Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Tour of the Brooklyn Museum

I know it's probably just me, but it seems like the weekends are getting shorter. That would be quite a conspiracy if it were true though. Maybe it's some government plot to get more working hours out of the economy to pay for the war. On that note, here's an interesting and on-target column from the Weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal:

Rich Man, Boor Man

Anyway, not to get political or overly negative (two things I try to avoid like the plague), I did have a productive and enjoyable weekend, and it seems like I'm settling into a bit of a groove on weekend with Saturdays being used to clean the apartment, cook and run errands, while Sundays I try to spend time with my family since everyone is off work.

Saturday I went to IKEA to return something and bought a cheap TV stand to use in the bedroom. Since I bought my new LCD TV a couple weeks ago, my old TV has been sitting unused on the floor, so I decided to hook up my spare VCR so I could watch tapes in bed if I wanted to. I think if I had cable, I still wouldn't want a TV in my bedroom because it's just too invasive and I'd end up having it on way too much. But since it can only play tapes, and I don't have all that many tapes, it's just an occasional use set for tapes I might check out of the library or whatever.

I also stopped by Globe Shoes in Paramus again and picked up two more pairs of the Softspots Lilly sandals that I wore to my job interview last week. It's not often that I find comfortable, feminine shoes in my size, so it's worth stocking up, especially when they are half-price for the season. I also stopped by Target and found some nice scoopneck shirts, a new pair of jeans, shorts and a pretty orange skirt in the clearance rack. Unfortunately I've been gaining some weight since my surgery in January so I've needed some new clothes to wear until I can lose the extra weight, which I intend to start doing in the next few weeks once I make some preparations. I lost 60 pounds in eight months back in 2005, so we'll see if I can come close to duplicating that feat. If I lose half that this time, I'll be pretty happy, as long as I can keep it off. Hopefully with no more major medical complications in my foreseeable future, I'll be able to maintain a healthier lifestyle going forward.

Saturday night my family and I watched Touch the Sound, a documentary about deaf musician Evelyn Glennie, a movie I first discovered at the Angelika Theater back in Houston. I had arrived at the theater early to see something else, but I poked my head into this movie and saw the first 10 minutes or so, and resolved to see the rest with Tara (which we finally did last June when I gave her a copy of the DVD). It's a stirring portrait of an artist and another good documentary about improvised music (Keith Jarrett's Art of Improvisation is also well worth seeing).

Sunday we woke to sauna-like conditions to head out to the Brooklyn Museum to see an exhibit of Asher B. Durand paintings that was closing on Sunday, so it was our last chance. Tara and I saw this exhibit back in April, and we wanted to show Bee and Bug before they took it down. It was just as beautiful as we remembered, and we were heartened to see that about a third of the paintings belonged to the New York Historical Society, so they will eventually be on display there for us to revisit. I also got yelled at by a guard for taking this photo of Durand's 1853 painting titled "Progress (The Advance of Civilization)" - but at least I got the illicit photo I wanted.

The hard won photo in the Durand gallery

We also toured the museum's world-class Egyptian section and the rest of their American wing that Tara and I saw last time we were there. Then we went to the mysterious fourth floor (which required a special elevator and age-appropriate advisory) and toured the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art and some installations of colonial period houses and furnishings.

Me and the sarcophagus

An actual mummy on display

A substitute Tiffany window for me and Tara

There was also a beautiful ballroom called the Beaux-Arts Court that is a magnificent space in and of itself. Unfortunately, like many parts of the museum, our enjoyment was tempered by a lack of air conditioning, requiring the use of noisy fans for air circulation.

A great place to put a rock climbing wall

On the fifth floor there is also a visible storage exhibit similar to the one at the New York Historical Society, but quite a bit smaller. However, the dim lighting in Brooklyn makes it a more intimate and evocative space than the brightly lit and sunlight dappled rooms in Manhattan.

I wish my closet was this big

Two of my favorite sculptures I've seen recently are at the Brooklyn - one titled The Greek Slave, and the other is The Lost Pleiad, which reminded me of the character Yvaine in Stardust, a movie I'm looking forward to seeing next weekend. Marvelous work, and the installation of the Pleiad is particularly dramatic, as it is placed in its own darkened room with spotlighting.

The Lost Pleiad

The Greek Slave

On our way out, I bought a poster of John Singer Sargent's work, An Out-of-Doors Study, that I intend to have framed and put up somewhere in the apartment. Amazingly, it was pouring down rain pretty much all day long, except for the few moments when we were coming and going from the parking lot to the museum. Fortunately I didn't have to get soaked twice in one week!

