Sunday, December 6, 2009

Turns Out My Sister Really Is a Superhuman

In the 2+ years since her brain surgery, she has apparently developed heightened senses of smell and hearing. I'm not joking. She can hear the train approaching before anyone else. She smells the coffee blocks away from the coffeeshop. She sings along with music the neighbor is playing, which is barely perceptible to the normal ear. And my other sister, M, has warned me never to fart in AL's presence, because she will smell it, and she will call you out.

The only conclusion I can draw from all this is that AL's brain is compensating for her loss of peripheral vision and slower language processing abilities in part by giving her superhero smell and hearing capabilities. Not exactly on par with flying or reading minds. But shoot, I'm impressed.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


My family is on their way to Chicago as I type this. Two parents, two sisters, one brother and a brother's girlfriend packed into a minivan, barreling west along highway 90, making a beeline for the cold, drizzly city I now call home. Six reasons to live this life. (Amen.) How's that for a strange notion?

I am very excited to see them. It is bound to do me good. And, as far as holidays go, Thanksgiving seems to be almost custom-made for my family. A weekend of food, drink, relaxation, card games, televised sporting events and neighborhood exploration? With no expectations of gift-giving, decorations or dressing up? Yeah (enthusiastically), we can do that!

Oh, and did I mention that I have rented them an apartment? A nice three-bedroom about half a mile from my place is just the thing to ensure a concordant celebration. No packing all eight of us into my tiny apartment. And if that's not something to be thankful for, then I don't know what is. Now if we can just find a turkey... Trader Joe's has run out. I know where I can find a rooster, but something tells me that would be wrong.

This is not the first time K and I have hosted my family for Thanksgiving, but it will be the first time we have hosted them in Chicago. So I'll let you know how it goes, and will also try to post soon about some of the things I've been up to throughout my two-week silence.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Resist the Urge to Steal Small Children

Last month I made plans to tag along with a speech therapist for a day, to get a sense of what her daily work routine is like. Those plans fell through when she mistook my 315 phone number for a 312 number - an honest mistake, of course, and an understandable one - 312 is local to Chicago. She came to my apartment to pick me up, but dialed the wrong number and figured that something must have come up for me. Meanwhile, I was upstairs putting the finishing touches on all the questions I was going to ask her.

Well, we finally had a chance to reschedule, and I spent a full day with A on Wednesday. We drove from home to home (and to one day care), seeing eight clients in total. A's specialty is early intervention speech therapy, so her clients are between 1 and 3 years old. It was fun to see how much she clearly loves her job. "I get paid to play with kids all day!" she said. Which is true, sort of, but there is obviously much more to it than that...

So how does one administer speech therapy to children so young? Well, one aspect of it is exercising and toning the muscles necessary for speech. Many of the children we visited have already faced serious health challenges (like heart surgery or liver transplant, or in the case of one little boy, down syndrome) in their short lives, and as a result their physical development lags behind what is considered normal for their age. Part of A's job is to get them to strengthen their chest, core, neck and face muscles, as these are all necessary to support speech.

Another key is improving the kids' ability to focus. For example, when A reads a book with one of the children, she gets them involved with pointing to and trying to name things in the book and turning pages. If the child starts to get distracted, A brings their focus back and tells them, "We have to finish the book first." She is strict about keeping the child on track, and she doesn't back down. Some of the kids were pretty irritated with her at times, but they always came back around to smiling at her. Tickling was occasionally necessary.

There is something very appealing about working with young children. For one thing, their little brains and bodies have such an astounding ability to overcome early challenges. A's expectation is that all of her Wednesday clients - except the boy with down syndrome - will fully overcome their difficulties and catch up with 'normal' developmental milestones within several years.

The case that sticks with me the most is that of a 35-month-old girl, L, who has apraxia and extremely low energy. Speech apraxia is when a person has trouble saying what she wants to say correctly and consistently. It is due not to weakness of the speech muscles, but to the muscles not receiving the correct messages from the brain. So L has difficulty putting sounds and syllables together in the correct order to form words. When asked to say "pretty, pretty, pretty," she might say something like, "tehpee, petty, beepee." She seems to understand everything being said to her, but it is very difficult for her to communicate.

Imagine being one month shy of three years old and so totally stuck in your own head like that! I am sure it is immensely frustrating. As a result, L is a very quiet child. It took A a while to warm her up to even trying to talk. Finally, it was the talking toy refrigerator that did the trick. (A brings bags and bags of her own toys and books with her to every home.) L had to say the name of each piece of food in order to play with it. I think I heard a tiny improvement in L's articulation just in the hour that we spent with her. I bet that if her family tried to engage with her and get her to talk every day, her progress would be remarkable. Sadly, that does not seem likely to happen. L's long, dirty fingernails (clip them!), really dry skin (lotion, please!) and blank stare do not paint a very pretty picture.

When I got home on Wednesday, I told K all about my interesting day. I described L and her dirty house and how her parents were home but didn't show any interest in her speech therapy. Sigh. "Should we go steal her and bring her here to live with us?" asked K. Well... that sort of sounded good, but needless to say, "No dear, we really can't do that." Nice of him to ask, though.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Urban Roosters

My boss' neighbor keeps a rooster in his yard. In a busy Chicago neighborhood. I had considered this a freak occurrence - who does that? - until I visited a friend's home in an even more densely populated San Francisco neighborhood and found that her neighbor has a rooster too! Is this a new 'thing' people do? Nothing against roosters, really, but if you can throw a stone from your yard to another person's yard (this is all assuming that both you and they are lucky enough to have a yard), a rooster is an inappropriate pet choice for you. Take my word for it. And lest you be disappointed about having to opt out of getting a rooster, just think of all the nasty neighborly plots you've saved yourself from.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Cruz into November

Happy Halloween from San Francisco! Today I am having a 'homework afternoon' in which I hang out at a cafe and do homework with my friend A who is a full-time graduate student. She has way more homework than I do. Hence the blogging.

Like A, I work much more efficiently in libraries and coffee shops than I do at home. If I decide to go to graduate school myself, the first order of business will be to procure a laptop so that I can take my work on the road. For the class I am currently taking, I have had to write my papers on the desktop and, in so doing, have proven that I am still miserably unproductive at home.

So today we work hard and tomorrow we reward ourselves with a road trip to Santa Cruz! That will be an all-new destination for me. I'll tell you all about it next week, but right now I guess I should get back to my assignment.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Frozen Corn

Yesterday evening, as I sat down to the delicious dinner K had made of lasagna, corn and warm bread, I asked him, "Is this frozen corn?"

"Canned," he replied. "So no, you may not start a wild rumpus." (In the movie Where the Wild Things Are, frustration over frozen corn is what pushes Max over the edge, sending him into a rowdy frenzy in which he yells at his mother, bites her, and then runs away from home. He eventually finds a little boat and sails off to a rocky shore where he finds the Wild Things, becomes their king and decrees, "Let the wild rumpus start!")

