Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve

Well, I was going to write a meditative post about New Year's resolutions and the desire for transformation and the formation of habit--but then we discovered that Baci ate a whole stocking's worth of chocolate and have been actively monitoring him for signs of toxic shock. (So if that entry sounded like a snooze, you can thank him for being spared it.)

Instead, I offer you a glimpse into our New Year's Eve, past and present. For the third time, we will be joining our friends Andy Secunda and Kate Hess (recently engaged, btw) for their annual Steakapalooza at Peter Luger's. If you're a carnivore, this is about as close to heaven as it gets.

I made a film of our hijinks there last year--click on the photo below, and remember to hit the "watch in high quality" tab unless you prefer fuzzy video to clear.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

This Is Why I Left My Computer Behind

I could scream. I could swear and I could shout, but I have too much to do, so if you will just let me vent to you, I would greatly appreciate it.

I have so many wonderful pictures to share with you from our trip to the Yucatan that I decided to create a slide show. That was the fun part that I let myself overindulge in, time-wise--getting the music just right, the title sequences, etc. But then I had a problem when I exported it into a .mov file, so my dear husband graciously updated all my software in case it was a bug, and this took more time (time when we should have been cleaning and prepping for the 18 people who are going to be dining here on Christmas Eve), though it did fix the problem.

And then I had to upload it to YouTube, which took another hour, because it is a large file, and then yet more waiting, as they had to process it, only to find out that there were further problems: the audio was messed up, and the picture quality was crap.

But in for a penny, in for a pound, right? So I got an account with Vimeo, which is supposed to have superior image quality as compared to YouTube, and I set my computer to upload the file before I went to bed last night. I woke up this morning, so excited to see what it looks like, and guess what? "There was a problem converting this video! Please contact Vimeo help."

So now I realize that not only did I spend an entire evening (all told, probably six hours) on this, but I have also created a slide show that will only work if I show it to you in person, on my computer. Grrrr.

It's not a new story, I know. We've all gotten caught in technology time sinks. But it smarts all the same. If you have actually made it to the end of this long whine, I thank you for your time (time that could have been spent prepping for your big dinner/performance/party/exam) and offer you this: my favorite photo from our trip to the Yucatan.

More to follow in the old-school, reliable, TRAVELMONKEYS format.

Peace on Earth,

Thursday, December 18, 2008

We're Back from the Yucatan

And oh, there's so much I want to tell you.

I want to speak of the perfectly-sized waves and the soft white sand, of the spider monkeys who snuggled against us and searched our pockets for peanuts, of half-excavated Mayan ruins made only more beautiful by the jungle's encroachment, of crazy underground caverns filled with fresh water where one can backfloat while looking up at bats and stalactites, of singing geckos and basking iguanas, of living without electricity thirty feet from the water's edge (no lights, no internet, lots of candles, lots of books), of taquerias and Mexican sweet buns and papaya and pina and avocado avocado avocado.

And one day, soon, I will.

But first I must get my house and work in order. I must stock up my larder and purchase some firewood so we're ready for the six inches of snow that is rumored will hit New York tomorrow morning. And then, as a reward, I will allow myself to download the contents of my camera and begin some more in-depth posts about the trip.

In the meantime, Feliz Navidad, and thanks for not getting annoyed with me when I lapse into Spanish.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Folks, I don't know how to tell you this, but the rumors are true.

We're going to Mexico.

Not permanently. Just for a few days. A little over a week. Closer to two weeks.

Twelve nights on the beach. Well, eleven on the beach and one in the interior, somewhere closer to Chichen Itza. Maybe Valladolid.

Even crazier? We're leaving behind our computers. And our iPhones. We're staying on the beach in a cabana with lots of candles and no electricity. We're bringing books. Paper. Pens. Playing cards. Sunblock.

Will we get bored? Oh, I hope so. It's been years.

