Monday, December 13, 2010

Lily Loves Roses

The moment I put the flowers I received this weekend down on the coffee table, Sam and Lily swarmed and started chewing on it. So, when I wasn't around, I placed it on top of the fridge.

I thought I was being oh so smart.

I came home today to find Lily had eaten off some of the rose petals.

This is what she did:


At least she didn't knock them to the floor! I have no idea where I'm going to put the flowers now.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Keep Looking Up!

My father called this afternoon, to let me know that Jack Horkheimer, who hosted a five-minute astronomy show on PBS called Stargazer (formerly called Starhustler) for 35 years, died on August 20th, 2010.

He just found out. We spent about 30 minutes talking about our memories of Jack the Starhustler, the haunting, melancholy theme music that moved us both in the same way, heard late at night, and the influence the show had in our lives and our love of astronomy.

Growing up, the show aired in Miami on PBS, right before sign off (midnight? 1am?). My mom was/is a night owl, so staying up late at night and catching Starhustler was commonplace and then running outside to look at the stars, sometimes secretly, sometimes the next night with my dad.

I also spent a lot of time at the Miami Museum of Science and the planetarium. My school had field trips and I also used to (successfully) beg my mom to take me there or Crandon Park whenever Jack had set up telescopes. Jack was the director of the planetarium. The person you saw on TV - excited about the stars and mythology and kooky - was the same person in real life: animated and alive.

When I got my first car in 1990, a 1985 Honda Civic hatchback (with no A/C in Miami!), the only bumper sticker I put on the car was the Stargazer's saying: "Keep Looking Up."

Jack's show has been on the air and also been available as a video podcast for a while. It's unknown what will happen with the show now that he's passed, but I really hope they keep it going and inspire others.

So, my father and I shed a few tears because we really loved this guy and his show. This was his last episode:



Jack, we love you and thank you for being there, for inspiring me and my father's love of astronomy. My father and I have watched the sky all our lives. And, I've watched you for most of my life. Both of us thank you for your enthusiasm and we will miss you. You've touched our lives, and for the rest of our lives we'll remember you and we will keep looking up!

Jack's photo from www.aaymca.com

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Roots

Last night, over drinks with a friend, we started talking about Place. My friend C. feels very much at home here in Prospect Heights, and wanted to, in her words, "put down roots."

I thought about that sentiment, searching within myself for anything similar and, found nothing. I don't have roots to a place. My immediate family came to the U.S. from Brazil in 1960, living first in Manhattan, then Queens, then South Florida. The extended family followed the same course but then moved out to Utah, New Mexico, and then returned to the Northern parts of Florida.

My grandparents moved around more times than I can count once they reached Florida. Every time they seemed to be packing up and moving. Back when I was in college, they moved back to Brazil for a few years. Then they returned to Florida.

My mother and her husband moved from Miami to the Dominican Republic for a few years and then moved back.

There is no family home. When I visit my mother in Florida, it's a house she's had for a few years, but it’s not the place I grew up in (and I grew up in a variety of apartment complexes). My grandparents never bought, and now my grandfather, widowed, splits his time traveling between Brazil and Florida. When he's in the states, it's in an apartment complex that has no familial ties.

The other thing our family doesn't have are items passed down through the generations. There’s no quilt from a great-grandmother. No china handed down. No books, writings, dolls, trinkets. Not even jewelry. There are no sentimental items and the ones that could have been sentimental to future generations were sold or given away or left behind through all the moves. On my father's side, my great-aunt has pictures but my mother's past is like a slate wiped clean. There is a spiral notebook of her debutante ball – photos of my mother at sixteen in a gown and white gloves looking all serious - and that's the extent of her past.

It frustrates me a bit when I think about how there's so little that's tangible about our family, but, then I think about what things my family valued throughout the ages. They didn't put value in possessions, but in experiences and in pursuing dreams and being in the present moment, without much regard for the past or the future.