After our return to our respective homes to prepare for another workweek, last night I finished reading Charles de Lint's The Little Country and it's not far to say that this might be a life-changing book for me. I still remember the day I picked it up from the bookshelf, as if I were drawn to it. Tara has some of de Lint's books (including this one) but she couldn't recommend this particular one to me because she hadn't read it yet. But there was something about this book that drew me to it, even before I'd read a single page. I lost my original copy in the recent fire when I was about halfway through it, so I had to replace it immediately (fortunately with an identical trade paperback copy). It reminded me of the ephemeral nature of magick if one does not continuously keep to one's intended path. For those already on a such a path, or anyone interested in finding magick in their lives, I highly recommend this book.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The week in review

Guess it's been a while since I've posted (a week, which is about my limit these days). I've been pretty busy at work, not hair on fire busy, but lots of things piling up on my desk that need my attention. So I only have time for a brief recap on major events over the past seven days - please forgive the tone of brevity.

Working backwards then, I talked to my old boss in Houston last night online, the gay one. I told him about my interview on Monday (more about that in a moment) and let him know what I've been up to. My old company is having a 20th anniversary party in September and all former employees (even me) are invited. If it weren't for the fact that I have practically no vacation time left, and it's the day before an opera I'm seeing (more 'bout that later) I would totally go. But alas, I think I shall have to wait for my boss's retirement party, which could come as soon as January.

Last night I also started my allergy shots, one in each arm each week for the next seven months. No adverse reactions yet, but it's a very low dosage of allergens (dust mites, bermuda grass, aspergillus mold, feline dander and ragweed, in a tiny little cocktail vial). After seven months, I'll slowly transition to monthly shots for the next few years.

Tuesday I got to get out of the office for the afternoon to attend a green communications conference since I'm on Agent K's (my office) corporate reponsibility team. There was a great presentation by the lead marketing communicator for the Ford Escape Hybrid - she was British and I love how foreigners have all these different words they use, like "crikey" and "flippin' HUGE battery". Anyway, she sure made me want to buy a hybrid SUV for my next car, except that I just owned a Ford Explorer before Yoshi and I wasn't really happy with it.

On Monday I had my job interview at the new firm, and wouldn't you know it, that was the day it rained like monsoon season in southeast Asia. I wore my new shoes that I'd just bought on Saturday, and I got soaked! I think I got extra points for venturing out in that weather though. The firm is a mid-sized company similar to the one I left in Houston - the owner actually knows the owner of my old firm - and it's 80 percent women. We had a nice little chat, I showed them my stuff and they asked what kind of salary I was looking for. Unlike last year when I was looking for my first job in New York, I didn't feel any pressure to get the job, so I told them honestly that they would have to pay me in the six-figure range to get me to leave a large firm like Agent K to come work for a firm nobody's ever heard of. So we'll see if I make the cut to the next round.

Sunday Tara and I had a date planned, but the day didn't start well due to some lingering issues from an incident on Friday, but we did manage to salvage the day with a trip to the Natural Science Museum. I wanted to see parts that I hadn't seen yet, so she took me to the gem and mineral room. On the way we passed a new anthropological exhibit about the evolution of the human species, everything from our physical development since Neanderthal times to the development of our culture, language and music (which Tara found fascinating since she's a musician). Here's a photo of some early carvings of the female form made by primitive man.

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In the hall of minerals, we saw samples of all the gems and minerals of the world, many of which you could touch. The latest of this collection was this giant sample of stibnite, which reminded us of Kryptonian crystal technology in Superman's Fortress of Solitude (the original one).

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There were also some pretty amazing samples of various crystals, both in raw and cut form, and of course, gold (a display of traditional prospector's tools).

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We ended our visit with a quick tour of the Rose Center and the Hayden Sphere, which dominates the north end of the museum.

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Saturday was a very productive day for me - I bought a new summer dress, dust covers for all my bedding, a couple pairs of new shoes, a TV stand, cleaned up my apartment, washed all my bras and sheets, etc., etc. Also, it felt good to sleep in late because we were out late on Friday night picking up Harry Potter books for my family at midnight. We also had a very satisfying dinner at Cheeburger in Palisades Center right before midnight. I'm not as big a Harry Potter fan as the rest of my family, but I do like the movies, and someday I might get around to reading the books.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the dinner Agnieszka and I had at a Polish restaurant called Royal Warsaw last Monday, I think. I had steak tartare again, which was very interesting. You can see they do a deconstructed version where you mix the ingredients together yourself (the chopped things at the top of the plate) and serve it with the raw egg yolk and additional condiments like smoked sardines, pickles and mushrooms.

