Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 in review

When I was thinking about this year’s wrap-up post, two themes stood out most clearly in my mind.

The first one – music – should come as no surprise since I've posted heavily about it (“How Mischa got her groove back” – April 25, 2013 and “Ch-ch-ch-changes”– Aug. 27, 2013). This has been a year of rediscovering the importance of music in my life, both live and recorded. I attended concerts by Sigur Ros, Muse, Steven Wilson, Anathema, Pet Shop Boys and Paramore. I started collecting vinyl again, buying about 70 records in the latter half of the year. I also upgraded my home theater with a new Yamaha receiver and a Rega LP-1 turntable with an isolation platform. I brought out from storage my Samsung SACD/DVD-A player and reinstalled it with 5.1 analog Audioquest cabling for playing Super Audio CDs and other high-resolution digital recordings again. Also taken out of storage is my old analog-to-digital interface so I can make digital copies of my vinyl to play on my iPod. I attended live listening sessions with Classic Album Sundays for “Remain in Light” by Talking Heads, “Blue Bell Knoll” by Cocteau Twins and “Avalon” by Roxy Music. It has truly been a Renaissance year for me in music.

The second theme that most people are probably not aware of is that 2013 is my first full year of real singlehood since the mid-1990s. So this year has seen a number of new and existing friendships grow and strengthen through various activities, including opening up my previously very insulated space to my closest friends. We did Firefly and BBC Sherlock marathons, and Piper helped me host a successful Oscar Night party (“Oscar roundup 2013” – Feb. 25, 2013).

However, a flood of additional work responsibilities that has made it much more difficult to reliably make it home in time to host or attend events on a regular basis. My colleague left to pursue an MFA in creative writing, and I was subsequently transferred from a supporting role in the Wholesale group to the more dynamic Corporate group to replace his role. I do a lot more writing and messaging on short notice for executive speaking events and issues management. Professionally, it’s certainly a much higher-profile role to be working directly with the CEO and senior management, so I'm not complaining about it.

Instead of hosting events, I've been able to schedule one-on-one time with my closest friends doing various things. Piper and I finished our Stanley Kubrick marathon this year and started on the AFI's Top 100. I love spending time with Liz and Josh, together and separately, going to performances, parties and movies (our apple-picking trip to Fishkill, NY was one of the year’s highlights). Kacey and Becker continue to be a welcome presence in my life. Natalie and I watched Season 3 of Downton Abbey together, and she joined me, Puck, Morgan and her new fiancé Bruce on a trip to the Renaissance Faire. The recent deepening of my friendship with Katie is an exciting development that may inspire me to make significant changes in how I view the world. And as always, I’m grateful that Puck is still my closest family and we continue to keep our connection healthy through things like our Connecticut DCI trip and spending Christmas together, even though we were apart for long periods of time this year.

Creatively, I've made some good strides. My cooking has gotten more ambitious, with some mixed results, and I made a lovely Christmas ornament this year, the first one I've made myself since 2010. My annual Love Letter project was a great success this year with five letters sent, up from two last year and just one in the first year. The Unchained Love Playwright Competition has also been a modest success, with more than 75 plays entered and several poly-themed plays as well. My Poly Women’s Group has enjoyed a small resurgence in popularity, so that's very gratifying for me.

When I look back on this year, I'll remember the music and time spent with friends, and my first real steps toward building a long-term intentional family around me. I am reminded of Frank Herbert’s quote from Dune: "Without change, something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken." For me, it’s a fertile time for change, growth and creating new ways to express my love for the people closest to me.

Friday, December 27, 2013

2013 Christmas ornament

Each year, I get two ornaments for my Christmas tree. One is the Angel Tree Ornament, a reproduction from the Metropolitan Museum’s Annual Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche that showcases the collection of beautiful eighteenth-century Neapolitan crèche figures. This is one of my holdover traditions from my family, when we went to visit the tree at the Met each year. It's a reminder that some traditions are meant to endure.

The second ornament I select to represent the year itself and generally it serves as a reminder of either a significant event or person. This ornament reminds me that enduring traditions are balanced by growth and changes over time. This year, I wanted something to commemorate my renewed interest in music, since I feel that is the major theme of 2013. I looked for something in the Bryant Park holiday market, but I couldn't find anything I liked, so I decided to make my own ornament this year - only the second time I've made one for myself.

I started with one of the free sample 7-inch vinyl LPs I picked up when I visited Siren Records, a very cool record store I found in Doylestown, PA, when I went there over Labor Day weekend to get my Rega turntable fixed at ("News & updates" - Sept. 26, 2013). It didn't have music on it that I liked, so it's no loss to make it into an ornament.

Next I took images of the important music of the year and arranged them in a 3.5-inch circle that matches the size of the label of the record. The small spindle hole in the middle of the record matched up with center of the record in the Princeton Record Exchange graphic that I scanned and put in the center of the label. Here's what it looks like - see if you can recognize all the albums and bands (answers are at the bottom of the post):

I printed two copies out on large labels, cut them out and stuck them on each side of the record, then cut out the spindle hole with my Swiss Army knife. I picked up some silver thread to string through the spindle hole for hanging on the tree. It's a big ornament, but there's always one or two bald spots on my tree that can use a little extra coverage. So in the coming years, I'll look at this handmade ornament and remember 2013 as the year I got my groove back and started falling in love with music again ("How Mischa got her groove back" - April 25, 2013)

Did you guess all the albums/bands on the label? Here they are, clockwise from the top:

1.  Paramore by Paramore
2.  Sigur Ros (I saw them in concert but haven't really gotten into their new album Kveikur yet)
3.  Electric by Pet Shop Boys
4.  London Calling by The Clash
5.  Once: A New Musical (Original Cast Recording)
6.  The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
7.  Avalon by Roxy Music
8.  Remain in Light by Talking Heads
9.  The Raven That Refused to Sing: And Other Stories by Steven Wilson
10. Weather Systems by Anathema
11. Blue Bell Knoll by Cocteau Twins (right above the word "Princeton")

Thursday, December 26, 2013


As you might have seen from a previous post, last year's Christmas I was alone and passed the time making Japanese dyed scarves. I'm actually fine with being alone on major holidays, although that didn't used to be the case. Still, this year it was a treat to spend Christmas with two of my favorite people, Puck and Katie, at Katie's new home in Brooklyn.

I got permission to work from home on Christmas Eve, and it was a good thing I did because I needed every moment to finish making a bourbon bread pudding for the party. Since everyone seems to like it so much, here's the recipe:

New Orleans Bourbon Bread Pudding


1 French baguette (18- to 20-inch), torn into 1-inch pieces (10 cups)
1 cup golden raisins
3/4 cup bourbon
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and chilled, plus extra for baking dish
8 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
3 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons granulated sugar


1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Arrange bread in single layer on baking sheet and bake until crisp and browned, about 12 minutes, turning pieces over halfway through drying time and rotating baking sheet front to back. Let bread cool. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.

2. Meanwhile, heat raisins with 1/2 cup bourbon in small saucepan over medium-high heat until bourbon begins to simmer, 2 to 3 minutes. Strain mixture, reserving bourbon and raisins separately.

3. Butter 13 by 9-inch broiler-safe baking dish. Whisk yolks, brown sugar, cream, milk, vanilla, 1 teaspoon cinnamon (reserving the 1/2 teaspoon for the topping), nutmeg, and salt in large bowl. Whisk in remaining 1/4 cup bourbon plus bourbon used to plump raisins. Toss in toasted bread until evenly coated. Let mixture sit until bread begins to absorb custard, about 30 minutes, tossing occasionally. If majority of bread is still hard when squeezed, soak for another 15 to 20 minutes.

4. Pour half of bread mixture into prepared baking dish and sprinkle with half of raisins. Pour remaining bread mixture into dish and sprinkle with remaining raisins. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, mix granulated sugar and remaining 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in small bowl. Using fingers, cut 6 tablespoons butter into sugar mixture until size of small peas. Remove foil from pudding, sprinkle with butter mixture, and bake, uncovered, until custard is just set, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove pudding from oven and heat broiler.