Ours is a transient family. There are no roots. There are no gravestones to visit. There are no inheritances. We might as well go from town to town in a wagon with our stuff tied up in a hobo sack that gets lost along the way.

So if you ever hear that I'm living in an RV (which one of my cousins did recently while traveling across America) or moving to some random town somewhere, then you know where my family legacy lies.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Why I love Twitter (and macaroons)

Oh sweet Jesus, these are the best macaroons I've ever had & I've been to France! Thanks to Twitter and @dannymacaroons, I got to enjoy them!

After Amy, a food blogger I follow (@amyblogschow), tweeted about eating "surprisingly moist" salted caramel macaroons, and letting me know that they're from Danny Macaroons and are available locally, I immediately had to go out & get some. I love me some salted chocolate and salted caramel so I had to try them. Dan saw Amy's tweet to me and replied letting me know that he just dropped off fresh batches around the city. After walking 15 minutes to the closest coffeeshop listed as a seller, they tell me they're out and they've suspended their shipment. Well, boo!

I tweeted back to Dan & what ends up happening is a bunch of back-and-forth emails with him and he makes plans with me to hand deliver not only some salted caramel macaroons, but an assortment of plain & chocolate covered ones as well.

This evening, Dan was waiting outside of my office and pulled out a six-piece bag of macaroons from his cooler. While he tells me about himself and his business - Dan's been in business for 4 months and makes the macaroons himself in Spanish Harlem - I bit into the salted caramel macaroon and it was an explosion of flavors: sweet, salty, coconuty, and very, very moist. (I was tempted to take a picture of him, but I was busy eating.)

However, the best was yet to come. On the train ride home, I tried a plain macaroon. Holy cow, I went bananas on the train: this was the best macaroon I've ever eaten! Ever! Again, super moist, sweet but not overpowering, coconut perfectly shredded. I was all moaning and picking off the pieces that fell on my shirt and in the crook of my arm and shoving it into my mouth like some out of control person. It was that good!

So, if you're a fan of macaroons, find a shop that carries them (but call first, just in case).

If it wasn't for Twitter, I wouldn't have had the best damn macaroons I've ever tasted. Now I got to control myself to not eat the four macaroons I have left tonight. I haven't even tried the chocolate one yet!!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Writer & the Reader

I'm reading a bunch of non-fiction stories a friend of mine gave me to read. I've been sitting on it for months now, much to my embarrassment, and every once in a while, she'd ask me if I've read them yet.

Truth be told, it makes me a pretty lousy friend that I've dragged my feet in reading them, and I'm direct enough to admit that to her. She laughs it off, but in her questioning she betrays a bit of hurt over it. I can't blame her. I remember what it's like, cautiously awaiting the moment when I'd hear the opinions of the people I respected who were given a copy of a poem or story I had written.

One reason it took a while for me to get to her stories was a fear they wouldn't be good and having to lie about it. My friend is pretty smart and knows it. This combination can produce self-conscious writing or writing suffering of egoism. If I encountered that kind of writing, the friendship would be in jeopardy and I didn't want to deal with any of that.

When I stopped writing, it was for a combination of many reasons, one of which was the isolation of the activity. I didn't want to continue to engage in activities that necessitated being alone. But, sitting here in the park with her stories spread out around my towel, I remembered: Writing is meant to be shared and enjoyed. It is a piece of you given to others, something internal made external. I've been so concerned in indulging myself further in isolation I've all but abandoned writing, but I've forgotten the vulnerability, beauty and bravery involved when you first share your work and how self-expression by its very nature requires someone to express to.

And, that was the other reason I was taking so long. She wanted me to see her and to know her and, because these stories were non-fiction and about her, what if I didn't like her?

I had nothing to worry about as her stories were well written, smart and enjoyable to read. I loved them and it reminded me of why were friends in the first place (I should have trusted my taste in friends). I cannot wait for her to return home from vacation and give her a hug and tell her how much I love her and her stories.

