Monday, September 26, 2016

book report #10

*Mother Tongue (Christine Gilbert) - I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir about a mother's (admittedly crazy) idea to become fluent in three languages - Mandarin, Arabic, and Spanish - and raise her family in a multi-lingual household. I admired Gilbert's honesty. She made a few huge mistakes in her journeys (China was a giant bust) but wasn't afraid to fess up, ask her husband for forgiveness, and move on - a lesson in humility she wasn't shy in sharing and one that we as readers could probably use ourselves.

*Eleanor & Park (Rainbow Rowell) - all the feels. All the teenage angst. This book was every John Hughes movie rolled into one hormone-fueled, modern-day Shakespearean drama, and I loved it. I was surprised though - I normally can't stand love stories, but this wasn't a typical romance novel nor was it a splashy beach read. It was a tale of pure yet unrequited love between two desperate teens told with both innocence and passion, and I never wanted it to end.

*The Flood Girls (Richard Fifield) - not a fan. The first 97% of this novel painted a vivid picture of an odd and quirky small Montana town that was part A League of their Own and part American Graffiti. I enjoyed peeking into this world so unlike any I've ever experienced, even if most of the fictional residents freely oscillated between character and caricature. But then the story turned tragic for no other reason (it seems to me) than sensationalism, and the last 20 pages were entirely dark and depressing with little chance for hope or redemption. It was by no means a long or difficult read, but I wouldn't recommend this one. It left me feeling strangely empty and dubious of humanity's ability for compassion.

*The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Annie Barrows & Mary Ann Shaffer) - I grabbed this book off the library shelf for two reasons: it was a softcover small enough to fit into my purse, and I had a train to catch and couldn't spend any more time in the library. As it turns out, my methods for choosing reading material aren't so terrible because this was a delightfully surprising book. Set in the years immediately following WWII and written as a series of letters and telegrams, this tells of the inhabitants of Guernsey - one of the Channel Islands (between France and England) that spent the entirety of the war under German occupation. I had never heard of Guernsey, let alone it's particular role in the war, and this book was a wonderful introduction to a time and a place unfortunately glossed over by my teachers. It was written with humor and empathy and had me googling all sorts of historical facts alongside my reading.

*Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty (Ramona Ausubel) - an intensely compelling novel about a couple's infidelity and how a series of events and one small decision can completely unravel a previously happy family unit. Ausubel created an inhabitable world and often revealed fascinating details and backstories of minor characters for the sole purpose of adding color to the story, which made me want even more from the book. The characters were all flawed but relatable, and toward the end I was rooting for no one and everyone. Definitely one of my favorite books of the year.

*Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany) - so...I didn't like this. And it pains me to say that, because I love the Harry Potter books. I read each one within 48 hours of their release dates back in those early '00s, and hell, I spent this very evening taking a quiz to discover my true Patronus (spoiler alert: it's a grey squirrel. I'll be unpacking that one for a while.) But this play was vapid. And not written well. Or rather, written at a much lower reading level than the final books in the original series (a literary device I truly appreciated), which frankly just pissed me off. Either the playwrights didn't think a play can be written with compound sentences (it can) or they were intentionally writing for the grade school set, but either way it created a disjointed narrative. Also - the scenes were JARRINGLY short. From both a literary perspective (let's try a little harder, shall we?) and a technical theater perspective (SO many scene changes!!), it was distracting. Finally, I just didn't like the story. Without giving anything away, it felt forced, unbelievable, and obvious all at the same time. I've heard the London production of this play is fantastic, so maybe all the smoke and mirrors help hide the structural flaws in the script. But since it's unlikely I'll be seeing the play in person any time soon, I'm going to need a little more than this version of the script to keep me interested.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

status update

I don't want to be one of those people who only talks about her wedding, but my wedding is in 15 days and I can think of no other worthwhile topic to occupy my every waking thought and most of my sleeping thoughts as well. The programs have been written but not printed, the dress has been hemmed but not picked up, the card box that goes on the gift table is a task I keep shuffling to the bottom of the to-do list and you guys, NO ONE TOLD ME WEDDING PLANNING WOULD BE THIS TIME-CONSUMING!!! Blame Pinterest (obviously) and those cutesy little 6-word programs that say "music starts - we kiss - everyone parties." Granted, I knew it was going to be a little more complicated then that, but it's as though I've been in a year-long production meeting for a one-day party. Oh and on top of that I'm still trying to find my purpose a day job and jumping in on a few theater-related gigs because why the hell not. So I guess it's a good thing that my focus has been elsewhere, because this is one of the few status updates that didn't begin with a blithering recap of the current weather situation. Yay me!

*There's an entire world of competitive steel drumming and it's a rabbit hole but one worth going down
*I'm seriously considering signing up for this and this
*The eye of the artist
*I can't unsee this
*The best sushi in all the land
*It turns out I've been slow blogging this entire time!
*I don't know the first thing about neuroscience, but this was one of the sweetest stories I've heard in quite a while

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

the organized life - travel tips and tricks

I am by no means a true frequent flyer, but 2016 is shaping up to be my personal Year of Travel. I've already taken eight flights and a handful of train trips equalling over 80 hours of travel time, and I've got at least four more flights before the year is over. Though I'd previously done a decent amount of traveling, this is the year I finally got smart about surviving the sometimes endless journeys. With a little pre-planning and investing in the right tools and gear, I took a huge step in making my time on a train or airplane a bit more comfortable.

