Friday, February 29, 2008

Books - February 2008

The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud
I imagine there are thousands of people wandering around New York whose lives are exactly like this.

Nigella Express by Nigella Lawson
I really want Nigella's hair and her kitchen, but her cookbook will have to do.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Worst Best Vacation Ever: Part II

Read Part I here.

The air is cool when we exit the airport, our taxicab driver speaks English, and our high-rise hotel has an IKEA in the basement. We are here because we can't be where we wanted to be, and this is where we could go. And we are so glad to have made it.

After a thirty-second conversation in the Nuernberg Lufthansa office, a team of benevolent airline employees magicked our tickets and re-booked us on an overnight flight eastward (after triple-checking the passport requirements, of course). Jeff would miss his meeting in Thailand, but there was work to do elsewhere as well. By the time our flight landed we had let go of the idea of one vacation and prepared for another.

Hong Kong at 4pm on a Sunday afternoon from a car window is a throng of women, walking and talking and sitting on the ground playing cards. We learn that most are Filipina maids, spending their day off in the city, together. They seem to inhabit every inch of free space in every public park, under every store awning, and in every crowded market and narrow alley between high rise buildings.

Jeff leads us out to find dinner. Since late last year he has traveled here for a week each month. We have missed him and tried to imagine what he is doing, where he is staying and what he sees. We've seen him on the webcam in the afternoon - nighttime for him, before he goes to bed - and he has looked tired. All three of us have been weary of being apart. And now, unexpectedly, we are finally here together.

We wander through the bright streets, where huge signs advertising Prada and Gucci hang above someone in a corncob costume standing in the middle of an enormous crosswalk, handing out restaurant fliers. We enter one of the malls - there seems to be a multi-story shopping arcade on every block - and meander, jet lagged and dazzled, past Louis Vuitton, Miu Miu, Kate Spade and Burberry. We see and hear faces and voices from Indonesia, Australia, mainland China, Britain. I try to remember where I've been that feels like this, without weather or clocks, daytime during nighttime, and hungry. Las Vegas, I think.

During the next few days we push Theo around the city in his orange stroller and he waves happily at every person on the subway, every street vendor, every designer shoe store employee. We eat room service hamburgers and slurp noodles from a bowl; we dine at California Pizza Kitchen and Outback Steakhouse; we buy deep-fried squid on the sidewalk and a man hands us waffles straight from the iron. We see a view of the city from above and imagine millions of people in sleek high-rise buildings, each over a hundred stories high. We see the lights of the city from the Kowloon ferry after a day of pounding the gritty pavement and being engulfed by throngs of commuters in hordes of traffic.

There is no swimming pool in our hotel, no cooking class, and no cheap tailor to stitch me up the dress of my dreams. But I hardly notice because I am exploring a new place with my two favorite people in the world, and it doesn't really matter where in the world we are.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Worst Best Vacation Ever: Part I

The ticket agent looked too long at the screen, examined my passport too closely, and avoided eye contact. Jeff had the car seat, tagged and ready to leave at the bulky baggage drop, in his arms; he bounced the stroller with one foot but Theo was getting bored and starting to fuss. Our luggage, full of swimsuits and flip-flops, had already disappeared down the conveyor belt.

Finally, she looked at me. "You can't fly to Thailand on this passport, it expires in two months."

"But I'm coming back in a week," I said, thinking she had mis-read my itinerary.

"Thailand requires your passport to be valid for six months after your departure from their country. See?" She turned her computer monitor toward me so I could read the rule for myself. I stared at Jeff and he started to talk to the agent, trying to see what could be done. Because of course we were going to Bangkok tonight, we had two guidebooks, a laminated map, and a cooking school reservation on Tuesday.

The agent called her supervisor who quietly told us there was nothing he could do for us, and that they couldn't let us on the plane. Jeff kept talking to him while I closed my eyes and performed my most powerful negotiating tactic: I burst into tears.

The airline supervisor politely averted his eyes from me and offered to call the Thai consulate, the American consulate, or anyone else we suggested. Jeff left with him, and Theo and I huddled to one side of the ticket counter with our bags that had reappeared on the conveyor belt. I collected myself as the agent tried to go about her business, not responding to my mutterings about guidebooks and plans and learning to make Pad Thai.

The demise of a tropical vacation isn't exactly a tragic life event; I wasn't missing my best friend's wedding or even forgoing the return to a place that I loved. I hadn't been that excited about Bangkok until a couple of weeks earlier when Jeff suggested we join him on his business trip. But I stood there watching people receive their boarding passes and drying my eyes and realized that I was crying tears of disappointment, yes, but they were mainly tears of embarrassment. I, who like to believe I'm an organized, well-traveled person, had screwed up in a major way. Jeff's business trip was becoming a mess because of me. We weren't sure what would happen with our expensive airline tickets. I would have to tell my friends, who had armed me with photos of lovely clothing the Thai tailors could sew for me, that I was still sitting in Germany. And, worst of all, I would have to confess to The Internet that I ruined our trip.

