Sunday, December 13, 2009

Grace: Issue 57

  1. Vacation days during the week, while the rest of the world goes about its business.
  2. Spending more time than usual with someone whose company I really enjoy.
  3. Meeting a friend's family, admiring how much fun and joy they all have when they're together.
  4. Enjoying a delicious dinner with the one I love, at a restaurant we both enjoy, capped off by a dessert that was out. of. this. world. (I'm talking about you, lightly heated nutella-laced sticky bun ice cream sandwich with salted caramel ice cream!)
  5. The anticipatory smells of Hanukkah dinner - latkes all around!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Whither, Gravy?

Over the past week, in preparation for the big food day, I've made 4 or 5 grocery store trips.

Never in all the years that I've been cooking Thanksgiving have I had as much trouble getting my hands on a few jars of Heinz Turkey Gravy. (There's chicken flavor, sure, but just because it's poultry doesn't mean it's the same.)

And before you start, yes, I use gravy from a jar, I admit it. And yes, and I know how easy it is to make gravy, but with so many people under foot on that day, with many things cooking at the last minute at the same time, a very few gravy fans, I've found it's best to just pop the top and plop it into a dish to zap in the microwave so everything is piping hot and ready to go.

Seems like everyone else has been scarfing up the gravy in my neighborhood, thinking the same thing.

So if you need me, I'll be at store number 6, looking for turkey gravy (or maybe even store #7, but let's hope it doesn't come to that).

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 13, 2009

What's It For?

F is for fabulous. Which is what a very kind coworker of mine is. Fresh from a trip to Italy, she stopped by my office to give me a really lovely package of Venetian beads she picked out in Venice! It was such a lovely thoughtful gesture, that I was just stunned. I will be making something with them for sure this weekend, so I'm thinking about what to make.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


Yesterday, our entire yard was blanketed with leaves. The chilly November air causing more to tumble down with each passing minute, the leaves click-clacking like ticks and tocks of a clock.

Raking took hours, sweeping into piles, then lugging tarpfuls to the curb. Back and forth, back and forth. By the end, my back ached, but not too badly. Just enough to know it was time to stop.

Went to bed early (9:30, on a Saturday!?), exhausted, arms and legs jittery from overuse.

Slept a solid 9 hours, restorative and deep.

This morning, I tackled indoor chores. It was hard to keep going, but thanks to Mr. Spandrel's help, we got through it.

By lunchtime, we were ready for a break and ventured outside. It was beautiful; 65 degrees that felt like 75 compared with yesterday's cooler temps.

We headed to a new place nearby for lunch, thrilled - and surprised - to see that their outdoor seating area was fairly empty.

After lunch, languidly enjoying the last of a black currant iced tea, I shuddered at what a wonderful weekend it had been.

Tons accomplished:

1. A solid night's sleep.

2. A gorgeous day.

3. Yard work plowed through.

4. A bit of household organization.

5. Time spent with my favorite person.

They say each day is a gift. Some days, I'd rather return in the box it came in, get my money back - especially lately.

But this one? Priceless.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Grace issue 56

During a long slog of a day, you get something done right and well, you get credit for bringing a solid idea to fruition, and a hearty
thank you to top it all off - the trifecta of project management.

Too often, we move too fast to appreciate our own daily accomplishments, however small. Gotta savor those moments as they happen!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Grace: Issue 55

  1. Full moon light through the leafless trees.

  2. Cool fall air, unmarred by the snap of winter's chill.

  3. Roasted chicken picked up on the way home.

  4. The key turning in the lock, arriving home after a long day.

  5. Going to sleep early.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Unexpected Elegance

The Diana Exhibit at Philadelphia's National Constitution Center is really a surprisingly sweet look back on the former princess's life and fashion.

The piece de resistance, her iconic wedding dress, was there in all its glory, flanked by video of the wedding day. I remember as a teenager, watching this wedding unfold like a fairy tale on television, enthralled by all the pomp and the yards and yards of silk. Today, more than 25 years later, the dress seems fussy and a little too-cute in parts, embellished with puffs and bows and volume. But it was still a thrill to see it up close.

Diana's later fashion choices, from the beaded evening gowns to the boxy day dresses that were all the rage in the 80s -- my God, why did anyone think all that shoulder paddage was necessary? -- evolved into the fluidly draped silk dresses with intricate beading that caught the light as she made her entrance on every red carpet, elegantly exiting the limousine ever-ready to shake the hand of whomever was greeting her.

It is impossible to imagine living life enduring such scrutiny.

I'm no Anglophile, but it was still interesting to view some of the dresses that have appeared in photos over the years -- in all, a lovely way to spend a fall Sunday afternoon.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Step 2: Decide What You Want

When you spend all day, every day, focused on getting things done as part of a team where one person is relying on you to toss something their way at a specified time, it's hard to get out of that mindset.

Paralyzed by indecision, with wide-open space of unscheduled time, I sometimes find that answering the question, "What do I want to do now?" can be challenging.

There are the default, dreamy, pie-in-the-sky answers that always lurk in my back pocket: Go to Paris. Take up residence at the beach. And on some days, find a way to become queen of the world where everything I say, goes. (OK, we've entered the realm of fantasy with that one, but everyone needs one, right?)

But then there are the smaller ones, infinitely more achievable. And maybe? More fun in the end...

Like, dance with someone I love.
Crunch through a perfect Gala apple.
Turn off all the gadgetry and page through an engrossing book.
Impose a little order on this one-square-foot area of my desk. (I don't want to add to the frustration!)
Have cereal for dinner.
Call a friend who always makes me laugh.
Cross off something from my personal to-do list, the list that nobody pays me to complete.
Take a walk.
Decide to tackle things differently.
Make a list of experiences that have enriched my life.
Ah, that's the one... see you later.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Step 1: Slow the Pace

Things have been really fast and furious at work as of late. To-do lists have been jammed to overflowing. Each day is maximized until I trudge back to my car, exhausted and unable to focus on a computer screen.

As Marcus Buckingham says, you need to find the joy in the hard work you do. Getting through the work so you can go home and relish a little joy is no way to get through a work life. The passion and joy needs to be present for you to feel fulfilled. And they need to be finely woven into your day.

(Ideally, that is.)

Every workday has its drudgery - I agree with that, too. But much is in the attitude, so change is a-coming.

On Monday, I'm going to make some changes.

First task is to calm things down by slowing the pace enough so think rather than simply react. I will face the day, determined to find the bits of joy that can be had with a few small steps.

Really devote some thought to the projects I'm especially keen to contribute to and to make my own.

Appreciate the humor of the many people I work with each day.

Hang up a piece of artwork I really cherish so I see it 8 hours a day instead of hiding it behind a door.

What things can you do to make your workday more enjoyable?

Grace: Issue Whatever the Hell We're Up To

  1. Easing into fall.
  2. Falling (all over again) in love.
  3. Loving someone's smile.
  4. Smiling at unexpected creativity.
  5. Creating something you're proud of.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The September Issue

When I got out of college, I landed at a magazine that covered the graphic arts industry.

Specifically, how all manner of printed products actually were produced and printed. The technologies used, the innovative papers and foils and hits of glosses that banded together to bring a printed piece to life, whether it was an annual report, a car brochure, a direct mail piece, an art book or a magazine.

I was in heaven--as an obsessive reader, I came to appreciate the heft of books and particularly magazines. How the pages gleamed and the images sprang from the pages in a visual marathon. While in college, I interned at a magazine and learned how the editorial side built an issue piece by piece, fact by fact, racing against the deadline that awaited every month.

So getting a documentarian's view of the production of Vogue's annual masterpiece of a September issue--the requisite shenanigans that play out behind the scenes, the fluttering of assistants and the rolling of racks and the racing of heartbeats as blood pressure boils over and defeat sets in amongst some of the most creative minds in the industry--was a startlingly good time.

When it ended, just like my friend seated beside me, I wanted more, more, more. We saw flickers of The Devil Wears Prada personality peeking out, but largely that kind of behavior was tamped down or largely kept from view and instead a carefully constructed Anna Wintour veneer was on display. For the sake of reality, I suppose, we saw her from time to time with her lipstick gnawed-off, or tired eyes caught on film for all to see.

