Monday, October 30, 2006

Books - October 2006

White Teeth by Zadie Smith
Modern and funny and packed full of interesting language, cultural references, and humor. It took me weeks to finish it, maybe because I read it directly after All the Pretty Horses, which is so spare.

London Lonely Planet Guidebook
We trusted this and the Time Out online restaurant guide to help us find the best food and to navigate the sights.

Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham
Cunningham affects the way I think about literature and stories. He reimagines themes and characters, transcending genre and period, launching original ideas from classic works in ways that would occur only to a courageous writer. I can't wait to see what he does next.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Chili and Cinnamon Rolls

In what I imagine was a ritual reserved for spoiled only children like me, my mom and I scoured the weekly elementary school lunch menu each Monday morning, choosing my hot lunch days and my cold lunch days. I rated average on the pickiness scale, willing to eat most vegetables except cauliflower, spaghetti but not sauce, and peanut butter and jelly (not jam) sandwiches. I chose hot lunch when I could anticipate burritos, turkey with mashed potatoes, or macaroni and cheese. Hungarian goulash was my nemesis. When they served chili and cinnamon rolls, I couldn't wait for lunchtime.

Jeff and I have faithfully tuned into a rerun of the documentary series Jamie's School Dinners this past week, and besides cultivating a craving for cinnamon rolls, it got us talking about eating habits, and school, and how many times a week it is healthy to eat fries for lunch (I say three, but all portion recommendations double during pregnancy.). Jamie (yes, The Naked One), a British celebrity chef, spent almost a year working with one London borough's school district to revise their lunch menus from fried and processed foods to fresh, more flavorful and healthful meals. The project seems to have inspired momentum to improve the quality of all British school meals and to make children's nutrition a priority, which apparently also helped improved academic performance and decrease the number of kids with behavioral, gastrointestinal and allergy problems at the pilot schools.

We were riveted to the saga, including characters like Nora the dinner lady and of course the kids who were incensed that their chicken nuggets had disappeared. If you get the chance (maybe BBC America will air it?), watch it, it's high drama. And if you're a Jamie Oliver fan, it shows an interesting, more human, less elfin side to him than his jolly cooking shows do. His adorable daughters make several appearances, as does his wife, who most times looks ready to beat the cameraman with a mortar and pestle. Jamie is passionate about the project, though I could have told him that no nine-year-old was going to eschew French fries for a Spicy Thai chicken wrap willingly.

Most fascinating to me were the parents, many of whom began buying McDonald's lunches and bringing them to school for their children, and calling the school to demand the return of "proper" (ie processed and deep fried) food to the lunch room. How was I abandoned by this parental catering service during the days that Hungarian Goulash unexpectedly appeared instead of crispy tacos? Like everything does these days, the show made me wonder what sort of kid I'll have. The kind of kid who will give Lamb Tagine a try, or the kind who will politely take a ladleful and then dump it in the trash? Or, possibly, as one girl on the show did, the kind of kid who will lead a protest including chanting and signage and a hunger strike? Most likely, my kid will be the one who runs up to the guest chef and screams "I hate you and I hate your food and I want my chicken nuggets back" in his face.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Wet 'N Wild

Having recently survived a trip through security at a UK airport that involved stuffing my purse and its contents into Jeff's laptop bag because we misjudged the carry-on limit, and watching a 75-year-old woman be divested of her feminine deodorant spray, this post spoke to me. And after it spoke, I laughed.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Tricky Questions

I stole this meme from The Badger. Who stole it from someone else, so the stealing is OK.

1. You can press a button that will make any one person explode. Who would you blow up?
Paris Hilton

2. You can flip a switch that will wipe any band or musical artist out of existence. Which one will it be?
The Wiggles. As a preventive measure.

3. Who would you really like to just punch in the face?
Conrad Burns. He is making a mockery out of my home state, and it saddens me.

4. What is your favorite cheese?
Cambozola (since smoked squeeze cheese doesn't count as actual cheese)

5. You can only have one kind of sandwich. Every sandwich ingredient known to humankind is at your immediate disposal. What kind will you make?
Tuna salad with capers and red onions and celery, swiss cheese, toasted on light rye. I might even cheat and just go get the one they make at Grand Central Baking, along with yogurt and green onion Kettle Chips and a triple chocolate cookie.

6. You have the opportunity to sleep with the movie celebrity of your choice. We are talking no-strings-attached sex and it can only happen once. Who is the lucky celebrity of your choice?
If this meme gets around, I have the feeling I'm going to have to stand in line, but there's really no choice for me but Johnny Depp. After he has showered.

