Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Home Time

There's so much I want to write about, but as usual the time flies when I'm home, and I can't get half the things done that I set out to do. To make a long story short, I'm just relaxing and savoring the time with my family and friends. My dad has been home from work, and he's been busy in the yard making a doghouse, re-graveling the driveway, and doing car maintenance. My mom has mostly been curled up by the fire knitting socks and sweaters for her grandchildren. My older brother is busy with work and the ongoing construction of his three cars. E has been catching up on watching old movies and eating lots of chocolate. But today she actually went outside and raked some leaves. My little brother is also busy with his job, but its nice to see him when he comes home. When he's here we always pull out a board game or something retro like Racko, and play until the night gets late. My littlest sister has been busy with a couple different jobs, but yesterday she went with me, E, and our mom, out to Cary where we shopped at the JoAnn superstore and had dinner at the Cracker Barrel.

Tonight I'm going to Durham to have dinner with my brother, who, since his release from the Big House, is living in a halfway house there and only allowed to go out to the Golden Corral. It will be a joy to see him. Then I'm going to meet up with big brother and see Sherlock Holmes, which I know I will hate but cannot not see. Tomorrow will be full of New Year's Eve festivities, which I will definitely write about. So, stay tuned!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Oh Yeah, A Church

I'm having so much fun in North Carolina that I almost forgot to post a Harlem church today, but suddenly I remembered. This is a church that I pass a lot on Sundays when I walk to my own Harlem church.

But today I went to a North Carolina church with my family. There I saw lots of friends, including Sam, who went to high school with me in Massachusetts. Now he's grown up and married and has kids. Instead of going to Relief Society class I went with my friend Street to Young Womens, where she taught a lesson on bodies. It was probably the best lesson on bodies that I've ever heard, which isn't surprising, because Street is an excellent teacher. She emphasized two main points, which are: the spirit and the body make the soul, and what affects the body affects the spirit, and vice versa. Most other religions place little value on the body, which is viewed as something base, to rise above and cast aside. But the LDS view is that the body is essential to spiritual progression, that gaining one is one of the main reasons for life on earth, and that we ought to value our bodies as temples, because they are vital instruments of spirituality and godliness. It was a wonderful lesson for young teenage girls, or for anyone really, including me. I'm always impressed by Street's ability to pull scriptures and conference talks and teachings of past prophets seamlessly into a fascinating discussion. The young women are so lucky to have her as a teacher.

Back at home I have been enjoying time spent with my family. I made them tamales for dinner, and afterwards we watched a movie, played games, and enjoyed general family merriment. It's so fun to be home.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

It's Christmastime

I was the last one out of the house for Christmas. One roommate left a few days ago to go home to Utah and the other one left on Christmas Eve day, but I had to work that day. Work was kind of fun though, because it was Christmas Eve. The Service Department had a cake that they were sharing, and my boss bought us all a delicious lunch. I wore my festive Anthropologie dress and my old watch-dealer admirer brought me cookies, and everyone was in a silly mood. We closed up early and I went home and packed, but I was so tired from staying up so late the night before that I was worried I was going to forget something and it took me forever to get everything done. I had been invited to go to a friend's house for games, but I declined, knowing I would never get anything done if I didn't do it all then.

I spent a few last moments with the Christmas tree in the living room, which has been such a beauty and a joy to have, but which is now turning brown and threatening to spontaneously combust--it's so dry. I made sure to unplug everything before I left!

On Christmas morning I awoke early and finished packing and wondered how bad public transportation would be on Christmas. I don't live as conveniently situated to the airport, so I decided to call a cab. I had Christmas money, after all--a nice stack that my boss had given me--so why not spend it on luxury? So my flight was at 9, so I needed to be at the airport at 8, so I told the cab to come at 7:15. I was at the airport before 7:30! It was ridiculously fast. I should have figured that with no traffic, the snow all cleared away and all things considered, I could have slept in another half hour, but oh well. There were absolutely no lines at the airport either, so I was ready to go in no time. And luckily the flight was on time and everything went smoothly, and before I knew it I was flying up over the jagged gray city into a sky full of fluffy white clouds that resembled nothing more than a snowy tundra. One diet coke and a crossword puzzle later, I was descending into a festive green and red landscape and there was my dad to greet me and take me home. Surely, this is the meaning of Christmas--going home.

Here at home, Christmas Day was so fun. Once I arrived, the gift opening commenced and merriment ensued. Friends visited, pies were eaten, a ham was baked and enjoyed, games were played, more family came home, more gifts opened, and much love was shared. It was especially wonderful to see my brother L, who has been in prison the past two years. Now he is reunited with his darling wife, and we are all so happy and thankful to have him with us again.

Now I'm settling in for a long lazy week of lounging around my parents house, eating chocolates, watching old movies, playing games, visiting friends, and doing nothing in particular. It's going to be the best week ever. Pictures to come...

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve!

Finally, it's here! Christmas Eve, and tomorrow I go home. It will be a much needed vacation. Problem is, I'm almost too exhausted to pack. It was actually busy at work today, and I stayed up too late last night talking with Jessica, Peter, and Ryan as we spent one last winter's night together in 2010. Next time I see them all it will be a brand new year.

It has been a fun Christmas in New York, although I wish I would have had time to do more things, like see the Macy's and the Bergdorf Goodman window displays (I did see Tiffany's though, and those windows were amazing! Like little views into fairylands made of cut and folded white paper on white), the Macy's Santaland, the Lincoln Center tree, and all the other unique installations and decorations that New York puts up this time of year.

I'm so happy that New York got snow--it has made the city all the more festive, even though now it is mostly just reduced to gutters full of huge gray packed chunks that won't melt until March.

I wrapped all my presents last night, and can't wait to arrive tomorrow morning on my parents' doorstep, with my Santa's pack full of gifts for one and all. It will be so nice to spend time with family, make and eat delicious food, relax, play with the dog, and visit dear friends.

If I don't get a chance again, I want to with all of my friends and readers a very merry Christmas and a joyous new year.

Now, I must pack, eat, sleep, then fly away.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday

Here is my Harlem church of the week.

And here is St. Nicholas Park on this snowy morning. It was full of sledders, much to my delight.

And here is my gingerbread church. Note the candy-glass window panes and the Necco-tiled roof. It is my masterpiece.

Saturday

At the last minute I asked Ryan the Cop to go to the Simmons' Christmas party with me, and he actually said yes, so he picked me up in a real live car at El Paso, where I was wearing my new dress and having a sort of co-worker holiday party with some of the cool people from work. Dali had just eaten a radish that gave her a strange allergic reaction and her lip was swelling up terribly, but she wouldn't go home until she saw Ryan she said. I guess I talk about him a lot at work and she was curious! Not that we're dating--he just spends a lot of time over at my house with me and my roommates. Either we've adopted him or he's adopted us, I don't know.

The party was fun, with an "Up on the Housetop" theme, only it was too cold to stay up there for very long. We would dance for a few minutes and then rush back downstairs to warm up and eat treats. Afterwards, Ryan came over to my house and we tried to impress each other with our music knowledge. Apparently I'm the only person he's ever met who has heard of an 80s band called The Church, so I earned his respect. Ryan's music taste leans a little too much toward metal for me, but he's got a good ear. He had actually spent the day hanging out with Dan Nelson, who was recently fired as the lead singer of Anthrax.

Anyway, it was ridiculous, but I ended up staying up until 3:30 in the morning with Ryan, who fell asleep on the couch (don't worry mom, nothing happened! In fact, our mistletoe has been pretty useless, truth be told.) It was fine though, because then it was Saturday, and I didn't have anything important to do except laze around the house, and once I had my late breakfast of roast beef sandwich and diet coke, my energy was on its way back. A blizzard was supposedly imminent, but I decided to go do some late afternoon Christmas shopping downtown.

Actually, I meant to go Christmas shopping, but secretly I went to a hair salon, continuing the spending spree I've been on lately, and pampered myself with an eyebrow threading, and a wash-cut-blowdry. The hairdresser clucked in dismay over my bangs, which are evermore being cut by myself in random chunks on mornings when I can't seem to do anything with them. I told her I didn't care what she did, just make me look beautiful, and it worked. By the time she was finished, I looked like a hair model, and it was really snowing outside. I have never been so sad to put on a hat, but I had to protect my gorgeous hair, so I stuffed it all into my hat and went out into the storm.

The snow was quickly accumulating and everywhere storekeepers were throwing salt onto the sidewalks while shoppers and tourists rushed around busily. A brave choir sang on the steps of St. Patrick's cathedral, and 5th Avenue looked so picturesque in the winter weather. The lines were long at Borders but I managed to get one thing checked off my Christmas shopping list, and then I picked up some groceries at Whole Foods and was on the next train home.

