air being drawn into my lungs; swinging in a hammock with the dewy air pressing on my skin with the constant buzz of unidentifiable creatures along with the occasional shriek of a howler monkey in the rain forests of Costa Rica . . . you get the idea.


What is depressing to you?
Disloyalty, betrayal, exclusion. Oh and my body that has decided to prove to me that "in your 30s" really is not the same as "in your 20s" no matter my state of mind.

If you could change only one thing about the world, what would it be?
I would make it safer to travel through, which obviously means eliminating war, rape, muggings, violence, etc.

You have a time machine and can go back to change one decision in your life. What is it?
I guess I would choose not to get married at 20. Of course, then I wonder what good and positive things I would have missed because I would have ended upon an entirely different path. Maybe I never would have ended up where I am now if I hadn't made the decision to get married, transfered schools and then divorced. Would I have gained the same toughness that helped me push to where I am now?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

I need another weekend. . .

Living in New York City can beat you down. About once a month I take a Saturday, and sometimes a weekend (especially in the winter), where I do not leave my apartment. I may venture up one flight of stairs to the gym, down 6 flights to the store in the lobby, down the hall to do laundry or up to the roof for some time in the sun but the very idea of conjuring up the inertia needed to venture out onto the streets causes me to retreat to my couch and search for re-runs of 90210 (thank you Soap network). Unfortunately, this isn't how I spent my weekend.

For the last several weeks I have watched July 21st slowly creep closer and closer to the present with skepticism and trepidation. My typical quick fire decision skills failed me and I remained paralyzed as to whether I would remain in the City or head down to DC. My brother had a significant event and my parents were flying out from Salt Lake for it, my other siblings were not able to make it. I was dreading it. Up until 3 pm on Friday I remained undecided and non-commital. My dad's health is not good. But he was cleared by his doctor to make the trip. How could I not take the opportunity to see him just four hours away? How could I even consider skipping a major event in my brother's life? An email from my other brother convinced me to do what I already knew I needed to do - GO!

My parent's said they would understand either way but my other brother validated my concerns and urged me to go, if for no other reason than to support my parents. I checked the train and bus schedules and hunted for car rental deals, I even looked at early Saturday morning flights. My friend was also going down for the weekend and we exchanged emails, text messages and voice messages throughout the day in an attempt to coordinate our trip schedules. I finally settled on renting a car and leaving later that evening.

I left work at 530 and made my way to the Apple store just up 5th Avenue a few blocks and patiently shuffled down the winding staircase under the giant glass Apple cube with the masses of people, mostly tourists. I picked up an ipod car adapter and wound back up to the street and strode home mentally ticking off the things I needed to do before I left to pick up the car.

I was half way home before I realized I had not only forgotten to pick up my three prescriptions that needed refilling five days ago, I failed to call them in. I altered my course and headed back toward the pharmacist cursing my decision to change to a pharmacy near my office rather than near my home. By the time I had filled two of the three prescriptions (the third, less vital, was on some sort of back order until Monday), stopped in to check out the sale at Ann Taylor Loft and was back on track for home, it was 7 o'clock. The City was getting to me. Exhausted, I called my friend to see if he would be leaving with me that night and he told me to call when I finished packing. I dawdled. I slowly pulled out two day's worth of clothes, toiletries, shoes and underwear, stopping to rest on the couch and eat carrots and hummus periodically. I was obviously not in a rush. I weighed the pros and cons of driving down late Friday night versus driving down early Saturday morning. I went down to the store to pick up some milk to make some dinner and picked up my smallest piece of luggage from my storage unit. When I returned to my apartment, Howard had called to inform me he was still tied up at work and would take the train down in the morning.

I finished my dinner, placed the items laid out on my bed into the bag and questioned whether I could make the drive. I decided to head to Newark to pick up the car and make a decision then whether I should leave in the morning. As I sat on the dingy train, leaning on my bag I closed my eyes and tried to focus on my music rather than the caucophony of voices seeping through my headphones - the baby crying across the aisle, the sharp and grating voices of conversations spoken louder than necessary and the squeals and scrapes of the train as it pulled out of Penn Station, the lights flickering on and off. I knew I needed a break from the near-constant press of humanity that is always close at hand in New York. Renting a car was the solitude I needed.

It was nearly 10 before I pulled out of the rental car parking lot at Newark airport. I followed the insistent voice of the navigation system through the maze of criss-crossing freeways leading toward the New Jersey Turnpike and on to my final destination in Maryland. I wasn't on the road an hour before each of my siblings called and one by one they joined my road trip via conference call. We talked and talked, sometimes on top of each other, laughing and joking and continuing the conversations we had started on email earlier in the afternoon. I felt like we were back in my parent's living room sprawled across a couple of couches, my feet propped on someone's lap. Jason getting his head or back rubbed, Nick telling stories trying to entertain and Erin always surprising us with the funniest comment. At various points along the drive, the road would curve west and the clouds would part to reveal an oversized crescent moon tinged a bright orange glow. It was comforting and nostalgic. The hours slipped by quickly and my mom was surprised and confused when she called to check on me to be greeted by each of her children talking me through the late night drive.

My cell phone battery fell to one ominous blinking red bar and one by one my siblings dropped off the call to return to their spouses or fiance and I was left with my mom until the navigation woman's directions became more frequent and demanded my full attention. When I pulled into the hotel parking lot not long after 1 am, I was glad I had made the decision to drive down that night, rather than making the attempt to wake up before 6 on a Saturday.