Feliz Navidad, and we'll see you on the other side.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Thanksgiving 2008

Some pictures from our overland sojourn to Brick, New Jersey, to celebrate Thanksgiving with Mike's extended family at their amazingly huge house known as The Compound.

Well, not from the journey, actually, more like pictures once at the destination, but I'm trying to keep to the theme of TRAVELmonkeys and I didn't think to bore you with pictures of us while on New Jersey Transit. But I will say that at 45 minutes from Penn Station, it's a super-easy trip.

And New Jersey Transit is perfectly happy to transport well-behaved dogs (unlike those idiots at Amtrak), so Baci was able to join in the fun.

As promised, we played a LOT of Rock Band. Pictured above are Mike and Mary's cousins--Dave on the drums, Kris on the bass, and Kris's son, Conner, on the guitar.

And this is Kris's husband, Martin, and his dad (also Martin) DEEP-FRYING the turkey! I have been hearing about Americans burning down their decks/garages/homes using this dangerous method for the past five years, but after having tasted the results, I have to say: the risk is worth it. And it only took an hour to cook!

There were almost as many dogs as there were people. This is Pat, a friend of the family, with her dog Snickers, brother to the other dog, Sammy, who lives at The Compound year-round.

And this is Thelma. She and Baci hit it off immediately.

All the dogs stayed close to Aunt Angela, who was prone to THROWING MEAT at random.

The humans stayed close to her as well, because she was prone to THROWING 5 KINDS OF PIE and 3 KINDS OF STUFFING at us.

The next morning, even more family came to visit, including their Aunt Marianne and Uncle Cook. Uncle Cook's signature contribution is the sign, which he makes new for each family occasion and which they've been holding up in family photos since 1973.

All in all, a wonderful time with wonderful hosts and much, much to be thankful for.

Monday, December 1, 2008

New Obsession

Mike and I don't have a video camera. But our digital camera allows us to take little movies. We've been buying from the Canon family for a while, and the older versions made movies without sound and at 16 frames per second, lending the footage a choppy, Super 8 kind of feeling--instantly nostalgic. But our newest camera (a Canon SD1100 IS) and the models we've been using for the last couple years actually take pretty good footage.

I tell you all this because I just launched iMovie for the first time and have discovered how easy it is to turn that footage into highly watchable and sharable YouTube clips. Travelmonkeys Readers, take note: this could change everything.

For my first offering, I invite you to watch how I spent the bulk of my Thanksgiving holiday: playing Rock Band with my extended New Jersey family in Brick. Mike's sister joined us for the week and is featured here on vocals. Click on the picture below, and choose the "watch in high quality" option for best results.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Lights, Camera, Steak

As you may have heard, we've decided to make a movie out of "If You See Something Say Something."

It's being directed by Peabody Award-winning cameraman Steve Anderson, who has shot seven PBS documentaries, written and directed the feature film "The Big Empty," and was recently a hit of the film festival circuit with his documentary about the most fascinating word in the English language, "Fuck." He's also been charged by lions on the Serengeti Plain, caught fire in the Malibu fires, trained as a Hollywood stunt driver, and shot hoops with Magic Johnson.

And here he is, digging through the Public Theater's dumpster, hoping to find a bit of magic in the refuse.

This was from a scene we filmed in the adjacent alley, though most of the film will be of the performance itself, shot over a total of six nights.

Mike and I wield such tight creative control over our projects that it's been a bit scary to let someone else in, but I have to say that these guys made it easy. It was a lean crew--Steve, Andre and Sandra--and each person was as positive as they were professional, which made each performance a joy to perform.

Once we'd wrapped (see how easily I use the lingo? I also learned that the final shot set-up of the day is called the "martini shot." I'm going to use that in other areas of my life! I'm envisioning martini paragraphs in writing, martini rooms in cleaning . . . this could be a very good thing) we decided to celebrate by heading over to the finest steak house New York has to offer: Peter Luger's.

When we got home, our dog could taste the steak still coming through our pores.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Partnership, in Print

There was a piece written about our collaboration a while ago (six months? a year? I'm terrible with time) that I ran across again this morning because the writer of that piece has written a new article about two other creative couples.