The wind coming up from Riverside was something to contend with. It was blowing the snow sideways, piling it up into little drifts around the cars. When I got to my building I had little drifts of snow embedded in the buttons and creases of my coat! And inside our house, even though they were closed, there was a little bit of snow drifting in through the front windows, because the wind was so strong. Luckily I didn't have another reason to go out. In fact, all the neighbors in my building were having a Christmas celebration down in the lobby, with loads of Dominican food and music, and they were begging us to join them. So my roommates and I went down and mingled as best we could and partook of the feast. We live in Dominican Harlem, where plain white English speaking people are the minority, but Jessica speaks Spanish, so everyone in the building loves her, and after we ate Aja busted out a mean Latin dance solo, which earned a huge applause. Me, I just sat there and looked pretty in my new hairdo, and almost fell off a chair. Good times.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Highlights of the Day

Top Ten Things That Happened Today

10. It was, finally, the day before Friday!

9. I have been assured job security at least through the middle of February, because my boss asks me to assist with the Palm Beach Jewelry, Art & Antique Show. It will be a lot of work, but I'm excited to get a free trip to (hopefully) warm and sunny Palm Beach in midwinter!

8. At work we (finally!) got a gorgeous pine wreath that smells so delicious. I just want to stand next to it all day and drink in the scent of the forest.

7. I went Christmas shopping and now I am almost all done. I just have a few more things to pick up, plus about 6 crocheted flower pins to make for the ladies I work with, and a billion cookies to bake.

6. It was only about 20 degrees today, with a biting wind, but I wore my new rain/snow boots and was perfectly toasty warm.

5. When I came home after work I got off the subway and decided to try a tamale from the Mexican lady who sells them every night on Broadway. She was wearing about five coats to keep warm, and keeps the tamales warm in a big plastic chest. She asked if I wanted it hot, and I thought she meant temperature-wise, but it turned out to be very very muy caliente spicy-wise. It was good though, and probably my vote for the best single item a dollar can buy in this city.

4. Thursday is cookie day! My Italian watch-dealer admirer brought his weekly gift of cookies from Sant Ambreous, but this time he brought not only the shortbread cookies which I adore, he also brought some delicious chocolate walnut cookies. They were of course divine, but the shortbreads are still my favorites, and I am delighted that they make them in the shape of stars this time of year to be festive!

3. All the money I hope I get for a Christmas bonus was spontaneously spent on one adorable dress from Anthropologie. I just could not live without it in my life. And I don't feel guilty. This could be bad or good.

2. I got Christmas cards in the mail. One of them is from my Grandma, who wrote on the inside: Merry Christmas! How you doing? Love, Aunt Laura. I had to do a double take, and then I couldn't stop laughing. Well, she is about 89 years old, so I guess she's entitled to forget that she's my grandma and not my aunt.

1. My ex-boyfriend called and we had a delightful chat. I feel so grown-up, being able to finally talk and laugh with him like a semi-normal person without getting all emotional. Anyway, this is a guy whose identity is wrapped up in the music he listens to, and he prides himself on being up on the latest most of-the-moment sounds as far as indie-rock is concerned. He basically taught me everything I know when it comes to music. But apparently the student has surpassed the master. He said he recently went out and bought The Drums EP "Summertime" and when he listened to it he loved it and was surprised that he recognized some of the songs. Then he realized that two of them were on a mix I made for him late this summer. Ha ha! I beat him. It seems silly, but it really made my day to know that he respects my musical knowledge and that I found an awesome band and shared it with him before he found it on his own, because in the past it was always the other way around.

P.S. Sorry about the pictureless posts lately. I am both tired and lazy.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Season

I don't know why my job has suddenly become such a drag, but this week more than ever, I have had such a hard time keeping a good attitude about it. Each day I just dread it. It's probably because it's Christmastime. I know that makes me sound like a grinch, but there is nothing less fun than working retail at Christmas. It's super busy, so nothing can really get done properly, and you feel pulled in a million directions. Everyone is trying to close a big sale so they need what they need, and they need it fast. Everyone is working long tiring hours, so nerves are raw. Everyone is stressed because they also have lives besides their jobs, which require gift-buying, baking, decorating, entertaining, traveling, etc. Add to this chaos the fact that my boss has suddenly decided to do all kinds of crazy wheeling and dealing with his watch-dealer buddies, and his wife, my other boss, gets mad at him, and I am stuck in the middle just trying to make sense of everything! It's crazy. I don't usually lose my cool at work, but in the past it has always happened at this time of year, when my grasp on sanity is worn the thinnest.

BUT, it's not all bad.

I enjoy seeing people's happiness at finding the perfect gift for their loved ones, and seeing the salespeople create gorgeous gift-wrapped presentations. I love getting little gifts of chocolate or cookies from artists, clients, and fellow-businesses. I enjoy the buzz of midtown in the middle of Christmas, and being so close to Rockefeller Center, where the giant tree is so gorgeously lit. Sometimes on my lunch-break, I walk over and visit it, and I like to stand right under it and look up at it against the winter sky. I like watching the ice skaters, and hearing the Salvation Army bell-ringers and making their day by throwing my change into their buckets. I love the imaginative store window-displays! And I love that the street vendors sell freshly roasted chestnuts.

This week my roommates and I have been building gingerbread houses. On Sunday we baked the dough in the shapes of walls and roofs and steeples and chimneys, and the next day we made icing and put the parts together. Then, we commenced to decorating every surface of the houses with candy. It's a lot of work to build a proper gingerbread house--or a church, in my case. Every night after work I come home and forget about the stresses of the day by tessellating Neccos onto my roof panels or applying colored m'n'ms to the eaves of my little candied folly. I'm especially proud of the melted-Jolly Rancher windows with their stained-glass effect.

I'm just counting down the days until I will be able to have a little vacation from work and go home. I'm leaving New York on Christmas morning and flying South. It's going to be a great Christmas. E will be there, my brother will be there--newly sprung from the clinker--and my other brother's cute new girlfriend, and all the rest of the family too. I'm planning on having a grand time! Now if I can just get through 6 more days of work...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Harlem Church

Here's a church on St. Nicholas Avenue and 141st, I think. I can't remember the name of it.

Anyway, I feel bad for not writing all week! I don't know what's been wrong with me. I think I'm stressed out because it's Christmastime. This time of year always stresses me out. I start to resent my job because it prevents me from getting things done like shopping for Christmas presents, sending packages, making elaborate Christmas cards for everyone I know, baking treats to give as gifts, and generally enjoying the season. Or, doing necessary things like buying groceries (I've been living on cheerios) and doing laundry or cleaning my room which looks like a crime scene. And I'm resenting the fact that I spent three hours at Michael's and about 5 hours at the church on Saturday being in charge of an activity that nobody really even came to and which wasn't even all that fun. I know I shouldn't resent things like that, but I could have done so many other more important things. Add to the stress the fact that I waited too long to go water the plant at the Park Avenue apartment that I clean, and it died. So I've been trying to find a replacement, but have had no time, and the people are coming back tomorrow, so I had to just write an email saying how I neglected and killed their plant.

Everything had just combined to the point where I've been walking around like a cat with its ears laid back flat against its head. I don't feel like talking to people or going places where I'm supposed to go. It's not good. People came over last night and I tried to be sociable, but I could only be sarcastic so I had to go hide in my room. Church today was a nice respite--it was good to be reminded of what's really important--but I still left after the first hour because I just couldn't sit still any longer. I wanted to at least be outside walking, but it was a gray and wet day. It poured and poured all afternoon and into the evening, and even with my new rain-boots I got drenched.

When I finally wandered home my roommates had hot eggnog french toast waiting for me, which was delicious with butter and cherry jam, and I felt better with some food in my stomach. Then I cleaned my room, which helped too, because I always feel less cluttered in my mind if my room is not cluttered. Then I talked on the phone to my sister, and then I helped my roommates roll out and bake the gingerbread that we're going to use to make gingerbread houses tomorrow. I had even been stressed out about the gingerbread houses. This morning I was coming up with all sorts of elaborate ideas in my head about how I could make candy-glass windows for the houses, and feeling like I needed to go and buy more candy to decorate the houses with, and the only way I was going to get all this done was by calling out sick from work tomorrow.