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Even more interesting was Agnieszka's dish of flaming kielbasa, served atop hunter's stew, which is kind of like a mild sauerkraut-based stew. It arrives in a blaze of glory at the table, which had died down a bit by the time I'd whipped my camera out to take a picture of it.

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So that's the gist of my adventures in the past week. On Friday, September 21, Agnieszka, Carol and I are going to see La Boheme at the NYC Opera, which should be fun. It will actually be the second time I've seen La Boheme this year, but since it's one of my favorites and the other two are new to opera, I don't mind at all. Then on August 5, a week from this Sunday, my family and I are finally going to see the Police in concert at Giants stadium. So many fun things happening lately - I feel so blessed!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

I'm okay...

Those of you who follow the news know that there was an explosion caused by a ruptured steam pipe in Midtown Manhattan yesterday afternoon at about 6 p.m. That was right about the time I was leaving work, but I didn't hear anything. Considering it happened less than 15 blocks away, I'm rather surprised.

Today as I was getting my lunch from a nearby Chinese restaurant, the air was full of the sounds from news helicopters bouncing around the skyscrapers watching over the blast area. Curiously, there weren't that many people walking around - perhaps everyone is worried about the possibility of asbestos, or another eruption happening.

It is kind of scary to think about living in New York, where events such as this occur. But I suppose other cities have their own risks from crime, earthquakes, tornadoes, hazardous materials, etc. It's just a part of life - if you worry so much about that kind of stuff, you'd be a shut-in.

In other news, I went to see an allergist yesterday, and he ran some tests on me as to why I've been having allergy symptoms lately. It turns out I am allergic to dust mites, cat dander, ragweed and other fall weed pollens, and one type of mold. Since medications have been ineffective pretty much all my life, I'm thinking about going on allergy shots. This is a pretty big commitment, because it's weekly shots for the first seven months, then monthly shots for the next 3-5 years. First I have to check if my insurance is going to pay for this, and then I have to decide if it's worth all the trouble of going to the doctor so much. It seems like I have so little free time as it is already.

I've got my acting class tonight which I had to skip for the past two weeks because of work and the July 4 holiday. There's supposed to be big thunderstorms this afternoon though, so I hope I don't get soaked on the way there. I've also had several recruiters contact me the past couple of weeks, and one of them wants to line up a meeting for me next week for a VP position at another PR firm, so we'll see if that comes to anything.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Birthday bash

While it will be 39 years in September since I took my first breath of air in this world, yesterday I celebrated the milestone that has taken on greater importance to my present life. It was on July 15 three years ago that I set my intention to take control of my destiny and become the person I am today.

This was by no means an easy decision. I knew by choosing this new life, I would lose some aspects of my old life, and as it turned out, I lost a lot more than I ever expected to. In setting my path, I knew there would be both challenges and rewards. I didn't know if my life would turn out better or worse in the long run. But contrary to my old nature of choosing the safe choice, I realized that sometimes in life, you have to risk everything (or in poker terms, go "all in") in order to fullfill your potential, to grow, and to have a chance at being happy and to live without regrets for things undone.

Last year I made the decision that from now on, I would celebrate my birthday on July 15 instead of the date on my driver's license. The reason is that July 15 is the anniversary of the event that brought me to my family here in New Jersey, and the life that I cherish now. The original date in September marks the anniversary of my link to my birth family, the day that I emerged from my mother and joined my father and older brother in that family. To me, that family doesn't really exist anymore, at least the one that included me. So there's really no justification for celebrating the date which I joined it, whereas there is ample happiness and love to celebrate for the anniversary of starting on the path that eventually brought me to my present group of loved ones I consider my family now.

To celebrate, we went to Six Flags Great Adventure, something I've been wanting to do since I moved here last year. I love thrill rides, and there's a monster one at SFGA called Kingda Ka that we wanted to ride first. Luckily Bee is also a fan of such rides, but Bug and Tara are not, so we spent a large part of the day separately in pairs. Kingda Ka holds the world records in speed (128 mph) and height (456 feet, or 45 stories) and accelerates to full speed in 3.5 seconds before shooting you straight up to the top and plummeting to Earth in a spiral.

It was an incredibly short line when we got on for some reason, so Bee and I got to sit in the front car after about a 30 minute wait. The sensation of speed at launch is pretty overwhelming, like being shot out of a cannon. A somewhat equivalent acceleration would be that of a top-fuel dragster which reaches 333 mph in 4.5 seconds. However, without the benefit of a windshield or other protection, especially sitting in the front car with nothing to break the air in front of us, it felt like my face was going to peel off and I had to shut my eyes because 1) to keep my contact lenses from being torn out, and 2) to keep my eyeballs from going with them. Next time we go, I'm definitely going to wear from eye protection, like polycarbonate sports goggles, so I can see what's going on and enjoy the ride more.

