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.