Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dan gets a new look.

If you know anything about Dan, you know he is a man of glasses. Having worn glasses since the age of five, Dan sees spectacles as part of his face, part of his persona. It's true. When I first met Dan back in Washington, I remember asking him to take off his glasses and it was like I was asking him to take off his underwear--in public. Dan scoffs at the idea of contacts. He would never wear them. He will always be a glass-man.

Therefore, when it's time for him to get a new pair. It's a big freakin' deal. And being the sort of person who cannot make a decision to save his life, it's an excruciating deal when you're Dan's girlfriend who has to meet him at the eye doctor to give her expert opinion.

You can just imagine how it all went:

"These glasses look so good on me."

"Man, I am good-looking. I can't decide."

We dabbled in some sun wear. I liked these Tom Cruise "Risky Business" era ones. Dan wasn't into them.

We narrowed it down to the top three. I gave my opinion on each:

"These make you look like boy-next-door, JCrew catalog." (I like-y! I wanted to kiss him right there but there was that guy in the blue shirt watching us.)

"These make you look New York trendy."

"These make you look like you're from Denmark."
(The glasses were actually made in Denmark.)

Dan tried these three pairs over and over, his face pressed against the mirror because he's so blind and can't see a thing.

He thought the JCrew glasses were a little plain.

About the thick black frames:
"Do these make me look like I am trying to be crazy, but not too crazy?"

At that point, after he had tried on the same pairs over and over a billion times, I was like, "dude, YOU ARE crazy."

He went with Denmark--my least favorite. But it's fine, I can live with it. Though Dan will be missing out on all the affection I'd have given him if he were wearing the boy next door look...oh well, his loss (and, I guess, mine).

Monday, April 28, 2008

Is this really happening?

My life seems way too awesome right now. It's like I just built a house of cards and I can't believe that I actually did it and while there isn't a breeze in sight, I am wondering if someone is just fooling me and gonna come out with a giant fan and blow them all away.

I mean seriously.

I've got my family and friends. A great boyfriend. A fabulous apartment. My four-day week working schedule (today is HUMP day for goodness sake). Time for writing and baking and whatever else I feel like doing. A body that is noticeably thinner and firmer and healthier. Cake once a week (really, the most wonderful time of the week). A healthy social calendar. A vacations to Argentina and beach weekends on the horizon.

Even my friend Meagan said to me this weekend, "There's something different about you now. It's like something shifted. You're like..." (and then she took a deep breath and exhaled in a giant sigh, as way of explanation).

Is this happiness?

I mean, one year ago, this is what I imagined for myself and holy crap, I did it. And I am pinching myself and kind of amazed at the power each of us have to shape our destiny. I am not saying my life is perfect or anything. I am still a crank-pot--come on. But I am happy that I can sit here and enjoy this, and I am crossing my fingers and saying JINX because I am afraid that it's all too good to be true.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Emily's birthday cake.

I have been trying to make Emily's birthday cake for a few weeks now.

I have decided that in order to become a better cook/baker, I would need to begin conquering my "food" fears. While I am competent in the kitchen for the most part, there are still many dishes, both simple and complicated, which I have not made yet because they intimidate the heck out of me. This is the reason I have never made an omelet (simple scary) or homemade pasta (medium scary) or lobster (super scary). I am also afraid of certain ingredients (in particular, tofu, most seafood, vegetables like leeks) just because I have never used them before and I am not even sure if I like them. Certain cuisines cripple me. I begged Dan to get me this Japanese cookbook after reading an article in the New York Times that the author is the Martha Stewart of Japan, but have done little more than admire the pictures. So in an effort to challenge myself and get to the next level--something I am aspiring to do in all aspects of my life--I am going to get over it and get my hands dirty.

Emily's birthday cake will be my number one task. Her birthday fell on April 10 and we had tentative plans to see each other the following Sunday, but that those plans fell through and then the plans after that fell through and it took me until today do make this cake. What makes Emily's birthday cake scary? It's a lemon cake (her fave) from Martha's Stewart's Baking Handbook. I have never made anything lemon (reason being, I am not a huge fan of lemon-flavored anything, but being on a diet, that works for me now). Second, it's multi-layered lemon cake with lemon curd filled on the inside. Third, it requires some basic decorating with one of those cake decorating tubes. (Yes, I had to buy some new kitchen gadgets which I had to promptly hide from Dan).