But it was Grace Coddington whom I admired all the more in the end, for trying new creative approaches to telling the stories of those clothes each month. Clearly, she is the dreamer behind the visual driver's seat, assembling tableaus of models and props that take you to another world, whether Anna thinks she can charge her overpriced admission to go there or not. I understand she has a magazine to sell ads for, that it's a business that requires coverage of some and not others and that the who's in and who's out changes like the wind.

But while she clearly seems unafraid to be direct and even brusque with those beneath her, her peers bring out her insecurity. And we were treated to an example of how passive-aggressive bosses (who leave for a trip and ask an underling to deliver bad news once she's left the building) can just chip away at a team's desire to work hard.

Given the glimpses of Grace's chutzpah and keen intellect, I was hoping she'd grab the cell of one of the myriad assistants to call an unsuspecting Anna in her limo to give her what for. But she also strikes me as too shrewd to do that on camera, and probably too well-mannered, being British, after all.

If you've ever cracked open one of the heftier issues of Vogue and wondered what it takes to make it happen, or felt yourself transported to another time or simply pined over the clothes while paging through its fashion spreads, go see this movie. It is well worth your time.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Achievement on a Holiday Weekend

The day's barbeque had been eaten and enjoyed, and dessert had been served (fruit tart for the grownups; cookie pie topped with M&Ms and toasted marshmallows -- courtesy of my Mom -- for the niece and nephew, although everyone else sneaked a sliver, too).

My sports-obsessed nephew had been tossing a football around all afternoon with various family members, when I -- known as the least likely football player of the group -- picked up the pigskin and asked him to show me to throw a spiral.

(Remember, it's on my list? Yeah, I'd forgotten, too.)

When he heard it had been a goal of mine, he caught my eye, not believing what he'd heard, and we headed into the yard.

My nephew's normal 13-year-old impatience gave way to a forthright, gentle coaching. Laughably, he stood the same distance he uses when throwing to his five-years-younger sister (it's been a looooong time since I'd thrown anything).

We tossed the ball back and forth as he commented on form (follow through with throwing arm down and across body, other arm flows back in same direction to help body twist for power), and made suggestions for a variety of changes and subtle adjustments.

Eventually, I threw one!

Not far, and not easily duplicated, but we even had a witness: My niece, as cheerleader, stood nearby and let out a squeal when it finally happened.

It was a relaxing, and unexpectedly fun and satisfying way to end the day.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Julia Child Dinner

Spent Friday night ushering in the long Labor Day weekend with 4 girlfriends who gathered for a Julia Child-inspired dinner at the house of a friend who is a talented cook.

The hostess had prepared chicken with a white wine and mushroom sauce and a smidgen of cream. Sliced potatoes roasted in the oven with Swiss cheese and cream. Tangy ratatouille to cut the richness of the rest of the dishes.

Others had brought appetizers, wine and breads to round out the evening.

After work, I'd rushed home to finish my contribution -- a tarte tatin for dessert. While it took me 35 minutes to slice into 1/8-inch thicknesses the 9 or 10 apples I'd peeled and cored, it was a very zen experience. Counting each slice until I had eight kept me focused on maintaining even slices.

It hadn't caramelized, as Julia had predicted. (But since this was the only dessert on the menu, I opted not to follow the fix of smothering it with confectioner's sugar and broiling it, which seemed a recipe for disaster given my oven's quirky nature.) The resulting sweet and buttery, cinnamon-scented apples were delicious nonetheless.

And in the end, surrounded by apple peels and droplets of juice scattered everywhere in my kitchen, I felt I'd achieved something -- some small aspect of French cooking. I vowed to make more and I could see why Julie Powell set the goal of cooking every recipe in the book as goal.

The comfort from seeing a pile of ingredients come together into something that's satisfying and true can't be beat.

As one of my friends said when raising a toast at the start of our shared meal, Bon Appetit!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Grace: Issue 54

  1. Looking up, and realizing it's Thursday and - holy cow! - where'd the week go?

  2. Getting sucked into a surprisingly great book (Curtis Sittenfeld's American Wife.)

  3. Finding a few new beads at a show, then spending the week stringing and restringing, and just staring at the pretty colors every once in a while.

  4. Making incremental progress on a big-big-big project at work.

  5. Instigating plans with my best girlfriends that will result in a Friday night Julia Child foodfest to usher in Labor Day weekend. (Considering making madeleines to accompany the tea that will inevitably end the evening - unless I dig up something more manageable and healthy [wishful thinking] in my mother-in-law's copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Grace: Issue 53

  1. Still feeling some residual, vacation-oriented bliss, even with the first day back to work over and done and realizing some perspective was gained by being away from everything.
  2. The calm that is derived from a morning walk.
  3. Polishing off a bar of Green and Black's Chocolate--before dinner.
  4. Salmon with onions, capers and lemon over couscous, alongside sauteed spinach.
  5. Genuinely feeling happy to be home.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Grace: Issue 52

  1. A softly broken-in pair of khaki shorts on deep, end-of-summer sale.
  2. Plans to attend a bead show in a few weeks, where my fave lampwork artist will appear.
  3. Clean laundry, fresh from the line.
  4. Meeting a friend's tow-headed little toddler for the first time.
  5. The restorative powers of the only Frappuccino of summer during a mini-heatwave.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


When I was around four years old or so, my favorite television shows included The Electric Company, Family Affair, That Girl... and The French Chef.

Back then, while in the kitchen one afternoon, I found myself describing my actions, just as Julia did, in a sing-songy voice, providing detailed instructions to an imagined television audience on making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (my palate wasn't that refined, as a kid).

It was very important -- I admonished my imagined audience -- to spread the peanut butter to the very edges of the bread, without sliding out over the crust.

And the jelly? On that, one mustn't skimp.

When I'd stumbled upon Julie Powell's blog, The Julie/Julia Project, back in 2002, I was enthralled by the concept of this former Texan working her way through Julia Child's cookbook. But even more so, I was taken in by her writing. Julie would weave in thoughts about her day, the frustrations she dealt with at work, the challenges the recipes gave her at the end of a long day. And observations on the progress of her project.

It was like life -- full of triumphs and tears, challenges and surprises. With a supportive husband who popped TUMs like after-dinner mints.

And when Powell's book came out in 2005, I opened the box from Amazon with all the excitement of Christmas morning. I devoured the book, and felt, disappointed.

She'd aligned her blog entries alongside vignettes of Paul and Julia Childs' life together, imagining conversations that seemed to me contrived and drippy with nostalgia. Honestly? I sped through those parts, hungrily seizing on Powell's observations about aspic and omelettes instead.

Last night, a friend and I went to see the movie Julie & Julia, and I was surprised at having the opposite experience. The scenes with Julie, aside from the obviously soul-crushing days at the Lower Manhattan Development Project, were thin and uninteresting. But those where you see how Julia came into her own as a chef and relish her relationship with her lovely husband Paul -- those scenes were magical.

Now, maybe that's because Nora Ephron knows how to throw pixie dust onto relationships and capture those moments on film in a heart-stirring way.

It might be Meryl Streep's superb embodiment of Julia. From the physical aspects of Julia's game and gangly enthusiasm, to the bleats and huffs of speech that inflated Julia's body, caused her arms to flap and body to collapse on a couch with gusto.

