Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ms. Kitten Goes to Washington

To my readers,

I will be away for a week, or thereabouts. I'm attending a conference in Washington, DC during the first week of July, and my flight departs at 6 AM tomorrow.

I plan to resume blogging around July 7th or 8th, and hope to have some pictures to share with you all. (especially of July 4th fireworks!)

Anyway, if you need your fix, please amuse yourselves with the archives. See you in a week!

Much love,
The Bookkitten

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Bookkitten's iPod Playlist: Week of June 30th

As I was cleaning out my living room the other day, I found a box of old mix tapes from college. Since cassette players are quickly going the way of the eight-track, I have been using iTunes to recreate some of my favorite mixes. This one dates from February 1995, when I was a Fairfield University freshman.

1. "The Joker," Steve Miller Band
2. "Run, Baby, Run," Sheryl Crow
3. "Lay Down Sally," Eric Clapton
4. "With or Without You," U2
5. "I'm the Only One," Melissa Etheridge
6. "Margaritaville," Jimmy Buffett
7. "What's the Matter Here?" 10,000 Maniacs
8. "Revolution," the Beatles
9. "Tennessee," Arrested Development
10. "Can't Cry Anymore," Sheryl Crow
11. "Hooked on a Feeling," Blue Suede
12. "Cheeseburger in Paradise," Jimmy Buffett
13. "Jungle Love," Steve Miller Band
14. "Candy Everybody Wants," 10,000 Maniacs
15. "Brown-Eyed Girl," Van Morrison
16. "Mickey," Toni Basil
17. "I Dreamed a Dream," Les Miserables
18. "Dancing Queen," ABBA
19. "Copacabana," Barry Manilow
20. "On My Own," Les Miserables
21. "Baby," Brandy
22. "Take a Chance on Me," ABBA
23. "With a Little Help From My Friends," The Beatles

Travelin' solo

After finishing The Devil in the White City, I needed something quick to read, something I could get through before my flight to Washington on Monday. I looked in my bookcase and found a book I had purchased a year ago: Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone. Written by Mary Morris, it is the chronicle of a sojourn in Mexico and Latin America--not the Mexico or Latin America that we see on cruise ships or on glammed-up travel shows. Rather, this book chronicles the gritty reality of abject poverty in the Mexican barrios, as well as the political instability in countries such as Nicaragua and Guatemala.

Morris isn't clear about how long she stayed in Mexico. She had an apartment in San Miguel de Allende, a town located, as she writes, "about 10 hours south of Laredo." She lives next door to a poor woman named Lupe and her children. Morris moved to this part of Mexico to get away from some heartache that she left behind in America, and uses money from a grant to fund her voyage.

She writes in a stream of consciousness fashion, with little attention paid to dates and time. She doesn't really devote that much time to her inner demons, but rather, focuses on the trips that she took around Central America, such as the time she went to Agua Azul and watched a young boy fall over the waterfall. (OK, I was wrong about the inner demon part, she was traumatized by this event, understandably so). She writes about her Mexican boyfriend, Alejandro, and her relationship with him. She loves him, but not enough to marry him. She can't live with him, she can't live without him. They have a "come here, now get away" type of relationship. I found it confusing.

This memoir was a great first person portrayal of Mexican poverty and political instability in Central America. As a memoir, however, it fell kind of flat. Mary Morris didn't experience personal revelations on the scale of those found in Eat, Pray, Love and glossed over some of the real reasons why she decided to settle in San Miguel de Allende for a while. Whatever trauma she experienced, it seemed clear to me that she wasn't ready to discuss it in written form. Quite frankly, this was one of those books I read through as fast as I could just so I could get through it. Enjoyable, but not a keeper.

Now to find a book for DC. I won't have a terrible amount of time to read, but I'd at least like something from the plane, something that I can focus on when my crossword puzzles get too frustrating.

Friday, June 27, 2008

More Friday Cat Blogging

Gabby's at it again, this time resting underneath another one of her favorite places (though she doesn't frequent this space as much during the summer):

Sometimes she and Maggie will chase each other under the rug, and it's quite a sight watching them wrestle underneath it.

Mark Twain House

Today I decided to pay a visit to the Mark Twain House. I had heard a few weeks back that the foundation that maintains the house and its museum was running out of money, so I decided that I should visit before it possibly closed for good. Then yesterday, a friend told me that Governor Rell allocated $50,000 to the Mark Twain Foundation, assuring its continued operation for the time being.

Today, like yesterday, was a crappy day weather-wise on the eastern seaboard: overcast, humid, but not too hot. A perfect day for a museum visit.

I arrived in time for the 12:30 tour. I hadn't visited the Mark Twain House since I was in the second grade, and wasn't sure how much I would remember.

It turns out the only things I remembered were the exterior of the house, as well as the staircases. As a kid I thought they were so huge and twisty. That's the kid's perspective for you there.

I couldn't decide which pictures of the house itself I should use, so here are the best ones I took:

Museum rules prohibit any picture-taking inside the house. However, you can find pictures of the rooms and halls here, and take an interactive tour. The rooms are quite decadent and lovely, with hand stenciled designs all over the walls, and each room having a different theme. All of the rooms have been carefully restored with pieces of furniture that Mark Twain owned himself, and in the case that they couldn't find Twain's own furniture, they examined receipts, journal entries, and other primary sources to track down period pieces that he would have owned. For example, all of the books in the library were the editions that Twain would have owned, but they weren't his.

Additionally, some of the rooms were very dark, such as the main hall, library, and dining room. There was all sorts of dark wood carvings, dark wood beams on the ceiling, and dark furniture. The drawing room was a notable exception, with its pink carpeting, pink velvet upholstered furniture, and pink wall treatments.

We had an excellent tour guide. He never refered to Mark Twain as Mark Twain, but as his given name, Sam Clemens. He lovingly described the relationship among Sam and his three daughters, Susy, Clara, and Jean, and how the girls would all play games and tell stories with their father. He led us to their nursery and school room, where the three girls were educated by their mother, Livy, their governess, and other private tutors. They were educated in such subjects as French, Italian, German, Latin, and sciences. Susy even attended college for a year, a rare thing for a woman of her era to do.

Even though we couldn't take pictures in the house, there were no rules prohibiting picture taking in other parts of the museum. I was able to capture the following images at other exhibits:

The top of Sam's writing desk, with copies of pages from the New York Herald.

Silver cups and plates that belonged to two of the children.

Tiles from the estate of Louis Comfort Tiffany, who helped Clemens decorate the house.

Jewelry that once belonged to Livy Clemens, Sam's wife.

This display of "kitty caboodle" was in the gift shop. Sam Clemens loved cats. Since I am the Bookkitten, I couldn't resist.

And here's the other half of the display:

All in all, it was a very enjoyable visit. You don't have to be a fan of Mark Twain's books, or be that familiar with his works, to appreciate the Mark Twain House. It's really interesting to see such a vibrant example of period architecture. Not only that, it's great to know that one of America's most classic authors once lived in my home state.

Not only that, Harriet Beecher Stowe's house is next door to Mark Twain's. I didn't get a chance to visit her residence, but if there's another crappy weather day like there was today, I'm there!

Friday Cat Blogging

After much internal debate, I have decided to join the ranks of Friday cat bloggers, who follow the Friday Cat Blogging rule as if it were as necessary as brushing one's teeth upon awakening. I figured that y'all know about the "Book" part of my name, so I figured you needed to know about the "Kitten" portion of it. Y'see, I am the proud owner of two felines, whom I regard as my kids. I also enjoy looking at the photos at I Can Has Cheeseburger, my favorite site for cat craziness.

I won't cat blog every Friday, for I am enough of a crazy cat lady as it is. I'll only post when I have crazy/memorable cat pictures to share. And today, I've got a few.

First, meet Maggie, my oldest cat. She will be six next week.

This is one of Maggie's favorite places: sleeping in a cat crate. For this reason, she is unique among felines. She has always loved her crate, and will walk right in, willingly, when I set it up. This makes my sister mad, for her cats have to be shoved into their crates.

(NOTE: I do not keep the crates out all the time. I'm heading for Washington DC next week, and am using the crates to transport the cats to my parents' house, where they'll stay while I'm gone).

Here's another shot of Maggie, this time in her favorite spot in the house:

Now here's my other cat, Gabby, who is a year younger than Maggie, in her typical pose:

Gabby looooves to have her belly rubbed. She is the most trusting cat I've ever met. She loves everyone and anyone who comes to visit--family, friends, neighbors, the cable guy, etc.

And here's a picture of her up close:

So there you have it, my two babies, who will be making semi-regular visits to the blog. And they try to help out the posting, as you will see in the future--especially Maggie.

Now go visit I Can Has Cheeseburger for some more feline fun!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Angels, Devils...