6. Once broiler is heated, broil pudding until top forms golden crust, about 2 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and cool at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours. Serve. (Leftover bread pudding should be refrigerated; reheat individual portions in microwave.)

This time I even made the accompanying bourbon sauce to go with it, as follows:


1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 cup bourbon
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
pinch salt
2 teaspoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces


Whisk cornstarch and 2 tablespoons bourbon in small bowl until well combined. Heat cream and sugar in small saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Whisk in cornstarch mixture and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and cook until sauce thickens, 3 to 5 minutes. Off heat, stir in salt, butter, and remaining 2 tablespoons bourbon. Drizzle warm sauce over cut bread pudding. (Sauce can be refrigerated in airtight container for up to 5 days; reheat on stovetop.)

I walked over to the Met Store in Rockefeller Center on my lunch break to pick up my traditional creche angel tree ornament for 2013. They didn't have any on display, but the clerks found a few in the back room, so I was just in time to get one for myself, and one for Katie to hang on her tree. I even had time to get down to Mr. Pei's shop and pick up my order of chops for Kacey and Becker, and one for Puck with their new name, Robin Goodfellow, engraved on it. All in all, it was a bit of a rush to get everything done and get to Katie's place, since I'd never been there before I went down a few blind alleys along the way.

I met Katie's mom, Gindy, who is a charming and funny woman with a sharp sense of self-deprecating humor. We decorated Katie's tree and took a picture to commemorate her first tree in her new home - you can see the angel ornament at her eye level, just to the left of the tree center.

We took turns opening Christmas poppers and presents before a dinner of salad, roasted vegetables and a bourbon glazed ham, which was delicious. After stuffing ourselves, we played a game of Pandemic, a board game about stopping a global outbreak of disease and plague - perfect for Christmas night :P We talked until about 11:30 before Gindy had to go home to appease the cat, and the three of us stayed up and talked until it was finally time to turn the lights out at around 3:30 am.

As my body has an unfortunate tendency of doing, I woke up at 8 am, got dressed and explored Katie's vast number of books while waiting for them to wake up. After morning coffee, we played some more card games, and hung out until Gindy came by in the afternoon for their own gift exchange and family traditions. We took a sneak peek at Gindy's work-in-progress apartment downstairs before heading home to TSMC.

Puck and I spent the afternoon and evening together, finishing the first season of Fringe, listening to music and starting to read E. B. White's Trumpet of the Swan aloud. We went out to Rockefeller Center around 9:30 pm to see the tree and the Saks Fifth Avenue holiday light show and the adorable window displays of the snow-making Yeti that stars in this year's show.

I never expect Puck to make a big thing about Christmas since they didn't grow up celebrating it. Frankly, I outgrew Christmas with my birth family pretty quickly. But my New Jersey family helped me rediscover the magic of the holiday, and I've been missing that in my life, even though Puck and I have had our own Christmas adventures. But this year, thanks to people I consider my family now, I had the most lovely, most meaningful Christmas I've had in years.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Cooking at Christmastime

This is the time of year when I'm usually feeling the most creative ("Christmas shibori project" - Dec. 25, 2012) and this year it extends to food. And happily, having alone time with Katie gives me a perfect excuse to try some ambitious cuisine.

Piper suggested this recipe for Beef Brasato with Pappardelle and Mint by Chef Chris Cosentino, which is not really hard to do, but did require a scavenger hunt for fresh ingredients. For a side, I wanted to do the ratatouille from the Pixar movie because Katie and I had talked about it before (she didn't like the mob rat scenes). This one was easy on the ingredients but I needed to buy a mandoline, baking dish and parchment paper. I found a nice mandoline and a lifetime supply of parchment paper on Amazon, and those arrived just in time on Wednesday night.

On Wednesday after work, I had about 90 minutes between leaving the office and the last shuttle to the train station to get my shopping done, so I was on a tight schedule. It didn't help that Yoshi's battery was dead from the cold and infrequent use, so I had to use a jumpstarter every time I got into the car. I drove to Wegmanns, hoping to find everything in one trip, but no such luck. They didn't have boneless beef shank, and the first substitute the butcher recommended - short ribs - had just sold out less than 10 minutes ago, he told me.

To cover the possibility of not having any meat, I got a top round roast just in case. They were also out of eggplant, so I bought the other vegetables and baking dish for the ratatouille and canned tomatoes for both dishes plus the red wine for the marinade, but they didn't have mint or fresh pappardelle among their bewildering large number of pasta choices. Once again, I covered this by buying fresh lasagna layers as a substitute, but this was not looking good and I was out of time.

On the train ride home, I decided I could try the supermarket in Koreatown for the mint, since it's a crucial ingredient in many southeast Asian cuisines. I also found that Eataly, the Italian marketplace part-owned by Chef Mario Batali, was open to 11 pm, so I figured that would be the place to get fresh pappardelle.

In Koreatown, they not only had the mint, but also the Italian eggplant and the beef shank, so that was a project-saving trip! And my first visit to Eataly was a revelation - so many rare and wonderful ingredients! I got the fresh pappardelle, a block of Parmigiano-Reggiano and a cheese plane to shave it (the last time I tried to cut hard cheese, I broke two knives from their cheap plastic handles and was lucky to escape injury). So at the last minute, I finally had everything I needed for the pasta dish, and I started the marinade Wednesday night.

Using the mandoline was a lot of fun, and I was very careful to not slice off a finger, because I found using the guard to be too tricky. I put the tomato puree down and laid out the layers of vegetables, although certainly not as neatly as Remy did in the movie because my vegetables were all different sizes. I topped with salt, pepper and fresh thyme and covered it with a piece of cut-to-fit parchment to keep the vegetables from scorching.

I actually should have started the brasato first because it needs to braise for more than two hours. Luckily, Katie had to work late, so I had extra time for the screw-up. Everything turned out pretty well, although like any recipe, I certainly learned a lot of ways I would adjust things if I do these dishes again.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Divine dinners

Tuesday night Piper and I celebrated her 25th birthday with a spectacular tasting menu at Aquavit, a top Norwegian restaurant a few blocks from my apartment. I'd been there once before years ago when I worked at Agent K - a vendor took me to lunch there. But this was a much more enjoyable event, reminiscent of our visit to The Modern earlier this year ("The Modern" - March 13, 2013).

Our dinner started with a series of amuse bouches - flax crackers, lightly pickled cherry tomatoes, tiny radishes and some kind of preserved thing on a stick. There was also some excellent breads and two kinds of butters, an organic and a brown butter.

There was also an intensely flavored bite of fish served with puffed rice, cleverly plated in an anchovy tin, small bits of venison served on a woodchip with smoldering pine needles, followed by our first course, a spoonful of cod served with several textural ingredients that made a lovely play in the mouth.

The meal began in earnest with a soup tureen served in a sealed mason jar and filled with hay smoke. The jar was opened to release the smoke aroma and the soup was poured in over the rest of the ingredients (this was Piper's favorite dish). A beet gravlax served with shaved frozen foie gras, pickled mustard seed and hovmastar sauce followed, then sweetbreads and mushrooms, and loup de mer and bok choy, potato, shellfish caviar, and cranberry beans.

We had a palate cleanser of horseradish sorbet and apple mousse, which was unusual. Then came lamb neck and sweet potato puree with chantarelle mushrooms, pickled shallots, and fig and veal sauce flavored with truffle and foie gras, my favorite dish of the night.

Dessert was a lovely smoked vanilla creme brulee with shaved pears, rosemary ice cream and toasted pumpkin seeds - they even served Piper's with a birthday candle. Then came an assortment of candies, filled beneigts and other treats, and finally, like with The Modern, they left a gift with the check of a spice sachet to make Aquavit Glogg, a mulled wine drink.

