Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 in review

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes - how do you measure a year? It's been a most unusual year in 2015, the first time since 2009 that I've been out of work, and now the longest stretch of non-employment since I started working full-time back in 1991. So while it's been a restful and rejuvenating break for me, I'm also a bit disappointed that I haven't done very much to improve myself. If I'd have known I was going to be not working for so long, I think I would have set a few more personal goals. I guess that's why people take sabbaticals.

To me, the highlight of the year was the wedding of Chris and Bruce in September, my first time as a bridesmaid ("A bridesmaid's tale" - Sept. 16, 2015) and as such, the corsage of dried flowers I wore that day is the ornament that represents 2015 on my holiday tree.

Chris was one of the first persons I connected with online in my new life (predating even Tara) and is thus my longest-standing friend besides the six holdover friends from my old life (Pearl, Linda, Meredith, Norm, Meador and Agnieszka Prime). The night before the wedding I posted a blurb about us on Facebook:

In 2004, I met a 15-year-old kid who lived about 1,700 miles away. We were both going through difficult times that would have life-altering repercussions. We showed each other that love and friendship can flourish regardless of age, culture and distance, illuminating both our darkest hours and our most joyous occasions. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that more than a decade later, I'd be sitting in her guest room on the eve of her wedding day and preparing to witness her next transition, from a soloist to a duet in the chorus of life. We've come a long way together, and we've only just begun.

But in addition to the long-planned wedding, 2015 will be best known for the curveball of starting the year with one set of expectations and having them completely derailed barely a month into the year. It seems such a distant memory that this year started with a plan for Piper and me to become roommates and we were just about to begin visiting potential apartments when I got the surprise at work on February 2nd.

For the first two months of unemployment, my body decided it was time to cash in all the missed sick day chips over the past five-plus years working at Nearing. In fact, I was so ill that I couldn't attend the funeral of Puck's grandmother Zoya, who passed away on MLK Day in January. However, being under the weather didn't completely stop me from having fun. I managed to make it out to the Met to see Don Giovanni with Kristina on Valentine's Day (we were both pretty sick) and I hosted another epic Oscar Night party with help from Piper and Liz. Victoria barely edged out Piper to tie with me and take first prize.

In April I helped celebrate birthdays for two of my dearest, Liz and Kacey. Liz's 30th birthday was an extravaganza feast at The Cannibal, where I had my second whole roasted pig of the year (the first was a suckling pig at Pig & Khao with Lori and her friends back in January). Liz's family and friends came up from Houston to help celebrate so I got to meet her parents and sister for the first time. Kacey planned a yoga party in Prospect Park, but it was so cold and windy that we had to use my picnic blanket as a makeshift shelter instead. But it was a lovely intimate group of people and we still had a fun and memorable day.

May was the bittersweet highlight of the year with my first real trip to Chicago - Puck and I helped move Kristina out to the Windy City for a fresh start ("Eating through Chicago" - May 8, 2015). I got to cross off a few culinary bucket list items (Lou Malnati's pizza, Al's Italian Beef and Superdawg) and see many of the key tourist sites. But I was sad to see Kristina exit from my day-to-day life, as we'd gotten quite close over the past two years.

In June, Katie M and Sylwia helped me organize Open Love NY's first march in the New York City Pride March, and we had a great turnout of about 40 people. It's probably the first time since 2009 that the polyamorous community has been represented in the march. I met several new people that day, but the one who is most significant at this point in time is Chrissy, who carried one of my signs during the march. She and I have become friends, and I'm currently mentoring her to become a leader for Open Love NY.

In July and into August I took trips to Harrisburg for Chris' bachelorette party and to Philadelphia with Lori, ("Adventures in Pennsylvania" - August 3, 2015) after visiting the same two destinations earlier in the year (with Katie M to pick out bridesmaid dresses, and with Puck to visit ex-coworkers in Philly). Then in September we had the wedding and in October Liz and I rounded up friends to go apple picking again, reprising our fabulous 2013 adventure. I also continued my Free Love Letter project with 10 requests, same as last year, and eight of them first-timers.

It was also in October that I went to the Pennsylvania Ren Faire with Puck, Natalia and Chris. Katie M and I had a beautiful trip up to Springwood, rounding out the month's outdoor adventures ("The great outdoors" - Nov. 3, 2015).

In November Puck celebrated their 25th birthday in style with several events, and I presented them with a trio of stuffed Totoro animals in addition to a trip to the Intrepid Museum. For the second year in a row, I had the privilege of spending Thanksgiving with Chris and her family in Harrisburg. Later in the month, Kacey and I took our first road trip together, visiting Lourdes and Illona in Boston ("Sweet November" - Nov. 30, 2015). Even as I write this tonight, Illona and Tom are in the hospital right now meeting their firstborn, so I'm sending good thoughts to them.

Overall, this has been a highly unusual year without the structure and routine of work. I've crammed just about as much fun as I prudently could into my life, and I've also been going on job interviews but so far without success, although I feel I've gotten to the final handful of candidate on one or two opportunities.