Sharing a hotel room with my parents, I awoke early the next morning to the sound of a wrapper loudly crinkling despite halted attempts to keep it still. Following the rustling came an even less successful attempt by my father to quietly chew a crunchy Nature's Valley granola bar. My mom must have stirred on their bed because he loudly whispered to her "oh, am I chewing too loudly?" Exasperated I said "YES!" and my mom and I started laughing as my dad tried to explain he needed to eat with his medication at whatever ridiculously early hour it was (before 8). There was no sleeping from that point on so we opted to talk and catch up until my mom left to pick up bagels with my brother for breakfast.

I am not sure what to write about the rest of the day. It was personally difficult for me. My brother and his wife were sealed in the temple. Her parents and many of the same family and friends as those who attended their wedding were there. We felt a bit on the outside. We, meaning the parents and sibling who had once considered her brother among her closest friends. It was hard and that is all I will say.

Here is a photo of me with the happy couple. I rarely like photos of myself but I love what is going on with my hair so I had to post this.
I spent a little bit of time with my brother and our mom at his apartment. Here we are posing in our over-sized shades.
After some afternoon naptime (I wouldn't recommend taking a nap curled up on a hotel loveseat, not too comfortable), we returned to my brother's apartment for a dinner of fresh Maryland crab.
It was hard work cracking them open and peeling out the tiny morsels of flesh so Nick decided to attack one head on.
I was scheduled to leave around noon today and was ready to hit the road by 11 but needed to say goodbye to Nick and his wife. Plus I was starving and really wanted to beg a bowl of cereal off of him. We didn't go over to their place (which was conveniently located on the other side of the parking lot from our hotel) until noon and I didn't leave until it was nearly one. But before I even pulled out of the parking lot my mom called to ask me to come back. Their car had been towed. I called Howard to tell him I would be even later picking him up in Virginia and drove Nick and Meadow to the impound lot to collect their car. I spent the rest of the day in the car. First driving to Virginia to collect Howard and his new fiancee (he finally proposed last night even though the wedding is almost completely planned for September!!), then driving back through DC, then Maryland, Delaware and then the dreaded New Jersey Turnpike where 2 miles to the next rest area can literally turn into 20 minutes! This was especially tortuous considering how badly I needed to pee. Since lunch I had drunk (drank?) a bottle of water and about 16 to 20 ounces of Coke Zero. My bladder is not used to holding it! It didn't help that Howard thought it was funny to make water noises, suggest various bushes on the side of the road I could hop out and use and tell bizarre stories about how his mother made him pee in a bottle as a kid so they didn't have to stop on road trips - his fiancee said her mom made her brother do the same thing and I decided that it must be a Korean thing because thankfully my mother never made my brothers do that!

When we finally made it to the service area, there was a backup of cars in the parking lot I had to skirt around before I could stop at the entrance, jump out of the car and run in - leaving behind my purse and the keys in the ignition so Howard could find a parking spot. To my horror the line to the women's restroom was at least 10 to 12 women deep snaking out the door. Gratefully, I managed to make it to a toilet but not after a considerable amount of discomfort, for this I blame the entire state of New Jersey.

I also blame New Jersey for the backlog of cars entering the Holland Tunnel. I usually use the Lincoln Tunnel as it is a few blocks from my apartment but Howard lives downtown so I (and our trusty navigator voice) thought the Holland Tunnel was the better option. It was excruciating! We all thought we would be home by 700, maybe 8 with traffic. I didn't reach my apartment until nearly ten. TEN! I was in the car nine hours for what should have been a four hour drive. And that is how I was welcomed back by my fair city, I think I need one more weekend day to hibernate in my apartment.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Rain

It's raining here in New York today so here is what I was listening to as I made my way to and from court this morning through the soggy streets, on the damp and muggy subway platform and on the overly crowded, late-running train.

Rainy Day, Guster
Raining Again, Moby
The Rain Song, Led Zeppelin
The Gentle Rain, Astrud Gilberto
Love Rain, Jill Scott
Mudfootball, Jack Johnson
Fool in the Rain, Led Zeppelin (most appropriate, no?)
Rain, Rusted Root
No Rain, Blind Melon
Banana Pancakes, Jack Johnson
Love, Reign O'er Me, Pearl Jam (okay, different type of rain but it works)
Somewhere Over the Rainbow, 12 (from Tiff's favorite cd mix!)
Look to the Rainbow, Astrud Gilberto

For some reason listening to this playlist on a rainy day makes me feel a little bit better about the dismal weather. Any other suggestions to expand my playlist?

What's for dinner?

The Times has 101 suggestions that take 10 minutes or less . . . seriously. In my brief perusal it appears the items you should stock your pantry with generally include olive oil (my fave), basil, garlic, pasta and maybe a lobster and clams - I don't generally have these last two swimming around my apartment but maybe I should look into installing a tank.

Read them here.

Monday, July 16, 2007

sushi

As often happens with me during the hour I shut my office door to eat a salad and read the NY Times online, an article sparked an idea for a post. This article entitled Sushi for Two brought back memories about my introduction to sushi.

Seven years ago when I first arrived in New York City, I had never tasted sushi. Not due to any particular aversion, mostly just a lack of opportunity. On my first day of work I was told that I was selected to go to the Tokyo office for a couple of weeks and that I would be leaving on in three days. I was excited for a number of reasons but sushi did not top that list. A couple of attorneys offered to take me out for my first sushi experience and then proceeded to abuse my naive willingness to try anything. We went to a small sushi bar tucked away on a side street under the towering shadow of the World Trade Center. We sat at the bar and my colleagues (whom I was trying to impress because it was only my third day on the job) proceeded to order for me. I cannot recall the names of anything I tried but I vividly remember nearly panicking when I thought one particular piece was somehow expanding in my mouth and refused to go down. I didn't have a napkin and my water glass was empty and I thought I would never make it through just chewing. Somehow I managed but I must say, I was not entirely enamored with the idea of eating it again.