The writer is also a director who lives in our neighborhood with his wife, who is also a theater artist. I like running into them at shows, but it's even better when we bump into each other on the street. (Not literally.)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes, We Did

Some scenes from last night's gathering.

Tensions were high and people were afraid to let their guard down at first.

Everyone was checking their trusted websites for news, supplementing old media with new.

But after we won Ohio, people started to relax a bit.

(The celebratory round of vodka didn't hurt either.)

Baci wore his "time for change" sweater, complete with a button that looks like a little clock, made for him by the Yarn Lady.

And baby Callaghan was passed around the room, spreading a sense of hopefulness to everyone who held him.

When the election officially broke for Obama, the room went crazy with delight, and the sweetest part was seeing everyone on the phones with their family, checking in to say hello and omigoodness, can you believe it happened?

We all thought McCain's concession speech was very gracious.

And we loved Obama's speech.

Especially the part about the puppy.

Big love to our friends and neighbors who made a wonderful night even better by sharing it with us.

God bless America.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Guest Economist

About a week and half ago, my mother sent me her thoughts on the current economic crisis, and I asked her if I could post it here. She agreed. The first line of it read, "How my parents will save the world's economic problems," and it seemed to me a perfect title. Enjoy.

(Pictured above are my grandmother and grandfather, or Babcia and Dziadek, as we called them. On Dziadek's lap is me on the left, and my cousin Amanda on the right. The picture was taken at their home in San Antonio.)


How My Parents Will Save the World's Economic Problems

Just read the New Yorker article about the 30-year-old who brought down the French trading house, Société Générale. Then I heard the author of The Black Swan talking about the impending world economic collapse. While I was reading the New Yorker article, I was struck by the understanding that the people in charge had no idea what was going on.

So let me tell you about my parents. Simple peasants from the Polish Ukraine who survived Hitler’s “work study” program during the Second World War, which was a better option than being killed by the Ukrainians or going to Siberia with the Russians. They arrived in Texas with three children and a bag of dried bread crusts and a feather bed, which my mother had gotten for her dowry. We were supposed to go to Kansas, but when we arrived in New Orleans in December 1949, we were reassigned to Texas. Others took our place in Kansas. On the train trip to San Antonio, by mother kept remembering all the stories she had read about Indians and the uncivilized conditions in the West—which included Texas in European mythology.

The uncivilized conditions proved to be true, but not because of Indians.

So they arrived, they raised their children, and we thrived. We are all solvent, self-sufficient American taxpayers. Quite a feat when you start out making $.25 per hour, work 16-hour days and are paid for 8. My father left that job to work at a non-union foundry at $1 per hour. To support us he also moonlighted cleaning the parochial school my siblings and I attended for 3 years.

So what did I learn from these people about economics? If you don’t understand it, don’t do it. It’s a simple concept, but it would have kept us out of a world of trouble. They understood interest—we saved and would go downtown to put money in the bank weekly. To celebrate the deposit we would go to Joske’s and buy cheese, salami and hard rolls, which we would eat on the way home. At first we ate on the bus, then we continued the tradition in our first car—a ‘49 Ford.

After I got out of college and married, my parents were there to advance a loan for my first car—and they extended this policy to my sister and later to my children. Their rates were great, and our rates were better than the banks were offering. Everyone was happy. They died rich and happy and surrounded by family.

So now the world is in a world of trouble. Who would have thought that making bets on derivatives wouldn’t turn out well for all of us? My mom and dad would have said, What do you mean you don’t know whom you’re lending money to? Why can’t you explain it to me so I understand? Are these good people who have these loans on those houses and when can you show me?

It seems like a simple life, but we sure would be a lot more secure if we would have listened to them.

--Virginia Bowen, who runs a small business, Seattle Yarn, and who can be found on the web offering yarn and advice in her Ask The Yarn Lady column. She also has a blog. And she is a mighty fine mama and babcia in her own right.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

All Souls Day

The poet Czeslaw Milosz has always been special to me.