I have finished my book club's latest choice, The Devil in the White City, written by Erik Larson. This was not the usual tome where I seat myself in a secluded place, turn off the phones, and read it straight through. Rather, this was a novel that I had to read in chunks, not because I didn't like it, but because there was so much information to absorb. Larson's account was well researched, although he admitted in the footnotes section that he had made up a couple of parts (more about that later). However, he did add that the parts he made up were based on his research.

This book takes place during the World Columbian Exhibition of 1893, which took place in Chicago. At the time, Chicago was desperate for American recognition, and wanted to give the nation, and the world, a memorable occasion, a chance to shine. Back then Chicago did not have a very good reputation, so city officials worked hard to secure the chance at the World Columbian Exhibition (more commonly known these days as the World's Fair), to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America.

Chicago city officials hired a young architect named Daniel Burnham to head the design of the buildings for the fair. Burnham could not design all of the buildings himself, so he hired the best architects he knew to help him. He also hired noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead to help design the fairgrounds. (Olmstead is today noted for his design of Central Park and the grounds of the Biltmore Estate).

Much of this book portrays the struggles and achievements of getting the buildings designed, constructed, and open to the public. It describes how Burnham wanted this to be his masterpiece, and how organizers wanted this fair to be greater than the Paris Exhibition of 1889--greater in attendance, beauty, and memories. Additionally, Larson devotes much of his manuscript to the personal and professional conflicts among the architects themselves, particularly between Burnham and Olmstead. He especially describes Olmstead's health woes in great detail.

But Larson keeps emphasizing that Chicago fair officials wanted the fair to top the one held in Paris. The 1889 Paris Exhibition was remembered for a certain tower that Gustave Eiffel designed, and how it was rather disliked at first, but as the years progressed, became France's top cultural symbol. Chicago fair organizers kept looking for something to "out-Eiffel Eiffel," and after many tries, they finally got their wish, thanks to a man named George Washington Gale Ferris. Mr. Ferris invented something that many amusement parks and carnivals are never without. Yes, the World Columbian Exhibition of 1893 marked the world's first appearance of the Ferris wheel.

Yet amongst the frivolity of the fair, across town, there was a man named H.H. Holmes who ran a business called the World's Fair Hotel. Many of his clients, young, single women, checked into the hotel to visit the fair, but never checked out. Holmes promised many women gifts, trips to Europe, and riches galore--but these women never lived to see them. He bought furniture and goods on credit, and had many creditors at him to pay up.

You see, H.H. Holmes was a very smooth criminal, a murderer and a con artist. He was, as Larson put it, a psychopath before the term even existed. Families hired detectives and lawyers after their daughters went missing, and Holmes tried to snub any leads they may have had. The city of Chicago never persecuted him for his financial crimes, nor did they launch any investigations of him when young girls went missing.

How did the city not persecute Holmes for his crimes? How was he able to get away with it?

Larson creates an interesting juxtaposition between two men perfecting their craft--one who constructed a marvelous World's Fair, and the other who perfected his career manipulating others. He uses the World's Fair as a vehicle for linking the two men, but I kept waiting for a part where they would actually meet. I kept waiting for a climatic point, such as an article in the Chicago Tribune about a big murder spree a la Jack the Ripper, but it never materialized. Rather, Holmes went about his killing sprees so quietly that Chicago police wasn't alerted to anything immediately.

Larson does an excellent job recreating the economic conditions of the time--failing banks, railroads, unemployment--and describes how the fair was seen by many to be a welcome diversion of the times. He also describes how such economic conditions affected attendance at the fair, as well as the organizers' attempts to pay off bank debts and have the fair gain a profit.

The one thing missing from this book, however, is almost obvious: the architecture. Larson's descriptions of the buildings do not do it justice. There is a map of the fairgrounds in the opening pages of the book, and a picture of the Government Building adorns the cover. There are several illustrations scattered throughout the book, but no clear photo plates of the buildings themselves. Larson keeps describing how much people were entranced by the White City, but we never really get to fully understand why. So I Googled "The Devil in the White City" and, via Wikipedia, found this link. One look at the photographs will show you why people were entranced with the White City. The architecture is stunningly, amazingly beautiful. It's like you're stepping into someone's palace, someone's private kingdom, it's that gorgeous.

As for the parts that Larson made up, well, he recreated two murder scenes based on research that he performed. Holmes did not murder his victims by stabbing them, but rather, used chloroform or gas to slowly poison them.

One final note: at the beginning of his book, Larson makes it clear that The Devil in the White City is not a work of fiction. When I read this forward I had to question why he would write such a thing. As I continued to read, particularly the parts involving Holmes, I understood. Some of Holmes's actions are so bizarre they sometimes read as if they come from a really sensational soap opera. But, as Larson emphasizes, it is a true story, and the events actually happened.

This was an excellent read. Now I need to read something a bit more pleasant, to get the murder off my mind.

New Britain Rock Cats, June 25, 2008

Here are the pictures I promised of last night's Rock Cats game. Enjoy!

Welcome to New Britain Stadium, home of the New Britain Rock Cats!

This game is brought to you by New Britain's own Guida's Dairy!

Our seats were behind home plate, as you can see, and mine was perpendicular to it.

The national anthem, with the players and kids on the field. A really sweet sight to see.

The theme from Rocky played as the mascots, Rocky the Rock Cat and Blooper the Walrus, entered the stadium on a mini Dattco bus. (Dattco, one of the team's sponsors, has raffled off mini buses in games before).
Blooper greets his fans. Hartford readers, is Blooper the reincarnation of Wally the Walrus from the old WHCN? Did Wally find new employment, and a name change, after HCN became The River 105.9?

Race between second and third bases with a really little kid and three of the team's mascots. The kid is standing next to Rocky. The kid won the race.
Scooter race between third base and home.

Dunkin' Donuts, another team sponsor, held a race among a hot coffee, donut, and an iced latte. I think the latte won.
Rocky greets his fans. There are always long lines of autograph seekers. Sometimes Rocky sits with the fans.

Hydration Man, the Crystal Rock Rock Cats mascot, reminding fans to get a bottle of Crystal Rock water from concessions so they don't get thirsty.

Chicken Dance on top of the Rock Cats' dugout with one of the little league teams in attendance.

Oh yeah, and here are two shots of the actual game. The Rock Cats ended up losing to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, 3-1, with 5,422 fans present. And I'm sure many more will be present, for the Rock Cats, no matter what their record is, are adored. (Plus it's a great, cheap way to spend a summer evening!)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Old Ball Game

Let's go back in time for a minute, kids. 1986. October. World Series, Mets vs. Red Sox. I was raised on Mets baseball, and I was the only kid in the 5th grade class at Kelly Lane School (if not the only kid in the entire school) hoping that the Mets would win. And win they did, in historic, dramatic fashion. My parents have all seven games of that series on tape; my mother particularly enjoys watching game 6, for obvious reasons. (And it's only recently, now that they have two World Series rings in three years, that Boston officially forgave Bill Buckner).

I still enjoy baseball, but not always of the professional variety. I like little league games, if I happen to be at the park, then just sit and catch one. (None of my friends have kids who play little league...yet). Pro games have become way too expensive with their high ticket and concession prices, not to mention the corporatization (I know that's not a word) of pro baseball. So far only the stadiums have names like Minute Maid Park and (gulp) Citi Field, but the teams, thank God, have not taken corporate names like the Citi Mets or the Tropicana Devil Rays.

(In the interest of full disclosure, let me add here that I'm attending a conference in Washington, DC next week, and one of the planned activities is a trip to a game at Camden Yards. I'm not so much excited as seeing the Orioles play as I am seeing Camden Yards, which I hear is a gem of a ballpark. You know what they say, when opportunity knocks...)

And opportunity knocked tonight. I recently got a chance at discounted tickets to a New Britain Rock Cats game. OK, the cheapest seats are $5 a pop, but I got three $8 seats for $5 each. Hey, in this economy, ya gotta find whatever breaks ya can get.

I really love the fact that I live in a state with THREE minor league baseball teams. In addition to the Rock Cats, we've got the Bridgeport Bluefish and the Connecticut Defenders. And as a bonus, I live 20 minutes from New Britain Stadium, so it's easy for me to catch a ball game whenever I want.

The Rock Cats are a real family-oriented team. At the beginning of the game, they recognize all of the little league, high school, and other community baseball teams in attendance, and they invite 'em on the field before the game starts. And, as a bonus, these teams stay on the field with the Rock Cats players during the singing of the national anthem. It's a really sweet thing to see.

It wasn't such a good game for the Rock Cats tonight. Their opponents were the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, an ironic name when you consider that the fisher cat preys on domestic kitties. But that's not the point. There were still some really good plays in the game. Both teams had a couple of double plays. There were some excellent catches of pop flies. There weren't any home runs, but a lot of grounders.