* Reusable and collapsible water bottle - this collapsable water bottle is my no.1 smartest purchase of the year. While bringing an empty water bottle to the airport is a no-brainer (fill it up after security at a water fountain to save yourself some $$ and the environment from another discarded plastic bottle), the collapsible nature of my bottle means I'm no longer carrying around the weight of an empty bottle. Granted, it's not as pretty as some of the "fashion" bottles out there (because we need water to be fashionable?), but at 3oz in weight, I'll take it over your 11oz Swell bottle any day.

* Clean socks on long flights - I love taking my shoes off on long flights. I often sit cross-legged in the seat and for obvious reasons, don't like to do so with shoes on. However, my go-to transit shoes are a pair of Tom's (they're flat, comfortable, and quiet, and perfect for this 32-going-on-62-year-old) - but thanks to my smelly feet I need to wear little nude socklettes with them. The socklettes are great underneath the shoes, but not so much as stand-alone socks. Cue a fresh pair of clean, white cotton socks. I'm not sure why, but there's nothing so refreshing as putting on a pair of socks just as you're settling in for a long winter's flight. I don't necessarily do this for quick trips to Chicago, but by hour 4 of my 10-hour flight to Hawaii? So glad I added a pair of socks to my carry-on.

* Snack attack - I do not care what time it is in New York or what time it will be in California. If I'm hungry I'm hungry (and if I'm hungry I'm cranky), and the airplane is not the place for me to reset my internal clock. If you're unlike me and use the flight to get yourself on "local time" then you must be a robot and please tell me your secrets now. I've learned (the hard way) to always have a snack or three on hand. Subsequently, I've decided that I am too old and fancy to eat like I'm at an airport just because I happen to be at an airport. So remember: as long as it isn't a liquid, you can get it through security. A giant bagel with artisanal cream cheese, a Tupperware full of fresh blueberries, or a DIY cheese and cracker plate will not only sustain you beyond Delta's idea of a dinner, it'll also make you feel downright posh. 

* Wrap it up - I make sure to pack a scarf, sweater, or a Turkish towel in my carry-on, even if I'm going to Mexico in June. That flying metal tube can get mighty chilly, and even if you're not cold per se, it's sometimes nice to wrap yourself in something soft and comforting.

* Charge it - I've mentioned this before, but I recently invested in a second set of all my charging cables/plugs/cubes/doohickeys. While it's certainly not necessary, it is a tiny luxury to not have to undo my at-home charger situation every time I travel. I now have a ready-to-go baggie of all the cords I need for all my devices and have shaved at least a few minutes off that dreaded packing process.

* Go analogue - even though I do my due diligence and save PDFs of important documents and correspondence to both my Dropbox and email, it's often very helpful to have a physical printout of a few of those documents. Itineraries, contact info, and maps are all things I need to have at the ready - and I don't want to wait for my phone to turn on, recharge, or find a strong signal to access this info. And, because I'm an adult and it looks bad to use crumpled papers pulled out of the bottom of my bag, I store everything of this ilk in a slim, old-school folder. It's lightweight and doesn't take up any extra room but does wonders for my overall organization level. Also - I add an empty #10 envelope to the folder for any receipts I need to save for reimbursement purposes. The last thing I want to do is scramble to find a random $3 parking lot receipt that I know I put here somewhere but can't find so I guess I'll just eat the cost. No way.

Are you a frequent traveler? What tricks have you picked up over the years?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Portland batch!

I recently had the most lovely pleasure of spending a weekend in Portland, ME celebrating my upcoming nuptials (#kaydoniwedding). Some call it a bachelorette, others call it a hen party, and I called it all that and a much-needed weekend away from the hot and sticky mess that was New York in the summer. Portland turned out to be the perfect destination for the weekend - for a myriad of reasons, I wasn't interested in embarking on a traditional bachelorette evening of shots/strippers/sequins/stilettos (and honestly I got more than a dose of that kind of night two weeks later in Chicago...but that's another story for a much other time). Instead, I wanted a little bit of everything - good food, craft beer, fresh air, and ocean views. And since Kristen had recently moved to Boston, Portland turned out to be relatively easy to get to - Claire and I took a train to Boston (no more Bolt Bus for us!) and then drove with Kristen the remaining two hours to Portland.

We rented an Airbnb for the weekend. While there were a handful of really cute boutique hotels in downtown Portland we would have liked to use, we couldn't get our act together and by the time the three of us gathered to organize the trip, everything had been booked for ages. Luckily though, we found a fairly affordable attic apartment available for rent, and since we had a car, we were able to stay outside of the downtown area in the quiet and residential South Portland. I wouldn't recommend that area for anyone without a car though. It would have been a 45 minute walk to downtown, and though Portland itself is extremely safe and walkable, that's not a trek I'd want to make at midnight.