But now that my room is clean, I've spent my energy by roaming all over half of Manhattan in the pouring rain, and I've baked gingerbread walls for two potential houses, I've come to the realization that the world will still go on if I don't make the cutest gingerbread house in the world tomorrow night. The world will still go on if I send my Christmas cards out on Wednesday instead of Tuesday, and anyway Christmas isn't about presents and cards and gingerbread and candy, it's about Jesus, and I should stop worrying about everything and just read my scriptures. Because, coincidentally, all the stress and anxiety has coincided with my fall off the daily Book of Mormon reading wagon. My reading this week has been atrocious, and who's to say if its the cause or the result of being stressed out, but I have a feeling that if I just remember to read, I'll feel a lot better.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Gethsemane Revival Holiness Center

I love that the sign identifies the founder of this church as "Elect Lady," a very biblical term. On the inside of the doorway are faux stained-glass windows.

Written by an Award-Winning Baker

Peter told me not to enter my chocolate chip cookies in the cookie contest. "They won't stand out," he said. "There are only so many ways you can combine flour and sugar and butter and chocolate chips, and it's just too dicey. You need to do something more outside the box."

"Hmph," I replied. "You don't like my chocolate chip cookies?"

"That's not what I said."

"You think my cookies are boring."

"That's not what I said, either. I just think you should try something different," he said as he bit into a chocolate chip cookie, hot and fresh from the oven.

I was baking cookies for the Stake Christmas Concert, and part of the festivities was a cookie contest, with a prize for the best cookie. The prize was exciting, $50, but I was really in it for the fame and glory of being the best cookie baker in the whole Manhattan stake. For the last two weeks I had compiled lists of possible cookie entries, crossing out iffy choices like pineapple cookies and hermit cookies and contemplating bizarre concoctions like cayenne chocolate cookies. But at the top of the list was always the tried and true chocolate chip cookies that I've been making since middle school, which have never let me down.

"Peter, there may be a lot of chocolate chip cookies out there, but there has to be a best of the best. Not all chocolate chip cookies are made alike. One must be better than another, and I think mine are really really good." So I stuck with the chocolate chip cookies, but just to be on the safe side I also entered ginger creams and white chocolate cherry chocolate chunk cookies.

After the concert, three judges sat together at a table, sampling the many cookie submissions. They tasted, sipped milk, deliberated, huddled, tasted again, and nodded their heads. My friends patted me on the back, giving me assurances that my cookies were delicious. I hoped I wouldn't be embarrassed later.

"What are your criteria for the best cookie?" the hostess asked. The judges replied that they were looking for taste, texture, and complexity. "And we have a winner," they announced.

They announced my name, and a cheer went up. The winning entry: the chocolate chip cookies! Astonished, I rushed to the stage to accept my prize. The judges told me that my chocolate chip cookie was delicious, perfectly round, moist, and wonderful in every way. I knew it. Those chocolate chip cookies have never let me down, and now my faith in them was paying off.

So I texted Peter to rub it in. "Guess whose cookies won?" I wrote.

"I hope you laughed and pointed at all the losers," he wrote back.

"Ya, well, guess which cookies were the winners."

"The ginger creams, of course."

"The chocolate chip cookies!!!!"

"Were there other chocolate chip cookie entries?"

"YES"

"Well played."

Then Josh texted me and said, "I am proud of you! I want you to change it into dollar bills and swim in them in front of Pete. I'm dead serious." Hmmm. Maybe I will. But it's enough of a reward to know that my cookies are prize-winners and that I got the best of Peter, because that certainly does not happen every day.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

It's Christmas-Time in the City

It never actually seems like Christmastime until you've got a live tree in the house, smelling of pine sap, and covered in twinkly lights. But in New York, where the apartments are small and schedules are busy, it can be hard to fit one in. Nevertheless, almost as soon as Thanksgiving Day was over, my roommates and I decided we just had to get one. And so we did.

On Tuesday night Ryan came over and he walked with all three of us up to Broadway where they've got Christmas trees for sale. For the past several weeks we had been eyeing them, semi-flirting with the skinny scruffy gap-toothed tree-seller, trying to decide if he could give us a good deal or if we ought to just have Ryan drive us in his car out to Jersey or someplace where trees might be more plentiful and less pricey. But it was a rainy night and Broadway was right there, and the trees looked nice, and they really weren't all that expensive. Besides, I have no problem doing my part to keep the tree-farmers in business. The gap-toothed tree-salesman greeted us familiarly and eagerly showed us our best options. As the three of us girls did our best to drive him up a wall with our questions and requests, the salesman good-naturedly chatted about the life of a tree salesman in Harlem, with a hand-rolled but unlit cigarette dangling from his lip. "I'm actually a dancer, you know, but I do this for some extra money," he went on as us girls went from tree to tree assessing the merits of each. "People have been offering me places to stay around here--it's a nice area. If you're looking, I've got leads on rooms for like one-fifty a week. But yeah, it's kind of scary to walk home late at night sometimes with like a grand in my pocket from selling trees. But all the cops know me..." Ryan, who is a Harlem cop, made a face and shook his head while the guy just kept on rambling on.

Ryan wasn't too impressed by our attempts to flirt with the scruffy salesman for a tree-discount, and he thought it was ridiculous that in the end we just picked a tree and decided to buy it without even untying it. But he was perfectly happy to throw it on his shoulder and carry it home for us, and help us get it set up in its place of honor in the living room. Ryan likes to do manly things like that for us, a household of helpless females, and we repay him with food.

Over the next few days we've decorated the tree with lights, cut paper snowflakes, and a beautiful paper star that Jessica got in Germany. And little by little the whole house is getting decked out in holiday style, with a festive garland here, a string of lights there, styrofoam snowflakes everywhere, all to the accompaniment of much seasonal music. We even have eggnog in the fridge, and a wreath on the door. There is still a bit more decorating to do (Jessica really wants me to attach my round white paper lanterns together to form snowmen and tie scarves around their necks, and we have to get some mistletoe for the parlor), but the living room is done at least. And when I come home exhausted from work each day, I just take one look at the Christmas tree and feel happy and peaceful. It's Christmas-time in the city.

Friday, December 4, 2009

TGIF!!!!

I'm not really sure how I'm going to get through the three weeks until Christmas. Work is crazy! The workload was already overwhelming before, and then last week the bookkeeper quit and another girl was laid off. It wouldn't be so bad, except that now I'm the only one who answers the telephones here, and answering telephones is my absolute least favorite part of the job. Well... second to least. But we won't focus on the negative. And I don't want to complain, because at least I have a job! I honestly don't know why the bosses have kept me and let so many others go, but Dali says its because I'm a workhorse and they know it. I'm proud to have a strong work ethic, but I don't want to be taken advantage of. Also, I'm only human and I can't do everything. So I have a feeling that things are not going to be smooth and there are a lot of things that are going to not get done or get slid under the rug because there's just no time to do them. When someone calls out sick, it's even worse. Literally nothing can get done effectively, and this is the busiest time of the year!

So, if that weren't bad enough, on Tuesday this week there was a pipe that burst in the ceiling above Dali's desk and it started to flood her office! Luckily the guys from the building maintenance office were able to get it under control pretty quickly, but everything has been in chaos. Files had to be moved, computers disconnected and moved, carpet ripped out, etc., with a constant stream of workers coming in and out. Ugh.

Floods of work and floods of water--not conducive to workplace enjoyment! But the good news is that the workdays go by fast, my old friend still brings me chocolate cookies every Thursday, and I'm counting down the days to a much-deserved restful week of vacation starting Christmas Day. Let's hope I survive that long!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

On the Morning Train

My peace on the morning train was interrupted by five rowdy teenagers. One boy grabbed an umbrella away from a girl and she retaliated by crumpling up pages of her AM NY newspaper into balls and throwing them at him. The paper rolled off the boy, littering the floor of the subway car, but the kids didn't seem to care. They also didn't seem to care that their hi-jinks and rough-housing was annoying to the rest of us quiet commuters. Then the girl pulled a package of candy from her bag, ate it up, and threw the wrapper on the floor. I was just beginning to wonder about the poor soul that has to pick up after such thoughtless people when, as the subway train came to a stop, I noticed a gentleman exit the train. But before he got out of the car, he bent over and picked up the trashed newspaper balls. On his way out of the subway station he threw them into a garbage can. It's a wondrous thing to live in a world with such a mixture of selfishness and selflessness all in one place.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Blog Notes

As sometimes happens, this morning I had a spam comment on an old blog post. Usually I can delete them with no problem, but this spammer was high tech and if I tried to delete the comment, it wouldn't go away, but give me an error message instead. So I reported it to Blogger, but I didn't really know what I was doing and I think I accidentally reported my own blog as being a spammer. So.... hopefully they won't shut me down! I ended up just deleting the whole post that had the spam comment, just in case it had a virus or something. It was just the post with my NYC playlist on it, which I figured wasn't all that vital. If anyone wants my playlist, let me know and I can always repost it. Meanwhile, I've set up word verification on the comments--sorry, it's annoying I know, but I have to fight the evil spammers. As always, thanks to all the real people who read and comment!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tunnel

Looking Back by Maud Gatewood.