The cake was time-intensive, but wasn't too hard to conquer. The scary parts were naturally the most disasterous. When it was time to cut the two cakes in half to make the layers, one came out perfectly, the second fell apart. Which meant that my four-layer cake suddenly turned into a three layer cake. The icing didn't feel right to me. It was not as thick as I expected, and when it was time to design the cake with lemon curd, I was startled by how runny it was--which meant my designs were based on where ever the curd dripped. It didn't help that Dan was standing right over me going "oof, are you sure you know what you're doing?" and then when I was done, saying that it didn't look right. It didn't, but I didn't need him to tell me that.

Luckily, no one at Emily's seemed to notice (or at least, kindly refrained from saying anything) about the yellow squiggles, and everyone said that it tasted good (which frankly, is the most important thing). I had some, too, of course, but since I don't really like lemon cake, it wasn't anything spectacular for me. But at least I have got tiered cakes and decorating with a tube down pat. Okay, not really, but there's a small notch on my belt.

Decorating the cake requires lots of water.

My random cake design.

Cake transport.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Free Fridays begin

Look who's not working.

So I know that I already announced that I was going down to a four-day work week. But it never happened. My boss kept asking me to stay on the full five days because she needed me.

This week looked like it would be a repeat of previous week. Until yesterday, my boss turned to me and said, "Oh,Yvonne, you're not working tomorrow, are you?"

To which I replied, with faux-confidence, "Uh, yes. that is correct, I am not working on Friday."

While I was hoping that this week would be the week, I was kind of assuming that it would never happen. So when I found out that I actually had the day off, it was the greatest feeling ever. Especially since it was supposed to be like 80 degrees and sunny. Whoo-hoo!

I came home, practically skipping, wanting to celebrate with ice cream (my treat of the week). But Dan didn't want ice cream because he ate badly all week. And suddenly it felt like any other week night (because for Dan, it was) and sitting there doing the usual (making dinner, clean up, reading, watching baseball) kind of brought my spirits down. I was expecting a parade or something. Or maybe I just really wanted ice cream. I dunno. Maybe the whole world is not excited as I am that I am only working four days a week.

No bother. The happiness came back on Friday--my actual day off. I am planning to devote my Fridays off to being creative, but I actually had some errands to run this morning that badly needed to get done and were hanging over my head. And so I went to the gym and the bank and the bridal shoe store and in the midst of all that, had my lunch sitting in the sunny Madison Square Park brimming with Spring flowers. It was fabulous.

Now I am back home, ready to grab my computer and run to a cafe and maybe write for a little while.
Ah, this is the life I always imagined I would come back to when I was in Europe--and I did it!

Red flowers.

Pink flowers.

Yellow flowers. All at Madison Square Park.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

And they're off!

Today as I peddled on my stationary bike during my 6:15 am spin class, I thought about my dad and my brother Pete, who are flying out to Los Angeles today to begin their cross-country bike ride.

This morning as I rode, I stared at the guy's sweaty butt in front of me.

Dad and Pete will get to see things like this.

And this.

This will be my Dad's third bike voyage across America, and my brother's third attempt. They tried to do it together two or three years(?) ago, starting in Los Angeles, riding up the coast of California and then going across. But then my brother's bike broke and they lost a lot of time and momentum and so they decided to make it a California-only ride. Last year, Pete tried to attack the journey solo and again had to quit again due to bike troubles. He told me that his bike kept breaking and he was approaching the desert where he'd have to face long stretches of no one and nothingness. A little scary if your bike breaks down there. In a smart--yet I am sure at the time--devastating move, he turned back.

I have a feeling that third time will be a charm. With a new and improved bike, I think my brother will have the opportunity to successfully fulfill his dream. And my dad will go along for the ride.

Theirs will be an adventure much more rugged than my Euro-vacation. When I came home, people like my mom exclaimed, "I could never rough it and stay in hostels like you did." Then there was my dad who said, "I don't need that much luxury." Pete and Dad will be biking about 100 miles a day and then sleeping under the stars--whether it's at a camp site, the yard of a friendly person they've encountered or under a shrub. At least that is what they've done in the past. A slice of cake everyday is also out of the question. The food will be simple. Stops at the grocery store, camp-friendly food (beans and spaghetti), Dominoes pizza, and whatever else they come across. To each his own.

This is what I am talking about.

Still, I feel a twinge of envy that they will be out exploring the world while I sit at my cubicle and dream about places to go. And lately, I have been dreaming quite a lot.

If you are interested in following their journey, read my brother's bike blog and sign his guest book. I am sure he will appreciate it.

Be safe and good luck!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Culture Club

Trying an Indian treat.

So at work, I sit next to this girl named Heather, who is our events manager. She just started at the job a month or two ago and she amuses me stories about her life, in particular, the clubs that she's in (who is in any club, let alone multiple clubs?).