I was off work Thursday and Friday, and spent a lot of time preparing a new recipe that Piper suggested for coq au vin for me and Katie on Friday. I went to TJ Maxx and got a Dutch oven, a six-quart enameled cast iron pot (my first enameled cookware ever) to cook in, and got all my ingredients so I wouldn't have to leave the apartment on Friday.

To make the coq au vin, I used the bottle of Malbec I bought on my way to Shotz! when Katie and I met up with my friends. I also used about four shots of Courvoisier VSOP cognac, which made an impressive flambe that reached all the way up to my stove hood (lucky I still have my eyebrows!). I also had to make a last-minute run to the C-store for flour when I realized my flour expired in 2012. I even got some salt pork instead of using bacon, and red pearl onions, which were troublesome to peel. I definitely will take some shortcuts next time I make this, but for the first go-around, I wanted to do it as well as I could, especially since I had the day off to take my time.

The end result was pretty tasty, and improved with a little Tabasco (as usual for me) when served over egg noodles (slightly overcooked because we were chatting and forgot to watch the clock). But the chicken itself was very nicely cooked and the carrots, onions and oyster mushrooms were also tasty. I think next time I'll use crimini mushrooms if I can find them, plus I have to figure out a way to keep the skins on the chicken. Maybe I need to use bigger pieces of leg and thigh. Anyway, it was a good first attempt and I learned a few new things about making a stew that isn't curry. It's nice to expand the repertoire a bit.

We continued our Humphrey Bogart marathon with "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" and some Ghirardelli chocolate before she left for a late party downtown. Tomorrow I'll be making not one, but two of my bourbon bread puddings - one for Liz's party on Saturday night and one for Diana's party on Sunday. I also have Lori's concert to go to on Saturday, so it's going to be a fairly busy weekend of holiday gatherings, but that's fine with me. It's nice to have holiday functions that I actually enjoy attending.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

A wonderful week

What a great week it's been! First of all, short, because I took Friday off to try and use of my excess PTO. So I had a wonderful time at Shotz! on Monday, then Liz invited me to see a play, "The Curious Case of the Watson Intelligence" on Thursday at Playwright Horizons. The play interwove the stories of three famous Watsons - the IBM supercomputer named after Thomas J. Watson, the founder of IBM; the assistant of Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas A. Watson; and Dr. John H. Watson, the chronicler of the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. The play was clever, poignant and technically dazzling, and one of the best new plays I've ever seen.

Josh joined us for dinner before the play and we got a corner table at Ollie's, one of my favorite Chinese restaurants and one neither Josh or Liz had ever tried. We had a light dinner of cumin-spiced beef and green beans dry-sauteed with garlic and caught up with our goings-on (I haven't seen Liz since Rocky Horror and Josh since we saw Thor 2 a few weeks ago). After dinner Josh said goodnight and we found a photo booth in the lobby and had fun making faces - Liz is obviously much better at this than I am. This picture always makes me smile!

On my day off Kacey came over and we made a plan for lunch and some wedding gift shopping in Chinatown. I took her to a Shanghai restaurant I've been to before for soup dumplings, a first for her. Counting Puck on Sunday, that's two people I've introduced to soup dumplings in a week, one of my favorite things to eat. All throughout the day we talked at length about our plans for finding a place together with Becker, our needs and expectations, and ideas for the future.

After lunch we went to the Chinatown bookstore for Kacey to pick out a chop for herself and for Chris as a wedding present. We looked at several and picked out a pair of them, plus a container of red mudpack ink for stamping. We took them to Victor Pei's engraving shop where I got Emily's chop done, but Mr. Pei wasn't there, so I'll have to get them done at a later date and present them before the wedding.

We walked up to a new grocery store I'd discovered to look at the bewildering variety of fresh seafood and pick up a few things - a new teapot and strainer for me, a rice bowl and mochi balls for her, and some dan-tah (egg custard in a flaky pie crust), my favorite Chinese dessert, from the on-site bakery. We made our way back to the apartment so Kacey could get ready to go to Becker's office holiday party and I started cooking dinner for me and Katie, who arrived shortly after Becker and Kacey left for the party.

Katie and I had dinner and watched "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" - Katie had read the book in high school but had never seen the movie, and of course, it's one of my favorites in book and movie form. We'll continue our Humphrey Bogart marathon next time. Afterward we headed down to the Skylight Diner for MMMM and got to catch up with Beth, Kiwi, Ilan and Stan, plus met a few new people. Ilan showed me Stan's wedding dress - they're getting married in October and it promises to be a very interesting themed wedding. We left the diner about 1 a.m. and said goodnight in the subway station as she headed back to Brooklyn and I went home.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Katie's music mix

One of the things coming out of Saturday's trip to Port Jefferson was introducing Katie to some new music. It's been a long time, years even, since I've made a music mix for anybody, so I found time to crank this out on Monday:

1. In Between Days – The Cure
2. Dear God – XTC
3. There Is a Light That Never Goes Out – The Smiths
4. Forget Her – Jeff Buckley
5. Heavy In Your Arms – Florence + The Machine
6. Madness – Muse
7. Untouchable, Part 1 – Anathema
8. Untouchable, Part 2 – Anathema
9. Hoppípolla – Sigur Rós
10. It Will Be A Good Day (The River) – Yes
11. Cover Your Tracks – A Boy & His Kite
12. Don’t Hate Me – Porcupine Tree
13. My Love – Sia Furler
14. Settle Down – Kimbra
15. Daydreaming – Paramore
16. This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody) – Talking Heads

About half of these songs made the list from my explorations this year, and the rest are from my longtime list of standards or favorite bands. Here's some thoughts on each track.

1. The Cure is one of my all-time favorite groups, and Disintegration is one of my all-time favorite albums. But before Disintegration, before Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, there was The Head On The Door, the first album that married Robert Smith's morose lyrics with an upbeat, lyrical style of music. This album transformed The Cure from the goth band that recorded Pornography and Bloodflowers to one with a much wider appeal.

2. I discovered XTC this year from the soundtrack for The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Heavily inspired by the Beatles, they were one of the few bands to not simply learn from the Fab Four, but to take the inspiration into significant new realms. The album "Dear God" comes from, Skylarking, recalls James Joyce's Ulysses, with this song ending a single day's activities with a child's bedtime prayers. The song was added to the original version of the album, replacing "Mermaid Smile," after it became a hit single in the US.

3. Another band I "discovered" this year from the Wallflower soundtrack, The Smiths typify the kind of oppositional dynamics that surely influenced The Cure - a gloomy lead singer who appears as the wounded poet in his garret while the band specializes in breezy, chiming, quintessentially buoyant music. This song is the penultimate track on their third album, The Queen Is Dead.

4. As far as I'm concerned, Jeff Buckley's Grace was one of the greatest albums of the 1990s. In stark contrast to contemporaries Nirvana and Pearl Jam, Buckley showed several generations that profoundly new rock and roll doesn't have to completely reject what came before, locating fertile ground between classic rock and grunge. "Forget Her" was recorded in one live take, probably the only time it was ever played because Buckley replaced it with another song on Grace for personal reasons (he drowned in 1997 before he could make a second studio album). But the song somehow made it to the promotional version sent to the press a month before the official release of the album. In the years since Buckley's passing, the song has taken on legendary proportion, with musicians and fans passing around coveted bootleg copies. Finally, it was released in 2004 on the Legacy Edition of Grace so that the world could hear this definitive performance of a voice taken from us far too soon.

5. Think what you will about The Twilight Saga, but Summit Entertainment knew what it was doing when it put Alexandra Patsavas in charge as music supervisor (she also did the Wallflower soundtrack for Summit). This track is from the third movie, Eclipse, as is Track 13. I've never been a fan of Florence + The Machine, but this song really grows on you with its lush textures and pounding chorus.

6. Muse is one of the bands, like Paramore, that must have benefited greatly from the success of Twilight because author Stephenie Meyer cited them as her favorite rock gods and a source of inspiration for her writing. Muse's lead singer, Matthew Bellamy, has cited Jeff Buckley as a major influence, as is immediately apparent. I saw them in concert this year and they are one of the most exciting live acts you'll ever get to see. This song is my favorite track from their recent album, The 2nd Law, which I think is their best studio album to date.