Entering winter is like entering a long tunnel. I will rise and go to work in the darkness of morning, and I will leave work and go home in the darkness of evening. The coldness of this northeastern climate will keep me inside my cozy home, and I will only venture out if necessary for survival or sanity.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

All of Us In Our Night

I kind of want to go see New Moon, the Twilight sequel, just because I'm so intrigued by the soundtrack. The lineup is a list of some really great bands! It includes Grizzly Bear, Bon Iver, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Ok Go and the Editors, not to mention Death Cab for Cutie. Death Cab was a sellout long ago, but Bon Iver? Way to introduce the masses of fanatical preteen consumers to some really excellent music, music-selectors of New Moon, but now I have to be torn between loving these artists and hating the fact that they are going to be on every schoolgirl's ipod. Oh well. Grizzly Bear is an awesome and talented group based here in New York, and I'm happy for their success. And it's about time Black Rebel Motorcycle Club gets some attention. They are fantastic, but I feel like no one has ever heard of them. Have you heard of them?

But I guess it doesn't matter because all I've been listening to lately is the new Modern Skirts album, All of Us In Our Night. I saw this band perform about three weeks ago at the Mercury Lounge, as they opened for The Old Ceremony. I'd been wanting to see Modern Skirts play ever since Matt gave me their first album, Catalogue of Generous Men, a year ago, a collection of wistfully sunny and extremely catchy pop tunes with an unpolished charm. Ever since falling in love with that album, I'd been waiting for them to come to New York. I wanted to satisfy my curiosity and see if they were as lovely and vibrant live as they were on their debut album.

However, as I waited for them to come to New York, I didn't take the time to listen to their newest music, so when they came on stage and the first thing they did was turn on the synthesized pre-recorded background noise (I wouldn't really call it music, more like atmosphere) I was completely surprised. Then, they didn't play a single song from Catalogue, but did a whole show of songs from the new album plus things they haven't even recorded yet, so it was a sound I was unfamiliar with and not entirely satisfied by. This is just me, but to play recorded sound at a live show seems like cheating somehow, even if you have instruments and vocals to go along with it. But, I have to give those guys their due--they rolled up their sleeves and got down to the business of making music. Gone were the lilting piano rhythms and harmonicas of their past, replaced with much drums, some pretty amazing xylophone action, and solid guitar playing. It was not bad. It was not what I had been expecting, but it was good enough that I went and bought the new album at the merch table when they were finished and The Old Ceremony was setting up.

The Old Ceremony was a phenomenal live act. I had heard some of their songs before--they are a Chapel Hill band, so I was familiar with them, but had never seen them live either. From what I had heard, I was expecting a quietish, laid back sort of jam-rock. I should have known it was a night of surprises, because those guys blew me away completely. No, actually it was lead singer/guitar player Django Haskins alone who blew me away. He did things with his guitar that I didn't even know were possible. And he made inside jokes about having band practice in the kitchen of Pepper's Pizza, a Chapel Hill dive, that only I laughed at, which made me happy. Having felt a little homesick about not being able to go home for Thanksgiving, it was a nice moment of the universe bringing Chapel Hill to me, since I couldn't go to it. The Old Ceremony's performance was an awesome and eclectic mixture of rock, Americana, lounge music and Eastern philosophy (or so it seemed) supported by some of the best musicianship I've heard in a while. In comparison to the suave and masterful performance of The Old Ceremony, Modern Skirts drum-banging earnestness seemed naive.

And yet... although Peter and I were so bowled over we practically ran to the merch table and counted out our pennies to buy The Old Ceremony's two albums after the show was over, the album I've found myself listening to over and over has been Modern Skirts' All of Us in Our Night. For some reason The Old Ceremony, to me, is two-dimensional in their recording, with none of the life I saw on stage (but hey--fantastic use of a woodblock print as cover art on the album!) The recorded songs are clever and well-done, but bland and a little bit precious where they had been vibrant, layered, and brilliantly performed live. Meanwhile, where Modern Skirts had been a bit clunky and over-eager live, their recording is subtly superb.

In All of Us In Our Night, Modern Skirts has deviated from the spare pop of their debut and gone down a darker, more robotic, path of synthesizers, reverb, and percussion. Though it seemed disjointed onstage, on the recording the synthesized sound is deftly utilized, giving the music depth and texture that melds perfectly with their lazy-pop melodies. All of Us In Our Night is like night when compared to the daylight of Catalogue of Generous Men, but it is a dusky, haunting, and exciting night, filled with satisfying melodies, vaguely intriguing lyrics, and (my favorite) that momentum that builds within each song until, in the final track Like Lunatics, the energy is palpable. When it ends I take a deep breath, give it a moment to let the musical smoke clear, and press the repeat button.

Meeting With God

A church with some very very odd architectural features.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving

The wind was so strong and cold tonight that I had the track to myself. I hadn't felt like going for a run, after a long day of work and then a stop at my housecleaning job, but I usually find that if I can just get the clothes on and get out the door, the run just happens and I feel fantastic afterwards. However, I think earmuffs would be a good investment if I am to run regularly this winter, like I tell myself I will. The headphones just aren't quite enough to keep out that brisk New York wind that comes right off the Hudson and blows whole garbage cans across the Riverbank Park football field.

The moon was half full and not as bright as the stadium lights that lit the track like daylight. It was sure colder than last night when, after a feast of epic deliciousness, my dozen friends and I took a nightwalk in Fort Tryon Park. We walked into the rocky, tree-filled park and hiked the hill that leads to the Cloisters. Wild cats scuttled through the underbrush like dry leaves. The half-moon watched as we posed for a group photo against a rock wall separating us from a tremendous cliff that overlooked a busy highway separating us from the river and the George Washington Bridge, its lights all pink and yellow on the water like a painting. I was dressed in a fancy skirt and high heeled shoes. I felt alive and confident, but thankful that the cover of night was there in place of my usual shyness because guys were talking to me, and it was both exhilarating and nerve-racking!

Yes, Thanksgiving Dinner with friends turned out to be a wonderful occasion, both for the food that was shared (the best collard greens of my life--who knew? And ham to die for, not to mention my roommate's turkey, topped with her divine cranberry relish) and the company. The odds were definitely in my favor at the "kids" table, let me tell you, and I was quite pleased to make some charming new acquaintances.

After the nightwalk, Doctor Ben busted out the game of Ticket to Ride that he takes everywhere, and we played a few rounds. Ten Days Around Europe (or whatever that game is called) and Speed Scrabble soon followed, and if we weren't all so stuffed from pie I'm sure the revelry would have continued much later into the night than it did. But after a bit of cleanup, my roommates and I rolled ourselves out the door and enjoyed a rare cab ride home. One eggnog and ginger-ale nightcap and a few minutes of gossipy re-cap later, it was time for reluctant but inevitable sleep. I didn't want the day to end, but it felt like I'd been up forever.

Earlier that morning, Jessica and I had braved the crowds of Times Square for hours and hours just to catch glimpses of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. The mass of humanity was so thick that we didn't see much else besides the balloons, some celebrities we didn't recognize (except Cyndi Lauper, who some guy thought was Pink), the tops of the tubas in the marching bands, and what appeared to be a very drunk Santa practically swinging from his sleigh/float. We met a sweet old lady from North Carolina who took our picture, laughed at a 7 foot tall man who kept getting asked by random kids if they could get up on his shoulders, and got a good taste of the general craziness of people in a New York crowd (yes, it is a free country lady-with-the-huge-stroller-in-the-packed-crowd but we're still calling you crazy, because you are.)

After that we lazed around, snacking until go-time, when the three of us roommates teamed up to carry one huge roasted turkey, two pies, a bowl of fruit salad, a container of gravy, a thing of whipped cream, a dish of sweet potatoes, a pan of deviled eggs, and a bag full of serving utensils up to Inwood. I am thankful for Gypsy cabs. I'm thankful for fun friends, and I am thankful for such a wonderful day.



Wednesday, November 25, 2009

R.I.P.