Later, after we were invited into the airline office to reconsider our plans, Jeff got on the phone with the travel agent and I fed Theo a banana. Of course, at 6:00pm on a Friday evening, there was no hope of reaching anyone who could help us at the Thai or American consulates until Monday, when it would be too late. I started to think about what we should pick up at the grocery store on our way home since we'd cleaned out the fridge in our pre-vacation glee.

Jeff hung up the phone. He gave me a questioning look.

"Our bags are packed," he said. "Why don't we just go somewhere else instead?"

(Story to be continued.)

Oscars 2008: Better Late Than Never Edition

-I love a nice black dress (Jennifer Garner) or a pretty red one (Katherine Heigl) but enough is enough. I actually had an uncharacterstically complimentary thought about Cameron Diaz simply because she wore pink.

-Did you see Gary Busey accost Ryan Seacrest and Jennifer Garner on the red carpet? I've read that he might have been drunk, but based on past behavior, I think he is just CRAZY. And isn't it awesome that he gets to go to the Oscars? It gives me hope.

-Fashion Favorites: Keri Russell (Gwyneth should have hired her tailor the year she won to get that pink Ralph Lauren dress to fit this well), James McAvoy's wife (I've decided to embrace her vs. vilifying her as a rival), Marion Cotillard (She's French, she can pull off that fish dress.), Nicole Kidman (The black dress was perfect with that fantastic necklace.)

-Fashion Least-Favorite: Jennifer Hudson should take the advice of some of my more buxom friends (because I clearly have no personal experience in this area) and note that halter(ish) necklines do not flatter The Girls at their most bulbous. She looked gorgeous from the neck up, however.

-Overall there weren't any complete disasters (even Tilda Swinton because she is just so herself, it works for her) because everyone played it safe. Oh, except John Travolta, who looked like Dracula. I hope that hairdo was for a role.

-Is it weird that I thought Daniel Day-Lewis looked kind of hot with those earrings and the wavy hair?

-The best acceptance speeches are always from people for whom English is not their first language; their sentiments are so heartfelt and charming. Do you think there's any chance that I am charming in German?

-I was neutral on Miley Cyrus until now, but boy do I suddenly think she's annoying, and that's just after a five-second Original Song introduction.

-Jack Nicholson either forgot to send his bribe to the seat assigners or else he was slated to sit next to Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem swapped seats for her safety.

-I was glad to see 'Juno' win the screenwriting award - it's the consolation prize for smart movies that Academy voters just don't see as Big Enough to win Best Picture. I finally saw it last week. I though it was sweet and funny (to those who say teen pregnancy shouldn't be funny, I say go watch an after school special. Anything can be funny if it's done right). Of course, I had some nits to pick. The only young actor I believed when that crazy dialogue came out of her mouth was Juno's best friend. And I did not buy the romance between Juno and Paulie. He wasn't cute and nerdy (believe me, I can spot cute and nerdy from a mile away, I'm still pissed that the nerd with the horn-rimmed glasses didn't make the top 24 in American Idol), just kind of boring, and not at all the sharp-witted, funny person that someone like Juno should have gone for. Would I feel differently if I'd seen Michael Cera in SuperBad?

-Hooray for the songwriters from "once." And did I read some gossip somewhere that said they're really a couple? Even if they aren't, that's what I choose to believe.


Oscar pool results will be posted later. Sorry to make you wait. I promise the prizes will be worth it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Oscar Pool

Don't forget, your entry is due at midnight.

Oscar Pool Part Drei

Friday, February 15, 2008

Sugar Cookies and Cilantro

I really meant to take a photo of the Valentine cookies I baked, but I took most of them to my book group and took some to a playdate yesterday and then I ate the last one for breakfast this morning. People love iced sugar cookies and since no one besides the Thriftway bakery seems to make them any more, they're always well-received gifts. Usually the recipient says something like, "Oh, I haven't had these in years, they are just SO SWEET I don't usually eat stuff like this," before inhaling the cookie and its accompanying icing in three bites.

It's a good thing they're gone because we're leaving town tonight and I didn't want to be burdened with them anymore since I already have to clear out the contents of our fridge before dinnertime. I plan on eating three packages of lunchmeat, apple juice, cranberry juice, and some leftover spaghetti sauce (with meatballs) for lunch. Then maybe I'll have the three tubs of plain yogurt and four tortills as a mid-afternoon snack, and pack the raw zucchini and cilantro hanging out in the crisper drawer to take on the plane.

