28 September 2007

I'll Take Manhat--er, DC

I had the pleasure of attending a conference in NYC this past week. No, I wasn't part of the UN meeting and no I wasn't there to protest at Columbia.

I was plunk in the heart of the theater district (aka Broadway) and the neon lights certainly are bright except I don't think it's neon anymore. It all looks like flat panel screens running advertisement loops and animation so everything is bright and moving around you at all hours of the day and night. And there's always plenty of noise. Kinda like being in a pinball machine. Then there's the sea of people around you constantly which takes some getting used to, even if you're used to other cities. This is a whole new level of crowd.

All in all, I really did have a good time there, even if it wasn't what I'd call relaxing. I got to see the Broadway show "Curtains" and it was light and funny and had quite a surprising number of song and dance bits in it. Impressive and catchy, too. And lots of famous folks in the cast.

I stayed at a "boutique" hotel a block off Broadway and here's a photo of a hallway on the way to my room. Yeah, it was that dark and shadowy. I got the feeling I was in a Baretta episode. Here's another shot of the lovely establishment. Inviting, no? And such a deal! Only $289 a night!

I am not a New York gal. This not so surprising admission comes at a time when I've had a chance to think more and more about DC. Here I am planning to leave it within the next 10 years, hopefully for a tropical clime, and I guess I'm just starting to really feel that this is home.

I've lived in the DC metro area for 20+ years and I've always heard that DC is cold, hard, unwelcoming, unfriendly, boring, congested, mediocre, lacking vibrancy and I guess I've always bought the press at some level. But the more I'm here the more I think "What the hell are they talking about?" It just doesn't hold up to scrutiny. Yes, the traffic is heavy so, okay, I'll give you "congested" but the rest of it, NO!

I've found the vast majority of people here to be friendly, helpful, pleasant, even inviting.

The options the area offers are amazing. There's so much going on for every taste, budget and interest every day of the year! The restaurant choices alone should keep anyone happy.

And in thinking about the restaurants I begin to think that what DC isn't is about fluff. There's not a lot of extra frivolity and maybe that throws newcomers off. But there certainly is plenty of quality, understated elegance, and even sumptuousness if you seek it. DCers are not effusive but they definitely get the protocol right. It works for me.

Manhattan is nice once in a while but for every day, pre-retirement living, I'll take DC.

27 September 2007

All Aboard Amtrak, All Aboard!

I traveled to New York City for a conference this week and took the train for the first time. Travel money permitting, it won't be the last. Having driven a car or taken a plane, I can tell you train travel beats these hands down!

It's faster than driving and, if you count the time for security and runway taxi-ing and such, it's a tie for flying, time-wise.

It's scenic! You see a different path through the countryside than you do when you drive or fly. The train seems to travel more as the crow flies.

Plus, and this is the biggie, it's a pleasure. The trains (I took an Acela up and a standard regional train on the way back) are clean and comfortable and even have meal cars. You sit back, have a drink, make a call, read a book, and leave the stress of travel to them! Ahhhhhhhh.

Interesting tidbit: there's a Penn Station in Baltimore, in Newark, in New York, ... makes me wonder just how many Penn Stations exist...? Then there's Union Station in DC, and in LA, and in Ottawa,... Not very creative with their names, are they?

Oddness: I passed a section of Jersey and was surprised to see not only homes built RIGHT next to the tracks but some with balconies and outdoor furniture set up to face/overlook the tracks. That's entertainment?

19 September 2007

"Fa, Fa, Fa, Fa, Fashion" --David Bowie (Harper's Bazaar)

I fill out marketing surveys. Sometimes I get cash for my efforts. Sometimes I get "rewards". Recently I hit a threshold on one of the reward-granting sites and I got a 1-year free subscription to Harper's Bazaar. For some reason I was thinking this was the magazine with the "Harper's Index", those thought-provoking statistics that play off current topics, but, nay, that's in a magazine entitled Harper's Magazine.