K is really good like that. He always gets my barely-there movie references. This time, granted, we had seen the film only three days earlier. But still - any other person would have assumed I was asking a simple meal-related question.

I'm afraid I cannot claim to be equally proficient in picking up on K's movie references. His memory for quotes, scenes and plot points far outstrips my own. Also, he seems to have watched every American movie made since 1975. I have literally watched him flip through a tv that had several dozen movie channels and call out the names of all the films. Alien! Over the Top! Black Sheep! Chasing Amy! (These are not the actual titles. I wouldn't be able to recall them now, but I do remember thinking, Who are you and when did you have time to watch all of these movies?)

So if you ever find yourself tortured by the need to know some obscure piece of movie trivia (and you have a phone but no internet access), or if you are in the Cash Cab and need the names of the children from Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead, I recommend you call K. Please do not call me, because you will be disappointed.

But I digress. We saw Where the Wild Things Are, and it was terrific. I went in expecting a movie that tried too hard to be profound in a kids-flick way. (Inside all of us is... hope. Inside all of us is... fear. Etc.) As it turned out, the sappiness was minimal and the script didn't even seem to have been written for a child audience. To me, one of the best things about the movie is that it is so unexpected. You definitely will not go see it and say, "Well, that's exactly what I had in mind, no surprises there."

Apparently Spike Jonze agrees with me - Tzippy/KW is a girl!

Even if you cannot get on board with the story, with all of its character background material (perhaps necessary to extend the 10-sentence book to a full length feature), there is no denying that this film is an arresting visual spectacle - it will knock your socks off. That being said, I don't really want to give anything away. I'll just leave you with one of Judith's snarky comments: "Happiness isn't always the best way to be happy." Does that go for humans too, or just Wild Things?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Wild Things: New Movie, New Names

K and I have not had a weekend at home in Chicago together in over a month. Now I'm looking at my calendar and see that we're booked solid for the next three weekends too. I kid you not. Don't get me wrong - I'm not complaining, exactly. All of these engagements have been/will be fun.

It's certainly tiring after a while though, this self-imposed no-weekends-at-home policy of ours. All the normal life things - laundry, dishes, workouts, homework, etc. - must be packed into the weekdays. (They have nowhere else to go.) Many of the precious extras - long strolls, afternoon movies, sleeping in, going out for brunch, etc. - get pushed out completely.

At the end of the month I'll be in San Francisco for work and then stay through the weekend of All Hallow's Eve to visit a close friend whom I've missed tremendously. (Anyone have ideas for a good two-person costume?) But then. Then! K and I have no weekend obligations for the entire month of November!

No, no, don't say it. Don't say "Yet." K and I have already discussed how we are going to keep our November weekends as free as humanly possible. Sure, Thanksgiving might turn into a big hoo-ha (already there are rumors of my family coming in from New York), but those other weekends... those other weekends are ours, baby. I can't wait.

In the meantime, in light of how busy I have been, my blobjective (blog-objective) this week will be an easy one: to see the new movie Where the Wild Things Are, opening tomorrow and based on the classic children's book by Maurice Sendak. K and I are driving up to our hometown in Michigan this weekend to celebrate his dad's birthday, and the birthday man has already slated WtWTA to be part of the festivities.

K and I both grew up in WtWTA households, and we've had our own copy of the book for several years. If we ever have children, K and I will probably fight over who gets to read this story aloud to them. Simple plot, gorgeous illustrations and monsters that are scary but not scary - what more could you want?

The book doesn't give names to the individual Wild Things, but as a child I identified with this one. For some reason, I always thought she was a 'girl' - the only female Wild Thing. Maybe it was the hair. Or maybe it was the kindness in her eyes.

Several years ago for Christmas, K's mom gave him a set of WtWTA toys. Check it out:

Right away, I noticed the character names on the boxes. (Wikipedia says that these names were chosen by Sendak himself.) So for the last few years, I've known my favorite Wild Thing by her proper name - Tzippy.

Excited about the new movie release, I did a little reading about it online this morning. I came across these beautiful banners and realized that they're changing the creatures' names for the movie! So now instead of Moishe, Tzippy, Aaron, Bernard, Emil and Goat Boy, we have Carol, KW, Judith, The Bull, Douglas and Alexander. What gives?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Chasing Shadows

On Wednesday I was supposed to shadow A, a speech pathologist I met through a friend of a friend. I looked forward to it all day on Tuesday, even taking the time that evening to mentally prepare a list of questions to ask her between client appointments. I was excited to see first hand how speech therapy is administered to infants. Seriously, what does that even mean, really?

So, Wednesday rolls around... 6:30am: I'm up! It's a miracle! How was it this easy for me to get out of bed when I normally struggle to get up at 7:30? I must really be pumped!... 7:00am: I'm showered and dressed with packed lunch ready to go. Just listening to NPR, eating my breakfast of champions and drinking my coffee... 7:30am: She'll be here any minute and I'm literally on the edge of my seat - as soon as she gets here and calls up for me I'll hurry down. If we're late to her first appointment, it will not be on account of me... 7:40am: I'm getting a little antsy. I check the weather channel... 7:50am: I send her an email - "Hey A, just checking in. Schedule change this morning?" Why didn't I get her phone number? Oh well, she'll get my message on her crackberry... 8:45am: Still no word from A. I send another email - "Hey there, I think I'm going to head in to work so I can save the day for future vacation. I'm not sure what happened this morning - I hope that everything is ok!"

I figured I would hear from A within a couple of hours after getting to work. She probably just zombied out and forgot to pick me up. Maybe she's not a morning person - I can relate! But then 11 o'clock rolls around: Still not a peep. Strange how she sent me a message at 8:30pm on Tuesday re-confirming our plan and then less than 12 hours later I've fallen so totally off her radar... Noon: I'll head to our free Wednesday lunch and lecture series. Surely by the time I get back I'll have a message from her... 1:30pm: Nope, no message... 5:30pm: I leave a voicemail for one of our mutual friends since I don't have A's number - "Hello, just wondering if you have heard from A today. Give me a call." I'm getting concerned...

8:30pm: Just when I thought there must be more to the story - bazinga! - A emails me and says, "I actually was down there and called up. I hope I didn't leave a message on some random person's voicemail! I guess I didn't call the right number. Looking back now, I actually think I dialed the wrong area code. I am SO SORRY!" Then she reveals this clarifying gem to me in a follow-up email - "My beloved blackberry pearl committed suicide in the toilet. It was a very sad day."