She and her marketing friends started a "Culture Club". The idea is that one person will plan a day-long event that will educate the group about one culture. What's so great about living in New York City is that you can actually experience many of these cultures firsthand--usually by going outside of Manhattan. (As far as Heather's other club, apparently, some of her friends were jealous of "Culture Club" and so they decided to start another club called "Girls Day of Fun" which is just about doing fun things like flower arranging.

Since everyone at work knows that I am trying to write a "Polish-themed" book, Heather thought I would be a perfect candidate for Culture Club and so me and this other work-mate Sarah decided to go along for the ride. This month, the theme was Om Sweet Om, and based on the clever name and cute email that went out, I determined that these girls were complete marketing geeks. (And yes, it takes one to know one).

This morning, the ten of us met at Grand Central--and Kara, the organizer of this event, led us on an Indian adventure. First, we headed to Little India in Queens were we walked along the mainstreet and explored shops selling gold jewelry, Bollywood video rentals, saris and exotic sweets. My favorite was visiting the grocery store where they sold giant bags of rice and wild ingredients that made me want to cook up some Indian food. (I have never cooked Indian food before nor aspired to do so, so that was very exciting for me). We ducked into a random beauty shop where most of us got henna tattoos.

I got one on the inside of my wrist. I wasn't sure what to expect, but basically, this woman grew a pretty design on me, almost like someone would decorate a cake. The henna is black and comes out of a tube. It takes about a half an hour to dry, so on the way back into the Manhattan, we were all sitting and standing with our arms out on the subway like we were holding platters of food. The black stuff turned all crusty and once someone started to pick at theirs, then the rest of us did too and when the black stuff came off, it revealed the orange design. The woman at the beauty shop said that the color deepens based on your body temperature. I think they're supposed to last about a week. I like mine.

In the city, we took a beginner yoga class. Luckily my foot has not been acting up too much today, even with all the walking, and the gentle stretching was probably the best thing that I could do for it and it relaxed me as well. The girls were heading for some Indian dinner afterwards, but Dan and I had alternate plans, so I headed home after that.

I liked the whole idea of "culture club" and of course, by the end of it, the girls were asking me when I am going to plan Polish Day.

Getting my henna tattoo.

A closer inspection.

Drying it out.

Me, grimy after yoga class, and the final tattoo.

The Shins.

I am battling a mild case of shin splints--for all you non-runners out there, it means when the front of your shins feel a little sore from running. It happens to me once in a while and usually goes away with time, some ice and taking it easy, but it never fails to annoy me because I don't want to take time, some ice or take it easy.

After my run on Thursday, my shins felt particularly sore and so I took off Friday and Saturday morning woke up debating whether or not to go out to the park and run. It was 70 degrees warm and sunny and brilliant, and after a few test hops in my apartment, I thought to myself, what the heck?

It didn't go so great. The sun was shining so brightly, that it actually felt too hot for a run and I felt thirsty immediately. The pope is in town and apparently, he was going to be going down Fifth Avenue, so rather than get lost in nature, all I could hear was the roar of helicopters that were hovered over us. And the worst of it was that every so often my shins would hurt me, rattling me a bit. By the time I reached the hardest hill of run, I was nervous I couldn't be able to make it up. Then when I passed this girl, I ended up tripping, my ankle twisted and I landed hard on the side of my foot. Hurt a little but I kept going, and all of a sudden, I was walking. The rest of the run was like that--running and walking. I know that I had the strength to do the run, but I was mentally spent.

Afterwards--to make me feel better--I decided to treat myself to some window shopping and ended up buying an overpriced, but super awesome dress for Jacey and Kunka's wedding that I wish I could wear NOW. Then I got a pedicure to pamper myself. Dan and I met up, and together we went to Ruby Foo's to meet my sister Annette and Kent who were in the city to see a show that evening. We have a great dinner. But then we got up to leave and all of a sudden I could not walk. My left foot was killing me with every step.

"What's with you?" Dan asked as I hobbled around.

"I don't know." I said. But then it hit me. That moment on the hill. I must have sprained something.

We went home and watched The Bridge Over the River Kwai, my foot throbbing with pain the whole time. Every hour, I iced it, but it hurt so much to walk that I was hopping on one foot to and from the freezer.

Dan sighed. "It doesn't hurt that bad. It's all in your head."

I did not like him very much then. Then I asked him to get my computer for me, and he sighed deeply and acted annoyed. I didn't like him at all then.

By the end of the night, and two Advils later, it felt a little better and I am happy to say that this morning it's practically recovered and I can walk without a noticeable limp.

