Monday, October 27, 2008

I had a bad day today.

This made me feel a little better.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The art of being busy and doing nothing.

I had my first wedding dream last night. My mom and I were looking at reception places and we couldn't find our way around town. We kept getting lost.

I have been doing some wedding research. Real casual. Like just flipping through magazines and reading over web sites at work and asking people for advice. Taking in what I think is pretty and getting some inspiration but not really thinking much past that. Sometimes I get overwhelmed and have to stop.

I have to do event planning as part of my job and it's by far, my least favorite thing to do. I think it's because I don't really like parties and to be in charge of a party when you don't like parties is an awkward situation. I know a wedding is different because this party has a deeper meaning (hello, marriage! to the one I love! with all the people I care about) and I can do whatever I want. My friend Jacey sent me her wedding planning chart and while I was impressed by her unworldly organizational skills, it kind of sunk in, "This is going to be a lot of work."

Which is fine. Totally expected. Will be fun. This is not a pity party.

I have just become such a slacker lately. Have you noticed that I have not really blogged lately? Or what about the fact that I should be doing some yoga or exercise right now but instead I am avoiding it by writing this post? Or how I have made a list of aspirations of things I want to focus on in the next month, yet I find myself playing Super Mario Brothers 3 or Oprah re-runs or going out with friends? While I get my work done at my job, I have to muster every bit of energy and effort inside of me just to sit down and do it. My weeknights have been super busy with social outings and while I have fun, I wonder if they are just another level of procrastination, a distraction from what I really should be doing. I am trying to avoid making plans and yet things crop up on my calendar each week. I like spending time with friends, but I long for some me time.

Dan has been spending his weekends campaigning for Obama in Pennsylvania. With the place to myself, this weekend was supposed to be the start of productive me, but instead I have done nothing except sleep late, watch TV, listen to music and wash the dishes in my sink.

To think that I will embark on the very task-oriented mission of planning a wedding seems crazy when I already feel like I have no time to do everything that I want to do, especially because I have no motivation to do what I want to do.

But then I wonder, maybe this weekend is just what I need. Time to sit around and do nothing, because eventually I will get bored enough to do something worthwhile.

I am already bored with this post.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Photo Assignment: Week Three

Our class assignment was to take pictures of "light." Years of running in Central Park taught me that the most beautifully lit place in all of New York City is the Reservoir in Central Park--especially at sunrise or sunset. Last Sunday, I took my camera there.

Pictures of Central Park is kind of a cliche, but I kind of don't care. It was fun to take these pictures and I like how they came out. A few weeks ago, Dan and I went to see Patti Lupone in Gypsy on Broadway. I remembered that I was bummed that I didn't bring my camera along because as we were waiting in line outside the theater, the light was so pretty on everyone's faces. After the park, I headed down there knowing that most shows start at 7 pm on Sundays.

Taking pictures in the Theater District/Times Square is kind of fun because you can take pictures at anything, of anyone, and no one will say anything. They just think you are a tourist. But it also can be incredibly hard because there are so many people that inevitably someone stands in front of your perfect shot and the constant movement of your subjects call for quick reflexes.

My teacher said that my pictures were good, but it was like I was a split second away from getting "the shot." None of these captured the moment perfectly.

For me, these are the ones that come the closest (although I must agree, not exactly on spot):

The show is about to begin but there are still people outside the theater, hanging around, waiting for their companions. I really like the lighting in this picture, and it has this kind of dark mood of anticipation and anxiousness that comes from people waiting all alone. In a weird way, I feel a sense of sadness when I see this picture (even though I did not feel that way when I took it).

I like the girl in the lace dress looking at the portrait of the glamorous actress also in lace, almost like she's aspiring to be like her. I probably should have stepped back more as I took this shot to get the whole poster in.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Photo Assignment: Week Two

Here are the pics I presented to my photo class this week:

I took over 200 pictures in New Orleans, and I am not excited about any of them. I am taking photos with a manual exposure for the first time which is a lot harder for me than I expected. For all you non-photo people out there, when you are working on manual exposure, the photographer has control of the shutter speed and the amount of light that enters the camera. So what would end up happening for me is that I would see a scene unraveling before my eyes, I would pick up the camera and snap it, and then realize--oh, I did not adjust my lighting correctly or at all so my photograph is dark, here, let me try again--and then either the moment was gone or it still never looked right. Let's just say that it was quite a frustrating experience at the time and looking through my pictures is a disappointing reminder.