It really couldn't be more anticlimactic.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Baby Talk

I am just over a month into my community college course in 'Human Growth and Development' (see here and here) and it has been a splendid experience so far. I lucked out with a very capable instructor who aptly breaks up our three hour and forty-five minute evening class periods into smaller, easier to swallow sections of lectures, small group discussions and videos. (Even so, I don't know what I would do without the Dunkin Donuts across the street.)

I have been finding the subject matter fascinating. Here's a tiny sampling:
- A newly fertilized egg survives without any nourishment from the mother for up to two weeks as it makes its way through the fallopian tube to the uterus and implants itself.
- Following childbirth, the uterus continues to contract for several weeks. (This is how it 'shrinks.') A few women report more pain from these contractions than from those accompanying childbirth. (!) Breastfeeding helps stimulate the secretion of oxytocin, which encourages the uterus to contract back to (approximately) its pre-pregnancy size.
- Infants literally grow overnight. Researchers have measured growth of up to a full inch in less than 24 hours in infants up to 21 months.
- Hopi infants spend the first year of their lives strapped to a board yet begin to walk at about the same time as children in other societies.
- Researchers who re-wired the brains of baby ferrets so that visual input was sent to the auditory cortex instead of the visual cortex found that the ferrets actually learned to see pretty well.
In last night's class, we started getting into the ways in which infants begin to develop language skills, and how their brains lay the groundwork for the tremendous burst of language development that will take place over the next several years. I perked right up, because one of my main reasons for taking the class is to explore my interest in speech therapy.

As part of my efforts to figure out whether I would enjoy studying speech therapy, this foundational course is all well and good. Actually doing speech therapy, however, is a pretty different animal. For that reason, I knew I would have to seek out opportunities to learn more about what it is really like to work in the field and whether the practicalities of being a speech therapist would be a fit for me.

With that in mind, I am going to spend all day tomorrow with a real live speech pathologist. Although A is not working in an area that I am particularly interested in - she works exclusively with 0 to 3 year-olds - I think it will be beneficial to pick her brain about the different types of work that are out there, her likes/dislikes, etc. Plus she is really cool.

So tomorrow I will shadow A as she visits her clients. I will have to get up a whole hour earlier than usual, but I'm thinking the adorability factor will make up for it. My co-workers are pretty cute, but who can compete with a bunch of toddlers? Speaking of adorable, here's a photo of the Amazing J, who I will have a chance to hang out with this weekend.

Look at that arm! It's like someone put a really tight rubber band around her wrist. So cute!

Last time I saw Amazing J, I wasn't sure what the correct term was for our relationship (she is my cousin's daughter). According to the Internet, she is my 'first cousin once removed,' but that sounds cumbersome and formal so I'm just going to stick to calling her Amazing J. 252 days old and counting... If any of the children tomorrow are as cute as she is, I may just have to steal one to bring home to live with me.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Back Up, Back At 'Em

After three days home sick, I'm finally back in the game. Back at work and off the meds, I'd say I'm about 95%. That's not bad considering how terrible I felt on Tuesday morning - achey, sweaty, cold, congested, the skin around my nose so dry that it hurt to sneeze. We didn't have any tissues in the apartment, so I was stuck with toilet paper - owie.

After calling in sick and writing a quick self-pitying blog post, I spent the rest of Tuesday sticking diligently to K's Plan: stay warm, stay hydrated, stay medicated and don't exert any unnecessary energy. My adversaries - boredom and an endless internet, that pile of laundry in the corner and the paper that isn't going to write itself. Allies - my snuggly blue robe, Dristan Cold medicine, season one of Dexter and, most of all, K.

K doesn't work on Tuesdays, so he was available to bring me hot chocolate, a scone, soup, a sandwich and a quesadilla. (As you can see, I didn't lose my appetite.) He even went to the store and got some moisturizing lotion-infused Kleenex, which are amazing, by the way. We saw on tv later that same day that some environmental groups are currently campaigning against this type of super-soft face and toilet tissue, saying that the ultra plush varieties are made from the pulp of really old trees (decades or even centuries). Is it not possible to make ΓΌber fluffy tissue out of recycled paper products? If not, we definitely need to work on it.

Anyway, I spent all of Tuesday reading, sleeping and watching Dexter. And more of the same on Wednesday, except K was at work so I had to refill my own water glass and make my own food. Later, I found myself in a bit of a conundrum. I had previously purchased a ticket to see Audrey Niffenegger read from her new book in Andersonville. I convinced myself that it was reasonable for me to go: I'll bundle up and sit in the way back and if it goes long, I'll just leave early... And so, after 45 hours of Sticking To The Plan, I finally broke step.

I woke up this morning feeling much better and so, so happy for it. I might have burst into song but K was still sleeping soundly and I didn't want to wake him. We'd both been woken up a few times in the wee hours of the night by our new neighbors' six-month-old baby. Well, we weren't woken by the baby actually - more like the baby daddy. When the baby woke up, the dad would start singing really loudly. It was muffled like the adults in the Peanuts movies, but really exaggerated, sort of like - dare I say it? - Barney the purple dinosaur. This would keep us awake for fifteen minutes or so at a stretch. Then we'd fall back asleep for a while until the next performance.

Despite the relatively poor night's sleep, I am having a wonderful day. Being sick even for a few days is a humbling experience and makes me so thankful to be healthy and alive. Leaving work at 5, I felt so good that I decided to go to my regular yoga class, but halfway there, I remembered that my gym was hosting some sort of art event in the studio. So neighborhoody, which normally I love, but sometimes I just want my gym to be more gym and less community center. Oh well, I suppose I can make room in my heart for local artists. I can always just curl up on the couch and watch Dexter. I may be getting a little too good at Plan K.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

This Doesn't Bode Well

Today I am sick. I feel miserable. I got quite a bit of sleep last night because of all the meds I took in a concentrated effort to Knock Myself Out, but woke up sporadically with cold sweats. From really weird dreams, to boot. Yick.

K's tried-and-true plan for getting well as soon as humanly possible consists of staying under blankets, drinking tons of liquids, and not leaving the bed or couch except to go to the other one (or the bathroom). In the past, I haven't been very good at adhering to the plan, deciding at some point mid-day that it would be a good idea for me to go to the library or throw in a load of laundry.

Today I vow to diligently stick to Plan K. Even though by sitting here at the desk typing a blog post I have already diverted. Ok, ok, starting NOW.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Lemondrops and Gumdrops

As a child, my sister M was a huge Barney fan. Huge. Yes, I'm talking about the big purple dinosaur. And until you have lived with a huge Barney fan, you cannot know the toll it takes on the entire household.

At first, it was actually kind of cute. M would carry around her stuffed Barney, which was almost half her size, and sing the 'I Love You' song. Don't worry, I'll spare you the lyrics. She would patiently look forward to PBS' daily airing of Barney, filling the rest of her time with more wholesome (and by that I mean less annoying) things like coloring and playing on the swingset.