Of course, as soon as I arrived in Japan sushi opportunities presented themselves over and over and I slowly began to appreciate it as I took less ambitious tastings to ease myself in. I especially loved the tiny little sushi bars with the plates of sushi that would float by in water conveyer belt fashion. Instead of ordering you simply selected what appealed to you as it floated past in a little boat. When you were done you collected your plates and paid for the stack. By my last night in Tokyo I was a pro. Another summer associate had just arrived from New York to replace me and unlike me he was a seasoned sushi eater and could not wait to try the authentic stuff. I led the way to a small sushi bar near our hotel and impressed him with the one or two phrases of Japanese I managed to pick up in my 13 days in the country (none of which I can remember now other than ichi means one). In the tiny restaurant with two bars running along the walls in an L shape and only a couple of empty tables, we stood out when we ducked under the fabric hanging in the doorway and made our entrance. I was used to this because that is what I had been doing for the last two weeks - always grateful for the photos on the menu. We sat at the bar and my companion was beaming with excitement. We began pointing and badly pronouncing the Japanese names of the fish we wanted. As our meal wore on it was clear that we had the attention of most everyone in the restaurant. Our chef began offering different types of fish for us to try (we were on an expense account and didn't worry about the cost) and the other diners waited patiently for us to dip the piece in soy sauce and after popping the whole thing in our mouths we would give an exaggerated nod of approval and the chef would smile and a murmur of approval rippled through the restaurant. The item I remember most was when the sushi chef held up an eel. I recoiled a bit and shook my head initially but upon seeing the looks of disappointment and the gestures of encouragement I agreed to try it. I not only liked, I loved it and it must have shown on my face because I vividly remember clapping. Clapping! It was an experience not to be forgotten.

This article reminded me how fun it is to sit at a sushi bar and let the chef give you an adventure in eating. I haven't done that in a long time and oddly enough the last time I did was in Salt Lake. If you want an excellent sushi experience, go to Takashi on Market Street and sit at the bar. Chef Takashi is by far the best and he is entertaining to watch and will help you expand your palate.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Recap

My concern over too much sun on the roof proved to be well-founded but slightly misplaced. When I returned from the gym my face was that special shade of red reserved for post-exercise, extreme lack of oxygen look on a humid day despite indoor air conditioning. I took a cooler than usual shower that felt surprisingly good in an effort to bring my face back to its regular flesh tone. Without steaming the mirrors, I was able to immediately see upon exiting the shower that my red nose had little to do with thirty minutes on the eliptical with my new workout playlist and more to do with my forgetting to apply sunscreen to my face. I would be meeting my blind date as rudolph with a faint hint of racoon eyes. Luckily after a bit more foundation and powder than usual I was able to feel presentable. More than presentable.



Walking out of my building in my new favorite dress, I ran into my neighbor who boosted me with a simple "you look amazing." I was cutting it close and only had fifteen minutes to reach the restaurant on time. Luck was still on my side and a cab was waiting right in front, collecting the fare from the exiting passengers. I climbed in, gave the address and my driver asked "who's the lucky guy?" As we sped down the nearly traffic-less West Side Highway with the Hudson to my right and the sun just starting to consider its descent, my driver continued tossing compliments over his shoulder then told me about his family in Yemin and the beautiful house he just finished building. He told me how life doesn't completely begin until you find a companion who makes each day worth any amount of sacrifice and shared an Arabic saying and something from Muhammad that I unfortunately forgot. I even obliged him and removed my sunglasses so he could see my eyes and did not feel creeped out when he told me to let my date get lost in them.



I walked into the restaurant one minute late and had no trouble spotting him sitting on the white leather couch to my left. He was probably around six feet tall and very thin with a shaved head and glasses. He was neither attractive nor unattractive, the type of guy who could improve with a good sense of humor and charm and he was visibly nervous. Initially, he had a difficult time holding eye contact and seemed paralyzed in conversation. I realized immediately I would be taking the lead. Our table was a few short inches from two older women seated next to us who from their loud conversation and monopolization of the waiter's time with questions about the City appeared to be from out of time. It was a distraction that did not improve my dining partner's comfort level.



With a significant amount of questioning on my part and a bit of rambling personal disclosures from my end as well, even without return questions, we made it through dinner without too many awkward silences. I felt the entire team of wait staff that was stationed not far from our table waiting for our water level to dip an inch below the surface and possibly placing bets on our back story. I may have imagined it but I think our very attractive server with the New Zealand sounding accent may have been giving me knowing, sympathetic smiles for enduring a somewhat uncomfortable, but tasty, dinner.



I don't want to create the false impression that the date was an unbearable bore. It wasn't. He relaxed as we moved from the complimentary amuse bouche of strawberry gazpacho soup served in a beautiful handle-less white tea cup into our appetizers, he revealed his interests. Working, running and reading - non-fiction only. No travel interests. Doesn't take vacations. Runs 20 to 25 miles a week on purpose. Ran 13 miles earlier in the day so he "wouldn't have too much energy." Self-described clean freak and manic. Works 70 to 80 hours a week. A week. Doesn't socialize. At all. Checked his blackberry during dinner because it was "going crazy" on a Saturday night. Saturday!



The setting was beautiful, through the glass windows over his left shoulder I watched the sun slide spectacularly into the Hudson River with two orange streak slicing horizontally and vertically with perfect right angles. My skate fish with julienned vegetables was excellent. His well done steak that he sliced into multiple pieces before taking a bite looked unappealing without a trace of pink or even red but he seemed to enjoy it. I especially enjoyed the ginger beer our server urged us to try because it was freshly made on site.