Or it could have something to do with Stanley Tucci's sublime performance as Paul, a man who is beyond smitten by Julia. He obviously worships her, craves and appreciates the art found in and made from life, relishes performance and flourish. As an actor, he is just amazing -- or maybe like Streep, he found a character he could inhabit, rather than play.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm making a list of ingredients for sole meuniere.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Grace Issue 51

  1. Seeing the flood waters have receded, and with it, a much-welcomed break in the humidity.
  2. Getting buds together to see Julie & Julia on Friday (I read every post of her blog, back in the day!).
  3. Finding a pair of Havaianas on sale in a cute gold color.
  4. Leaving work at a reasonable hour after weeks of not.
  5. Making some decisions I know I'll not regret.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Grace: Issue 50

1. Confirming it was a false alarm.
2. Getting a good night's sleep after a lack thereof.
3. Realizing you're still very glad to be friends with someone, even more than 20 years later.
4. Feeling wiser as well as older.
5. Butterfly-shaped anything.
6. Hearing "I love you" before going to sleep.
7. Waking up when the sunlight fills the room.
8. Knowing my in-laws are great people.
9. Taking a deep, cleansing breath.
10. Accomplishing more than I'd set out to.
11. Having friends who worry about you.
12. Holding hands while you take a walk.
13. Taking it easy.
14. Walking through the neighborhood as a way to greet the day.
15. Watching a goldfinch eat lavender buds outside the window.
16. Tidying up the coupons.
17. Clearing out excess paper.
18. Taking stock.
19. Finding a deal on sumptuous towels.
20. Revisiting a favorite book.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Girls' Day Perfection

This past week or two it's been pretty difficult to shut things off at night mentally when I need to sleep. I wake up at 3 or 4, toss and turn, get up to write things down, stay in bed and not write things down. (I've tried both; either way, it doesn't seem to help.)

For me, the best prescription for when I can't sleep, because all my to-do lists are crowding up my mind, overlapping each other, piling up and demanding attention?

Walk around a very large place that stimulates other parts of my brain. Walk, walk, walk, preferably with a good friend who helps you remember what's important.

Which is how I spent my Saturday in New York City.

But as we walked, I took it all in: seeing things and people and designs and colors and shapes that just pushed aside those endless stacks of to-dos and worries and frets and such.

In SoHo, we feasted on tartines - open-faced turkey, avocado and sprouts; prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella with pesto and tomatoes - at my friend's her favorite lunch place (she's moved out of the country, so she was reconnecting, too).

We stopped at a bread bakery I love to stock up, shopped a little, then headed to the Museum of Modern Art to enjoy the Picassos, Rousseaus and Van Goghs. The Starry Night is like the ocean for me - I could stare at that painting for ever, with its swirls of blues and greens that turn this way and that.

But most of all, the two of us gabbed and caught up and relaxed -- which was the perfect way to clear the over-crowded slate.

Before taking the train back from the city, we suddenly realized we were famished. So we made our way to Burger Joint and devoured the best burgers I've had in a long time.

Thick, juicy, laden with cheese and loaded with lettuce, tomato and ketchup, our orders ready by the time we handed over the cash.

The place has the look and feel of a dive - the menu at the register scribbled in sharpie on corrugated cardboard; your fries tossed into a plain brown paper bag and your burger's wrapped in stiff, white butcher paper). And while the burgers aren't cheap, they were worth every buck.

Riding home on the train, I couldn't remember the last time I felt so relaxed and ready for a good night's sleep. The day totally delivered.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Busy Busy Bee, Buzz-Buzz-Buzz

All the gotta-dos and forgot-abouts and the hurry-ups. Sparking my brain at 2:00 a.m., 3:00 a.m., 4:00 a.m. ... [sigh!]

Make the buzzing stop!

There's just way too much going on. Last night, I had to shut down the computer just to get a little rest.

And so I zonked on the couch, watching a rerun of the Fashion Show, Isaac Mizrahi's also-ran, me-too, cheap knockoff of Project Runway. The episode in which design competitor Johnny got cut loose by Mr. Mizrahi for the fashion sin of... creating a knockoff.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Oh, All Right. Grace: Issue 49

1. Unseasonably cool and dry weather that feels like San Diego.
2. Taking a walk that calms me down during an uber-stressful time.
3. Knowing last week is behind us.
4. Being comforted by Mr Spandrel.
5. The refreshingly restorative powers of Junior Mints.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Creative Struggle

They sit right above my head, over my desk, mocking me. Boxes of beads, in colors chosen solely by my whims. Gorgeous findings that I've amassed from trips to bead stores now long gone.

But I just can't create.

Part of it is that I know it will just open the door to wanting more.

"This necklace would be just perfect if I could intersperse some bronze bicones here. But I only have copper, which would ruin it. Maybe I'll go to that store while I'm doing errands..."

And the next thing you know, I've spent way more than I've intended.

Sure, I've challenged myself to make something -- anything -- out of just the materials I have on hand.

But that nagging voice in the back of my head often wins out: "Just another five little 6 mm silver Bali cubes, and this could be awesome!"

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Made with Love

Today, I bought a scarf. On sale, at a chain store. With a coupon. Plus an added discount. A genuine bargain.

The store clerk carefully matched up each edge, smoothing it down into a neat square, before sheathing it in a sheet of tissue paper into which he'd folded a smart pleat down the center.

"Thank you for wrapping that so nicely!" I said, as he slipped it into the mini shopping bag.

"Well, it's silk, it deserves a little love," he replied.

Don't a lot of things?

In France, I'd marveled at the array of packets and parcels into which the store clerks arranged my purchases--both large and small. There was value in taking care.

Aren't most work-related tasks worth doing with at least a little love?

Over lunch one day, a friend looked down at his sandwich ruefully, the smoked turkey flapping half-outside the whole grain bread, more lettuce scattered on the tray than on the bread.

"Some days, they're made with love, some days they aren't," he summed up.

This from a guy who readily admitted that most days, food was little more than fuel for his high-octane workouts.

But people do notice these things. And it all goes into what makes a shopping or eating experience worthwhile.

Care is what sets great companies--and star workers--apart from the rest.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Traveling Light

It's been a while since I traveled for work regularly. But when I did, I invested in a TravelPro wheel-aboard bag. Those things wear like iron, but they look like everything else: black cordura, blah-blah-blah.

I'll be breaking out the bag soon for an upcoming trip, with three days of business casualwear in that single bag, with laptop on the side. It'll be an exercise in squishtastic packing, but I think I can do it.

Check a bag? Pfft. No.

Not after sitting for two days of a three-day conference beside a bevvy of belles whose luggage took a trip to chillier climes (Chicago) while they cooled their heels in Atlanta, trying to make jeans and jogging suits look quasi-professional with the help of the jewelry they'd stowed in their carry-ons.

Lesson learned: pack light and take your luggage on board. And if you can't, make sure the outfit you're wearing on the flight is comfortable while minimally passing as professional.

Admittedly, I wear way too many pairs of shoes when away -- out of necessity. Plus, I normally schlep along a serious hair dryer whenever I travel because hotel models are seldom adequate. Oh, and did I mention my obsession with hair products?

This is going to take a while.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Take Eames

You know, that Eames couple was onto something. There's much to be said for remaining true to oneself in one's work.

Another idea I admire is giving yourself the freedom to experiment, but make it good. Don't settle for just "OK" because that's not part of who you are. (That requires really knowing who you are. Which you should. But that's another whole post.)

In the meantime, don't lose sight of the forest while you're busy picking bark off the trees, as it were.

Having a point of view helps one's judgment. Because you can say "no, that's not right," with authority and rigor.

To me, all these attributes result from flow--that rare instance when mind, body and spirit are in perfect harmony with what one is doing. Where you are doing exactly what you should be doing at a given moment.

At points when I'm creating something I'm really proud of, I totally experience this.

What about you?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Grace Issue 48: TGIF

  1. Boy, the week after a holiday week is long-long-long, isn't it? Friday's been in my sights since Monday morning, seeming oh-so far off until, lo! Here it is! Huzzah!
  2. Knowing I wouldn't have to cook dinner tonight gave me a bounce in my step.
  3. The fact that Mr. Spandrel picked up the pizza we'd planned was an even bigger treat.
  4. Trying the country vegetable pizza and finding it to be mouth-wateringly delicious - way beyond expectations - added to that celebratory, "hey-the-weekend's-here" feeling.
  5. We get pizza from a neighborhood joint where, when I arrive for pickup, they yell out, "I'm ready for you, baby!" when I walk in. And that makes me laugh out loud each time.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Yes, I am twittering. It is more an experiment than anything else. Very few of my offline friends use Twitter (I think? Set me straight!), so I'm anxious to see how many of the other bloggers I follow find value in it.

Just like anything online, it can quickly take over your life and make your eyes glaze over.

I am vowing not to post what I ate for lunch; my blog is guilty enough of that atrocity, as it is.