I decided that I would take the day off from working out, and take it easy this week. Maybe my body is trying to tell me something. Take time, some ice, and take it easy. But why do I feel so guilty about it?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Call me Ivan.

"How do you pronounce your name? Is it EE-vonne or Yah-vonne?"

I hate this question.

No one used to ever ask me this question. Then, they sent out a telegram or something because now it's like a weekly occurrence.

I hate this question because I don't have an answer. I honestly don't pay attention or even care how people pronounce my name. I never even thought about it until people started asking me so much. And so that is how I answer:

"I don't care. You can call me either one. It doesn't make a difference to me."

But the conversation never ends there. People don't believe me. How can I not care?

"Well," they stutter, "I want to say it the right way. How do you say it?"

"I say Yah-vonne. But people say it differently and it's fine."

At this point, people are usually looking at me with squinted, concerned eyes as if I don't know what I am talking about.

I remember one time, I was at my old job, having a big deal meeting with all my upper management. My publisher was there. My boss was there. My ad director was there. The editor in chief and the creative director of the magazine was there. And we're supposed to be talking about real issues about some marketing program, when one of them turns to me and says, "How do you pronounce your name?"

We're talking about this here? Right now???

And the conversation went as it always goes, and when this topic comes up in a group, it always drags out twice as long because then everyone has to compare and contrast how they say my name. These people were especially unconvinced that anyone would take something major like the pronunciation of your first name lightly.

"Well how do you say it?"


"Well how does your mom say it?"


They were beside themselves. It was mortifying.

But what this conversation made me realize that even though I don't care how people say my name, I subconsciously remember how people in my life pronounce it. I knew immediately at that meeting that my mom was a "Ee-voone." Dan, also an Ee-vonne. ("It's the correct way to say it," he told me. Of course it is.) My brother and sister, on the other hand, "Yah-vonne." They even call me "Yuv" for sort. (But then again, I can hear my brother saying my other nickname "Ee-vonney.") Maybe Pete's an Ee. Jen--my sister-in-law--a rare, but still perfectly acceptable "A-vonne."

Quite frankly, I am just happy that people actually remember my name. Some people complain about having hard-to-pronounce last names, but I have the unenviable problem that I often need to spell my first name and my last name when I am telling someone my name. And I can't tell you how many times I am at a restaurant and I put my name down for a table, and I watch the host scribble down "Evan" or "Ivan." Sometimes I will even spell out my name and it's just too much to compute for them and they will still write down "Ivan" or if I am lucky "Ivonne."

Then when it's time for my table, he or she will walk around the crowded restaurant, shouting, "Ivan? Party of two?"

And when I point my finger in the air and stand up to announce that it's me, the host will look at me suspiciously--"Wait, you're IVAN?" and reluctantly will walk me and my guest over to a table.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Italian predicament.

Dan and I have been invited to a wedding in Italy in August. Dan's high school friend is getting married.

The airline tickets would cost us $1,200 a piece, but we could stay with Dan's family for accommodations.

Dan asked if I were interested and I said yes, drooling like a dog staring at a piece of meat being dangled over him.

But then Dan started fretting about the cost. And then he expressed nervousness about visiting his family who speak no English. (It will be FINE. I am a pro at this, I assured him.)

"And quite frankly," Dan said, "I don't know if there will be much for us to do there."

It's pretty unbelievable that the two of us have been together for nearly five years. I mean, WHO SAYS THAT? ABOUT ITALY?

"If there is nothing to do," I told him, "then we'll just eat all day and it will be summer, so there'll be gelato! Every day!"

This hasn't convinced him. It's really about the money, which I completely get. We were also invited to a destination wedding in Mexico that same month which we've 90% decided is out of our budget. A trip to Italy would be even more. But we'll see. I am crossing my fingers, but it's really not my decision. But it would alleviate that whole "get a life" problem I was having last week real quick.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I need to get a life.

I haven't felt like writing in my blog lately. I haven't felt like writing anything lately. Truth be told, I am completely uninspired. My life has become completely routine, like a cd that keeps replaying itself as soon as it is finished. Wake up early, head to the gym, go to work, go home, make dinner, maybe do some copywriting or watching tv or reading or talking to Dan. I feel I am always at the grocery store or doing another load of laundry and I am always groaning when the weekend is over. Once and a while I head out for dinner or drinks with some friends, but that seems to be slowing down lately. I am just going through the motions.

Yesterday, my friend Megan imed me, congratulating me on my weight loss, but questioned how I enjoyed living without sweets or alcohol. Meaning: living without pleasure.

