Saturday, July 31, 2010

My son, the hipster

Here's a photo of my oldest son, Nick, who is just leaving Richmond, Virginia after living there for 5 years. After Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Richmond is probably the second biggest hipster hangout on the East Coast. Virginia Commonwealth University, where Nick went to school, has a hip and trendy art school and the hipster aesthetic is in full bloom there -- single gear bikes and all.
For comic relief, here is the Hipster Olympics.
As you can see, Nick scores high in the "Ironic T-Shirt" category.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Benefits of the Slow Struggle

I really like Andrew Sullivan. His blog, The Daily Dish, is something I read every day. He's British, conservative, gay, HIV-positive. His thinking is reasoned and well-informed. I first started reading his blog during the election, because he always had something interesting and astute to say about Obama. He has some favorite topics, such as the torture tactics of the Cheney administration, gay marriage and rights, Sarah Palin, legalizing marijuana, and the lack of a viable conservative party in America. He also has a meme for Barack Obama -- "meep meep" -- which is the noise the Roadrunner makes when he's foiled the coyote once again. Sully is convinced, as am I, that Obama has mad Ninja skills that we mere mortals can only guess at. And that he's playing a long game, carefully strategized, not a short game for political advantage.
Here is a link to a recent post that puts the progress of Obama's promise of "change" into context.
Sometimes it takes someone who wasn't born here to understand and appreciate what we have and where we are going and why it just takes time to get there.
(Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty)

I'm Up Here, You're Down There

Anyone who knows me knows I have a serious love for the Bravo "Real Housewives" franchise. I've watched them from the beginning, starting with Orange County, and was actually excited when they announced the New York housewives, because I knew there would be special craziness that only New Yorkers could bring. Plus, they announced that the housewives were going to be socialites, which, after finding out who they were, was the funniest thing about the show.
Anyhow, I won't even try to apologize for the time I spend watching these reality-tv-sized trainwrecks. Although, I will say that one of the New Jersey housewives, Danielle, should have her children taken away from her because they actually seem frightened of her and I think she's doing some serious psychological damage to them. It's kind of horrifying to see reality-tv-roadkill when it's children. At least they'll have the comfort, later, that everybody will know their future drug addictions/lives as prostitutes/borderline personality disorders actually are their mother's fault. They won't have to spend years trying to figure out who's to blame.
The spin-offs from the franchise are just as funny. Jimmy Fallon did a "Real Housewives of Late Night," series on his show, with all the female characters in drag. You can probably still watch them at the site.
Andy Cohen, head of programming at Bravo, does a live half hour show every week after the current Housewives, called "Watch What Happens." Right now it's on Monday nights at 11:00. He usually has one of the housewives on, and the shows veer from brilliant to sycophantic, but it reminds me of the glory days of public access TV in Manhattan -- the 80s -- when there were a handful of shows with the weirdest mix of celebrity-hangers-on and just plain nut cases.
(My favorite was "Change Yourself, Not the World," hosted by a Hungarian hairdresser with a Phil Spector Afro hairdo and a younger guy who seemed border-line mentally challenged whose main claim to fame was that he knew Joe Franklin (who was a late night talk show mainstay in New York whose guests were always entertainers who were on their way down if not already having hit bottom but who were always introduced as if they'd just walked the red carpet). Every week he'd display a new set of Polaroid photographs of celebrities he'd managed to get his picture taken with. If Joe Franklin had C-list stars, CYNTW had D to F-list.)
This past spring, Andy had a regular caller during the live question and answer segment of the show, Ben Weiner, who was a 13-year old Upper Westside kid who loved the Housewives. One night he called in to let everyone know he wouldn't be calling in for the next month or two because he was going to camp.
So, this is just a long introduction to today's TV clip, which is Andy Cohen and Steven Colbert doing a dramatic reading of one of the most famous Housewives bitch fights of all -- the "I'm up here, you're down there," encounter between Bethenny Frankel and Kelly Bensimon. Andy and Steven don't joke around. It's a great reading, with all the drama and irony and crazytimeness made even more evident.
Enjoy! Mazel!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Grey vs. Brown

This long article is well worth reading, even if all you read is the first couple of paragraphs. I've been telling friends forever that when our group of Baby Boomers gets too old for anyone to want to deal with us, and our general selfishness and live-for-today attitude catches up to us (in other words, when all the money is gone), they're just going to have to build row after row of barracks out in Utah or Montana or someplace where nobody really lives to stash all our sorry old broke down a**es. We'll be living in barracks. Seriously, what else are they going to do with us? There aren't enough icebergs . . .

