Monday, May 26, 2008

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a ham!

Kent bought Annette a balloon ride in northwestern NJ for her 35th birthday. They invited Dan and I to come along.

There's our balloon guy Rodger and our balloon basket (it was so small!) on its side.

Using high-powered fans, we inflated the balloon. (Dan and Kent helped hold it open).

It got bigger...

and bigger (that's another balloon that was going up at the same time).

And when the balloon was inflated, we all hopped in and turned the basket and balloon upright.

And off we went!

Do I look terrified? At this point, I relinquished control of the camera because that would mean I would have to let my hands go from the sides. It wasn't so much the height. I was afraid of the complete openness. The baskets only went up to our waists so you could easily fall out.

But eventually I relaxed and enjoyed the scenery.

The trees looked like broccoli from up there.

Rodger would heat up the fuel every few minutes (see behind Dan) and it felt our heads were being torched. Since Dan's so tall, it would be the worst for him.

People would be excited to see the balloon and we waved to many happy kids and people from below. Sometimes we were able to talk to them. We also saw lots of deer and horses.

The sunset was beautiful.

We could not find a place to land for the longest time. Since you can't steer the balloon we missed many an open field on either side of us. Finally, we found a small stretch of open space and landing felt like going down an escalator of trees. It was so fun! We all hopped out of the basket and found out that we were in someone's backyard!

Some neighbor dude came from nowhere to help us reign the balloon in. Thanks neighbor dude! We're sure this is something he'll be telling his friends at work about on Tuesday. Dodger's wife followed the balloon by car, so she picked us up and we went back to their place for some champagne and treats. Yum!

Friday, May 23, 2008

People I meet.

Isn't it funny in such a big city in New York City, it never fails that you bump into someone you know? Or, that as you go about your day, you encounter the same people over and over again?

There are many people I meet on a regular basis:

Every morning, when I walk home from the gym, I often see the same old lady walking down the street, pushing a metal cart filled with some groceries. "Walking" is a strong word. Because she takes such small steps with straight legs, it looks like she is walking in place. It's a wonder that this woman can get anywhere. And sometimes when I see her one morning on one side of the street and the next day on the other side, I wonder if it literally took 24 hours. In addition to the walk, with her black eye brows and permanent scowl, the woman looked really familiar to me, in a strange cartoon-like way. And then I saw Enchanted this weekend and I realized who she reminds me of. I am sure she's a really nice person though.

Anyone who lives in New York knows about the people passing out free newspapers by the subway stations. But our man handing out the Metro paper at the 77th Street stop really is unmissable with his chanting of "Me-tro! Me-tro! Get your morning Me-trooooo!" I sometimes find myself singing the song to myself at various points of the day.

There are the regulars who I see at the gym. The pregnant woman. The really ripped black guy. The very high-school gym class male trainer who exclusively seems to work with male clients. The other day, I was carrying a bosu to the exercise mats to do some ab work, and I accidentally banged it against a man who was lying down on the mat. "I am so sorry," I said immediately. While most people would say, "it's okay" this man groaned and scowled and shot me dirty looks. "Are you okay?" I finally asked. He sniffed. "Yeah I am fine. Just watch yourself. We're all just trying to work here."

I went to the other side of the mat, and watched this man go back to lying down where he was, an ancient library book pressed up against his face. Once in a while he would do a few lackluster sit ups or leg lifts while still reading. I hated him immediately. And now I see him everyday, reading obscure books while lying down on the exercise mat apparently "hard at work."

On the subway, I hardly see the same people. But sometimes I will take the bus home, and I am amazed to find the same mother and daughter sitting in the same seats as the day before, or the man with tourette's syndrome or the grumpy wheelchair man who talks under his breath.

I have been thinking about this topic all week, and I wondered if anyone noticed me in their daily routine, and sure enough, I was in the elevator this morning, going to the gym and eating my usual banana, when the woman standing next to me says, "You usually go to the gym at 6:30, right?"

"Yeah," I answered her, "I don't have to work today, so I am going a little later."

"I am not working today either," she told me. "That is when I go to work, and I see you all the time. I didn't recognize you, but I recognized that banana."

Isn't that weird? I just have this vision that New York really only has about fifty people in it, but we're so consumed with ourselves and our lives that we don't realize that we're whizzing past the same characters on the street all the time. And if we're lucky, maybe we'll just notice that one of these persons happens to eat a banana every time.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The white dress problem resolved.