Something else came out of this experience reading her stories in the park, alone, on the fourth of July surrounded by crowds of people picnicking and enjoying games and food: perhaps I can cut myself some slack about being too isolated, forgive myself for being a bit of a loner, write some more, and remember that the act of sharing my writing is an act of sharing my self.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

How I survived 7 months of unemployment without going into debt

A lot of people, upon hearing that I was unemployed for seven months, are visibly frightened to hear how long I was out of work. They ask how I survived, assuming I lived off credit cards and, when I tell them that I am not in debt because I had an emergency fund, they are surprised.

The reason many of the people who inquired about my situation were frightened and surprised was because they had no savings to speak of. According to a 2009 Met Life survey, about 50% of Americans have less than one month's expenses saved for an emergency.

An emergency fund is about keeping you out of debt when shit hits the fan: You get laid off. You get sick or in an accident and can't work. You get smacked with huge medical bills even though you have insurance. This is what the fund is for. Emergencies. Not a vacation to Fiji.

So, how much should you have? It's a real personal decision, but it's an amount you're comfortable with. For me, that meant having 12 months worth of living expenses set aside (for me that's rent, food, utilities, pet care, medical care, and a small amount of entertainment money). But, Suze Orman says eight months worth of living expenses is a good amount. Like I said, if shit hits the fan, can you pay your rent? Buy food? Take care of any medical bills that come up? Do you have someone to take care of you? Are you going to end up homeless or have to move back in with your parents? All of these things should factor into the amount you set aside for your emergency fund.

How long did it take me to set aside an entire year's worth of living expenses? My initial e-fund back in 2001 was six months worth of living expenses and I've been contributing for years now. As my income and expenses grew, so did the amount that went in there. I'm a big believer in paying yourself first, so I always sent a little bit of money into this account. Also, while this money is liquid, it's an account not easily accessible, so I can't go to the ATM and withdraw money from it and take a vacation to Fiji. (I should, however, consider setting up a vacation fund!)

You don't have to be a financial wizard to accomplish this. I'm not. You don't have to be making a ton of money either. You start setting a bit of money aside. You can even set up a direct deposit from your paycheck right into this e-fund and not even think about it.

So, take what I've said here from the perspective that unexpected things can happen and start your own emergency fund and check out Suze Orman or another favorite of mine, Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You To Be Rich if you need a little more guidance.

I'm employed again and what's the first thing I'm doing? Building up my emergency fund.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Making Malai Kofta

I don't know anyone else who likes malai kofta, the Northern Indian dish of vegetable croquettes in a spicy cream sauce, but it's what I tend to order over and over again and I really like it.

A few weeks ago, I was browsing through one of my vegetarian cookbooks, a British tome of 1000 recipes and I came across a kofta recipe. It wasn't authentic, but I didn't have a kofta recipe so I filed it in the back of my mind to make it on a rainy day.

So today was that rainy day. Except it wasn't rainy. Just cold and windy.

The major ingredient in this recipe's kofta meal was pink lentils. See? Not authentic (it's supposed to be potatoes and cheese).

I rolled the meal into balls and baked them.

I added a few koftas to the curry, a spicy cream sauce whose recipe came from an Indian cookbook.

And here's the finished product, over some basmati brown rice.

The kofta actually tasted pretty good with the rice and curry. So, would I make this again? Not this kofta recipe. While it was lighter and healthier, I'd go and find a more authentic recipe instead. But, I made a bunch of it which I froze. They can also be served as an appetizer with a yogurt sauce so I'll try that too.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dance, sing, floss and travel

You ever read what's written on a Lululemon bag? I used to just roll my eyes at it but then yesterday on a crowded subway, the bag was right in front of my face. So I read it. Here are some sayings I thought were the most interesting and relevant to me:
* Do one thing a day that scares you.

* Life is full of setbacks. Success is determined by how you handle setbacks.

* Your outlook on life is a direct reflection of how much you like yourself.

* That which matters the most should never give way to that which matters the least.

