Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Philadelphia Story

So back in June (seriously), I marked in my calendar that I would be spending my Labor Day weekend visiting my high school friend Chris in Philadelphia. Four days ago, feeling antsy with unemployment and free time, I thought to myself, "Why don't I go into the city early and check it out?"

I have lived two hours away from Philadelphia for most of my life, but believe it or not, I have only been there once before, to visit Brian when he was studying at UPenn, but we just hung out. For a girl who likes to travel with a brand new camera in hand, I made my BoltBus reservation ($13 per way, dude! That's cheaper than going home to NJ!) to spend the day sightseeing before meeting up with Chris in the evening.

Dan was concerned about me bringing the camera. "I won't be there to make sure you don't lose it or if anything happens." He's been very protective of me every since we went to Argentina. It's kind of cute, but then again, it's like, I am bringing my freakin camera. Why buy a camera like this if I can't bring it anywhere?

The city proved to be a fun testing ground to trying it out. But seriously I have no idea what I am doing. I spent the day taking a lot of pictures (mostly in auto focus, with no flash) just to get used it in my hands. But it was tons of fun, and I snapped nearly 140 shots in two days. Now that I am downloading them, I realize they are mega-huge files. (I am having trouble uploading to Blogger because they are so large, so please check out my edited photo log here until I figure it out).

People in Philadelphia are not used to seeing people walking around with fancy cameras. I guess the tourist flag is up when you have a giant chunk of machinery strunk around your neck, but seriously, I was taunted by all kinds of people on the streets.

"Hey, that picture's going to cost you $25," I heard a man yell at me. I snapped a photo of a record shop for Dan. "That one will cost you $100." What does that mean?

Two kids sitting on the sidewalk perked up when I walked by. "Spare change? Spare camera?" I walked by, ignoring them, as they giggled behind my back. Another man followed me alternating questions about my camera and where I am from to if I could lend him money for a bus ticket.

I have to say, I did feel like the only tourist in town. The city was pretty empty (everyone's down at the Jersey shore, I am sure) and as I took in the famous sights (Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Ben Franklin's house and grave, South Street and the Italian Market), I felt like it was me and some random families who had nothing to do for Labor Day except educate their kids on their nation's history.

From what I could tell from one day, Philadelphia has an eclectic mix of architecture. For the most part, it was a very red city. Some streets I walked down were brick walls, brick buildings, brick sidewalks. It reminded me of Syracuse, which did not conjure up good feelings. Some buildings were beautiful and old-looking: Greek-looking, marble structures with White House pillars or old, old revolutionary-era get-ups. Then there would be horrible stuff--like huge, tan, rectangular monoliths built in the 60s and 70s--who ever thought this stuff looked good unless you were communist? And then in the middle of all that, you would find nooks of modern and gorgeous shops and spaces infused with art and creativity.

All of the restaurants in Philadelphia are "the best" of something. It seemed that every eating establishment had some kind of sign in the window that declared their superiority of something: cheesesteaks, coffee, pizza, you name it. It made me feel that the selection in Philly must be so small that eventually, some local magazine or newspaper decided at one time or another that this place was the best, and these people just take that and run with it. It all seems a little suspect, and frankly, I am unsure if I can trust any city that doesn't have a cupcake cafe. There appears to be one, and I couldn't locate it on my tourist map so I just didn't bother.

Even though I am not a huge fan, I decided that I ought to try a cheesesteak. But I got so hungry before I got to the cheesecake zones of South Street and the Italian Market, I popped into this cool looking place called Continential (that I later learned from my Lonely Planet book is a hip place to be) and ordered a turkey burger that was topped with that cheesy onioney goodness, and so after having that, I wasn't in the mood anymore. Chris and I opted for some Mexican food instead--and then happened to drive by Capogiro--this gelato place--so we stopped in form some incredible frozen delights that made up for the lack of cupcakes.

Saturday, Chris, her boyfriend George and I hung out with their cats and sat down for a good old-fashioned barbecue. They live outside the city and have the luxury of a big apartment, outdoor space, a barbecue, bikes, a garden of sunflowers and vegetables. Sometimes I wish I lived in the country.

So I didn't see the art museum with the famous Rocky steps (up close at least). The famous Isago Bakery was closed for August. I missed out on one of "the best" cheesesteaks. There's a big chunk on the map I did not see. I would like to see Chris and George again. And so I think there is many reasons to come back to Philadelphia. And when I came home and told Dan I stumbled upon five different record stores without even trying, he asked if we could go next weekend. I don't think so, but soon, my friend, soon.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Summer Classics Update 2

Labor Day means it is the end of summer, but the classics still continue. I think I will have to see this through until the official last day of summer in mid-September.