I was disappointed when he suggested we pass on dessert at a restaurant known for its desserts and walk to find something else but agreed a walk would be nice. I did not realize that a leasurely walk through the Village would feel more like a sprint in two and half inch wedges trying to keep up with someone who had already ran 13 miles earlier that day. It is rare that I struggle to keep up walking in New York. We wandered and continued sharing and divulging pieces of our lives that really only overlapped for that one dinner. He had a difficult time choosing a place for dessert because too many of them looked dirty or one *gasp* actually had someone playing the trumpet inside!

We selected a risky place, an Italian bakery that he thought was promising because it smelled like bleach. Not really how I select bakeries but I agreed to try it and selected a brownie sundae that could have been better and he pieced at a raspberry tart.

By the time dessert was over I realized we were chatting far more comfortably but maybe that was because I had resorted to telling stories about our mutual friend - such as our midnight bobsledding and camping (he shuddered) trip in Yellowstone years ago. When we reached 7th Avenue he abruptly asked if he could "put me in a cab" and I realized the date was over. As he held the cab door open and I thanked him again for dinner and dessert he handed me a $20 bill. I told him it was not necessary and he said "please, it is on me." I did not realize that sort of gesture happened in real life but there you go.

As my cab retraced my route from two hours earlier heading north on the West Side Highway I did not receive compliments from my driver and I don't think I noticed the Hudson River as I gave my mom a recap of the evening emphasizing that although I believe he is quite neurotic, OCD and possibly truly manic as he claimed, it wasn't the worst blind date I had been on and I really didn't mind that my friend had lined us up. He isn't a bad guy and it wasn't a painful ordeal. Just not a love connection.

When I reached my apartment I dashed inside, made a quick change from my dress to some white shorts and a black short-sleeved tuxedo ruffled front top and jumped in another cab happy I would not be too late for my friend's surprise birthday party. I knew she was sad and upset that I was not able to make her birthday dinner and I loved getting a shreak of delight and a hug when she spotted me walking onto the roof. The party was small and was not attended by anyone of particular interest to me but it felt good to relax and talk to people who didn't recoil at the idea of "domesticated animals." Of course there was a considerable amount of recoiling when, as I was talking to a friend (coincidentally TW of last summer's dating dramas), a large cockroach peeked around the side of his shirt, its long antenna twitching. I was told I screamed and I know I jumped back. TW claimed he expected something worse from my reaction but a number of people were screaming and putting as much distance as the roof allowed between themselves and the cockroach. It was close to two inches long and a couple of boys stepped up and tag teamed the nasty roach by capturing it in a cup and then smacking it to death with a flip flop. I offered my heavy cork-soled wedges but was told the narrow heel didn't offer enough surface space so the killer had to hit the thing a number of times before we all felt safe to mingle again.

Even though the blind date was not a success, I think I learned, as pointed out by my cab driver earlier that evening, that a good attitude will always take you places. Mine made a blind date an enjoyable evening.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

managing expectations

I set my book aside to reposition myself on the deck chair whose wooden slats had grown hard pressing through the towel and my shorts, reminding me that my hip bones haven't quite disappeared completely. The heat of the bright sun was tempered by the heavy breeze that swirls 40 stories above the City streets, blowing in from the river. Shifting to my back I spritzed more greasy sunblock on my arms and legs hoping 15 spf would be enough to prevent burning but light enough to allow the sun to brown my skin a little. For nostalgia, I picked up my ipod and switched from the lyric-less jazz of Charles Mingus to my Red Rocks playlist. Dropping my head back on the small pillow I keep in a tote with my towel for sunning on the roof, I listened to Led Zeppelin, The Indigo Girls, Pink Floyd and Neal Young and considered how I should spend the next four hours before my date. Do I continue reading on the roof despite the fact that I have run out of water and am getting bored even though my book is good. Do I try and find a birthday present for my friend even though I'm not sure I will make it to her surprise party tonight? Do I make a salad or a smoothie - I'm not hungry yet, still full from the french toast I made at 11 but if I'm going to eat I should do it well in advance of dinner. Maybe I should go to the gym. . . . or maybe I will write.

I don't feel anxious or nervous or even that excited. I'm not sure how I feel. Tonight's blind date was originally scheduled to take place a couple of weeks ago. I already worried what I would wear (thanks for all of you I polled via email for your advice) and what I would think of him and what he would think of me back then. When it was postponed I half expected it not to make it back on the calendar. The emails we have exchanged leave me wondering if he is intellectual, formal, uptight, smart, entitled and/or pretentious or maybe he is just sarcastic with a sardonic wit that doesn't come across quite right in an email. Does he ponder the verbose emails he types in an effort to come across as intelligent or do they simply reflect his speaking pattern? If so, what do I think of that? How do I feel about someone who has already asked me via email whether I eat fried foods and exercise regularly - even if in context it was meant to be humorous banter. What does he think of me for my meant-to-be-funny-but-mostly-misunderstood response emails? This is why I try not to think about it.

My friend Ruby is so excited about this particular set-up, not because she had anything to do with it or knows anymore than I do about this finance-type, faceless name but because I think she wants to will it to work. We want so much for our friends and family, sometimes we let our expectations and hopes for them out-soar their own. When the initial date was canceled (family emergency on his end), I did not feel much of a let down but I felt bad breaking the news to her and everyone else who was crossing their fingers for me that day.