The most interesting parts of the game often happen between innings, when Lucky, who works the crowd as one of the Rock Cats' emcees, leads games and contests involving the kids. Tonight he helped lead a little league team in performing the chicken dance on top of the home team's dugout. Earlier, he called a race among a little kid (I'm almost certain he was no more than three years old) and the mascots, Rocky, Blooper, and Toner.

It was a very enjoyable evening. I left with some good pictures, which I will post later, a free t-shirt, and a free Rock Cats umbrella. This is the first time I've scored loot at a ball game! Yeah!

And the Rock Cats have a home game at 12:05 tomorrow...$5 a ticket, and I'm on vacation...hmmm...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Ms. Kitten Confesses...

...that she is reading a mystery novel.

If you look at my profile, you will read that I will NOT read mystery novels. I have never been a huge fan of the genre, save for the Encyclopedia Brown books I devoured as a child. However, my book club is reading The Devil in the White City, a tome about the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. It bills itself as a mystery novel--a murder mystery at that.

My friend Lisa first recommended the book to me, before my book club decided to read it. She raved about it. Lisa loved it so much that she even went online and researched all of the different places that the book references. And this is a woman who loathes the Internet, so she must have really enjoyed this book.

I am now up to page 62. So far I have learned about the background of the architects who designed the buildings at the Fair, Burnham and Root. I have also learned about the mysterious Dr. H.H. Holmes, a man from New Hampshire who has just purchased a pharmacy in Chicago. All three men have interesting backgrounds, but this Holmes character has the most interesting one of all...

And I leave you with that tonight, dear readers, for I am tired, and I am too lazy to get the book from my coffee table. I shall update you tomorrow. Sweet dreams!!

P.S. In spite of the title of this post, this is NOT an addition to the "Kitten Confessions" series that I began a while back, for this post did not uncover something deep and unknown about me. (I thought some people would be a wee bit confused).

George Carlin - A place for my stuff

I've finally figured out how to post YouTube clips, so here's George Carlin's take on stuff. WARNING: Offensive language.

R.I.P. George Carlin

I mentioned George Carlin's routine on "Stuff" in my 100 Things post recently. This morning I turn on NPR and learn that the man died yesterday.

We're losing too many entertainment/journalist legends/icons lately! First Harvey Korman, then Jim McKay, then Tim Russert, and now George Carlin! (And let's not forget Cyd Charisse or Stan Winston, either).

Arrgh...this is too sad. Anyway, when you get a chance, go to Google video and type in "George Carlin Stuff". It's my favorite of all of his routines.

And Mr. Carlin, they're playing your "Seven Dirty Words" routine on the radio today--albeit censored. I'm not sure you'd like that.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Another Meditation on Meditation...and a Meditation on Slowing Down

In her memoir One More Time, Carol Burnett described how, as a child, she could leave her body if she really wanted to. All she had to do was look in the mirror, focus intensely on her reflection, and soon she'd find herself floating above, watching the world go by.

In her memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert describes the time she finally, after months of practicing, and often failing, at meditation, "got pulled through the wormhole of the Absolute...I left my body, I left the room, I left the planet, I stepped through time and I entered the void. I was inside the void, but I also was the void and I was looking at the void, all at the same time." (p. 199)

After reading these descriptions of leaving one's body, of experiencing the absolute, I've been thinking about what it would be like if this could actually happen to me. Today, during the church service, as the sounds of the gong reverberated through the sanctuary, I was expecting to leave my body. I really, really wanted to enter that void, where I could just see myself and my friends and church community in an utter state of relaxing bliss.

And I have realized, I'm expecting way too much. WAAAAAAAYYYYYYYY too much.

I have never been good at relaxing. I am not very good at slowing down. Even during the summer months, as much as I look forward to the time off from academia, I get very bored, very quickly, with the lack of a routine. It's a weird dichotomy: there are days when I can't wait to get away from my school year routine, but when I don't have it, I miss it.

Why do I have trouble slowing down? Do I not want to deal with certain issues? It's possible. Do I like to keep busy? Absolutely. But if there's something that I've realized in the past year, there's one thing I haven't been taking good care of, either physically, mentally, and spiritually: myself. Writing and relating to the books I have read or am currently reading helps me process whatever is going on in my life. I know it may seem unorthodox for some, but it has been helping me out.

Jane Redmont over at Acts of Hope has been writing frequently about the "summer slowdown." I found this posting to be the most excellent of what she has written so far. One particular passage really struck me:

"There is more time, of course, to attend to inner realities, and those can be as challenging to face as the outer ones. Still, there is more space to be reverent. I try not to mourn the times I was not able to be reverent, mindful, eucharistic, in this past packed year. Perhaps summer can also be a time for reconciliation: for forgiveness of self as well as others."

It's the "inner realities" that I avoided for years--that is, those times when I beat on myself with a stick for not, simply, "feeling good enough" in my career, my personal life, my family life. By not dealing with these low times head on, they just grew and grew, like a tumor. Forgive me for the cliche, but that's the best way I can describe it.

So I have learned how to acknowledge those "inner realities." I'm pretty good at forgiving others, but I am terrible at forgiving myself.

Maybe that should be my mantra this summer: forgiveness. Self forgiveness. Keep having high expectations, but don't set the bar too high.

That's kind of like expecting to leave my body during a meditation practice: it's too much.

Maybe I should go in to meditation having no expectations and just let things happen.

Maybe that's also a part of slowing down: just letting things happen.

I've got two full months to do that.

A Meditation on Meditation

This morning we had a meditation service at church. We started off with a vowel chant that I really enjoyed, and I was really able to get into it. Then, after joys and concerns, the choir sang another chant (and I, as a member of the choir, was able to get into that as well; we harmonized very well, thank you.)

I really enjoy chanting because I can focus on the words, and as I focus on the words, I'm able to let myself go and relax.

Free form meditation, on the other hand, gives me problems.

In lieu of the sermon, our service leader played the gong. It's not like the gong that's banged on that old TV classic The Gong Show, no! Instead, he took two mallets and gently played the gong, making the sounds and the rhythms faster, then slower, then louder, then softer. Imagine how ocean waves sound crashing against the shore before, during, and after a big storm. That's what the gong sounded like.

And as we listened to the gong, we were supposed to relax, let our minds unwind, and just let our bodies lay still and quiet.

Well, my body was still and quiet, but my mind started racing.

This happens whenever I try to meditate. I try to let my mind go still, to let it relax and empty out all of the thoughts I have, but it never seems to work. Instead, I just keep thinking, and that's the worst thing. Here are some thoughts I had in this morning's attempt to meditate:
  • Should I change the litter in the cat boxes tonight?
  • When should I pack for Washington?
  • Should I vacuum today, or tomorrow?
  • What should I have for dinner?
  • Is it worth it to go grocery shopping when I'm flying to DC in a week?
  • What am I going to write about when I blog about this failed meditation experience?

Author Elizabeth Gilbert writes about her early attempts at meditation in her wonderful book, Eat, Pray, Love. She spent four months at an ashram in India, and wrote candidly about how upset she became when she just couldn't let her mind unwind. There is one hilarious passage in the book where she and her mind are arguing over which image to concentrate on during meditation: an ocean, a Greek island, or a lake. She starts meditating on a Greek island, but then her mind says it's too touristy. She then meditates on a lake, but then her mind argues that the lake could be filled with noisy jet skis. She finally settles on an island in the river, but still keeps arguing with her mind on whether she IS the island or the river.

Eventually, though, Gilbert is able to meditate successfully. Based on what she wrote, I believe that meditation is a skill that must be acquired gradually, and not overnight. She writes about how she experiences this cool blue pulsating light whenever she meditates. So, I figured, that if she experiences this cool blue pulsating light during meditation, then I must experience the same thing.

The closest I come to a blue light these days is the KMart mascot, Mr. Blue Light.

Instead, I close my eyes, try to unwind, but instead let my wander to work issues, home issues, or whatever random thoughts come across.

Some people fell asleep during the meditation today. One guy even started snoring! And that was what annoyed me most of all: here was a prime chance for me to squeeze in a midmorning nap, after being up to the wee hours this morning, and I just couldn't snooze.

And now I'm trying to come up with a snappy ending for this post, a play on words, maybe, and NOW nothing runs through my mind.

Let's meditate on the reasons why my mind is empty NOW, shall we?

Wide Awake

While attending a gathering at my best friend's place, around 11 PM I was fading really fast. I was afraid of falling asleep, so I asked my friend if there were any places in the area where I could grab a coffee on the way home. Instead, he offered to make a pot, an offer I gladly accepted.

