Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 in hindsight

It's now officially New Year's Eve, and as is my custom on this blog, it's time for a year-end recap. It seems every year these recaps read like high drama, and this year is not much different. As the famous fortune cookie says, I seem to live in interesting times, which definitely gives me mixed feelings.

So obviously the big event this year was my surgery on January 8, which impacted many things for the entire rest of the year. I was out of work and mostly housebound for six weeks, and then dealt with some pretty major physical discomfort for about six months after that. I also had some related skin ailments that required treatment by a dermatologist, plus I started a regime of allergy shots in October. So in a sense, it's been a year of healing for me, physically speaking.

The surgery impacted my work life because I took most of my paid time off at the beginning of the year, meaning I had very little time off after February. Fortunately for me, I suffered no major illnesses this year that would have required me to take unpaid leave. However, I did have a second fire in my life that completely destroyed my apartment, just as I was starting to get comfortable there.

While most of my smaller possessions, like books, DVDs, clothes, kitchenware, bathroom stuff and most importantly my three stuffed animals survived (since the apartment was not so much damaged by fire as by smoke, water and the roof collapsing), the larger items did not. I lost my new bed, a new Dell computer that I'd only had a week, my 50-inch plasma TV, my $1,200 Yamaha receiver and several home theater components, a new recliner and my old sofa, and countless other things. All the electronics and most of the furniture I lost were less than six months old, which was really tragic because I didn't have insurance (now I do).

It was during this time period in the early part of the year that the most significant change (other than surgery) occurred with my personal relationships. It was a time that saw some of the highest highs and the lowest lows in my relations with my new family. It was also a time when I started to open myself up to meeting new people, both as potential romantic partners and platonic friends, the most lasting being my friend Agnieszka who lives about a half-hour away from me.

From Memorial Day until the Fourth of July, I explored a polyamorous relationship, and while it didn't work out for everybody, it introduced me to the concept that I am continuing to explore on my own. There is a lot about polyamory that appeals and makes sense to me, but it's a pretty academic exercise unless I get out there and start meeting more like-minded people.

I've also had my share of entertainment this year, as any of my readers know. I've seen two operas, several rock concerts (including my all-time favorite band, the Police, and Porcupine Tree twice), Rent on Broadway and added several museums to my resume (the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, the Princeton Museum, the Montclair Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the New York Historical Society) in addition to several visits to our beloved Met and American Museum of Natural History. Here is a picture of the Temple of Dendur at the Met that I took with my phone camera several months ago that I was recently able to put on my computer desktop, just because I think the lighting is so cool:

Temple of Dendur

The latter part of the year from about Labor Day on settled into mostly a nice groove. I started my South Beach Diet again and lost some weight, although I've been allowing it to slowly creep back lately. I took an acting class in the middle months of the year that I enjoyed for a period of time. I met a couple new friends, Lori and Karina, who I hope to grow closer to in 2008 and beyond. I had a quiet reunion with the other Agnieszka from my past in November, whom I hadn't seen in 17 years. I've worked hard to rebuild my apartment, my home theater, and my media libraries from the fire in March.

As I enter the secular new year, the only significant thing happening is that I'm interviewing with a new PR firm for a job. I had four interviews this past Thursday, and although I don't think they are in any hurry to make a decision, I do feel that I'm still a viable candidate for the position. I'm not really looking to leave my company, but more money is always welcome to offset the expenses of living in this area. Whether I get a new job or stay with my old one, at least with the start of 2008 I will have my full complement of paid time off to take some breaks throughout the year, something I sorely missed last year.

How do I sum up 2007? A roller coaster ride, a phrase I used in earlier blog entries to describe the events of this summer with my family, and to a lesser extent with work and fallout from my second house fire in less than two years. It almost seems as soon as I've turned a corner and I expect life to start settling into a groove, things get all wacky again.

I've been thinking a lot lately about my life, and what I want out of it. This year has definitely been another one of tremendous growth and change for me - perhaps not to the scale of the preceding two years, but necessary as a result of the groundwork laid before. As I enter 2008, it occurs to me that the road I've traveled for the past three years will begin to vanish, and I must now chart my own course without doctors, caretakers or other preordained signposts to guide me. The time has come for me to follow my own counsel on where life takes me, and take responsibility for my own happiness. Goddess grant me the wisdom and courage to take the right path.

Happy New Year everybody - may your future be full of light and joy. Thank you for reading.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Really big Christmas trees

It's been a good long while since I've updated, mostly because it's been busy at work and consequently I haven't had much surplus energy to devote to other things. My apartment really took the brunt of it, what with between my lethargy and Christmas shopping it was becoming most untidy. Basically I've been putting things off until last Friday, the start of my vacation week. My company was most generous in closing the office from Dec. 24 until January 2, and I took my final remaining personal day on Friday the 21st, so now I'm on the third of 12 straight days off, which is about the only significant time off I've had since July 4 week.

So last weekend we took a trip to the American Museum of Natural History to see a new exhibit about water, and the butterfly exhibit. They also had a marvelous Christmas tree in the lobby, decorated entirely with origami figures, some of the most ornate and complex figures I've ever seen. The main piece was a 20-foot-long dragon wrapped around the tree made from hundreds of interlocking pieces. The top was decorated by several hanging stars and other figures on a slowly rotating spindle.

Origami Christmas tree

Here's a closeup of what looks like a paper hedgehog, for you Sega fans out there:

Sonic the Paper Hedgehog

Here's another shot of one of the many butterflies we saw in the sauna-like Butterfly Conservatory:

An Owl butterfly

The last week of work was not only busy from actual work, but also personal errands I wanted to get done while I was in the city. Tuesday I got my hair re-colored because the red had washed out pretty quickly. Then on Thursday I got my first haircut in over a year at a salon in Chinatown a friend at work recommended. The stylist's name is Edison, and he's a really young, cool, hip guy from Taiwan. He gave me some long layers around my face, and some long bangs that hang over my forehead, which is a first for me since I was a kid. It's going to take a while before I get used to it.

Friday Tara and I went into the city and visited the New York Public Library's special exhibit on Jack Kerouac, which included a 25-foot-long section of the original "On the Road" scroll. Afterwards, we visited the Museum of Modern Art, and explored the top three floors, including a special exhibit on the drawings of Georges Seurat. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera, so no pictures from that trip :( After dropping off Tara, I went out again to see Sweeny Todd with Agnieszka (her choice) which was stylistic and inventive, although a bit overly gruesome. I found out that she has a lot higher tolerance for gore than I do. Afterwards we went to dinner at Chevy's, a local Tex-Mex place.

Then yesterday we all went to Rockefeller Center for our traditional annual visit to the Christmas tree, St. Patrick's Cathedral and to see the lightshow at Saks on Fifth Avenue.

Creepy Yankees fan behind me!

Saks lightshow

There was also a cool public charity project called the Common Sense Penny Harvest that collected pennies from schoolchildren all over the city and laid them out in one of the empty pools in Rockefeller Plaza. We threw our pennies in to the millions of coins collected for the cause.

A field of pennies

Today I finished wrapping all my presents for tomorrow's celebration with my family, and otherwise it's been a very quiet day at home. I'm just getting used to relaxing before I start doing some of the stuff I've been saving until I have more free time.

I hope all of my readers are having a peaceful and happy holiday season!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Christmas museum crawl

I didn't get much sleep last night because I was waiting for my sheets to dry, and then I had to get up early for a client call from the Netherlands that I have to take in the office because I don't have a home phone and my cell phone doesn't include an international calling plan. So I got about four hours of sleep last night, which isn't a lot of fun, but fortunately it was a pretty relaxing weekend otherwise.

Before I get into that, I did want to say that I got a call back on the job interview I went to last week. They want me to talk to some more people and go a little further in the process. I'll probably try to schedule this for Christmas week if I can, so I don't have to deal with being away from work and making excuses for dressing up. After New Year's, I'll have plenty of time off I can take for further interviews if necessary.

Also, an update on my hair. Most of the really bright red has washed out by now, leaving a much more subdued shade of reddish brown with rust colored highlights. It actually looks pretty conservative now, compared with the crazy wild look it had when the color was fresh. I'm kinda disappointed the color didn't last very long, but I still get compliments on my hair all the time around the office. Here's a picture of it from yesterday's visit to the Cloisters:

Redhead at Cloisters

Saturday I spent the morning watching Heroes on a library DVD - I'm really starting to like that show after the first six episodes. Bug and Tara came over in the afternoon and we watched the first episode of Tin Man on the Sci-Fi Channel that I had recorded on my DVR. Then Bee came over after she got off work and took a shower at my place before we started talking about plans for Sunday. This turned into a bigger discussion than first intended, which was cut short when Bee started having chest pains and we took her to the emergency room to get checked out. Fortunately, it turned out to be nothing more than a case of heartburn, but the experience put an appropriate cap on a rather long evening.