Then one day, someone bought her a Barney video. And things quickly spiralled out of control. In addition to the half-hour tv show, we were now subjected to a daily screening of the half-hour video. My brother and I - we would have been about eight and thirteen at the time - were constantly shocked and dismayed at how M would always want to see her video at the exact moment when it would be least convenient for us.

Say, for example, that I had come home from school and eagerly finished my homework in order to watch the new Punky Brewster with a clear conscience. Well, it was pretty much guaranteed that M would step up to the plate and request Barney. Ah yes, the same video with the same dinosaur, the same peppy kids and the same catchy songs. Again. I would plead with my dad, but he was always a sucker for an adorable toddler. "She hasn't watched it yet today," he would explain. "You're the oldest, don't you think you could just be nice and let her watch it?"

I usually did. Not that I'm bitter about it or anything, but I still to this day can bust out a handful of songs from that video. One of M's favorites - and also one of the most irritating - was called 'Lemondrops and Gumdrops.' Fear not, I will again spare you Barney's lyrical genius.

Fast forward to the present. M is a newly minted college freshman and I vowed last week to send her a care package - the first care package I have ever sent. For a moment, I thought it would be clever and funny (and slightly mortifying for her - all the better, mwahaha!) to go with a Barney video theme for the package. I could include all the goodies mentioned in the Barney songs I know, starting with lemondrops and gumdrops of course, and maybe throw in a mini Barney.

Then I realized that this would take much too much planning, and I can be pretty lazy sometimes. Plus, I knew that Swedish Fish would remind her of home and I really wanted to include them but couldn't see a way to make them fit with the Barney theme.

So today I mailed a perfectly swell non-themed care package to M. Snacky contents: Swedish Fish, trail mix, a single microwave popcarn packet, and a big ol' package of Nerds.

Non-snacky contents: yellow nail polish and a new file, a couple of little Burt's Bees products (because M's hands get very dry), a journal, two funky erasers shaped like a lobster dinner and piece of strawberry cake, bacon-flavored toothpicks (what?), mints, gum, and monkey head covers for keys to make them funnier and also easier to tell apart.

I also threw in a card and a random picture I found the other day. It is of M and our other sister AL, about eight years ago, and they have stuffed their shirts with croquet balls. My, how quickly they grow up - and sprout real breasts of their own!

Anyway, I hope M likes the package and that it makes her feel important and loved. With a great big hug and a kiss from me to you... Ooops, there they are. Sorry, I just cannot seem to banish those lyrics from my head.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Lederhosen, with a Side of Hate

This is what the annual German Day Festival in Lincoln Square is supposed to look like:

Lederhosen, smiling faces, encased meat, folk music, dancing and steins - steins! - of beer. Unfortunately, one attendee has tainted the entire Festival for me. Here's what happened:

K, our friend B and I walked over to Lincoln Square to see a movie. We were standing outside the theater discussing show times and our pre-movie drink options when a man and a woman, both in their 40s or early 50s, approached from the direction of the Festival. When they were almost past the theater, we heard the woman say very loudly, "Hmm, it looks like they're showing that anti-German movie here." Suddenly, she turned around and marched right up to the movie poster for Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, and shouted several sentences in German. Next - and this is where it really gets crazy - she raised her right arm in the Hitler salute and declared "Sieg Heil!" Then her companion linked his arm through hers and they continued on their way.

Shocked, the three of us stood there with our mouths open for a moment, looking at each other like umm, did that just happen? Did that woman just pronounce her Nazism to a near-life-size image of Brad Pitt? Yes indeed. Next question: what is the proper response on our part? Our natural reaction was simply to stand there in astonishment. Before we knew it, the outburst was over and the woman had gone on her way. In hindsight, I'm not sure that there is anything else we should have / could have done, but nevertheless I felt yucky about just standing there.

It brings to mind an experience K and I had several years ago during one of our visits to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. As we were making our way through the permanent exhibition, we encountered a group of four or five young men with shaved heads and clothing littered with swastikas. They tromped through the museum without pause, occasionally pointing and laughing. Laughing. In that case too, they were there and gone before I was even able to comprehend their presence in that space. Did they think they were being brave? Were we cowards for not confronting their hate?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Girl Meets World: A Care Package

I've been feeling sort of dazed and ungrounded these last few days. Zoned out. I hate it when that happens. It's like a non-feeling. I'm not sure how I stumbled into it, but I guess I allowed myself to get caught up in the details of an annoying project at work, my first paper for the class I'm taking, and the GRE test looming in my near future.

So yesterday I was in full glazed-eyes computer robot mode when I came across this picture. That's my sister M, doing her special wild-arm lunge version of the running man. Isn't it great? And yes, I share much of the same genetic material.

As I was contemplating how funny and awesome M is (and good at dancing!) it dawned on me that I have not spoken to her in the last several weeks, since before she moved into her freshman dorm four hours away from home. Come to think of it, I haven't spoken to any of my family members for at least a couple of weeks.

That speaks to the larger picture of why I have been wandering around dazed and confused lately. Caught up in the stress-inducing tasks ahead of me, I neglected my normal sanity-preserving activities like staying connected with my family and working out. The result is I feel like a zombie.

No more. I'm going to the gym right now. And then I'm going to do the running man. A little later this week, I am going to send M a care package. Hard to believe, but this will be the first real care package I've ever sent. M deserves it, and I think it will do us both some good. Suggestions for what to include, anyone?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Like a Big Pizza Pie

Last Thursday night, there was a full moon and a clear sky. And at the Foster Beach Fire and Drum Jam, there were dozens of people spinning, throwing, juggling, eating, breathing and dancing with fire. They didn't even seem crazy - I guess that's just what they like to do for fun.

There were hundreds of onlookers (mostly humans, but also several dogs and at least one cat), and a bunch of percussion instruments (drums of all sorts, upside-down buckets, tambourines, maracas, castanets and - of course - a cowbell).

There were lawn chairs and glow sticks and hula hoops and joints being smoked. People danced, people drank. They yukked it up. Also in attendance were some police officers, or as K says, "It's the fuzz!"

I quickly gave up on taking photos in the dark with our little digital point-and-shoot, but K managed to get some decent ones. The camera's nighttime setting extended the shutter speed enough to get some cool fire trailing images.

I like this one where the camera was unsteady. You can kind of tell how bright the full moon was.

In this one, the flashes of other cameras combined to light up the scene.

Let's face it, though: it would be pretty impossible to capture the experience on film even with a professional grade camera. Which is why you should check this event out for yourself. If you're not into fire, come for the drums; and if you're not into drums, the Jam makes a great excuse to meet other free humans and drink in the park.

Happy 090909!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Fire and Drum Jam

Apparently there is something called the Foster Beach Fire and Drum Jam that happens in conjunction with every full moon during Chicago's livable months (April to November).