My teacher told me that I had nice subjects but the composition in most of my photos were a little sloppy, which I don't disagree with. I think I was just worried about making sure that the photo was lit up correctly that I wasn't paying attention. To my credit, I tried taking pictures of things that were that were not static and leave my photos more to chance, as was recommended to me last week, and so my subject was the people of New Orleans who in most cases, were moving.

The picture of the boy running down the sidewalk, my teacher told me, would be much better if I pulled back a little bit and got more of the street in the picture. But at that moment, the boy was running very fast and I knew I had only one second to get it and tried to get the best shot I could. I didn't even know at the time if I could capture that moment and was happy that I was able to get it that good. I think it''s going to take a lot of practice to build up that skill of focusing the camera at the right place at the right time--and a lot of luck.


Me, age 30. Minus chin.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The moment you've all been waiting for.

Dan and me on the street car.

New Orleans will always hold a special place in our hearts...because it is the place that Dan finally got down on one knee and proposed. Yes my friends, it's official: Dan and I are engaged.

It happened on my 30th birthday. It was about 6 pm. We were sitting in the courtyard of the Chimes Bed & Breakfast before dinner. Dan had gotten a bottle of champagne delivered to the room and we were sitting there, talking and drinking. I thought it was really nice that Dan did that so I snapped this picture:

Dan is drinking champagne from a wine glass because he accidentally broke the champagne one. Nerves, perhaps?

Then he said, "Close your eyes. I am going to give you a present, but I did not wrap it." Dan never wraps any gifts he gives me so this came to no surprise. When I finally opened my eyes, I saw Dan kneeling in front of me, ring in box.

"Is this for real?" was apparently my first reaction. (I don't really remember).

Dan just knelt there with box for what seemed like an eternity. "Oh, you don't like it?" he said and pretended to put it away.

I'm like, "No, I like it. Just say something!"

And finally, he asked, "Will you marry me?" I said yes.

As the surprise wore off (I always knew it would happen, but I didn't expect it then and there) I grew more and more excited. There were victory dances. There was singing. There was ring flaunting. There was merry. We celebrated by going to dinner at Upperline, which is a really classy and Southern joint, returning home with Dan suffering severe shoulder pain from overeating. Definitely a birthday I will never forget.

New Orleans: A Culinary Journey

On this trip, I wanted to taste as many Southern specialties as I could. I can assure you, we did not go hungry. Here's a tour of some of our meals:

Muffuletta at Ignatius Cafe. Sandwich filled with salami, provolone cheese, olives and more. Could only eat about half. I don't usually like olives, but this was a fine exception to the rule.

The famous oysters at Casamento's. This restaurant is only open during oyster season (which means it is closed all summer), and it only serves lunch from 11-2 and dinner from 5:30-9. (There's no eating in between). These were indeed very fresh, but neither Dan and I would be in a hurry to have oysters again.

New Orleans is known for their fresh seafood, but in a way it doesn't really make a difference because it is all deep fried. After oysters, Dan and I indulged in this grease fish fest of fried oysters, shrimp, cat fish, crab and fries. The best part--under all that food were four slices of white toast with butter. It was the perfect ending. I don't think that people here know about whole-wheat bread. We only saw white bread in these parts.

I had gumbo twice. Here is a small cup from Madinas. On my birthday, Dan and I went to Upperline where it came part of its Taste of New Orleans menu.

At Madina's, I has some stuffed shrimp, which was more "stuff" than shrimp. My least favorite meal I ate, and at this point was getting a little sick of fried food.

Catfish po' boy from Johnny's. Fried catfish that I requested to be "dressed"--with lettuce, tomato and mayo. One of the best sandwiches I have ever had. HIt the spot.

