Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Blogging Blackout

Usually, I like to blog to tease the interesting things out of everyday life, or to celebrate something new and novel that is happening to me. Of course, the understanding is that my life is fairly routine, and the unique is to be seized.

But what happens when every day becomes unique? When scores of experiences happen for the first time, all in a week? In my case, I stop to take it all in, and stop blogging.

In the last two months we've matched for an adoption, seen that adoption work out, and I've become a mom. I've stopped (temporarily) going to the job I go to every weekday, and started learning a whole new job as a mom. I've interacted with the people in my life in different ways, because I stand in a different place.

All of which doesn't mean I'm going to stop blogging.

For one thing, I started a new Holden-focused blog. Click to check it out. Please add it to your feeds or bookmark it to follow the adventures of the little guy and his peops.

I'll still be updating this blog, too, as kind of a room of my own.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Big News

Well, I've been holding off blogging for a long time. I was kind of keeping a lot of the uncertainty, excitement, and big changes on the down low.

But now it's time to say that T and I have adopted a beautiful baby boy named Holden. I'll probably write more about our adoption story later, but for now I'll say that it's been an exciting and stressful whirlwind, that Holden is a wonderful baby, and that his birth parents are excellent people. I feel that everything has worked out for the best.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Books of 2008, So Far

I've read way more books than usual this year for some reason. That's probably due to the fact that so many of them were authored by Lemony Snicket, whose books take a very short time to read (and are great, but too numerous to mention.) So I'll just list the books I really, really liked so far:

The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan. This book had a big impact on my life. I started thinking harder about what I eat, and buying only organic, local meat (mostly at Bi-Rite) and organic eggs. Pollan is such an engaging writer that the lessons went down easy, and I still remember lots of cool factoids from the book.

The Shadow of The Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I've long been interested in the Spanish Civil War. This book is an insanely entertaining drama, set in post-civil war Spain, about a boy who visits a mysterious repository of books as a child. He finds a wonderful novel there, and is drawn into love and intrigue when he finds out that the author's entire published output is being systematically burned. It's dark, dramatic, and romantic, and amusingly aware of it.

T is For Trespass, Sue Grafton
. I've been reading these alphabetically-named mysteries about Kinsey Milhone for a long time now, and they're very satisfying. This one entered the mind of a sociopath and was very creepy.

How to Breathe Underwater, Julie Orringer. I thoroughly enjoyed this book of short stories, which mostly depicted the world from the point of view of kids whose countercultural parents are in way over their heads.

Berlin, Jason Lutes. A graphic novel about a sympathetic cast of characters living out their lives in Weimar-Republic Germany. I loved the art and the storytelling, and I'm thrilled to find that the story continues: Volume Two of a planned trilogy is set to be released in August.

Shortcomings, Adrian Tomine. Another excellent graphic novel, this one about a miserable, cynical Asian guy and his misadventures in love. From his Mills College-going lesbian sidekick to his job as a rep-house manager, this book seemed like a piece of real Bay Area life unfolding just around the corner.

The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion. This book is about the death of her husband from a very sudden heart attack, the illness of her daughter, and the aftermath. Even though she was so very good at explaining what it's like to be the one left behind, I still had trouble imagining it happening to me, which proves that all her trenchant points about denial are very true.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid. I read the whole thing in one plane ride. Great story about a Pakistani guy who falls in and out of love with America. I especially loved the menacing and ambiguous ending.

The Savage Detectives, Roberto Bolano. Every know and then a book comes along that makes me wish I was writing a PHD thesis and could study it for years. This is one. The first section describes the adventures of a young, callow poet, a initiate of Mexico City's "visceral realist" poets, chief among them Arturo Belano, the thinly disguised alter ego of the author. The middle section is a series of interviews with people who know Belano and his best friend Ulises Lima, who drift fecklessly around the globe, losing lovers, teeth and their youth along the way. It's a book about being young, and the sadness that sets in when uncompromising people get older.