7-8. Anathema is a band I discovered when I heard them on a K-Scope Records sampler (that's the UK label that distributes Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson). Emerging from their early roots in death metal, the group cites Steven Wilson as one of the key influences that helped them find a more accessible sound that I characterize as "atmospheric rock" - their newest album is called Weather Systems. I got to see both Wilson and Anathema perform this year, and I'm hoping Porcupine Tree comes back to New York soon so I can see them for a fourth time.

9. I saw Icelandic superband Sigur Rós at MSG this year with Morgan, and it was one of my favorite concerts ever. Their music is primal and full of what I feel is their love for humanity, like Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" chorus in the Ninth Symphony. On this song particularly, they managed to turn Madison Square Garden, for just a moment, into a sparkling oasis of beauty.

10. This was one of the songs on my "Music for a New Life" mix and it is still one of my favorites. In the world of progressive rock, no one has been doing it better or longer than Yes. This is a song that Jon Anderson dedicated to his wife when they performed it live and it perfectly expresses that love.

11. An unassuming track that's been stuck in my brain from the Twilight soundtrack finale from Breaking Dawn, Part 2. It reminds me of U2 the way it builds to a crescendo, starting with an intimate acoustic guitar.

12. My favorite band of this stage of my life, this is actually from an early album, Stupid Dream, before their drummer extraordinaire, Gavin Harrison, joined the band. But I love this song from the live DVD, Arriving Somewhere But Not Here, so even without Gavin, it's a great song. I love the atmospheric sound effects and solo instruments from Richard Barbieri's synthesizers. But with Gavin playing on the live performance, it's amazing.

13. This is the song that's playing when Edward proposes to Bella in Eclipse. It's another spot-on choice that captures this romantic moment perfectly, and Sia's voice is so beautiful and unique. She reminds me of Nigerian-born Sade Adu when Diamond Life first came out in 1985.

14. Most people first heard Kimbra singing with Gotye in the ubiquitous hit "Somebody That I Used to Know" a couple years ago. But this New Zealander has a load of talent and shows it in her debut album. Her masterful use of overdubbing and scat to serve her music reminds me of Imogen Heap's deft use of the vocoder in "Hide and Seek."

15. Since I'm seeing Paramore tomorrow, I had to include at least one song from another of my all-time favorite bands. Since their career has been relatively short, I've heard every song they've ever released on an album. Their new self-titled album is very different from their older work because the band's lead guitar and drummer split from the band last year. "Decode" from the original Twilight soundtrack is probably still my favorite song by them, but it's great to see the band maturing and growing in different directions.

16. This year's musical renaissance started with hearing the Talking Heads album Remain in Light, so appropriately I should close with some funky, quirky exit music from what has been a string of dark songs overall. I first heard this song in the movie Wall Street and rediscovered it when I picked up a copy of their excellent album, Speaking in Tongues, featuring their hit, "Burning Down the House."

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Finding fun time

Work has been really intense lately, culminating with Nearing's third-quarter earnings call today. I left the office at midnight and got home about 1:30 am, slept about four hours and got up at 6:30 to send our press releases out. This is obviously an exceptional event that happens only once a quarter, but overall, work has been steadily going on an upward trajectory. It's all good stuff, I'm getting more assignments for senior management and people notice and appreciate my work. It just makes it more important to make time for fun stuff and seeing friends when I can.

I did my annual Samhain ritual and charged a new amulet, a fancier version of the Chalice Well cover that I wore back in 2009 after my surgery. This has the vesica piscis design wrought in silver mounted on a disc of Merlinite, or dendritic opal, a stone that promotes spiritual growth and balance. There is a clear crystal in the mandorla-shaped aureola. It's probably the most ornate and arguably the most beautiful amulet I've ever worn.

Each of the last two weekends were birthday weekends, first for Teresa at the Way Station and Puck's this past weekend in Port Jefferson on Long Island. I also went to a rare Meetup event the Friday before T's party, a game night held by one of my women's groups that I don't run. I've been itching to play backgammon so I bought a new tournament-sized set and had it delivered just in time. I played about six games with three different women and won them all - only the last one had ever played before. No connection was made, but I had fun and now I have the game ready in case any friends want to play.

Last Monday was one of the best Shotz! ever - the theme was Game of Thrones and I've never even seen a single episode but it was funny! Probably the top three funniest Shotz ever, and a lot of the jokes passed over my head. I met up with Kristina and then we had dinner together at Ramen Setayaga on St. Marks. Not quite as good as Totto Ramen, but a lot less waiting time.

Puck's party was a low-key affair, with lunch at C'est Cheese and then back to their house to read "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Katie (Puck's FB ex) rode out to LI with me, so it was nice catching up with her. It turns out that she's working at Piper's old company - which is funny because Piper is working at Kacey's old company. So maybe in a few years Katie will be working at the Container Store!

The three of us are going to get together for a movie as part of Piper and my AFI movie marathon. I think Jaws is one of Piper's favorite movies. I love #68 and #98, so we'll see what we choose. This week's nominees are:

18. Psycho
28. Apocalypse Now
38. Double Indemnity
48. Jaws
58. Fantasia
68. An American in Paris
78. Rocky
88. Easy Rider
98. Unforgiven

Funnily enough, the other Katie in my life (from the poly women's group, originally) is going with me tomorrow to see Paramore in concert at Madison Square Garden. After all the late hours and hard work, I'm looking forward to blowing off some steam, dancing and listening to their poppy music for a night.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Weekend with a View

My three-day weekend was a whirlwind of activity with different friends in my circle, but with plenty of time for myself as well. Saturday I went down to Paper Presentation near Union Square and picked out supplies and tools for my love letter project. I have two of the four written and I hope to get them all finished this week, since I don’t have many other plans, except my Samhain ritual.

Saturday evening Liz invited me to dinner with her and Victoria at Liz’s Upper East Side apartment, my first time visiting her place after several aborted attempts. It resembles my place in a lot of ways, except everything is, well, Liz-sized. Her double bed fits into a nook across from wall closets on the way to the bathroom. Her kitchen is set out along a wall the way mine is wrapped around a corner, opposite an exposed brick wall. Her little flatscreen TV sits above a faux fireplace across from her coffee table and sleeper sofa. She has lots of curios, theater props and posters on the walls, plus art and photography, like I do with cinema. It’s a cozy little space and shows a lot of her personality. And you can see in the photo that she wore these whimsical tights with etchings of an M-16 rifle on one leg, and a Walther PPK semi-automatic pistol in a garter holster on the other, which caused no shortage of laughs all evening.

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For dinner, we had barbecue pork shoulder that she made in a slow-cooker, along with corn and candied jalapeno peppers. For dessert, Liz and Victoria had baked that afternoon pumpkin and cranberry cookies and apple scones, using some of the Macintosh apples we picked up at Fishkill. I brought a bottle of Malbec; Victoria had brought three kinds of whiskey, so we had a little tasting flight with Liz’s three shot glasses (one of which belonged to her grandmother).

After dinner we made our way down to the PIT to see Josh performing as Riff Raff in the Rocky Whor-er PIT-ure Show, a full-cast performance with costumes, props and sets in front of a projection screen. Liz has actually performed RHPS in other companies elsewhere, so she knew a lot of the audience responses. The only time I’ve seen it before in a full performance was decades ago at Houston’s River Oaks Theater on West Gray, so I felt a bit like Charlie in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” seeing it for the first time. Puck and I saw a version at Steampunk World’s Fair one year, but we didn’t stay even halfway because it was super-late. I have pictures of Puck having their cherry popped. It was a wonderfully staged, acted and lit performance. After the show, we had another round of drinks and hopped into a cab home.