I drank a cup of black coffee. I don't know what kind it was, but it was excellent. It was lighter than I am used to (I like STRONG coffee), but it did the trick and kept me awake as I drove home.

I got home an hour ago, and the coffee is still doing its job.

And I have to be at church for a 9:30 choir rehearsal.

I need to get some sleep, otherwise I'll be dragging at that 9:30 rehearsal.

Maybe I can take some Benadryl, but then I'll wake up groggy.

Or maybe I will just wait for sleep to come, even if it means waiting till 3 AM.

Either way, I'm gonna wake up tired and crabby in a few hours.

Well, it's 1:13 AM right now. I'll give myself till 1:30 and see what happens.

Good night, everybody!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Potential Cooking Disaster Confirmed

I just sliced the cake and gave it a taste test. It was disgusting. The texture was okay, but the combination of flavors was too sweet. The Baileys was particularly overwhelming.

I'm not going to have time to bake another cake for coffee hour, but oh well. At least my culinary reputation will remain intact.

Potential Cooking Disaster Awaits

Last night I posted my recipe for Bittersweet Mocha Coffee Cake. I just put it in the oven and am crossing my fingers, for this cake could come out nasty.

I had creamed the butter and sugar and went to go add the vanilla, when I discovered there was no vanilla in my cupboards. Then I turned to my wine rack/liquor shelf which is on my kitchen counter and found a bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream. I thought, "What the hell?" and added a tablespoon of Bailey's to substitute for the vanilla.

Then--and this is worse--I discovered that I had no all-purpose flour. I did, however, have whole wheat flour. I am fully aware that you cannot substitute whole wheat flour for all-purpose flour cup for cup, but I added the two cups of flour the recipe required and it looked okay.

So, now the cake is baking in the oven. I added the crushed Heath and Butterfinger bars like I said I would do, and the mixture looked like a mud pie with tiny pebbles scattered throughout.

I'll keep you posted.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Cooking with Kitten: Bittersweet Mocha Coffee Cake

This recipe comes from the wonderful cookbook, Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Cafe, a cookbook full of recipes for delicious breakfast goodies. I have made this cake many times and it has become one of my signature dishes; I have never had a single complaint about this cake at all.

I originally planned to make it for a party at my best friend's house tomorrow, but he told me not to cook anything, so I'm bringing it to coffee hour at church on Sunday instead.

So here, my friends, is the recipe:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) softened unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 cup strong brewed coffee
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the butter for several minutes with an electric mixer at high speed. Add the sugar and beat for several minutes longer. (These two steps help give the cake really nice volume). Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each, and then add the vanilla.
  3. In a second bowl, combine the dry ingredients, slowly mixing them together with a whisk. In a measuring cup with a spout, combine the coffee and the milk. (NOTE: You can adjust the ratio of coffee and milk, as long as the liquid adds up to one cup total).
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture in three installments, alterating with the coffee mixture, beginning and ending with the dry (the sequence should go dry-wet-dry-wet-dry). After each addition, use a rubber spatula to stir up from the bottom of the bowl to fully blend all of the ingredients. Gently fold in the chocolate chips with the last addition of the flour. Do not overmix.
  5. Transfer the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly into place. Bake 45 to 50 minutes. or until a sharp knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for at least 30 minutes before removing the cake from the pan. After 30 minutes, invert the cake onto a plate, and let cool 10 to 15 minutes before slicing.

NOTE: Sometimes I substitute crushed Heath bars for the chocolate chips. Tomorrow, I plan to use both crushed Heath and Butterfinger bars.

Hope y'all enjoy this recipe!

First Day of Summer

I know that summer doesn't officially start till 7:59 tonight, but for me, yesterday was the true first day.

As I noted a couple of posts ago, I work in academia. I am now on summer vacation.

And that is all I will say about my job.

But today, on the occasion of the Summer Solstice, is the first full day of my vacation.

So how have I spent the first day of summer so far?

Well, last night I stayed up till 11:30. (I really wanted to stay up later, but I was exhausted.) I didn't have to set my alarm or get up at a specific time. I shut the ringer of my land line off before I went to bed, and turned the cell phone completely off. It felt really good to do that.

I made sure that the cats had enough food and water in their dishes, so they wouldn't crawl all over me at the crack of dawn.

I was getting ready to sleep in. The day after the last day of school, I always allow myself to sleep in later and longer than any other day of the year.

And today, I got up at 8:15. Not as late as I wanted to sleep, but at least I didn't awaken to my clock radio.

It was such a delicious feeling, being awakened by the sun streaming through my window, one cat plastered against my side and the other cuddled up at my feet. They knew not to disturb mommy.

I had a very leisurely breakfast. I made tea and scrambled eggs with freshly ground pepper and Mrs. Dash Italian seasoning. And then I headed here, to my computer, logged onto WNYC to listen live, and read the Hartford Courant online.

And then, decisions. How should I spend the rest of this glorious day?

I wanted to call my sister, who was at work, and rub in the fact that I was on vacation. I then decided against it, because I've done it every year for the past several years, and felt the routine was getting old.

I then decided to call my best friend, who was also at work, and rub the vacation factor in his face. I decided against that, too, based on my factors listed above.

If anything, I knew I wanted to spend this day alone, sort of as a cleansing ritual, since I spend so much time around people during the academic year.

It's such a gorgeous day, full of sunlight and the occasional cloud.

Now what?

I logged off and lifted weights for 20 minutes. Then I watched the first half of The Price is Right, and then left to go to the Y and pick up a prescription at CVS. I was at CVS when I realized I left my earbuds at home, so I turned around and went back home. It was lunchtime, so I ended up having lunch--pasta with roasted veggies.

And now, here we are, back at the computer so I can record more detail of my day. After lunch I moved my entertainment center, dusted in the back, and put it back in its proper place. I'm still planning on going to the Y, then I have a meeting at church, and a cake to bake when I get home later this evening. I'm attending a party tomorrow at my best friend's house; it'll be the first time we've seen each other in six months.

Not such an exciting time for the first day of summer, but a very restful time, indeed.

UPDATE, 12:02 AM, 6/21: The day got more exciting, as I was invited to a small get-together with some friends right after a meeting at church. It was a lovely time to play catch-up with some people I don't get to see too much, and was another great way to open the summer season.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Father's Greatest Legacy

I rarely, if ever, watched Meet the Press, but I admired and respected Tim Russert. I enjoyed watching him do political analysis on all of the NBC news shows, particularly during the 2000 election, when Tom Brokaw couldn't tell whether Bush or Gore captured Florida. All of the other networks had fancy graphics, computers, and charts to display their statistics, but Russert captured the essence of what was going on with a simple white board and dry erase marker. Technology wasn't for him. He was the type of guy who could grill politicians and pundits by day, yet at night, you could picture going to a football game with him and be comfortable. He was that rare combination of esteemed journalist and regular guy--a rare combination indeed.

This, and many other wonderful memories of Tim Russert, were shared yesterday at his memorial service, broadcast live on MSNBC. Tom Brokaw opened up the proceedings with a wonderful blend of humor and tenderness: "This is a celebration, and we're gonna do it Irish style. There will be some tears, some laughs, and the occasional truth. And as Tim would look out on this gathering, he would say, 'It's wild! It's wild! My family, my closest friends from near and far, the powerful, the ordinary, and the largest contingent of all in this room, those who think they should be his successor on Meet the Press."

That last sentence really got a belly laugh from the crowd, and set the tone for a touching, funny, and warm tribute to a man who was taken from this Earth all too soon. Maria Shriver spoke of a man who became another brother to her: "I lost my heart to Timmy Russert the day I met him. And the entire time I knew him, he took care of it. He protected my heart when it needed protection, he nurtured it when it needed care, and he helped it grow. And he never, ever broke it--a rare man, indeed."

Brian Williams, anchor of NBC Nightly News: "We dared to think that he would live to comb grey hair. He had every gift but length of years. This brings us to a perfect note to end on, at least for me. Let's talk about Tim's hair. Tim spent a fortune on his hair...he went to a very fashionable salon...for years...his only attempt at vanity. And on the day when he got it done, he looked outstanding for 60 to 90 minutes afterwards. And then, gradually, as he went on the course of his day, something happened...he just went back to being Tim."

All of the speeches were touching, funny, and paid tribute to a great man. Yet there was one other person mentioned in each of those speeches: Russert's 22 year old son, Luke. The camera panned to Luke whenever he was mentioned, and the camera viewed a young man, with his mother's dark eyes and his father's facial expressions, laughing along at the memories shared in that room at the Kennedy Center. Luke, a freshly minted college graduate, who was suddenly thrust into manhood upon the death of his father. Luke, whom everyone had to think, "How is he dealing with all of this?"

We soon got our answer.

He was the last to speak.