Are you on Twitter yet? Why or why not? Take my poll - see upper-right corner.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

On Writers

When I was a teenager, I got hold of a copy of Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I think my Mom had recommended it. Anyway, I was so thrilled with Salinger's style, that informal way he had of writing a sentence that made you part of that moment in time he'd captured.

I literally spent the day with Salinger; as I recall, I sat down to read the book and didn't get up until I was finished.

It's like I made that moment in time -- captured by Catcher in the Rye -- part of my own moment in time.

As a kid, I read books voraciously. Routinely, I checked out of the library as many books as our local branch allowed - I think it was 10 books. Each night I read late into the night, until my Mom would yell upstairs to turn out my bedroom light.

Never one to read by flashlight, I went through a phase where I simply kept my light on all night because I often stayed up to read so late into the evening, that I'd drift in and out of sleep. Without the light, if I woke up, I'd feel disoriented. Bad habit that took years to break.

Jonathan Franzen's writing piques the same mental salivary glands that Salinger's Catcher in the Rye did for me way back when. I can't get enough of it, and with every sentence another frame of of that fictional world is built in my mind. I love that feeling.

Franzen's got a short story in The New Yorker this week and when I spotted it in the table of contents, I let out a silent "yipeee!" Just like I do when I see something by David Sedaris or Patricia Marx, or even Steve Martin appear on that page.

Check out the Franzen story and let me know what you think. Go ahead. Comment at will!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Aubergine. Oh'-ber-zheen.

How l love that word - from its pronunciation to the color it represents.

(Although I am not crazy about eggplant, which is what it translates to in English.)

A dark, almost-black purple, it's mysterious and deep, with more character than other dark colors.

Friday, May 29, 2009


This time of year, I love driving around anywhere I can be surrounded by trees.

I'm lucky, because it's not too hard to find a tree-lined lane where I live.

At one point, I had a 30-minute commute during which I mainly managed to stay on windy lanes where the trees connected across the street, forming canopies overhead.

There's something about those streets that feels safe and enveloping. Almost room-like. The color adds to it, for sure.

This time of year, everything is in shades of ultra-bright green and unfurling with hope, before the July sun has sapped its strength.

Everyone who knows me well thinks I love the month of May simply because my birthday is during this month, but it's more than that.

The greenness of it, the newness, makes celebrating the passing of another year all the more meaningful.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Grace, Issue 47

  1. Three days off, one day on, one day off, two days on, two days off.
  2. Reconnecting with a former colleague who I'd always enjoyed working with.
  3. Seeing the little smiley-faced box in which my Mom stashed one of my birthday gifts--and realizing that I crack up each time I look at it.
  4. Enjoying the glide of a new pen over the pages of a Moleskine, cracked open for just this occasion.
  5. Eating a pack of M&Ms and not feeling the least bit guilty about it (yet).

Brand New Bag

Even as a toddler, I was obsessed with purses. Whenever my mom got rid of an old pocketbook and let me play with it, I was in heaven. The best ones had multiple pockets and zippers and tiny hideaway compartments.

There's probably some tie-in with obsessing over the trappings of grownup-hood - after all, at three, I came downstairs one morning and announced I was ready for school, clad in footie pajamas and sporting a briefcase. (Thankfully, my fashion choices have evolved a little, since then.)

But procuring a new handbag just as summer starts? Divine.

Over the weekend, I found one in a kickin' color, a roomy style with cute details. Like little perforations reminiscent of spectator pumps. And a zany, flowered lining that reminds me of my maternal grandmother for some reason.

Best of all, it was on deep-deep sale.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Grace: Issue 46, Good Day, Sunshine

It's amazing what can happen when you just put it out there, into the world, that you need a reset. Because today, the stars aligned and everything sorted itself out.
  1. A weekly deadline was met with little drama and smiles all around.
  2. Coworkers and I hit a favorite lunch spot for laughs and a break.
  3. Actually got to leave work at the pre-holiday early-dismissal time, rather than being stuck tying up loose ends.
  4. Got in and out of the grocery store in record time.
  5. Came home to find one of my favorite magazines waiting for me in the mail.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


As rambunctious teenagers, my friends and I would while away hours just talking about nothing.

So Jerry Seinfeld's show didn't seem that far a stretch, in a way a funnier, more urbane version of what we did on a daily basis. That, and they were generally harsher and snarkier than we were.

(My friends have more heart than Jerry, Kramer, George and Elaine combined.)

Even during the longest of bull sessions, once in a while the conversation would spiral to a halt.

Until someone would cry out: "Lull!"

It broke whatever tension or lack of inspiration there was, made us laugh, and triggered some other topic, just by virtue of pointing out we'd run out of things to discuss.

It was a Reset button for the conversation.

That's sort of how I've been feeling lately: halted, uninspired, and in need of a reset.

So this long holiday weekend is arriving just in time. Meeting a girlfriend in the city for some catch-up chat, having family over for a barbeque.

Far from a Lull, it should be just the reset I need.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Grace, Issue 45 - The Mom Chronicles

  1. They soothe our ruffled feathers.
  2. Lend an ear when we're wronged or worried.
  3. Show us what's what.
  4. Encourage us to be fearless by providing support for even the riskiest endeavors.
  5. And love us all the more at the end of the day.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Fabulous Friday

What does it say that I wake up on Mondays, slog through my morning routine, jump back into the rat race, and then suddenly I look up and, it's Friday?

I guess it means my work is engaging enough that time goes by quickly...
Or, that I'm not paying enough attention to the things that really enrich my life.

The rain that drenched us all week seems to have moved on, and now it's sunny and crisp this morning, just like spring ought to be.

Flowers are looking good and there are still blossoms on all the trees, from the weeping willows, to cherry trees to magnolias.
Amidst the stresses of the day, the work crises and the family obligations, I need to remind myself to to stop and pay attention to the beauty that's all around.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Grace Issue 44

  1. Too many interesting things to read at once.
  2. Mint Milanos after doing without for way too long.
  3. Meeting of the minds with people at work.
  4. Lightening the load for a coworker.
  5. Looking forward to a tea party with "the girls" on Saturday.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Delayed Gratification

As bulbs burst forth each spring, it's one of the most heartening things you can catch sight of, bleary from a winter of icy-cold temps and gray skies.

Each spring, my heart lifts as the green shoots peek out from under the mulch. And when the flowers appear? Smiles every day.

Having planted tulips and hyacinths (and weren't there a few daffodils?) probably more than 10 years ago, they're getting a little more peaked each year.

So I"m putting in my calendar for October to gather more bulbs, stock up on knee pads, break out the flannel shirt and get cracking.

The hard work you put into it is definitely worth the reward.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Grace in Small Things: Issue 43

  1. A city park dotted with people catching some rays, a bride and groom getting photographed, football-tossing dudes and many, many dogs.
  2. Those little pink petals that swirl around off the trees, dotting the sidewalk, letting you know it's spring.
  3. Good natter with a friend I haven't seen in way too long.
  4. The first al fresco lunch of 2009: an Arnold Palmer, a strawberry and field greens salad drizzled with sherry vinaigrette, and a jumbo lump crab cake.
  5. A cup of Capogiro's blood orange sorbetto, before driving home to the 'burbs.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Leave Your Worries in the Trees

Finally got to a yoga class last night after weeks of "meaning to," and it was just what the doctor ordered.

It's not until I get to yoga class that I realize how much I forget to breathe on a daily basis. Of course, I'm walking around, so I'm breathing enough to sustain life, but I mean breathe.

Consciously. Deliberately. Following its path on every inhale and exhale.

This being a very gentle yoga class, the emphasis was on meditating the cares of the day away and out of one's mind (which was my goal, too, of course). This instructor always comes up with a different metaphor that makes it easier for me to disconnect from whatever's been vexing me.

Last night, in celebration of spring and all the petals bursting forth, she led us on a walk down an imaginary road, surrounded on both sides by trees. Each tree that you pass is diferent. As you pass a tree, imagine yourself draping a thought onto it, a thought that's crowding your brain and basically disturbing your bliss.

Keep walking until you run out of thoughts to drape onto trees. There are no more trees, and no more thoughts. Just your breath. With your mind clear of thought, just be.