Sunday Gette and I accepted an invitation to speak on a talk-back panel about polyamory following a play called “The Goddess,” which was about an open marriage. Since they gave each of us a free extra ticket, I invited Lori to come, so she and Gette came over to the apartment and we chatted for a while before getting a cab to the theater in Kips Bay. The play was excellent, with powerful acting and an interesting way of presenting the challenges of an open marriage. Natalie and her new person, Zephyr, came by for the talk-back, which included two sex therapists, an author on swinging, and a psychotherapist, along with Gette and me. It was actually quite short, but we all got the opportunity to say something, so it was a nice experience.

Natalie had to leave directly after, so Gette, Lori, Zephyr and I walked down to Peacefood Café near Union Square for dinner. This Peacefood is much classier and chill than the one we’ve been to on the Upper West Side near Papacookie. Gette left early to meet up with a date. After dinner, the remaining three of us went our separate ways - I went home to do my laundry and get some rest before my big day.

Monday was our taping of The View at ABC Studios, so I got picked up from my apartment by a black Cadillac Escalade like a movie star. I walked past the small line of people forming on the sidewalk, through the lobby past a throng of ticketholders and up the elevator to the dressing and makeup rooms. Diana was there already, and Leon arrived soon after. Neil Patrick Harris squeezed by me in the hallway, and we later got his dressing room. We saw the dressing rooms of Barbara Walters and Jenny McCarthy; Whoopi was off that day. While I tried to round up our other VIP guests downstairs, Leon and Diana rehearsed with the producer in the dressing room, then went into makeup.

We made our way down to the set and sat in the Green Room, waiting to go on. Olivia Newton-John and Lynda Carter were in two segments before us, so we followed Sandy Olsen from Grease and Wonder Woman. The segment was only five minutes long, and more combative than I thought it would be, but I think we still came out looking pretty good. We met up with our friends in the audience and said our goodbyes before getting back in our cars and heading home.

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The rest of the afternoon I worked on getting the announcement ready and out, plus checking in with the office. Piper came over around 4 and took a nap before we headed out for dinner. First I stopped by the B&H Photo Store to return some things, then we went to Brother Jimmy’s BBQ near Penn Station. We walked through the Greeley Square food stands and got mini-donuts with Paris Time sugar (lavender, pistachio and vanilla) from the Doughnuttery stall and assorted macarons from Macaron Parlour Patisserie for dessert on our way home.

The Doughnuttery's mini-donut automated frying line reminded me of the full-size one at the standalone Krispy Kreme shop in Bellaire, TX.

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We’re continuing our AFI marathon, so our lineup of candidates this time was the following movies:

19. Chinatown
29. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
39. Doctor Zhivago
49. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
59. Rebel Without a Cause
69. Shane
79. The Deer Hunter
89. Patton
99. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

We picked Chinatown, and I gotta say, it was a creepy movie. The two gunshots startled Piper so much that she actually screamed, and the knifing of Jake Gittes’ nose was shocking. The whole thing was quite unsettling, but it was an interesting take on the private eye movie. I saw a lot of “L.A. Confidential” in it. Piper crashed on the couch while I made final edits to my press release and sent it out before going to bed.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Free Love Letters 2013

For me, October is a special month for a number of reasons. It ends with pagan new year (Samhain) on Oct. 31 and time for the cycle of the year to start anew. The weather is usually as perfect as it gets, and I love the smell of fall (although seasonal allergies usually take their toll on me as well).

Looking back on my life, October is the month I most associate with love because I've physically met all my past lovers in the month of October. And even though I'm not in a relationship now, nor am I looking to be anytime soon, I think love is something to be celebrated in all its forms, not just sexual or romantic love.

I know it sounds a little trite, but last night I finished the fifth and final season of Fringe, a TV series introduced to me by an ex before I was ready to watch it with her. It has become second only to Firefly as my favorite show of the few that I've seen every episode. It reached a zenith for me in a fourth-season episode titled,"A Short Story About Love," where the main character makes a choice to accept an involuntary change to become "a better version" of herself, one that loves and is loved by the co-star, instead of struggling to remain "herself" and without love. You have to see the show to understand that, but that's the best way I can explain it. The end of this episode is so perfect and so beautiful that I stopped watching for two weeks just to let it sink in.

Anyway, two years ago I started a project to mark October as my own month dedicated to love. I came up with an idea after reading this article in the Wall Street Journal: "Stationery's New Followers" - Aug. 25, 2011

I wanted to do something to celebrate love that didn't have anything to do with a specific person. The idea of love is bigger than one relationship between two people - love is what binds us all together and the most powerful force for good we have in the world. This is why I'm an advocate of polyamory and helping people find new ways to experience love. I sincerely believe that if there's more love in the world, it will make the other problems we have easier to handle.

Also, I wanted to do something for the sake of art, without any other purpose or agenda beyond putting something beautiful out in the world. So each October, I write a personalized love letter to anyone who requests one by sending me their physical mailing address. Everyone who gives me an address will get a letter - guaranteed - whether we've known each other a minute or a decade. Each love letter will be handwritten with liquid ink on cotton fiber paper (so as not to harm any trees) and sent via U.S. Mail - not by email, text, IM, Twitter or Facebook post. I'll even spring for international delivery for anyone overseas.

Your letter may be long or short, funny or sincere. It might be perfumed or decorated with a wax seal. It might recall some tiny, distant memory of our time together, or it might be five pages long if we have a history. It might be lyrics to a love song that reminds me of you. It could be a story I've always wanted to share with you, but never found the right moment to tell it.

But whatever it is, it will be honest, and it will be about you and me - and whatever is between us and how it relates to the experience of love. And for those moments it takes you to read it, you and I will share a personal and physical connection that is so rare in this fleeting digital world.

No response will be expected - the letter will be my gift to you, in honor of all the love that has found me in Octobers past. All letters and requests will be kept confidential on my end, but you're certainly welcome to share the experience publicly if you wish. And obviously, requests received after Oct. 31 will have to wait until next year.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

News & updates

I just looked up and lo, a month has flown by! I didn't intend to take such a long break from blogging, but as I always say to my online friends, life gets in the way sometimes. It’s been a very busy time, as I alluded to in my last post, full of good things and a lot of job work. Let’s start with the biggest news and work our way down.

I guess the biggest news is that Kacey and Becker, who are getting married on Jan. 19, are talking with me about the possibility of becoming roommates next year. The plan is that by combining what we all pay in rent, we could get a place that’s big enough to host larger events and movie nights. It’s exciting but also a little scary. I haven’t had a roommate since college, and I’m guessing neither has Becker.

I certainly don’t need to live with anybody for economic reasons, but I see this as a rare opportunity to make a change that makes sense to me if I don’t want to live alone the rest of my life. And if things don’t work out, I can always go back to living solo. But I would have given up my cozy place that I will never get again, because as soon as I move out, they will remodel my apartment and rent it for 30% more, putting it out of my comfortable price range. But there’s a lot of hurdles to overcome yet, so stay tuned.

The weekend before last I had two concerts in 72 hours – Anathema on Saturday night and Pet Shop Boys on Monday night. Anathema was at the Gramercy Theater, similar to Best Buy Theater where I saw Steven Wilson earlier this year. I got there early and staked out a good position near the stage, but after the first two acts, I was pretty exhausted from standing so I gave up my spot to get a t-shirt and DVD and sit down in the lounge for a while. When Anathema came on, it was about 10:30 pm and I had plans to meet Liz and Josh at the nearby People’s Improv Theater (PIT) for Josh’s “Johnny Kink” show. So I watched about three or four songs from the rear of the theater before heading out.

After Josh’s show, we went to a nearby bar for a surprise birthday party for Josh, who just turned 30. We all wore mustaches in his honor, which made for some fun photos (one of me and Liz is on my phone wallpaper now). It’s interesting how I've gone from spending most of my time with one other person to spending time with couples. Josh and I also spend one-on-one time together sometimes. We've been to the movies a couple of times and last Saturday I took him out to dinner after we failed to win the Book of Mormon lottery.