He approached the microphone with a confidence well beyond his years. "Good afternoon," he greeted, "I'm Luke Russert, proud son of Tim and Maureen. Before I begin, my mother and I would like to extend our deepest thanks for the tremendous outpouring of love and support from all of you and everyone all over the country.

"Earlier today, I delivered my father's eulogy, and I'd like to share a few excerpts. I'm sorry to break the news to every charity group, university, and club that he spoke to, but he had the same speech for all of you; he'd just tinker it a little bit, depending on who exactly he was talking to. So I would like to do the same thing, and do what I said earlier."

What refreshing candor and honesty! This got a huge laugh, and lots of applause from the crowd.

He continued on, quoting his own dad, from chapter 20 of his dad's book, Big Russ and Me, titled "Loss": "It's about Michael Gardner, my dad's friend who lost his 17 year old son to acute juvenile diabetes some years ago. After his passing, my dad phoned Michael and he said to him, 'Michael, think of it this way: What if God had come to you and said, "I'm gonna make you an offer: I'm gonna give you a beautiful, wonderful, happy and loveable son for 17 years, but then it will be time for him to come home." You'd make that deal in a second, right?' Well, I had my dad for 22 years, but I, too, would make that deal in a heartbeat.

"Later on in that chapter my dad goes on to say, 'The importance of faith and of accepting and celebrating death was something I continued to believe as a Catholic and a Christian. To accept faith we have to resign ourselves as mortals to the fact that we are a small part of a grand design.' Well my dad may have been a small part of God's grand design, though, but he was such a big presence on this Earth."

This kid is just 22 years old. And yet I felt his father ooze out of every word he said, as if his father was standing right beside him, almost as if he were using Luke as a mouthpiece for what he needed to say about death. And yet the funniest moment of his eulogy was just coming up:

"He had a great time living, and is no doubt having the time of his life in Heaven. So I ask you, this Sunday, in your hearts and in your minds, to imagine a Meet the Press: Special Edition, live from inside St. Peter's gate. Maybe Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr will be on for the full hour, debating. Perhaps JFK and Barry Goldwater will give their two cents about the 2008 election. You could even have Teddy Roosevelt for the full hour talking about the need for a third party."

This got a laugh from the entire crowd. And then, at the end, this young man brought the crowd to its feet.

Tim Russert was very proud of his son, and you could see why. This young man is a hero to many of us right now. He is handling his father's death with grace, aplomb, and a maturity well beyond his years. Of course, this is Luke Russert's public face; he may mourn his father's death in a different fashion away from the press.

But on that June day, at the Kennedy Center, we witnessed Tim Russert's greatest legacy, and it wasn't Meet the Press.

It was his son--and Luke Russert gave everyone reasons to be proud of him. I know that he has a great future in front of him.

Let's hope that he has the gift of more than the 58 years that his father had.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Random Facts

You know those E-mail surveys that you randomly receive that ask you the most random questions? I love 'em because they're fun, and a great form of procrastination.

I'm doing this 'cause it's fun, and I don't feel like folding laundry.

So here goes...


2. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU CRIED? this past weekend

3. DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING? I have the best handwriting of anyone I know.


5. DO YOU HAVE KIDS? I consider my two cats to be my kids.

6. IF YOU WERE ANOTHER PERSON WOULD YOU BE FRIENDS WITH YOU? Yes, but I would have to have a lot of patience to put up with me!

7. DO YOU USE SARCASM A LOT? More like dry humor.


9. WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP? I had enough trouble climbing Chichen Itza...

10. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CEREAL? Quaker Oatmeal Squares


12. DO YOU THINK YOU ARE STRONG? Physically, no. Mentally, yes, depending on the situation. I can be stubborn as hell.

13. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ICE CREAM? Ben and Jerry's Heath Bar Crunch


15. RED OR PINK? Purple. I don't look good in red, and the wrong shades of pink make me barf. (Think Pepto Bismal).

16. WHAT IS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOURSELF? My tendancy to over-extend myself.

17. WHOM DO YOU MISS THE MOST? My maternal grandmother, my friend Gay, my second grade teacher, and some friends from college whom I haven't spoken to in a long time

18. WHAT COLOR PANTS AND SHOES ARE YOU WEARING? khakis and black clogs

19. WHAT WAS THE LAST THING YOU ATE? chicken nuggets


21. IF YOU WERE A CRAYON, WHAT COLOR WOULD YOU BE? somebody get me the Crayola box...whatever the deepest, reddest shade of plum is called...aubergine, maybe?

22. FAVORITE SMELLS? Fireplaces on a cold winter's night. Suntan lotion on a hot day in the Caribbean. Garlic. Baby powder. Steak grilling on a hot summer night.


24. FAVORITE SPORTS TO WATCH? Figure skating, gymnastics, and dog agility competitions.

25. HAIR COLOR? Dark brown with two or three grey hairs thrown in.

26. EYE COLOR? Dark brown.


28. FAVORITE FOOD? Yes, please.

29. SCARY MOVIES OR HAPPY ENDINGS? Happy endings, definitely.

30. LAST MOVIE YOU WATCHED? Yeesh, I can’t remember.

31. WHAT COLOR SHIRT ARE YOU WEARING? A short sleeved white top with tan and turquoise embroidery around the neckline.

32. SUMMER OR WINTER? Summer for its nice, long, sunny days. Winter for cozy, snowy days with a hot cup of tea and a good book.


34. FAVORITE DESSERT? Cheesecake. Chocolate mousse. Anything with caramel.

35. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING NOW? The Devil in the White City



38. FAVORITE SOUNDS? A heavy downpour against the windows. Purring cats. Wind through the trees on a spring day. Silence.


40. WHAT IS THE FARTHEST YOU HAVE BEEN FROM HOME? Farthest east: Paris; farthest west: Los Angeles

41. DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL TALENT? Singing, writing, cross stitch, scrapbooking, acting

42. WHERE WERE YOU BORN? White Plains, NY

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

So Glad We Had This Time Together

You've all heard the story. Starlet grows up in Hollywood, but not the glamorous version depicted in the movies. She grows up in a one-room apartment, is raised by her grandmother, and lives down the hall from her mother. She and her Nanny are on relief, but still manage to see eight movies a week. She comes home, acts out all the parts in front of the mirror, then acts out the scenes with her friends in a vacant lot right down the street. She heads off to UCLA, wanting to be a journalist, but soon realizes her fate is to be an actress. She receives a loan from a mysterious benefactor, goes to New York to pound the pavement on Broadway, gets the lead in a George Abbott musical, and the rest, as they say, is history.

In case you couldn't figure out by the first paragraph whom I was writing about, of course, I'm writing about Carol Burnett, a true living legend of American entertainment. The story of her childhood is now considered showbiz legend, but after reading her memoir, One More Time, I now know that there was a lot of hard work, determination, and pavement pounding leading up to her success.

I don't consider myself to be a rabid fan of many entertainers, but for as long as I can remember, I have ALWAYS loved Carol Burnett. My earliest memories of watching her show occurred when I was around seven or eight years old, watching it with my grandmother at her cabin up in the Adirondacks. My grandmother's place was the only place where we could watch Carol Burnett and Friends. Then we got cable, and I watched it whenever I could.

In high school I had a small group of friends who appreciated Carol, but not to the level that I did. She had brief runs on TV in the early 90s, and I never missed a show. I still have the Carol Burnett Show 25th anniversary special on tape, and it is one of my most prized possessions. (Could that possibly count as one of my 100 things?)

In college I taped Carol Burnett and Friends whenever I could. I drove my roommate nuts as I programmed the VCR: "Carol Burnett AGAIN?!?!"

A year after graduating from college, I found a used copy of One More Time online and purchased it. It was one of the first editions of the book: hardcover, with a book jacket depicting the title in bold red letters. I read it cover to cover when I first purchased it, then it went into the closet of my old bedroom for nine years.

Harvey Korman's death made me remember I had a copy of Carol's book, and knew it was still in my parents' house. I had to read it again.

When I was home for Father's Day, I went straight to my bedroom closet, and the book was still there, along with Walter Cronkite's memoir, Lesley Stahl's autobiography, and a copy of Angela's Ashes. I retrieved all four books and took them home.

Last night I started re-reading One More Time. I finished it an hour ago.

One of the many reasons why I love Carol so much is that she brings such a humanity to whatever role she plays. She brings such a vulnerability and truthfulness to her characters. When she played Eunice, you really felt sorry for her. When she played Mrs. Wiggins, you knew that the portrayal was over the top, but at the same time, it reminded you of other people you knew. When she was the Charwoman, you really wanted to cry; her portrayal of a cleaning lady who dreamed of bigger and better things was so moving.