I've also gotten to see several wonderful shows on Broadway this year (Aladdin, Finding Neverland, Fun Home, Spring Awakening, The King and I, Airline Highway) as well as smaller shows my friends have put on, or have had friends in (The Skin of Our Teeth, Play On!, Eleven Reflections on September, Kafka's Belinda, Veritas, Songbird). I've attended two spectacular concerts (Diana Krall at the Beacon and Steven Wilson at Sony Playstation Theater).

With my closest friends I've completed first seasons of "Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries" and "Heroes" this year, and we are well into the second seasons on both. I've read all the Horatio Hornblower novels by C. S. Forester and completed Bill Willingham's run on the comic Fables. I watched the entire seasons of "Game of Thrones," "Sense8," "Daredevil," "Jessica Jones," "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," "The L Word" and others.

Obviously, I'm looking for more changes in 2016. A new job, hopefully in the city, and new experiences in my professional life. But I love my intentional family and the friends I have around me. If anything this year has been about them, and strengthening my connections with all of them, near and far. I continue to be profoundly grateful for all my many blessings in this intentional life.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Holiday ramp-up

Picking up from my last entry, I've been seeing even more of Liz, Josh and others who are closest to me. Liz hosted an Ugly Mug / Housewarming Party on the 11th, her first party in her new apartment. So when I went to my women's group meeting that Tuesday, I stopped at several thrift stores in the area to find an ugly mug - mine had a ceramic rabbit molded into the well of the mug with one of its ears broken off.

Thursday Puck and I had a double date with Kacey and Becker to see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 at our usual theater in Battery Park. We had a quick bite at the Shake Shack and afterwards walked along the Hudson back to their place before saying goodnight. Then the next night we went to Liz's party, which was also attended by the usual suspects Josh, Victoria, Lytle and Michelle, plus a bunch of new people. After opening a couple of cool mugs and getting them stolen from me, I wound up with a FDNY mug for the evening - poorly played on my part. At least I did better than Puck, who got stuck with a Duck Dynasty mug!

That weekend I stayed home to read "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" and watch some of the movies to prepare for a Harry Potter trivia night that Katie M invited me to on Tuesday. She's been dealing with a death in the family so I hadn't seen her in nearly a month.

But first on Monday was Poly Cocktails, where I was meeting up with Chrissy to introduce her to O Man as part of the Open Love NY mentoring process. Chrissy actually ran into a former co-worker and they both discovered that each other is poly. As the bar got crowded she and I left to get a late dinner at a nearby gastropub called Set LES that was charming as it was uncrowded. We sat in the corner table and had some sliders and drinks, and possibly because it was so empty, the waitress brought over free shots of Jameson to thank us for coming in.

Tuesday's trivia game was held at Professor Thom's near Union Square and it was a lot noisier and chaotic than it should have been, but then I've never been to a trivia night before. Katie ordered a Butter Beer, which was made with vanilla flavored vodka, and a huge plate of nachos. Even though we had some HP experts on our team (our friend Amelia, her Rocky Whore-r castmate Bella-Carolina and two people I've not met before, Jacquelyn and Caroline) we didn't score perfect enough to even get to the tiebreaker of any of the four rounds. Not that I expected to win, but it was a bit frustrating.

Wednesday I visited the Manhattan (Harlem) Costco for the first time to stock up on supplies for TSMC events last week. I also got some baking supplies for Liz - 20 pounds of flour, 10 pounds of sugar and a liter of olive oil. Natalia and I finished our Fast & Furious series with Furious 7 on Thursday, then she came back to watch Star Wars IV and V with me and Puck on Friday. Saturday we hosted both Matt and Natalia for Star Wars II, III and VI.

Sunday I met up with Josh and Liz to deliver the groceries and have brunch at a brand new gastropub called Treadwell Park. Liz found it while searching for a venue for work, and it was recently written up in the New York Post. I had a very acceptable eggs Benedict and we shared a giant pretzel that was as big as a frying pan. The atmosphere is unusually open for New York, with ping pong tables, pinball machines and communal dining tables. The big negative was the women's bathrooms, which Liz and I both felt was lacking.

Monday morning I woke up early with Puck and I went to see the new Star Wars movie because Katie M had seen it on Sunday and she was coming over that evening. Even for a 9:30 am Monday show in the premium theater, the auditorium was almost full. I enjoyed it a lot and I'm glad I saw it before anything was spoiled for me because there are a lot of spoil-worthy things in that movie.

Katie and I had a good time talking about the movie and about the positives and negatives of George Lucas before we finished our Star Trek trilogy by watching Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. That is one advantage Star Wars has over Star Trek - because it's a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the Star Wars movies don't get dated the same way that the Star Trek movies do. Nevertheless, I am looking forward to seeing what Justin Lin does with the rebooted franchise when Star Trek Beyond comes out next summer.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Storytelling, Star Wars, Songbird and Spring Awakening

It's actually been a fairly busy first week in December so instead of waiting until the end of the month as I've been doing, I'd better post sooner.

After Monday night's episodes of "Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries" with Puck and Natalia, Puck and I ventured to Brooklyn Tuesday night for a new event called "Take Two Storytelling" at a bar called C'mon Everybody. Puck went to school with one of the organizers, and we met Kelli Dunham, one of the storytellers, at a Poly Pride rally several years ago.