7. You have the opportunity to sleep with the music-celebrity of your choice. Who do you pick?
Michael Hutchence (see #25)

8. Now that you've slept with two different people in a row, you seem to be having an excellent day because you just came across a hundred-dollar bill on the sidewalk. Holy crap, a hundred bucks! How are you gonna spend it?
Books. And more books. And maybe a purse if I have enough left over.

9. You just got a free plane ticket to anywhere. You have to depart right now. Where are you gonna go?
Let's pretend I'm not pregnant for a moment, since a long-haul flight wouldn't be much fun right now.
Hawaii.

10. Upon arrival to the aforementioned location, you get off the plane and discover another hundred-dollar bill. Now that you are in the new location, what are you gonna do?
Go to a beachside bar, order expensive umbrella cocktails (see? still not pregnant on this trip), crab wonton appetizers, and loads of grilled fresh fish.

11. A demon rises out of Hell and offers you a lifetime supply of the alcoholic beverage of your choice. It is...?
Sangria

12. Rufus appears out of nowhere with a time-traveling phone booth. You can go anytime in the PAST. What time are you traveling to and what are you going to do when you get there?
The early 1980s. I'll go straight to Madison Square Garden and watch Michael Jackson perform live before he got so frightening.

13. You discover a beautiful island upon which you may build your own society. You make the rules. What is the first rule you put into place?
Hurley isn't in charge of the food supply.

14. You have been given the opportunity to create the half-hour TV show of your own design. What is it called and what's the premise?
Blythe's personal questions. I get to eat dinner with the celebrity of my choice, and s/he must answer all of the questions I ask. It's OK with me if they don't give permission for the show to air - I just want the answers.

15. What is your favorite curse word?
Goddammnit (emphasis on the middle syllable, just like my dad says it)

16. One night you wake up because you heard a noise. You turn on the light to find that you are surrounded by MUMMIES. The mummies aren't really doing anything, they're just standing around your bed. What do you do?
Turn off the light, close my eyes, and hope they go away.

17. Your house is on fire! You have just enough time to run in there and grab ONE inanimate object. Don't worry, your loved ones and pets have already made it out safely. So what's the item?
The computer. It's boring, but it houses my thesis. (Yes, I've made a backup copy, but still.)

18. The Angel of Death has descended upon you. Fortunately, the Angel of Death is pretty cool and in a good mood, and it offers you a half-hour to do whatever you want before you bite it. Whatcha gonna do in that half-hour?
Eat a bunch of chocolate. (Oh, come on, this is a family blog.)

19. You accidentally eat some radioactive vegetables. They were good, and what's even cooler is that they endow you with the super-power of your choice! What's it gonna be?
Telekinesis, because I love to be in different places but I hate wasting time sitting in cars and planes.

20. You can re-live any point of time in your life. The time-span can only be a half-hour, though. What half-hour of your past would you like to experience again?
Summer camp dance, 1988. Uncomfortable yet thrilling. And I loved my outfit and my hair.

21. You can erase any horrible experience from your past. What will it be?
Mean girls (including me) from junior high school

22. You got kicked out of the country for being a time-traveling heathen who sleeps with celebrities and has super-powers. But check out this cool stuff... you can move to anywhere else in the world! Bitchin'! What country are you going to live in now?
England. Specifically, a parkside flat in London.

23. This question still counts, even for those of you who are under age. You have been eternally banned from every single bar in the world except for ONE. Which one is it gonna be?
Southpark bar in Portland, for the delicious sangria and fantastic bar menu. And they always play the Gipsy Kings.

24. Hopefully you didn't mention this in the super-powers question.... If you did, then we'll just expand on that. Check it out... Suddenly, you have gained the ability to FLOAT!!! Whose house are you going to float to first, and be like "Dude, check it out... I can FLOAT!"?
I would float to see my nephews or my niece - they would think it's awesome.

25. The constant absorption of magical moonbeams mixed with the radioactive vegetables you consumed earlier has given you the ability to resurrect the dead famous-person of your choice. So which celebrity will you bring back to life?
Princess Diana. Because she deserves to see her handsome sons, and because it would really freak out Camilla. Or else Michael Hutchence.

26. The Gates of Hell have opened, and Death appears. As it turns out, Death is actually a pretty cool entity, and happens to be in a fantastic mood. Death offers to return the friend/family-member/person, etc. of your choice to the living world. Who will you bring back?
Any of my grandparents

27. What's your theme song?
Today, it's In the Waiting Line by Zero 7.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Fashion Victim

We're in the middle of the annual awards-show drought, but since I watch too much E!, including this past weekend's 101 Fashion Trainwrecks marathon, I feel it's time to look back and acknowledge some of my favorite outfits that the critics (the OTHER critics, besides me, obviously) hated. My top five I Love It/You Hate It red carpet looks:

-Sarah Jessica Parker at the 2001 Academy Awards.
She wore a sparkly Calvin Klein minidress and a mini beehive hairdo. I read that the dress wasn't formal enough, that her hair was ridiculous, and that it was a good thing Bjork showed up in that swan ensemble or she would have been the worst-dressed of the evening. Give me a break. She wore her fabulous legs as an accessory and she pulled off the sixties throwback look without doing the old Kate Hudson hippie thing. As much as I love her, I realize she's not perfect (see: Alexander McQueen kilt disaster and strange pink fluffy gown) but I submit that she was just ahead of the curve on this one.