And a lot of these characters were influenced by her real life. Eunice, Carol has said in previous interviews, reminded her a lot of her Mama, a woman who had big dreams that never came true. Louise Burnett moved to Hollywood from San Antonio to try and get on the staff of a major Hollywood magazine. She only freelanced a handful of articles. She became depressed and turned to the bottle. Alcoholism eventually killed not only her, but Carol's father.

The Charwoman, I believe, came from a job that her Nanny briefly had working as a cleaning lady for Warner Brothers Studios. Carol would accompany her on her jobs, and would admire all of the pens, paints, and brushes that the studio artists used to paint their wonderful posters.

Maybe that's why the Charwoman became Carol's signature character/logo; she represents humble beginnings and the aspiration for greater dreams...

I also admire Carol because she has not, nor will ever, forget about where she came from. She writes about her days growing up with tenderness and affection. Some who have grown up in circumstances such as Carol's, in poverty and with addiction in the family, with bitterness and resentment. Carol knew that she was loved; her Nanny, Mama, and Daddy all loved her "in the best way they knew how." If Nanny had to lie to get a relief check, she did, and the money would come for another month. If Nanny had to lie to get grocery money, she did. Nanny made sure that Carol had food to eat, clothes on her back, and a roof over her head. Carol was never abused nor neglected. Her family may have had problems, but it was her family, and she loved them the best way she knew how.

Most importantly, Carol appreciated every bit of her success. Many Hollywood stars can be ungrateful of their wealth, but Carol valued every minute of it, mainly because she knew the value of hard work. She writes about how she worked as an usherette, handbag saleswoman to save money for tuition and transportation fare to UCLA. Once she got to New York, she worked as a hatcheck girl to pay for her rent at the Rehearsal Club, a boarding house for young women interested in pursuing careers in the theatre. (Rent was $18 a week--imagine that in this day and age--and she kept worrying if she would earn enough tips to afford it).

This was not a memoir I really wanted to end. She finishes the book by visiting her old one room apartment as an adult. She brings a tape recorder with her to chronicle the visit, and discovers that, in the words of an old French proverb, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." Carol writes that she will never visit her old apartment again...

...but she does. A later edition of One More Time was published several years ago to coincide with the opening of a play based on the book. Carol ended up renting the space and lived there for a month. I would love to get a copy of the update and find out her thoughts on this.

The play that Carol wrote, Hollywood Arms, opened on Broadway in late 2002, not long after the death of her oldest daughter, Carrie Hamilton, who co-wrote the play with her mother. Carrie was the one who suggested turning One More Time into a play.

Ironically enough, Carol's Nanny states, after the death of Carol's mother, "Nothing is worse than the death of your child." How tragic that Carol had to experience this, the most unfortunate of deaths. Carol Burnett has experienced much tragedy in her life, but has also experienced much happiness. She has said, "A lot of comedy is tragedy plus time," which is my all time favorite quote and the one I leave on many blogs, forums, and E-mail surveys. She is a survivor.

Maybe that's why America has always loved her--she is a survivor. She is not afraid to be human.

We're so glad we had this time together.

Monday, June 16, 2008

100 things

George Carlin once had a routine on "stuff." He theorized that houses are just places for your stuff--basically, "your stuff with a cover on it." And as you accumulate "too much stuff," you have to buy a bigger house, and in some cases, "put your stuff in storage."

Well, Americans now have "too much stuff." There are entire industries devoted to storage and getting rid of your stuff. There are many TV shows and organizing gurus devoting their lives to decluttering the nation. I myself will admit that my condo could use some decluttering.

So last night I'm reading this article in TIME Magazine about the whole "purging revolution", an articled titled "The 100 Thing Challenge". Dave Bruno, a San Diego online enterpreneur, looked around his family's home last summer, decided there were too many possessions, and launched "The 100 Thing Challenge," where his goal is to reduce all of his possessions to only 100 items. Early this month, he was down to five dress shirts and one necktie but wasn't sure if three pairs of jeans was too much.

So, in my quest for decluttering, I decided to take into account my 100 Things, the possessions I cannot live without. We'll start with the basics:

1. Housing
2. Automobile

I know that there are those who can go completely without a car, like my friend Dom, but I cannot. Dom lives in Manhattan and relies 100% on public transportation, but I live and work in an area where there is very little, if any, of that. So for me, a car is essential.

Let's continue:

3. Oven
4. Refrigerator
5. Dishwasher

OK, I know there are those who wash ALL dishes by hand, and I say, good for them. But I don't always have the time or energy to handwash. Plus, I only run my dishwasher once a week.

6. Washing machine
7. Sink
8. Computer
9. Cell phone
10. iPod

Bruno got rid of his iPod. Again, I say, good for him. I can't get rid of mine, since I can't live without music.

11. Toilet

OK, do built-in household appliances, like toilets and sinks, count for these 100 things? Well, a toilet is a part of a house, and I've already claimed my house as one of my 100 things, so let's cross off toilet.

I just came back from the kitchen, where I got a glass of water. I have many drinking glasses. Bruno argues that a pair of shoes counts as one item, so should drinking glasses count as the same? I really only need one drinking glass, but what if I have company?

One item.

11. Drinking glasses

When I was in the kitchen I also noticed the other small appliances that I own:

12. Coffee maker
13. Microwave
14. Blender
15. Food processor

Really, do I need both a blender and a food processor? I don't really use the blender that much, but I do like smoothies in the summer.

ARRGH, this is hard!!! Smoothies in the summer...

The blender goes, the food processor stays.

Now here's where it gets tricky. We haven't even got to the living room or bedroom, but since I am The Bookkitten, there is one category that needs attention:

16. Books

In the TIME Magazine article, a waitress named Cait Simmons treats her entire collection of shoes (20 pairs worth) as one item. I own more than 100 books, maybe 150, even. So does this mean I can treat all of my books as one item? They're too important to me!


Well, as I sort through the mental clutter that's already going through my mind, I'm going to end this post. Still, I managed to pare down my possessions by one item, so I figure that's a start.

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Last weekend I broke up with my hairdresser.

It was kind of unexpected in the sense that I didn't expect it to happen so soon. I certainly didn't expect to be as upset about it as I was, given that I wasn't totally thrilled with my last couple of haircuts. But this was an emergency situation--I needed a haircut, badly, and my regular salon was closed. And I was tired of doing the ponytail thing every day, and dreaded having to do it for another week.

I had to go to the mall, anyway, so I called the Regis Salon and made an appointment.

Now picture this: my hair is very dark brown, thick, and naturally curly. Naturally curly hair can be both a blessing and a curse. At this time of year, it is more curse than blessing. I woke up every day last week to a messy, straw-like frizz ball. And the products I put in to control the frizz made it look worse. So I just said, "Screw it," and pulled it up every day last week.

I tried to do variations on the pony: twisted up into a hair clip; half up, half down; messy bun; and, when I was tired of using bobby pins to pull up the strays, put my hair up with a pencil. While the pencil 'do is not such a bad look, it can only work under certain circumstances. I work in academia, so this was OK for a day.

But my 'do was in desperate need of freshening up. When I was getting ready to go out Saturday morning, I looked in the mirror and I just knew.

It was time.

Women always know when it's time to get a haircut.

I walked into the Regis Salon, announced my name, and was immediately led to a chair. My old hairdresser usually ran late--not always a bad thing, but there were days when I didn't have any minutes to spare.

My new hairdresser led me to her chair, and I took out my messy, mousy bun. My naturally curly hair had been straightened into a greasy mess as a result of humidity and being pulled back for so many consecutive days.

"What do you want to do with it?" she asked.

"Take two inches off the bottom and relayer it," I replied.

"Are you sure you want it relayered? Your hair's kind of stringy now, and the layers aren't really growing out that well."

I thought about it. And was surprised by my answer, given that I had just met this girl. I proclaimed two words that many women would not say to a hairdresser they were visiting for the first time.

"Surprise me."

I don't know what made me say it, but I immediately trusted this girl. She smiled, led me to the sink, and started to wash my hair.

Then she noticed my brows and asked if I wanted a wax. I thanked her and accepted her offer. The brows needed some freshening up, too; if I let 'em go for too long I wind up looking like Michael Dukakis or Andy Rooney.

After a refreshing wash and brow grooming, I was escorted back to the mirror. We started talking about The Secret; she had a copy at her station and we compared notes. It turned out she had family in the town where I worked, and I knew of them.

Could this be fate? Is this a sign that I should take this girl in as my new shampoo gal?

Within half an hour, I was cut, waxed, and blow dried. She totally reshaped my do. It's a lot shorter than usual (it doesn't go past my earlobes), but it's layered and shaped a whole lot better. She gave me bangs that look really cute swept to the side. I could run my fingers through my hair without getting it tangled.

Most importantly, my curl had returned--with a vengeance.