It works. Try it.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Grace: Issue 42, The Easter Feaster

Boy, did we have fun yesterday!
  1. Pirogis, procured from Krakus Market, along with the last of the shop's kielbasa on Good Friday.
  2. A bite of that leftover potato pancake Mr Spandrel was enjoying, from Syrenka, a no-frills luncheonette that makes delicious Polish fare.
  3. An Easter egg hunt for the kids in attendance -- with the added challenge of more undersized eggs hidden away in little pocket spaces around the yard.
  4. Ham from Wegman's, which made grocery shopping oh so much easier.
  5. Carrot souffle, a buttery, sugary fluff that barely qualifies as a vegetable.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Good Golly

Somehow, I'd missed that a lovely jazz singer that I've admired passed away in February.

My first brush with Blossom Dearie was a Target commercial a few years ago. And ever since, "They Say It's Spring" has been my definitive mini-soundtrack for the season.

There's something about it that's joyful, lilting and a little wistful at the same time.

We could all take a lesson from Blossom Dearie.

In a time where we're roiling from all the pursuit of excess, rather than excellence, why be overblown about things when a soft touch can do the trick?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Grace: Issue 41

  1. Looking forward to the full moon tomorrow--things are so zany, already, who can predict what will happen!?
  2. Realizing work will never be done. It's just that one can momentarily hold back the floodgates for a time, hopefully long enough to squeeze in some creative thinking.
  3. Whimsically purchasing an Elle magazine, only to find quirky layouts, inspiring articles and colorful, uplifting imagery, for once. (And I admit, I even like reading the numerology and horoscopes -- and in other news, watch out, as apparently I am a force to be reckoned with this month!)
  4. Getting ready for Easter, with ham, pirogis and carrot souffle on the menu.
  5. Trusting my instincts, and feeling like I finally know more than I give myself credit for.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Grace: Issue 40

  1. Waking up earlier than expected and having an extra two hours to think and plan the day.
  2. Sunlight bouncing through the guest room, spilling out into the hallway.
  3. Getting errands done in record time.
  4. Realizing one of my favorite areas of the city now offers free lot parking.
  5. Eating 6 tiny little tea sandwiches for a Saturday snack including:
    * egg salad
    * chicken salad
    * cucumber
    * salmon cream cheese
    * asparagus
    * three-tiered ribbon ham, watercress and chopped egg.

Graceless Under Pressure

Oy, what a week. Deadline upon deadline. Challenge after challenge. Confrontation and exhortations.
And through it all, did I maintain my composure? Keep my cool? Roll with it, baby?
Um, no.
I ranted. I raved. I bitched and moaned. Enough with keeping it all in. I let it all out. (Well, not all. But to my shocked and surprised cohorts, it must have sure seemed that way.)
Frankly, I am sick and tired of bottling everything up...
Of taking one for the team...
Of being a trooper, a good egg, a team player.
It's not good for my health, my heart, my creativity, my mind.
But I'm looking at the crazy-windy weather we're experiecing today as blowing away all that negative crud, breezing in new energy, wild ideas and upbeat moods.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Grace: Issue 39

  1. Receiving long-awaited beads in the mail (now my fingers are itchy, looking for something with which to string them up).
  2. Eating more peanut M&Ms than is advisable.
  3. Resting my weary head.
  4. Being determined to get a complete night's sleep.
  5. Realizing a heat-and-eat "leftovers dinner" is on the menu (And after the week I've been having? Quick and easy never tasted good!).

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Grace: Issue 38

  1. Taking a daydream vacation on sunny shores... Bermuda... Kauai... Low-key, coastal Florida.
  2. Imagining the soft sand giving way under my feet as I walked the shoreline.
  3. Thinking about a dip in a refreshing pool of water.
  4. Floating on crystal-blue water, with cloudless blue skies overhead.
  5. Sipping a cocktail as I dangle my feet in the pool.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Grace: Issue 37 (Cousin's Wedding Edition)

  1. Rediscovering a kindred spirit in a distant relative.
  2. Escaping the noise for some quiet and cool air with my hon.
  3. Momentarily losing my voice from talking so much - and so loudly - over the din.
  4. Enjoying a band that worked the crowd into a frenzy.
  5. Hearing the amazing band play James Brown's "I Feel Good" and later learning it had been my cousin - the groom - who was singing! (He was surrounded by a packed dance floor you couldn't see who had the mic.)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Grace Issue 36

  1. Picking up my good-as-new shoes from the cobbler.
  2. Taking a long, long walk amidst the break in the rain.
  3. Crunching on kettle-cooked chips.
  4. Parking at a meter with time still left on it.
  5. Eating a fresh-baked croissant and gabbing over fresh coffee with what turns out to the shop owner/baker.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Springtime Friday Workout

This morning, I had to stop at the cobbler. You know, the shoe repair guy's place. (I know, cobbler sounds so ancient and too-prim and/or proper.)

I was dropping off shoes that I needed fixed in time for an event I'm going to tomorrow night. These are fancy, pointy shoes that I seldom wear, and the last time I'd worn them, I realized way too late that the rubber heels had become detached from the shoes (as in, while at church!).

And of course, this discovery was made after I'd clomped all through our hardwood-floored house while trying them on and testing them out, noting that I was curiously less steady on them than usual.

Plus, didn't they seem extraordinarily clacky, I'd asked Mr. Spandrel?

I dunno, he shrugged.

A quick look at the bottom made it clear I'd been walking on the connector screws instead of the rubber heels that had once been there! Gah!

Luckily, I didn't seem to gouge the floor anywhere I can discern. But I digress...

So I walk into the shoe repair store, and I'm not alone: a little puppy is barking like crazy, runs over and starts clamoring around my legs, jumping up, pawing and snurfling at my knees with excitement.

Her enthusiasm is palpable - and catching!

The shoe repair guy, aghast, runs out from behind his counter to corral the puppy, only to inspire her to think we're all three engaged in a game of "catch me!"

Around and around the store we spiral around each other, the three of us, a cacophony of barks, "sorry!s" and "whoops!"

Each time the proprietor tries to scoop up the puppy, she scampers away and runs hither and yon, her tongue and tail wagging in triple time.

Should anyone else have walked in, it would have seemed quite the spectacle.

I dodge, but the puppy lunges, until finally there's a tiny break in the action. And suddenly this puppy, wound tighter than a rubber band, propels herself into the cobbler arms in a little heap and calm is restored in the pocket-sized shop.

Just. Like. That.

I spent the rest of the morning with a goofy grin on my face.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Grace: Issue 35

  1. Finishing a necklace with beads from my favorite bead artist.
  2. Realizing that what I like best about jewelrymaking is the completion.
  3. Making incremental progress on a big project I've been stewing over at my day job.
  4. Promising someone a chocolate bunny once Lent is over.
  5. Watching robins hop around and knowing that spring is definitely en route.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Daily Grace: Issue 34

  1. Dress shopping with my Mom, my sister and my niece - three generations of funny women.
  2. Deciding to buy cool shoes (to be worn to work later) to jazz up a little black dress already in my closet.
  3. Walking several miles in one day after too much time away from the gym.
  4. Spending time playing "The Candy Game" - which consists of naming random kinds of candy - during a car ride with my niece.
  5. Realizing that simpler can be better, in fancy dresses and in most areas of life.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Maximal Weekend

This weekend went by in a - poof! - of activity.

It all started off bright and early Saturday morning, where I snagged a prime parking spot in the city for $2 (just one block from my destination - hurrah!).

Got a haircut from my excellent stylist (always seems a little flatter than I'm used to, but we'll see).

Stopped by a small bead show (spent way too much - but it's inspired me to make more jewelry to sell to de-stash, so stay tuned for more details!).

Lunched with my Mom and my aunt (we are dweebs and all ordered the same thing: crab cake sandwich, but we enjoyed it immensely).

Trekked to Crate and Barrel to check out media consoles (none accommodate our weird too-large speaker).

Slept straight through the night (a deep, dreamless sleep, which is a huge departure).

Celebrated a friend's milestone birthday with her beyond-lovely family (a surprise brunch that actually knocked the socks off the guest of honor, who smiled for hours).