What I got was Harper's Bazaar. Okay, so it's free, I'll try it, I think. It's gotta be better than Fly-Fishing Gazette. I'd already requested and received the first issue of a year's free subscription to Sherman's Travel and that was pleasant.

The first issue of HB arrived this week. I applaud the postman for hauling this anvil of a magazine to my door in what must have been a Quasimodo posture. This is the largest magazine I've ever seen--and I'm old enough to remember the Sears Catalog. This is the Fall Fashion issue and, according to the pagination, weighs in at 574 pages! Yee-doggies, that's a lot of fashion.

I sat down with it and worked my way through it slowly, taking breaks for rest and nourishment much like I might chug through a text book on the night before an exam, trying to glean what I could from this alien world. I do not use the word "alien" casually. Look at some of these fashion models in their couture and you are surely looking at some creative marketing genius' idea of an alien creature. These are some of the most bizarre, no pun intended, creations I've ever seen. I get that advertisements are supposed to be memorable but holey moley!

In the midst of all this glitzy fantasy is the occasional application article: what colors are coming in, what style of pants are going out. And so I dutifully try to apply it.

Gold is in. Hm, not good for me as yellow's not flattering to my skin tone. Jewel tones are back. Great, that works! The high-water pants are out, good news for me since they just make me look shorter. Hugely wide belts are in. Bad news for us short-waisted people. Pencil skirts are back. Wonderful--tailored skirts are good on me.

And so the pendulum swings back and forth, back and forth, with the more than occasional moment of incredulity: Who the heck wears an 8-inch wide belt unless you're in wench clothing at a Renaissance Fair--sorry, I mean--Faire? And have you seen the angle on the shoes that are coming in? I can't wear those, I'll break my neck!

Now don't quote me on any of these fashion trends. After all, this is from memory after only my first pass through. Clearly, I'm going to need to devote a lot of time and energy to studying this if I ever hope to not be laughed out of the room by the fashionistas.

Then, again, maybe I'll just pass the issues of HB on to my sister, who totally gets fashion to begin with, and stick to less perplexing conundrums, like peace in the middle east.

18 September 2007

Lessons from Jillian

I saw a rerun on Bravo of an episode of Biggest Loser, a show that is Celebrity Fit Club without the celebrities. In it, Jillian, one of the team's coaches, is proud of her "tough" reputation. That's her in the "bully" shirt, there. In this episode, she gives each of the team members an assignment to do 500 push ups and 500 crunches and 500 lunges and their immediate reaction is "500?? That's insane. I can't do that."

She does this intentionally. She starts with what appears impossible and works with them and helps them to learn persistence and break down the goal until it's done. And it does get done. They do it. They are amazed that they find a way to do it but they do do it. She has pushed them to re-evaluate what is possible and doable.

That's what weight loss is all about. Changing "I can't do it." to "I will do it."

That's also what life is all about. We continue to face new challenges and our initial response to something new is almost always "I can't do it." or at least "I don't know if I can do it." And then, when there's no choice, when Jillian or someone or something equally as scary, is staring us down, we try. Most of the time we find that we can do it and, after the fact, we wonder what all that fear was about. Until the next challenge and it starts all over again.

What would it be like if, instead of looking at challenges with fear, we faced challenges as exciting opportunities to show that we can do this, even if "this" is entirely new and unknown? Not to operate with bravado but just to be open to our own potential. I guess the lesson from Jillian is that it's okay to be afraid, just don't let it stop you from believing you can do anything.

17 September 2007

The Apple of My Eye

Why is it that work can be relatively quiet for weeks and then suddenly you have high visibility actions and deadlines flying at you from all directions? It's true, I'd rather be busy than bored but, wow, be careful what you wish for, for you will get it in abundance! Must be the change in the weather. People are shifting out of Summer mode.