Great Expectations: Somehow I managed to get away with not reading this in high school. Actually, this is my first time reading Dickens. Thought it would be hard, but it wasn't, and I was surprised that I found myself liking it at first. This young boy, this crazy old man in the graveyard, nice ol' Joe. But then the boy grew up, I found myself counting the pages until the end, even when the crazy old man came back. Also, still can't figure out what was so great about Estella. How can you be in love with someone who is so boring? She just sits there and looks beautiful and says mean things. I don't get it.

Their Eyes Were Watching God: This book is supposed to be one of the best works in Africa-American and women's literature, about a black woman living in the South in the 1920's who figures out that she's got to do what makes her happy, not what others think should make her happy. Got to respect that. What's interesting is that this book was written by this woman Nora Zeale Hurston, who was college educated and rose within the literary community and the Harlem Renaissance, even getting a Guggenheim fellowship. But then her life took this crazy downward spiral and she got sick and had financial troubles and died in an unmarked grave, unforgotten, until Alice Walker and some black writers in the 70s were like, what happened to this writer, she was awesome, and brought her works back into fashion. Crazy. I know that this book was made into a movie starring Halle Berry, so the whole time I was reading it, I was just thinking about Halle Berry.

The Apartment: Is Jack Lemmon the greatest actor of all time? I am familiar with Jack from Some Like it Hot and Grumpy Old Men, but his work in this movie just blew me away. It's an unlikely plot--a guy trying to make it up the corporate ladder lends his apartment out to the bigwigs so they can go there while they cheat on their wives--but it still holds out because of Jack. I love any story about people who try to find their happiness in Corporate America and discover it's bull. I loved this movie.

All About Eve: Brian came over for the All About Eve movie party, complete with dinner from the diner downstairs (I was craving a grilled cheese sandwich and fries big time). I found the movie quite witty and funny and loved spotting a young Marilyn Monroe. Brian and I arrived at this conclusion: If some woman unexpectedly comes to your door one night and claims she's your biggest fan, the next day, don't let her live with you and become your personal assistant. Just don't.

My Fair Lady: I love musicals, and I've seen snippets of this one on TV but never sat through the whole thing. In case you don't know, this movie is about two men who make a bet on whether they can turn a woman (Audrey Hepburn) selling flowers on the street into a high-society woman and become believable at a royal ball. About half of this three-hour movie focuses on changing Audrey's accent. But Audrey not only changes her accent but her entire personality. She was so unlikeable and grating in the beginning and she changes voices and suddenly she's all witty and smart and normal? And then the men act like changing her accent is the most important thing in the whole world, and at one point being like, "We can't go on, this is too dangerous..." Like seriously. Aren't there more important things going on in your life? Costumes, great.

I have not advanced in my music classics and it's Dan's fault. He insisted that we do a listening party for Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited album (next on my list) because he's such a royal expert but he never makes time for us to do it. He'll probably read this post and say it's my fault, but then why am I so far along in my books and movies and I am lagging behind in the one category that Dan is involved in. The conclusion: Blame Dan for everything.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Lights, camera, action!

I have issues when it comes to money.

I don't have a problem spending money most of the time, but if I have gone especially overboard on a shopping spree, I tend to go home and hide my new purchases in the closet. It's sort of a weird guilt trip and a way for me to avoid the the fact that I spent a crap load of money and the lingering heavy feeling of "Do I deserve this?"

I have been doing this for years. When I lived at my mom's, I would hide the shopping bags in the trunk of my car, and the girls at work would laugh at me when I would come back from a lunch-hour J Crew shopping spree and promptly tuck the shopping bags under my desk without showing and telling. A few years ago, I bought a Marc Jacobs coat that cost a fortune but I had to have it--even though it was not the best of quality or particularly warm--and I never wore it for the longest time because I didn't want people saying, "you spent $400 on that??!" I did. And I still like the coat. And I have started to wear it more often because that $400 seems like a long time ago.

Last week I made one of those purchases. After evaluating my life goals, I have decided once and for all to take a photography class. It's been something that I wanted to do ever since I was 15, when I picked up my mom's old Canon and started snapping pictures of my high school's field hockey team. The camera promptly broke after the game and I have been dreaming about taking pictures ever since but money kind of got in the way. Not only is the camera expensive, but the classes to learn how to use the camera are an investment in themselves.