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Thrill of the Hunt

Off to a bead show tomorrow. I know at least two vendors that will take my money - the aforementioned Louise Mehaffey and her lampworked beads, and a silver vendor that gives my pieces their "oomph."

Then, after the show, it's lunch with two of my favorite people.

After the week I've had? I cannot wait!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Grace Issue 33: State of Mind

  1. Ever since I can remember, 3 has been my lucky number. The fact that this is the 33rd issue of Grace made me smile.
  2. I enjoy the connections I have made with people who are like-minded, and those who are entirely different from me.
  3. Having too much to do leaves me feeling very unsettled. Lists don't help in that regard; in fact, a lengthy list can make me hyperventilate because it puts all my obligations in stark black and white.
  4. My desk at work is currently more organized than it's been in months.
  5. While I thoroughly enjoy gardens and appreciate the beauty of flowers and utility of fresh herbs, I do not have a good track record in terms of keeping them alive. So the fact that bulbs I planted 10 years ago continue to bloom year after year as a harbinger of spring continues to amaze and enthrall me. And they're finally peeking out of the mulch!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Grace In Small Things: Issue 32
(On the Road, Part II)

1. Arriving early at the airport and getting through security in record time.
2. Realizing that there's a Checkers in the food court.
3. That first, delicious bite of a Champ burger - when it's been years since we've been acquainted.
4. Snagging a table with a view of the planes taking off for destinations unknown.
5. Spending 20 lovely minutes eating at a table beside a sunny window, for the first time all week.

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast...

Ever since I learned to touch-type one summer in high school on a primitive computer programmed with rudimentary business software, I have been a wicked-fast typist (between 100 and 120 WPM).

It's come in handy in my line of work.

So most times, my fingers can keep up with my thoughts.

But lately, my computer keyboard has been persnickety; it misses a letter or two every other word or so while I'm typing, especially when I go fast (and it's not me; Mr. Spandrel has noticed it, too).

This equipment quasi-failure has forced me to gear down and literally consider every word I write.

It's led to frustration many times when I'm hoping to dash off a note before I forget what I'm thinking about.

But in other ways, the fact that it forces me to slow down and think is not necessarily a bad thing.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Grace in Small Things: On the Road

1. Riding the escalator to baggage claim in back of a man wearing full lederhosen and an alpine hat.

2. Getting to the hotel safe and sound to find I've been upgraded to a suite.

3. Learning the hotel desk clerk is a stand-up comedian who just had an audition in the morning.

4. A surprisingly good piece of salmon for dinner.

5. The first Macy's I've ever seen that was neat as a pin.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

What, Me Worry?

I've read that spending time worrying about things is a waste of time and effort - and brainpower, too - aside from the stress that it generates.

That if you just take a "let's see what happens" approach, things will turn out fine 99% of the time.

But preparation is key and by worrying, I'm just trying to be prepared. What some might see as "worrying too much," I see as planning ahead.

In the wake of yesterday's nor'easter, I'm headed to slightly warmer climes for a business trip. Just hoping the airport cooperates and things aren't too delayed.

So instead of worrying, I'm visualizing smooth, on-time flights and cheap bottled water on the other side of security check-in.

A girl can dream, can't she?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Grace: Issue 30

1. Friends who get you.
2. Catching up over Japanese food.
3. Staying close to home.
4. A second cup of Refresh tea in a Roulette cup.
5. A random reference to the Greg Kihn band.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lesson Learned: Trust Your Gut

Oh, Carla, my favorite Top Chef contestant, ever!

You, who showed throughout the competition that being true to yourself, to the flavors that you'd wrought, to all the things that made you you, in the end, was enough to get you to the top 3...

You let whatever tiny shred of insecurity you'd held at bay for months of competition creep up and allow a better trained chef, at least on paper -- but still one who in this very same competition also got into the weeds, if I recall, and didn't stay true to herself -- dictate your final meal? Sous vide? A cheese souffle? Really?

Oh honey, I've been there.

I know you've beaten yourself up over letting that run away from you. But don't worry. The more these things happen, the more you learn to trust yourself.

Hopefully, that's the last time you let someone else tell you how or what to cook.

Because I am convinced we'll see great things from you. Anyone who thinks to approach a competition with love, rather than negative energy and bad vibes, is OK in my book.

Having fallen down on the job by not trusting my own gut, I can totally relate. Those times that something just doesn't feel right, when there's something I can't put my finger on but know I should be doing something else, that's when things come back to bite me.

It's happening less and less frequently, now, that whole thing with ignoring my gut. And the more I see the results serve me well, it's constant reinforcement that my gut is the one thing that won't fail me.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friends of Friends

For the most part, I've been lucky whenever a friend has said, "Oh, you've got to meet [so-and-so], you'll love them!" Because I've got such lovely friends, that usually works out in the end.

Such was the case last night, when I erased the memory of a decidedly anxiety-filled afternoon of workstress with dinner with some girlfriends.

The friend who had organized the evening had said that she wanted to introduce us to her best friend, who, along with her husband, was visiting from way out of town (London, to be exact!). We talked up a storm, ate mounds of delicious food, sampled lovely wines they brough to the tiny vegetarian BYOB we visited and generally laughed so hard my face still hurts.

In between, there were little side conversations with friends in attendance to catch up on old news, reminisce about cakes we have known (a certain victorian sponge with fresh cream stirred up great food memories!), rehash the state of the economy both here and in the UK, and realize that things truly are tough all over, thanks to the global economy, such as it is. Conversations hovered between serious and light, but friendly all the while.

It was immediately clear why my friend has stayed close with her bud all these years; they're two peas in a pod, those two. Finishing each others' sentences, shopping with the same aesthetic inspiring their selections, laughing at the old days and poking fun at embarrassing schoolgirl popstar obsessions (Paul Young!?). Aside from the surface bits, you can tell the love of family runs deep with these two, who are clearly sisters by choice if not by birth. Cheers to you both!

It's amazing how restorative a night with friends - both old and new - can be when you're at wits' end at work. Gives everything a bit more perspective.

And it made it easier to face the end of the week with determination, what with a nicely busy social calendar for the weekend looming ahead, with a 90th birthday lunch on Saturday and a lovely dinner on tap for Sunday.

Now, where's the wine?

Grace in Small Things: Issue 29

  1. Velvety roasted red pepper hummus
  2. Fragrant rosemary sprigs decorating every other plate
  3. Warm and spicy black bean and mango quesadillas
  4. Vanilla-to-the-10th-power gelato
  5. A sweet glass of Riesling enjoyed with new friends

Monday, February 16, 2009

Grace: Issue 28

  1. Deep violet amethyst
  2. Shimmery freshwater coin pearls
  3. Shiny-shiny borosilicate glass
  4. Detailed Bali silver
  5. Vein-streaked turquoise

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Because there was major cleaning to be done today, I had to put away the beads that for weeks had been sitting on my workstation-slash-desk-slash-catchall area.

And as soon as they're away, I almost literally forget what I have. Any inspiration for a pattern or a combination or a piece de resistance flies right out the window.

If you've had any dealings with beads, you know they can be a god-awful mess if you don't have them organized. And the fact that I have to live with the combos a little while to see how things truly play out means I have a lot of stuff lying about at any given moment.

Sometimes working in matching palettes is the order of the day. But for more sophisticated color schemes, and projects of varying bead-size combinations, it just takes a lot of playing around. At least for me.

So although my desk is now clear, I can't envision what I want to create next?!

Grace: Issue 27

  1. Meeting my cousin's bride-to-be.
  2. Purple and green on the same floral fabric.
  3. Gaining insight from another writer.
  4. Having a holiday off.
  5. Taking stock.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Grace: Issue 26

  1. Fridays
  2. Three-day weekends
  3. Lucky number 3
  4. Inching closer to spring
  5. Resolution

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Eat Your Peas: Or, Yay, Quirky Girl!

Throughout Top Chef this season, Carla did not disappoint with her goofball commentary and wild-eyed expressions. But if last night's Top Chef is to be believed, she dazzled Jacques Pepin with her classical French training and made peas so sublime that it nearly brought the judges to tears.

How about that?

To have made it to the final four based on a very slow-and-steady-wins-the-race pace, building up steam, keeping her cool, showing some humor. Kudos to Carla!