Friday, July 23, 2010

Dangerous Funk

This won't be news to the youngsters who are all over this stuff, but I'm just beginning to understand the enormous amounts of music you can listen to on the Internets. For free. And the biggest pleasure is mixes that folks put together. Here's an amazing set of mixes from a site called Good Records NYC. Four long sets of African music from the 60s/70s. There's Afro Funk, Afrobeat, Funky Highlife, and Afro Rock. All of it stuff I've never heard before and all of it excellent. (Photo credit: Good Records NYC)

Snake skin

When I was gardening last weekend, I came across this leftover snakeskin that a snake had recently shed and left behind. I was really excited to find it until I realized that if there was a snakeskin, then there was probably a snake. I stopped weeding shortly afterwards. Isn't it interesting how the colors and pattern of the countertop mimic the snakeskin's.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

It's Virginia, Y'All

Just one of those things (thanks The Awl!) that endears me to my adopted home state.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Till Birnam Wood do come to Dunsinane

When I went outside this morning to hang up the bird feeder, this is what I saw:

And this . . .

It makes our covered patio look more decrepit than it actually is, but I guess that's what happens when a branch this big . . .

Falls from a tree this tall . . .

Whenever this kind of arborial fallout happens in my yard, I always think about MacBeth and the prophecy he scoffs at -- that his enemy will approach when "Birnham Wood do come to Dunsinane" -- which MacBeth thought was foolishness -- how could a forest move? -- until he saw his enemy approaching camoflaged in the branches of Birnham Wood.
So there was a little bit of Shakespeare this morning along with the annoying task of clearing out the foliage.
I've seen this kind of thing happen before when it's been very wet after a dry spell. If there are any faults or flaws in the wood, the water will enter, the branch will swell because of all the rain, and down it will come.
We didn't even have any wind last night, so it was just the weight of the sodden wood that brought it down.
Luckily, we had no damage.
The irony is that just yesterday the tree guy was at the house cutting down one of our trees and hauling away a bunch of brush.
He won't be back again for a month.
Still, it was a bit of a magical sight on a summer morning.

Monday, July 19, 2010


Yesterday was my father's birthday. If he were still alive, he would be 91. One of our sons couldn't find the key for his car yesterday and so I was searching through one of the small odds and ends drawers we have on our counter. I found this.
It's a pocket cleat cleaner for golf shoes. (Sorry about this poor photo.)
I'm not sure how I ended up with it. I think I asked my mom for it after dad died because it summed up something for me about dad, which was that above almost everything else, my dad loved to golf.
He golfed at least 3 times a week for as long as I can remember. He had a regular foursome on Saturday and Sunday at the Highland Golf Club in Shelton, CT. It was a short course and since my dad wasn't tall, it was a perfect course for him. It was a no frills club with a small restaurant that served lunch and drinks, and a tiny pro shop. No pool or tennis. Just golf.
There was a joke in the family that it never rained on the golf course. It could be pouring down rain at home, but when dad got back from his 18 holes, he'd swear that he never saw a drop.
He was a really good golfer and often won in the club tournaments. When he died, we didn't know what to do with all the plaques and trophies that had been stashed on a couple of shelves in the den. I think my oldest brother may have taken them.
But this is what I wanted. Dad had it on his key chain until the day he died, even though he had had to quit golfing a few years before. He never stopped loving golf.
So, dad, I'm thinking of you and hoping all the fairways are clear wherever you may be golfing now.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Dreams in the Night