Rest in peace, green fuzzy shoes with high heels, T-straps, retro toe-vents, and a most unusual floral pattern. You were much loved and adored by all who saw you, even if you weren't always comfortable to wear during an 8-hour workday. Faithfully you served, protected, and glamorized my feet until the end, when you died in the service of helping me walk to church. The mean streets of Harlem were no match for your delicate seams and aging glue, and when I arrived at my destination, your sides were split beyond repair but heroically doing their best to retain their shape. Even the bus-ride home was not gentle enough to prevent you from completely falling apart. If it were possible, I would bury you in your cute little Kenny Hearts Penny shoebox and plant roses above your grave, but instead your fate is the rubbish bin, which is a sore injustice. However, you may rest in peace knowing that you will join the pantheon of great shoes who have gone before you to that great closet in the sky, where shoes float on clouds and are worn by angels. You will be reunited with the legendary Santana black high-heeled sandals with ankle straps, retro wooden platforms, and chunky heels that saw my feet through six years of art-gallery openings with style and grace. There you will also meet the sassy bright secret-weapon orange low-heeled patent leather sandals that were all it took to turn an everyday outfit into something to write home about. While many shoes have gone before, have been worn a little bit, donated to Goodwill, or lie unworn in the closet, shoes like you will always be remembered, longed for, and wished immortal.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Week Two

My BOM reading is going strong. This is the best goal I've ever had. This week the whole Manhattan stake set aside one Sunday, today, when everyone was supposed to invite a friend to church. I mean, we're always supposed to invite friends, but it was a real goal this time. Then, every ward just held sacrament meeting, no other classes, and had a big linger-longer afterward. None of the friends that I invited came, and my shoes fell apart on the way to church, but other than that it was a wonderful meeting. The speakers were fantastic, and there were so many visitors that they had to open the second overflow. It called to mind a verse I read this week in the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 26:23-28.

For behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you that the Lord God worketh not in darkness.
He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw call men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation.
Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price.
Behold, hath he commanded any that they should depart out of the synagogues, or out of the houses of worship? Behold, I say unto you, Nay.
Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance.
Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden.

Bethlehem Moriah B.C.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Adventures in Visiting Teaching

K and I visit four ladies in Harlem each month. Our mission is to make sure these women have their needs met and to help encourage them spiritually.

We usually go visit our ladies on a weeknight after I get off work. I take the express train to K’s house, which is near my old place, so I say hello to Trini and he always gives me a big hug and kiss. K kisses her husband and daughter goodbye and we go out into the night.

The first lady we visit is Maria. She lives with her brother in a small apartment in a building she helped build as part of Habitat for Humanity. Maria used to be a secretary for the police department but she retired soon after 9/11, when her asthma became too much of a burden. Now she mostly just stays at home and rests. She watches a lot of TV, does sudoku puzzles, and takes care of her college-student daughter’s rambunctious little dog. She hasn’t been to church in a long time, but K and I invite her to come. She said she’d like to, but isn’t sure about her asthma. A sufferer of childhood asthma myself, I advise her to take her newly prescribed Advair regularly. I want to tell her to get rid of the dog, because she’s probably allergic to it, but I don’t know how to say it. I know what it feels like to not be able to breathe, and I wish I could do something more helpful, but we have a nice chat, and I think Mary enjoys having the company.

Next we visit Eugenia, who lives near the church. Sometimes K and I stop by after church to see her. She is wheelchair-bound, and has not been to church in a while, but we always tell her we would be happy to come in the morning and help her get to church. Nevertheless, I can understand why she would not feel like going. It would be hard to live in a wheelchair, let alone in pain. K is a nurse, and always asks Eugenia a lot of questions about her medical history. When we first met her, we were shocked to discover how many grandchildren Eugenia has, because she looks so young. It’s hard for her to navigate around her home, because it is so full of things. Boxes and boxes of things fill up the rooms. One room is so full that nobody can enter it except a cat who moves through small tunnels between the boxes. Eugenia’s bedroom is full of stacks of clothing and collectible dolls, many of them life-sized and elaborately dressed. Eugenia’s kitchen is so full of appliances and boxes of things that there is no room on the table to eat or counter top space to cook. She has a deep fryer that she has never taken out of the box. An entire bookcase in her living room is covered with M’n’M brand figurines and knick-knacks (now I know who buys those things!) I think her children and grandchildren must give her these things because I don’t understand how else she could afford them, let alone go shopping. Tonight when we knock on the door, Eugenia’s daughter answers and tells us her mother is sleeping. We leave her a note, and chat for a few minutes with the daughter, who we haven’t met before. She has very long nails with a sparkly starburst pattern on each one—a wrap, she calls it. Put a piece of garlic in a bottle of clear nail polish, she tells us, and that will strengthen our fingernails. Or, soak them in milk. “Be safe out there,” she tells us as we say goodbye.

Walking around in Harlem after dark can sometimes be a little scary, but it’s usually not too bad, especially when you remember that even though the darkness makes it seem like its really late at night, its actually only 7:30 pm. And we aren’t alone because we have each other, and there are a lot of people out and about, even on the side streets. Anyway, if you walk with a purpose, nobody bothers you. We did get laughed at by some girls who were sitting on the stoop of a brownstone. For some reason they thought the way K answered her cell phone was funny and they mimicked her as we walked by. If anyone says anything to us, it is always to K, because she is tall and blonde. Brown-haired me, I tuck my chin down into the collar of my coat, and pass through the Harlem streets unnoticed when I am with her.

The phonecall was from Savannah, the next woman we are on our way to visit. Savannah isn’t her real name, although her first name really is the name of a city. And her last name is a woman’s first name, so K and I were very confused the first time we met her. Savannah must be used to that, and anyway, she has such a huge smile and happy personality that it doesn’t matter. She’s calling to see where we are--we must be late, but it’s okay. Savannah is packing for a trip to the Dominican Republic, where she is from. She and her daughters are going there for a month to visit relatives for the winter holidays. She is sending a barrel of food ahead—not because there is anything that you can’t get there, or even that food is cheaper here—but because she doesn’t want to be a strain on her relatives and eat all of their food. Also, she can buy food in the US with foodstamps and save her actual money to buy Christmas presents for her daughters while they are in the D.R. Actually, this year she is sending a barrel plus a huge box, because her daughters want to bring so many things and she doesn’t want to have to pack it all in their luggage. This will be her 8-year old daughter’s first trip to the D.R. The child watches us shyly as we sit with her mom, who is animatedly telling us stories of what happened when she gave birth 8 years ago. Her daughter was born exactly on her due date, the day before 9/11 happened. Savannah is a single mother, and is taking college classes to become a teacher. Her little girl runs into another room and comes back a few minutes later with a freshly drawn portrait of a fairy princess, which she presents to me. Savannah hasn’t been to church in a long time, but we invite her to come this week and she says she will bring her daughters. Her smile is infectious, and we hate to go, because talking with her is so joyful. But we pray with Savannah and then head back out into the night.

Our fourth visit is to the home of Sarah, who lives in a very nice apartment building, especially in comparison with the one’s we’ve just been in. Sarah’s husband is a prosperous lawyer, and the couple has just had their second child. Toys litter the room, which is decorated with the remnants of the couple’s world travels. Sarah’s family lived a Bohemian lifestyle when she was young, traveling from country to country simply for the fun of it. You might think she found her husband, of South American descent, on one of her travels, but he was born and raised in the US and the two met at BYU. Sarah and K talk about life as the parents of toddlers, and I have nothing to add to the conversation, although I listen intently. I am always fascinated at how parents are able to navigate the city with small children. Sarah is extremely capable--Amazonian, I would call her, actually. I admire her in so many ways.

It’s a good thing I have K, because otherwise I would never get out and visit anyone. She is the one that calls everyone and makes the appointments and has questions to ask. I am the one who watches, listens, supports, and remembers. And they tell me I smile a lot, but that’s just because I am always coming across such fascinating people with such interesting slices of life. Visiting teaching is meant to help the ladies who are visited, but I believe that I am always the one most enriched. As I walk or ride the bus home, I look out at the city around me and wonder at the lives of all the millions of people, and what lessons they have to teach me.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Letters

Tonight I was talking to a lady whose daughter has a boyfriend who lives in the Dominican Republic. They see each other a few times a year, but they still talk every day. With cell phones and the internet, it is easier than ever to communicate. "When I was young, all we had were letters," the mother bemoaned, as she thought back to the day when she and her own husband were living in separate countries. "And letters took at least a month to arrive. Sometimes I would have relatives come to the U.S. and tell me things faster than his letter would get here!"