Sunday I got up early to shop a Christmas sale at Loheman's, where I bought a purse, a sweater, some yoga pants and a few pairs of earrings. Everybody came over at 12:30 and we drove into the city for a museum crawl that included the Cloisters and the Met, where we wanted to see the Christmas decorations. At the Cloisters, they hang handmade wreaths over the arches in the entry hall, and weave stalks of wheat into a decorative bundle.

Handmade wreaths

Wheat on the altar

They also have pots of planted paperwhites all around the courtyards, tied with lattices made of vines.

Christmas flowers

I discovered a new tryptich of the annunciation that I really liked because of the vibrant color of the oil on wood painting. Here's a photo of the entire panel, and a detail of the center section:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

We drove down to the Met and walked through the newly-opened Oceania exhibit, then the new European decorative arts rooms before finally seeing the Christmas tree in the medieval hall:

Christmas tree at the Met

We spent the bulk of time in the newly re-opened 19th and early 20th century European painting gallery, which include many of my favorites from Degas, Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir and Sargent. Here you can see Sargent's popular work, Madame X, on the far wall in the distance.

Newly reopened European galleries

And then after that the museum was closing and we were abruptly shuttled out. The rest of the evening I made stuffed mushrooms for dinner (yummy, and all vegetarian to boot) and watched the Rockets get stomped by Toronto while doing laundry and dishes.

Just 8 1/2 days until Christmas vacation. It can't get here fast enough.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Job interview

I had a job interview this morning with another large PR firm that called me out of the blue last week and said they wanted to meet me. I'm not particularly job hunting, but I'm certainly open to new opportunities, especially if they want to pay me more money. I always feel like I'm paid a bit below my market value because when I got this current job, it was my first job in New York, and there's always skepticism that some people can't handle this city. I guess that's why they say if you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere. And this city certainly has it challenges, but I feel after 18 months I've proven it to myself and everybody else that I'm here to stay.

The interview went well, as they usually do when you already have a job - takes a lot of the pressure off. The office is located smack in the middle of Times Square, so if I'm working there by New Year's Eve, I'll have a great view of the ball dropping party. Luckily it's 20-something stories up, so you don't hear the noise. Their lobby is a lot nicer than ours, as it actually has windows that show something interesting, whereas our lobby's window faces another office tower in Midtown. Since it's just the first interview, I'm certainly not packing up my office yet, but I think it would be fun to get familiar with another part of the city, especially since it's so centrally located.

Today is my company's holiday party, which covered the fact that I'm wearing my new black suit and dressy flats for the interview. Like many companies these days, we're having it during working hours starting at 2 p.m. at a nearby Mexican restaurant. I can't tell you how much I appreciate the fact that we're getting time out of the workday to socialize, rather than having it after-hours like last year where I have to give up "my" time. Like I said, I'm not unhappy with my current company - it's a great company - but money talks, and the work lately has been a little dull, so speak the truth.

Speaking of how great my company is, we received the new revisions to the employee handbook yesterday, and sure enough, gender identity has been added to the list of non-discriminatory classes - huzzah! For new readers, this has been a personal quest of mine to get this changed (it wasn't included last year) and I'm pleased to say we're one less Fortune 100 company that allows job discrimination based on gender identity. Another tiny step toward an inclusive ENDA...

Tuesday night I visited the library in New York and found a Dave Grusin CD of Gershwin music that I owned a long time ago, which was a nice find. Afterwards, I had dinner with my family for the first time in a while and we had a great time laughing about interior design in the 1970s (don't ask me how we got on that topic). Afterwards I rushed off to Borders to use a coupon on a Christmas present, even though we haven't circulated our lists yet (hint, hint).

Alright, better get some work done before the party, which starts in about two hours.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Fountain

First, a photo promised from yesterday's entry. Here is a view of the tree and pond outside my patio balcony, three stories up, after Saturday night's snowfall:

Juxtaposition of autumn and winter

Last night Tara and I watched The Fountain at my apartment. It was the second time for me, first for her, and she loved it. Interestingly, the first time I watched it alone, I wasn't very impressed. It's a very deep movie, with overlapping themes of life/death/rebirth, masculine/feminine, mythological and religious symbolism, and love, all told in a non-linear format. The first time I saw it, it made me cry a lot, because there are a lot of powerfully tragic scenes. But this time, I was able to more fully appreciate the vision as a whole and I felt like I understood more of the symbolism instead of being run over by it like I was the first time.

It occurs to me how few times in my life I've sat down to watch a movie when I literally know nothing about it. Like most people, I like to have an idea what a movie is about before I spend time watching it. I got interested in The Fountain when I picked it up in a Barnes & Noble and read the description, which is quite vague, but interested me nonetheless. I rarely buy a movie sight unseen, but I put it on my birthday list, along with the companion graphic novel (which I haven't read yet). Now I'm finally glad that I did.

It occurs to me that some of my all-time favorite movies fall into this category of movies I saw without prior familiarity - The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Tampopo, Copying Beethoven, A Prairie Home Companion, just to name a few. These are usually movies that someone else brings me to, since I wouldn't normally go to a movie myself without knowing something about it. Once in a while, this is a good experience, to see something new and outside the usual milieu, or else how can we grow and discover new things?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Another quiet weekend

It was a super-quiet weekend, which is always welcome. Friday night I met Lori and her SO Erik after work and we visited the Whitney Museum of American Art. Friday night is "pay-what-you-want" night, so I paid $5. It turned out that I was overcharged, because it's not quite the quality I'm used to with the Met, MOMA and the American Museum of Natural History. We went through all five floors in a little more than an hour, and frankly, I didn't see a single work that moved me, nor were there any works from artists the general public would immediately recognize. Probably the most recognizable artist I saw was Georgia O'Keefe. Anyway, at least I got to meet Erik, of whom I've heard so much about.

Saturday morning I had to get up relatively early (9 a.m.) to go get Yoshi's brakes checked. It turned out they're still okay, although I'm down to about 20-30 percent remaining on my brake pads. I'm thinking again about trading him in for a Mini Clubman Mini Clubman when they come out in February. At that point, he'll have about 130,000 miles on him, and might be ready for a major overhaul - we'll have to see how he holds up.

After my usual errands and food shopping at Costco, I came home, made breakfast and sat on the couch all afternoon, thinking we were going to visit the Met when Bee got off work in the early evening. However, she ended up having to work late, so we canceled the trip, not wanting to be rushed like last time. So I stayed in and watched the 194-minute director's cut of Kingdom of Heaven as the first part of my sword-and-sandals series (director's cuts for Gladiator, Troy, Ben-Hur and 300 will follow in the coming weeks). I don't include Return of the King in that list (the first half of which I watched Sunday night) because that movie transcends the genre.

Sunday I didn't leave the apartment at all because we had a couple inches of snow Saturday night. The roads were okay to drive on, but since I didn't have to go anywhere, I was content to stay inside and enjoy the view. I took some pictures, but forgot to upload them, so I will post them later. Tara and Bee came over in the late afternoon and helped me put up my Christmas tree and move some furniture around - again, pictures following later. I gave Tara a manicure while Bee took a nap and we listened to the DTS DVD-Audio version of Porcupine Tree's Deadwing. Also, I finished reading my Absolute Batman: Hush book that I had bought last week - awesome story, great art, and probably my favorite Batman series not written by Frank Miller.

Only three more weeks until Christmas.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Seeing red

It's been a quiet day at work, thankfully, so I have a little time to blog, but there's really not too much going on with my life. I've been watching a lot of Rockets games, and they have won three in a row, so that's good news. I finally saw Howl's Moving Castle Tuesday night on my big screen, and the picture was breathtaking. It's only the second movie I've watched on my projector, and the first was Die Hard 3 which is mostly shots of New York or Bruce Willis' grimy face. But this latest movie by the legendary Miyazaki includes gorgeous, stunning vistas of mountains, fields of flowers, quaint towns by the sea, and massive flying battleships. Watching it on the big screen is such a different experience than watching on a regular sized TV. It really makes you appreciate the detail and pacing of the movie so much more.

The latest big news is that I went to my salon last night after work and got my hair colored red. Not bright, Raggedy Ann red, but pretty bright nevertheless. It's been nearly a year since I did anything with my hair, so my previous highlights had dark roots about 2-3 inches long. My stylist bleached the roots, layering them with dark brown lowlights. Then we used a red-violet color that turned the blonde highlights red.