The Pet Shop Boys concert was way awesome, especially since I got upgraded at the door to seventh row center orchestra at the Beacon Theater. My original seats were center mezzanine, so they were going to be great, but sitting at the front of the house was incredible! I got showered with confetti at the end of the set. Unlike the last concert, we all had seats to take a break from standing and people couldn't press around you from all sides. So it was comfortable and the band played all my favorites, with a laser light show that rivaled Muse’s earlier this year.

Over Labor Day weekend, I did a couple of significant things. I climbed Mount Tammany at the Delaware Water Gap, something I've wanted to do for years, so that was a big accomplishment for me. It wasn't easy, but it was worth it. The next day I took my defective turntable to SoundStageDirect in Doylestown, Pa., a quaint little town with an amazing record store, Siren Records. I hung out at SSD while they tested the turntable and browsed their shelves of LPs. It was the first time I’d ever visited the headquarters of an Internet store, and it was interesting how “real” the people are behind the storefront. They bring their kids to work, they all pack records in a room together, and they have the same kind of camaraderie as I do at work sitting with my colleagues. In the end, they couldn't fix the turntable that I’d bought on eBay, so they swapped it out for a new one from their inventory. So after a lot of hassle, I ended up with a brand new turntable and I've been enjoying it ever since.

I've rediscovered the Princeton Record Exchange near my office and I've bought about a dozen records there so far. I visited it once with Tara and once with Morgan, but now I go almost weekly during breaks at work. Last night I took one of my out-of-town colleagues there and we had a great time talking about and looking for music. I left with two early Bowie records, the 10th anniversary version of Postal Service's Give Up, Def Leppard’s Pyromania, and Synchronicity by The Police – all for about $50. Soon I’m gonna need a bigger shelf to hold my records, but we’ll cross that bridge when it comes.

Kacey came over last night after an event, and we spent our time listening to music. I introduced her to Porcupine Tree, Anathema, Roxy Music and the Pet Shop Boys, which I can't believe she hasn't heard before. I think she liked them all. Next time I'll show her the Smiths, Jeff Buckley and maybe Cara Dillon.

Back to Labor Day – Puck, Natalie and I met Morgan and Bruce at the New York Renaissance Faire. It was a humid, overcast day, which was only a small blessing that it wasn't sunny. It was our first time meeting Bruce, and he seems very cool and laid-back. I'm glad to see Morgan happy with him and I get the sense they are very right for each other. I didn't have any luck finding a new pendant, but I still have a month to look – best get on that.

Way down on the importance scale, my legal birthday just passed without comment. Another biological year older.

And finally, I've added a couple new items to my collection of fine spirits - my first bottle of sake and Kentucky bourbon. The sake was described thusly in a trade magazine - I wonder if I'll be able to taste all these flavors:

Hiro Junmai Gingo Blue Label Sake Japan "Clear with a platinum blue cast. Delicate vanilla maple nut fudge and spicy pear custard aromas; fruity and fresh, with banana undertones. Palate is crisp and smooth, with hints of fruits and vanilla, and a savory sweet potato bread, white mushroom, tart cherry and jicama subtle nuances. Smooth, medium body-to-full body for a very well balanced finish." -Winery Notes

The bourbon I found as a "Best Value" in Whiskey Advocate Magazine - here's a review on a whiskey blog. I had quite an adventure when I broke the cork opening it, which I posted about on Facebook. But it's very tasty with Diet Coke, I have to say.

That's all for now - I'll try to be a little better about updating.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Have you noticed that my life has changed so much over this summer? I sure have. Music has become a big part of my life again, the way it was when I was with Tara back in 2008-2010.

I can trace this back to certain very specific events this year:

  1. Attending the New York Audio Show and hearing the vinyl edition of the Talking Heads "Remain in Light" at Classic Album Sundays.
  2. Skipping out on "Lincoln" in the movie theater to watch "The Perks of Being a Wallflower."
  3. Seeing Sigur Ros in concert, and seeing Muse and Steven Wilson in short order.
  4. Buying a digital copy of the book, "1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die" by Tom Moon.
  5. Watching the play "Once" on Broadway.
Of the five, the first one is certainly the most influential because it's gotten me back into vinyl after I'd lost my entire collection in the fire of 2005. As you know, I've bought a new turntable and I've started collecting records again, although the turntable has developed a problem so I'm bringing it in for repair on Friday.

What's important to understand, for me, is that this is not about analog vs. digital so much as the importance music plays in life. Everyone knows I'm a nut for movies, and I certainly haven't abandoned them. Times Square Movie Club is still alive and well. But slowly I've been exploring new music, and when I say new, I mean new to me, of course. It's harder without a guide like Tara, but it's just as rewarding. She gave me a good start on the right path, because before she came along, I really didn't know good music from bad, and I hadn't been exposed to a lot of good music at all. I was a musical idiot, so to speak. And I still have a long way to go.

But now I try to spend at least a couple hours each day listening, really listening to music, along with my usual diet of TV, books and movies. That means focusing on a one-hour sound recording the same way you focus on a two-hour movie or two chapters of a book, without distractions. Some of this is done on the train, but that almost doesn't count since it's earbuds and there are plenty of distractions. 

I'm also buying a ton of music too, new and familiar things. I'm going through used record stores and shopping online. Here's some of the records I've recently bought:
  • The Band - The Band (LP)
  • The Band - Music from Big Pink (LP)
  • The Cure - Disintegration (LP)
  • The Smiths - Singles (CD)
  • The Smiths - The Queen is Dead (LP)
  • Alanis Morrisette - Jagged Little Pill (LP)
  • Radiohead - My Iron Lung (LP)
  • Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral (SACD)
  • Mannheim Steamroller - Fresh Aire V (LP)
  • The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds (LP)
  • Maurice Ravel - Un Coeur en Hiver soundtrack (CD)
  • The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (LP)
This last one, the Beatles record, was one of the first rock records I ever listened to, since it was one that I used to check out of the public library and it was just about the only popular music available at the library. The first record I ever owned was Shaun Cassidy's Da Doo Run Run (which gives you an indication how old I really am) but I consider my first record that I actually bought with serious intention to be Hall & Oats' H2O (that record was still in my collection that was lost in the fire). The challenge of listening to Sgt. Pepper is to try and approach it with fresh ears, to listen as if the music was recorded this year, and not continuously think about all the music that has been influenced by it over the decades since it came out.

I love being passionate about music again. I hope you are as well. Music and magick are alike in many ways, but the most important, primary way is that they both require you to make space in your life for them or you risk losing your connection to them.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Runaround for records

In my protracted pursuit of analog nirvana, it turns out that everything is fine with my turntable and it should be on its way to me from Glendale, AZ today. I've never had a problem with shopping or selling on eBay. I used to do it quite a lot in my early days of transition, buying and selling clothes and such. In fact, my eBay account is michelletg328, a name I would never choose today. But I found my current talisman on eBay, and other magickal items, plus my stuffed polar bear Oz, so it’s been a good resource for me to find hard-to-find things.

Since I purchased my Rega P-1 turntable with the Performance Pack on Aug. 1 and paid for it through PayPal, I hadn't heard a word from the seller so I assumed everything was on its way. After a few days of not hearing anything, I started to become concerned, but eBay said to wait until Aug. 9 to open a case that would be the first step for arbitration. I got a notice that the Postal Service had opened an account, but there was no tracking information and still not a word from the seller. I had to wait until Aug. 15 to escalate to eBay Customer Support, which would mean they would step in and possibly refund my money if the seller continued to be unresponsive.

On the 15th I sent another note to the seller, telling him that if I didn't hear anything from him by 3 pm that day, I would escalate the case. Three pm passed, and still nothing. I didn't want to get a refund; I wanted my turntable, so I sent him another note giving him one more week. I’m glad I did, because a few hours later he finally responded with an apologetic note explaining that he had been traveling for work and family business this month. He had packed it up for pickup at his office (hence the USPS account opening) and the Post Office never picked it up. I think if he hadn't done that, I would have given up more quickly. At least I could see that something was being done, although the non-responsiveness was very troubling.