Here's Dan talking on the phone and enjoying two slushy peach alcoholic drinks (on the street!) that we got from one of the touristy bars in the French Quarter.

New Orleans is not really a cupcake destination, but when I saw this beauty at Sucre, I had to try it. They had many flavors, but Dan and I split this caramel chocolate one which was pretty good. We came back to this place for gelato which was even better.

Some other things we ate not pictured: Fried green tomatoes, frog legs (surprisingly very tasty), turtle soup, pralines, pecan pie, rice and beans, homemade ice cream at Creole Creamery (I had pumpkin ice cream!), some of the most delicious blueberry muffins I've ever had at our bed & breakfast.

It was all good, but by the end of it, all I wanted was a vegetable. Seriously.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Dan's new home.

Look! I'm playing the trombone!

Dan has found the new love of his life. Don't worry, it's just the city of New Orleans. Or maybe you should worry. New Orleans has shot straight to the top of the list of where we should live after NYC, and he is already mapping out a game plan on how he'll be back (perhaps as a resident) in 18 months. I am unsure whether I will join him.
Sure, I like New Orleans. A lot. But me, a Southern belle?

Besides for a few don't-really-count business trips to Atlanta and Charleston, this is my first time in the South. Outside of New York, I have never been somewhere where art is so abundant in present in day-to-day life. The thing is that in New York--the art is snotty and inaccessible--while in New Orleans, it's down to earth and everywhere. You get the sense that everyone here is an artist of some kind. Take Saturday night. We happened to be in town for the yearly
Art for Art's Sake--an evening devoted to gallery hopping all over town. The best part is that these galleries all serve complementary wine, walking on the streets with alcohol is perfectly acceptable here, and lots of the galleries hired local bands to play loudly on the streets so we had the best time. (Just think: if such a thing ever happened in New York, it would be so crowded that you wouldn't get to see anything or the event filled with such pretentious people that the vibe would diminish any fun). Our art-filled week also included live music at Vaughn's Lounge where they served complementary homemade rice and beans at the bar and we had the chance to hear Kermit Ruffins on trumpet and the Congo Rhythms Music Festival where we sat on the lawn and watched bands play.

That's me with an open container on the streets of New Orleans.

The people here crack me up. While you certainly get your share of weirdos in New York, I have seen characters here like no others. Like the man driving a fruit truck driving really slowly down the streets of the French Quarter and singing equally slowly in a loud speaker for everyone to hear:

"I've got banana."

"I"ve got strawberry."

"I've got grape."

Or how about the conductor of the old fashioned trolley, who slammed on the brakes of a train car loaded with people, so she can yell across the street to say hello and have conversation with her friend.

Dan in the driver's seat of the trolley.

In Jackson Square, they've got the park lined up with fortune tellers and found myself in front of a dread-locked man with three teeth who rubbed my hands in stinky oil, held my palms for minutes and threw chicken bones and dice on the blanketed table to tell me:

"You were tall when you were little and they used to make fun of you for it."

"You will have twin girls. And your daughter will have triplets. Do twins run in your family?" I said no. Later Dan tells me his grandfather is a twin.

"You will travel all around the world."

"The money will come. You will have good health. You will be alright."

"You have nice teeth."

We did the requisite walk through the French Quarter. Sure some of it's touristy and trashy, but then other parts of town are so surprisingly unaffected--like Magazine Street, a main strip of stores and restaurants where the only chain store we found was American Apparel and there wasn't a single bank in site. (We know, because we needed money. Lots of places here are cash only). All of the stores were small and quaint with much local flavor, it was such a relief that all cities in America aren't run by chains and look the same.

Can we stop for a minute to talk about how cheap everything is here? Two drinks at a bar for $6? Two ice cream cups with two flavors for $5? A 6-bedroom house in a nice part of town for $400,000? We've been living in NYC too long to appreciate these prices.

There's a spirit about New Orleans that's hard to miss. It's just brimming with so much potential. There's a great deal of beauty in it, although sometimes you have to look through the cracks to see it. The cracks:

The most beautiful Southern-style homes full of charm can be right next to these slummy looking things, and this happens no matter the neighborhood.