I tend to have the same kinds of dreams over and over. There are two themes: one is travelling, the other is houses.
The travel dreams are usually about trips that never end and are exceptionally difficult -- I can't seem to get where I want to go. Often, they begin with me at home, last-minute packing and not being able to find anything to wear, fretting that I'll miss the plane, which I usually do.
The house dreams are about entering a house, usually one I'm considering buying, and the rooms just keeping going on and on. You go down a set of stairs and there are more stairs and more rooms and the house never seems to end. This may be a consequence of a house my Great Aunt Elsie owned in Connecticut when I was a child that was built in the colonial era and had an addition built-on in the fifties. The colonial part of the house had myriad small rooms, clustered around a big, open kitchen that was dominated by a fireplace so big, you could walk into it. It was a working, colonial kitchen. But the addition was more modern, and there were several ways to get there from the main house, so whenever I wandered into the addition, I invariably returned by a different route and so the house seemed to have an endless number of rooms and hallways. Often the houses in my dreams are next to water, usually rivers and lakes. Sometimes waterfalls or gentle ocean bays.
I would guess that Freud would pounce on the themes of these dreams like a hungry man on a steak dinner. Voyages -- trying to accomplish something. Not getting where you need to go -- well, that one's obvious. Houses with endless rooms -- explorations of the soul. Water -- creativity, rebirth, etc.
Last night's dream was particularly aggravating. It began on the street of an unknown town. I had to get back home, and so I jumped on a bus. This was no ordinary bus. It had couches and chairs and several levels. Once I got on the bus and had traveled to the next stop, I realized that I had gotten on the bus going in the wrong direction. I was going further away from home, rather than closer. But, since the bus went in a big circle (as buses tend to do) all I had to do was stay on the bus until it circled around to my destination.
I looked at the bus map and saw that I was in New Mexico. But the stops weren't street names, they were the names of New Mexico towns - and not towns that were close together -- it was like Taos, Truth or Consequences, Roswell, Abuquerque, Farmington, etc. -- towns spread out all across the state. Of course, I was trying to get back to Taos.
I could have gotten off at the first stop and then taken a bus back the other way, but for some reason I didn't want to deal with the waiting, so I thought I'd just stay put and go for the ride.
What I didn't know was that at every stop the bus would park for half an hour or more so that people could go to the 7-11 or Tiger Mart for snacks and then drop in at a package store shack for six packs of beer.
It was never clear for how long the bus would stop. So, you'd get off, go into the 7-11 and be in a constant state of panic because you didn't know if you'd be left behind or not.
One of the package stores was like an ice palace. You walked in and there was crushed ice under foot and freezer cases of crushed ice with the beer bottles pushed down to the tops of their necks so you couldn't see what type of beer it was.
Since the trip was obvously going to take hours, if not days, purchasing beer was a necessity. So I found myself in the ice house, prickly, cold ice under my bare feet, trying to figure out which beer to buy and hoping the bus didn't leave without me.
That's when I woke up.
I wish I would stop having these travelling dreams. Sometimes I'm trying to scale mountains on slippery mud trails, or hacking through jungle vegetation. The trips are always arduous and I always wake up before I've gotten to my destination. I never get to where I'm going to.
But the house dreams I really enjoy. I'm always in a state of wonder when I'm in them. What will the next room be like? Why is there no end to the rooms? Why are they always decorated in different styles? Why is the water always so poetic and gentle and satisfying?
Also -- am I the only one who still dreams about not being able to remember my high school locker combination? Or shows up for class having forgotten there's a test? Or shows up in only a button down shirt or T shirt and no underwear? You'd think at 58, I'd be past all that.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Josef Frank

Google's doodle is particularly beautiful today, celebrating the birth date of Austrian/Swedish architect and textile designer Josef Frank.

Median Home Size is Dropping

Good news for us. Maybe we'll be seeing few tear downs replaced by McMansions in our neighborhood.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Things That Are Wrong On Many Levels II