The idea behind Take Two Storytelling is that people take a true story and tell two versions - one the way it actually happened, the other where they rewind time to make it all turn out differently. You tell what happens when you take the other fork in the road, right the wrongs or wrong the rights, say what you could have said, do what you could have done, flip to a different page in the choose your own adventure. The event tied in nicely with the book we just finished reading this week, one of my childhood favorites called "A Necklace of Fallen Stars" where one of the characters is a storyteller.

On Wednesday I planned to help Chelsea move a dresser with Yoshi, but a few minutes before I was to leave, I discovered that my GPS died. So I had to scramble to print a map to get me to the destination, and I relied on Chelsea's smartphone to get us to her home. But after we finished moving the dresser and we parted, it took me almost an hour to get out of Brooklyn and into Manhattan, and even then only with phone help from Puck.

I planned to go back to TSMC and get stuff to bring to Staten Island, but I didn't realize that the Rockefeller Center tree was being lit that night, so when I finally got close to home the entire area was cordoned off and police were everywhere. I couldn't turn on my street so I decided to give up and head back to SI. I was calling Puck to let them know my status when a cop started yelling at me to get off the phone and he smacked my window a couple times, very hard. Obviously I wasn't going anywhere fast and it rattled me - I hung up the phone immediately. But then I nearly hit a pedestrian in a crosswalk because I was so shaken by the incident. By the time I got back to Puck's place I was nearly in tears and I couldn't wait to get home.

Thursday night Angel invited me out to see her play for The Snarks, a theater company, called "Play On!" It was hands-down the funniest play I've ever seen! The play is about, well, the making of a play - Act One takes place at a rehearsal of "Murder Most Foul," three days prior to opening night. Act Two is the dress rehearsal the night before the opening, and Act Three is opening night. The play cleverly sows the seeds of chaos throughout the rehearsals and everything that can go wrong does go wrong on opening night. Of all the plays I've seen in New York, only a few select Shotz performances have made me laugh harder than I did Thursday night!

I spent Friday night alone to relax and put up my holiday tree, including this year's ornament: the dried flower corsage I wore at Chris and Bruce's wedding. On Saturday, I hosted the second half of the Star Wars "Machete" cycle with Katie and Lillian, and their friends Carolyn, Rebecca and Jen. For food I made my curry chicken salad and stuffed it inside mini pitas to make finger sandwiches. Rebecca asked for the recipe but I've only made it twice so I'm still working out the exact proportions - but it's mostly seasoned to taste anyway. So here is the basic recipe:

Mischa's version of Ess-a-Bagel's Curry Chicken Salad

2 pounds chicken breast fillets
1 cup cashews halves or sliced almonds
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup chopped celery (use the tender hearts and chop to about Tic Tac size)
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup capers
2-3 cups mayonnaise
3 tablespoons curry powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon habanero or cayenne chili powder
Salt and pepper

1. Boil chicken for about 30 minutes, then cool and cut into chunks (about grape sized).

2. Mix the mayonnaise and dry spices together in a large bowl until well blended. Add all other ingredients and toss. Adjust seasoning to taste.

3. Cover and refrigerate at least an hour before serving.

Sunday I spent the whole day with Liz, which was a treat because we haven't seen each other in months, since the apple picking trip in early October by my reckoning. We met up at Amali Sustainable Mediterranean Restaurant for brunch, where we both got a very appetizing shakshuka, which is baked‎ eggs, tomato, chilies, feta cheese and grilled pita wedges. I've made this dish once before at home based on a recipe in the New York Times but this version was much better. I might try to reverse-engineer this one next.

We poked our heads into Dylan's Candy Bar for just a moment, then went to Sprinkles cupcakes for dessert (Katie M introduced me to my first Sprinkles just last week). Then we made our way to the 59th Street Theater to see the closing performance of Songbird, a musical play set in Nashville and based on Chekhov's "The Seagull." The music and lyrics were by Lauren Pritchard, who originated the role of Ilse in the Broadway musical, Spring Awakening (which we were to see later that same night).

The show and especially the music were fantastic, even though I didn't particularly like the ending, which I attribute to the characteristically bleak Russian source material. It reminded me a lot of the Broadway musical Once, which I saw back in 2013 when I experienced a renaissance in my musical interests. Since this was their final show, we even got treated to an extra song by the composer and cast post-curtain. Liz's friend and cast member Eric told us after the show that they might do a cast recording at some point, but in the meantime, most of the songs were performed by the cast on YouTube - here's my favorite, Cry Me a River.

We walked back to TSMC (getting caught in the Rockettes RCMH show crowd for a bit) to have tea and snacks before heading to the 7:30 pm performance of Spring Awakening. Our seats were high in the rear mezzanine but since it wasn't crowded we moved down several rows at intermission. The show was enjoyable with several high points, but overall I actually liked Songbird's music and story better, despite the conclusion. The Broadway show was flashy and had interesting visuals, but I had trouble following the story and keeping the characters straight - probably in part due to being so far from the stage. At Songbird we were in the fourth or fifth row of a much smaller theater.