So next time I buy something on eBay, I’m definitely going to ask the seller some questions, just to establish the connection before money changes hands. A good lesson for any online shopper to learn!

With that in mind, I did also just buy an isolation platform for my new used turntable on eBay and I did ask questions before I bought it. Since we all know that analog is more sensitive to vibration than digital, I was concerned about the placement of my turntable so close to my speaker and on my less-than-audiophile standard dresser. In my old house that burned down, my Micro Seiki turntable sat on top of a five-shelf equipment rack with spiked feet coupled to the floor. I even filled the hollow joints of the rack with lead shot to dampen vibration – the whole thing must have weighed about 200 pounds. But as I said in a previous post, I don’t have room for such extravagance in my current space, so I’ll try a different solution.

The isolation platform is a simple concept that even non-audiophiles can understand. It’s a flat wooden box that’s filled with plain sand, and the turntable sits on a floating plank on top of the sand. Anybody who has played beach volleyball knows how jumping out of sand is much harder than off solid ground. That’s partly because the sand absorbs part of the energy of your jump by the displacement of its mass. I used to have a Bright Star isolation platform under my Laserdisc player in my old setup, which is the same exact thing, but a little less homemade-looking. Bright Star appears to have discontinued making them, so I was happy to find this homemade (and cheaper) solution.

At the base of the box, four brass cones are the feet, resting on brass discs with indentions for the points to hold them in place. So any vibration coming from below (say, from dancing on my wood strip floors) has to travel through the dresser, through the brass feet, through the maple wood box, and through about 50 pounds of sand before it reaches the turntable, which itself has non-resonant feet and plinth (the body that holds the platter and tonearm) before it can affect the critical point where the needle touches the groove of the record. Now, air vibration from the speakers affecting the playback have a much more direct path, but that shouldn't be too big a problem as long as I don’t play records at high volumes. We’ll see how that all works out when I get everything in the next week or so and get it set up.

Last night I went down to St. Marks to find the used record dealer I passed on my way to the last Shotz. He didn't have much that I wanted, but he had a lot of crap I used to have that I’m not interested in replacing. I did pick up a Charlie Parker record and a Verve Japanese pressing of Duke Ellington standards, plus Philip Glass’ Songs from Liquid Days. I also got Mannheim Steamroller’s Fresh Aire VI, a modern tone poem based on the Greek myths and a nostalgic throwback from my early days as an audiophile. Now that I think about it, I’d really like to hear once more Fresh Aire V that is based on an imaginary trip through space by Johnass Kepler, so maybe I’ll look for that online.

I also found Stevie Wonder’s double album Musiquarium, so even though I have it on mp3, I thought that was worth picking up. Plus I got a couple classical albums – the CBS Masterworks pressing of Hayden’s three favorite concertos with Wynton Marsalis and Yo-Yo Ma, and Lorin Maazel's version of Ravel’s Bolero. Not a bad haul for $63, but I’m really looking forward to shopping at the Princeton Record Store, which has the area’s largest collection of vinyl. I went there once with Morgan last year, but I wasn't shopping for records back then, obviously.

I haven’t done any TSMC events in a while since I've been so exhausted, but I think I can start doing those again soon. The farewell party for Emily went really well, and I was happy she and Miriam got to see where I live at last. We saw “Wings of Desire” and everyone seemed to enjoy it. It was just the right amount of people too – Becker, Puck and Chelsea also came. Any more people and it starts getting a little uncomfortably crowded when everybody’s standing up.

Today is the first day at work in the past two weeks I feel like I can relax a bit. Maybe I’ll go get a massage after work before going home, I think I deserve one. I’m really looking forward to a relaxing weekend as well.

Monday, August 12, 2013

I dig music

So there's been a little snag with my turntable order. The seller on eBay hasn't shipped it or contacted me yet, so I've been trying to chase it down. I just hope the seller isn't a complete fraud. eBay has guarantees so I won't lose my money, but I really wanted that turntable at that price. So we'll see what happens in the next few weeks.

I've already got a decent start on my new record collection, a mix of old and new:

London Calling by The Clash
Weather Systems by Anathema
Electric by Pet Shop Boys
The Perks of Being a Wallflower soundtrack
The King James Version by the Harry James Orchestra (an original Sheffield Labs direct to disc pressing)
The Velveteen Rabbit by Meryl Streep and George Winston
The Steadfast Tin Soldier by Jeremy Irons and Mark Isham
Purple Rain soundtrack by Prince and the Revolution
Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd
O Brother Where Art Thou Bona Fide Rarities and Unreleased Tracks soundtrack
Kveikur by Sigur Ros

The children's stories, especially the Velveteen Rabbit, are replacements from my old collection. I was always amazed how much better they sounded on vinyl than on CD, so it should make a good demonstration. The human voice is one of the hardest things to reproduce accurately and we're all most critical about listening to it because we hear it more than any other instrument.

Tonight I listened to some of my SACD samplers while reading Sandman. It's been a while since I've played an entire album at home, although I've been listening to a lot of Pandora lately.

The other day, I was listening to Paramore's Riot! album on the train and I had a powerful memory of the person I was back when that album came out. It was like I was inhabiting the mind of the person I used to be when I was living in New Jersey and working in New York, being with Tara and first meeting Puck. I remember how much more innocent I felt, how much more open I was to new things and ideas. I was a sponge, soaking up everything to do with living my new life, with new people, in a new place.

Compared to then, I'm much more stable, set in my ways. I've never been keen about meeting new people, but I'm probably a little better at it now than I was then, but I'm less inclined to adopt ideas from people close to me. I have a better sense of who I am, and there's a feeling of permanence to my personality now. Paramore's music brought me back to my adolescence of five years ago, when I had no idea where life would take me. It was an interesting out-of-body experience. Music, like sights and smells, can be the catalyst to take you to a place and time before you became who you are. It's another way of looking back and seeing how far you've come along your chosen path.

Monday, August 05, 2013

A gift for Emily

This is a story about a quest for the perfect gift. And like most quests, it's not so much about the successful conclusion, but about the journey to get there.

As I said in my last post, my yoga teacher Emily is moving to the opposite side of the country this month, so she's coming over Wednesday for a little farewell party. I wanted to get her a going-away present, and decided to try and find her a custom name chop on Saturday. In my heart of hearts, I was skeptical I could get it done in so short a time, but I was determined to try.

I found a place called Chinatown Frame & Art online that said it sold name seals, so I went in search of it. The site said it was located at 40 Elizabeth at Canal, but when I got there, there was no sign of it. I looked it up on my Blackberry and found that they relocated to 7 Pell Street, a short walk away. I went down there and finally found a sign at the location, but no store that I could see. I called the number and spoke to the proprietor, who said he had closed his business permanently. So much for the easy way.

I called all the other stores listed on the website, but every one of them was either a wrong number, or didn't have what I was looking for. I visited one of the frame stores and they had one chop, but no way to engrave it. A blank chop wasn't much use to me. I visited a few souvenir shops, but the ones who even knew what I was talking about didn't have it.

I was about to give up when I looked across Bowery from Pell Street and saw the words, "Confucius Bookstore." I decided to give it one last try, so I walked in and asked the young lady and she said no, they didn't carry them. I asked her if she knew anyone who did. She asked a co-worker in Chinese and turned back to me and said, "Two doors down." My heart started racing - could it be possible I was close?

Two doors down was a fine arts and antiques store that sold furniture, vases, scrolls and other artworks, and lo and behold, they had a small collection of chops in a glass display case. Most of them were very plain, but there was one with an oval design with a dragon on top that was perfect! I asked where I might be able to have it engraved. The answer? "Two doors down."

The proprietor escorted me another two doors down to an engraving shop run by Victor Pei and his wife. I later learned that Mr. Pei is the first cousin of legendary architect I. M. Pei (who designed the glass pyramid entrance for the Louvre, among many other things). One wall was completely covered with photos of celebrities like Liam Neeson, Mayor Bloomberg, etc. They helped me typeset five Chinese characters that phonetically sounded like Emily's name (and didn't have any rude or off-color meanings). The three characters of her first name are a surname and two characters that translate as "jasmine". The two characters of her last name translate to "hope" or "aspire" and "achieve". So, perfect for someone who is going to school!

