Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Why Italy?

On my list of 100 Things I Want to Do, Italy figures in prominently, with visiting Tuscany and watching some olive oil harvesting among the things to do.

I love to cook. More than that, I love to eat.

Italian cooking - real Italian cuisine - is so earthy and delicious and soul stirring. For some reason though, these past few months, I've not been as inspired as I've been before. I've had more time to cook, more inclination, but no inspiration.

That post I wrote about how we made Jamie Oliver's Leeks and Papardelle pasta (for which Google seems to send lots of people this way) was the last time I felt all taste buds light up with glee. We even made it a couple of months later, and for some reason, although it was quite delicious, it wasn't quite the same.

This happens to me often when I try a new recipe. When it's completed and sitting on the table, ready to eat, there's the surprise and the delight in seeing it all come together, the anticipation of eating it.

And I think it's the combination that jolts my taste buds into overdrive.

But one thing never fails to disappoint for some reason, and that's good olive oil.

While on vacation last year in San Francisco, we happened by the Stonehouse Olive Oil stall at the Ferry Building one Saturday.

The oils they offered for tasting were a riot of flavors and tastes, from garlic olive oil to first-press. Some were potent, with the olive flavor bursting forth. With others, there was the merest hint at the oil's provenance.

We shipped several bottles home for ourselves and for gifts. And later I was thrilled to find the Olio Santo at my grocery store.

I'm fascinated by the processes and inspiration behind things that are beautiful or delicious.

Heck, I must be some sort of process junkie because I can appreciate nearly anything more if I know about all the work that goes into it.

Throw in rolling hills and beautiful, tree-lined vistas dotted with old stone farmhouses that have stood for hundreds of years and I'm in heaven.

So Italy, being both beautiful and a bounty of deliciousness, looks to be a double whammy.

Have you been to Italy? What was your favorite part?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Taking Names

Last night, a friend and I went to an author event at the Free Library of Philadelphia and heard Jhumpa Lahiri read from her new book, Unaccustomed Earth.

During the Q+A, Jhumpa talked about the subject of her characters' names. I was struck by how she said that she keeps lists of names, "I need them," she said, noting that she pores over lists of names for any that speak to her.

I knew someone in college who kept a list naming everyone she knew or had ever met. At least as far as she could remember when she began documenting them. I thought this was an odd practice, the cataloging of people from your life.

But I suppose a name can also trigger memories: of a long-forgotten event, a personality trait, a funny story.

In Jhumpa's case, names help shape a character's history. A birthplace as indicated by a geographically popular moniker. The struggle with being saddled with what others mock as a "strange name" throughout a childhood in America.

I first read Jhumpa Lahiri's other two books while taking a train to work every day, where I collaborated with colleagues thousands of miles away in India. There was something about the summer heat and the words on the page that made me feel a greater appreciation for India's many cultures and its people.

I am looking forward to seeing what Unaccustomed Earth has in store.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Typing 101

When I was in junior high, my Mom refused to allow me to take a typing class. She was old-school, thinking that a young girl with her life ahead of her shouldn't do anything that would pigeonhole her as a secretary.

I can't remember what I signed up for in its place, but it may have been Latin.

But with an engineer for a Dad, and computers lying around the house in various stages of disarray, I was destined to sit at a keyboard at some point in my life. So, typing would certainly come in handy.

One day that summer, my Dad brought home some software called Learn to Touch-Type* or something like that, with a photo of a female administrative professional on the cover.

Since it was the 80s, the woman's hair pulled was back in a severe bun, and she sported a high-collared, floppy-bow blouse under what could be best described as a blazer with shoulder pads the size of an ottoman.

Although the cover art was absurd, I spent one sweaty summer typing aaa sss ddd fff, and various combinations thereof, ad infinitum.

Until, miraculously, one day I could type!

The exercises were such that you droned through them in a trance, and then suddenly realized you were forming words without ever following your fingers as they struck the keys.

Since that time, I've been a pretty fast typist. And being a writer, it's come in handy throughout my career.