That's the problem with letters--they can be slow. But there are few treats more delicious than receiving a handwritten letter in the mail. It's a mode of communication I hope never ends. For the past two years I've written letters to my brother as he's served a prison term. He finished his sentence this past week, which is really good news, but I admit that I will miss our letter-writing back and forth. Because of it, I have actually been able to understand and love my brother even more than I did before. Hand-written letters have a way of exposing another side of a person, fostering an intimacy that cannot be found in email or over the phone. Maybe we will still keep in touch by pen and paper, but I'm sure that my brother and I will instead just talk on the telephone now--it is so much easier and faster. More likely, we will just send facebook messages back and forth once in a while. I'm sure that, ironically, we will become so busy with our lives that we won't even talk anymore as much as we did by letter when he was in every other way incommunicado. Isn't life strange? I don't think I'm ready to give up on writing letters.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Shackin' Up

I just couldn't end my day without declaring to the world that Shake Shack is a most delightful place to eat with extraordinarily delicious food. Plus its just a fun place to hang out and eat while either 1. being all hip and cool hanging out in Madison Square Garden or 2. sitting in a little basement watching people build rice krispie Las Vegas on the food network. This was my first time eating at the upper west side location, and all the tables upstairs were full and the out-of-doors was cold, so we ate downstairs and got sucked into the TV. Because when you don't have a TV at home, being around a giant screen can become dangerous. Anyway, it was the perfect end to an exhausting day. This morning I woke up with a painful crick in my back, and then the subway was stalled for 20 minutes while they investigated smoke on the tracks, so I was late to work. But it was the day that the French artists were coming to set up their trunk show, so there were a billion things to do and somehow I became the person in charge of transforming the chaos into order, so I had to be on my A-game. That was difficult to do with sharp pains shooting down my back every time I turned my head to the right, so I took lots of ibuprofen and drank prolly a gallon of diet coke. Meanwhile, my computer monitor decided to fritz, the scanner stopped working at a crucial moment, and everyone who called on the telephone wanted money. When I got the text from Jessica that a Shake Shack excursion was being planned, I could not have been more happy, because what I really needed to cure my jitters and soothe my soul was a Shack-ago Dog and a Pumpkin Spice Custard. In other words, balm of Gilead. Plus it was fun to hang out with friends, laugh a lot, and ride in a car (so highbrow!). Before the night was through, I had eaten a delicious meal, all but forgotten my creaky back, and won three out of three games of "Around the World in 10 Days" or whatever that game is called. It was enough to redeem even the sorriest of Mondays.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Week One

My goal to read the Book of Mormon entirely by the end of the year is progressing well. Ten pages a day is doable, although there have been a few days, I must admit, that I just did not read, so I ended up doing double reading the next day (triple reading in one instance! oops.) so I need to get into a better routine, which is actually one of the reasons why I started this goal. I would like scripture reading to be a daily habit, so I've just got to find the best place to insert it into my regular pattern.

So, I've reached page 70 which puts me smack dab in 2nd Nephi at the end of Chapter 7. Lehi has seen a vision, emigrated with his family and friends out of a corrupt Jerusalem, and the whole group has crossed wilderness and oceans to find a promised land. Through it all, Nephi testifies of the coming of a Savior to the earth, and he sees Jesus Christ in vision. He learns that if he puts his trust in the Lord, he will be able to accomplish any task and overcome trials. His family is promised that as long as they keep the commandments of God, they will be blessed with safety and freedom. From the very beginning it is clear that this book is indeed "another testament of Jesus Christ," which is evident in the prophecies of Lehi and Nephi, the words they speak to their families, and the words of the prophet Isaiah, which Nephi shares.

One chapter describes how Lehi sends his sons back to Jerusalem on a fairly dangerous mission to get the scriptures, so that they would have the word of God with them as they journeyed to start a new life across the earth. Back then there were no paperback copies of the Bible, not even close. The words of past prophets were engraved on metal plates or stones and would have been a hindrance for Lehi's family as they traveled, but they knew the importance of having the words of God with them along their journey, and for future generations. I feel the same way. As I read my scriptures each day, my heart is filled with the messages that they contain--words of hope, love, strength, and warning--and I would not want to journey through life without them. This is exactly what I was hoping to have happen as I read daily. I want to be continuously reminded of God's love for me through the words of his prophets, so that when I have questions, face discouragement, or encounter temptations, the scriptures will be fresh in my mind, ready to buoy me.

Mt. Calvary


I need a new camera...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

French Accent

Next week at work we are having a special event sponsored by the French Trade Commission, with featured jewelry by French artists, and we've been walking around joking about the impending "French Invasion." So when I opened the mail today and found this booklet I laughed. C'est la vie.

My newest find. I found this cute booklet randomly on etsy and just had to have it, even if it did cost a little more than ten cents. It was printed in 1939 and is full of instructions on how to make about ten different elegant and glamorous crocheted tops in the "latest" French styles.

I'm so excited to make a few of these crocheted blouses for myself--when I retire. Sigh... I have a long list of other projects to finish before I'll have time for these, but they are still fun to look at. And the captions are just as entertaining: "Young career women, attention! With its smart bib front and interesting stitch, this blouse will get ahead in the fashion world."

Why don't modern crochet magazines have anything like this? And again, seriously, can I please have more time in the day to make all the things I want to make?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

La Maison

There ought to be more hours in the day. Either that or we shouldn't require so much sleep. I could get so much more done if I didn't have to sleep all night long.

But despite having to sleep a few times during the past several days, I have managed to do some fun things. In fact, I forgot to write about the chocolate tasting that I went to last Thursday night at La Maison du Chocolat.

My bosses were getting ready to go out of town and one day at work Mrs. F came up to me and said, "Would you be interested in using my ticket to this chocolate--" and before she could even finish the sentence, I was nodding my head and saying "YES." She laughed, but it's no secret that I love me some chocolate.

A private event for local businesspeople, it was La Maison's chance to remind companies to buy chocolates for clients as holiday gifts, but my opportunity to gorge on the most delicious chocolates this side of heaven. Beautifully arranged stacks of chocolates greeted me as I entered, and while all the other guests were heading over for free champagne, I indulged in a sensational truffle or two. I did a good job of walking around looking studiously at all the products and paging through the corporate gift idea catalog in between "sampling" the truffles and macarons, and then "cleansing my palate" with a fresh strawberry or slice of prosciutto on a crostini. Not wanting to turn into the chocolate-world's version of the person who only goes to art openings in order to pig out on cheese and grapes, I successfully resisted the urge to fill my handbag with chocolates. In fact, I behaved very professionally, and even asked questions about the products for sale.

The most fun was watching an employee demonstrate how to make chocolate ganache (a.k.a. the food of the gods). All it really takes is four chocolate bars mixed with 2 cups of superhot (boiling?) cream steeped with cinnamon (or anything flavorful), whisked slowly from the center until becoming a velvety, blissful chocolate sauce good for frosting, spreading on toast (yes, thank you) or a croissant, or chilling and rolling into truffles (dust with cocoa powder). Or, you can just eat a little cupful of hot ganache with a spoon and call it a night, which is what I did, ignoring the uberskinny blond girl next to me who refused to accept a cup of the ganache that was being passed around. "I'll just have a tiny taste of yours, honey," she said to the man that was with her. Scoff. Some people just don't know how to live.

The best part? A gift bag on the way out the door! Filled with more chocolates, of course. A girl could get used to this.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Scenes from Sunday

I walked to church alone on a beautiful autumn day. The weather was like a summer morning, but the drifts of yellow and brown leaves were so thick I could hardly walk down the steps through St. Nicholas Park, where a man watched helplessly as his dog ran in exuberant wide circles around him on the still-green grass.

A large church attracted my attention, and I looked up in passing at it, startled by the gargoyles emerging from its eaves, black and menacing against the cornflower blue sky.

Two homeless men lay sprawled on a sunny patch of sidewalk soaking in the unseasonable warmth.

Ladies with big hats headed to various churches, and an old man in a fedora told me I looked pretty as he passed. I smiled and said good morning to a shopkeeper standing in the doorway of a corner store. I shook my head and said "no thank you" as two ladies held out a religious pamphlet. "Have a blessed day," they replied.

The music from my ipod playing in my ears was old-time gospel, and it matched the lovely Sunday, full of fascination.

At church, the spirit was strong, I felt unified with my ward-family. The speakers were a Mongolian woman and a husband and wife from Haiti. The man gave half his talk in French, which I did not understand, but loved.

Afterwards, me and a generous young man delivered ten bags of donated clothing to a woman who is taking them to Sierra Leone to distribute to needy people there. She was so grateful for the help, and it made me feel great to help her. Thanks again to Taylor for letting me commandeer his car!

Back home, I sat in the rays of the sun as it set across the Hudson River, and worked on my crochet. My sister called and we chatted about all of life's complexities. Later on, my roommates made a delicious salmon dinner and guests came over to share it with us. The conversation was pleasant and interesting, the company welcome, the food delicious.