A deeply political town (they were having local elections this weekend and we couldn't believe the amount of political signs we saw--it was like high school all over again where everyone plastered the hallways with posters except here, high school is the entire city of New Orleans) which is awesome that people care about their government--but apparently all the politicians are corrupt.

New Orleans is the murder capital of the United States. It's advised not to walk alone at night.
Enough said.

The sidewalks are uneven and Dan trips on them about every ten minutes. I've managed to do okay, but seriously, every ten minutes Dan goes flying in this town.

With all the rebuilding, they can make this place look incredible and start anew. But there's a very possible chance that if you ever bought property here, it could wash away.

Since I have been here I have gotten more mosquito bites than I have had in the last ten years.
"You will get used to it," says Dan.

Even with all those negatives, I still like it here. But if we're going to live here, we'd have to get used to a whole lot of things--the good and the bad.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Calling All Volunteers

Contrary to what you might have expected, the idea to volunteer during my birthday pilgrimage to New Orleans was MY idea. True it sounds like Dan and true, Dan was really enthusiastic about it (perhaps after 5+ years, we're really turning into the same person), but I have to say, it was all my brilliance. I thought it would be an interesting experience to help rebuild a tiny part of New Orleans and perhaps kick start the next 30 years of my life as being a little less self-centered.

With the help of a former co-worker, Dan hooked us with with the Annunciation Mission which is helping residents of the Broadmoor neighborhood of New Orleans get their lives back in order after Hurricane Katrina. We prepared by watching the four hour Spike Lee documentary When the Levees Broke (yeah, we're total dorks). Dan bought his and her work gloves and I had visions of building houses with cool, interesting volunteers and making a difference at the same time. Well, the difference one (or two) can make in two days.

When we arrived Thursday at the Mission, we met Ari, our very friendly volunteer coordinator, who told us that given our skill set (um, that would be none), she didn't feel comfortable for us to do something cool like gut a house. And so we were going to do some yard work.

As she went around and gathered rakes and a weed whacker and a machete, among other things, it dawned on us that Dan and I were the only volunteers and we would be doing this alone. Immediately, our excitement about being surrounded by a colorful group of volunteers were dashed.

"If we're going to be by ourselves, it almost feels like punishment," Dan whispered when Ari left us alone for a few minutes. I suddenly felt like this was quite possibly the worst idea I've ever came up with.

"We can just take off and run away now," I answered. "No one will know."

Ari came back, so we did not run. She gave us a little tour of the Broadmoor neighborhood which had been under water during Katrina. First she showed us an abandoned home whose front lawn has grown full of weeds. No one knows where the owner is. We would need to clear it out because the neighbors were starting to complain and seeing that mess brought down morale in the neighborhood. It was just a reminder of all that was lost.

Ari drove around the block and showed us another lot filled with waist length weeds and debris and said we could hit that one next, and then she drove some more and showed us the backyard of the first house, which looked like a weed forest, which we could also hit if we had time.

"Have fun!" she said cheerfully, before jumping back into her car and leaving us there to fend for ourselves. "If people talk to you, talk back. And don't give money to anyone."

Dan inspecting the overgrown lawn we needed to clean up.

With crazy intensity, Dan and I embarked on clearing the front lawn of the house, and with the exception of lunch at the church, that is what we did non-stop from 9 am to 4pm in the 80-degree hot sun.

I have a confession to make: I have never done yard work in my life. That's right. In my lifetime, I have not raked a single leaf or pulled a single weed. And here I was, cleaning up weeds thick as asparagus that grew to my knees. It was hard work. But in a way, it was kind of cleansing, getting rid of all that crap.

Things I thought about during the clean-up:

1. The homeowners. Who were the people who used to live in that house? Where are they now and would they ever come back? The house still had its spray-painted markings from Katrina that said the house had been checked for dead bodies. It said this house had 0 bodies. Dan and I couldn't help
but wonder: What if they missed one? Dan, the snoop, tried to peek inside their house, but all the doors were locked.

The creepy Katrina marking.