However, I have some extra cash in my pocket from my freelance career, and fueled by my ambition to follow my dreams, I finally headed down to the madness that is B&H in Manhattan (quite possibly one of the most crazy retail stores I have ever experienced. They have CONVEYOR belts for Pete's sake). I plunked down my credit card for a camera that costs more than my rent check each month. I start a Photography class at the School of Visual Arts in mid-September.

Upon seeing the shopping bags, the first question Dan asked, "How much did it cost?" And when I told him, he looked like he was going to faint. Listen, I did my research and I bought the best camera that I could afford. I CAN afford it. But still--with that reaction, the camera sat for a week untouched in the B&H bags in the corner of the living room to appease some of the guilt and sticker shock. It didn't help that the day after I bought the camera, I found out my freelance job was ending.

I finally took it out tonight. It took me an hour to figure out how to put on the strap, insert the memory card and battery and turn it on. But feeling the heavy weight in my hands, the electric feeling that runs through my finger every time I click on the button--I know in my heart that this is a good thing for me. I do deserve this. I think.

I want to become a good photographer, and this is the bottom of the hill.

I feel:


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Going to the chapel

Liz and Julian.

The wedding season continues (and the big question that comes with it: "When is YOUR wedding?" Patience, people).

This time we celebrated the wedding of Liz and Julian. Liz is my stepfather's niece who currently lives in a drop-dead gorgeous house in Princeton and works at Meryl Lynch. She met Julian on St Patrick's Day on a blind date and it was, how we say, a lucky match. I was pleasantly surprised when Liz asked me to be a bridesmaid, and it was exciting to be part of their special day.

That's me, being all bridesmaid-y.

Some highlights of the day included:

Most of the day went off without a hitch, but the the couple's awesome vintage wheels they rented had to be jump-started in the middle of the photo-taking session. It was pretty funny.

My partner in the ceremonies was Julian's brother Wayne, who ended up being stuck with me for most of the day. I can't complain. He and his girlfriend Heidi are some of the coolest people I have met in a long time. I totally have a crush on both of them. Too bad they live all the way across the country in San Francisco.

My last post was all about finding passion in my work, and Heidi is the perfect example of what I am looking for. She was working in start-up companies and switched careers by launching one of the most popular food blogs out there: 101 cookbooks. She now makes a living out of cooking natural foods and photographing and writing about them. How cool is that?

Here's Wayne and me--a desperate reminder that we both need some dance lessons.

This dude, aka Albert Einstein, was an awesome dancer.

Dan couldn't believe that no one really noticed his white shoes (or at least they didn't say they noticed) so I am letting everyone know (if they didn't already) how awesome they were.

After an elaborate cocktail hour, appetizer, salad, dinner, wedding cake and a giant spread of desserts, they ended the night Polish-style with a plate of Polish goodies such as pierogi, kielbasi and stuffed cabbage. By this point of the evening, I was too full for any of it, but I think that when it comes to my wedding, I totally need some pierogi there. Just don't ask me when that will be.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What do I want to do with my life?

I found out today that my freelance job officially ends Friday which means I have to officially find a new gig.

I am not surprised by the news (the workload has been very light) but for some reason the news dragged me into a funk. I spent the day trying to figure out why.

I am really good at marketing, but I lack any passion for it. As a freelancer, you are not expected "to care"--you just show up and get the work done. And a part of that is great because the moment I leave that office, I can completely let go. I don't worry or think about my workload--EVER. I don't toss and turn at night fretting about all the work I have to do.

But there is something really strange about spending a huge part of your day--a huge part of your life--not caring. Sure, freelancing affords me the flexibility to pursue my non-work-related hobbies--but clearly, from my schedule this summer, I tend to prioritize hanging out with friends over "pursuing my passions."

I don't want to spend an hour here or there doing what I love. I want to spend the majority of my time doing it and so while this freelance thing has tons benefits and is working great for me so far in so many ways--I know it's temporary until I find my next big thing.

But what is that?

During some down time at work today, I wrote a list: What do I want to be when I grow up? And in this list I wrote down any profession or job that I might be interested in pursuing outside of marketing.

The list did not make me feel better.

Every thing on my list is ridiculous and unfathonable. Like impossible 5-year-old dreams of making it big and being really good at skills that I don't even have. Where am I going from freelancing? Apparently some kind of fantasy world.

So I guess the reason why I am blue is because I am worried I'll never be good at anything but marketing and if I do want to get out and pursue my real passions (which I have been relentlessly procrastinating), I have a steep climb ahead of me. It all just feels very overwhelming and scary at the bottom of the hill and I am a little disappointed in myself that I am still down here, in the same place, after all this time.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Jersey Girls

Meagan and me at a party last year.