I admitted it was a little boring, but that is when I realized that that's what's missing right now. Some good old-fashioned genuine pleasure.

Not that I am living a completely pleasure-less existence. My favorite part of the day nowadays happens to be my workouts. This morning, for instance, since the sun is starting to rise around 6:30 now, I ventured into the park for a workout--my first time doing so before work all year. The pavement was cool and wet from the rain the night before. The trees just starting to show a tinge of flowers and green. And the birds, man, they were singing and chirping. Being surrounded by this beauty and calmness while alone with my thoughts was definitely worth waking up for.

So I have my moment and then I go home and snap back to reality and I spend most of the day trying to combat boredom at work. I have started walking home from work to add some kind of variety but walking home in the new neighborhood is not anywhere as enjoyable as it used to be in the old hood. The east side just has too many cars and you're constantly stopping and going--there is just no flow and it takes too long. My evenings go quickly and Dan comes home late and before we've had a chance to settle down and really talk, my eyes start drooping and I head to bed.

My goal for starting this blog was to live my life in New York the same way I did in Europe. I have something to tell you. I am not doing a good job.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

It's finally coming together.

My meeting with my freelance boss was successful and starting next week, I will begin working four days a week which gives me one entire day each week to devote entirely to my writing and passions. Yes!

Monday, April 7, 2008

It's never too late.

I just finished an amazing memoir called The Invisible Wall. The story itself is simple: Harry is a young boy living with his poor family in England in the 1910's. He lives on one side of the street, with all the other Jewish people, and the Catholics live on the other side of the street. In between them is an invisible wall that no one dares to cross. That is, until his older sister falls in love with a boy from the other side.

We've all heard this story before, but I love the way it is told, from the perspective of a little boy, who lives in poverty in a household led by a brutal father, in an anti-semitic world, and when significant things happen--things that a little boy simply cannot comprehend at that age--it is all the more heartbreaking to read in his simple point of view.

What really thrilled me about this memoir is that it was written by a man named Harry Bernstein who is 96 YEARS OLD. He has written all his life, but was compelled to write his story, his "debut" book at the young age of 92, to help him get over the death of his wife. According to the newspaper reports, he is working on a follow-up.

I love that. There was once a piece in Wired magazine about genius and how there are those who are brilliant in their youth and burn out quickly (Mozart) and then there are those who work steadily their whole lives but do not discover their brilliance until later in their life (Beethoven).

Like Harry Bernstein, I hope I am one of the latter. (Although 96 years is a long time to wait!)

Friday, April 4, 2008

The pants that fit perfectly for one week.

I am wearing the pants again that surprisingly fit me last week, after months of being much too tight, and dare I say that they are feeling sort of big and baggy on me right now. Perhaps this will be a short lived courtship.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Biggest Loser

As I stepped on the scale at the gym yesterday, I was hoping and praying that I lost at least 2 pounds from March Madness. Because otherwise all that hard work would be for nothing.

I lost 6.

Actually 6 1/2, but I was so blown away by the result that I just assumed that half pound is a fluke and so I am safe saying 6. I am probably the only person in the history of the world whose ever weighed themselves that doesn't count an extra half-pound. I lost an inch just about everywhere--my waist, my butt, my boobs (sorry Dan). And my resting heartbeat has gone from 70 beats a minute to 62 beats a minute. IN JUST ONE MONTH!

I know that I have been exercising regularly and eating very well, but for some reason I just thought it would never work out for me. I know that is crazy talk but I just feel like I have attempted diets before and nothing ever seems to happen. And this whole exercise reaffirmed by basic principle in life: If you really want something, you can do it. If you work hard, good things will come.

In terms of pursuing my creativity and my writing in March, I wasn't as successful and diligent as my health kick, but not a complete failure either. I started writing my book. I have documents of jibber-jabber to prove it. And that's further than I was before I started. And if I put the energy into it, good things will come out of that, too.

So I have decided to continue March Madness for the month of April. My initial goal was to lose 10 pounds and I am more than half-way there. I have a meeting on the calendar with my boss next week to talk about my schedule. There seems to be no end in sight for my freelance gig, and so I am going to ask that I work only four days a week--planning to use my extra day writing. This was the goal of freelancing in the first place, and I think it's imperative for me to start taking my creative projects more seriously. My weekends this month are light (for now) and so this month I am going to try to put more focus on things that are important: writing, drawing, painting dolls, taking pictures, cooking and baking. And continuing to shrink away. As Dan said, after telling him the news, "There's six less pounds of you to love." I'm fine with that.