This week I am once again busy four of five nights, so I'll probably need to post next weekend as well. In addition to lots of fun stuff, I also have a second interview with a big company tomorrow, and possibly another second interview with another company later in the week. Maybe this time one of them will turn into a job offer.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Sweet November

Well, a whole month has come and gone. I just haven't felt much like blogging lately, plus writing love letters has taken up some of my free writing time. I'm only halfway done with the project (5 of 10) so it looks like I'm going to be later than I was last year when I completed 10 before the end of November.

Anyway, this month started out with Puck's birthday the first weekend - as it's been in some years past, it was a multi-part affair. On Saturday a group of friends visited the Alice Austen House on Staten Island. Katie M stayed over with me Friday night and we went together. Teresa came separately and got there first - it's been more than a year since I saw her so it was nice to catch up. Evan and Adele came from Long Island, plus Patrick and Alyssa so it was a nice crowd of very familiar people.

The next day we had a dinner at Puck's home and Emily came, although she couldn't eat much since she was preparing to have surgery in a couple of weeks. So we had the traditional carrot cake and multi-course homestyle dinner. I gave Puck a small blue Totoro doll and a novelization of the movie, items that go with the giant Totoro that I presented to them a week prior and that has been staying at TSMC with the rest of my stuffed pals until I can move him out to Staten Island.

The following weekend Puck and I had a private date for their birthday and got to cross something off our funzies list that's been on there for many years - we visited the Intrepid Air, Sea and Space Museum. We started with the 360 degree flight simulator ride and then explored all the decks of the USS Intrepid. For dinner we went to Gotham West Market and had some small plates at The Cannibal (Salumi board of bresaola, finochietta and sopressata; Thai sausage with bok choi, jalapeno and peanuts; and Brussel sprouts with mint and country ham gremolata). After that we went to see the new James Bond movie SPECTRE at the Empire 25.

The following Thursday we did a TSMC showing of "My Neighbor Totoro" at TSMC, since we had a plethora of Studio Ghibli characters in residence. Puck brought their Catbus doll to join the party. Michelle and Katie B came for the movie, and after it was finished Michelle left, but Katie, Puck and I watched a second Ghibli movie called "From Up on Poppy Hill," my favorite of the more realistic works in that genre. Lillian came by near the end of the movie and we all chatted for a bit before calling it a night.

The next morning Kacey came over to start our long-awaited Boston trip to visit Lourdes and Illona, who have both relocated to Beantown this year. We had a lovely drive up and met up with Nick at Lourdes' place in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood. We went down to Centre Street where we found all sorts of quaint bookstores, toy stores and thrift shops. I bought a children's book for Illona and Tom called "What is Punk?" and we had dinner at a Lebanese place called Cafe Beirut, followed by ice cream at J.P. Licks. We met up with Lourdes at home and started watching "The Man in the High Castle" on Amazon before turning in.

Saturday Kacey left early to meet up with another friend who happens to live in the same neighborhood, while I met Lourdes' other houseguests, Mary and Roberto who came in late the night before from a concert. We all went out for brunch at a nearby place and then met up with Kacey back home before saying goodbye and heading to Illona's house, which happens to be very near Puck's old place of residence, the Magic Treehouse, in Somerville.

Tom and Illona were cleaning the house when we arrived, so they shooed us away so they could finish. We took the subway downtown and walked along the waterfront until it was time for dinner at The Daily Catch. The food at the Seaport locations isn't quite up to the standard at the North End location that Puck and I visited last summer ("Staycation 2014" - August 31, 2014) but it was still top-notch. We had dessert at the Mister Crepe in Davis Square back in Somerville before returning home.

I had planned to visit my friend Linda the next morning for brunch, but she unexpectedly had to work so we had a little more relaxed time leaving the next day. Kacey and Illona did a pregnancy photo shoot, as Illona is due to give birth to their first child in mid-December. I got to finally meet Illona's pet hedgehog (surprisingly, this is the first time I've ever visited her residence, since I never visited her in Brooklyn).

We left Somerville about 1 pm and stopped at Frank Pepe's in New Haven for an early dinner - it was my second visit and Kacey's first. We made it back to New York smoothly and I dropped her off before heading down to SI to drop off Yoshi. I had a little supper and tea with Puck's mom and dad before heading back to TSMC to meet up with Puck after their date with Alex.

The following Tuesday I had lunch with my friend Chrissy at my nearby Kung Fu Noodles. As I mentioned in my last post, I met Chrissy at the Pride march earlier this year and we've been Facebook friends since. I've convinced her to let me mentor her to join the Open Love NY leadership team, so we'll be working together for the next few months. We came back to TSMC so I could cook my noodles and we watched the MTV True Life episode about polyamory that included my cameo appearance. Her husband Charles came over and we went to the Open Love NY potluck party together.

For Thanksgiving I took a 24-hour trip to visit Chris and Bruce in Harrisburg. I left Wednesday evening and we had a late late Friendsgiving dinner at their home with Fiona, Bruce's friend Tony and Fiona's friend Jay. Chris and Fiona did all the cooking: a roasted duck and duck fat fried herb potatoes, a leek and cheese quiche, dandelion salad and an apple cobbler for dessert.

We started eating at about 12:30 am and finished up close to 2 am. Once everyone left, Chris and I stayed up to watch some MasterChef Junior while she baked a pumpkin pie for the next day. I finally went to bed around 4 am and she probably only got about four hours of sleep before we were up to go to her parents' house for Thanksgiving dinner at 1 pm.