Returning to a previous topic that will sometimes be the source of ongoing posts, here is an example of something-that-should-never-be in McLean. It's so wrong on so many levels it's hard to believe it exists. But, yes, it exists on Old Chainbridge Road. It's a shop called THE PREPPY PINK PONY and it manages to combine two great WASP obsessions -- horses and deeply unattractive clothing.
At Christmastime, they put a Santa figure out on the front sidewalk and dress him in patchwork Lily Pulitzer.
The boxers pictured above act like a kind of WASP sartorial birth control. Nothing says sexy like underwear covered with Pembroke Welsh Corgis!
I would love to know who came up with the idea to put little repeated patterns of WASP-type activities and accoutrements on clothing. The first I ever saw it was in Connecticut, when I was a teenager and one of my friend's Dad's had red pants with little embroidered sailboats all over them.
And then something horrible happened in the world and it morphed into frogs, whales (thank you Vineyard Vines) martini glasses, and I swear I am not making it up, little pig heads wearing tophats and monocles.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Cognitive Impairment

I've noticed in the past year that when I'm writing on the computer I sometimes make very odd word substitutions. I'm guessing it's age related. I decided to keep a list of the words, because I know enough about how the brain organizes language to know that different kinds of substitutions -- say words that sound alike vs. words that have a similar meaning vs. words that use the same letters just in a different order vs. words that have a similar structure vs. words that are part of the same category of objects (for example, trees) -- are the result of glitches in different areas of the brain.
Anyhow, here's my list. See if if you can make anything of it. I can't.

or FOR are
kind FOR got
bit it FOR be it
buy FOR pay
do FOR to
suggestively FOR successfully
again FOR aging (heh!)
pines FOR palms
think FOR thing
important FOR appropriate

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Taos New Mexico and other stuff

I was lucky enough to travel to Santa Fe at the end of May to attend a science writer's workshop and when the workshop was over, my husband met me in Santa Fe and we drove up to Taos.
I love Taos. I don't know what it is. Well, I do know what it is. The sky is big. You're on a high desert plateau with the most beautiful range of mountains at your back -- the Sangre de Christo. Wheeler Peak is just north of Taos, and at around 13,000 feet above sea level it's the highest mountain in New Mexico.
Back in the day, husband and I climbed Wheeler Peak, not really understanding how long it would take, how tiring it would be, and how severely we'd be impacted by the thinner air this high up. It's considerable. The last bit of the approach, not that far from the peak, took several hours because of the constant stops to regain our breath.
I don't have a photo to show you because the photos from that trip are old enough so that they're not digital, but when you get to the top of Wheeler Peak, you encounter a pristine, and I mean absolutely pristine, alpine lake, where you rest for only a couple of minutes because you're so freaked out by your lack of breath and the knowledge that now, you have to walk back down the mountain and even though you're descending instead of ascending it's still going to be difficult so you barely have the time to appreciate it.
When we finally got back down, we stopped at a ski lodge cafe and ordered a pitcher of iced tea and a pitcher of iced water and drained both of them in about five minutes while we looked up at the mountain and then at each other and laughed our a**es off. We had no idea what we'd taken on when we headed up the path that morning. But we'd prevailed, and we'd done it, and it was something to be proud of.
Maybe that's why I like Taos so much. I did something extraordinary there. When my middle son, who just by chance was also outside of Taos while we were there, heard that we'd climbed Wheeler Peak (something that some of his fellow geology field camp students had been toying with doing) he told us we were "bad ass."
So, in Taos I became a bad ass.
But there is something about Taos that resonates with middle aged women. Millicent Rogers, a Manhattan socialite, went there in her forties and never left. Georgia O'Keefe -- same. Mabel Dodge Luhan not only moved to Taos, but married a Native American in the Taos pueblo and took his name.
Maybe it's because the sky is so big and the terrain is strewn with fragrant sage brush or because the colors are so strong and evocative -- the oranges, purples, and deep greens of the mountains. Clouds that are whiter and puffier than you see here nudging each other along across the big blue sky.
There's a feeling, in the high desert, that your soul has enough space to spread its wings.
I feel this way, but no-one else in my family does. Husband likes Santa Fe better. Middle son says Taos is "grubby and small," which admittedly, the town Plaza is. But if it were only about the Plaza I wouldn't be drawn to it either.
That I can't get anyone else in the family excited about Taos is a source of great frustration to me.
Anyhow, photos above are us -- me, Duncan and Larry -- white water rafting on the Rio Grande in the Taos Box. And a photo of me, on the edge of the Rio Grande Gulch, just a bit north of where we rafted. Sorry about the disposition of the photos, my layout skills are rusty.