Huh. I spent all of those months in 2008 living one block off of Foster, about a mile from the beach, and never have I heard of such a thing. It goes to show just how much is happening all the time in the city.

Anyway, according to this website, the next full moon is - fire and drum roll... - tonight! And with photos like these posted on Flickr (thank you, california cowgirl1, whoever you are), who could honestly say that they aren't even the least bit intrigued by the Fire and Drum Jam?

Not I. Plus, I gotta get my hippie fix somehow, right? The fire jammer above doesn't look very hippie (twirling fire with long hair and flowing clothing is probably ill-advised), but I bet the drum circle will make up for that.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Danny vs. The Fearless Three

K and I had about 48 hours to spend in Rhode Island with M, and we planned them to correspond perfectly with the wind and torrential rain of Hurricane Danny.

We arrived on Friday evening, delayed by an hour but in two pieces. (Me - one piece, K - one piece.) Danny then proceeded to drench New England continuously through the night and well into Saturday.

K, M and I toddled out of bed, well-rested, at about 10am. We breakfasted at Frank's, which was already suffering from some flooding. One staff member got an electric shock from the water vacuum he was using and made a loud squealy sound like "Kkkiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeee." A furious handshaking and several lively swears later, I am certain he was ok.

Not one to be easily deterred, M proposed that we drive down towards the coast and see what we could see because in all likelihood, "by the time we get there, it will have let up a bit."
"Sounds great," said K.
"Mwahaha!" said Danny.

We drove south for about an hour in minimal visibility, only to find that many of the roads leading to the ocean were blocked off due to flooding. But then - lo! - Danny slowed to a drizzle long enough for us to spot signs for Greenvale Vineyards, follow the signs all the way there, and hurry into the tasting room. This is us in hurry mode:

Once inside, we paid $15 each for a tasting of six different wines and a (bonus!) souvenir wine glass. It seemed to us like a pretty good deal, especially since there was a really fun and soulful jazz trio playing in the tasting room. Surely the goal is to entice tasters to buy more wine...

So we obliged, buying two bottles of our favorites from the tasting and settling in to enjoy more jazz and our own pleasant company. The scene around us was very relaxed - none of the snootiness I had feared. The rain could only have helped in that regard; for some reason, very few people with fogged-up glasses, running make-up, wet clothes and frizzed-out hair have the gall to be snotty.

The three hours we passed at Greenvale made for a terrific afternoon. We emerged to find that the storm had abated, so we were able to visit the seaside after all. K and I intend to return someday soon to visit Rhode Island's other wineries, hopefully in better weather. We'll let you know, M - keep your wine-o hat on!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rhode Trip

Rhode Island. It's such a funny little state. K and I will be there this weekend to visit the wonderful M, my former roommate and (more privately) interpretive dance partner.

I've visited her before, including once this February when I combined a work trip to Boston with a two-day stay at M's parents' home in Providence. A couple of weeks later, M lost her mother to complications from a surgery that was not expected to be life-threatening.

So this visit will be different. The goal is to show M a good time, though knowing her she will already have grand plans laid out for us by the time we arrive. Heaven forbid that she just relax and not worry about it.

On Saturday K and I are going to pull for a visit to a winery for a tasting. That would be a first for me. I still associate wine tastings with old, rich, fancy white people. By those criteria, I score only 1 out of 4. But I can go to a tasting too, darn it. I think we would all enjoy that. Let's just hope that one of us doesn't get really drunk, have an emotional outburst and go storming through the vineyards, like Miles in Sideways.

The wine tasting, therefore, will be my formal newbie of the week. Less officially, I've never had the chance to talk to such a close friend my own age about losing a parent before. This is the first time for that type of loss. I really want to ask M what it is like and how she is dealing or not dealing with it. I want to know if the ground still feels solid under her feet, or more like the shifting rubble of a bombed-out building.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Time Well Spent

For Learning to Love You More assignment #35, I asked my family to describe what I do with my time. Three of my favorite people ever rose to the challenge, and they did an excellent job - gold stars all around. I found it hilarious how each of them expressed worry that they would either not do it right ("Do I have to write this in third person?"), or that they did not have enough information to produce a very accurate description. It is strange how little we sometimes know about the mundane, day-in-day-out activities of our important ones. I think we tend to see them in terms of how they impact our own lives and as who they are to us as whole people, not necessarily defined by the details of what they typically choose to do with their free time or what do you actually do at work, anyway? Especially when you live, as I do, far away from your family, they really only know whatever you choose (consciously or unconsciously) to tell them.

This assignment certainly fit into the category of something I'd never done before, and it was fun to read the responses I got. It is admittedly a bit of a narcissistic exercise, but I would recommend it! Here are my responses, in the order I received them:

My Dad
Hi A,
This is what I think you do with your time. (I'm kind of embarrassed that I don't know better)

Your work days probably start at about 7am, with a shower, a cup of coffee, and a quick breakfast, like a bagel or a bowl of cereal. By about 8am, you're out the door and walking/riding the bus downtown, unless you got your bike replaced. You arrive at your office just before 9am, probably get yourself another cup of coffee, and settle in at your desk. You spend your day answering calls from clients, and researching whatever the current projects are. (I'm rather clueless here). You go out for lunch with a co-worker or two, and then it's back to more of the same at the office until 5pm. The bus takes you back to your neighborhood, and you go to the gym to work out for about an hour. It's about seven when you walk in the door and smell K's dinner. A pleasant little hug and kiss from your mate, and you sit down to eat. After dinner, you take care of the dishes, then sit down to check your e-mail, blog, whatever on the PC. I would think you check the day's news headlines also. Next, you settle down on the couch with the K and watch a movie, that is if there's no football on the television. On football nights you probably retire to the room farthest away from the TV room, and get some studying done. I really have not talked to you about the going back to school thing, so I don't know how and where you fit the classes and studies into your day. When K goes to bed early to go to work in the middle of the night, you probably do some homework while he sleeps. You would go to bed about midnight.

On weekends I suspect you guys stay in bed until 10 or 11, unless you have something special planned. Then you get up, have breakfast, and get your laundry started. In the afternoon I expect you would go for a walk or a bike ride. Possibly a little shopping, and then dinner out. You probably walk to a cozy place close to home, so you don't have to worry about having a drink or two. I'm sure you do some reading for pleasure, and you're pretty good about staying in touch with your siblings. I can't come up with much more A, I better call you so you can tell me more about your life. Love you lots!

My Brother
Disclaimer : We don't talk enough, I don't know much about your job, but your awesome and I love you so I'm doing the "assignment" anyways.