The dinner was the same group from last year minus Aunt Christa, who had to work on the holiday this year, but it was the first in their new home so there was enough room for everyone at the table instead of having a separate kids' table. Chris' mom Julie read an Irish blessing before the meal and we all dug in. There was roast turkey with stuffing, homegrown mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, cranberry and raspberry sauce, plus an apple pie to go along with Chris' pumpkin pie for dessert.

Since we started dinner so early I came back home the same day and hosted Natalia on Friday, where we watched two more of the Fast & Furious movies. We are doing them in movie timeline order, so we saw Fast and Furious 6, followed by number 3, Tokyo Drift. We'll finish with Furious 7 in the next few weeks.

Finally tonight I ended the month with the first of a two-part Star Wars marathon I'm hosting for Katie and Lillian's friends. One of them named Jen acquired the Harmy Despecialized Editions of the original trilogy, which I was very keen to see. We're also watching them in the so-called Machete order, which is supposed to produce a better flow in the story. So Jen brought the discs over to TSMC and we were joined by Lillian, Katie, Carolyn and Rebecca. It was Jen and Carolyn's first visit to TSMC, and Rebecca's second (after Furious 7). Although I've met Carolyn many times now, I think it's the first time I've met Jen and it's always a treat to meet someone who loves movies as much as I do.

We did Episodes IV, V and II this time, and we'll reconvene on Saturday to view Episodes III and VI. Carolyn has never seen the movies before, so we're trying not to spoil things for her. This is actually my first time doing a Star Wars marathon and it's very interesting being submerged in that universe for a whole day. We also talked about doing an extended edition Lord of the Rings series at some point, which I've done in a single sitting before with my family in New Jersey. But for friends, I think if it happens we'll break it up into two or three sessions.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

The great outdoors

October has always been my favorite time of the year, and not just for the aforementioned reasons concerning love. It's also the perfect time to get outside and enjoy the smell of autumn, when the temperatures drop and there's still a decent amount of sunshine to light the way. So this autumn, since my energies aren't being sapped by working, I've been out every weekend on adventures with my loved ones.

On the 18th Puck and Natalia met up with Chris at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, the first time I've been since 2012. We didn't have very long to spend there, and it rained heavily for about an hour during the day but the weather was lovely when the sun came out. We had hot cider and turkey legs and it seemed like we were constantly finding new foods to try, like funnel cake sticks and crepes stuffed with pears and cheese.

My most interesting find was at a medieval bookstore where I found a large pewter seal of a unicorn, something I've never seen before. It was a unique piece to add to my growing collection of seals that I use for my Free Love Letter project.

On Tuesday of that week we had a women's group meeting at Natalia's place. I went to meet up with a new friend, Chrissy, whom I met at the Pride March this summer (she carried my "Marriage is just one form of family" sign) at the Argo Tea before heading to the meeting. On the ride up we happened to be riding in the same car as my other friend Lauren, who was also attending the group for the first time. Lauren only realized we were there as we were leaving the train.

I first met Lauren in person at the 2012 Stony Brook LGBTA drag show but we actually have a much more interesting first meeting story. When I marched in SlutWalk back in 2011 I snapped this photo of her sign (below), which caught the top of her head. Puck's friend Em recognized her and introduced us online through my posting of the photo on Facebook.

On Thursday that week I attended a free tasting of Macallan Scotch Whiskey that was quite an interesting production. They offered samples of their 10-, 12-, 15- and 18-year aged Scotches, along with orange chocolate truffles. In the blind nose test, I picked out the 18-year as my favorite, so clearly I have expensive taste! Afterward I met up with Kacey and Becker at TSMC to watch The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 1.

On Friday Katie M came over after work and we watched Heroes until Puck joined us and we all went down to the PIT to watch Josh perform as Riff Raff in the Rocky Whore-er PIT-ure Show. Katie's friend and my new acquaintance Amelia played Janet. And I just learned that Victoria is dating the actor who played Rocky, but I can't remember his name. It was Puck's second time to see RHPS but I think they enjoyed it a little more than when we saw it at Wicked Faire in 2012. Aside from knowing people in the cast, this "shadow cast" was done in real-time without stopping the film for skits. However, it wasn't as much fun as years past without Liz present, because she actually knows some of the audience lines.

Saturday I went back to Staten Island with Puck to get Yoshi while leaving Katie to fend for herself for the day at TSMC. Sunday morning Katie and I drove out to Springwood, the family home of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a lovely spot I visited back in 2006. We took a walk down the trail toward the Hudson River but didn't make it too far before we had to turn back to make our tour time for the house. There was one beautiful moment when the wind swirled up, like an orchestra tuning up before a concert, and blew leaves into the crisp autumn air.

After touring the house and taking in the gorgeous view from the rear balcony, we took a quick tour through the museum, but we could only stay long enough to realize that we had to come back again someday to really take it all in, as Katie had to get back to the city for a prior engagement.