-Courtney Love at the 2000 Golden Globe Awards.
This dress has been called the Hefty Bag, Cat Scratch Fever, and Shredd. As bad as Courtney can look (and she can look BAAAAD), she looks appropriately dressed up yet edgy here. Come on people, it's Courtney Love. She was nominated for a movie about the Penthouse founder. Were you expecting vintage Valentino? I am not a Courtney fan, but I think this is the perfect look for her.

-Jessica Simpson at the Employee of the Month premiere.
She's been criticized for overdoing the 50's housewife thing (and I'll admit her lipstick is overwhelming) but doesn't that look like a fun dress to wear? And it's about time she lost the cascading Baywatch hair for five minutes. Cute, I say.

-Christina Aguilera at the 2003 VMAs.
OK, I'll admit the weird tan and scary hair are bad, but this pink feather dress works for me. I've read that it isn't a dress, it's just a big feather boa. And? She looks curvy, the feathers are covering all the required parts, and she isn't all, well, Dirrrrty.

-Nicole Kidman at the 2003 Golden Globes.
This gold flapper dress/hair combo is hated and held up as an example of Nicole's fashion fallibility. I would submit her Morticia Addams look from the 2002 Golden Globes for that purpose. The flirty flapper dress, the headband, the curls, and the big gold sequins work for me. Virtually no one else could pull it off, but I think she looks amazing. And not boring.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Growing Pains

When The Age of Innocence was released, I so wanted to love it, but I found I couldn't imagine Winona Ryder as anything but Winona Ryder, no matter what period costume she's wearing. It worked for me in Heathers, but later, there she was, Winona in a pretty hat, or Winona in Jo March's clothes, or Winona in bed with Richard Gere. I can get past the Famous Actor persona in most cases - Reese Witherspoon, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, George Clooney - and I even bought Meg Ryan in her edgier roles. Some actors never ask me to picture them outside the public image - Tom Cruise (not counting his brief appearance as a Vietnam vet), Clint Eastwood, Catherine Zeta-Jones. But a few leave me with the Winona effect.

Leonardo diCaprio remains, for me, the young pinup who got his start on sitcom television and slid into a stereotypical role as rakish Jack in Titanic. His attempts to be serious and grown up in movies like The Beach and Gangs of New York seemed silly to me. I just couldn't buy him as Howard Hughes, the ladies' man. So I was shocked by the realization, halfway through The Departed, that I had completely forgotten he was Leo.

I didn't know much about the film before we bought tickets - mainly, it had an interesting cast (besides Leo, I thought), a cops vs. robbers plot, and was another male-heavy Scorsese picture. I was just so happy for the opportunity to see a first-run American movie that I was willing to see almost anything. I lucked out. It was interesting, complex, violent, subtle, and unpredictable. There were some good performances - Jack (another one who, in the last few decades, hasn't left his persona too far behind) chewed the scenery and Mark Wahlberg was a scene-stealer. Matt Damon and Martin Sheen were fine, though they didn't wow me. Scorsese picked a winner of a script and kept the story moving. But by the end of the picture, it was Leo who had impressed me most. I think I might have become a fan against my will.

See The Departed if you're ready to think, and you don't mind some blood and darkness. If Leo is still stuck in that teenage box in your head, give him a chance to grow up. And I'm going to keep an open mind about Winona.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

London town

I got my first impression of London as a seventeen-year-old tourist. I'd never visited a giant, cosmopolitan city before, but I felt immediately at home there, alongside the international population, the gritty urban streets, the miraculous public transportation, the graceful monuments, and the drizzly spring weather. I dragged my friends around behind me for the two days we had to see the city, absorbing everything from St. Paul's to the Peter Pan statue in Hyde Park.

A few years later, Jeff and I spent four months there in college, ostensibly studying art and architecture and politics. He watched a lot of English Premier League on his host family's TV, and I sampled the culinary delights of half the entries in Let's Go London's dining section. I saw at least two plays a week. I wanted to stay forever.

Since then, I've traveled all over the United States and Europe. I've gotten older and fussier when it comes to where I sleep and what I eat and what I think is beautiful and what I judge as kitsch. Last year, we concentrated on seeing European cities that were new to both of us, and I'll admit I was a little concerned as we planned our most recent long weekend in my favorite city on earth; the last time we visited, it was 1998. Both London and I have changed since then.