As I suspected, Mr. Pei asked me if I could pick up the finished piece on Wednesday night. I explained I had to get it sooner because the party was Wednesday night. It became even more complicated when he told me that his shop closed at 6, meaning I would have had to work at home or take a day off just to pick up the chop. Seeing my distress, he offered to start on it immediately and see if he could get it done today, and I just about hugged him in gratitude!

While he worked on it, he sent me to another bookstore on Elizabeth Street to get the mudpack, the traditional red paste used to ink the seal. This required going up an unmarked stairway and coming out into the Chinese equivalent of a Barnes & Noble. They not only sold books, but art supplies, ping pong paddles, musical instruments and lots of chops. I had finally hit paydirt!

Since I've never had a chop in my current name (I lost a collection of several seals with my old name in the fire of 2005) I ordered one made for myself. I also got a pot of ink for Emily's chop, and I asked the clerk to help me translate "Michelle" (I already know how to write my surname in Chinese). This task seemed to capture the imagination of the entire store staff, as I watched four clerks consult four different dictionaries and reference books, and even get the opinion of more unseen employees in the back room. Finally, they agreed on two characters that sound reasonably similar, with the meaning of "beautiful" and "baby bamboo". I thought the baby bamboo was a particularly appropriate meaning since I just celebrated my 9th birthday!

While waiting on Mr. Pei, I strolled around Chinatown in areas previously unexplored and saw so many things that I wanted to try on future outings - a hand-pulled noodle shops, restaurant supply stores with gorgeous tea sets, grocery stores, Shanghai soup dumpling restaurants, bubble tea stands, etc. I thought a lot about when I was growing up and the long-buried memories of going to Chinatown in Houston, trying new restaurants and shopping every week in Chinese grocery stores.

Finally, just past 6 pm, Mr. Pei was finished and we put the whole package together and this is what it looks like. I hope Emily likes it, and I'm grateful for the experience of this day, and for my own chop that I will pick up next weekend! To end the day, I stopped by nearby Great N.Y. Noodletown and devoured an order of their seasonal soft shell crabs, and got an order of roast duck to go.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Walk to Remember

I’ve been struggling with the idea of buying a phonograph and starting to collect records again. If it were just a matter of money, it’s not a problem of course, at least not in the short run. Especially since my company launched a spin-off IPO a couple weeks ago and I bought 250 shares at the initial price of $22 per share and now they’re worth almost $28 per share. So that’s like a $1,250 bonus when I cash out (unless the stock goes down).

No, the problem is space. I simply don’t have room on my dresser for another piece of equipment, especially a turntable that you have to access from the top. That, plus I don’t have a place suitable to store records, mostly on account of how many books and digital discs I own. It’s rare that I really, really want an affordable material possession that I simply can’t have. The wants that I can’t have are usually on the magnitude of Lamborghinis and penthouse apartments. But the massive changes I’d have to make in my space (or moving to a new space) to accommodate a turntable are too overwhelming to contemplate.

I suppose the right thing to do is to get rid of more old stuff so I can free up room for new things. I have tubs of junk that I need to sort through and get rid of, both in the apartment, in the office and stored in Yoshi. It’s kinda ridiculous.

Speaking of Yoshi, he’s been showing his 14-year age lately and I worry that I might have to put him out to pasture soon. I’ve been putting off things like new tires and brakes, but I won’t be able to much longer. So that’s another reason not to spend money too freely.

One thing about turntables is that it opens the door to a lot of extra purchases – performance upgrades, record cleaners, stylus cleaners, setup tools, etc. Not to mention that new vinyl costs more, sometimes twice as much as the CD or mp3 album. So buying a turntable is kind of like a starter baby for people who don’t have babies.


It’s been pretty quiet since my blowout birthday weekend, although last weekend was quite eventful. I found out my yoga teacher Emily is moving to California next month so I won’t be able to continue my practice with her, which is really sad. I’m trying to organize a going-away party for her at TSMC before she leaves.

The heat wave that’s been sapping my energy lately has finally started to break this week. The worst was the Poly Women’s Group at Kat’s non-air conditioned apartment in Queens on one of the hottest days of the year. But it was nice seeing Katie, Sylwia, Tamara and meeting some of our new members. The stories we tell at our meetings really should be dramatized someday.

Speaking of drama, a lot of my time lately has been taken up running the Unchained Love Playwright Competition. We average about one entry per day, more than 30 in the first month, and they are still coming in. I’m compiling bios and synopses and trying to find judges to read them.

Last weekend was time to catch up with everybody. Friday night Piper and I went to Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain for dinner and then continued our Stanley Kubrick series with Full Metal Jacket. Saturday afternoon I met my friend Stephanie at the 59 Theater so I could give her my old ergonomic computer keyboard and we watched Kacey’s play “Safe” together.

After the play Stephanie went to meet some friends and Kacey and I had some extended alone time to talk about the competition and catch up on each other’s lives. We had supper at a nearby Korean restaurant and then took a two-hour stroll through Central Park, entering at the zoo and strolling up the writer’s Mall, through the Ramble, up to Belvedere Castle, down through Shakespeare’s Garden and Bethesda Fountain. We went over famous Bow Bridge (which I always thought was spelled “Beaux Bridge,” as in “beautiful”) and came out at Columbus Circle. Along the way we saw Argentine tango dancers, acrobatic skaters, drum circles, giant soap bubble artists, a luxurious Italian gondola, a guitar and ukulele duet, an electric acoustic guitarist playing Richard Marx’ “Right Here Waiting” while watching a small bunch of balloons float off into the sunset.

Kacey is leaving today for Edinburgh, Scotland for a few weeks as “Safe” is moving overseas to continue performances, so the imagery wasn’t lost on me. Becker is taking it a little hard, as would I if I had the privilege of seeing Kacey as often as he does.

As we walked we talked about many things, even politics, my least favorite topic. We saw many things in the same way. We laughed at the same things. Spending time with Kacey is a rare and wonderful treat for me, as I know it is for many people. More than anyone I know, she embodies the combination of joy, sincerity, sophistication and positive energy that is nourishing to the human soul.

After exiting the park we walked down Broadway and had coffee and macaroons at Cafe Bene before parting for the evening. Then, about 15 hours later, Kacey texted me to tell me that Becker made a proposal of marriage and that she has accepted!

Sunday afternoon I went down to Union Square to do some post-birthday shopping, using my gift offers before they expire at the end of the month. I bought some Kenneth Cole black leather sandals and daily moisturizer. It was very humid and on the brink of rain all day, so I was pretty tired by the time I met up with Natalie at Balducci's at 4 pm. We had tea and macaroons (again!) and got caught up with the important things going on in our lives. Then we went across the street to TJ Maxx and did some shopping before Matt came to meet us and they went off to their gaming night, right as it started to pour down rain.

I had just seen an episode of Great Performances ("Dancing at Jacob's Pillow: Never Stand Still") earlier in the day and was feeling like I wanted to see the evening performance at The Next Stage Project, my favorite modern dance troupe. I got a salad and walked over to the City Center, but found out the performance started at 7:30, not 7, and by this time I was really tired and dripping with rain and sweat, so I decided to call it a day.

Monday was cooking day so I put out an open invitation to visit and Chelsea accepted, so I was happy to get to catch up with her as well. I made a black bean and garlic chicken with onions and green bell peppers over rice, and eggplant with a miso dijon mustard sauce. Neither turned out quite as good as I'd hoped, but everything was edible at least.

Kacey came by and we got to congratulate her in person and hear the proposal story. I gave her a couple plays and the summary document, plus some competition flyers, to take with her to Scotland. Then she left and we watched "The Brothers Grimm," which was lots of fun. 

And with that, my four eventful days were over. Time to recharge for a while.