I always go back to New Jersey to get my hair done.

Back in the day, my old roommate Meagan used to watch me come home from a weekend in Jersey with pretty hair. Longing for some pampering herself, she started coming to Jersey with me to get her hair done, too.

This has been going on for about four years, every eight weeks. Seriously.

This is Meagan getting her hair done last year. As you can tell, she was really happy I took this picture.

I love the Jersey hair weekends. Since we are no longer roommates, Meagan and I use them to catch up and stay connected. We generally meet up at Penn Station with so much to say to each other that we talk until we're exhausted.

All of our weekends are virtually all the same. We come in either Friday night or Saturday morning. We get our hair done, which can take from two hours to four, depending on who's getting what done. We enjoy some retail therapy suburban style--either by heading to Short Hills Mall or Target or both. We'll continue the suburban tradition by having dinner at Chili's and then sleep over my mom's house and enjoy a leisurely breakfast with her before heading back to the city.

Jersey weekends in the summer are the most special for me because my mom will usually host a barbecue for us, and often times, she will invite Pete and Jen who bring along the grandkids. I love my mom's barbecues because not only do we get to eat amazing homemade food, but we get to sit in her lovely outdoor patio surrounded by colorful, fragrant flowers (I will have one of these one day, I swear!). Some of my favorite memories of summer is sitting on that porch until the sun goes down, the cool of a summer night, the satisfaction of a good meal and my favorite people around me.

This past weekend, we had a barbecue made even better because my sister Annette came (and brought along her friend Sandy) which never happens. She just lives too far away to come by to mom's all that often. Pete, Jen and the grandkids came. It's the first time I have seen Pete since his bike ride across the country and so it was great to see him. Even though it's just family (yes, Meagan is now family), my mom went crazy as usual: seafood salad, steak, grilled chicken, piergoi, salad, grilled zucchini, corn on the cob, sliced tomatoes for dinner and fruit salad, brownies, ice cream for dessert. My sister also brought a banana pudding. So good, so much fun, so makes me want the summer to never end.

Can't Jersey weekends last all week?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Pizza Party

Morning after one of the best parties I have ever been to. And you know I don't like parties.

Dan and I were invited to the Kingdom of Gravy wrap party--our friend Adam has finished filming his movie and wanted to celebrate with the cast and crew and his biggest fans (that would be us). The party was very cool because in addition to the very friendly cast of characters we met (yes, pun intended), Adam and Nell hired their chef friend to make homemade pizzas all evening. And I am not talking about just regular cheese and sauce pizzas. We sampled mouth-watering pizzas that had toppings such as eggs and bacon to goat cheese and pear. Did you ever think that lemon zest would taste good on a pizza? Believe me, my friend. It tastes spectacular. All of the creations were so good. It was so fun to sample these gourmet delights through out the evening and I would say by the end of the night, I had eaten about an entire pie, but I was more than okay with that.

Oh, and in the background we were watching the Olympics where we JUST missed swimmer Michael Phelps win his seventh gold metal in the men's 100m buterfly. However, we did see the instant replay. One tenth of a second win? Holy crap! It made for an exciting evening.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I have friends now.

I don't see myself winning any popularity contests anytime soon, but I have been seriously busy for the entire summer, and looking at my handy black calendar, it's not getting any better.

How is it possible that I am booked every weekend until September 27? (If you want to hang out with me then, please let me pencil you in now). And that the next two weeks of my life are already jam-packed with social engagements nearly every night of the week? I am going to have to start turning people away.

Where did all these friends come from? Why are there so many activities all of a sudden? How did I become such a fun-pig?

I need to find a new job for September.

I need to write.

I need to buy new running sneakers.

I need to determine my retirement savings plan.

Fun just keeps getting in the way.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The white dress makes its debut

Dan and I (in white) hit the town.

Back when I finally decided that I was not going to wear the white dress to Dan and Jacey's wedding, Dan agreed to take me out on a hot date this summer so I would have the chance to wear it. August rolled around, and I reminded him that summer (and white dress wearing days) are getting scarce, and so we decided to do it this weekend.

I did not have a plan on where we should go, but then Dan started throwing out names like Daniel and Babbo--very upscale, critically acclaimed foodie places with celebrity chefs that I never thought we would ever set foot in (though secretly harbored an ambition to do so). I did not fight him on it. Remember, we are the type of people who are reluctant to go anywhere that requires a reservation unless it is a special occasion--so this was a big deal. And the fact that Dan suggested it, bigger than big deal.