After Kingda Ka, we went on The Great American Scream Machine and Medusa before taking a break (which I needed because I was getting a bit of whiplash). My favorite coaster at SFGA however was Nitro, mainly because it didn't have any inversions and therefore did not require over-the-head restraints. It has a wicked first drop of 215 feet and there's lots of zero-G time along its mile-long track. Here's a picture of me waiting in line with the Nitro train in the background.
Waiting to get on Nitro

We went on plenty of rides, including the Congo Rapids water ride, the ferris wheel and the Skull Mountain mini-coaster (where Tara and Bug joined us and re-discovered their pronounced distaste for thrill rides) and also spent some time in the arcades and gift shops. I bested Tara once again at air hockey, but she took first prize in our skee-ball tournament. Bee played DDR for the first time and worked up a sweat to Ricky Martin and Queen remixes. Tara got a Green Lantern power ring that lights up with flashy lights, and I got some sun visors with Batman and Hello Kitty icons on them. For dinner we stopped at a Burger King where I got my birthday crown.
Queen for the day

We drove a little more than an hour home to open my presents and omg, so many wonderful things my family got me! Books, DVDs, board games for us to play, decks of Tarot cards and star constellation cards, both things I want to start learning about. I got the first volume of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus and the Comics Journal Library book on Frank Miller to name a couple of things.

Me and my Frank Miller

Also an out-of-print copy of The Sandman Presents: Taller Tales written by the author of Fables. I also got DVDs of Loving Annabelle and Captain Horatio Hornblower one of my all-time favorite adventure movies.

After all the presents it was getting too late to do the cake, so we saved that for tonight. I can't wait to get home so we can continue the birthday fun!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Cute car!

I saw an article in the Wall Street Journal this morning about the new Smart micro car that is headed for our shores from Europe. I remember seeing cars like this when I was in Paris a decade ago, and it's nice to see that they are finally going to be available here. They get more than 40 mpg, cost under $12,000 and are perfect for squeezing into tight parking spaces in New York.

I'm seriously thinking about putting down my $99 to reserve one when they come out in 2008. It would make a great second car to take the burden of everyday driving off Yoshi so he can age more gracefully. Plus they are so cute! I'd get a Passion in red with a black interior.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Movies and museums

Well, it's back to work for me after a relaxing five-day vacation/weekend. Tuesday night there was an inkling to see a movie, but I spoiled that idea by going home with a dead cell phone and crashing for a few hours from exhaustion. Still, we made up for it on July 4 by driving through the pouring rain to Palisades Center and having a nice dinner at the food court, followed by a trip to Dave & Busters where I introduced my family to one of my favorite racing games, Daytona 500. Tara showed off her rusty 80s arcade skills on Donkey Kong Jr., Bug (all 5' 1" of her) was the only person to score a hoop in basketball, we played a little skee ball, and I narrowly bested Tara in a game of air hockey. It was the first time any of them had actually played games in a D&B's, which of course is a popular attraction in Houston (for lack of much else to do). It reminded me of the many times I've been in the past, playing skee ball with Pearl, racing with my old friends James and Candy, and yes, the fact that it was the place where I first kissed my ex-partner on New Year's Eve 1994.

After D&B's we went to the bookstore for everyone to reserve their Harry Potter books, then we went to see Ratatouille, which was marvelous. It's amazing how Pixar can make movies so good that each successive new one becomes your favorite until the next one comes out. After the movie we played more motorcycle racing games and Buffy cleared the road in an 18-wheeler simulation game. Buffy was clearly the queen of the night, having won every race she played, once beating me with less than a second remaining in the race. Oh well, there's always mini-golf...

Thursday morning I went to see my doctor for a referral to an allergist because I've been having more and more problems with my allergies. The rest of the day was spent running errands and just hanging out at home, but Friday morning Tara and I took Bee to a special morning yoga class and we went to the Montclair Art Museum which gratefully is free at lunchtime on Fridays. They have a special exhibit on comic book art that we would have loved to see, but it starts this week instead of last week. We did get to take a sneak peek of them putting it up though. The rest of the museum isn't much to drool over, although they have one very nice Asher Durand painting that is the highlight of their collection.

Next we went to the Montclair Book Center to browse for books while we waited for Bee to finish her class. I picked up a Neil Gaiman/Dave McKean graphic novel, Black Orchid, a book on Cognac and a beat-up little book called English Cricket that was originally published in 1947.