I got a new dress for the wedding. I couldn't handle the controversy.

No, I kid. Actually, I just realized that people had really strong opinions about this topic and since the day is not about me, I didn't want to offend the people who did care. In other words, I didn't want to be the guest at the wedding that people are talking poo about.

And besides that, I love any excuse to buy new clothes.

As for the white number, I told Dan he had to take me on a hot date and he said that he would.

Dan came home from the bachelor party late Sunday night in San Francisco and was so bonked, he fell asleep last night at 7 pm, woke up 15 minutes for dinner, fell back asleep until 7 am this morning. It was kind of adorable even though the sleepy man hogged the couch all night.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Quiche Makers

That's us!

My sister Annette and I in a nutshell:

1. We loved cupcakes before it was cool to like cupcakes. I have very fond memories of being 12 and going with my sister to the Shop Rite bakery to split a "cup" (as we called it back then).

2. For every birthday and often times Christmas (and sometimes just because) we purchase each other tickets to go see Broadway musicals. This has been going on for years and we've seen many. Orchestra seats only. Yeah, we're snobs like that.

3. We're Bert and Ernie. I'm Bert with the long and oval face. She's Ernie with the round.

4. When my sister visits me in Manhattan, she always wants to try new cuisine and I am always happy to oblige.

5. We're so opposite and at the same time so alike.

This weekend marks Annette's 35th birthday. HAPPY BIRTHDAY ANNETTE! We had thai for dinner (something you don't find too often in Pennsylvania, her neck of the woods) and then went to see Spring Awakening, a musical we've been dying to see. While enjoyable in some ways (loved the rock 'n roll music), we left the show scratching our heads about the unexpected serious plot line and wondering if it bothered anyone else that the lead actor spit constantly as he sang. Every word made a shower out of his mouth. We were happy not to be in the front row.

Annette slept over. And this morning, after some bagels and a walk-by the doggy gym near my apartment (Annette LOVES the dogs), we embarked on our second series of Sister Cooking School. The recipe: spinach and gruyere quiche. I have never made a quiche before just because it's not something I crave or think to make. I have made a pie crust before but it certainly did not come out as fabulous as the one we made today (I watched Annette perform some crazy skill) and I am not sure if I could make it look this good without her.

The perfect crust.

When we took the quiche out of the oven, it was so beautiful, we oohed...

...and ahhed.

We patiently waited 15 minutes for it to cool and settle.

And the more we waited, the more we fell in love with what we created.

That crust was not only pretty, but tasty, too.

Looking at this picture, there is another thing you should know about my sister and me. Unlike me, my sister hates to shop and I hand-me-up all of my old clothes to her. While I update my wardrobe pretty regularly, Annette thinks the older, the better. I purchased this tie-dyed Woodstock t-shirt during my hippie phase when I was 14--FIFTEEN YEARS AGO. I probably passed it off to Annette when I was 17. My sister still names it as one of her faves. It kills me. Every time I see the girl, it's like going through an old photo album with her (formerly my) clothes. And believe me, it's time for some of these items to go.

To finish off we the day, we went to the movies to see the Young@Heart ( so awesome. I hope I can rock out like this when I am 90.) and then ventured out in the East Village to share some "cups" just like old-times: One at the new, Martha Stewart-recommended How Sweet It Is bakery and then to our favorite place--the best cupcakes in Manhattan--Sugar Sweet Sunshine. Sweet ending to a great 24 hours.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The problem with a white dress.

So I was sitting at work today flipping through a bridal magazine (Don't get any ideas. It was for work, you hear?) and I came across something that surprised me. It said that it's not proper etiquette for guests of a wedding to wear white because only the bride should wear white.

Well you know that awesome dress I picked up for the wedding I am going to in June? Yeah, it's white. Actually, it's off-white with big black square and polka-dot shapes around the neck and bottom. It is short and modern--there's no mistaking that it's not a wedding gown. Still I feel it's kind of borderline. It IS mostly white.

I did some internet searches and most sources say the same thing (although this article says to use your judgment). I feel a little silly for not knowing this. Like duh, makes total sense. But then again, some of these same sources advise on not wearing black either, which to a New Yorker seems ludicrous.

So I am kind of thinking that maybe I should keep an eye out for another dress. And yet, this dress is so cool, I hate for it to sit in the closet (I love it so much, I won't be returning it). I am blogging about this because I am at a loss. What do you guys think? What would you do? Am I totally over thinking this? (probably!) Should I be Emily Post or Rebel Rider?