But I've never fallen for a city the way I fell for London almost twenty years ago, and I'm happy to report that the adoration stuck. The sun shone every day and we didn't see a drop of rain. Though there were plenty of other (mostly American) tourists everywhere, we never felt like we were fighting crowds. We visited some old favorite haunts, saw a couple of shows, and ate our way through a litany of delicious cuisine - fabulous Indian vegetarian buffet lunch, late-night modern Middle Eastern, coffee shops, fast bites, classic fish and chips, French frites, and even the maligned steak pie. I devoured it all. Security measures are more prominent now, but after living with US travel restrictions, I hardly noticed them. The red buses and black taxis are more modern, the city's cultural institutions have spilled across the river, and the Queen is letting people visit her houses now. I shopped at Marks & Spencer, and brought back my favoritie British treats.

It was a perfect London weekend. You really can go home again.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

London Bridge

That's the one that's falling down, not the Fergie version.

We're headed to London this weekend. I plan to eat a bunch of Indian food and go to The Theatre. I'll report back with photos next week.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A cartoon is worth a thousand Worter

If you'd like to know about my life, read this.

(You'll have to live through a brief ad to read it, but it's for the Travel Channel, not so painful, really.)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

They're coming to take me away

It was a glorious autumn weekend in Bavaria, and though I did take a walk (mainly to collect the sad German version of a Slurpee, the 'Monster Freeze,' at a local street fair, in case you were under the mistaken impression I was exercising), Jeff and I spent half our time with red-rimmed zombie eyes trying to solve the Funny Farm game. Lest you think the game is funny, or about a farm (which would be forgivable based on the opening page), its name really means that by the time you are finished, or even by the time you are halfway finished, your loved ones will have carted you off to the place where you can sit without even noticing the posterior gape in your hospital gown while you try to come up with the 2-word connection between "people" and "purple" that is neither "one-eyed" nor "one-horned."

Reading the "Hints" (minutely linked in the upper right-hand corner) does help to explain what the hell you're supposed to do to get started, but otherwise it is no help at all. What does help, when it is way past your bedtime and you and your husband are having a giant argument about 3-letter magazine titles (YES I HAVE TRIED INC, I HAVE TRIED IT OVER AND OVER AGAIN, DO YOU WANT TO TYPE NOW?), is to cheat and follow someone else's link to the completed puzzle. Contact me if you are at the cliff's edge and need that link to keep you from jumping over, and I will help you.

P.S.
My internet service provider and my blog provider have staged a throwdown during the past couple of days, and I'm not sure if all the issues have been resolved. If I don't post for a little while, it's because I am unable to log in (not because I've grown so huge that I can't fit behind my desk).

Friday, October 06, 2006

Revered Camden would be proud

The Interweb tells me that there's a new television network on the American airwaves. It's called the C.W. and someone there must have some taste because it hosts Veronica Mars and Gilmore Girls and guiltiest of guilty pleasures America's Next Top Model. ("The next name I'm going to call is..." So go ahead and call it, Tyra. Or get a grammar coach.) Though all that girl power hipness might be canceled out by the new episodes of 7th Heaven.

None of this matters to me on a daily basis, since my satellite dish doesn't communicate with the right signal. But every time I see or read something about this happenin' new network, all I can think about is this guy I knew when I was a kid. His name was (all together now) C.W. and he was long and stringy and hyper and lived way out in the country. We went to 4-H camp together when we were ten, and one day we were playing volleyball, and he fell down and got back up again, and I said, "C.W., you have dirt in your teeth." And someone else said, "That ain't dirt, that's chaw."

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Mmm...Donuts...

I spent yesterday morning with two Franconian bodybuilders.

I live in Franconia, a proud and historic subsection of Bavaria, where people speak with a particular accent and eat a lot of bratwurst and gingerbread. I was invited to join a group of women to make a special Franconian pastry in preparation for upcoming church festivals. Of course I signed up immediately when I heard the word "pastry." The item in question turned out to be a square yeast donut, deep fried in butterfat and sprinkled with powdered sugar. They're even better than they sound; I devoured the half dozen that I brought home in less than 24 hours.

The best part of the outing, however, was spending time in a traditional German kitchen, with two seventy-year-old women. They kneaded a giant wad of dough with upper body strength that could qualify them for an Olympic berth. I just sat next to the floury table and sweated.

Monday, October 02, 2006

At least the moms at my local Starbucks don't speak English.


I couldn't have said it better myself. Though I think she, like me, has read one too many mommyblogs.

I read this post this morning, after visiting the maternity ward secretary at a local hospital. She also needed talk-fight. I am now angry like volcano. I'm going to talk to Jeff about moving to Japan.