He is taking me to an extremely upscale restaurant in Tribeca which caused a frenzy over what to wear the first time around. With the dress selected and no need for a fresh pedicure, there isn't much left for me to be concerned about other than - why such a nice restaurant? I feel comfortable in these types of restaurants after years of work lunches, dinners, interviews, etc. but never with a date, on a Saturday night, with someone I have never met. Is he trying to impress me or is this a norm for him?

Some time ago I began describing myself as an optimistic realist. I determined this was a suitable description since I really don't consider myself an unqualified optimist but I am too much of a daydreamer to be considered a pessimist. I daydream about good things happening to me - meeting someone new, or working things out with an ex-boyfriend (better visualization). These dreams keep me moving forward, as they do most people I suspect. But I am very realistic when it comes to actual events. Especially blind dates. I have never had a good one. And until a few months ago, I had never had one that was even tolerable, they were always more of an endurance challenge than something done for enjoyment. Honestly, one guy took me to Jamba Juice, we sat at the one and only table (which wasn't really for lingering) and nearly the first thing he asked me was "so, do your parents pressure you a lot about getting married?" Another blind date tried to hold my hand before we even made it in the restaurant and was baffled when I wouldn't let him, then insisted we go ice skating even though he had never been. Yet another blind date interrogated me as to why I'm divorced and accused me of not ever wanting to have a family because I was a "career type" (that was at BYU). So I haven't had much luck at this sort of thing. I usually walk away wondering what on earth the hopeful match-maker had seen in me that meshed with this person other than our coincidentally coinciding singleness. I want to grab photos and descriptions of past boyfriends and show the match-makers to prove that I am perfectly capable of attracting interesting, funny, successful, intelligent and attractive men all on my own, thank you very much.

So why did I agree, once again to accept a blind date despite my past experiences? First, what do I really have to lose. My time? I seem to have an excess of that these days. My social calendar is not in a position to exclude offers. Secondly, I am intrigued by this one. Although I have never met him, I have heard of him and wanted to meet him. Plus, our match maker knows full well what type of guys I have dated. He is the best friend (since high school) of one of my ex-boyfriends. A good one who I actually dated two different times. I have known this guy and his wife for close to ten years and he described my date-to-be as a very close friend. So I figured, whether it is a match or not, it is a compliment that he thought of me to set up with his close friend. And if this guy was a complete loser wouldn't his wife advise against the match?

I'll let you know how it goes, I'm going to the gym now.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

impressions

Obsessing over what others think of me is a recurring insecurity. I try to brush it off as not being important but I can't help but wonder whether I'm making a lasting imprint and, if so, whether it is positive or negative. I know there are people upon whom I leave deep, rutted tracks. The type where even after months or even years of inattention, with grass and wildflowers growing up in the center, I am still rememered - for good or for ill. We were both impacted, the impression is not in doubt. Upon others I see my impression as light - a leaf landing in mud that can either be trampled on, covered up and soon forgotten or petrified and later treasured for its delicacy and fortitude. But with so many people passing through our daily lives, how do we know if our overall impact is positive?

I began questioning this anew after viewing a friends photos. I recognized one particular person as having been in my ward several years ago. My friend filled in some details and I recalled a bit more of what I once knew of him. My friend then pointed out that this person's wife remembered me as well. The wife did not look familiar but I remembered that he married a girl from the ward and I assumed five years, a different hairstyle and large sunglasses obscured what I would have remembered about her. My friend launched into a "funny" story this woman told about being at a dinner with me and me demanding she pay . . . or something to that effect. When my friend realized this story was not entirely funny to me and actually quite confusing, he claimed to not remember the whole thing and refused to relay more. It was clear, her only view of me was quite negative and in my memory I can barely make out that we ever had dinner together and the idea of me demanding she pay seems out of character, especially since I avoid (at all costs) being the person to collect money at the end of a large group dinner. And even more specifically, I learned early on in residing in New York that a group of more than six Mormons in New York means always tossing in extra money because someone underpaid. I attribute this to a number of issues: people not accounting for tax, tip, shared appetizers, someone leaving early, the number of drinks they ordered, etc. My solution is never to point fingers at someone in blame. But why should it bother me that all these years later, a woman I barely even knew (I don't know if I ever even knew her name) seems to hold a grudge against me for something I sincerely doubt I did. I guess it bothers me because she retold the story, her version of the story, to a good friend of mine who I gathered did not defend me but seemed amused by it, or as he said the way she told the story.

It reminded me of something that happened a few years ago which I have termed "the muffin story." I was living in Salt Lake and, for better and sometimes worse, actively involved in my ward's social scene. I had not been in the ward for long and there was one particular girl who seemed to have a serious dislike for me. She was close with other girls I was friends with and one day I finally asked one of them why this girl walked away when I was talking or sneered at me and just seemed to intensely hate me. I expected an insincere "oh, you are just imagining things, she doesn't hate you" reassurance, instead I was told "that's because she does. Because you threw a muffin at her and laughed that one time." I was beyond baffled. When, where and why would I throw a muffin at her (or anyone) and laugh? As her side of the story unfolded (as relayed by the mutual friend), I was close enough in time to the event in question to understand the confusion.

My ward was attending a Utah Symphony concert at Deer Valley in late summer. I drove up with my brother and another friend. Throughout the drive up we were engrossed in a book called "The Hipster Handbook" a friend had loaned me. Quickly absorbing the new lingo into our dialogue we were in a rather ridiculous mood by the time we spread our blanket on the hillside and continued to entertain ourselves with our new source of comedy. As at any ward event, there was food spread out and people were passing licorice, cookies and yes, even muffins from blanket to blanket. Caught up in our hysteria I did not see the girl behind me tossing pieces of muffin at the girls a couple of blankets in front of us to gain their attention. I likewise missed the launching of the extra large muffin that hit my hater because I was trying to work in deck, fin, berries and frado into my new hipster lingo. I can honestly say, I was neither throwing muffins nor laughing at the hapless victims of misguided assault muffins. I was completely oblvious of the scene around me. But when she was hit, she very well could have turned around and seen me laughing and misinterpreted the scene.