At various points in my life, I've been a highly accurate typist, too, but I've always been fast - between 100 and 120 words per hour. I can be competitive, too, so you can imagine the forces that collided when I discovered Typeracer.

Caution: if you're a typing geek, the least bit competitive, or even just looking to waste some time, this is highly addictive. Enter at your own risk!
What's your latest addiction?

*Touch typing is what they used to call typing without looking at your fingers. These days, it's probably what all the young kids learn to do in utero and then they spend the next 13 years learning to type while writing a sonata at the piano while they text their friends and play Guitar Hero.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bounce Right Back

They say resilience is one of the key attributes that companies have to instill within their corporate cultures to guarantee success in the 21st century.

It has something to do with the only constant being change in this global business world. So the ability to flex and bend like the wind will be more than a nice-to-have soft skill, but a de rigeur attribute that will speed innovation.

Resilience, or the ability to bounce back after adversity, is part of the human spirit. Sure, it's likely that no matter what you're going through, there's always someone who is struggling with an even bigger challenge. As if that thought alone is enough to make you bounce back.

It's hard to be resilient and easier to be myopic when you're in the thick of any problem. It could be a challenge at work, a creative struggle, a personal issue. Sometimes it takes time to heal whatever wound has resulted and to see that things are not as bad as they seem.

Other times, it just takes a friend, or, in the business world, a trusted colleague - who knows you, knows your history, your "stuff" - to say, "Snap out of it!"

Those tell-it-like-it-is friends can be invaluable - the ones who aren't afraid to tell you what's real. Who purposely or inadvertently help you to bounce back.

I've been lucky enough to find many people like this along the way, and I try to be this kind of friend when the situation warrants. It's a balancing act, this bouncing back.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Tastes Like Spring

While walking down the street yesterday, I passed my favorite bakery as a father and son emerged from the store, triumphant.

The Dad balanced two boxes in one arm. In the palm of his other hand he held a 4-inch-tall piece of strawberry shortcake on a sheet of bakery paper. He looked about to take a bite as I walked by.

His boy held in one hand a giant waffle cone stuffed with ice cream, and in the other, a heavily frosted cupcake decorated with a mound of mini-marshmallows glued together with drizzles of chocolate.

The kid took turns nibbling both the cupcake and the ice cream, for what must have been a sugar-overload feast.

Dollops of pink petals from spring blossoms in the trees cascaded all around them in dancing, windswept swirls like the icing on a cake.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Golf with My Dad

Boy, who knew that golf could be such a workout if you've been neglecting weightlifting for a while?

Hoisting a nine-iron over my head and hurling it toward a little ball for four hours never felt so therapeutic.

My hands feel as if I've been digging compacted earth with a rusty shovel for three days straight. (I guess that would tell you something about my swing.)

It's a good pain, though. The pain that tells you you've done something good for yourself. That you've stretched a few muscles and burned more than a few calories.

The score of the game? Oh, it was laughable. Closer to a below-average bowling score than a tally for 18 holes of golf.

The conditions were absolutely perfect for this novice. A sunny and 80-degree day. No humidity. Hardly anyone on the course because the season hasn't officially started - so nobody saw me whiff four times on the 5th hole. Or three on the 12th.

Even the sand traps were forgiving - tamped-down from a lack of recent rain - allowing errant shots to roll in and right back out on occasion, saving the embarrassment of having to thwack away at the ball to get it back on the course.

It was a great way to spend a Friday morning. And a nice way to hang out with my Dad.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Spring Flora: Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder

Last weekend's Inspired Flora exhibit had me looking differently at all the plants that we have growing in our yard.

We are lucky enough to have some gorgeous flowering trees, like the magnolia tree that burst open this week (see above).

I'm not much of a gardener. I tend to plant things and let survival of the fittest take over.

All the fussing that gardening requires, especially in the heat of the summer - when I just want to be glugging a tall, icy lemonade in front of the A/C - is too much maintenance.

Several years ago, I planted an armload of tulip bulbs.

These hardy little bulbs never fail to disappoint, erupting year after year from the soil and mulch to pay tribute to the longer, sunnier days.