On Monday I attended the opening night of the play that Liz is stage managing called "Veritas," based on the true story of homosexual students at Harvard in the 1920s.  Josh and Victoria also came and it was quite a production. The cast members served as hosts, seating groups of the audience and complimentary drinks were offered (although I can't remember when I've had a more undrinkable wine). The first part of the play was a little hard to follow (partly because we were seated in a far corner) but the second and third parts were very powerful and very crisply choreographed with lights and movement. Liz even got to make a brief, non-speaking appearance as the future wife of one of the cast. The play seems to come off like Orwellian satire, but in truth it shows us that even though we've come a long way, we continue to damage and destroy lives because they don't conform to our conventional ideas.

Last Saturday was Samhain, pagan new year, and I celebrated alone as I always do. It's one of the strongest reminders of being in Tara's family that I left in 2009 that I continue to celebrate my beliefs this particular way. I had found a new amulet at the Ren Faire, a tree icon that I want to symbolize growth and the growing connectedness with the people closest to me. 

In the evening I went to the Met as I did last year and thankfully this year they didn't have any kiddie art stations set up so it was much quieter, just the way I like it. I found a striking sculpture (below) in the modern art collection entitled "Lilith" (appropriate for the sabbat) and my usual spaces were delightfully empty, making for some wonderful photos.  

Friday, October 16, 2015

We got some catching up to do

It's been a relatively uneventful few weeks since the wedding in PA. I launched my annual Free Love Letters project and as the weather gets to be more and more my season, I'm finding more things to do outdoors to emerge from my summer exile.

Last weekend Liz and I planned another apple-picking trip to Fishkill Farms that we last visited in 2013. This time we brought along Lytle, Nancy, Josh and Katie M. We hit a snag of traffic on the George Washington Bridge but we got there without any mishaps - last time a speeding car cut me off and almost caused an accident. The weather was even more gorgeous than last time, which was a blessing because the day before it was very wet.

We got a box of cider donuts and cups of steaming hot apple cider and sat on my picnic blanket on the hill overlooking the orchard. The only annoyance were the bees and other stinging insects that swooped down on us, attracted by the smell of sweet cider. Lytle, unfortunately, is allergic to stings so she was continually on tenterhooks until we started moving again. Liz and I both got tiny pumpkins and Katie got a larger one to carve.

To pick apples we had to drive down to a separate entrance and pay a car fee of $5. It was very crowded because the roads were quite narrow and there were way too many cars trying to get from one orchard to another to pick different kinds of apples. Add to that the beautiful weather and that it was a holiday weekend. We found some pleasant spots to take pictures and there were plenty of apples to be had, but since the line was so long and slow to exit, I put Yoshi into the exit line while the others hopped out and picked apples along the way and caught up with me on foot.

When we got back to the city Nancy had to leave but the rest of us had dinner at a sushi restaurant near Liz's place. We made it back just in time for their happy hour specials, which were pretty amazing. Afterwards we swung by City Swiggers so I could buy more Koppaberg pear cider and Katie found a few things she liked too. I had scored a street parking spot for Yoshi so we left him there for the night, said goodbye to Lytle, Josh and Liz, and Katie came home with me to continue watching our Heroes marathon. Puck came by later to say hello and crash.

The next day we all had breakfast and left together, Katie to go home while Puck and I headed down to Staten Island to get ready for my friend Adele's 50th birthday party in Bayonne, NJ. I don't get to see much of Adele since her life is mostly in New Jersey but she is one of the charter members of my women's group and I used to see quite a lot of her when we were both coming out as polyamorous in 2008-2009 (we first met at her first-ever poly meeting). And I was especially happy to see many of my long-time friends there whom I rarely get to see: Linda (who lives near Boston now), Barbara (who has been living in Phoenix for the past year), Lisa (who runs the NNJ poly group but came to my media training class earlier in the year), and Murray and Lee, who are getting ready to move to a new home together in New York.

The previous weekend Katie and I met up with Lytle and her friend Ryan at the Lower East Side Pickle Festival. It was also crazy crowded but since it wasn't very big we didn't have to go through it many times to find everything we wanted. Again, we were incredibly lucky with the weather, which was dreary only hours before the event started. Ryan also works as a stand-in for TV shows so he and Lytle both have lots of funny stories about it. Plus, he has a refreshing combination of positive energy and respectful reserve that I found very appealing. After eating and buying a few pickles we went to get real food at the nearby Sweet Chick restaurant, a pleasant find for chicken and waffles. The four of us had a really good craic going, which is a rare and wonderful thing. Yes, we are now Facebook friends.

I've been having TSMC events pretty regularly and some have been well attended. Natalia, Puck and I have continued watching Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries every week, and Katie M and I are keeping a fairly regular weekly sleepover schedule to watch Heroes, which we are both enjoying immensely.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Free Love Letters 2015

It's finally October and once again we are entering the dark half of the year, my time for creativity and renewal when for many people the opposite is true. October is a special month to me 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.

I associate October with love because I've actually met (officially) all my previous lovers in the month of October. So even though I'm a polyamorous single right now, I believe in celebrating love in all its forms, not just sexual or romantic love.

So four years ago I started a project called "Free Love Letters" to mark October as my own month dedicated to love. It's sort of like those people holding "Free Hugs" signs in Times Square, but more permanent. As you might guess, I've kept a journal for most of my life but it was only in middle school that I started writing letters, which led to becoming a journalist and later into public relations. It has also played a big part in cultivating my past love relationships and some of my oldest friendships.