In general A is a very happy person; trying to enjoy the simple things in life she often finds herself smiling during her daily routine. Waking up next to a man she loves and working a job she finds at least somewhat rewarding help her stay positive. She spends time commuting to and from work everyday which she does not particularly like, but understands this is simply the price she must pay in order to live in a big city (which she must enjoy... DC-NYC-Chicago). After work A likes to exercise, which she does in a number of ways; riding her bike (until it was stolen), going to the gym, and playing kickball are some of her favorites. I would guess she wants to exercise 5 times a week, but only manages an average of 3. A also spends a large portion of her time at home. Some of her favorite and most time consuming activities include reading and watching movies. Since she subscribes to netflix she probably watches 2-3 movies a week and spends more time on that than reading. A also enjoys home cooked dinners, usually prepared by her boyfriend K, on average 5 times a week. On the off nights they either order in (some sort of asian cuisine or pizza) or go out together for a dinner at a "sit-down" restuarant. Some of A's less time consuming interests include video games (wii), watching tv (daily show), shopping at the local stores (within walking distance), and browsing the internet. A also spends some time every week doing household chores such as buying groceries, taking out the trash, sweeping, and cleaning. Overall A tries to keep herself relatively busy, but always manages to make time for her boyfriend K, who in turn helps keep A the smiling, happy-go-lucky, energetic person she is today.

My Cousin M
(click the image to bring up a bigger, more legible version)

Friday, August 21, 2009

LTLYM #35: Ask your family to describe what you do

It's about time for another LTLYM assignment! Next up is #35: Ask your family to describe what you do. The instructions are:
Ask three family members to write down a description of what it is they think you do with your time. Ask them to try to think about how you live your life and what are your main activites and interests. They could give a particular example of something you are doing, like "at the moment Susie is building a car, and it is taking up most of her evenings and weekends...," but they should not focus on examples of things you have done in the past. Also you are not asking them to say what they think of what you are doing, but only to describe it in as much detail as they know. Don't let the members of your family compare notes (until the the assignment is complete), and similarly try not to put words into their mouth or tell them what they should write. This can be of any length.
Assignment given by Emma Hedditch
I think this assignment could be very interesting. How will my family members respond to the request? Will they be enthusiastic or will it seem like a chore? How will what they write compare to how I see myself?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Three Letters, or Today's Self-Indulgence

Dear Brett Favre,
Please play well this season and help the Vikings win a lot of games. If you do, K's joy will spread through our apartment, taking hold of all who enter there, and lead him to do nice things such as rub my feet and bring me breakfast in bed.
In spite of your long, dark years as a rival Packer, you have always secretly been one of K's favorite players. Now that you are a Viking, I implore you not to let him down. To that end, please stop chatting it up with the media and start focusing on training with the team.
Good luck and take care of that rotator cuff. Go Vikes!

Dear Face-Slapping Bus Rider,
Please treat your fellow public transportation patrons with a basic level of respect and decency. I was riding the northbound 22 Clark bus to the gym on Sunday, and I witnessed your incredible display of discourtesy. After you boarded, you walked up to a teen-aged boy sitting in the 'priority seating' section and slapped him on the face. When he looked up at you with surprise, you pointed at the wall behind him and shouted, "What does that say?" (For those of you at home, the placard said 'Please stand up for seniors and people with disabilities.') Then, as the boy started to get up to give you the seat, you took out your disability ID card and shoved it inches from his face.
Your behavior was too appalling for words, and I hope it is not typical of your daily interactions with other human beings. Have you read the other placard - the one that says assault and abuse of other passengers are punishable by law?

Dear Citizen Attendees of Town Hall Meetings,
Please stop yelling, screaming, hissing, cheering and booing at town hall meetings. These are not appropriate behaviors at community gatherings that are meant to garner rational discussion about policy and the needs of local constituents.
If you are called on to ask a question, ask a question. A thoughtful question would be even better. Try to remain calm. On some level, I understand your rage and passion - health care is an important issue for all of us. But it is hard to take you even remotely seriously when, as K says, you look like you are "spitting venom with your face."
Thank you for your immediate attention to this matter.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Let's Remember to Pack Our Lunches

In my last post, I laid out my desire to sit down with K and work out a household budget, version 1.0. What I didn't mention was how nervous I was about the whole thing. You see, K has been pretty touchy about money for as long as I can remember. He detests talking or even thinking about money matters.

Part of it is that K made some very stupid financial mistakes when he was younger, and these still occasionally come back to haunt him (us) in a variety of ways, including his still not-so-hot credit score. Just a couple of weeks ago, a collector contacted him regarding cellphone debt he had racked up almost a decade ago.

This has happened a few times with very old debts, and I do not understand what the creditors are thinking when they have let years and years go by without contacting K to ask him to pay his bill and then suddenly come slithering out of the woodwork to present us with this mystery debt. This makes no sense and it shouldn't be allowed to happen this way. Seriously, get real.

So K has made some mistakes, and now, all these years later, I think he is embarrassed by them. When money issues come up, I think he feels guilty and insecure. But instead of saying that to me, his tendency is to get agitated, as if his putting on a bad attitude will make it all just go away. It's all right, K, no one is perfect.

K has gotten slowly but steadily better about being mindful about his (our) finances, especially over the last few years. As I mentioned, he is generally not a frivolous spender, though from time to time he'll still ask a perplexing question like, "Can we get that flat screen tv?"

This week, he was mercifully open to discussing a budget with me, and retained his cool throughout. We used pen and paper to tabulate our expenses and came up with target amounts for each item.

We agree that the stand-out area where we should be able to cut back our spending is food. He loves to cook and we both enjoy eating tasty tasties, but we've let ourselves go in terms of expensive ingredients (that might only be used once), eating out too frequently due to our shared enthusiasm for trying new restaurants, and making too many meals at home so that sometimes we end up having to throw away uneaten leftovers. Up to now, we haven't held ourselves accountable for this unnecessary spending and waste.

For the next two months, we are going to plan our meals and track all the money we spend on food items. Combine this with our other strategies to cut spending (shop around for car insurance, switch cable companies, cancel a couple of subscriptions, etc.), and we hope to have an additional $200/month to pay down our debt. That's nothing to shake a lunchbox at.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Parlez Vous Finance?

Times are tough, and a lot of people seem to be focusing on saving money. The word on the street is that many people even have a - I hope I'm pronouncing this right - 'budget.'

Now, K and I are no high rollers. Far from. Neither are we what I would call frivolous spenders. But we have never actually taken the time to work out a budget. Communication about money matters in our household basically consists of the occasional "We need to be a little thriftier this month" or "Do we really need this?"

This system - or, more accurately, total lack of system - has worked out all right for us so far. We watch our cash flow and try not to spend too much on items that are wants rather than needs, especially when money is tight. But I think we can do better. And it's time to take a long hard look at our money-in, money-out situation for a couple reasons.