The Great Man, Kate Christensen. When a famous, lust-for-life type painter of female nudes dies, two biographers compete to chronicle his life. They interview his wife, his mistress, and his sister, a painter with a secret. The book is really about the wife, his mistress and his sister, and it's a great New York story, a great art story, and a great story about the lives of women.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Points West

Tod and I took a journey through Washington, Idaho and Montana.

Puget Sound from the ferry to West Seattle.

Dick and Jane's folk art environment, which we stumbled across in Ellensburg, Washington.

A window in Missoula, Montana.

A mysterious sign in strip-mall Missoula.

Garnet ghost town, between Missoula and Great Falls.

When this Montana state trooper gave us a $20 speeding ticket, he said to T "hey, I think I just gave your dad a ticket!" It was true. Jerry's ticket was bigger.

Prelude to a Shriners parade in Great Falls, Montana.

My sister in law Wendy and nephew Clay at a unique Great Falls business.

The beautiful bride, our niece Kelsey, and Ty, her excellent groom. They were the reason for our trip.

At the wedding. The groom is from a large, catholic ranching family, and over 300 people came. There was a lot of praying and red meat.

Piano Pat plays Ring of Fire at the best bar in the world, the Sip N Dip in Great Falls. Note the Shriner in the background.

A mermaid entertains the patrons from the swimming pool behind the bar. The Sip N Dip alone justifies a trip to Great Falls.

Old sign, Spokane, Washington

Photo at top: Top Notch Diner, Great Falls.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Most Beautiful Chair Ever!

A few years ago I bought two Knoll chairs on Craigslist from a guy who was moving to Thailand. I think it was like $75 for both.

The orange one, which was sitting in the living room for a few years, started to get mighty dingy. I thought about having it reupholstered, and called Welsh Upholstery, whose owner appears to have walked right out of A Prairie Home Companion. He came over and extolled the beautiful craftsmanship of the chair at length, until I felt that not reupholstering the chair would be a crime against nature. How could I not have gone for it after that? I'm so glad I did.

(The fabric is called Eclat Weave, by the way).

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

East Coast Highlights, Part Two

From Philadelphia/South Jersey parts, I headed to New York (above is the view from the rooftop of the Met). Carol lives on the Upper West Side with Bryan (he happened to be visiting my home while I visited his), and she was a great host. It was so fab to stroll in Central Park after dinner and watch the fireflies. From Carol's, I went to Christie and Martin's sunny pad in Williamsburg, and fell in love with their new neighborhood. It sure was fun to experience some steamy summer weather for a change.

Passing Strange. Seeing a Broadway show, much less a musical, is way down on my list of New York activities. But ever since I heard about this musical about a young African-American fellow who loves punk rock and runs away to Europe to become an artist, I've wanted to see it. It was loud, funny, catchy and emotionally satisfying, more of rock concert in which the band interacts with the actors, and if you ever get a chance, don't miss it.

A brush with fame. I was headed to the subway with my rolling suitcase, bound for Brooklyn, but I wasn't quite sure where the station was. I saw a woman striding across the street who looked like a likely source of directions, and hailed her. "Where do I catch the 1,2 or 3?" I said. She began asking me about my final destination and suggesting the best entrance on Broadway when it dawned on me: Cynthia Nixon. You know, Miranda, on Sex and the City. Someone I've always thought was probably a pretty great person. I thanked her and moved on to the subway, feeling like I'd been visited by an everyday angel.

Paradise on earth, or NY Spa Castle. I wish I could write a long magazine article, or maybe a PHD thesis, about this place. I love all forms of bathing, especially in hot water, and Spa Castle, a five-story Korean bath extravaganza in Queens, had everything going on in that department. When Christie and I came in, we got a toothbrush and a wristband which opened and closed our lockers, and allowed us to buy stuff at the food court. Then we bathed with those of our own gender in an enormous and varied series of showers, pools, waterfalls and saunas, with all kinds of jets and push buttons.