I started thinking of the FLL project after reading this article in the Wall Street Journal"Stationery's New Followers" - Aug. 25, 2011. I wanted to do something for the sake of art, without any other purpose or agenda beyond putting something beautiful out in the world. I've also been inspired by master calligraphers Jake Weidman and Seb Lester - although this project is not about the beauty of the script so much as the message in the letter.

As a whole, the FLL project celebrates love itself, not love for any specific person. The idea of love is bigger than the fuel for our intimate relationships - love is the most powerful force for good we have in the world. This is why I do all I can to help people find new ways to experience and share love. I sincerely believe that if there's more love in the world, it will make the other problems we have easier to handle.

So each October, I write a personalized love letter to anyone who requests one by sending me their physical mailing address between now and 11:59 pm ET on October 31. Even if you've gotten one before, if you enjoyed it I encourage you to request another! 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 handcrafted using some of the many tools I've collected over the years - fine writing instruments, a vintage manual typewriter, various seals and waxes, a burgeoning collection of handmade papers, etc. Once completed, it will be delivered to you anywhere in the world by old-fashioned postal carrier and thus its contents will be as confidential as things get in this modern world.

Your letter may be philosophical or romantic, funny or sincere. It might be perfumed or decorated. 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. It will be the product of my deep reflection about you and possibly a lot of research on how we've interacted over the years. 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.

Since I started doing this project, the number of requests have grown geometrically - one in 2011, three in 2012, five in 2013 and 10 in 2014. They have also gotten more involved to make since I'm constantly trying new ideas and improvements. So bear in mind that if I get 20 requests this year, it may take a few months to receive your letter, but I promise you will get it (unless it gets lost in transit) and that it will be worth the wait.

Finally, no response will be expected from you - the letter is my gift with no strings attached, in honor of all the love that has found me in Octobers past. All individual letters and requests will be kept confidential on my end, but you are welcome to share the experience publicly if you wish, as many people do.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A bridesmaid's tale

This past weekend was one of the major highlights of my life as Puck and I attended the wedding of our friends Chris and Bruce in Pennsylvania. It was the first time I've ever been part of a bridal party.

As I think about Chris and all that we've been through, our changing identities and our unconventional friendship, it occurs to me that she fills the archetype of being my only childhood friend. She's that person who grew up with me, then went off separately for a few years before we reunited and became friends as more fully formed grown-ups.

I remember well those days in the mid-2000s when we were both trying to sort out so many things and emotions often spread into the all-caps territory as we chatted online. I only remember moments now, and Chris remembers even less. But that foundation of trust and mutual support in the face of extraordinary circumstances has forged a bond between us unlike any other in my life.

After growing up together across a great distance for eight years, I feel so fortunate that we were able to meet and become IRL (in real life, for those who don't chat online much) friends back in 2012 ("Road trip 2012" - March 14, 2012). And when I look at how Chris has changed in the four birthday group photos on my shelf from 2012 to 2015, she reminds me that we should never stop growing and learning new things about ourselves and those close to us.

Chris wrote a lovely poem for my birthday in 2014, which was also our 10th friendiversary. Reading it now as a prelude to writing about her wedding seems fitting to me.

Like a breath of wind,
A drop of rain,
And the smallest grain of sand,
All that we touch moves on.
Changed. Shifted. Altered.

All the pieces we keep,
The fragments we lose,
And the ones we forever cherish,
All those we touch stray onward.
Beloved. Nurtured. Accepted.

Through wind and rain,
Distance and journey,
And the shifting sands of time,
May friendship endure forever.
Stronger, Deeper, and Profound.

The weekend started on Friday when I left my Times Square apartment and headed down to Staten Island to pick up Puck and pack up Yoshi for the three-hour drive to Harrisburg. Bruce was home so he gave Puck the grand tour, and Trent (one of the groomsmen) and Chris arrived soon after. We drove to the Cameron Estate Inn in Mount Joy to rehearse for Sunday's big day. Eva, Jenna and Fiona joined us at the venue, along with best man Pete, the parents and close relations.

The weather was humid and thick, and the air was filled with all manner of biting insects so numerous that we had to brush them off our clothes. We weren't there very long, but it quickly became unbearable and we wondered if the wedding would be the same way. The forecast was for rain on Saturday, clearing up on Sunday. We could only hope for the best, but we made plans to have insect repellent available just in case.

In the evening we went to the Lancaster Brewing Company for dinner, which was the venue where Fiona introduced Chris and Bruce more than three years ago. And in a bit of synchronicity, Fiona recognized the server, Michelle, as the same one who served them at that first meeting. We shared garden and Caesar salads, a thick-cut bacon board, calamari and chorizo mussels for appetizers. I got the artisan pork and honey sausage with carmelized onion whipped potatoes, sauerkraut and whole grain mustard, and Puck had a crispy skin Atlantic salmon with local corn, roasted tomatoes, baby spinach, Yukon gold potatoes, smoked bacon and lemon butter sauce. After dinner we said goodbye to the adults, Eva and Jenna, and came back to the house to play video games and watch cooking shows.