First of all, we racked up some debt last year following our move to Chicago. I was unemployed for the first few months, which meant a significant decrease in income no matter how you slice it. We made a few large purchases, most notably a new mattress and a trip to Ireland. Then K's appendix decided to act a fool and he ended up undergoing major surgery topped off by a six-day hospital stay. These things are extremely expensive even for those of us who are lucky enough to have health insurance!

We have been doing a pretty good job paying down our debt, and at this rate should be free of it by early next year. I am looking forward to the day when we can stop worrying about interest and start thinking about building some real savings. That day will probably arrive sooner if we take time now to devise a budget and a plan. So that is the goal for this week. One day, if we decide to participate in any of the crazy expensive activities that so many people get sucked into, like buying a place or having babies, I'm sure we will look back and thank ourselves.

Friday, August 14, 2009


UK Adventure Post #2: K and J's Wedding

The reason for my recent trip to Britain (and by recent I mean holy cow over a month has already passed!) was the wedding of my friend K. I hadn't seen her since we were roommates in Singapore eight years ago. We have done a pretty good job staying in touch through email and (mostly) snail mail, but obviously we were way overdue for a visit, and her wedding provided a perfect excuse.

A brief detour down memory lane:
In Singapore, K and I sometimes walked down the road to the HDBs (public housing) to buy cheap fried rice and drink Tiger beer. We would talk about our friends and teachers, upcoming school breaks and where we hoped to travel. We would commiserate about the difficulties of being so far away from home and family. Sometimes our conversations would last late into the night. I'd lie in the dark in my bed, teeth brushed and contact lenses removed, and talk to her across the room. If there was a long pause K would ask, "Is this the final silence?" and that always made me laugh.

She was a close friend throughout a very formative two-year period of my life. That is why I was so excited to meet her family and friends, and witness the wonderful changes she was going through. As K herself said, "So many big things are happening that I can't even process them really, and I know I'm not processing, so I'm just trying to hold on to everything to process later when I have the time." (These may not have been her exact words, but you get the gist.)

And it was true - in the week leading up to her wedding, there was hardly a spare moment for K to pause and take it all in. Her soon-to-be-husband J ended his job in Glasgow and they were in the process of moving his belongings to her place in London. Their wedding guest list had somehow, in the hands of his parents, ballooned to over 180, and many of these were calling K with various logistical questions. Guests were traveling from across the United Kingdom and 16 other countries to attend her wedding, and some, like me, had been selfish enough to accept her offer to arrange a place to stay (at her place, in my case). Meanwhile, she had to finalize arrangements for a three-week honeymoon, which they would spend bicycling from Kathmandu to Lhasa.

On the day before the wedding, K graduated from King's College Medical School in London, and then went straight to Kent for the wedding rehearsal and dinner. Amidst all this chaos, she took the time to specially thank me for coming: "Just a visit from you, taken by itself, would be like a very huge thing." (These were her exact words. I remember because I was touched.) The wedding itself was the event of the season, or maybe the year. It was held at the stunning farm home of the groom's parents. Here is the tent where they held the ceremony:

Once the vows had been spoken, rings exchanged and kisses cheered, we wiped our eyes and drank of the celebratory champagne. We made our way downfield to the other tent for the reception. A Zimbabwean buffet awaited - yum! The Singapore contingent was seated at the Norway Maple table in recognition of the two and a half Norwegians among us. (I was the half.)

The eighteen tables were each named for one of the eighteen types of trees K and J had planted around the farm at a pre-wedding tree party. The tree plantings were part of the couple's plan to green their big event. Mother nature repaid them with gorgeous weather. Clear skies over the reception tent:

J's maternal aunts and uncles brought personalized paper cut-out flags all the way from Chile. They looked gorgeous!

V and I had a second cup of coffee as the sun went down. We knew we had a full night of dancing ahead of us, to the sounds of an amazing Zimbabwean band called Harare.

A field away from the reception tent, someone lit the largest bonfire I have ever seen. Stand back, dude with camera!

Meanwhile, family members lit sky lanterns like the one pictured below and released them into the sky. They are really beautiful and on a night like this, if you have had a few drinks, maybe even enough to make you cry.

I had never seen sky lanterns before, and a part of me wondered, 'Is it okay to do that?' Apparently, the wax fuel cells inside are designed to burn for about ten minutes. Then, when they extinguish themselves, the lanterns parachute back to earth. The sky lanterns are made entirely of recycled paper and reclaimed bamboo and are fully biodegradable.

Long after the last lantern had been released onto the wind, the band stopped playing and it was time to say good-night. It had been a fantastic day of celebration, union and reunion. I would travel ten times as far to do it all over again.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

It's Official

I am a college student (again). There won't be any streaking in the quad, though. Not this time around.

I signed up for the Monday evening course in Human Growth and Development at Truman College. When I went to register, the place was packed, but the staff was very efficient so it still only took me about 45 minutes to go through the necessary steps of receiving my student ID number, meeting with a new student advisor, registering for the class, and making my payment.

The advisor was kind but seemed to regard me with a fair amount of skepticism. "So you already have a B.S., but you want to take CD 101 because... why?" I told him I am considering a Master's degree but need to do some exploration first, and that answer seemed to (barely) satisfy him. Maybe I just should have given him the other, equally true and relevant response, which is simply that I am interested in the subject matter and want to learn about it.

And that's really what this comes down to anyway. I feel stagnant and dissatisfied with the daily grind. And frustrated that, with the daily grind always looming, it can be hard to find the time and motivation to keep learning. So I'm taking this course largely for the sake of fresh, delicious knowledge. And also as an excuse to get a Trapper Keeper.

Once registered for the class, I had to make a payment to secure my spot. I winced (hopefully it wasn't too obvious) and handed over my visa card. "Just charge it in full, please," I sighed. Better to let go the $391 all at once. And it's as they say: If you think education is expensive, try ignorance. (I think the elusive 'they' in this case might be Derek Bok.)

Thursday, August 6, 2009


For several months now, I have been talking a little and thinking a lot about going back to school. From where I sit, almost five years removed from full-time studenthood, I can enthusiastically say that I love school. And I am absolutely not too cool. When it comes to deciding where and how to go back, the first major hurdle is figuring out what I want to study. I'm sure that I am not alone in feeling that having a shallow depth of knowledge across a wide range of interests makes it difficult to set a course. But at least I have an idea:

In the last year and a half or so (and not totally unrelated to this experience), I've started to read up on and become more interested in how people learn language, the ways in which those processes might be different for different people, and how we can teach the brain to recover lost language skills and knowledge after a traumatic injury. So it sounds like maybe I should learn about speech pathology. The only problem is that I don't have any training in teaching, therapy or speech. So how to know if they are really for me? I need an affordable introductory course to test the waters.