When M and I were still just friends--but friends who sought each other out each day to unload the contents of our heads before the next day came to erase them--he gave me a gorgeous copy of the collected poems of Czeslaw Milosz. That was my first introduction.

Later, I would return to that thick volume the way others might turn to their bibles, always somehow finding the string of words I needed to hear at that particular moment.

Some years ago, I was up late, troubled by my lack of progress with the book I was working on, a book about my grandmother, and feeling very anguished about my calling. I turned to Milosz's book again and opened up to his poem, "On Angels." It ends with these three lines:

day draws near
another one
do what you can

Those words helped cut through my anguish and remind me of the simplicity (not to be confused with easiness) of my task. I wrote them down on a sticky, fixed it to the wall above my desk, and went to sleep.

In the morning I opened my laptop to read the news and was immediately presented with an article telling me that Milosz had died the night before. I had not known he'd been ill and I had not gone looking for news of him. I copy-and-pasted the following lines from the article in an email to Michael:

Milosz died at his home in Krakow surrounded by his family, the assistant, Agnieszka Kosinska, told The Associated Press by telephone. The exact cause of death was not immediately known.

"It's death, simply death. It was his time -- he was 93," Kosinska said.

The uncanny timing leant those words even more power for me, reminding me that each day is, indeed, a gift.

Today is All Souls' Day, a big deal in Poland where both Milosz and my grandmother were from. It's a beautiful holiday meant to help remember the dead as families visit the graves of their relatives and leave behind lit candles to help the souls navigate their way home.

I was lucky enough to experience it myself when I was in Warsaw in 1997, and lucky to have Michael visiting me at the time. We rode a city bus out to a large graveyard and wandered through the hushed and holy place, holding hands, and now and then bending down to place the few candles we'd purchased on graves that seemed emptier than the others--though on All Souls Day, no grave went without at least a dozen candles.

I remember I said something to Michael about how quiet it was, and he pointed out to me the sound of breaking glass. I don't know how I'd missed it. The candles were made to burn a long time, many having been placed the day before, on All Saints Day, and as the built up heat became too much for the thin glass enclosure to take, the glass would sometimes burst. But such a delicate bursting. Like it belonged to a piano key far, far to the right, too far to reach with human hands.

This morning I woke up early, woken by another dream about my grandmother, who passed this July. In the dream I was with my mother, and I was marveling with her about the moment of letting go, what that must be like, to really and truly be done. My mother wrapped her arm around my shoulder and asked a nurse-like figure if we could see the body, because she thought it would be helpful for me to see. The nurse was apprehensive, but she eventually led us through to a darkened room, and there on the table was a body, but it wasn't my grandmother, it was me.

I understood then that the body was just a shell, and that my grandmother's soul had moved on, and there was nothing here for me to see.

Now I'm wide awake, unable to return to sleep, missing my grandmother, appreciating the loyalty of my small black dog who faithfully followed at my grandmother's heels when she was alive and now has followed me from the warm bed where Michael still snores, and is curled on my lap, sleeping, not minding the few drops of wet I'm contributing to his soft black fur.

Mr. Milosz has been good enough to provide me with a new poem this morning, and on this All Souls Day, I share it with you as well.



Arthritically bent, in black, spindle-legged,
They move, leaning on canes, to the altar where the Pantocrator
In a dawn of gilded rays lifts his two fingers.
The mighty, radiant face of the All-Potent
In whom everything was created, whatever is on the earth and in
To whom are submitted the atom and the scale of galaxies,
Rises over the heads of His servants, covered with their shawls
While into their shriveled mouths they receive His flesh.

A mirror, mascara, powder, and cones of carmine
Lured every one of them and they used to dress up
As themselves, adding a brighter glow to their eyes,
A rounder arch to their brows, a denser red to their lips.
They opened themselves, amorous, in the riverside woods,
Carried inside the magnificence of the beloved,
Our mothers whom we have never repaid,
Busy, as we were, with sailing, crossing continents.
And guilty, seeking their forgiveness.