You can only notice the red when light hits it; otherwise, it just looks dark brown. But the shade of red is very pretty, sort of a jewel tone purplish red that reminds me of the fading fall foliage, or a color Shirley Manson (lead singer of Garbage) might dye her hair. It might change a little as the color fades, but that's what it looks like now. It's not subtle: I've definitely noticed some stares in the subway. Also, as I was leaving the salon, another visitor said my hair was "fierce," which I guess is glamour-speak for "cool." I'll try to post some pictures this weekend when I'm out in the sun.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

My new theater

Ah, what a nice, long weekend it's been! I feel almost human again.

I had a nice dinner with my family on Wednesday night, as is our tradition. Bug made a tasty vegetarian feast and after dinner we watched Die Hard 2: Die Harder as part of our Die Hard marathon. Thursday we woke up late and tried a new diner in Eagle Rock, which was pretty good, and then went to the mountaintop reservation where we could have seen the New York skyline, had it been a clearer day. Bee and Bug visited their birth families Thursday afternoon, leaving Tara and me to spend the afternoon together, which was wonderful. We went out the our local diner for a turkey dinner, then drove by to gawk at the line forming outside Best Buy on the way home.

I got up early the next day and went to Target for Black Friday at about 6:30 a.m. to buy a sewing machine and a couple of DVDs, including. Die Hard 4: Live Free or Die Hard I was going to go to some of the electronic stores, but the crowds were such that I couldn't even get into the parking lot of Best Buy, and there was a line out the door at 6th Avenue Electronics. At that point I gave up and just went home to relax. Later in the afternoon I went to Home Depot for mounting hardware for my projection screen, and to Costco for a new DVD recorder that upconverts to 1080p to feed my projector.

Saturday my equipment came in and I picked everything up from my leasing office before going out again for some extra cables and power conditioners. I returned home and worked on installing everything for most of the afternoon. I placed the projector on my kitchen counter behind my couch, and installed the screen so that it dropped down over my existing 37-inch LCD TV, covering up my bookshelves. I also calibrated the projector to NTSC standards using my Avia reference test disc. Here's a photo of my living room with the screen retracted:

Screen up for TV watching

And here's what it looks like when the screen is down and the projector is on - as it was later on Saturday night when my family came over and watched Die Hard 3: Die Hard with a Vengeance:

Screen down for movies

I'm pretty happy with the way the installation turned out, and it was remarkably simple, compared to the installations I've done in the past. The projected picture, while not 1080p but 720p, is wonderfully smooth and filmlike with no noticeable pixels, excellent shadow detail and accurate color rendition. Plus, the installation is relatively unobtrusive, as you can see from the first photo with the screen retracted. I'm looking forward to making good use my new system on the weekends from now on.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Yesterday I had a little New York experience and walked to the Katagiri Japanese grocery store on 59th Street to get some kimchi. I was watching Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations show on Korea the night before and his young tour guide brought him to a kimchi factory. Among the vast field of clay pots fermenting this spicy pickled cabbage dish, she started singing: "The hills are alive / With the smell of kimchi!" So naturally I had to have some.

Today 'tis the day before Thanksgiving, and all's quiet in the office. But apparently not quiet enough for Agent K to close the office early (grrrr). So it looks like I'm going to be stuck in traffic this afternoon with all the other schmos who can't get out early. Of course, since Thanksgiving is an American holiday I'm sure my international readers will tell me to knock it off and count myself lucky.

I really do have a lot to be thankful for this year. So much has happened in the past 11 months, that it seems like this was a very long year. Obviously, I'm thankful for my full recovery after surgery in January that kept me home from work for six weeks. I'm thankful that the fire that destroyed my apartment in March didn't occur in January when I was housebound. While I'm not thankful for the fire itself, I'm glad that it was not as destructive as it could have been; namely that most of the things destroyed were replaceable items.

I'm also thankful for the wonderful friends I've made this year, especially Agnieszka and Lori, and also for all my online friends, like Colleen, Mandy, Joanna, Nexy, Monica, Stephanie, Chris, Lily, Jenny, Cristan and all the other people who read and comment on my various Web sites. I'm thankful for my reunion with AP last week. I'm also thankful that my birth family has finally decided to leave me alone and stop writing hurtful emails for this entire year so far (although with the holidays coming up, that might change).

But I'm most thankful for my family here in New Jersey, and for all the events this summer that brought us closer, and subsequent changes that redefined our boundaries to create a more sustainable relationship. There have been good times, and bad times, but we've never lost the thread of our connection as a family. Despite some internal issues, they stood by me through surgery, and took me in when my apartment was destroyed. We continue to love, inspire and support each other as best we can, and I am deeply grateful that they have become such a big part of my life.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Blue notes

I've been feeling a bit melancholy of late, due to a number of coinciding factors. In no particular order, here are some of these factors that contribute to my current state of mind:

The onset of the holiday season - to tell the truth, I've never been a big fan of the holidays, except for the welcome break from school or work. And being Pagan, I generally don't get as whipped up into a frenzy as some Christians do about Christmas, perhaps because they only have that and Easter to show up with bells on. To me, Yule is just another celebration of the turning of the wheel, one of eight Sabbats I celebrate quietly, generally by myself.

And yet sometimes it's hard for me to ignore the fact that for the rest of the world, the holidays are about reconnecting with one's birth family as evidenced by the upcoming busiest travel day of the year tomorrow. And while my family here in New Jersey is wonderful and we have our own traditions, I am still apprehensive about the actual appointed days (Nov. 22 and Dec. 25) when I feel like I'm the only person in the world who spends these days alone (although of course that is an imagined feeling, because I know there are many, many people who are doing the same, and perhaps in less fortunate circumstances than me). But this is my pity party, so I don't have to be reasonable about it, especially since I really don't have any desire to connect with my birth family. I think I just miss the idea of having a birth family that accepts and loves me unconditionally. Given the choice, who wouldn't want that?

Missing AP - it's been a week since meeting my friend and I miss her. Nothing too complicated about that.

Work - things have been both dull and stressful at work. My productivity numbers are down because there hasn't been a lot of work to do, which isn't my fault, but reflects poorly on me nevertheless. I've actually been sending some feelers out in the job market looking for new opportunities, but probably won't make a move before the end of the year, unless the perfect fit comes up. It's also been a strain on me to not have any days off since I took them all in January and February when I was out for surgery. The last time I had significant time off was the July 4 holiday week, then one day on Labor Day, so I'm feeling pretty burned out. I can't wait until 2008 when I have a full slate of paid time off (three weeks plus sick time and holidays). Also, we're lucky to have Christmas week off until Jan. 2, so that will be a nice break.

Health - I've been dealing with allergies pretty much constantly for the last two months, and it has taken a lot of energy out of me, not to mention enough Kleenex to reconstitute a forest. With the season's first real snow arriving this week, I'm hopeful I will start to get over that soon. Also, I still haven't done any meaningful exercise this year, while the whole rest of my family has been diligently walking each day. Gotta get around to that.

Relationship issues - too private to talk about here, but this is a pretty minor quibble. I actually had a very nice time with Tara last night. We went to Fuddruckers for hamburgers and shakes, then I wiped the table with her in a game of air hockey. Then she bested me in a car racing game, and we ended up shooting basketballs together on a mini-hoop and both made the same number of shots. It's just some of the long-term issues that we have that are always going to be a source of dissatisfaction for me.

Anyway, the thing I am looking forward to is setting up my front video projector I ordered from yesterday. As some of you know, when I'm feeling down, I usually cure it by shopping. I ordered a Panasonic high-definition (720p) projector, a pull-down, 16x9 Draper screen that measures 82 inches diagonal and the necessary cables. I still need to add an HD-DVD player (which I'll probably get on Black Friday coming up) so I can install the whole setup on Saturday.

I've done several such installations in the past, but this will be the first one I've done for myself. I'm excited to finally work on my own setup, although since it's in an apartment, I can't do a lot of things like I've done in the past (like ceiling mounting, in-wall speakers and wiring, etc.) Still, with the rapid progress of digital video projection, this should be by far the best-looking theater in terms of picture quality I've ever done. I can't wait to get started on it over the long holiday weekend. I'll be sure to post pictures later.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The story of Agnieszka Prime

The year was 1990, a lifetime ago when I was 21 and a senior at the University of Houston. One of the last classes I had to take to graduate was only offered in summer school and at 7:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday. I am by nature a night person and I was dreading this class like most people dread going to the motor vehicle office to get their cars registered.