Diet tricks.

If I am the one who lost 11 pounds in two months, why is it that whenever Dan and I venture out, everyone compliments HIM on how he's lost some weight??

This has happened multiple times in the last few weeks by multiple peers. Meanwhile, friends, co-workers and acquaintances have not uttered a word to me about my weight loss (except my mother, who said, "STOP LOSING WEIGHT." Weight loss makes her nervous because it means I am wasting away which means I am minutes away from my death bed. It's true.)

The thing is--I have been diligently getting up at 5:45 am each morning to pound the pavement or throw some weights around. (When I come home at 7:30, Dan is still in bed.) I am the one who eats my salad and vegetables and fruits and low-fat muffins. Dan, on the other hand, says that he HAS cut back, but I don't know how. Every other day he talks about how he ate too much, sometimes so much that this muscles and skin hurt (because they are stretching and getting fatter, he explains). He talks about eating $3 Chinese buffet at lunch and cookies at poker. On Sunday, he ate like five helpings of beans at dinner. Yesterday, after we ate a full dinner, he helped himself to apple sauce (with spoon from the jar), strawberry jam (with spoon from the jar) and tortilla chips.

How is this a diet? As for exercise, there is the walk to and from the subway, and twice a month, he'll do a 15-minute Dr. Oz workout in the living room.

"You're jealous," Dan said to me this morning, when I brought up it again that everyone thinks he's skinny.

"Yeah, so," I said. "It's not fair."

"Well, I think you look great," he said. "And you're working really hard. I couldn't have done it without you."

But the question is: DO WHAT?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Wedding Bells

Me and Dan

Dan and I went to Southhampton, NY yesterday to attend the wedding of Dan's boss. While I don't think it's my place to go on and on about it in my blog, I have to say that it was really one of the most lovely and touching weddings that I have ever been to. I was nearly moved to tears during their ceremony, and enjoyed the beautiful location (right off the beach) and all the personal touches they put into their day that made it feel special--not just like every other wedding.

A highlight for me personally was that I decided to forgo all rules of March Madness for one day and had the pleasure of enjoying the fabulous spread of food they offered--from the appetizers (french fries, fried calamari, tuna tartar) to the meal (salad and pasta and steak) to the desserts (plural, being the key factor of goodness) including chocolate covered strawberries, mini-ice cream cones and in lieu of a wedding cake--cupcakes. Chocolate and vanilla. I tried both. Fabulous.

The whole thing was over before we knew it, and after spending some time hanging out with Dan's co-workers, we headed back on the train back to New York, coming back around 11 only to make an appearance at Kayleen's 30th birthday party. Most of the food was gone by the time we got there (and despite all the food and drink we gorged from the wedding we were hungry), so we ended the night at a diner where I enjoyed yummy pancakes with sugary syrup and Dan had a burger, and we went to bed with full stomachs, satisfied from a great day, with the goal to sleep in until noon and then go back to normal.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

I get it now.

I have spent the last two weekends in Jersey, which means I planned my workouts for the week and took off on Saturday and Sunday. But both weekends, the same thing happened Sunday night. With two days off, I was nervous about my Monday morning workout.

Especially this past Sunday. I was planning to go running the park Monday morning--the first time since my really bad run a few weeks ago. And I was just dreading it.

It's funny. If you told me to list some of my favorite things to do, I would definitely say running in the park. But nearly every morning that I get up to do it, I feel a tinge of dread. Because even though I like it, running is hard. Some days are amazing, some days are average, and some days are hard and horrible. So this Monday, with two days off plus the anxiety of the last run still in my head, the dread was really bad. I actually had dreams about it, and when my alarm went off, I jolted out of my sleep, trying to calm my frantic mind.

Mostly, I was worried about that hill. The big hill where I lost my footing, twisted my ankle, had to stop and walk. To make me feel better, I told myself I would avoid that hill today. Small sigh of relief.

I headed to the park, the weather perfect for running. Warm enough to wear shorts but cool enough to feel the air brushing against my thighs. The leaves of Spring were now in full bloom and the birds were chirping pleasantly. As soon as I started my jog, I felt great, no pain in the shin, strong in heart and legs and spirit, and within minutes the dread disappeared. I am doing that hill, I told myself. And I did. And I made it to the top without walking. And it was grand.

And that is when it all made complete sense to me.

Momentum. It's real.