Meanwhile, with the shifting weather a variety of apples have shown up at the grocery stores and I wonder at the years and years we lived with only waxed Red Delicious apples in the bin. How did these get to be the most prevalent? I don't think they're all that delicious. Give me a Stayman or a Jonamac or a Ginger-gold or a Gala or even a zippy Granny Smith any day over the so called Red Delicious. Did the red delicious catch on because of the bright color (much like the dyed pistachios) or were they the easiest to grow and keep on the shelf without spoiling (much like iceberg lettuce.) Valid arguments, I suppose. But flavor-wise? Would Eve really be able to tempt Adam with a Red Delicious? C'mon. And now that people have tried other varieties, how ya gonna keep 'em buying Red Delicious once they've seen gay Paree?

Let's see what Wikipedia has to say about this.
"Red Delicious is the most widely grown apple in the world." It also says...

"The Red Delicious, like many other cultivars, was a chance seedling. The legend is that a hardy seedling was found in 1868 by one Jesse Hiatt, an apple grower outside East Peru, Iowa, USA. Hiatt tried to kill it, but it kept coming back, and finally Hiatt let it grow, eventually bringing its fruit to a fruit show in Louisiana, Missouri. It won first prize. All Red Delicious apples are said to be direct descendants of this original tree."


"This variety of apple became increasingly popular until the 1990s, when overproduction began to degrade the quality and when better storage and transportation techniques made other varieties more available. Recently, apple aficionados often consider this apple bland and deride the Red Delicious for its overly sweet, relatively simple flavor compared to other apple varieties."

Gee, does this mean I can add "apple aficionado" to my resume? Who knew?!

Will we start to see tags under apple bins like the tags you see under bottles of wine? You know... "A delightful but unassuming apple from the Russian River Valley with a pleasant nose, undertones of leather and zinc, and hints of spice on the finish. Excellent for picnic nibbling and brunch desserts. Apple Spectator rates it a 76."

13 September 2007

Stop The War

Mass March in Washington DC!

Gather at 12 noon at the White House

Support our troops. Bring them home. Let the world know that Americans realize this war has got to stop.

Join Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace, Camp Casey Peace Institute, the ANSWER Coalition, Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, National Council of Arab-Americans, Grassroots America, Hip Hop Caucus, and thousands of others in Washington DC on September 15 for a huge antiwar protest timed to coincide with the report by General Petraeus on the "Surge" in Iraq.

12 September 2007

Criminal? Or Overreacting on My Part?

I stopped at the dry cleaner last night on my way home from work. It was about 7:30 and as I'm getting out of my car, I see a woman getting out of her car and talking to her very young children through the window of the car. She is telling them that it's okay. I look and there is a child in a car seat and another that should be in a car seat, sitting next to his little sister. I'm guessing they were a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. The woman is leaving these children alone in the car. I am appalled.

I don't know what to do. If you read my last post, you know I am a bit of a loudmouth. I watch as we wind up in line in the dry cleaners together, me in front of her, while she is periodically craning her neck to look at the car through the cleaner's window.

My thoughts pound one on top of the other and go something like this...
How can she leave her children in the car alone? What is wrong with people?!
Well, it's not sweltering, so they're not in danger of dying of heat stroke. At least people crack windows for pets. She didn't crack a window but then it's not all that hot.
Maybe it's better if the car is all locked up. Does she know how quickly a child can be taken? Of course someone could break in, too. But what are the odds... If she's just in here a minute or two...
It's probably too much hassle to get the children out of the car and take them with her for a 2 minute stop.
Is this abandonment? Even for a few minutes?
Did my parents leave me in the car for a few minutes when they ran errands?
I don't know. Back in the 60s, there were less creeps on the streets.
What do I do?!

I didn't know what was reasonable but I knew I wanted the situation to stop as soon as possible. My head was throbbing.

I got called next to the counter and that's when I decided. I turned to this woman and said "You go ahead of me." She thanked me profusely, got her business done, and left in the span of a minute, thanking me again as she went out the door. Maybe I should have said something. Maybe by helping her do the errand quickly I encouraged her to do this practice again. I dunno.