With fair skin that burns at the slightest provocation, I'm more of an indoor girl. Actually, I do enjoy the outdoors - especially when it's 80 degrees, sunny and clear, like it was today.

Although the spate of early spring weather may be short-lived, I took advantage of the sun and the flowers to capture some of the springtime magic that abounded in my yard. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Shoeless Golfer

OK, I'm sorry, but I feel a soapbox calling my name...

When I took up golf a few years ago, I purchased some golf shoes that ended up being a smidge too narrow for me to walk in, comfortably, for more than a couple of hours.

But with the proper (read: microscopically thin) socks, and a cart rental, they were bearable for the time I'd spend on the course. God forbid I try wheeling the bag along behind me, walking the entire course wearing those things. My feet would be numb by the time we made it to the third hole.

Despite not fitting properly, they were all I could find at the time. I wasn't interested in doing something crazy like having custom shoes made. But in the meantime, I wore them whenever I played. But on one especially rain-savaged day, they got completely muddied up and basically wrecked.

So when cleaning out the garage one day, I tossed them. It had been at least two years since I'd played, and I figured, "Well, if I take up golf again, I'll get a pair that actually fits."

Now, I know that for a woman, wearing a size 11 shoe is out of the ordinary. It must be, because finding a quality pair of flats or a cute heel in a retail establishment is almost impossible, especially since my foot is built on the wider side. (And a Ladies Size 11 Golf Shoe must be its own type of holy grail, because it is certainly not easy to find.)

But in anticipation of my first golf outing in several years, today I visited or called literally dozens of golf stores, specialty shoe stores and pro shops in search of a Ladies Size 11 Golf Shoe. Not enough time to order online, or work with a shop to place a "special order."

In case you were wondering, or got here through a Google search, I'm here to tell you: There is not one pair of Ladies Size 11 Golf Shoes in stock in all the golf-attire-stocking stores in the entire Philadelphia area. Zero. Zip. Nada.

At Golfsmith, the salesman tried to be helpful, trying to find a men's style that would work. He also noted that at least four other women had come into the store, asking for Ladies' size 11 golf shoes. "Does that tell you something?" I asked. "Obviously, there's a market for them!"

A local sporting goods store apparently discontinued its line of golf shoes three months ago. This came to light only after the salesman had spent 5 minutes trying to help me find something amidst all their sneaker and workout offerings.

They say women's feet are getting both longer and wider, yet I see no evidence of that in department stores, since they insist on stocking only medium widths - and only up to size 10. And I defy you to try to even buy a size 10 shoe - they're either sold out, or they're the size, shape and color of a potato.

So, I'll be the one golfing in sneakers this Friday, sliding around the course in my cleatless Adidas. Barring that, maybe I'll just strap on some potatoes.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Orchid Chief

Sequenced Botanicals, a floral arrangement of orchids, larkspur, delphinium and pussy willow, by Stacey H. Ballard, Floral Confetti. Part of the Inspired Flora exhibit at Abington Art Center.
As a freshman on my first day of college, I met Stacey, my resident advisor (RA), and was amazed to find her dorm room filled with bunches of beautiful, carefully dried roses hanging upside down in fragrant bundles.

Many of them were a lavender variety, which I'd never seen before. She said definitively that lavender roses smelled far better than the red kind most people ordered.

Her parents owned a flower store and creativity must have been concentrated in her DNA - you could tell by the way she decorated her dorm room with richly colored fabrics and artwork.

For years afterward, any time I ordered a floral arrangement involving roses, I'd ask for lavender ones.

Although Stacey has ventured out into other realms of business, my former RA has kept up floral design on the side. And today, a mutual friend had invited me to a show featuring her floral interpretation of a piece of artwork.

This time, orchids - which are among my favorite flowers - figured in prominently.

Stacey's arrangement was just spectacular! The yellow orchids along the bottom of moss were still vibrant yellow in person. The little orange orchid blossoms floated throughout the arrangement by way of copper wire that allowed them to dangle between the willow branches.

It was just a stunning interpretation of the painting Little Wing, by Michael Gallagher.

After touring the show, several of us friends detoured to a coffeehouse for snacks and catching up.