I never cleared up the muffin misunderstanding, it felt too trivial and the impression appeared to be too deeply made. I couldn't imagine how the conversation would sound to try and correct the story, so I let it go. For better or worse, not everyone will like me. I realize this. I guess for me, I just like to know and understand why.

For this and so many other reasons, I am ever curious about what type of first impression I make on others. Feel free to share yours, if you remember.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Teriyaki Sauce

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/2 tsp garlic powder
3/4 cup soy sauce
3 Tb cornstarch dissolved in 1/2 cup water

Mix sugar, water, garlic powder and soy sauce in medium sauce pan - bring to a boil (sauce will start to foam right before boiling).

Turn down heat and add cornstarch.

Remove from heat.

meal planning

This article in today's NY Times has some great tips, tricks and suggestions for quick and easy meal planning. Of course, most of them are completely inapplicable to me as a single, childless work-a-holic who rarely makes it home in time for dinner (except for nights when I'm willing to wait until 9 because I have leftover mushroom risotto waiting, like the last two nights!). However, it did remind me of a couple of periods in my past when I lived and cooked with/for other occupants of my home and I have to say the meal planning thing is the best. Below are a few of my stand-by meals that can be thrown together quickly.

Mexican Salad
kidney beans
black beans
red beans (really any beans, I love chick peas too)
corn
tomatoes
shredded cheese
olives
avocado
salsa or Catalina dressing
tortilla chips
fresh baby spinach or romaine lettuce

Toss together and enjoy! You can switch this up a bit by adding meat - chicken (or I'm guessing hamburger, although I don't like it) seasoned with taco mix but I generally don't bother. You can make it less fattening (and less Mexican) by omitting the cheese or avocado and using only salsa or a non-fat Italian dressing.

When I lived with my brother and sister, they loved this one - I would make a huge batch of it and if there was any leftover it would disappear immediately the next day after someone pulled it out of the fridge and we would all be lured into the kitchen to scoop it all up with tortilla chips.

Paninis
I've already shared one of my panini concoctions. I get creative with this one all the time - whatever is in the fridge, I toss between a couple of slices of bread with some hummus and/or cheese, usually with a fried egg as well. Generally, it turns out to be a glorified grilled cheese. Always satisfying.

Leftovers
Speaking of eggs, I have discovered that instead of reheating pasta or rice dishes in the microwave, it is like a whole new meal if you reheat it on the stove and toss in a fresh egg or two. Some fresh sauce aids this process as well. Try it, you will look at leftover pasta in a whole new light!

Bean Crisps (don't call it a quesadilla)
I owe this one to Michele. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

tortilla - buttered on one side
refried beans
cheese

place the beans and cheese on half of unbuttered side of the tortilla
fold tortilla in half over the beans and cheese
toss in a skillet to melt the cheese and turn the tortilla a nice crispy golden brown

Although I generally stick with the basic bean crisp, sometimes I will toss in other ingredients like tomatoes, lettuce or chicken but then it is more a quesadilla than a bean crisp.

Chicken
I haven't done this in a long time but once upon a time when I was diligent at this sort of thing and never ate out. I would buy chicken breasts, cut them up and cook them in a little olive oil and pepper (possibly with other seasonings like an onion or garlic if I had them), then divide the cooked chicken into single meal portions in ziplock baggies and store in the freezer. Then, when I wanted stir-fry or some other meat concoction, I already had the meat pre-cooked and all I had to do was dethaw and toss it in with the sauce or meal I was making.

Stir-fry
Speaking of stir-fry, I have a couple of favorites. The first is a very simple mushroom teriyaki. I don't have the teriyaki recipe with me at the moment but it is very simple and only requires soy sauce, sugar, garlic and corn starch (maybe something else, I know the recipe states the MSG is optional - who has MSG??). While you cook the rice, start the sauce. Then saute some mushrooms with a little butter or olive oil and garlic. When the rice is almost finished, steam some broccoli and carrots (or other veggies, these are my favorites). Then mix it all together! Sometimes I also add peapods, bamboo shoots or waterchestnuts or the chicken from the freezer. Total time is about 30 minutes.

My second stir-fry dish uses a Thai peanut sauce. I buy the packet of dry mix at the store (at most grocery stores in the asian food section near the soy sauce, it is an orange packet with a picture of an elephant on it), all you do is add coconut milk for the sauce. While the sauce is cooking, start the rice. Then pick your vegetables. For this one red potatoes and carrots are delicious! I also love to add broccoli, pea pods, fresh peanuts and onions or whatever vegetable looks enticing in the produce section. Steam the veggies and then add them to the sauce in a large frying pan or wok (I don't have one) until they are soft - the potatoes can be boiled separately to speed things up. Again, serve over rice with a total cook time of about 30 minutes.

That is all I can think of without my battered blue binder of recipes nearby. I guess I used to be ambitious and pre-make sauces as well. I loved the suggestion in the article about freezing pesto sauce in icecube trays!! I think that would work well with marinara and maybe even my teriyaki sauce.

Oh and Michele's mom has a fantastic enchilada recipe that freezes really well. The summer I was studying for the bar I made a large batch at the beginning of the summer, then froze two or three at a time in small tupperware containers and I had a fridge full of homemade frozen dinners! That would probably work for a family too - just make ahead and pop in the oven on enchilada night.