If not abandonment, was this negligence? Or am I overreacting? Anybody know what the police would say about this?

11 September 2007

Are You Talkin to ME?!?? (Responding in kind)

I am not above shrieking in the metro.

Let me explain. Hubby and I both tend to react to noise the same way: most of it is unnecessary and irritating. It isn't all that unusual for the two of us to sit in the same room in amicable silence for an hour or so. Sure, we talk gobs, but we don't HAVE to talk. You know? We can simply enjoy the silence.

So when we are trapped with unnecessarily noisy people, it gets old very quickly. The difference between hubby and I is he, being the polite fellow he is, will whisper something discretely to me about the jackass making all the noise and I'll sometimes just respond in kind to said jackass. Dangerous, I know, and I'm not suicidal--I'll size up the offender and sometimes have the sense to let it go--but sometimes one good yawp deserves another.

This is particularly a pattern with loud (sometimes drunk, sometimes not) cell phone people. And let's face it the phrase "loud cell phone people" is redundant. As they get louder, I get louder. Sometimes I even answer their questions loudly. You know, in a public service effort to let them know that EVERYbody can hear them asking about their gonorrhea test. Often, amazingly, they never even notice.

We had to run an errand at Pentagon City Mall about a month ago. If you've been, you know that the elevators are small, glassed in, and always oversubscribed. Still, for whatever reason, that day we decided to ride the elevator. Now remember it's small and it's packed. And elevator etiquette dictates that we don't make eye contact. JoeCellPhone is one of the 7 people crammed in and decides this is a good time to carry on his call at TOP VOLUME. Everyone else is silent. I started laughing. It was so absurd. We were trapped listening to his inane conversation at painfully loud pitch. I looked at JoeCellPhone and started laughing louder. I caught another person's eye and they started laughing. Before we knew it we were laughing our asses off. Big, braying donkey laughter. Again, JoeCellPhone never even realized we were laughing at him. He just continued on his merry way.

The other night we were on the metro and sitting immediately behind us were a teenage couple and the woman was on the phone. It went something like this:
Loudyoungwoman (LYW): Are you on the same train we are?
LYW: Where are you?
LYW: WE just passed Reagan Airport. Are you on the same train we are?
LYW: Oh my god. Where are you?
LYW: You're on the yellow line?
LYW: You must be on the same train we are!
LYW: Are you on the same train we are? I don't see you.
LYW: This is so freaky. John, my parents are on the same train we are.
John: Where are they?
LYW: John can't believe it either. Where are you?
LYW: They're on THIS train!
John: I don't see them.
LYW: I don't either. What car are you in? Do you see us?? What are you passing? So are WE! This is so unbelievable!
John: That's weird.
LYW: John just said "That's weird." I KNOW! I can't believe you're on the same train we are!!
MyHubby: Oh, for godssake!
Me (in a loud voice): Can you believe we're on the same train?!!
Hubby, laughing, joined in for a change: I can't believe it! Oh my god!

Happily, the metro came to a stop and LYW, cell phone still clutched to her ear, and John went off to find her parents.

September...a time of change/action/perspective

...the end of summer.
...the start of the school year.
...the start of the Jewish new year.
...the beginning of the new television season.
...the time to take out your transitional clothing and begin layering.
...when days get shorter.
...when nights get cooler.
...the wine gets harvested.
...the big bags of candy appear in the stores.
...the chipmunks begin to gather in earnest.
...the time for hurricanes in the Caribbean.
...the shoulder season for some resorts.

It's also...
...a good time to decide what bits of your wardrobe can be phased out and given to charity (think how happy someone will be to have that nice item that no longer fits you properly)
...a good time for a yard sale.
...a good time to have the car checked over before winter sets in.
...a good time to take stock. Are you further down your path than you were this time last year?
...a good time to invest in or divest of stock before the tax year finishes.
...a good time to make stock, from seasonal veggies, of course.
...a good time to look at the local course catalogs and see if you want to learn something new.
...a good time to reconnect with the people you care about--give 'em a call/drop 'em a line.
...a good time to focus on your blessings, of which there are many.