He who has been suffering for ages rescues
Ephemeral moths, tired-winged butterflies in the cold,
Genetrixes with the closed scars of their wombs,
And carries them up to His human Theotokos,
So that the ridicule and pain change into majesty
And thus it is fulfilled, late, without charms and colors,
Our imperfect, earthly love.

--Czeslaw Milosz

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pho = Warmth

Back in Chicago, Mike and I were hungry and in a bit of a hurry. I'd read in my guidebook about a no-frills deli not far from our hotel, and that seemed like a good way to fill our stomachs.

But on our way there we walked by a restaurant with outdoor seating and the smell of the food being served was incredible. The restaurant looked fancier than we were in the mood for--white tablecloths, rich women with high-end shopping bags, waiters in suits--but we couldn't get over how good the food smelled, so we got a table and ordered up some lunch.

Thank goodness we stopped.

What you are looking at is the finest bowl of pho M or I have ever consumed. The balance of flavors in the oxtail broth was incredible and the cuts of beef tenderloin were absolutely sublime--they just melted on the tongue. The restaurant's name is Le Colonial and their focus is French-Vietnamese fine dining. We got the pho as a starter, but sadly, neither of our follow-up dishes scored anywhere near the ballpark of the pho. We both wished we'd simply ordered two bowls of the pho instead.

Back in Seattle, M and I were introduced to the joys of pho by the Than brothers, who serve up a more everyday kind of pho with a more everyday price tag. They started a pho house in north Seattle in 1996 and quickly expanded all over the city. You can't get anything but pho there: many varieties of beef, or chicken, or vegetarian. And each meal begins with a complimentary (and complementary) cream puff. The puffs are so good that when M and I got married in 2000, we ordered five hundred of them and stacked them into towers instead of serving cake--a tradition my sister and her husband continued when they got married this summer.

When we're in Seattle, we often get into cream puff eating competitions with Mike's sister and brother. I believe that Mary is the reigning champion, having swallowed 15 cream puffs in one sitting, but if I've got that wrong, forgive me. (They take the competition very seriously.)

So tonight, in chilly Brooklyn, far from either Chicago or Seattle, I started dreaming of pho, and I remembered a place on Atlantic that had served us pho once before: Nicky's. I called and ordered two bowls of pho and two bahn mi sandwiches. An intolerable 45 minutes later, the food finally arrived.

When you order pho to go, they separate out the broth from the meat and the noodles and the vegetable matter so that you can assemble it fresh just before you eat it. Also, some of the meat is raw, so that it will be cooked by the hot broth.

I took the two containers of broth and, though they were still hot, I heated them on my stove until they were boiling. The pod of star anise gave off the most heavenly aroma. And then I poured the broth into two big glass bowls and we each set about assembling our pho, me with more plum sauce, M with more sriracha.

I tell you, it was so, so good, that I'd wait an hour for it again. I really would. And it was so filling that I had to put my bahn mi in the fridge for tomorrow's lunch. (But I scored a bite off of M's so I know it's going to be delicious.)

Then we hunkered down with our two mighty bowls and watched last night's episodes of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report on while the dog anxiously fluttered between our feet, hoping we might drop some part of our meal.

We did not.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Ancho Chile Lesson

I would have included this photo in the round-up below, but I had to scan it in first.

We ate a lot of chiles on that trip to New Mexico--green, red, roasted, stewed, and even the green chile cheeseburger they serve at the McDonald's in Los Alamos. I wouldn't call myself a chile expert now by any means, but I do know my answer to the official New Mexican state question, "Red or Green?"


Monday, October 27, 2008

A Dramatic Exit

Oh, what a night we had at yesterday's opening. The house was packed with Public and Pub staff, lots of donors, a few friends, and a few stray members of the press. Mike was in fine form and the performance was electric. After having heard this monologue 37 times since it was born 4 months ago, it's been hard for me to come to recent performances with a fresh "beginner's mind."