Not that I plan on eating anything during the flight. Because accepting delivery of an in-flight meal also means keeping the tray and the food and the tempting (if you are a baby) sticky, foil-covered entree container and plastic cups and cutlery for over an hour on my lap, which will all inevitably end up in the lap of the person next to me (hopefully Jeff, though if he's smart he has called ahead to arrange for a seat five rows away) and the hair of the person in front of me. The kind flight attendants who bring Theo extra pretzels always look at me sympathetically as if to say, "Sorry, Lady, your tray won't fit in the overhead compartment, you're just going to have to wait until we come around with the cart. Would you like a glass of port? Or some duty-free jewelry?"

Fortunately, it's really hot and humid in Bangkok, so when I arrive in a cilantro and duty-free-chocolate-covered shirt, I can just take it off and walk around in my sports bra. I'm sure that will attract a cab.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

One Year

I fretted when I was putting together this video, about whether a five-minute version would be too self-indulgent, and whether I should just cut it down to two-and-a-half minutes. And then I remembered that I was putting together a video of my baby to put on my blog where I write about myself on the internet and decided I was living the definition of hair-splitting.




(Idea for the first song shamelessly stolen from Amalah, who makes really nice videos of her son and has excellent musical taste. I'm not sure, but I think this McCartney kid is going to make something of himself.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Four

Nicole has come to my rescue and given me something to blog about by tagging me for the Four Things Meme.

4 Jobs I've Held:

1. Intercom announcer at a hospital
2. Receptionist at suction cup factory
3. Head counselor at summer camp (yes, it was Very Important to be HEAD counselor)
4. Cattle chute operator at team roping arena

4 Movies I've Watched Over and Over Again:

1. Pretty in Pink
2. The Princess Bride
3. The Usual Suspects
4. Bend It Like Beckham

4 Places I've Been:

1. Long Island, New York
2. Glendive, Montana
3. St. Andrews, Scotland
4. Winnetka, Illinois

4 Places I've Lived:

1. Portland, Oregon
2. Blackpool, England
3. Roy, Montana
4. Furth, Germany

4 TV Shows I Watch:

1. MasterChef Goes Large
2. American Idol
3. Veronica Mars
4. Oprah

4 Radio Shows I Listen To:

1. American Forces Network
2. (That's it. I never listen to the radio here, unless I'm in the car, which is rare.)
3.
4.

4 Things I Look Forward To:

1. The Oscars
2. Taking a Thai cooking class in Bangkok
3. The end of teething
4. Springtime

4 Favorite Foods:

1. yellow cake with fudgy chocolate frosting
2. Fish-n-Chips from Burgerville
3. buttered popcorn
4. burritos

4 Places I'd Rather Be:

1. A luxury hotel in Maui
2. New York City
3. At a great restaurant, laughing with great friends
4. Alone in a movie theater

4 People I email regularly:

1. Jeff
2. Sandi
3. Daniela
4. Kathy

4 People to Tag:
1. B.
2. Chantelle
3. Mego
4. Abby

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Shiny Happy People

I got my hair cut yesterday at a salon called Happy Hairy People.

One of the goofy things about being an English-speaker almost anywhere I've ever traveled is that our language is used in ways that are technically correct but make me snicker. I'm sure the Germans felt the same way when Kennedy said he was a donut. They knew he didn't mean he was an apple cruller, and technically his vocabulary wasn't totally incorrect, but it just made him seem so NOT German. (Incidentally, the more common German name for 'donut' is 'Krapfen.' Heh.) And while calling my hairdresser Happy and Hairy wasn't a complete falsehood (she was in a decent mood from what I could tell and did have a nice mane), placing that label on her was definitely not the act of a native English speaker, not even one who is a huge R.E.M fan.

Besides the dorky name, this salon was one of those walk-in places, where you just get who you get and you hope they didn't wander in from the dog-grooming salon across the street. The last time I got a haircut in one of these places, I was in college and it was the end of the semester and I was afraid that if I went home looking Ted Kaczynski's girlfriend, my parents might figure out that I'd spent all my money on the new shoes that I bought during week two of school, and not on personal grooming. So I paid fifteen bucks to some girl who took two hours to cut my hair but thankfully did not send me out the door with a Culture Club haircut (it was still the eighties, after all).

But getting a haircut is one of the many things I avoid these days, because it involves speaking German on the phone, trying to negotiate a specific time and date, and coming up with a babysitter. I am totally inept at all three tasks, so I've been walking around like the Shaggy D.A. (Yes I grew up in the 1970's, and I know half of you weren't born yet when that movie came out but go ahead and IMDB it. I'll wait.) I've been finding my long brown hairs in the strangest places, including but not limited to inside Theo's diaper, under the keys in my computer keyboard, and between the pages of books I haven't read for a few weeks. You may commence being grossed out now. I couldn't stand myself anymore.