In the end, unfortunately, I think Stefan will win if only because he seems tightly wound yet in control.

If you're watching Top Chef, who do you think will win?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Grace: Issue 25

  1. Understanding I will feel better soon, just maybe not on my terms or timetable.
  2. Realizing the benefit of slowing down.
  3. Knowing I can thrive wherever I'm planted.
  4. Making positive changes.
  5. Seeing that what you put out there returns to you, manyfold.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Grace in Small Things: Issue 24

  1. Sunlight bursting into my office
  2. Beads-beads-beads
  3. Interesting New Yorker article on Florida's real estate bust
  4. Chicken Paprikash for dinner
  5. Flight of the Conchords, j'adore.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Grace: Issue 23 (Ode to Eric Ripert)

  1. The way his French accent twists the word "however" into a sexy little pretzel.
  2. The intensity with which he explains what he does - any teacher lacking passion for their profession could learn a thing or two from him.
  3. Those bracelets, which make you notice his talented hands (talented at food preparation!).
  4. The man is drop-dead gorgeous and doesn't act it. (That hair? Those eyes! That look of being completely in control yet somehow humble at the same time?)
  5. That meltingly sly way he has of looking up, or askance, or over his fork and bursting into that perfect smile.
Obviously, I've been watching too much Top Chef. So pardon me while I think about dinner at Le Bernardin... wow, that would be the ultimate for a woman with a silly crush and a penchant for delicious seafood. Ah, one can dream!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Grace in Small Things: Issue 22

[Staying-Home Sick Edition]
  1. Flannel, for the ultimate in cozy
  2. A husband who shovels all the snow when I'm literally under the weather
  3. Fleece blanket to stave off the shills
  4. Hot soup that warms one up from the inside, in spite of the MSG
  5. Trashy TV to keep attention diverted.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Grace in Small Things: Issue 21

  1. The first walk around the neighborhood in weeks (months?)
  2. Acknowledging Spring's imminence with a heretofore unknown neighbor
  3. Learning the name of a fellow walker I'd waved to for years
  4. Also, learning the name of her tiny dog: Phoebe
  5. The bliss of watching the sun set and realizing the days really are getting longer

Rest for the Weary

After last weekend, which aside from the fun with glass, involved four hours of turnpike driving and two 8-hour days of intense creative work, this weekend has been blissfully commitment-free.

Because the Eagles missed the Super Bowl, we're not really even tuning into that.

Plus, I've seemed to have come down with something, and it's sapping my strength and making it hard to get a good night's sleep.

So today is All About Ease (although Mr. Spandrel would argue that every day is all about ease, for me!). Despite this, I am determined to get a few things done. A bit of housecleaning. Some groceries. Think through a few designs for the beads I made last weekend. And just hang with Mr. Spandrel, taking it easy.

But if you're a Pittsburgh or Arizona fan, may the best team win!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Grace in Small Things: issue 20

  1. A cozy little restaurant
  2. The comfort of old stomping grounds
  3. Cathedrals that make the heart soar
  4. Shelter from the cold
  5. An unexpectedly entertaining movie

Friday, January 30, 2009

Grace in Small Things: Issue 19

  1. The number 19.
  2. Pizza-and-beer Fridays.
  3. Unfettered weekend time.
  4. A nice, tight stack of manila folders.
  5. A meeting where high praise was gratefully showered upon us.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Grace: Issue 18

  1. The end of a snow storm.
  2. A freshly shoveled driveway.
  3. Purple alpaca wool.
  4. Big, dorky faux-fur lined boots from Target ($19.99!).
  5. Stash Earl Gray with Bergamot.

And also? Waking up to Abba's "Take a Chance on Me" when the alarm goes off on a snowy day.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Playing with Fire, Day 2

On our second day of Lampwork Beads class, our instructor (the creative and unflinchingly patient Louise Mehaffey) was setting us up for the reveal -- the moment we'd see the beads we'd created the night before, having left them in the kiln overnight to anneal.

Louise had sorted our beads by each person's signature bead color -- for every "real" bead you created, you finished the mandrel with a mini bead in your signature color to mark your work. Mine was green by virtue of where I happened to sit in class. (This was a total accident -- but a happy one since green's my favorite color!)

As she distributed our piles, I was shocked to see about 20 beads had made it through the kiln!

Granted, many were misshapen -- for every halfway round bead I made, there's one that's listing to the side like the Tower of Pisa -- or with odd color combos (yeah, uh, I meant to do that!).

Seeing how the beads turned out was like receiving a bunch of really tiny presents.

That's because partway through making a bead, when the piece you're working on has turned orange from the intense heat and you can't remember what color you'd just applied, sometimes it was a crap shoot in terms of how it would look.

But, getting the hang of melting sticks of glass via torch, winding the molten glass to drip in a controlled manner around a little metal stick, was harder -- yet more exhilarating -- than I'd expected.

And then there's the fact that so many beads end up not making it out of the kiln intact -- we newbies tend to heat our beads way too hot and which can result in all kinds of weird effects in the glass.

Or, if you don't get the bead into the kiln while it's still hot it can crack in the kiln or soon thereafter.

That first day, it became apparent there are a ton of things to think about when doing lampwork.
You basically have to tap into the part of your being that is ambidextrous, because you end up doing different tasks with both hands at the same time.

On Day 2, I made a few favorites over and over, for practice. And in the end, I just may be able to make something from them! (This is just a prototype.)

Although I don't think I'll be rushing out to buy a kiln or a torch anytime soon, I definitely think I'll be renting some studio time sometime soon.

This was just too much fun to not try again!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Playing with Fire, Part I

Day One of my lampworked bead class is over, and it was exhilarating, exhausting and a big-fat creative kick in the pants.

Because if there's one thing I've learned today, other how not to get burned on a 900-degree torch (this from someone with big fear-of-fire issues who hates to even turn on a propane grill), all while the process zings tiny shards of glass everywhere, it's that learning gives me a real jolt!

So much so that I came home and babbled for nearly an hour to Mr Spandrel about the way things are done and how fun it was to give it a whirl.

Although there's still another whole day to go, who knows if this will take hold as a new hobby. But one thing's for sure, it's reminded me of something important:

Sign up for as many classes for interesting things as I can, and keep those creative fires stoked.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Grace: Issue 17

  1. Lost is back on.
  2. I experienced the kindness of strangers today.
  3. Finished a bugger of a project at work (with a few more inspiring projects on the horizon).
  4. Hence, I finally got to leave work before it was dark out.
  5. My lampworked bead class is this weekend. Yay!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Grace: Issue 16

  1. Taking a break.
  2. Taking a snooze.
  3. Taking your time.
  4. Taking it easy.
  5. Taking the scenic route.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Grace: Issue 16

  1. Like-minded friends.
  2. Old connections.
  3. Kindred spirits.
  4. Acquaintances.
  5. Mentors.

It's a New Day in America

He accepts this job at a time when there is no dearth of challenges. Between an economy in crisis and a foreign war that seems never-ending, and untold other landmines awaiting his evaluation, Barack Obama's presidency promises to be an uphill climb.

Expectations projected upon him seem to grow by the minute.

But unlike any other candidate I've ever witnessed in my lifetime, the new leader of the United States of America seems intelligent. Thoughtful. Calm and resolute. And at the same time grounded by a strong heart that values his family above all else.

I love that this country made its voice heard. That we elected this man.

And I am hopeful that President Obama can achieve what he sets out to do.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Grace in Small Things: Issue 15

  1. An unexpected workout via snow shoveling.
  2. Inspiration to bake chocolate chip cookies as the snow fell.
  3. Baked cod with tomatoes, garlic and thyme.
  4. Junior Mints.
  5. Test-driving a couple of guitars, including this one.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Grace in Small Things: Issue 14

  1. The presidential inauguration is on the horizon.
  2. The snowfall was just a dusting.
  3. The temperature is no longer intolerable.
  4. The outing on Monday with my sister's family is shaping up.
  5. The movie last night was very entertaining (although the ending wasn't my favorite).

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Parallel parking in a tight space on the street, just steps away from my haircut in Center City, finding as I get out that there's two full hours already paid on the meter.