On the first day of class, I saw Agnieszka sitting in the classroom. We were acquainted from working on the college newspaper together the previous semester when she was a staff writer and I was the opinion editor. Ten months my senior in age, Agnieszka achieved some notoriety around school because of her unique academic talent: she speaks seven languages, earned degrees in four different majors in only four years, and graduated at or near the top of her class in all four.

So we sat together in class day after day and afterwards, she had to wait for an hour before her next class began. Since that was my only class that summer, we started going down to the student commons area each day to wait for her next class to start. I would get a donut, and we would tell each other stories, sing songs, and I opened up to her in a way that I never had to anyone else before then. Thanks to our daily visits, I managed to make every early morning class all summer, and even got an A in the class (a slightly higher A than the one she received, in fact).

All throughout the fall semester we remained close. She would visit me at the newspaper office, sometimes we went to the library together. She later confided that she was actually married to a man everyone thought was her boyfriend, but by that time I was so over my head that it didn't matter to me.

On graduation night in December, I took her and her husband and her parents, who had come all the way from Poland to see her graduate, to the symphony to hear Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Earlier in the day, I gave her a farewell present, a kaleidoscope. After the concert, we said goodbye and she disappeared from my life. After UH, she went to Harvard University and earned her Master's degree (and learning Japanese as her eighth language), then a law degree from Stanford, and became an attorney specializing in international project finance.

Of course, after she left, I was devastated. It literally took years before I could go for an entire day without thinking about her and missing her. The experience had many far-reaching impacts on my life, too many to chart in a single blog entry. But time does indeed heal all wounds, and in 2005, I found her using Google and we started catching up by email. Last year, we shared a single phone call, and last night we finally came full circle when we saw each other again in person for the first time since graduation night, almost 17 years ago.

Me and Agnieszka Prime

So after all this, how did it go last night? It was . . . amazing. We talked so easily, as if we were both 21 again, sitting in the university cafeteria, even though we are both very different people now. I even learned her middle name for the first time, and her birthday (which was this past Sunday). I was surprised when she confessed an attraction to me back in college. In fact, when we sat side by side during the concert, she remembers wishing I would reach out and hold her hand. But I think we agreed that even if we had been completely open and honest with each other about our feelings back then, it wouldn't have changed much. Today, neither of us is married any longer, but nor are we 21-year-old college students. Time will tell where our very special friendship goes from here.

Sometimes I ask myself why I allowed myself to fall in love with her, knowing I would probably get hurt eventually. If I could go back in time to that first day in class, would I still have sat down next to her, knowing the heartache to follow? The answer is yes.

Because that year we spent together was the happiest time in my life, a time when I learned what it means to love unconditionally, to risk my heart and allow it to be broken rather than hurt the one I love. If it’s a choice between falling in love and getting hurt versus never loving at all, love is worth the risk. Life is about taking risks, not hiding in the safety of the shadows. You have to enjoy the time you have to the fullest, living in the moment, because you never know what the future brings. Somebody could be hit by a bus, hijacked by terrorists, or break your heart next week or next year - there are no guarantees. But if you go through life avoiding hurt, you will miss a lot of chances to be happy.

If I've learned anything, it's that if you’re happy now, do everything you can to stay happy. Even if you know it will end, and the ending will hurt, don't let fear overcome your heart. Because eventually, the hurt goes away, and you will remember the happy days, not the sad days, for the rest of your life, and you will have no regrets.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Catching up

Just a quick post because it's been so long. Last week was difficult at work, and as a result, I have resolved to spend less time blogging from the office. But of course there's not much motivation to spend my precious home time at the computer, so the end result is that I'm probably going to be blogging less often. I doubt if anyone (aside from the two people who have told me privately that they've noticed my absence) will mind - you all have lives outside of reading about mine, I hope!

So last weekend was pretty fun, actually, and worth mentioning. Saturday I tried to get my blood appointment in again, but it turned out that the lab hadn't received the paperwork from my doctor in Houston, so I had to reschedule once again. This was actually okay, because there was only one technician working, the waiting room was standing room only, and I overheard one woman say she'd been waiting there for three hours. I'm sure if there was a Hell, some part of it would look like that waiting room.

I had planned to go with my friend Agnieszka to the flea market, but since it was raining, and I got out of Hell late, we postponed that for next Saturday. Instead, I took Tara to Fort Lee, where we visited Hiram's Road Stand where they serve giant fried Thumann's hot dogs. We saw a segement about it a few months back on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations show about New Jersey and wanted to give it a try. Those were some good fried hot dogs, and it's a wonder that the idea has not spread further than the state of New Jersey. I'm sure Houston, perennially ranked as one of America's Fattest Cities by Men's Fitness Magazine (#6 this year) would go wild for this tasty treat.

Outside at Hiram's Road Stand

Inside Hiram's - lucky to get a table!

But fried hot dogs were not enough debasement for our delicate constitutions - no, we had to go find a rare type of Japanese cream puff at a local bakery that happens to be less than two miles from Hiram's. This unique dessert is made by a company with a unique name: Beard Papa's which I heard about on the Food Network. They are only in five states, with only one location in New Jersey, which we happened to be nearby, so I couldn't pass it up, regardless of my daily calorie intake limits. So I tried a chocolate and a plain cream puff, and they were heavenly - undoubtedly the best I've ever tasted. If you are in California, Hawaii, New York, New Jersey or Massachusetts, I highly recommend them.

Saturday night I had my family over for movie night, and we watched Spider-Man 3, which they saw in the theater when it came out, but I hadn't seen yet. I liked it overall, but there were a couple of cheezy parts that did make me groan inside. I'm not sure why it didn't last very long in the movie theaters, because the action and special effects were top-notch. Maybe because non-comic readers couldn't get into the whole "sentinent goo" storyline.

Segueing perfectly into last Sunday morning, we visited the Montclair Art Museum in the morning, where they had an exhibit on comic book superheroes, plus a comic convention in the main hall. I think the highlight of the exhibit was seeing a copy of Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Superman, side-by-side with the first appearance of Batman in Detective Comics. I also bought a couple of trade paperback books at the convention, but we didn't stay long due to the smell. Some of you probably know what I mean by that.

In the afternoon we drove out toward the Delaware Water Gap to visit a historical site called Shippen Manor Museum, a restored ca. 1754 ironmaster's mansion in Oxford, NJ. We listened to historical re-enactors tell the story of how people lived in colonial times, and then visited the Oxford Furnace, a source of Patriot iron in the War of Independence. Here's some photos from that trip.


View of Oxford from Shippen Manor

Bee standing under a giant sycamore tree near the Oxford Furnace

This weekend was busy, but not that interesting. Saturday I finally got my blood work done, then visited the flea market with Agnieszka, where I bought some wonderful artesian breads (olive, prosciutto and jalapeno cheese). Then I went shopping and ran my errands, before coming home to watch Ratatouille with my family. Sunday we all took a drive down to Lambertville on the Pennsylvania border to have breakfast at Sneddon's Luncheonette and spent the rest of the day hauling all their old stuff from a storage unit back up to the house. It was hard, but satisfying work, and I'm glad they finally were able to stop paying the storage fees and move forward from the time they lived down there.

The big news for today is that I'm planning to meet my college friend Agnieszka tonight in New York. To avoid confusion with my previously named friend, I will refer to the one from my past as Agnieszka Prime (AP). Some of you know my history with AP, but it's too long a story to go into now. Suffice to say, we knew each other well in college, and upon graduation, she left Houston and we lost contact for the better part of 15 years until just recently. She has residences in London and Poland, and recently had her first child. We started writing emails a couple years ago, but we haven't seen each other since graduation day, 17 years ago. She's in the city on business and flies out tomorrow for Washington DC, so we have one night to spend getting reacquainted. Does anyone else see the parallels to Richard Linklater's movie Before Sunset?

Anyway, that should get you caught up on my life. Thanks for sticking with me, and see you again soon, I hope.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Restful weekend

Most weekends I do fun things in the city, which makes for good blog material. This weekend I took a break from that and it was definitely the right thing to do.

Friday night I went to the Museum of Modern Art with my friend Lori, the one night a week that the museum is completely free of charge, thanks to a generous grant from Target Stores. However, this made the experience somewhat lacking to say the least, as the galleries were as crowded as Penn Station the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Literally, you could not take two steps without having to avoid somebody in some of the popular galleries, such as the one with Vincent Van Gogh's The Starry Night. That one reminded me of the crowd in front of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre in Paris, where you had to wade through a crowd 10 rows deep to get close enough to see the painting. Here, people were having their pictures taken with the painting like it was some kind of rock star.

