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


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


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


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


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


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 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, 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.