The last event of the night was the last episode of the latest season of Mad Men. I cried, and I loved it.

All in all, a wonderful day.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

New Covenant

This is a little church somewhere up around 148th and Amsterdam. I guess that's technically Hamilton Heights and not Harlem proper, but it's close enough. Another interesting thing I found up in that neighborhood is this sign, just randomly posted on the side of a shop. The store was just a little bodega--not a church or anything, but its owner clearly has very strong feelings about God:
Harlem is one of the few places I know of where you can just be walking around doing your normal day-to-day business and be confronted with a sign like this. It's completely random and yet entirely at home in this part of the city, where church and God are a big part of the culture.

Well, I'm going to take a cue from the sign and "surrender my life to Jesus" in a sense, and let him be my guide through the scriptures. Today I'm making a new goal to read the whole Book of Mormon again, start to finish, before the year ends. That equals exactly ten pages a day, which I think is doable. The purpose of my goal is to increase my spirituality and connection with my faith, and hopefully gain a little more understanding about my life. If anyone wants to join me in this personal challenge, I promise that you will be spiritually enriched. At any rate, I'll be posting updates on my progress on upcoming Sundays.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Miscellaneous

I've been hanging out with the ladies of the Harlem Knitting Circle all day. It's a good way to get a lot done on a project, because there are no distractions like facebook or magazines to suck me away from my work, and the women there tell such interesting stories about their lives. One woman works at Mt. Sinai Hospital and she is collecting small baby blankets for the infants that don't live, so as soon as I can I'm going to make several to donate. One thing that I want to know is why the United States has such a low infant mortality rate in comparison to other developed countries? I've heard some statistics that place the US at about number 30 down the list, but I need to do some more research into this.

Following up on a previous post where I was ranting about vaccines, I was trying to reason with a coworker yesterday who adamantly believes that the flu vaccine contains particles taken from the lungs of exhumed WWI soldiers. "I heard it on the radio!" he said. "It's absolutely true!" Nothing I said would make him change his mind, but seriously--are there even lungs left in the body of a person buried in 1917? So I went home and did some research online and read a whole bunch of different things, but couldn't find anything even remotely related to his claim. My theory is that he's just deaf and completely misheard something on the radio. However, I did learn that childhood vaccines have been mercury-free since 2001, flu vaccines are still cultured in chicken eggs (I knew that they had been made this way, but didn't realize they still were) which helps explain why there are shortages. The vaccine-making process is long, precise, and reliant on a constant supply of 11-day old chicken eggs. Scientists are exploring cell-cultured vaccines, but the technology isn't there yet. So if you read anything on wacky sites that rail against the abomination of "animal tissues" being present in vaccines, it's just people freaking out about the vaccines being produced in eggs, and its all just really ridiculous.

So anyway, enough ranting about that. What I should really be doing is my laundry, but I'm so tired today for some reason. I was so comfortable at the library with the knitters that I stayed there from 10 a.m. until 2 in the afternoon, listening to stories about 9/11, going to Ghana and being courted by African princes, teaching in inner-city schools, and all kinds of things. I'm telling you, those ladies are amazing! I crocheted and listened until I got so hungry I had to leave and go get a sandwich and coke from good ol' Santiago Deli. The day is bright and sunny and I want to be tramping around Harlem, but my head hurts, and my body craves a nap. I can't believe that the sun sets now at around 4:45 in the afternoon! It's not enough daylight--my body wants to hibernate. Well, I'm going to fight it. I'm going to go do laundry, then go running, and then clean my house and (if I can just get up off this bed...) I'm not going to stop!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Magazines vs. Movies

My roommate and I were talking about how the only thing needed to turn us into true New Yorkers is to get a subscription to The New Yorker. It's actually the one magazine I've always wished I could get into, but just never have. The cover art always sucks me in, but then I start to read it and fall asleep. There aren't enough pictures (I'm not illiterate, I'm an artist--I need visual stimulation!). But maybe it's time to give it another try. In related news, I've decided to trade my Netflix subscription for Vogue. I've been a Vogue subscriber in the past, but have let the illustrious magazine fall by the wayside, thinking it a frivolity. Yet I've found myself buying it off the newstand, savoring the images, reading all the articles, enjoying myself. Meanwhile, my Netflix movies arrive then languish under a pile of laundry, unwatched for weeks. This unbalance must be fixed. One month of movies equals a year of Vogue, an excellent way to economize, I say. With the money saved, I'm going to buy a few issues of the New Yorker and actually read it. (Now I've just got to dig "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" out from somewhere under my bed and watch the thing before I send it back and end this cycle of neglected dvds...)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Soapboxes

Yesterday was election day, and here in New York the big hubbub was about Bloomberg overturning a law against a mayor serving more than two consecutive terms, despite once saying he would never do such a thing. And since he's a billionaire, his money all but ensured he would win a third term. He did win, but by only a small margin, making it even more unpalatable to many people who otherwise approve the job he's done but feel taken advantage of by his maneuvers. I have mixed feelings myself. On one hand, who does he think he is to just change a law so that he can be mayor for a third term? On the other hand, it was still the voters that decided the result. And is it so bad to have a billionaire mayor? You know he's not in the job for the money, because he was already rich, and has spent bucketloads of his own money to campaign. Maybe he really does have New York's best interests in mind. I know if I was a billionaire, I could think of several more enjoyable professions than mayor of New York. Then again, what does a billionaire know about the needs of all the millions of working class people in the city? Personally I think he's doing a pretty good job, and I don't another term is going to be such a bad thing. After all, the mayor of Boston has been in office for 5 terms!

The other thing I have to rant about is the people who are scared of getting vaccinated. The swine flu is here and while it isn't turning out to be quite as deadly as people were worried about, it is still serious, and important for people to be vaccinated if they are at risk. Some people still persist in thinking that the flu vaccine has high levels of mercury in it, but the truth is that it contains less mercury than a can of tunafish. The benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risks, and that goes for childhood vaccinations as well. When you look at the destruction done by mumps, rubella, smallpox, polio, and measles in the past centuries and compare it with the health of children today, we have so much to thank scientists and doctors for. There have been many studies trying to find a link between childhood vaccinations and autism, but there has been no evidence of a link. I can understand a parent being worried about the welfare of their child, and health is a delicate subject, but I believe that it is in everyone's best interest to take advantage of the vaccines that are available and prevent many devastating diseases.

I also feel like ranting about the mosquitoes that have been proliferating in the unseasonably warm weather we've been having, but I'm tired of standing on this soapbox. Let me just thank the doctors and scientists again for making it possible for me not to have to die of malaria or yellow fever, and I'll save the anti-mosquito rant for another day.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Church

Church was wonderful today. I love Harlem. And I love the people in my ward. They have so many trials, but are so faithful and happy despite everything, and it inspires me.

But anyway, after church I went for a walk and took a picture of this church on Amsterdam Avenue somewhere around 148th Street. What intrigues me the most about it is the way the rock wall of the church's facade is speckled. Each rock has a dab of white paint clearly applied with a squarish brush or paint-roller. Why? It's a mystery to me. Maybe they thought speckled rocks would look somehow more picturesque.

Harlem Halloween

Halloween in Harlem was humid and warm, with gray skies and a wind that whirled dry leaves around and tugged at the witches hats and candy bags of trick-or-treating children. The children here start trick-or-treating in the early afternoon, going from shop to shop instead of from house to house as in other neighborhoods. All the stores along Broadway, Amsterdam, Frederick Douglass, and Malcolm X Boulevards were accepting trick-or-treaters, who were out in droves at 1:30 when I was walking to the church with trays of cookies for the ward party. The costumes on the kids were so cute, but I did see a few mothers who should not have dressed up...er, down? The problem with Halloween is that so many grown people use it as an excuse to wear less clothing, not more.

I had made sugar cookies in the shapes of cats, skulls, pumpkins, and gravestones for the ward party, as well as devil's food cupcakes with candy corns stuck into the frosting. At the church, there were vast quantities of other spooky treats: apple slices that looked like toothy mouths, red punch with huge hand-shaped ice floating in it, rice krispie ghosts, and more. Kim and Ryan, the newly-wed ward activities leaders, were dressed as Frankenstein and his Bride, and they had prepared a day of spooky fun and activities for the kids. I stayed and helped kids stick construction paper facial features on orange balloons to make them look like jack-o-lanterns, and I held the pole with donuts dangling from strings that the kids had to try and bite without using their hands. That was hilarious. After preparing the donuts for each round, all I had to do was hold up the stick and children would come running from all over the room to try and grab a donut. One little boy dressed as Batman with a mohawk ate three of the donuts. The kids were so funny, and the grown-ups were really into the party as well. The bishop walked around scaring people in a huge pumpkin-headed costume.