So now my question is, what do you do for quick and easy meal planning?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

lunch

My severely chilled office frequently requires more than just a light sweater and often tempts me to turn on the heater stored under my desk but the near three digit temperatures outside demand far less than sleeves and long pants so my thin summer dress is hidden under a not quite matching cardigan and I try rubbing my legs together to stem the outbreak of goosebumps that lead to rapid hair growth (or so I'm convinced). Hungry, I welcome the stuffiness of the elevator before I pass from the cool, marble lobby through the revolving door to be not so gradually hit by the steamy weight of high humidity that blurs the edges of cars and buildings in the haze of the bright sunshine. My hands are still cold from sitting in my office but if I move too quickly or linger too long, beads of perspiration will pop out on my forehead, lip, chest and back to run together and pool in inapproporiate places. The sidewalks are crowded with tourists and other officeworkers, most wearing as little fabric as possible - small strapless sundresses, spaghetti straps, short shorts and loose fitting tees while the men seem to suffer in long pants, long sleeves and even worse - shoes and socks. Occasionally a heavy jacket or sweater is spotted and I know the wearer, like me, is forced to dress for a different season inside and almost welcomes the smothering heat as long as the encounter is brief. In line waiting for my salad the chill of the deli's hard working air conditioning makes me grateful for the 20 feet I will walk in the steam bath before returning to my over-air conditioned office.

Friday, July 06, 2007

icovet

I was pretty skeptical of all the craze for the new iphone, until I held one, played with one, saw the dirt lot where my apartment now stands on it via google maps. . . I'm not saying I'm going to run out and buy one. But I definitely understand the hype now, and it is worth it.

Oh and watch this piece of entertainment on the iphone courtesy of the NY Times, very funny.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

God Bless America

The day started with an unseasonably cool Yankees game. With friends, aka "my boyz" (for the day anyway): I thought Howard was trying to take a picture down my shirt. . .
being artsy
Yes, I had a hot dog and I loved it!
More friends:
Some goofing around:
A bit more. . .
Despite the fact the Yankees lost, we still managed to leave with smiles on our faces.
But the fun did not stop there, after Emily and I made a couple of stops to change out of Yankee game attire, we had dinner at Vynl and then decided to take a very long walk down the Hudson River - from Hell's Kitchen to Battery Park City!
It was beautiful.
There wasn't a lot of rain, just threats of a downpour all day. Unfortunately the City decided the only fireworks they needed to cancel were the ones my friend's roof had a direct view of - over the Statue of Liberty. We still managed to see New Jersey's smaller display:
And Howard made some friends in his own unique way:
The crew that finished off the night chatting in Nicole's apartment:
Late night pizza, because two bowls of cereal, a hot dog, cracker jacks, multiple cokes, a BLT, chips and all the rest was just not enough junk food for the day, really it was about patriotism.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Happy 4th!

Between the relief and lethargy that follow filing a brief and the anxious anticipation of being disrupted by a Wednesday holiday, I have concentrated on work less than 10 minutes today. Having solidified my fourth of July plans, I am ready to push responsibility aside and welcome the opportunity to eat recklessly, get overheated in the sun and be a little lazy all in the name of celebrating this great country's birth.

Similar to Pavlov's dogs, 4th of July has conditioned me to crave fried chicken at the mere mention of a sparkler, due more to childhood 4th of July picnics than to an actual love of KFC. For many, many years my dad played in a community orchestra that performed a patriotic concert outdoors that ended with the William Tell Overture, cannons and fireworks. My family would take blankets and cards and support my dad. I guess we would get fried chicken sometimes but my more recent memories of those outings were my mom going early and then one or two of us strolling in at the last minute to lie in the grass and wait for the fireworks. Last year I enjoyed one of my favorite 4th of July celebrations from a rooftop overlooking the East River. This year I am planning on attending a Yankees game and possibly repeating the roof party.

The 4th of July that is standing out in my memory the most this year is my first 4th in New York. It was the summer of OpSail 2000 when all the tall ships came from their home ports to the harbors of New York. The City was teeming with an extra dose of tourists and thousands of sailors from around the world in all their varied costumes. My favorite were the French whose sailor hats included a red pom pom on top. My sister had been staying with me for a couple of days and my brother arrived late the night before with $100 and strict instructions from our uncle on where we should eat lunch and precisely what my brother must order. When I tell you that my apartment that summer was small, cramped and dark the only readers I expect to truly appreciate just how small, cramped and dark it really was are those who came to visit me while I was there. Not a lot of room for entertaining. It was a ground floor apartment at the end of the building entry hall past a wall of mirrors I was always afraid was two-way with some creep lurking behind. Our pink front door opened directly into the hall that served as our kitchen. Despite mine and my roommates diligent attempts to scrub, it was never really clean. At the end of the three feet of kitchen lies the living space, filled with a hide-a-bed couch, a piano and a tv, no room for anything else. There weren't any windows except the skylight that was always so filthy I thought it was raining every morning until I turned on the tv and saw Al Roker beaming in a white suit. The soundtrack of the neighbor's video game of choice seeping through the thin walls was nearly constant. To the left was a small staircase leading down to a my room with a storage area filled with teetering boxes someone once attempted to cover with some homemade drapes precariously perched above. The very small, tight stairway ends quickly at another make-shft curtain serving as the door. When I arrived the Sunday before Memorial Day, jet-lagged after a 12 hour flight from Tokyo, I didn't question or even notice. I simply dropped my suitcases in the small space in the middle of the floor and fell on top of the slim twin bed and slept - no sheet or covering needed or desired in the summer air conditionless heat. The dark and narrow room also contained a free standing clothes rack mostly filled with the permanent occupant's clothing and a cramped desk. Although the room lacked a door, there were three doors in the room, one led to a small bathroom with only a toilet, one opened into the smallest closet ever made and the third, a half-covered pink door matching the one upstairs led to the basement laundry room. I often reached up to double check that it was deadbolted whenever I heard someone doing their laundry late at night while I was trying to drift off to sleep. My room was lovingly called "the cave" or "La Cave" when we were feeling a bit more sophisticated. My roommates each had their own rooms on the main floor - one was termed the closet and was only as wide as a twin bed and the doorway. The closet contained a loft bed (a bunk bed without a bottom bunk) with a small dresser and desk underneath, no closet. When she was up on her bed she could peer into the living room from the oddly placed windows across the top of her wall. The third room was the only one worth having. It actually fit a full size bed, had a closet, some shelves and a door leading out onto a patio that was usually swampy and infested with mosquitos who occasionally found a way into the bedroom. We did not have air conditioning. But we had non-stop guests that summer who were piled onto the pull-out couch. It was really a good thing I got along so well with those roommates or we might have killed each other. But I am a bit off track.