It was definitely a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon, reconnecting with people from the old days and viewing creativity at work.

*If you're into orchids, I suggest you check out Parkside Orchids, which ships anywhere and packs the plants in such a way that they will arrive looking spectacular, once you remove all the cotton batting and bubble wrap.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

So, Broken Glass is Good?

As reader and fellow blogger fishwithoutbicycle pointed out, when the pressure is getting to you, it all comes out in your dreams.

That was the case for me Tuesday night. I'd been through a several intensive job interviews over the past couple of weeks, the last of which occurred Tuesday afternoon. At least two offers were imminent from two vastly different organizations.

Exhausted, I went to sleep easily and was probably drooling by 10:30.

Later that night, a bizarre dream had me dealing with glass from smashed-up light bulbs (don't ask), a deceased person, and a futile ride up hill on a creaky blue bike.

The next day while out running errands, I took a few minutes to meander around Anthropologie (love their displays, hate their prices).

Their book buyer has a good eye, and I like seeing what titles they have strewn about the place. The first one I stumbled on? Fortune-Telling Book of Dreams.

Just had to look - and the results speak for themselves:
  1. Glass: You are due for a change if you dream of broken glass.
  2. Deceased person: Conversing with indicates the arrival of excellent news.
  3. Bicycling: Your future is full of opportunity.

Walking Unplugged

Too often, I fire up the iPod and head outside for a brisk walk.

But especially now that it's spring, during the last few walks I've taken I've left the gadgetry at home.

And it's amazing what tuning your visual attention to your surroundings can do for you.

Took a photo of a daffodil on my phone.

Heard six distinct bird calls in a one-block radius of my house.

Noticed that a neighbor's weeping willow tree has gorgeous pink petaled flowers this time of year.

Saved a child's ball from rolling into the street and executing a nice little kick to lob it right back into their hands (an actual achievement, given my lack of athletic prowess).

Met some neighbors I hadn't seen in a while and chatted up their one-year-old.

Walked farther and enjoyed it more than I have in quite a while.

Now you try it. Go ahead. Unplug, walk around and see what happens. Maybe you'll notice more, too.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Barefoot Bakery Visit

On Sunday, I'd stopped by a favorite bakery that has really great coffee.

It's so good, I don't need sugar with it. And I normally need at least one of those sugar packets to take the edge off a cup of coffee.

As I made my way to my car, I spotted a man who appeared to be in his late fifties or so. He was well-dressed, which I could see as he climbed out of his Toyota Camry and crossed the street - barefoot.

It had rained earlier in the day so the street was kind of mucky and damp. I could not imagine crossing these city streets without shoes because street cleaning just isn't part of the deal here. This was in Philadelphia - far from a beach town - on a day when the temperature was still only in the 50s.

The man went into the bakery. He came out, balancing several boxes in front of him as he gingerly picked his way - barefoot, again - across the cobblestone street and got back into his car and drove away.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Yay for Yael Naim

Sometimes you run across something that makes utter sense, and on other days it never would. Yeah, this video's kind of like that.

But this tune is one that I've loved from the moment I first heard it.

This talented singer didn't give up on her dreams, and damn it, neither should you.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Things I Have Learned

1. Jackets with decorative zippered pockets will always be trendy and not worth the investment.

2. "The easy way out" seldom is, except when it comes to food preparation.

3. If during a job interview they've squirreled you away in a conference room - and they never actually let you see the offices where you'd be working - that's a bad sign.

4. V-neck sweaters look better on about 95% of the population.

5. If you just work hard and keep your nose to the grindstone, you will never get ahead - a little self-promotion is always necessary.