* Breathe deeply and appreciate the moment. Living in the moment could be the meaning of life.

* Creativity is maximized when you’re living in the moment.
And then these just cracked me up:
* Children are the orgasm of life. Just like you did not know what an orgasm was before you had one, nature does not let you know how great children are until you have them.

* Nature wants us to be mediocre because we have a greater chance to survive and reproduce. Mediocre is as close to the bottom as it is to the top, and will give you a lousy life.

* Do not use cleaning chemicals on your kitchen counters. Someone will inevitably make a sandwich on your counter.

These aphorisms come from Lululemon's manifesto, which can be read in its entirety here, so you don't have to have a bag in your face.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

There goes the puppy

Well, Elke's back with the breeder.

I had to be realistic: It's just not the right time in my life for a puppy. Right now, I need to focus on getting a job, I'm stressed out about that and, despite what I thought, I couldn't go through puppyhood alone and I had to be realistic about my not having a support system to help with her (it does take a village, people).

The breeder has a waiting list a mile long, so I made someone on that waiting list very happy. In the meantime, Elke's rolling around with her littermates again and I got to cuddle with a sweet puppy for a few days (and stand in the rain a lot).

When things are more settled, I'll reconsider, but frankly, I'll consider an older dog next time.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Road to Ruin!

Well this is it. Tomorrow I pick up my puppy and bring her to her new home.

Back in October, I decided that since I had all this free time and spending so much of it inside my home, perhaps I should revisit the idea of getting a dog.

As a kid, I was really into dogs - there's this story my grandmother used to tell me about me and the dogs when we all lived in Jackson Heights. I was an incredibly friendly child, saying hello to everyone, a huge smile always on my face. (I have bits of memory, holding my grandmother's hand while walking down the sidewalk, tilting my head up, saying hello to strangers. Some of whom would smile and say hello back, some of whom would keep on walking, and I'd puzzle on that, asking my grandmother why they didn't reciprocate.)

The building in which we lived in until I was seven years old was a large seven story apartment building with three "wings." My parents and I lived in the A wing and my grandparents in the B wing (each wing had it's own elevator bank). I was always going in between their apartments, out to the pool area, out to the play area or just out in general. And it was a building filled with dogs. I remember a husky that I loved and a doberman.

So, the story about me and dogs in our building goes something like this, and in this story I'm between the ages 3-7: Just as I would walk down the street and say hello to all the strangers walking by, I did the exact same thing with the dogs and would often go pet them and then put my arms around them. The dogs in my building were, according to my grandma, of the "scary" variety: dobermans, huskies, shepherds and other dogs that were larger than I was and I would go ahead and hug them. Everyone knew me in the building and so did all the dogs.

The one piece of the story that my grandmother left out for years was that when I was two years old and visiting Brazil, a chihuahua bit my mouth after I tried to pet it, resulting in a few stitches on my lips (I still have the scars). I never liked small dogs and wouldn't go near them but had no idea why. Finally one day I asked my grandmother and she casually tells me about it. She said the bite didn't change my exuberance for dogs one bit, just that I stopped wanting to pet and hug small dogs, so she didn't think much of it.

Growing up, I wanted either a husky, a doberman or a german shepherd, the types of dogs that I saw and loved as a kid. My parents were immovable, despite that fact that my mom grew up with a boxer and my dad loved dogs. However, there was a strange incident: When I was sixteen, I opened the front door of my house and there was a cocker spaniel puppy running around. I looked around and saw that my father had his video camera set up on the tripod, trained to the front door and right at me. I was not happy. I did not and do not like cocker spaniels, but there was my father, excited. My mother, who was right behind me, was excited. They looked at me expectantly. And, there was a camera trained at me. I knew what I needed to do. I still cringe when I think of it how much I faked my emotion that day. A few years ago I saw the video and it made me cry.