On my day off on Friday, I set some time to write. Even though I sat in front of my computer for an hour or so, got some words down, it wasn't the most pleasant experience. It was hard. I couldn't get into a groove. My mind was wandering, and I was looking at the clock. While there was a part of me that was happy to get the hour in, a part of me felt disappointed.

But as I was running yesterday, thinking about momentum, I thought back to one of the first runs I did after coming home from Poland. And how awful it was. I was tired, my feet dragging. I was counting the seconds for it to be over. I was rusty.

It dawned on me: it's the same thing. There's a reason why writing is hard now. I am rusty.

Running got easier for me with March Madness because I made a decision to get disciplined. Now I have more good runs than bad. And doing some kind of physical activity nearly every day of the week makes me stronger and more prepared for the next run.

Well--no wonder my writing feels so stagnant. Writing once in a while, it's so stop and go. The way I am doing it now, it's like going on a run every few weeks. There is no momentum to move me along, nothing to build on since I am always starting at Square 1.

But there is another thing: When it comes to running, I don't expect to be the greatest runner of all time. I already know that I am not. I have a horrible form (my legs swing out in my stride) and I am slow. And I am okay with that. What gives me pleasure if the small improvements I make on a personal level--the fact that I made it up that hill--that is the real reward, and no one really cares about that except me.

So why do I expect myself to be the best writer ever? Why can't I just write to get better and to please myself?

Holy crap. Breakthrough.

Physically and mentally, my five-mile run yesterday was one of the best I've had. I finally realized what Steven Pressfield was saying in The War of Art, and I fully understand what I need to do to excel at my chosen craft.

As Madonna said once: "There are no tricks. Tricks don't work. Discipline does."

And momentum.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Sister Cooking School (Mother's Day-Part Two)

In an attempt to get over my cooking fears, I have asked my sister, Annette, who is a professional cook, to help me get better.

Commencing SISTER COOKING SCHOOL--a monthly get-together of sisters cooking things that Yvonne considers scary. Here we will conquer edible projects resulting in increased kitchen skills, delicious food and sibling bonding time.

We decided to have our first installment of Sister Cooking School on our faux Mother's Day weekend--guest-starring Mom herself. The menu? Why--something that she knows well: Homemade pierogi.

We were unexpectedly joined my aunt, Ciocia Marylka, who lives down the street, who offered her pierogi-making know-how as well. Here's how we did it:

I kneaded the dough.

Annette rolled the dough.

Using a cup, we cut out circles of dough that are then filled with a potato-cheese-onion mixture.

With the filling inside, we clamped the edges shut to create a half moon shape.

Ciocia lent a hand.

I wasn't very skilled at creating the pierogi shape. Here is my best (left) and my worst (right).

Mom boiled them and topped them with butter and onion.

We gave it a taste.

Success! Smaczne!

Mother's Day-Part One

Annette and I celebrated Mother's Day a week early (sans Pete--who is somewhere in Arizona right now) by taking my mother to the garden center. Mom found a bunch of flowers for her deck. Annette gathered a few red and yellow blossoms for her garden, and I took pictures as inspiration for the garden I hope to have SOME DAY. I wish it was today.

If I had a garden this year, I would have a red, yellow and purple theme. With flowers like these:

And these:

There's my mom with her pregnant belly of flowers.

I swear, the garden center is my mom's version of a candy store. She just eats it up.

To make me feel better for my lack of garden, mom gave me some spring flowers from her garden to take home, but Dan doesn't like how they smell. (I have to admit, they are really, really pungent in a kind of sickly sweet sort of way that overwhelms our little apartment but they're so pretty, I hate to throw them away!)

To compromise, Dan moved them from the table to the top of the refrigerator. I vowed to get rid of them the moment they begin to wilt. It's not really how I imagined my flower garden. Some day it will be better.

Meeting Audrey.

This weekend, I met Audrey, my grand-niece. She's camera-shy.

Unlike Dillon. When I walked in the door, her two-year-old brother knew why I had come. Dillon pointed to his sister and exclaimed, "BABY!"

Audrey (with her mom Tiffany) was a little sleepy and cranky--but cute.

When Dillon saw me taking pictures, he wanted to take his own pictures. He took a lot more than me. TIffany and I watched him take pictures of the computer. Multiple times. Thank goodness for digital.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

I'm shrinking!

Since March 1, I have lost 11 pounds. My pants are dragging on the floor, they are hanging so low on my hips. It may be May, but I can't stop the (March) Madness. Hip! Hip!