Far from being a "museum of squiggles" as some might think, there are lots of very significant and recognizable works in their collection as one of the preeminent museums in the world, including Henri Matisse's Dance (1), Salvador Dali's Persistence of Memory, (which is not currently on display however); Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World and Pablo Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, which turns 100 years old this year, and part of the museum's world-class collection of Picassos. There are also some impressive works by Monet, Chagall, Cezanne, Seurat, Modigliani, Pollock, Rothko, Warhol, Rodin, Gauguin, and of course many others. I look forward to bringing my family to see this museum on a quieter, non-free day.

Saturday I had a lab appointment to get some blood drawn, but I slept right through it, so I had to reschedule. The rest of the afternoon I did my errands and then went to pick up Bee as I was taking her to a spa treatment Saturday night after she got off work. We went to @Ease Spa in Hilldale, where she got a facial and I got a full-body massage. It was her first time at a spa, and we both had a fun and relaxing time.

Afterwards we met up with Tara and Bug at the local Fuddrucker's to eat dinner and listen to some obscure 80s music they were playing in the restaurant. I put this Duran Duran CD on my Christmas list, and we had a wonderful time laughing together over our meal, which was admittedly not quite up to what we expect from Fudd's, but didn't matter because we had so much fun.

Sunday I woke up a bit early and did some shopping before all the churchgoers let out, then went home and relaxed for the better part of the day, alternating some reading and TV watching on the couch with vaccuming and straightening up the apartment. I went out briefly in the late afternoon to buy a vanity tray for my small collection of scents, then entertained Tara at my place for a few hours in the late evening before bed.

And that was the extent of my weekend activity.

Friday, October 26, 2007


Update: our spider pumpkin won for most creative! The prize was a $50 American Express gift check for each of our six team members. Nice way to start the weekend.

Spider pumpkin

We had a pumpkin decorating contest at work today. It started yesterday, but today was the grand show and judgement. I normally don't go in for fun stuff like this at work, but prodded by my VP, I joined our group team and wound up leading us to what I hope will be a winning entry. So here's the way it all went down.

There are three categories where prizes will be awarded - most creative, scariest and funniest. Carving was prohibited because it would be messy and increased risk of injury for employees (this is a work event, after all). We brainstormed on some ideas gathered from Web sites like, where I saw one of a spider made by two pumpkins attached together. I originally wanted to go a whole set of five pumpkins painted yellow to represent the Simpsons family, but that was going to take too long, and we only had a day and a half to do it. One of the other girls suggested a "Hairy Potter" theme along the same line, but I didn't think that was particularly creative or funny. So we settled on the spider model and wanted to make it scary.

We started by jamming two chopsticks into each fruit to join them together, wrapping the joint with some black felt to cover up the gap. Then we painted both black using the poster paint provided to us. We punched holes in the felt and attached the pipe cleaner legs. The two big eyes were plastic half eyeballs and the small ones are pistachio shells, both painted with purplish-black nail polish, then a coat of clear on top to make them glassy. The fangs are whole cashew nuts, filed down with a nail file on one end to superglue them to the pumpkin, then painted with white correction fluid and tipped with blood-red nail polish. The Black Widow mark on the spider's abdomen was created by simply scratching out the familiar hourglass shape with a pencil, then carefully peeling the dried poster paint away, exposing the orange of the pumpkin skin underneath.

We sat our creation on a table spread with fake spider webbing, then scattered in the web tiny rubber mice, little glittery spiders, ladybugs made with red pipe cleaners rolled into balls and dabbed with black paint, and some feathers to suggest avian prey. The word "flack" is a derogatory name for what we do, public relations ("spin doctor" is a less offensive euphemism). The whole setup reminds me of Hagrid's pet spider Aragog as seen in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Or maybe Shelob's lair in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

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The competition was surprising intense. I kept our project carefully under wraps the entire time so no one would steal any of our ideas, even going as far as locking my door when I left, and keeping the spider under newspaper wrapping during the day when it sat on my desk. Every once in a while, competing teams would swing by and beg for a peek, but I turned them all away. It got to the point where I caught one guy trying to sneak into my office while I was out! But the result was that there were some very strong entries. Here's my vote for funniest:

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The VP was very impressed with our work (she couldn't actually participate as much because, well, she's a VP). When we were setting it up, she commented that she's never seen me so competitive. My ex used to say that too, and my family has also remarked on it. My personality is that I've very competitive on things that are supposed to be fun, like games, sports and contests (especially those that involve being creative). However, when it comes to things in life, like work, getting ahead, making money - I'm really not that aggressive. It's not in my nature to screw people over or get tough with people to get ahead or get important work done. My ex used to wish I had as much drive to succeed in business as I do to win a game of backgammon, but that's not me. I suppose we all have to have an outlet for the competitive fires that drive us. Most of us put it in our work, some put it in art, and some put it into games and contests. It's just our nature.

Anyway, in other news, I see that the Angel box set is coming out at the end of the month, so that's on my Christmas wish list!

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I visited Karina today when I had to go out to the drugstore this morning next to her office to buy some superglue for the spider eyes and fangs. Her teeth are much better now, and we talked about the idea of her making a career change. She's not happy at the bank and is looking for something else to do. Tonight I'm going with Lori to visit MOMA for the first time, and it should be fun. I ate way too much at our staff lunch of Mexican food, so I won't be eating dinner tonight.

I've got my fingers crossed on the outcome of the Halloween contest which should be announced in about an hour. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

ENDA vote postponed

Here's the latest on ENDA (H.R. 3685), which is being delayed for a week:

House leaders delay ENDA vote
Bush advisers recommend veto of bill

Last night was an up-and-down drama-fest with Tara, which I'm not thrilled about. It started out pretty good - we went our local bookstore so I could return my damaged copy of Neil Gaiman's Absolute Sandman Vol. 2 (I found a pristine copy at the bookstore near my office in the city) and we browsed around for a while and I was enjoying myself. Then a simple question about our plans for the upcoming holidays led to some major unpleasantness. Love can be difficult sometimes - it's not always sunshine and flowers, but it's always worth it.

Karina called me this morning - she's been having a difficult time with her teeth. Her dentist performed a root canal, which got infected, causing her a great deal of pain this weekend. Her dentist was unsympathetic, insisting there should not be any reason for her pain. She eventually got to see another dentist who discovered the infection and is treating it now. As much as I bitch and moan about my dental trials (I had five root canals in two months last year), at least my dentist wasn't so incompetent as hers. Infections scare me - I've been reading about the antibiotic-resistant staph infections that are going around in New York schools, and it's making me think about The Hot Zone.

Blessedly, it's extra quiet in the office today, since my big boss is still traveling, and my next-in-line boss is working from home, so I'm the highest ranking person in my group that's actually here today. The rain is starting to fall outside, and the temperatures are dropping, and my allergies are improving. I hope this cold weather sticks.

I'm looking forward to this weekend already - I have a MOMA visit planned for Friday night, then a spa date with Bee on Saturday night. Plus on Saturday I might go for a test drive at the Mini dealer. Sunday if the weather holds, maybe we'll try our city adventure we had planned last week again.

Monday, October 22, 2007

BDSM and Minis

On Friday I let my freak flag fly a little and took my friend Lori to a BDSM presentation at the LGBT Center. Here's what it was all about:

Lesbian Sex Mafia presents Beyond Roleplay: Invocations and Evocations for Ritual Work and BDSM, a workshop with Lee Harrington

Role play is about simply putting on a mask and becoming something fun for a moment, right? Not for everyone - some of us need to go further. Whether calling upon a persona that is inherent in our very being, or calling down God-forms, animal roles, or our yet-unmet Daddy persona, invocation and evocation can be powerful tools for both BDSM exploration and intense ritual work. From wardrobe to rituals, dabbling in persona manifestation to evoking emotional responses, getting into *and* out of head space, we'll discuss what these tools can mean for your life and desires.

Lee Harrington is an eclectic artist, spiritual and erotic educator, gender radical and published author on human sexuality and spiritual experience. Well known for his fun and informative approach to education, ze approaches sexuality as yet another art to master, or simply an art to enjoy to its fullest! Ze has been an active part of the international kink and sex positive communities for over 11 years, and his stories make people laugh while showing you that eroticism can be as serious, sexy, or silly as you make it. $5 members, $10 non-members Lesbian Sex Mafia (LSM) NYC - Est. 1981 Safe, consensual and confidential!