The puppy didn't last long, about a month. He was very sweet, but I wasn't consulted and he wasn't "my" dog. It all felt weird and unnatural. Then, I came home one day and he was gone which actually made the situation a whole lot worse somehow. A few months later, my mom asked my father for a divorce, just to give this whole thing some context.

Once I graduated high school and entered college, the idea of a dog was pushed to the side. And, once I graduated college, I had already been made to understand that "a dog was not for single people. " I needed to either be in a committed relationship or married in order to have a dog. And, I just accepted that as a fact of life.

So, back in October, when I decided that I had all this free time and spending so much of it inside my apartment, I revisited this mindset. And I decided it was a bunch of crap. I most certainly could go ahead and have a dog as a single person, and with my current situation, I could even get a puppy. I could get a dogwalker once I was employed. It most certainly is doable for a single person to have a dog.

Also at this point, while I still loved huskies, dobermans and shepherds, I decided upon a Samoyed, a sweet, fluffy white dog that looks like it's smiling all the time. I began my search, starting at the rescue sites. Samoyeds aren't really common dogs like labs or goldens, but I kept a watch. Both of my cats were rescues, and I very much believe in adopting animals. But, this was the breed of dog I wanted, so I also started researching local breeders. Again, not a common dog, but I found a few breeders, spoke to them and decided to visit a breeder in Connecticut that I ended up choosing and got on a waiting list.

And so the preparation began: I read a bunch of books (about fourteen in all so far), groomed a few Samoyeds, spent as much time as I could with both adult and puppy Samoyeds and now the day has come. The crate is set up, the apartment has been puppy-proofed and my cats definitely have a sense that something's up.

Despite all that I've read, I'm nervous. There's just no amount of preparation that would be enough for me. Look at this from Ian Dunbar's book, "Before & After Getting Your Puppy": "In fact, some puppies are well on the road to ruin by the time they are just eight weeks old." (Emphasis mine.) ROAD TO RUIN!

Day 44: This one
Look at this face. She's on the ROAD TO RUIN unless I have my shit together!

Tomorrow morning, I'll pick up the zipcar, drive to Connecticut and pick up the pup. What's her name? Well stay tuned: while I have a favorite, I need to try it out on her first and see if it fits. If you're that curious, check my twitter as I'll likely announce it there.

Oh, be prepared for future blog posts and flickr uploads regarding the dog. Rest assured I won't turn into a crazy dog lady; I never did turn into a crazy cat lady, after all. :)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What's Your Hobby?

I had a phone interview today for a job that sounds promising and interesting but I was thrown by two questions: 1) how do I deal with difficult people and 2) what are my hobbies.

The "dealing with difficult people" question was tough because I had to be honest - I don't thrive in environments where difficult people are tolerated and I only suffer fools up to a point. I see it as disrespectful and cowardly when a difficult employee or employer is allowed free reign to make the lives of others miserable. I went on some ramble about the television commercials I saw for "Kell on Earth" and how I didn't understand how her employees thought it was a thriving environment... I hope the interviewer appreciated my grasp on popular culture. (Surprisingly, this didn't seem to do me in but who knows.)

I have always grappled with the hobby question, even as a kid. I remember being asked about my hobbies in class, or staring down at some form where I was asked to fill in my hobbies. I was often confused as to what the definition was - is a hobby any activity that you do for fun? Is it something you do in your spare time? Is it just any activity you do? I don't think running or swimming are hobbies. I don't consider cooking a hobby either. Therefore, I was always on the search for an Official Hobby - the one thing I was really passionate about and dedicated to. A hobby to me had to be something like gardening, collecting, crafting, model trains, radio-related, or drawing. As a kid, my only hobbies I felt were legit were drawing, reading and science/astronomy.