Once we picked up Bee we went to Fuddruckers for lunch, and wound up eating so much that we had to take a protracted break at my apartment to rest. I actually can't remember what happened after that, although I'm pretty sure we went swimming at some point in my apartment pool. It felt like one of those summer days from childhood where it feels like you have all the time in the world to bask in your indolence. In the evening there was an idea to go see another movie, but we realized in time that we were all pretty tired from the day and decided to hang out at home and watch the Yankees game instead.

Saturday we did finally go out and see the Transformers movie in the afternoon, and ugh! we spent most of the early part of the evening either talking about how bad it was, or trying to wipe out the memory that we'd actually wasted the time to watch it. It was a big disappointment for Tara, who had been looking forward to the movie since she was about 12 years old, and yet concluded that it was probably the worst movie she's ever seen. For myself, I was never a big Transformers fan, so to me, it was just another overbloated Michael Bay movie. His star sure has fallen since the days of The Rock and Armageddon.

In order to clear our minds from that movie (which henceforth shall not be named) we made a quick dash into the city to spend an hour at the Met before closing. We started in the Egyptian temple as we usually do, and took pictures there for the first time ever.

Egyptian temple

In the American wing we discovered an acoustical quirk in one of my favorite rooms, a 360-degree panoramic painting of the gardens at Versailles in France. Standing in this room and looking around, it feels like you are standing on the plaza behind the Palace at Versailles looking across the vast formal gardens stretching to the horizon. Because the walls are curved, we found that when we stood at opposite ends of the room, sounds and voices would follow along the curve of the wall so that even a whisper could be heard from 30 feet away, much like a parabolic dish focuses and directs waves. Pretty neat.

Panoramic painting of Versailles

We ended our quick tour in the new Greek and Roman galleries, visiting the second floor for the first time, where I snapped this shot of the main hallway from the back of the gallery.

Greek and Roman Gallery

Sunday we started winding down our vacation by running some errands during the day, including buying a new 37-inch LCD television monitor for my apartment because the old tube TV I got along with my embedded furniture is starting to discolor. After bringing that in and setting it up, we went for another quick swim to cool off, which unfortunately was just enough sun to cause my face to start breaking out in hives yet again. That was bothersome on Monday, but luckily they are gone today. Apparently I'm just going to have to hide from the sun like a vampire from now on, especially since it's routinely getting into the 90s up here now. Nothing compared to Arizona of course, but hot nonetheless.

Monday, July 02, 2007

A step back in time

It was a fairly uneventful weekend for me, although my family had a lot going on. Saturday I spent most of my time at my apartment, doing laundry, rearranging my books, tidying up and so forth. In the evening Bee and Bug left for an overnight camping trip, leaving Tara and me home to watch the cats.

We went out to the big Barnes & Noble in Paramus, where I found several more things to add to my birthday wish list, and bought a DVD of Gattaca that was on sale, and a copy of the Nylons' Greatest Hits, an acapella/percussion quartet I used to listen to in my old life. After we closed them down at 11 p.m., I pretty much went straight to bed because I wasn't feeling all that well with my allergies and an upset stomach.

Sunday I got up late and took Tara out for breakfast before going to the New York Historical Society in the city. I first saw this museum while watching a PBS program called "Secrets of New York" last year, and found they have an extensive collection of Hudson River School paintings. The Hudson River School gallery was a spectacular room, with a high ceiling decorated with grayscale scrims over the large square windows to diffuse the natural light. Best of all, it was blissfully uncrowded, and many moments we would find ourselves the only people in the room except for the guard. There was also a nice Tiffany exhibit, but nothing close to what we saw at the Met a couple months ago. Here was one window that graced the stairwell.

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The most fun in the museum, however, was on the top floor, where most of the artifacts are kept in storage behind glass. Here are all sorts of historical objects, from the whismical to the magnificent. I especially liked this large sculpture of Abe Lincoln, which we nicknamed "Big Abe."

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The things that made us laugh the most were the old campaign buttons from the World War II era, the time of FDR and Truman. Somehow, I don't think Confucius ever said this to support FDR's third term:

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Here's one that people probably remember:

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Also, I liked this one, which seems to resonate today:

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And here is something from the recent history of 9/11:

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Afterward we went to Papaya King and had hot dogs and sausages before going home to meet up with Bee and Bug, who had just gotten home from their trip, and fortunately did not encounter any bears. This week everybody is on vacation except me, but I will be off Thursday and Friday to take advantage of the July 4 holiday.