Later, I walked around Harlem doing my errands--returning a library book, grocery shopping, mailing letters--and watched again as vast numbers of children ran around the Harlem streets dressed as princesses, goblins, soldiers, fairies, bees, cats, and witches, clutching bags of candy, fighting with plastic swords, and having a generally merry time. Rubber Halloween masks hung out for sale like shrunken heads along the eaves of bodegas, and older teenagers were considering the merits of each. Candy wrappers mixed with the colorful autumn leaves that littered the streets. Fairway was sold out of pumpkins. The wind picked up and it started to rain a little bit.

It was raining harder later when the sun went down and children headed indoors. I set out for a friend's house for an evening of over-indulgent candy eating and spooky movie watching, and along the way encountered many costumed people heading to parties or to the parade downtown. Late at night, when I walked home, the streets were deserted, except for one guy dressed as the Pope, and a few ladies dressed in not much at all, hailing a cab. The rain had come and gone, leaving a few broken umbrellas here and there, and random relics from costumes: a fake stethoscope, a striped glove, sparkly feathers.

Friday, October 30, 2009

World Series

Go Yankees! The longer I live in New York, the more I begin to love those things that New Yorkers love: hot dogs, parades, black clothing, baseball... but not just any baseball. I am turning into a Yankees fan! The game completely mystifies me--I don't understand how any of it works, or why there has to be seven games, or why none of the players can even hit the ball most of the time, but I'm strangely fascinated. And I really hope the Yankees win (even though I keep thinking about how their uniforms look like pajamas)!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What Else I've Been Up To

On Monday afternoon I had a real treat--a ride through the heart of Manhattan in a bright red Mustang convertible, with the top down! It sounds crazy, but I was transporting goods to a watch show, and the security guard was driving me in his own car, which was obviously his baby. (It's a whole other story, but this guy went to Julliard, culinary school, was a bronze-medal cyclist in the Olympics and a retired NYPD officer who killed three men in the line of duty back in the day, which surprised me because I've never met a sweeter old man. On the way down he told me about how he and his eleven-year-old son go out and birdwatch together.) The autumn weather was gorgeous and it was fun to have such an amazing view of the city--one I've seldom seen, since I'm used to walking or taking the subway everywhere. Cruising down 6th Avenue in the seat of a convertible is nice. It was a pleasant and relaxing way to start a maddeningly busy week.

The past few days have been a whirlwind of watch wheeling and dealing as I've been taking part per my job in a major watch show for dealers only. It's basically just a big room of a small convention center filled or two days with watch experts and all their friends buying and selling from and to each other. Just like kids playing Go Fish or Old Maid, these grown men walk around trading watches for other watches, looking for the watches they need, haggling and boasting, showing off their wares and their expertise, buying what they like and selling whatever they can so they can have money to buy something else and start the cycle all over again.

The Metropolitan Pavilion sounds so fancy, like it should house a state of the art exhibit at the World's Fair. However, for the watch show it's just a room filled with rickety booths made of patched together piping, spotlights, cheap old showcases on fold-out tables with velcroed-on rayon skirting, and if you have a safe (that looks like a relic of WWI) in your booth, there is no room at all to walk around. In these humble circumstances, the most magnificent watch deals go down. I spent my two days at the show, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., counting stacks of hundred dollar bills, keeping an eye on watches worth more than four times my yearly income, meeting buyers and sellers from exotic locations, and trying to keep track of the Machiavellian politics of the place and the labyrinthian trails that my boss would go down in an effort to buy or sell and make even the smallest of profit. Are you starting to see why my job is alternately stressful and fascinating at the same time?

Next door to the Metropolitan Pavilion was a line down the rainy street for a VIP Yves St. Laurent sale of some sort but, the few times when I was sent back to the gallery to pick up a certain watch box or other needed item, I hardly noticed the fashionistas who stood in stark contrast to the scraggly watch dealers smoking their cigarettes under the eaves of the building. Chelsea was cold, gray, and drizzly, but I was too caught up in the flash of diamond-dialed Rolexes and shiny gold Pateks to notice.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What I've Been Up To

No, dear readers. I did not abandon you. I have just been either too busy or too tired to blog. Then again, I'm pretty dang tired right now, but I'm not going to let it stop me. It might make this a long and rambly post though, so beware.

So my brother came to visit me! It was so much fun. He's the oldest child in my family, and I'm the second oldest, so we have always had a close friendship. But this was the first time he's been out to visit me since I moved to New York. Actually, he hadn't been here since he was a kid, so it was a great chance for him to see the city and all it has to offer. Luckily, there were a few gorgeous fall days while he was here. A few rainy ones too, but oh well.

The weather was the most gorgeous on Thursday, which made it a perfect day to be in Central Park. We took the train to Columbus Circle and went into the park from there. We walked everywhere there is to walk below the reservoir, and saw Sheep's Meadow, Tavern on the Green, the ballfields, the playgrounds, Bow Bridge, Belvedere Castle, the Promenade, the Carousel, the Ramble, that big fountain... and probably more things I can't remember right now. There was a really amazing jazz band jamming in the middle of the park near the little amphitheater where everyone rollerskates. I tried to make a video of them with my camera, but had technical difficulties, so the song must live on in memory only. We went to the Zoo, too, a place I consider a real gem within the city. It is just so relaxing and lovely there, and well worth the price of admission. This time I actually saw the red panda! After that we went to the Apple store, and then dowtown to eat at Shake Shack, where I had the best hot dog of my entire life. Go there and get the "Shack-ago Dog." It is heaven. To round out the day we walked two thirds of the way across the Brooklyn Bridge as the sun set and by that time we had done so much walking we had to quit.

On Friday it was kind of cold, but not rainy, and the sun even peeked out a bit, but it was gone again by the time my brother and I made it to the top of the Rockefeller Building. However, sun or no sun, the view from the 70th floor was uh-mazing. It was breathtaking to see the city extending for miles around and to look down on skyscrapers of all shapes and sizes. Endlessly fascinated, we stayed up there for a long time just taking it all in. Then it was back into the elevator, which goes so fast up and down that your ears pop. Since we were at Rockefeller Center we had to get a Cinnabon, and watch the ice skaters. Then we headed down to J&R Music World, my brother's favorite store since he was 5. We made a stop in Chinatown and gawked at the tourist wares, but neither of us are hagglers, so we mostly enjoyed browsing at the Pearl River Mart, a store full of wonders. I can't remember if we went to Times Square on Friday or Thursday--but it's in there somewhere, along with a visit to the M'n'M Store, even though I still don't know why M'n'Ms are the only candy with their own store.

Friday nights are free at the American Folk Art Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, so we went to both of those places. At the MoMA we ran into Garrett, who had a funny story about waiting in line for a free shirt at the promo for White Collar (is that the name of that new show?). My brother and I had actually contemplated standing in that line, but gave it up when we realized it would have taken us 5 hours to get a shirt. Anyway, I highly recommend seeing the Monet waterlilies exhibition at MoMA.

Saturday was another day at the museums. Big Brother and I got up and went straight to the Met, where I was amazed to see a line out the door and down the street! I've never seen a line outside the Met before, but maybe because it was such a rainy day all of New York wanted to be inside looking at the treasures of art and culture. B and I looked at samurai swords, medieval European armor, modern art, contemporary art, ancient Roman art, American decorative arts, arts of ancient Oceania, medieval religious paintings, the photographs of Robert Frank, and the Vermeer painting on loan from Amsterdam in commemoration of Henry Hudson's voyage 400 years ago. There might have been some other genres in there as well, but you get the idea. And that's not even half of the Met. Lunch was a delicious grilled cheese sandwich at a local deli and I dragged B to Sant Ambreous to buy some shortbread cookies. Later in the day, when the Guggenheim had its "pay what you wish" Saturday evening hours, we went up there and took a look at the huge Kandinsky exhibition set off to perfection against the sculptural spiral shell of a museum that the Guggenheim is. Kandinsky's work has no discernable subject matter--his paintings are just gestures of color and free-wheeling shapes, as abstract as music, but B and I had fun pointing out the images we saw within the pretty chaos of each canvas. Afterwards we ended up at S'Mac for some gourmet mac'n'cheese, and that ended another day of New York.

On Sunday, we churched but left early because the day was so fine and I didn't want to "waste" my brother's last day in the city sitting inside a building. So after sacrament meeting we went down to Chelsea and walked along the Highline, New York's newest park. At the end we were treated to an impromptu jazz concert by a band stationed on the fire escape of a nearby building. This is what I love about New York.

To be continued...