Life is good!

Chandler Browne, You Made My Day!

From the New York Times: All of these suggestions for President-Elect Obama are sweet, thoughtful and entirely in keeping with their demographic.

But I really like young Chicagoan Chandler Browne's 10-step program for the president.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Grace: Issue 13

  1. Being on the weekend side of a workaday Friday.
  2. Putting aside a bear of a project for a few hours - only to find I am able to complete myriad other projects during that break (YAY!).
  3. Smiling at my husband and feeling - like a connective thread - that invisible thing that makes him smile back.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Grace: Issue 12

  1. Azaleas

  2. Magnolias

  3. Rhododendron

  4. Hydrangea

  5. Hostas

Grace: Issue 11

  1. A World of Butterflies by Kjell Sandved to redirect one's mind to more tropical climes
  2. Real Simple's comfort food issue - perfect accompaniment for burrowing under the covers on a wintery night
  3. Pink highlighter pens
  4. Invitation to a surprise bridal shower (I adore happy surprises!)
  5. "Another Train," sung in tight harmony by The Poozies.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Grace: Issue 10

  1. While driving to work one morning this week, a car horn beeped beside me -- it was my sister!
  2. I have a dinner with a friend I haven't seen in a while scheduled for Friday.
  3. Just spoke with my Mom today; all is well with everyone.
  4. I have a day off coming soon, and will likely spend at least some of it with another friend, catching up and hearing about her recent vacation.
  5. All my cookie-induced post-Christmas weight seems to be gone.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Grace: Issue 9

Grace to be found in winter:
  1. Homemade vegetable sausage soup
  2. Down coats
  3. Our bedroom is always the warmest place in the house
  4. Crocheting projects that warm your lap as you create
  5. Spring is just a matter of time.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Not what I expected

part 1
On the ground on the sidewalk leading into work?
Swimming goggles.

Part 2
Man walking his bicycle down a suburban street, balancing something on the seat...
As he strides by, I see that it's a hamster in a cage from the pet store.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Grace: Issue 8

  1. A husband who does laundry.
  2. A partly sunny, albeit cold, Sunday.
  3. Coffee that kicks just as it's needed.
  4. Dvorak's Slavonic Dance.
  5. Social commentary aside, the animation skills it took to produce Wall-E.

Glass Bead Making

In a few weeks, I am taking steps forward on my commitment to leading a more creative life: I will take a weekend-long class on glass bead making. And I can't wait!

The class will be led by Louise Mehaffey, one of the bead artists whose work I've admired for a long time. Her creative genius has been featured in all the bead magazines, and she's recently published a book on creating glass beads.

The class will be small, just 8 students.

If I find some time, I will read up a little on the subject so it's not completely foreign to me.

Because I work with words all day long, that approach is part of who I am. I like knowing the language of a project before I learn something entirely new. That way, I can focus more on paying attention to and learning the process involved.

So stay tuned next month for pictures of my progress - who knows? I may have discovered a new obsession.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Grace: Issue 7

  1. Mark Bittman. I like his easy-breezy approach to food and the way he writes about it.
  2. Apple's 3G network, which is saving my sanity while we await a replacement router that got zapped in a rainstorm yesterday.
  3. Teeny tiny iPhone keyboard that either lets me type what I'm thinking, or provides a funny substitute (see "otgar" instead of "other"). Wonder what otgar really means?
  4. The realization that I tend to get along very well with others who also happen to wear Skagen watches.
  5. The last of the Christmas fudge my neighbor bestowed on us.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Grace in Small Things: Issue 6

I promise, this won't be all I write about from now on. But since January 1, I've been so busy I can't even stop to think. But for now here we go:

  1. Making unexpected connections with like-minded people.
  2. Experiencing an "a-ha!" moment.
  3. Realizing I really did manage to do more with friends in 2008.
  4. Getting off the phone with a friend who is so utterly calm, just five minutes of conversation with her managed to lower my blood pressure during an especially hectic day.
  5. The act of making tea.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Grace in Small Things: Issue 5

  1. Waking up to "You Only Get What You Give," a favorite old song by the New Radicals, soon after the alarm went off this morning.
  2. Crocheting a scarf out of forgotten yarn I unearthed from my junk room.
  3. Knowing a cobbler who fixes up boots like new.
  4. Cinnamon buns from the bakery around the corner.
  5. The anticipation of a new electric toothbrush during its first 12-hour charge.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Grace in Small Things: Issue 4

1. Hot soup on cold days.
2. Basil leaves -- an unexpected whiff of summer in January.
3. Having my sister live nearby.
4. Cozy sweaters.
5. Bagels and lox on a lazy Sunday morning, the sun streaming through the windows.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Grace in Small Things: Issue 3

  1. Pre-bedtime Sudoku, a soothing salve for my disorderly brain.
  2. Crisp, fresh sheets.
  3. Lambswool-lined slippers.
  4. Soft, colorful pajamas.
  5. That ultra-refreshing moment - and sense of achievement, after many fitful nights - upon waking from a deep sleep.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Grace: Issue 2

1. Sun breaking through the clouds after a snow squall
2. Beating a deadline
3. Finding a brand-new Moleskine in the bottom of an old handbag
4. An unexpectedly good candid snapshot of my niece and nephew
5. Cookies.

Full of Grace: Issue 1

During 2009, to pre-empt any insta-negativity that creeps into my thoughts, I am going to participate in this. Because there is always grace to be found in the small things.

So... hello. And welcome to the first issue. Among the small things I am grateful for:

1. Being unexpectedly impressed by Vanity Fair's Tina Fey profile.
2. My husband's sense of humor and perspective.
3. Laughing with my sister.
4. Finally seeing the wood of my desk, instead of paper piles.
5. Kashi Heart-to-Heart Cereal.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Brunch at Norma's

This trip to New York was mainly to visit with my friend from college, who married a wonderful man from a foreign country, where they returned to live. She was back in the U.S. on holiday and I was thrilled she had a day to spend roaming the city with me.

Although she's very happy with her husband, her adopted homeland doesn't know from brunch.

In the weeks leading up to the visit, we planned on brunching at Sarabeth's, purveyor of lovely jams and over-the-top omelets. I'd never been there for brunch, but heard good things.

Unfortunately, they take no reservations. And the legendary wait for a Sarabeth's brunch on a Saturday when the city is filled with tourists can take an hour or more. At first, we figured it would be time well-spent, whiling away the hour as we caught up on each other's lives.

But in the days leading up to that Saturday, it was clear the weather was not going to cooperate. Who wanted to wait outside in 20-degree temps with wind and potentially sleet?

Not me.

So I browsed and spotted a reservation at Norma's in Le Parker Meridien hotel. Perfect!

We arrived breathless and starving, having first tried the main entrance, only to find that it was closed for two days! So we had to unexpectedly scurry around the entire block to get in another door.

Luckily, our table was still safe - this despite dire warnings in the reservation confirmation email that if we were more than 10 minutes behind schedule, they'd charge my credit card a cancellation fee of 50 bucks and turn the seats over to the huddled walk-ins waiting to eat.

My friend ordered the Artychoked Benedict -- poached eggs over artichoke hearts with a truffled sauce. On a day when we were struggling against the wind and sleet to get around, the richness was a welcome comfort.

At the same time, my Very Berry Brioche French Toast arrived... topped with a fuchsia-colored orchid blossom.

Two thick slices of tender brioche French toast smothered in syrupy stewed berries -- strawberries, blueberries and the like. While it did not arrive hot, it did remain delicious, and it looked exactly like the snap I found later on their website:

And the decadently priced, $9 bottomless glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice - AKA Sunshine in a Pilsner?

If, like me, you enjoy orange juice, it was totally, justifiably worth the expense. Felt like a Vitamin C jolt and tasted like the perfect combo of tangerine and super-sweet oranges, with just enough pulp for authenticity.

Looking back at that Norma's visit, I realize that was the start of the holiday season for me - a holiday season full of chocolates and homemade butter cookies that I ate by the dozen. A holiday season that officially ends tonight.

Happy New Year to all: I wish you a fun, happy and healthy 2009, spent with people you enjoy.