And it looks really good!

Today it was curlier than usual, what with the humidity and impending thunderstorms here on the eastern seaboard, but I was happy with it because it didn't frizz as much. AND I got a LOT of compliments on my hair. I hadn't done so in a long time.

However, every time I received a compliment, I had to tell the story about parting with my old hairdresser. I kept thinking, "If I like my new hair so much, why do I feel so guilty about switching hairdressers? Why do I feel the need to tell my story?"

My friend Cindy put it perfectly. "Breaking up with your hairdresser is worse than breaking up with a boyfriend," she explained. "There's always that chance you'll bump into your hairdresser and have to explain things."

My girlfriends understood, but my male friends did not. Men do not have this problem with barbers. They have loyalty towards their barbers, but little to no emotional attachment. And as they lose their hair, they don't go as often. My dad went to Louie the Barber for years to get his comb-over perfected, but now that he no longer has that, my mom cuts his hair.

I know the guilt about switching hairdressers will eventually go away. I'm happier with the way I look, and my new girl seems nice. Plus, she's at the mall, and the mall has a Borders...all the more incentive to keep seeing this new shampoo gal of mine!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Bookkitten's iPod Playlist: Tony Awards Edition

I am a theatre geek, so I thought I'd pay tribute to tonight's Tony Awards with a Broadway-inspired playlist. It's not a comprehensive show tune playlist, by any means, but all of the music comes from Broadway shows.

Also, I'd like to dedicate this post to Broadway fan and my fellow blogger, SarahB, over at Adventures in the Endless Pursuit of Entertainment. Sarah lives in NYC and she's had MANY adventures on Broadway. Get a peek at her blog when you get the chance!

And Sarah, if Patti LuPone doesn't win the Tony tonight, I will lose my faith in ALL forms of democracy. (Well, maybe I won't be quite that dramatic, but it WILL be TRES upsetting).

And now for the playlist:

1. "Adelaide's Lament," Guys and Dolls
2. "And the Money Kept Rolling In (And Out)," Evita
3. "Beauty School Dropout," Grease
4. "Buenos Aires," Evita
5. "Dancing Through Life," Wicked
6. "Don't Cry For Me Argentina," Evita
7. "Dreamgirls," Dreamgirls
8. "For Good," Wicked
9. "Dance Ten, Looks Three," A Chorus Line
10. "On My Own," Les Miserables
11. "One More Day," Les Miserables
12. "Another Suitcase in Another Hall," Evita
13. "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen," A Chorus Line
14. "One," A Chorus Line
15. "Finale," Les Miserables

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Books That Changed My Life: Part Three

Last weekend I paid a visit to the New York Botanical Gardens with some friends from church. It was a hot, humid day in the city, and some of the plants were drooping from the heat as much as I was. We originally went to see the "Darwin's Garden" exhibit, but ended up touring the whole garden itself.
The Darwin exhibit was in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, a wonderful greenhouse that has so many levels of climate control. In one greenhouse, you can find such plants as these:

Gorgeous palm trees

I have no idea what these are, but they're gorgeous

Cacti in bloom

And then I found myself gazing at these beauties:

Water lilies. I have loved these flowers ever since I first learned about Claude Monet and his wonderful water lily paintings, "Les Nympheas." I marvel at how something so simple could be painted in such a sophisticated fashion. Monet was able to capture the different color variations and layers of petals in every single flower. No two water lilies were alike.

And as I took picture after picture of these beautiful flowers, a name popped in my head.


Linnea in Monet's Garden.

It was kind of bizarre how I was suddenly transported back to that book just by looking at the water lilies. And then the floodgate of memories opened.

It was the end of my freshman year of high school, and it was awards night. I won a special prize in French that night, and as I climbed the steps up to the stage, my high school principal hands me this blue and white plaid bag with a lace ribbon tied to the handles. "What could this be?" I wondered. This seemed to be a most unusual award, given that the majority of awards that night were either plaques or certificates.

I carried the bag to the cafeteria for the post-ceremony reception, and was prodded by my two best friends to open it. I untied the lace ribbon, carefully removed the layers of tissue paper that laid at the top of the bag, and pulled out a colorful book and a little doll.

That book? Linnea in Monet's Garden. My friend Monica's eyes lit up. She had owned this story when she was younger and adored it. The little doll that was in the bag was Linnea herself.

I opened the book, and my French teacher had written a personal inscription inside the cover. I won't share with you what she wrote because: A), it was written in French; and B) it's too precious for me to share publicly. Needless to say, I was very touched. It is very rare to find a teacher that cares so much about his or her students, and I knew that my French teacher, Mrs. Keenan, was one of those teachers.

I read the book as soon as I got home. It was my first exposure to Claude Monet's work, and I immediately fell in love. This simple story told of Claude Monet's life and work, triumphs and tragedies, and importance in the art world. Linnea, a little girl who was around eight or nine years old, travels with her neighbor to Paris and then to Monet's house at Giverny. She tells the story as if you're looking at your best friend's scrapbook; there are pictures of matchbook covers, pressed leaves, and postcards in there. Linnea was just like me: a packrat who saved mementos of EVERYTHING.

The child's perspective did an excellent job of explaining impressionist painting to the novice. Linnea puts a picture of one of Monet's water lily paintings in her scrapbook, then shows a close up view of one of the flowers. She was able to show how something that looked like a blob up close could be a thing of beauty from far away. And she didn't limit Monet's work to just the water lilies; she included paintings of the Chartres cathedral, the haystacks, and most famously, the Japanese bridge in Monet's garden at Giverny.

Earlier my freshman year, I became so captivated, so passionate about French, that I decided to save my pennies for a trip to France my senior year. After finishing Linnea in Monet's Garden, I made another important decision.

I had to get to Giverny.

My chance didn't come until my junior year of college, when I studied in Paris for a semester. When I got to the city, I immediately sought information on how to get to Giverny. It was the beginning of September, and I learned that the garden would close for the season after the first weekend of October.

If I had to get there, I had to do it yesterday. I rounded up a group of seven girls who were in the same study abroad program and convinced them to go with me. A couple of girls protested, saying that the flowers would not be in bloom in October, but I had a "It's now or never" attitude like I never had before.

We went that first weekend of October. While nothing was really in bloom, everything was still green and lovely. The house was gorgeous and painstakingly restored. The kitchen alone is exquisite, with its copper pots and blue and white tile lining the walls. There were flower plants, ivy, and lush green trees everywhere on the property.

And finally, we reached the Japanese bridge. There were still a couple of water lilies in the pond, but not too many. By the time we reached the bridge, all eight of us in the group were taking turns posing on the bridge and switching cameras so we could all get pictures to send home. I look at my picture today and still can't believe I made it to Monet's garden.

Before we left Giverny, we all went to the gift shop to buy souvenirs. I bought several postcards to send back to the States. On one of them, addressed to my high school French teacher, I simply wrote:


I didn't sign it. I figured she'd know who wrote it.

It seems like I've been writing a lot about my high school days lately, which is funny, given that it's been 14 years since I graduated. I didn't realize until now just how much high school, especially the first two years, shaped my life and continues to influence me today. I didn't think much about my high school days until I started writing this blog. It's been quite therapeutic for me.

My friend Brian, who fronts the band Talking to Walls (see Links of Note for info), says that music is therapy. Well, I agree with him, but you need to write the lyrics in order to have the song most days. So I say, writing is therapy.

That oughta be a bumper sticker: Writing is Therapy. And I could put my blog's address on it...ooohhhh, merchandising!!!!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Newly Discovered Blog of Note

If you're a Google blogger, chances are you've seen this link in the Blogs of Note section. It's the NYC Donut Report, and it is a hoot. Give it a read. I'll add it to my links section.

Summer Wind

I really should be in bed right now, dozing off to dreamland, but a passing thunderstorm is keeping me up. Yeah, I know I shouldn't be on the computer during a thunderstorm since, with my luck, lightning will strike my modem and fry it, forcing me to get a new one, but I'm taking my chances.

I love thunderstorms. I love the big gusts of wind that precede it, the heavy downpours that accompany the thunder, and the artistry of the lightning bolts streaking across the sky. One night my friend Brian and I went out for Chinese take out, and as we waited for our food, we watched lightning bolts from a passing storm. It was quite a sight to see.

It's supposed to rain all night. I hope that these storms bring down the temperature. We've had a 4-day heat wave here in the northeast. For the first time that I can recall, schools have dismissed early for the past two days because of the heat levels. (There are still many schools that do not have air conditioning).

I keep my air conditioning on during the day. With two cats and a lot of heat, I'm worried that they may get overheated, so I keep the A/C on low, and keep their water dish full.