I know you are all thinking at this moment: Dan is going to propose. But I know my Dan better than you do. It's too obvious. And then he told me a few nights before, "I am not going to propose to you at dinner" to which I replied "I know." (The reason why we had this conversation in the first place is because our friends heard fancy restaurant and started getting ideas).

Based on restaurant reviews and who had a table available, Dan and I selected Aquavit--a well-respected Scandinavian restaurant in midtown with food prepared by chef Marcus Samuelsson. When Dan made the reservation, they told him on the phone that men were expected to wear jackets and that is when we knew that we hit the jackpot. This was the kind of place we were looking for. Sure initially it was all about the white dress, but Dan also relishes any chance to dress up.

The whole experience was a whole lot of fun. We totally felt like we weren't supposed to be there, like we were little children who sneaked into the big-kids party. (Although it wasn't over-the-top fancy smancy--there were men in there who weren't wearing jackets but we promptly made fun of them). The waiter was friendly and acted like we did belong. He did not speak down to us, but educated us on the menu, with every course talking about the highlights and the best drinks to pair with what meals and all this foodie stuff that went a little over my head. I enjoyed it immensely.

The restaurant is known for their homemade aquavit which is like a flavored vodka. I ordered the pineapple and Thai basil that tasted like pineapple candy--it was so good. Dan got the blueberry and elderflower which I also thought was tasty.
For dinner, I ordered the lobster roll for an appetizer and then the duck for my entree--which offered my waiter some challenges in getting the correct drink for me. Dan ordered the foie gras and the venison. As you would expect, all the food was artistically arranged on large white plates, and while the portions seemed small, they definitely filled you up with their flavor. For dessert, Dan got a chocolate pie and I got the house favorite: The Arctic circle which is a goat cheese parfait with blueberry sorbet and passion fruit curd. Pretty interesting.

On top of our meal, they gave us free tastings from the chef at every turn. Two complementary appetizers or "amuse bouches"--just a taste of food to amuse your palate. I got an icy aquavit to go with my appetizer that I was told would help cleanse my palate in between my bites of my lobster roll (it did). And I did not complain when they placed on the table a rectangular plate filled with mini-desserts, including homemade Swedish fish which tasted like hard jam.

At the end, Dan said, "This is the best meal I have ever eaten" and we were already talking about next times and what other places we would like to go and who we would like to go with. (Though I hardly doubt this will become habit).

We ended our fancy night at a fancy bar--the King Cole at the St Regis Hotel where I ordered a glass of wine for $18 which totally wasn't worth it. Somehow Dan had enough room in his stomach to eat all the macadamia nuts out of the mixed nut bowl. We left when I began to start yawning non-stop at 12:30 (I guess I am not such a hot date after all), and when we hailed our taxi on Park Avenue, I said, "This feels like an episode of Sex and the City." Dan replied, "You're drunk."

Back home, full of Swedish food and ready to go to bed.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Call me.

8 am this morning.

11 am this morning. Proud owner of the new iPhone.

I have the day off from work, so I decided that today would be the the day to get my new iPhone. It's been 54 days since I have had a working phone. Remember when 30 days of unreachability sounded scary? Apparently I got used to it.

Taking Brett's advice, I decided to visit the West 14th Street Apple store location because it has the reputation of being the least crowded of the three Manhattan stores. When I arrived there at 8 am (when doors open), there was a winding line of about 100 people already outside, so I wasn't the only crazy one who set my alarm early to go stand in line. (BTW: With a 75/25% male/female ratio--quite possibly the perfect place to pick up dudes if you are into the tech type).

I spent the time reading and finishing my book, feeling a little strange that I was waiting in line for a phone. I don't even like talking on the phone. It all felt rather Cabbage Patch Kid circa 1984 for me.

Then they announced that they were out of the cheaper 8G version and only had the 16G, and that is when I decided that I was not going to wait in this line again, and my time was worth the extra $100.

The little blue-shirted man who helped me set up my phone was certainly not in sales (the most inspiring line he told me: "I got 45 minutes of sleep last night." Grreeeeeaaaaat.) He gave me no insight to the device I was buying (after waiting three hours, I was ready to purchase anything, just give me something please!). I was actually feeling a little jealous of the man buying his phone next to me involved in a lively conversation with his salesperson. My little man attempted to help me find a case for the phone, and I was like "don't worry about it. Just GO!"

Been playing around with it this afternoon and it's totally worth it. Even for a phone-hater like me.