And that is why I found myself in a poorly-named hair salon on a Saturday afternoon, trying to mime "not too short" and "some layers, but not like that girl in the next chair who looks like Boy George" (apparently the eighties are back in the hair salons of Bavaria). The haircut turned out just fine, after I got home and brushed out the hairspray and teased-out snarls that I can only imagine made me look like Tammy Faye. I'm not exactly sure because I refused to look in the mirror after she styled my hair - I could only tell it was huge by my shadow on the sidewalk which looked like a giant spear (where my body = straight line and my hair = enormous pointy triangle).

Maybe I was supposed to be the Happy Hairy Person, not the hairdresser.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Tuk-Tuk Goose

I ordered The Lonely Planet's Bangkok book over two weeks ago, and it finally arrived today. Maybe I should thank amazon.co.uk for preparing my butt for spring, as I doubled my daily trips up and down the stairs, hoping upon hope that the Amazon box would appear in my mailbox. I eventually was forced to send a curt email to their customer service department and, lo, the book appeared this morning, and I could barely wait until Theo's naptime to crack it open and start reading.

We are going to Thailand next week, by the way. It was a somewhat last-minute decision involving an already-planned business trip and someone in the family whining and wondering why some other person didn't just MOVE to Asia since he was spending half his time there, thereby cleverly wrangling an invitation to the tropics. We are all choosing to ignore the upcoming ten-hour plane ride with our almost-walking child, and the possibility that jetlag will mean we spend most of our days trying to catch up on sleep and our nights strolling the streets with our wide-awake son. Fortunately, I've heard there is plenty of after-dark entertainment in Bangkok.

My vision of the flight involves mainly anticipation of the delicious chocolate I'm sure to be served since we are flying Swiss Air and gratitude that we are not flying through Frankfurt. I could be a member of the Partridge family based on the amount of time I've spent on a bus in that place. BUILD SOME NEW TERMINALS, PEOPLE, or at least rig up a train. You are a country of engineers who created the world's most complicated yet efficient Christmas tree stand. Why can't you figure this one out?

However my daydreams always end upon arrival because I am a travel guidebook addict and must read the book from cover to cover before arrival. MUST. And must think in advance about where we will eat and which days we will shop (must shop at the beginning of the trip because will be energetic and enthusiastic but must leave time for shopping at the end because will understand the market/prices better at that point), and exactly how to get to and from the airport, and where we can buy pasteurized milk. And then I usually highlight the relevant passages and write things down in my specially-assigned travel notebook.

I'll bet you really wish you could travel with me because I'm so much fun.

No, really, I can be fun. As long as I know I have to be fun in advance, so that I can PREPARE for the fun, and have the right clothes. And you can see why it so pained me to have to wait for my book. But it's here now, so I'm able to step away from TripAdvisor.com for a few minutes every evening.

Also, speaking of clothes, I think I might try having some made while I'm there. I've heard the horror stories about ripoffs and cheap fabric, and mean tailors and renegade tuk-tuk drivers, but I also got some helpful, encouraging information from Holly, who incidentally just posted a handsome photo of her boyfriend in an equally handsome (well, almost, he's pretty handsome) jacket she had made for him in Vietnam. So I have hope. And, yes, I realize Vietnam is not Thailand. However I am terribly embarrassed to admit that I'm not sure I could have picked either one out on a map until we started planning this trip. In fact, maybe until this morning when MY BOOK (with map) FINALLY ARRIVED.

You can see why the book is so important.


P.S.
Thank you for your nice comments on the previous post. Now look at the kind of rambling post you're getting. Are you sure you really want (to quote my eloquent friend Geoff) the whole ass?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

GOAL!!!

I love Mighty Girl's habit of setting birthday goals. Goals make me want to make a list or a spreadsheet, or a Post-It mural. Coming up with new ideas for the future and imagining what might happen during the next twelve months excites me.

Resolutions, on the other hand, are boring. They tend to be vague and unmeasurable hopes, like "Be nicer," and "Eat less sugar." Goals are really supposed to occur at a certain time and place, like "learn to cook a decent steak for Fathers' Day" and "throw away all greying white clothing before springtime."

Instead of amorphous New Year's resolutions that begin and end at a time of year when my creative energy is exhausted, I've decided to set some goals. I've come up with a few things I'd like to get accomplished before my birthday in April, when I'll put together a real live list of stuff I want to do in my thirty-eighth year. One of those short-term goals is to either stop half-assing this blog or shut it down. Sometimes I think it's time to move on to something different, and other days I know I'd really miss it. Maybe I just need to find a reliable babysitter.

We'll all know the outcome on April 14th. See you then.