Meanwhile, the wind is still gusting outside my office, but the thunder has disappeared, and I've not yet heard any rainfall. Where is the rain? (Oops, I spoke too soon...the storm's here! Gotta run before I lose another modem!)

The Books That Changed My Life: Part Two

Do you remember the first grown-up book you ever read? I mean, the first book that was written for adults and didn't have the words "Sweet Valley" in the title or Ann M. Martin or Caroline B. Cooney as the authors? How did you find out about that book?

I found my first grown-up novel when I was a freshman in high school. I was at Waldenbooks with my mom, and at the cash register, there was a display of a paperback called The Shell Seekers, by Rosamunde Pilcher. You know the old saying, "You can't judge a book by its cover?"

Well, I bought the book for its cover.

For a mass market paperback novel, it was a gorgeous cover, a blue background splashed with ferns and a couple of red rose blossoms, and the title printed in blue font. There was an interest in the novel because it had been made into a miniseries starring Angela Lansbury, who, at the time, was riding a wave of popularity thanks to Murder, She Wrote (which my mother watched religiously and would still do so if it had remained on basic cable. So I'm gradually buying her the DVDs of each season so she won't have to go through withdrawal).

It was by far the longest book I had ever purchased; 582 pages printed in very small, Times New Roman font. I took it with me one Saturday night when I babysat the kids next door, and started reading it after they went to bed. The prologue opened with the main character, Penelope Keating, returning from hospital following a heart attack. She had just arrived home after checking herself out, and was debating which one of her three children she should call first:

Nancy, her eldest and the one who thought that she was totally responsible for her mother; Noel, the youngest, who, in spite of being "the man" in the family, was indifferent to family responsibilities; or Olivia, the middle child, an editor for a prominent woman's magazine who always made time for her mother.

I won't tell you who Penelope calls; that is irrelevant right now, when you consider the simple descriptions of each of her three children in the prologue. It was enough to make me keep reading.

The first chapter deals with Nancy, a desperate housewife of her day. She and her husband live beyond their means and are constantly in a battle to keep up with the Joneses. She wants it all, but is frustrated when she can't have it. Status is very important to her.

We meet Olivia in the second chapter, a woman who puts her career above everything else, but has a big soft spot for her mother. We also learn of the jealousy and bitterness that exist between sisters: Olivia has transformed herself from an ugly duckling, and as a result, Nancy is very jealous of this change in lifestyle.

Noel, as we learn later in the novel, is a bachelor who works in finance and is looking to race up the corporate ladder. He has more concern for young single women than he does for his siblings.

And throughout the novel, we meet even more characters: Antonia, the teenage daughter of one of Olivia's ex-boyfriends. Danus, Penelope's handyman. Ambrose, Penelope's late husband. Eventually, all of these characters play a vital role that affect each other's lives in the most unexpected ways, and that's what keeps the book moving so well.

That first night of reading, after the kids were put to bed, I read until the parents came home. I think I read the first 100 pages, and the week after, during school, I would read the book whenever I got a spare moment. Even as a high school freshman, I found myself relating to a lot of the situations that these characters experienced. Nancy, Olivia, and Noel reminded me very much of my mother, aunt, and uncle, and the complexities of their relationship. I really admired Antonia, for she was my age, and was experiencing a lot of situations similar to mine. There were also a lot of subplots involving love stories, and what fourteen year old girl doesn't enjoy a good romance?

This book marked the beginning of my transfer from young adult novels to solely adult ones. I left the Sweet Valley High on the bookshelf and started picking more sophisticated novels. My high school English classes certainly helped me gravitate towards more adult fare. I didn't choose current novels to read, however; this book, along with Anne of Green Gables, really helped my reading style mature. And as my reading style matured, so did I.

I reread The Shell Seekers several years ago when I was on vacation. A fellow vacationer saw me read this book and commented that it's one of those books that you just have to reread whenever you get a chance.

Maybe I should add this book to my summer reading list...but I've got so many good books to choose from! Arrgh!

And there's one more book that changed my life, too...stay tuned!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Books That Changed My Life: Part One

I'm currently reading a work called The Book That Changed My Life, a compilation of essays written by famous authors, which tell about the books that changed their lives. Jack Prelutsky writes about how A Child's Garden of Verses got him interested in poetry. Jacquelyn Mitchard was so enchanted by A Tree Grows in Brooklyn that she named her daughter after the novel's protagonist, Francie Nolan. And Michael Stern waxes poetic about the wonders of the old Sears Catalogue.

This got me to thinking about the book that changed my life. There were many to choose from, but it was very difficult for me to think of that one. So I started thinking about my favorite books of all time. That made the search a little easier. And I soon realized that there was one book that I always came back to, that I always mentioned in any favorite book list. However, I will publicly admit that I wasn't so enchanted with this book when I first became aware of it.

I received Anne of Green Gables as a present for my 11th birthday. At the time, the original Anne of Green Gables miniseries was on the air, all over PBS, and was hugely popular among girls in my age group--well, most girls. I refused to watch the miniseries; it was so girly, and as a tomboy, I HATED lots of girly things. I especially hated period works and historical fiction. I remember reading The Witch of Blackbird Pond in the fourth grade and hating every minute of it. At the time I was really into the Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley Teens books, fluffy reads about girls my age. I was also seriously into science; my favorite book at the time was the Golden Books guide to rocks and minerals, which featured the most gorgeous illustrations I had ever seen.

Out of respect for the friend who gave me a copy of Anne of Green Gables, I started to read it. Well, I tried to read it, Lord did I try. I couldn't get beyond the chapter where Marilla doesn't even say hello to Anne before deciding to send her back to the orphanage--simply because she was a girl.

I was already living my own adolescent drama. I didn't need to read about it. I know what you're thinking--didn't the Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley Twins series have their own supposed adolescent drama? Yeah, but I knew that all the problems would be resolved at the end of the book, much like my favorite sitcom at the time, Full House. I was well aware that problems couldn't be solved in half an hour in real life, which is one of the reasons why I used Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley Twins to escape. Marilla Cuthbert was the antithesis of all of these happily-ever-after stories, and was all too real for me.

Plus, the book was too girly for me--all of those long dresses, lace, and updos. And it was old fashioned--no tv or radio, and lots of talk about things with "little scope for imagination."

I put the book away, but kept it. It lay on my bookshelf until the summer before I was a high school freshman. I took it with me on our annual vacation to Long Beach Island; I was older, and not as much of a tomboy, and thought I'd give the book another try.

I couldn't put it down and finished it in half a day.

I saw a lot of Anne in my eleven-year-old self. She really wanted to be something that she wasn't; she didn't want her red hair, but wanted it to be a "raven's hair black". So she did something about it--she bought some hair dye from an Italian salesman that promised that raven's hair black she so craved. And the result? Hair that was more parrot's green than raven's hair black.

As an eleven-year-old, I myself wanted to be something I wasn't. I wanted to be a child actress in Hollywood, playing all sorts of roles on TV, playing characters that weren't like me at all. I craved escape from my hometown, escape from my family, escape from my school--but mostly, escape from myself. And try as I could, I could never escape from being who I was--an eleven-year-old girl, with brown eyes and dark, curly hair, living in a Connecticut suburb full of eleven-year-old girls with blue eyes and straight, blonde hair.

As Anne matured, so did I. In my early teens, one of my favorite parts about the novel was that Anne was able to keep her grades at the top of her class, but also keep her friends. No one regarded her as a nerd, and I really liked that. I wanted to have what Anne had: intelligence, and popularity. I had the intelligence as a kid, but never the popularity. I stayed on the fringes throughout my schooling. Anne gave me hope that it was okay for a girl to be intelligent.

After that summer, I saved my babysitting money for trips to the mall, where I would dart immediately to the bookstore and buy the next books in the Anne series, and read them all with great relish. One I finished reading about Anne, I moved on to more Lucy Maud Montgomery books, among them, Emily of New Moon, The Story Girl, Kilmeny of the Orchard, and Pat of Silver Bush. All of the protagonists in these books were orphans like Anne. While I also enjoyed these works, none of them had the spirit, verve, or heart of any of the books in the Anne series. The Anne series developed characters you could really relate to, characters whom the reader had a special relationship with. I had trouble relating to the characters in Lucy Maud Montgomery's other books; they just didn't have the spunk or personality that Anne Shirley did.

This year is the 100th anniversary of Anne of Green Gables. While I have no plans to head up to Prince Edward Island this year, I do plan to reread the Anne series to mark the occasion.

As for my original copy of the book, I recently gave it to a ten-year-old girl at my church. (I received a three-volume set as a Christmas gift when I was a freshman in high school). This little girl reminded me of myself as a ten-year-old: full of spunk and energy. I thought that this book would be perfect for her. I hope she grows to love it as much as I have...even if she waits a few years to read it.