The ladies' floor also featured a boatload of free toiletries, and we saw people everywhere showering, brushing their teeth, conditioning and styling, and scrubbing themselves with Korean mitts. While we bathed, Korean ladies wearing a uniform of bras and panties were giving skin-stripping massages nearby. After a while, we put on the pink and orange short sets women are issued, and headed upstairs to the co-ed area, which features a solid gold sauna, an ice sauna, a salt sauna, an infrared sauna...etc. Lastly, a bunch of very inviting looking swimming pools on the roof adjoin a Korean restaurant. The photo above is us in the Spa Castle van, headed to the subway after a few relaxing hours.

Cheap eats on the Lower East Side. Christie and I experienced a triumvirate of deliciousness: First, Vanessa's Dumpling House, where some very tasty, hot shrimp dumplings were 4 for a dollar--I kid you not. Next, Economy Candy, a store that is packed to the gills with every kind of candy, from halva to extra large Atomic Fireballs and MaryJanes to Belgian chocolate. It smells like sugar. And speaking of sugar, our last stop was Sugar Sweet Sunshine, a cupcake bakery that has the best cupcakes I've ever tasted. It gets extra points for having a kind of down at the heels 70s vibe instead of the '50s look most NY cupcake places have. I had a black and white, and got another for the plane.

Last but not least, Jollyship the Whizbang, "a pyrate-puppet rock opera." Basically an indie rock band who are also puppeteers, and lead some crazy-ass looking puppets through a lot of hilarious, tasteless paces and a meandering plot. Lots of fun.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

East Coast Highlights, Part One

Just got back from nine days on the East Coast; a conference in Philadelphia, a couple of day's at my sister and brother in law's house in South Jersey, and three glorious days in NYC. Here are some of the best parts:

Family! I got to check out my nephew Jay's first post-collegiate place of his own in the lovely Fairmount neighborhood of Philly. Aww.

A couple days later, there was a barbecue in Mark and Kathy's bucolic back yard in South Jersey, which brought together two of my three siblings. My brother Mark's (there are two Marks in the family) kids are brilliant and funny. Isaiah is one of few third graders who watch JFK's Ich Bin Ein Berliner speech on YouTube for fun.

Dinner with Jay and colleagues at La Viola near Rittenhouse Square. Philadelphia has a number of BYOB Italian places, and this one was loud, old-fashioned and delicious (I had the gnocchi.) Too bad I had to buy the vino at the dreary state liquor stores they have in PA, where signs admonish the customers not to give booze to their kids.

The Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. I love ruins, and this one was even more fascinating than I expected. Once upon a time (in the early 1800s, to be exact), Quakers thought that if people reflected on their crimes in utter solitude, it would be a good thing. They built this penitentiary, which involved a lot of solitary confinement in cells that were both gloomy and celestial, due to small skylights that were designed to create an "eye of god" effect. The prison, which is a lovely ruin now, was one of the most influential pieces of architecture of its day; hundreds of prisons in Europe and Latin America were modeled on it. Of course, placing people in utter solitude turned out to be a bad idea: it often drove people insane. If you ever get a chance to go, be sure to do the audio tour, which is voiced by Steve Buscemi.

A trip to the Jersey Shore. When I was a child, my grandparents, who we called mom-mom and pop-pop, lived at the Jersey Shore. Pop-pop, who died when I was very small, was a loving and humorous man. Mom-mom was a grim and hardworking woman, who I loved dearly, and who lived with us when she was nearing the end of her life.

The time I spent at the shore each summer provided a counterpoint to life at home with my parents. While not extravagant, mom-mom and pop-pop were seriously committed to the business of providing a good time for their grandchildren. I remember sticky buns fresh from the bakery, stacks of colorful beach towels, and glasses with cartoon characters on them. Everything seemed just a little bit expensive, unlike at home, where we drank nonfat dry milk mixed with regular, and carried frayed bath towels to the municipal pool. Sadly, mom-mom and pop-pop's little beach house has been torn down now, and replaced with a tacky monster home.

My sister Kathy and I relived some fond memories by taking a trip to the shore. Sadly, it was too cool and rainy to lay on the beach in the sun, overhearing conversations conducted in South Jersey accents and Bruce singing Jersey Girl on the radio. Instead, after a few happy hours spent outlet shopping in Atlantic City, we took a walk on the Ventnor boardwalk. The smell of the ocean was like Proust's madeleine to me.