I've looked into a couple of options, and I think the best one for me is to sign up for a class at Truman College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago. They offer fall courses in 'Language Development ' and 'Human Growth and Development' at the very attractive price of $79 per credit hour for Chicago residents. Good sign: I emailed one of the instructors in their Social Sciences Department to ask for guidance, and she responded within an hour with useful advice.

I've done my info-gathering and paid a visit to Truman. Now it's time to take the plunge. My mission for this week is to sign up for a fall class. I get a few butterflies in my stomach when I think about the fact that the first day of term is in just two and a half weeks, but then I remember that this is school we're talking about. And I love school.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Chalk it Up

August is here! And so far, it's been a doozy (not a doozer). I had to work all weekend. I carried a too-big box too far and got a painful bruise on my arm. My co-worker (and friend)'s purse was stolen. My toilet overflowed.

What better to break a streak of bad luck than playing outside with toys? Yesterday after work I grabbed K and my 3D sidewalk chalk and headed out into the warm Chicago evening. K drew this, which I think is a good illustration of exactly how I felt as I witnessed the toilet disaster:

When I put on the 3D glasses and looked at K's Scream, the yellow looked a little bit 3D, the purple a little more, and the pink was like POP, way off the sidewalk. I was truly surprised at how well it worked. We were inspired to keep doodling.

The trick, of course, is in the glasses. When you're wearing them, it isn't just the pink chalk that pops out at you, but anything pink. Or red or orange. The flowerbeds outside our apartment made me dizzy.

At one point, four neighborhood kids walked by and were excited to see that sometimes old people play with sidewalk chalk too. At our behest, they put on the glasses and were even more impressed than I had been - Woah... Woah! Cool! Then they were shuffled off by two women, probably their mothers, who thanked us but looked annoyed that we would speak to their children and why were we playing with sidewalk chalk anyway. A man walked by later and said, "Aren't you a little old for this?" And that is why I often don't care for adults.

I wrote '3D CHALK' in big letters and left the sidewalk chalk and glasses in the 'D' in case any more children came by. When I left for work this morning, someone had taken the glasses. The only new drawing was 'K + A' inside a big red heart.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Where the 2D Sidewalk Ends

Have you heard of this 3D sidewalk chalk stuff? I wanted to try it out, so I went to Target to procure my very own set. Seven dollars seems a little steep for five little double-sided chalk sticks and a child-size pair of 3D glasses, Crayola, but dang it, now I'm so curious about the whole thing. And here I am in freaking Target. So I'll bite.

Now I'm ready for some serious sidewalk fun. Aside from being double-sided and sharpened at each end (fancy!), the chalk looks just like regular ol' chalk, so the magic must be in the glasses. Crayola's website says that warm colors like red will appear high while cool colors like blue will appear low. Sounds good - I'm off to flex my sidewalk art muscles... as soon as the sidewalk dries from that little gust of rain we just had.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Soft Times in Cardiff, or Pint of Brains

It has already been two and a half weeks since my return from Britain, and I still haven't gotten around to posting any pictures. So here we finally go. UK Adventure Post #1: Cardiff.

My friend V is from Cardiff, so I traveled there by bus from London to meet up with her. She had spent the previous days arduously packing all of her belongings for shipment to her new home in Bangladesh, and stressing out about the many annoying but necessary tasks that come along with a move of that magnitude. She was ready for a break.

We spent two laid-back days together eating, drinking, doing tourism, and - most of all - catching up. For me, the highlight of Cardiff was hanging out with V. And that's not to knock Cardiff! It's just that when you see a dear friend for the first time in eight years, the joy of that overshadows the other things you might see or do.

Cardiff is a lovely town, and a welcome change for the cost-conscious tourist arriving from London. Here, for example, you can buy a full day's bus pass for just three pounds. In London, you must pay three pounds for an Oyster card which then entitles you to the privilege of paying two additional pounds for each tube or bus ride.

So, now that I'm here, - what to see in Wales? The answer: Castles! In the heart of Cardiff stands Cardiff Castle, a blend of Roman, Norman and Victorian design. A little further away is Caerphilly Castle (pictured below), whose plaque declares it the largest in Wales.

V said that many people prefer their castles renovated, but I quite like the crumbling and decrepit look of Caerphilly:

There were many interesting plaques explaining how the various people who occupied this castle would have gone about trying to defend it. Defenders would lob boulders with huge catapult contraptions (think Lord of the Rings) and shoot large spears with this menacing-looking thing:

There is one recorded instance of six men being speared together in one shot! Perygl!

The third and final castle we visited was Castle Coch, quite near to V's house and referred to by her as the 'fairy tale castle.'

Castle Coch, I was told, is not a real castle but rather a 19th-century reproduction of the genuine 13th-century castle that once stood here. Still quite impressive though, especially to someone who hails from a land where any building over 100 years is 'old.'

Aside from the castles, I would highly recommend that on your next visit to Cardiff you go to St. Fagans. It's a (free!) open-air museum where you can walk through Welsh history "from Celtic times to the present day." Fantastic.

V and I rounded out our tourism with a visit to Cardiff Bay, which featured a pretty boardwalk with several sculptures in addition to its many bars and restaurants.

A view of the Bay from the Norwegian Church

Merchant Seafarer's War Memorial, sculpted by Brian Fell using the hull of a beached ship.

Ceiling of the National Assembly for Wales

In general, Cardiffians may not be as friendly as their counterparts in London, but you have to give them credit for having a very cool local beer name: Brains. (I would recommend the extra cold smooth.)

V: Thanks for everything, and happy moving!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Happy 175th Day, J

I had a new mission this week: to find my list from sixth grade of things I hoped to accomplish in my lifetime. And I failed. Having arrived in Utica late Thursday evening, K and I spent Friday helping with preparations for my sister's graduation party and all day Saturday at the party itself. That left me with a couple of hours on Sunday morning to potter around my parents' basement storage room looking for my list.

I tried, but the only thing I achieved was the (inevitable) frustration of unpacking various boxes only to find that I was unable to fit the contents back into the very same receptacles. I emerged from the basement a list-less and sweaty mess, took a shower and resumed travel to Chicago, feeling thwarted the whole way home.

I know it's there somewhere, and next time I visit my parents, I shall try again. I wonder if one of the goals on the list was to be able to find the list.

Other than the list fiasco, the weekend was a grand success. I got to hang out with baby J, the newest member of my extended family. She is so cute and fun and inspiring that I just have to post a picture of her:

All right, two pictures:

I can't help it - she's 175 days old today, and I'm just such a proud great-second-cousin-aunt! What the heck am I to my first cousin's baby anyway?

And while I'm at it, here's one of me with my sisters. That's youngest sis AL on the left, me in the middle and the graduate M on the right. I should mention that I also have a brother of whom I'm extremely proud, but for some reason he was not present for this photo shoot.

When I eventually find my list, I think I can check off having a blast with my family and taking super cute pictures to prove it.