But last night it was not a problem. I was there, and I was rapt, and Mike made me laugh and think and feel in new ways again. Lovely.

Also, I eschewed my usual no-nonsense Dansko clogs for ridiculously high black heels my much-sexier little sister had advised me to purchase months earlier, and I wore peacock feather earrings and painted my nails bright red between the matinee and evening performances. I felt good.

The after-party was terrific, and we closed the Pub down drinking with our crew and a few members of the Pub's waitstaff, with whom we otherwise never have a chance to connect. In fact, we were having such a good time, we all decided to head over to a nearby bar to finish the night off, and it was then, as we were leaving the lobby of the theater, glowy and triumphal, that I stepped incorrectly on the stairs and managed to twist the heck out of my ankle.

I come from a long line of fainters. Something about our low blood pressure, perhaps? I don't know. All I knew last night was that I was in serious pain and I was fighting for consciousness--the bleary vision, the sudden sheet of sweat, the mouth filling with saliva--and I managed to stumble out into the cool night air and lay my overdressed self down on the dirty New York sidewalk.

Someone brought me a napkin full of ice, someone else brought me some water, and eventually, we made it into a cab and home, where I admired my swollen ankle between teary applications of ice. I may also have made a few extremely dramatic statements about how when we are ill we are truly alone, and while it's easy to share in other people's joy, no one is ever willing to share in someone else's pain . . . (All while longsuffering M was fluffing my pillows and fetching me ibuprofen and water and placing the ice-pack exactly as I directed it.)

Today I called my doctor, whom I really adore. He's a rheumatologist, and he comes to see our shows, and he takes great care of me. He got me in for an x-ray right away and happily, there was no break, just a badly sprained ankle. So it's rest, ice, compression, and elevation for me for the next two to six weeks.

That, and finding new ways to be nice to Michael, who in addition to enduring last night's drama now has to take Baci on all his walks, at least for the next 48 hours. Sigh.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Bright Alchemy

Before we leave October, I want to post pictures from our trip to New Mexico last October, when we were doing research for the new monologue. I'm thinking about it a lot because that's the monologue we're now doing in New York seven times a week, and I figured folks who have seen the show might enjoy seeing some of these pictures.

I have to start with Ed Grothus, who runs the Black Hole, and who came to see our show on his 85th birthday when we performed it in Santa Fe this summer.

You can see Ed in action here, and I know that Morning Edition is going to be doing a big piece on him shortly, to which I'll provide a link once it's up. He's a real character, and his devotion to his cause is inspiring. His shop is a must-see if you ever get the chance to visit New Mexico.

Yes, that's a daisy made out of 1,000 pound bomb casings split in half, with a grouping of detonators forming the flower's core. And below you'll see a picture of atomic bomb detonator cables for two dollars a piece.

We stayed with my father and his wife who live in Albuquerque and are extremely gracious and enthusiastic hosts.

On a side note, he has a blog of his own, and like the best blogs, his editorial focus is quite specific. It's a weekly dispatch from his adventures riding the bus, and his sharp but nonjudgmental observations make for a nice window into another corner of the world.

They took us to the Balloon Fiesta, for which Albuquerque is world-famous. Turns out you have to leave your house at 4 AM if you want to be there for the mass ascension, which apparently we did. It was cold and dark, but there were vendors lined up and selling breakfast burritos with green chiles and watery (but warm) hot chocolate, for which we were grateful.

Mike was groggy and irradiated, having made the pilgrimage to the Trinity blast site the day before (I chose to stay behind and learn how to roast ancho chiles with my father instead). He saw most of his balloons by peaking out from the blanket he was shivering beneath.

It also turns out that conditions have to be just right for a balloon to be able to take off. And special shapes, like this Darth Vader balloon, have a more difficult time than standard shapes, but they also draw bigger cheering sections.