Saturday we woke up to the predicted rain, and what a rain it was! I don't think I've seen such a downpour but once or twice in a year. Puck and I joined Chris for a visit to her parents' farmhouse to take care of last-minute wedding details. As we drove around we pointed at every patch of bright sky as a hopeful sign that the rain would stop soon and for tomorrow. We went to Harrisburg Mall so that Chris could buy a clutch bag and I found a more comfortable pair of shoes than the Calvin Klein flats I was intending to wear. For the first time ever, I didn't go to 2nd & Charles, but that was okay because I'd just been there last week when I came in for my last dress fitting.

In the evening Sean and Jono, the remaining two groomsmen, arrived with other close friends for a pre-wedding party. The rain finally let up around 6 pm, allowing Bruce to grill hamburgers and sausages for dinner. We had lots of video games tournaments and watched movies until the wee hours, although Chris turned in very early because she had to wash and dry her extra-long hair.

I got up the next morning and watched a couple Firefly episodes while waiting for people to make their appearances. Chris and Bruce came home with donuts for breakfast and Puck woke up late since they were up late and were also feeling a little under the weather. Oh yes, the weather! It was absolutely incredible the difference between the stormy Saturday and the gorgeous weather on Sunday. The breeze was blowing steadily, just a few clouds and there was the first whiff of autumn in the air. We couldn't have gotten more lucky with the weather for this wedding!

Clearly, the trick of it is that I can't fly to anybody's wedding, but I can drive there (the last two times I've tried to fly to a wedding, the flights have been canceled, once by freak weather and the other by having part of the plane's wing break off, causing us to be bumped because they couldn't fill the plane).

We met up with Chris and the other bridesmaids at Cameron around 3:30 pm to start getting ready, doing hair and makeup in the spacious bridal suite, and helping Chris into her breathtaking gown. By the way, it helps to have tall bridesmaids (like myself) to get into sprawling, complicated gowns without messing up carefully coiffed hair!

We started the procession just a little past our scheduled time of 6 pm, with Bruce and his attendants making their way to the stage as the bridesmaids walked from the main house down to the wedding area. Before we started, we helped Chris get into the passenger seat of a vintage Duster that her dad Ron rebuilt so he could drive her down the path to matrimony, preceded by Riley, the flower girl.

The ceremony was presided over by Reverend Panzini, who led Chris and Bruce through the exchange of their vows and rings, and had the maid of honor Eva lay a handfasting chord over their joined hands for a short handfasting ceremony before pronouncing them husband and wife.

As the guests returned to the Inn for cocktails, the families and wedding party had photographs taken all around the grounds as the golden light slowly faded from the sky. Chris' mom Julie, Eva and me went up to the suite to French bustle Chris' dress, which was quite a complicated routine of color matching ribbons and rings. I held the light from Eva's phone so we could make out the different colors.

Once that was done we all sat down for dinner as Bruce's father introduced the couple and they took their seats across from me and Puck at the wedding table. Pete gave the traditional first toast, wasting no time providing a Nintendo gaming reference by calling Chris the "Princess Peach" to Bruce's "Mario."

At this juncture, Chris asked me if I wanted to give a toast as well, which took me a little by surprise because I had interpreted our last conversation on the subject to mean that formal toasts and speeches were going to be discouraged, but we clearly miscommunicated. I felt that someone from Chris' side of the aisle should speak and after a quick consultation with the other bridesmaids I was elected, since I'd at least prepared something short.

I'd actually written out this toast in July but I didn't bring it with me, so I improvised from memory. I have no idea of what I actually said at the dinner, but this is what I would have said if I were to have given it properly.
Honored guests, I offer a toast for this assembly that is based on the writings of British novelist C. S. Forester, who is best-known for writing "The African Queen" and the Horatio Hornblower novels. This is a modern interpretation of the toast that Admiral Cornwallis offers to Horatio Hornblower at his wedding to his wife Maria: 
May they never know sorrow. May they always enjoy health and prosperity. May they be forever loyal to one another, supporting each other both in their individual paths and in the marriage that binds them together. May they be blessed with children, and may those children grow up to perpetuate and spread the honor and love of this family wherever in the world they may go. I pray you charge your glasses as we toast to the happiness of the bride and groom!
After my toast there were soon calls with the tapping of glasses for Chris and Bruce to kiss, which they did happily until the food came and they decided that sustenance took priority over romance. After a few bites of the excellent food, they started to make the rounds from table to table greeting their guests before being called to cut the cake.

For the guests' wedding favors there were little pots of local honey, and they had a photo for guests to write a message or sign their names. Chris, of course, had to update her place card with her new married name.

Finally, for an extra-special touch, we all went outside and lit extra-long sparklers and formed lines to give the couple a true Pennsylvania send-off.

Photo by Sarah Ohl

I've said much in the past about how my role as a bridesmaid to Chris is important to me. But what was foremost in my thoughts on Sunday wasn't what the wedding meant to me. It was the joy of seeing one of my dearest friends have her fondest dream come true. It was thinking about all the agony and heartache that we've been through together over the past decade and coming out of it with the happiest outcome either of us could dare imagine.

Life can be a miracle if you believe in your dreams.