Before the 8 p.m. presentation, Lori took me to Queen of Sheba, a favorite Ethiopian restaurant. It was the first time I'd ever had Ethiopian food, and it was very good. It sort of blended elements of Chinese, Mediterranean and Asian food all together, but the spices were unique. I ordered the spicy lamb stew, and Lori had the vegetarian sampler. Everything is served on a single large platter the size of a pizza tray, on top of injera, which is a type of thick crepe or pancake. It has a sponge like texture to it, and frankly, seeing them folded on a serving tray, it would be hard to distinguish them from the dishrags in my kitchen. Also, being sponge like, they tend to be quite filling when eaten with a big glass of water, like lembas or Elvish waybread ("one small bite can fill the stomach of a grown man").

After dinner we went to the Center, and we were quite early, so we browsed through the used book sale, where I bought a copy of Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient. I also got hit on by some creepy older guy who came up to me and complimented my hands. The presentation was interesting and quite funny at times - the speaker had fun with one girl's penchant for evoking her "inner baby Godzilla." But much of the presentation I could relate to invoking the goddess in pagan rituals, so in that respect it was educational for me, because I have never tried BDSM, nor am I much interested in doing it.

On Saturday I dragged Tara to our local Mini Cooper dealership in Mahwah because I'm considering buying a Mini Cooper and wanted to sit in one to try it out. I've longed for a Mini ever since I first saw one at a BMW dealer where I was putting on a charity go-kart race for a client back in Houston many years ago. Even though I've never driven one, they seem like fun cars to drive, like souped up go-karts. Plus, they are actually pretty spacious inside, at least for two people. I don't need a new car per se, since Yoshi is working fine for a vehicle with about 115,000 miles on him. It's just that driving a minivan is very much linked to my old life, pretty much the only major possession I have from that time period and I'm not thrilled about that. Like everything else, it's time for my car to reflect the person I am, not the one I was.

Later in the evening, I went to Target and bought some new jeans because my old ones are getting too loose from the weight loss. I found some on the sale rack in a juniors size 15 that fit me, only they were a bit short, so I ripped the seams to let them out at the bottom, ironed out the creases and now they look great. I also found a bookcase for my bedroom to put my TV on, although I had to exchange it for the right color on Sunday. Sunday I also went to Loehmans and bought some winter coats and other items with my bonus coupons that expire today.

Today I have some pretty bad allergies, but hopefully it will be a quiet day at work and I can get home early and rest. The weather was beautiful this weekend and the trees are really starting to turn colors, which is a sight to behold. It's supposed to be hot and rainy all this week but hopefully next weekend will be nice too.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

New friends

"A fanatic is someone who can't change his mind and won't change the subject" - Winston Churchill

I saw this quote in the elevator this morning on the way to work, and it has nothing to do with anything. I just admire the way he was able to capture the idea so eloquently and memorably that it sticks with you.

It's been a quiet week so far. My boss is again traveling around the world, and won't be back until after Thanksgiving. However, I did get a couple new projects to keep me busy - a law firm, a pharmaceutical company and a pitch for a media advertising company. Plus I'm still doing some work on the Qatar pitch. But generally it's quiet work that doesn't require a lot of meetings and phone calls.

Last Friday I had dinner with a new friend I met online, a freelance writer named Lori who lives in Queens. We were supposed to meet at the Barnes & Noble store near my office, but she went to a different one further downtown by mistake. Once we finally got together, we went to Marrakesh, a Middle Eastern bistro nearby, then back to the bookstore to shop. When the store closed at 9 p.m. (which is dreadfully early for a B&N), we went back to my office and I gave her the nickel tour. This Friday we're planning to visit the Museum of Modern Art, which I've been meaning to for ages.

I also met another new friend, purely by chance. A couple weeks ago I saw an ad in the paper for high interest rates on certificates of deposit at Wachovia and I decided to put some of my money away to earn more interest. I went to my local Wachovia branch about two blocks down Third Avenue and saw the financial specialist about the CD. Her name was Karina, and she was very helpful - we hit it off well because she is Polish and oddly enough there seems to be a disproportionate number of Poles in my circle of friends. However, nothing happened on that first visit, and I walked out of the bank with my CD, intending to return in six months when it matures.

However, when I tried to sign up for their online banking, I found that Karina had not given me a 4-digit PIN, so I went back on Tuesday and saw her again. Our second visit was very chatty and we found we have a lot in common. She had an invitation to go to an outdoor sculpture opening at lunchtime and asked if I wanted to come, so we took a walk at lunch to 49th and Second, which is a block away from the United Nations building. We watched a Hungarian band play for the opening, then took a walk around the block and saw the UN building, a first for me. She is studying hard for classes and to pass financial exams for work, plus she lives in Westchester, NY, so we probably won't be doing much together other than an occasional lunch, but it was nice to find a friendly, down-to-earth person working nearby in the city.

Monday, October 15, 2007

P-Tree and the Hall of Fame

This weekend was a celebration of one of the happiest events of my life so far - meeting the three people I call my family here in New Jersey on October 14, 2005. On that date two years ago, I got on a plane from Houston (a midday flight because I overslept and missed my morning flight) and after many delays due to weather and air traffic congestion, I arrived at New York La Guardia airport and took a shuttle bus to Grand Central Station, then hopped in a cab to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It was about 30 minutes before closing time when I pulled up on Fifth Avenue in front of the museum, where I met Bee and gave her a quick hug before going in and meeting Tara in our special place (that is currently closed for remodeling - ugh). We got kicked out of the museum shortly after and drove home to pick up Bug and have dinner at our local diner. So every Oct. 14 we celebrate the anniversary of our first meeting in person at the Met.

Saturday Tara and I went back to that great museum in the afternooon and spent some time checking out a new African exhibit and a photography exhibit before walking across Central Park to grab a bite to eat.

We sampled hot dogs at Gray's Papaya and it turned out to indeed be a nearly-exact clone of our beloved Papaya King. I got a Subway sandwich and Tara had her daily allowance of saturated fat at McDonald's before walking over to the Beacon Theater to see the Porcupine Tree concert. We each bought copies of their new EP album Nil Recurring, which is only available at concerts and from their Web site. Unlike the last concert at the Nokia Theater in May we attended with Bee, we actually got to sit down in seats, although we had a couple of tall people sitting in front of us and again, we had to put up with clouds of smoke from potheads. The show was terrific, and the lightshow was even better than the last concert.

Porcupine Tree at the Beacon Theater

After the concert we went to a nearby Haagen-Daas for ice cream (yes, I took a night off the diet) and hopped a cab back to the Met. It was nearly midnight, and the deserted area was lit with preturnaturally soft lighting that captured the moment perfectly. We took some pictures and found a new spot to celebrate our anniversary, one that couldn't be closed for remodeling!

Nighttime at the Met

Sunday, the 14th, I honored the anniversary by repeating the mistake of oversleeping, but to much less deleterious effect. We were taking a day trip out to Cooperstown, New York, to visit major league baseball's Hall of Fame, so leaving about a half-hour later than expected wasn't too much of an inconvenience. We drove north and saw some impressive views of the fall foliage covering the Catskills region, plus some herds of very cute Holstein cows.

Upon arriving we sat in the bleachers of Doubleday field and watched two local baseball teams warm up before having lunch at T.J.'s Cafe. After eating, we sat and watched an inning of the game, seeing a no-hitter broken up in the third inning and a couple of errors in the field. It reminded me of the movie Field of Dreams, which coincidentally I was watching late Saturday night after the P-Tree concert.

View from the first base bleachers

Doubleday Field in Cooperstown

We left the game and walked up the historic main street a few blocks to the hall of fame, where baseball's greatest players are enshrined and the history of the game is preserved for future generations. My family comes here a few times a year on average, but it was my first ever visit. Perhaps we will come back for Craig Biggio's induction ceremony in a few years.

The Hall of Fame

After a quick tour of the hall, we walked out to Otsego Lake and took pictures of the magnificent mountain vistas surrounding the area. Words probably aren't necessary when we have such pictures to look at, so I'll just close by saying - Happy Anniversary Bee, Bug and Tara. <3

The mouth of the river

A crop of caramel mushrooms growing on a tree

Twilight on Lake Otsego

A flock of ducks

Bee doing a Deadwing cover pose

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Diner talk

I had a nice dinner last night with my family at our local diner, the first time we've all sat down at a table to eat since Bug's birthday last month. It was great to catch up with everyone's day and hearing the little minutiae that I miss from not being around more.

I followed up dinner with a long bedtime phone talk and unfortunately got to bed a little later than I had intended and slept through my alarm clock this morning. I think it's only about the second or third time it's happened since I started this job 15 months ago, but I'm surprised it doesn't happen more often with my crazy hours. When I was in high school, the only time I ever got detention was due to excessive tardiness from not being able to wake up in the morning. I was such a good kid, just habitually lazy and a night owl to boot.