2. My grandma
. She was such as avid gardener, and I have memories of her walking around the yard in a flowered dress, hands clasped behind her back, often time clutching a handful of weeds. What would she think of me now?

3. The fantasy future. I imagined that Dan and I bought this house and we were fixing the yard. I thought about how pretty we would make it look. Actually, a few people in the neighborhood mistook us as the new homeowners and came by to welcome us in the neighborhood or sell their business services.

4. The point. We learned that people in the neighborhood had already cleaned this lawn multiple times. Was there a reason for this? The weeds would definitely grow back. But then two people did stop by and thank us for the work we were doing, and I knew that it was somewhat worthwhile.

Day one I came home a hot, dirty, smelly, scratched, bruised, itchy, mosquito bitten mess. But at least we made an impact:

The yard before.

The yard after.

We never got to the other two lots that day.

When I closed my eyes to go to bed that night, I had visions of weeds. Endless amounts of weeds.

Day two of volunteering, Ari asked us to work on the backyard which was kind of a disaster and not very visible to the public. Luckily, I had the chance to leave to accompany one of the social workers to visit an elderly woman in the neighborhood to hear her story about how the abandoned and badly damaged house next door (the one that should have been torn down a year ago) recently crashed into her home and almost killed her. The mission will write about her story in their neighborhood newsletter.

Driving back to Dan, I saw a whole bunch of other volunteer groups: a group of people rebuilding a home and a bunch of college photography students who were taking pictures and volunteering. THAT's what I thought volunteering was going to be like, and I longed to spend more time with those people and those projects. But instead, the social worker dropped me off to be with Dan, who all by himself was raking up leaves at a forgettable corner in the neighborhood.

When I told him what I saw, we both kind of sighed, looked wistfully at the distance, imagining what this whole thing could have been had there been other volunteers. We liked our charity and thought they were doing good work, but we were losing motivation with just the two of us and so we decided to call it a half-day.

Having done our volunteer time, we were ready to see New Orleans without our work glove
s. That was my idea too. And Dan's, too.

After a hot day in the sun, icy treats at SnoWizard tasted oh-so-good. Note dirty hands and face.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Big Easy - Day 1

Yvonne and Old Man River.

Squeen: Do the readers know we're in New Orleans?
Yvonne: No.
Squeen: Wow, ok.

Well, the cat's out of the bag. We are in the Crescent City for five days...yeah, you thought my birthday celebration was a big blowout. But this is what you get when you complete three decades on this doomed planet. (30!!!)

As we all know, Yvonne's favorite things are sweets and travel, so travel we did -- and yes, sweets have already been consumed. More on that later.

Despite our reasons for being here, we spent most of our first afternoon pursuing things on my to do list (have I mentioned that accommodation is one of Yvonne's finer traits?)... we saw some important sites from the New Orleans-based novel, my favorite of all time, A Confederacy of Dunces.

If you haven't read it, do it. Hilarious. Archly original. No more brilliantly drawn character ever put to print than Ignatius J. Reilly.

And since Ignatius lived in a dumpy little house on Constantinople Street between St. Charles and the river... and since our bed and breakfast sits among the beautiful old homes and handful of dumpy houses on that same stretch of Constantinople Street, a pilgrimage was in order.

Ignatius' house?

From there, we took a longish walk among the stately homes on the way to the Prytania theater, where Ignatius would watch the beach blanket films of the early '60s just to get inflamed about the decrepit state of the culture. Sorta like watching Fox News on purpose. (What would Ignatius have said about Sarah Palin? "She should be lashed until she drops!")

And last, was a streetcar ride and a search for the statue of Ignatius on Canal Street.

We're calling it an early night tonight because we are spending the next two days volunteering in a neighborhood that was flooded by Katrina. There WILL be nightlife on this trip, though. Our awesome innkeeper has pointed the way, we've got tons of recs, and I'm digging the vibe of this city.

Aforementioned sweet. Beignet at Cafe du Monde. As far as deep-fried vehicles for the delivery of powdered sugar go, this has to be one of the better ones.

Looks like a pretty good Day 1.