6. Sunburn is always worth preventing.

7. With vital supplies, always buy more than you think you need - this goes for toilet paper, beads, and chocolate.

8. A manicure should be obtained the day before you have to do something important.

9. Spending time with kids is far more important that spending oodles of money on them.

10. Getting started is more important than starting exactly the right way.

What have you learned? Post it in the Comments.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

100 Things I Want to Do

  1. Triumph over my fear of inverted yoga poses.
  2. Take a graphic design course.
  3. Have tea at the Plaza.
  4. Pick up the guitar again.
  5. Write a screenplay.
  6. Learn to paint a room.
  7. Grow heirloom tomatoes.
  8. Design the perfect jacket.
  9. Flip an egg in a pan.
  10. Convince my husband that Paris is a worthy destination.
  11. Sing karaoke.
  12. Visit my friend in Brazil.
  13. Raise funds for my old music school.
  14. Attend an opera at the Met.
  15. Keep my orchids alive.
  16. Help a graphic designer I know find a better job.
  17. Obtain a patent.
  18. Write a letter to the high school English teacher who inspired me the most.
  19. Go canoeing in Maine.
  20. Read The Bell Jar.
  21. Help someone anonymously.
  22. See more art every week.
  23. Sink my toes into Hawaiian sand.
  24. Bake a credible French baguette.
  25. Visit all 50 states.
  26. Learn to whistle.
  27. Harbor fewer grievances.
  28. Never give up hope.
  29. Smile more.
  30. See what happens.
  31. Skim across clear-blue water on a sailboat.
  32. Have more experiences than things.
  33. Stand in a field of lavender.
  34. Bang out a short story.
  35. Stare in awe and wonder at the Grand Canyon.
  36. Laugh out loud every day.
  37. Make more sandwiches.
  38. Sing with abandon.
  39. Embrace my strengths.
  40. Enjoy what I have.
  41. Post a podcast on iTunes.
  42. Tour a Frank Lloyd Wright house.
  43. Catch sight of a rare bird.
  44. Kiss fear goodbye.
  45. Hang 10 for at least 10 seconds.
  46. Add 7 more delicious veggie recipes to my culinary repertoire.
  47. Give someone else a leg up.
  48. Continuously spark curiosity.
  49. Experience what makes Austin (TX) weird.
  50. Throw a barbeque inviting 40 friends from different parts of my life.
  51. Pay homage to a style icon.
  52. Drink a martini.
  53. Ride a camel (my grandmother beat me to this one).
  54. Fly over a volcano in a helicopter.
  55. Sip a margarita at sunset.
  56. Build a custom jewelry box.
  57. Give in to creative urges.
  58. Stand on that bridge at Giverny.
  59. Ride in a Checker cab.
  60. Drive a Corvette.
  61. Oh, and learn to drive stick.
  62. Win a Monopoly game.
  63. Memorize the Q-without-U words for Scrabble.
  64. Play a scale on a Steinway.
  65. Send a cartoon to the New Yorker.
  66. Take photobooth pictures on every vacation.
  67. Visit Morris Aboretum at least once each season.
  68. Rent a beach house with people I like.
  69. Ride a boat down the Seine.
  70. Take a cooking class in Tuscany.
  71. Follow an olive from harvest to first-press oil.
  72. Take a suggestion from Clothilde for dinner.
  73. Plant a new dogwood.
  74. Make a fancy bow on the next gift I wrap.
  75. Tour an artisanal chocolate studio.
  76. Give everything my all.
  77. Watch for the perfect moments that occur every day.
  78. Get over my fear of fire enough to take a glass-blowing class.
  79. Keep track of my goals all year long.
  80. Worry less about what others think.
  81. Use up my favorite beading supplies.
  82. Eat a perfect mango.
  83. Ride a bike every summer.
  84. Open a stationery store.
  85. Make more gifts.
  86. Give things away.
  87. Embrace fully the joy of celebrating another's happiness.
  88. Get to the point faster.
  89. Make mozzarella from scratch.
  90. Buy flowers for no reason whatsoever.
  91. Don't put off til tomorrow what can be done today.
  92. Join in the chorus.
  93. Ride the train into the city to save gas and savor the view.
  94. Pitch every story idea and aim high.
  95. Ask my nephew to coach me on throwing the perfect spiral. - DONE!
  96. Take out my frustrations at the driving range.
  97. Eliminate 95% of the paper on my desk.
  98. Color with markers for inspiration.
  99. Write more love notes.
  100. Let bygones be bygones.