I also got the news this morning that client meeting in Utah scheduled for the end of October has been postponed to January. This is good news because by January there should be enough snow for skiing, and I'll have plenty of vacation time to extend the trip into the weekend so I can ski without having to pay for a plane ticket. Utah is such a good place to ski too, and I know the terrain well from skiing there several times in the past. I should get some rollerblades and start training since I'm so out of shape for skiing (or for anything else, for that matter). I have found in the past that getting good on blades makes a HUGE difference on the slopes. This also means I need to shop for some skiwear, which I obviously don't have anymore. I just hope some of my co-workers or clients also want to stay over, so I won't have to ski alone.

Lastly, I'm so happy the heat wave finally broke. It's rainy and drizzly here for the rest of the week, but at least the temperatures are out of the flippin' 80s! Hopefully this weekend will be wonderful for a trip into the city.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Bring on the fat!

This is a fascinating article in the New York Times today about how the myth was born and perpetuated that a diet high in fat contributes to poor health:

Diet and Fat: A Severe Case of Mistaken Consensus

Aside from the fact that it appears that eating fat does not actually lead to bad things like heart disease, the real interest in this article is how it's an example of the dark side of democracy in a sense. The point is that if you get enough reputable people to agree on one thing, there are social forces that can compel a group to reach the wrong conclusion, one that is based on assumptions and not hard data.

If the long-held idea that consuming fat leads to a shorter lifespan has such a dirty secret origin, it tends to make me suspicious of any conclusion made by the so-called experts of the world. And of course, don't get me started on the politicians that perpetuate fallacies for their own agendas. I guess the lesson is that we all need to think for ourselves and not rely too heavily on expert opinions.

I got a new assignment today to help prepare a pitch for a governmental agency in the country of Qatar, which is located on a peninsula in the Persian Gulf. I narrowly avoided having to actually go there to present the pitch, since my boss wasn't able to go, but another VP stepped up and volunteered. Part of me does like the idea of traveling overseas, but the idea of being alone on business in a Middle Eastern country, even a relatively liberal on like Qatar, doesn't sound like my idea of fun.

And by the way, it's hard breaking the habit of reaching for the "u" key on the keyboard when typing Qatar! There's also been some disagreement on the correct pronunciation - some call it "Kay-TAR" and others say "CUT-ter." Anyway, new project, so I'll be learning about this country with the funny name.

The Yankees lost last night, so their season is over. My family is taking it really hard, being lifelong Yankees fans. For myself, I have the comfort of merging right into the basketball season, where I still follow my beloved hometown Houston Rockets on NBA League Pass. That's pretty much the biggest reason I even bothered to get cable installed last weekend.

Plus, as the weather gets cooler, I'm looking forward to going out to the park and shooting some baskets with my brand-new ball I bought last year and never took out of the box. I think the fact that the Rockets won their two NBA championships in 1985 and 1986 during my formative years has something to do with my being a lifelong fan. Being part of a sports championship is a very special thing for a sports fan - you have to be a fan of the right team at the right time, unless you're the fair weather type of fan that jumps on any championship bandwagon.

And besides, how many other women can say they've shot baskets one-on-one with the great Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon on the court of Hofheinz Pavilion at our alma mater, the University of Houston, as I did when I was in college?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Blade Runner

It's Sunday night, past midnight, and I should be getting to bed soon, but I wanted to write a little about the weekend while I'm waiting for my hair to dry a bit.

Friday night I went to the New York LGBT Center for the Cuddle Party, which was pretty much what I expected and fun, although I didn't quite feel comfortable enough on my first time to fully participate in the non-structured part of the gathering. We went through exercises on how to ask for what we wanted, and how to say yes, and how to say no without hurting others' feelings. All these things are practiced in my family, so it wasn't completely unfamiliar, but it's all still new to me. I come from a culture where many behaviors stem from unspoken expectations and obligations (a high context culture, for those of you familiar with communication theory), so it will take some time for the idea of explicit, honest and open communication to become second nature to me.

Toward the end of the party, I met a few nice people I just felt comfortable talking to, a pagan couple and a very bubbly cat-lover. I'm actually a little disappointed with myself for being so inhibited, but I knew this was going to be a challenge for me to let go a little. But I think now I know what to expect, if I have the opportunity to attend another party I will probably be able to participate more fully.

Saturday I had my cable TV installed in the early afternoon and spent some time tweaking and setting things up properly. Then Tara and I took a trip into the city to the Ziegfeld Theater, which is probably the largest movie theater I've ever been to, one of the old-fashioned one-screen movie palaces I've always dreamed of visiting. This weekend was the opening of Ridley Scott's final cut of his classic sci-fi film noir Blade Runner.

The Zigfeld marquee on 54th Street and Sixth Avenue

The sound and picture of this new digital presentation was breathtaking - I don't remember ever being so impressed with the quality of a movie screening, and this is a restored movie that's 25 years old. Scott's cut of the movie wasn't much different from the version on DVD, but it seemed to me to be a little more linear in the storytelling. After the screening, we took some time to fill out the questionnaire for the film's marketing team, since this is an exclusive engagement at this one theater for now.

Sunday I went over to my family's house to watch the Yankees game, and fortunately they won their elimination game against the Cleveland Indians, which means there will be a Game 4 tomorrow night. Go Yanks!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Across the Universe

Thursday night I saw Across the Universe with Agnieszka at our local AMC Theater in Clifton. It was pretty good, and I thought I was probably not in the right mindset to fully engage with it, having literally just stepped off the train from work to make the 7:10 show. But I'm reminded of the fact that when I first saw Moulin Rouge, I almost stopped watching it 15 minutes in, and now it's one of my favorite musicals. Time will tell if this movie grows on me, because there were parts of it that were very enjoyable, and the ending did bring a few tears of joy, which is always a good sign.

Visually, the movie is a feast, and maybe that's what got to me a little. There's so much kinetic energy and wild choreography that it is almost exhausting to watch. I wonder - if I watched it over and over, would I burn more calories than watching TV? Of course, the music by the Beatles is faultless, and it's fun listening to new voices sing these familiar songs. I enjoy the soundtrack to Honeymoon in Vegas for the same reason. If it's one thing I didn't feel the movie did enough was to reach me on an emotional level, choosing perhaps too many distractions with multiple characters and non-stop musical numbers. Conversely, I'd have liked to see more of the Asian lesbian character - besides her opening musical scene, she is barely heard from through the rest of the movie.

Friday night I'm going to what is billed as "an All-Gender Super Massive Cuddle Party at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York. Cuddle Party is a structured, safe workshop on boundaries, communication, intimacy and affection. This playful, fun space gives people the opportunity to rediscover non-sexual touch in a relaxed drug and alcohol-free environment. It’s a laboratory where individuals can explore and experiment with what makes them feel safe and good."

Aside from the promotion-speak, personally I'm looking at the event as an opportunity to make progress in feeling more comfortable with my own body, because my formative years have left me feeling disconnected at times to my physical self. It's part of my continuing growth and healing as a person who has suffered from negative body image issues and was raised in an environment where affectionate touching was discouraged to boot.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Ramen obsession

Here's a fun article about the fanaticism of ramen aficianados in Japan - it's about a New Yorker who moved to Tokyo to open his own noodle shop. As usual, the movie Tampopo (often mentioned in this blog) was an early influence for this chef. However, I have to correct the synopsis in the story in that it was a woman, not a man, who was obsessed with creating the perfect bowl of ramen. The man was simply helping make her dream come true.

"Trying to Out-Noodle the Japanese" - Wall Street Journal, Sept. 29-30, 2007

It was a relatively uneventful weekend, other than some personal drama on Saturday. Mostly, I spent the weekend shopping for clothes, as this was my final chance to use my birthday discount at Loehmann's, on top of the other discounts and coupons they were offering. Friday night after work I went to the Manhattan store located on 16th Street and bought a couple of shirts, and Saturday night I visited the store nearest to me in New Jersey and bought a purse, a black pantsuit for my upcoming business trip to Utah, and several skirts, a couple of which were of the evening wear variety. I don't really expect to have any occasion to actually wear these, but they were so beautiful I just had to have them "just in case". I'm sure any shopaholic knows what I'm talking about.

Sunday I went to Target to pick up a few necessities, and noticed there was a lot of stuff on the sale racks since summer clothes are being phased out. I found a couple nice shirts that fit me well, plus a few more skirts. All in all, it was quite the shopping adventure this weekend.