On the morning of the 4th, my sister and brother and I set off per our uncle's instructions (with his cash) to Carnegie Deli. We thought for sure our uncle was being overly generous with $100 for a deli, I had not yet adjusted to New York prices. Upon arrival, a brusk man led us past the giant pickle in the window, past the overly large deli counter full of mysterious meats and salads, past the glassed-in slowly spinning cake stand full of incredible looking cakes and pies, past wall upon wall of celebrity photos taken in front of one wall or the other full of other celebrities and into the unexpectedly large back room where we were seated at a long table and tossed a few menus. My brother again recited that John had instructed him to get a pastrami sandwich on rye with russian dressing and my sister and I cautiously eyed the overwhelming menu, not noticing the size of the sandwiches being delivered to nearby tables. Our waiter arrived and snapped "are you ready to order?" We did the customary glance around the table to assess the entire parties' prepardness and before we could say a word he barked "YES or NO?" Humbled we decided another few minutes would be wise. When he returned we were quick to order but we weren't on the same page yet. I asked if he had Dr. Pepper and he responded "I have Dr. Brown's." Not wanting to test his patience I agreed to the alternative, expecting an east coast version of Mr. Pibb's. Then he asked "what kind?" . . . confused I asked what was available and he ticked off "root beer, black cherry, cream soda." I agreed to a cream soda and decided Dr. Brown's was probably more like Shasta and my siblings each selected a Dr. Brown's flavor of their own. It turns out Dr. Brown's was not like Shasta, it was much better. By this point our waiter was still a bit testy but also seemed happy to tease us about our out-of-town ignorance and was unwilling to let my brother place the precise order John had made him memorize muttering things we could not fully understand.

All through this stressful ordering process a giant bowl of pickles was sitting in front of us. There are very little things I dislike more than pickles. I detest the smell and an unwanted pickle next to a sandwich can ruin the entire thing with seeping juice that soaks the bread. My siblings don't share my aversion but neither took interest in the pickles. At some point, after a family had been shown to a nearby table we were asked if we were through with our pickles. Before we really had a chance to give them up, the pickle bowl was swept off our table and placed in front of the newcomers. I was horrified! What if I had touched them all? What if I had licked one and deemed it inedible and put it back? I could have done anything with those pickles and now the new family was heartily digging in, eating the pickles. Gross.

We were in for another shock when our food arrived. Nick's pastrami sandwich had to be a full six inches of meat high. Erin and I had each chosen the club sandwich and we definitely should have split it because we could have fed the masses with our four skewered stacks of bread, turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato, bread, turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato, etc. Nick is a big guy and a big eater and he was not able to complete his sandwich, a possible first in his lifetime. Gratefully we pressed forward with dessert despite not finishing our sandwiches and discovered the one thing that has kept me going back to Carnegie Deli - the cheesecake. Naively we each selected our own and were rewarded with giant oversized slices which we happily dove into. When the bill arrived, we were surprised - with the tip, we spent all of John's $100.

Without a plan for the day other than several reminders from our mother that it was OpSail 2000 and we needed to go see the tall ships for her, we set out to explore the City. In the blazing July heat, like the pioneer children, we walked and walked and walked. We walked through midtown, we walked through Soho and the West Village, we walked through Chinatown and in the late afternoon we made our way to the South Street Seaport where we expected to finally see the ships and find a spot for fireworks on the FDR, closed for that purpose. As soon as we emerged from Chinatown, we were hit with a throng of people like none that I have encountered before or since. We decided this is what New York would look like if every single person in Manhattan came out of their office, apartment or hotel and crowded into this narrow section of the City. My sister needed to go to the bathroom and I decided I should take the time to go as well. Worst decision I have ever made. We waited no less and possibly more than an hour at a Wendy's to use the most vile restroom I have ever encountered in my life. That includes third-world countries and holes in the ground. Upon emerging we weighed our options. Continue to press forward to try and see these ridiculous tall ships or succumb to fatigue, give up and go home. Realizing we are definitely our parent's children and not willing to endure crowds of people, we gave up and boarded the subway back uptown. Instead of fried chicken and a picnic, we chose a Chinese noodle shop in my neighborhood that later became my favorite. Worn out from the heat, the walking and the terrible encounter with the massive throng of touring humanity, we barely spoke as we slurped our noodles and each of my siblings complained of varying ailments they were suffering. As dusk fell we slowly walked the five blocks down 9th Avenue back to my apartment. The boom of fireworks was starting but none of us even had the energy to raise our heads to look up. Instead, we shuffled into my dark apartment, collapsed on the couch and watched the fireworks on tv.
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