I tried my hardest to not pre-organize every minute of the weekend as I am wont to do while on vacation, but one of the sights I definitely wanted to see was the Portland Head Light, the oldest lighthouse in the state of Maine. Situated on the beautifully maintained coastline, the lighthouse and the surrounding walking paths, beachfront, and gardens are all free to visit. We spent over an hour wandering around the area, and when the fog rolled in from the east we used the moody scenery as inspiration for few moments of quiet seaside introspection.

We ate and drank like kings queens all weekend long. In addition to artisanal pizza, craft beers, fancy cocktails, and the best donuts I've ever tasted (really, the only donuts I've ever even liked), we sat ourselves down at a roadside shack called Fisherman's Grill and ordered the. best. lobster. rolls. ever. While most lobster rolls need to add globs of mayo and/or butter and/or a bunch of other random veggies to make up for lack of lobster meat quality, what we ate was pure, fresh, lobster and little else. We barely spoke as we savored our rolls, and even though they were gigantic (the three of us split an extra large order with three buns) we still found room for a shared cup of clam chowder and a huge order of the silkiest and most flavorful scallops I'ver ever eaten.

We also found time to lay out on the beach. Even though clouds threatened our lighthouse visit earlier in the day, the notoriously mercurial Maine weather cleared up in the afternoon and allowed us to have a solid three hours on the beach at the nearby Two Lights State Park. I did, however, underestimate my ability to withstand cold water. Boasting that "the cold doesn't bother me" because four years ago I swam for hours at a beach in New Hampshire, I was quickly shown up by both my friends and everyone else at the beach when I put one toe into the freezing cold water and immediately ran shrieking back to my towel.

I came back to New York relaxed and ready to take on this last surge of wedding-planning frenzy (less then a month away now!), which is more than I can say for my pre-Maine state of mind. My friends were so generous in giving me their time and energy, and I can't thank them enough for letting me drag them across four states just for a silly bachelorette party ;)

If you go:

Where to stay: Portland has a handful of lovely hotels, both chain and boutique - but we opted to stay in an Airbnb in nearby South Portland. Looking to book your own weekend getaway? Use this link: to get $35 off your first stay!

What to do: Downtown Portland is easily walkable and navigable and home to a ton of cute shops. If shopping's not your thing and want a breath of fresh air, the nearby Portland Head Light and Two Lights State Park have walking trails, beach access, picnic areas, and great views. We also stumbled up on the Portland Farmer's Market and spent a happy hour oohing over giant tomatoes and taste-testing fresh cheeses.

What to eat: I had some of my most favorite meals in Portland. In no particular order, I can gladly recommend Otto's Pizza, CIA Cafe (in South Portland), The Holy Donut (go to the Park Avenue location, order at least three Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt donuts, and savor them at Deering Oaks Park across the street), and Fisherman's Grill for a lobstah roll and all the other fresh seafood you can manage (be warned: it's cash only and expensive - but beyond worth it. Just fork over the money and stop complaining.) Also: we never made it to Duck Fat but I swear on my next lobster roll that I'll get there one day!

What to drink: Novare Res Bier CafĂ© has an outstanding beer menu, The Bearded Lady's Jewel Box has an impressive cocktail menu that was almost too hip for us 30-somethings, and the Armory Lounge in the lobby of the Regency Hotel has an old-school old-man vibe that turned out to be exactly what we needed for our final nightcap of the trip.

Friday, September 2, 2016

zucchini bread

Sometimes it's a late summer afternoon and you're one month away from your wedding and even though all the pesky details and questions about those details are finally starting to come to an end, you now have an onslaught of wedding presents showing up at your door every day that you really shouldn't have registered for in the first place because where the heck are you supposed to put them in your teeny tiny new york apartment? You're tired and hot and overwhelmed and kind of just want it all to be over but instead of having yet another meltdown you see a bowl of vegetables in your kitchen from a recent CSA haul gifted to you by a friend who was going out of town and didn't see the point in picking up a bag of food she'd never be able to use. And even though you should've been at the gym ten minutes ago (because, you know, the wedding), you start to bake. Eggs, flour, sugar, a little cinnamon and a whole lot of zucchini. You shouldn't be wasting time and calories on this bread, but you're pretty sure it's going to taste good and you're really sure you need this right now. Something to focus on. Something for your hands to do. It's quiet in your kitchen, save for the crack of an egg and the scrape of the zucchini across the grater (and the construction across the street and the crying baby next door and the helicopter flying overhead, but you choose to ignore those sounds as they do not positively contribute to your afternoon). And soon you find a familiar rhythm you didn't know you missed. Measure, pour, stir. Measure, pour, stir. You don't know why (and you're certainly not going to take the time to analyze why), but you have calmed down. A bit. There is still a stack of thank you's begging to be written and a pile of towels that need to be washed and a whole wedding you need to finish planning, but right now you've got a fresh loaf of bread begging for your attention. A bit of butter, a reheated cup of coffee, and a very deep breath for reassurance: you've got this.

for the curious and hungry: my go-to zucchini bread recipe