10 September 2007

The American Legal System and the Distance From the Truth

On the rare occasion that I have needed a lawyer, I've been very glad to have one. I have relatives who are lawyers. I have friends who are lawyers. Our Cozumel real estate contact says the first thing you do when you move to Mexico is get the name and number of a good lawyer and always have this information and a cell phone with you because even a fender bender can get you thrown in jail in Mexico and that's no place you want to be.

I've always found the field of law fascinating from an abstract view. I wouldn't want to do the work involved to become a lawyer (gad, all that reading!), and I wouldn't want other people's lives or futures dependent on how well I performed on a given day, but I think it must be wonderfully satisfying to know enough about the law to work it in whatever direction you need to go.

In America, very few people represent themselves. They get a good lawyer because they believe: the better the lawyer, the better the outcome. This has been drilled into us. It's even listed in the Miranda Rights they read you (when you get arrested):
You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future. Do you understand?
If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish. Do you understand?
If you decide to answer questions now without an attorney present you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney. Do you understand?
Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney present?
All that, as if to say, you can choose to represent yourself but why the heck would you?!

Now, juxtapose that with: "When in doubt, go to the source." Remember when you were a kid and your parents wanted you to look them in the eye and tell them what happened? They were going to the source. They didn't want to hear from your friends. They wanted to hear from you. They wanted to evaluate your version of the details. They wanted to see if you were shifting from foot to foot and perspiring and avoiding eye contact. They wanted the truth.

In a legal situation, who knows what really happened: you or the lawyer? You were there. The lawyer? Not likely. The lawyer only knows what you tell him (or her.)

But that leads to a deeper question: Do we want the truth? In the words of Paul Buchman, "I'm thinking, not so much."

Our legal system isn't based on finding the truth but on determining an outcome, that is, a winner and a loser. Given that, the truth becomes inconsequential. Guilt and innocence become malleable. The well-dressed, smooth-talker who has presence and speaks in an authoritative tone is the winner. Particularly if said lawyer has cut a deal in advance of the hearing. So we intentionally distance ourselves and our court outcomes from the truth. And yet we use terms like "justice." Is this justice?

What a strange world we live in.

Tidbit: Windtunnels and Submarines

Interesting tidbit: Wind tunnels are sometimes used to test submarines. This is because military submarines want to minimize how much noise they make and what creates drag creates noise.

Ew (Restaurant Bills in Unhygienic Places)

Over the past few years I've noticed more and more restaurant waitstaff have taken to putting your bill (in the billfold) down the back of their pant or skirt waistband. I don't know why this would be the custom. It's most unappetizing.

07 September 2007

Restaurant Review: Dino

Finally getting around to reporting on our last "Restaurant Week" experiment: Dino, in Cleveland Park. There's a lot of buzz about this place in food circles and in wine circles and I can see why.

Ambiance: 20/30. The place is great if you want to sit outside and watch the world go by. If you want to sit inside, be prepared for a more than "cozy" (in real estate terms) experience. The downstairs space is a very small dining room with tiny tables and the waitstaff is constantly whizzing by, making me snatch in my large menu from the edge of the table more than once for fear that someone would bump it and everything would go flying. There are a few Italian or Italian-looking touches (Venetian (?) glass lights, tapestries, etc.) and the general atmosphere is casual.

Service: 22/30. To their credit, the servers did not knock into any tables or each other, which is nothing short of miraculous. The water pourer was a bit over-zealous, interrupting an intimate conversation with his pitcher, but that was the only nit. The waiter was knowledgeable about the course options and the wine. Plus the owner was there, making the rounds, and confirmed his suggestions for wine pairings. Food came out promptly and attractively and all suggestions were on target.