So today I was poking around the Net looking for something to do this Friday, the night that the rest of my family is occupied with their own individual pursuits. I was checking out the New York LGBT Center calendar and saw a listing for a "Super Massive Cuddle Party" this Friday night. If you don't know what a cuddle party is, here's a list of frequently asked questions.

Despite what it sounds like, there's nothing sexual about it - it's all about learning to express yourself through touching, which has been one of my areas of interest for a long time. The first time I'd heard of cuddle parties was a couple years ago on a Lifetime channel show about non-traditional social practices that included a woman who taught other women how to striptease for their husbands and similar such topics. In the vein of having new and different experiences, I'm happy that there's a opportunity to participate here. It should be interesting if nothing else.

Funnily enough, this morning I was taking some required sensitivity training at work, and the message was repeatedly brought up that there should never be a reason for employees to touch each other in the workplace (other than handshakes, etc.). While of course I understand the reasoning behind this rule, part of me feels it's really a shame that touching has become such a taboo in business environments. At least that hasn't stopped some infrequent-visitor clients and employees from sharing a hug now and then, for which I'm grateful.

Friday, September 28, 2007


Misheard lyrics (also called mondegreens) occur when people misunderstand the lyrics in a song; e.g. Hold me closer, Tony Danza from Elton John's "Tiny Dancer". I've been emailing some of these to my family, but they are so funny that I feel compelled to post about it. You can tell I really have way too much time on my hands at work right now.

This one of the well known song "Another One Bites the Dust" by Queen was so funny that I started crying because I was having to stifle the laughter in my office. I actually laughed so hard (or actually kept myself from laughing so hard) that I wet myself a little. Especially when I actually put the song on my iPod and found out they are right! So I had to take off my panties and seal them in a Ziploc bag and put it in my purse. Now I'm thinking that if I get stopped by the subway cops and searched, they're going to think I'm carrying around a lesbian sex trophy or something...

Queen's, "Another One Bites The Dust"
Misheard Lyrics:
Ah, take it!
Right in the nuts!
Call a doctor!

Original Lyrics:
Ah, take it!
Bite the dust!
Bite the dust, yeah!

If you liked that one, here are some more, gathered from various places around the Web.

"Born to Run," Bruce Springsteen
Truly a classic, but it's got some awesomely misunderstood lines . "Wrap your hands 'round my INCHES?" "The highway's jammed with broken GYROS?" "CHUMPS like us, baby we were born to run?"

"We Didn't Start the Fire," Billy Joel
Like all list songs, "Fire" trips listeners up with its sheer torrent of names and phrases, especially when the age groups singing it aren't familiar with topics such as Dien Bien Phu and children of Thalidomide. A few choice mishearings include: "Chocolate in the sewers" ("Trouble in the Suez"), "Gretchen's in Afghanistan" ("Russians in Afghanistan"), and "British beat Romania" ("British Beatlemania").

"Smells Like Teen Spirit," Nirvana
Kurt Cobain could be difficult to understand on his best days. But "Teen Spirit" is probably the song that most people get wrong. The title was sparked when Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill wrote "Kurt smells like Teen Spirit" on a wall, referring to Teen Spirit deodorant. And as for the lyrics, well, I don't think I understood them until I heard the Tori Amos cover. On the misheard-lyrics site, "Teen Spirit" has the second-largest number of misheard lyrics submitted, behind only "Blinded by the Light." And I'd say it might have some of the funniest ones ever. Here we are now, in containers! A mosquito, ate my Cheetos! Amaretto, in a needle! I'm with Kato, in a Beetle!

Manfred Mann's Earth Band 's, "Blinded By The Light "
Misheard Lyrics:
Wrapped up like a douche and then I rode her in the night.

Original Lyrics:
Revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night.

The Toto song is even more fun. I confessed that, in Toto's "Africa," I always heard a certain lyric wrong. The actual line, according to Toto's own Web site, is "Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti." I always heard it as "Sure as Kilimanjaro rises up like Memphis above the Serengeti" (or even the nonsensical, "rises like a membrus," whatever a "membrus" sounds kinda sexual to me).

Happily, I was not the only confused listener. From your comments:

• "Whoa, all this time I thought it was 'rises like an empress....' Hmmm." --Kristen
• "Oh my God. Kilimanjaro rises 'like Olympus'? I always thought it rose 'like a leopard!' What a disappointment." --Lori
• "I always thought it was 'like a leopress'... isn't that a female leopard, and doesn't that make more sense?" --Rick
• And from a different part of the song, Sue confesses "Growing up my sister and I always sang Toto's "Africa" as ' I left my brains down in Africa,' rather than 'I bless the rains down in Africa.'"

Another song that came up often: Prince's "Little Red Corvette." Now for this one, I thought the title alone would give it away, but here are some of the versions you heard:

• "My sister used to sing 'Pay the rent, Colette' instead of 'Little Red Corvette' whenever the Prince song came on the radio. She's grown now, with daughters of her own, and they think that is the funniest thing in the world!" -- Jen
• "My brother swore it was 'pay the rent collect' which even he admitted didn't make sense." --Rob
• My mom, when she was young, used to think 'Little Red Corvette" was 'pay the rent or else.' " --Des
• When I was a kid, I always thought Prince's 'Little Red Corvette' was 'Live in Corvette.' " --Julie
• "When Prince would sing 'Little Red Corvette,' I always thought it was 'Livin' in Quebec.' I think I was around 19 when I realized I was wrong." --Tiffany

My daughter has always had a problem with the chorus of "Africa" by Toto. Instead of "There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do" she hears "There's nothing that a hundred men FROM MARS can ever do."

When I was I kid I thought the line from Nine Inch Nails "Down in It" was "I was a muppet now I'm doubted". The line is really "I was up above it now I'm down in it". Yeah, I know. At the time it made sense.

For years I thought it was "Secret Asian Man" until a few of my friends laughed outloud when they heard me singing it!!! I still think it sounds more like that than "Secret Agent Man." He slurrs.

Here's one that made me cry laughing... I remember sitting listening to Elton John's new album and wondering how in the world someone could get away with singing "Someone saved my life tonight.. s**t the bed". We STILL sing it that way and it never ceases to make me howl.

I was married to a musician and he continually got angry over my misheard lyrics. The one that sticks into my head to this day is from The Eagles Hotel California when the "warm smell of policemen, rise up in the air."

My sister always thought "Rock the Casbah" was "F**K the Catwalk" she used to sing it as a kid and got in big trouble at school!

Happy Birthday to da Bug!

It's been a quiet week at work, which has been pleasant. I was out on Tuesday celebrating Bug's birthday (more on that later) and Wednesday my boss left for Saudi Arabia for 10 days. Plus, we lost the ethanol pitch, so quite frankly I've got a lot of free time on my hands right now until other stuff fills the void. Which is all good because I've been dealing with some personal issues this week.

So Tuesday we started the day at home with our traditional overwhelming pile of presents. Bee and Tara wrapped theirs in blue and silver, to coordinate with Bug's blue-streaked hair. I opted for traditional French provincial wrapping paper I got from the Met when we visited the Rembrandt exhibit last week, so the pile looked a little uncoordinated, but my creative piling method helped to restore some order to the chaos.

A big pile 'o' presents

After opening all the presents, we drove to Palisades Center and followed Bug as she led us around to every store in the mall. We stopped at Jo-Ann's for a good while since Bug is a visual artist who works in textiles on occasion. She also got a cool Alienware PS2 controller in electric blue at a game shop, while I picked up some cheap used copies of Batman Returns, The Curse of the Golden Flower and The Brothers Grimm (a recent Terry Gilliam film). Of course we had to fight through the hordes of Halo 3 fans to check out, since it was launch day for that game.

We had a bite to eat at the food court (which was possibly the worst bowl of chili I've ever had in my life) and then went to Dave & Busters to play video games. We had dinner at a place called Cheeburger Cheeburger, which has some of the best burgers anywhere, I have to say, although I'm not really a burger aficionado. We ate way too much, then went home to digest and watch the end of the Yankees game.

After the game we had our Carvel ice cream in the shape of a whale (we call him Fudgie the Whale). Bee had the very cool idea of decorating the wall with blue and while ballons (again, to coordinate with Bug's hair, not because we're Jewish or Greek) and spell out Bug's age in binary code. Funnily enough, with the flowery wallpaper in the background, it looks a lot like the huge pile of presents she had opened that morning. Props to those who can decipher her age from this picture - you get the geek gold star award!

Bee spelled Bug's birthday in binary with blue balloons