However, when the interviewer asked I blurted out, "the internet." I have often said, in a self-deprecating and joking way, that the internet is my hobby but, it actually is. I spend so much time online reading, writing, researching, playing, talking, tooling around, - it's something I enjoy, especially researching. I was an amazing researcher prior to the internet - making great use of my encyclopedia and the library's reference desk. Seemed like no one my age knew that you could utilize the ref desk; Librarians often took me behind their desks to show me which books to pull and how to get the information I was looking for and I would linger for a while watching them (and no one knew you could call up and they would help you over the phone, and walk you through what they were doing). It was a great advantage, but one that I didn't put to great use grade-wise. I just liked knowing random things and looking things up - my parents were forever telling me to "look it up" (and it's why you want me on your trivia team). This little internet hobby of mine has served me well in collecting, with genealogy, with my job, and with satisfying my general thirst to look things up and get caught up in it. (Tangent: As a kid I was obsessed by science and the BBC series "Connections" and "The Day the Universe Changed." If you know these series and know of James Burke, this would explain a lot about where this passion and love for research comes from. James Burke... I still want to be like this guy.)

When the interviewer asked me what other hobbies I had my mind went blank. No, actually it went back to my childhood rigid assumption of what a hobby was and then it went back to a month ago when I was searching Hunch for a hobby and found nothing I liked so then I said "reading," my most consistent hobby. When I got off the phone, I realized I had a bunch of other hobbies like: all the trivia I've been playing on xbox live , collecting Automat memorabilia, exploring the outdoors, the 365 Project could be considered a hobby even.

I just researched hobbies and found this quiz. Surprise, my hobby is Technology. If you want to play around with finding a new hobby, I think Hunch is a great resource to get the ideas flowing (and I'm going to play around with it some more when I'm done with this post!).

So, what are your hobbies? Do you have the same ones from when you were a kid? What do you do when you want to discover a new hobby?

Monday, January 25, 2010

365 Project Recap #1

Day 25 and I'm still enjoying the 365 Project. Or Project 365 as it's also called. Who's right? Well, it doesn't matter. I'm posting a photo everyday to Flickr and tagging it "365 project" so that's what I'm calling it.

Here are a few photos that I took recently....

Day 22: Lobby
Day 22: Lobby.
I arrived about 15 minutes early to an interview at the IAC building in Chelsea. It's not a building that I like from the outside but inside, it's a different experience. The light in the lobby at this hour was peaceful and serene. The design of the benches mimicked the way the light entered. It was all very lovely.


Day 24: Hanover Place
Day 24: Hanover Place.
Sunday night, I headed into the city to meet some friends to play bar trivia. The streets were quiet and I was walking on Pearl street towards Hanover Place when I realized I once had a dream that took place here. Was such an eerie feeling. I wanted to take a photo of the street, but there was a guy walking past me. I decided to take the photo anyway. Glad I did as I really like how it came out. I liked how it came out dark and exaggerated and I made the photo black and white to enhance that.


Day 25: Glass
Day 25: Glass.
My apartment is in the midst of a heating crisis. The living room radiator is insanely hot and I dress like it's mid August inside. I left a dirty glass on my computer stand, which is near the radiator and by this evening, it looked like this. The glass didn't break, but the tiny amount of beer left inside dried.

I don't know if by day 100 I'll be taking photos of my socks, but if you want to follow the daily photos, check out my flickr set.

Friday, January 8, 2010

365 Project: Juggernaut

I decided to jump in and join my friends bearclau and Chelc in the 365 Project. I love the idea of being able to look back and see what my year looks like in photos. I actually did this recently, look back on the year in photos that is, and I was surprised by what I had forgotten about during the year. So, this seems like a project I'd get a lot out of.

I have no idea how this is going to go, but hopefully it will be interesting. Not sure yet if I'll post the photo on the blog daily, but it will be on flickr. Maybe I'll post the more interesting ones here? I sure haven't posted anything here in a while!

All right, today's photo is:


I got an Xbox Christmas weekend along with a free trial of xbox live and my time has been dominated by 1 vs 100, a trivia game that you play against others. This is a pic of my avatar in first place. The purple icon is my 90% accuracy metal and the gold one is because I beat "the one." in the game.