Food: 25/30. Good stuff! Italian fare the genuine Italian way. Quality ingredients chosen and flown in are the main feature here. So it's hard to go wrong, but I've seen some chefs muck it up anyway. This chef is quite good. The combinations are well-worked without being overwrought. The food is plentiful without being ridiculous quantities. I had a wonderfully light and tasty mixed green salad, the wahu which was grilled to perfection and served with couscous, and marvelous cheeses. Hubby had the stuffed squash blossoms, the sturgeon (with a wonderful sauce and veggies), and cheeses. Again, great ingredients served simply but expertly.

Vegetarian: 20/30. There are options in every course.

Cost: 20/30. Even with the $30.07 per person price for Restaurant Week/Month, we still wound up well over $100 because of all the tempting wine options. They offer 3 oz servings as well as more standard sizes and it's easy to be tempted into sampling a number of them. Regardless, we can hardly complain in that Dino gave us any appetizer, entree (except a few steaks which we weren't interested in), and either dessert or 2 cheese courses off their varied menu for that measly $30.07. And it was all quite good. Not to mention the bread basket. :) Don't despair that the Restaurant Week deal is now done. They offer Menu della Sera!
3 courses for $24 Sunday through Thursday when ordered by 7:30 pm.

Extras +2: The owner is not above clearing plates from tables or doing other things that need to be done and he's a pleasant, personable sort who clearly loves Italy. Also, the cheeses--all four that we tried--were remarkably good. And Dino is right next to a metro stop!

Overall: 22/30. This was a very good experience and worthy of the buzz. So here's a bit more...buzzzzzzzzzzz.

05 September 2007

And the Rocket's Red Glare, The Bombs Bursting In Air (Nuclear Warheads Over America)

Air Force official fired after 6 nukes fly over U.S.

B-52 bomber, accidentally armed with warheads, went over several states

Updated: 2 hours, 44 minutes ago

WASHINGTON - A B-52 bomber was mistakenly armed with six nuclear warheads and flown for more than three hours across several states last week, prompting an Air Force investigation and the firing of one commander, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.

Rep. Ike Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, called the mishandling of the weapons “deeply disturbing” and said the committee would press the military for details. Rep. Edward J. Markey, a senior member of the Homeland Security committee, said it was “absolutely inexcusable.”

Deeply disturbing?! Yeah, you could say that. I have an image of reporters pointing cameras and microphones at some Steve Urkel-like person in a military uniform and he's saying "Did I do that?!"

Who needs Al Qaeda when we have incompetence like this at home? We have met the enemy and they are us. If this isn't an argument for weapons control I don't know what is.

04 September 2007

What Bugs Me About the Travel Channel

Here's what bugs me about the Travel Channel. I expect it to be focused on travel and it rarely is, at least not in the purest sense. They are constantly running shows like Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, Taste of America, Most Haunted, Made in America, and World Poker Tour.

Now I get that they tie cuisine to location and some people want to tour the most haunted sites in America but shouldn't this be an occasional option rather than a constant? Shouldn't there be more "Top 10 Islands", "Great Cruises", "Places to See Before You Die", "Exploring Asia", "New Resorts", etc? Sure they do these kinds of shows but it seems to be in the minority compared to the prime-time/bulk of what they offer which is only tangentially travel related.

If I want food shows, I'll go to the Food Channel. If I want haunted shows, I'll go to the Sci-Fi channel. If I want poker, there's no shortage of channels that cover this.

Heck, PBS was doing travel shows for years before the Travel Channel came along and they had no shortage of places to do travelogues on. So why aren't we getting more enticing travelogues of exotic lands? Show me insider glimpses of places I might one day want to see. Tell me about bargain spots. Tell me which resorts are great for families and which are great for romance. Introduce me to amazing vistas and breathtaking nature. Seduce me into going someplace I haven't considered before.