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I went to the Philadelphia Pen show on January 18. I went primarily to do something new: take a calligraphy class. I’m not sure what I expected – an opportunity to see a variety of fountain pens up close, maybe learn a bit more about them, I suppose.

Unless you count an hour’s lesson when I was in the 3rd grade, which I don’t, I’d never taken a calligraphy class. The class was fun, but the venue worked against it: the blowers for the heating system were working hard, and so it was both cold and hard to hear (and the space was a bit large for easy hearing without audio aids). But overall worth the trip in and the price of admission. I’m not sure I’ll pursue it any further (although I might play around some), but I tried it and that was the point.

I also got myself a new fountain pen, so that was also fun 🙂

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This was the first of the 2013 Best Picture Oscar nominees that I saw after I had the (as yet questionable) idea to try to see them all. I went with a friend, who offered me the choice of The Wolf of Wall Street or American Hustle. I chose The Wolf of Wall Street because I thought I’d need the extra prod to see it was nearly 3 hours long and stars Leonardo DiCaprio.

It was clearly an excellent movie and worthy of the Oscar nod, and each scene played as a perfect movie equivalent of a short story. I’m glad that I saw it, but am not so sure that I liked it. First, I think it was far too long. Cutting a few scenes wouldn’t have disrupted the overall story, and I was far too weary of these horrible people about 2/3 of the way through. Second, there was very little relief in the way of sympathetic characters. Something needs to anchor me through the movie and keep me wanting to see more.

Kevin tells me I’m likely to have the same difficulty with American Hustle, so that’s another thing to look forward to.

I haven’t seen enough DiCaprio movies to feel I can really pass judgement, but based on those that I have seen, and the clips that I’ve seen, I have to wonder if he’s capable of playing a character I can sympathize with. He’s clearly very good at what he has done – but has never played anyone that I’d like to spend any time with.

I saw Gravity last year, before the award nomination season, because I’d heard it was good and it seemed to be the sort of movie best seen on the big screen (and it was). I liked it a lot – and was especially interested in how the story unfurled with really only one character. The series of unfortunate events did touch the ceiling of my suspension of disbelief, and I agree with the criticism that the inclusion of the backstory about her daughter was clumsy and unnecessary (it strikes me now, long after the viewing, that it would have been a hell of a lot more interesting if her motivation and drive to survive was a mystery instead of the somewhat trite idea of overcoming loss) but I still liked it a whole lot, and enjoyed the hell out of watching it.

52 New Things

Last year seemed to go by in a blur – and few things stick out in my mind as spectacularly fun or interesting; it felt that there was mostly stress and routine.

It felt like I lost the year because I wasn’t paying attention.

This year I intend to try to make pass more slowly, with more landmarks for interesting things. The way that I intend to do this is to try to do at least 52 new things this year (averaging one a week), and to write at least a little something about each one.

There are some general rules:

1. Not all big things. I haven’t the time or energy (or the budget) to make them all “skydiving”
2. I’m going to limit those that are cooking-related. I think that I’d find that too easy. On the other hand, I need some easy things, so particular projects will be ok, but not simply trying a new recipe.
3. Try to do them once a week. Obviously sticking to this would be hard, and I don’t want to take the fun out of it by making it too structured … but I also don’t want to find myself giving up mid-way through the year because I’ve let myself get too far behind.
4. The write ups can be brief.

Here is a current brainstorm of possibilities:

hot-air ballooning
roast a goose
marbeling
skydiving
see a show in NYC
Go on a date
Hatha Yoga
wine-tasting
See all Academy Award Nominees (for best picture 2013)
Mud Run
Horseback Riding
whitewater rafting
making beer/wine/cider
buy a lottery ticket
cook >1/2 recipes in Whitewater Cafe Cookbook
take a photo with shaped flares
take 5 portrait photos
wear makeup to work >5 days
watch the full extended LOTR
Re-read 5 childhood favorites
Make a Terranium
Supermoon photo
Make myself a queen-sized quilt
Cook a recipe from The French Laundry
Go to The Philly Pen Show and take a Calligraphy class
Write “After I’m Dead” letters
Lucky 13 Party (6/13/14)
Cure egg yolks
Make preserved Lemon
Punkin Chunkin (10/24-26 in DE)
Long Arm Quilting
See >12 movies in the theater
make Fortune cookies
Go to another country
Make Borscht
naturally dye eggs
take a writing class

Loudmouth

My father told me an old joke once – I must have been in grade school or thereabouts and asking him about his martini. It went something like this:

Man enters the bar.

“Give me a dry martini”

“How dry would you like it?”

“Just whisper vermouth over it”

Bartender serves the drink. Man grimaces ….

“Loudmouth”

I have no idea why that joke has stayed with me all these years, but it came to mind when I looked at a recipe I just had to try in Whitewater Cooks, Pure, Simple and Real, a Christmas present from my bother. I’d heard it was a good cookbook – it was originally published in 2005 and is in it’s 18th printing – and had been asking for it for awhile1. It starts with my personal favorite, soups.

The first to catch my eye was Baba’s Borscht. First of all: soup. My memories of borscht are limited to a couple of occasions when my Dad made it – and I think he only made it a couple of times because it was not popular with us kids. Although, that didn’t stop the recurrence of other unpopular dishes, so perhaps it didn’t live up to his and Mom’s expectations either.  The only thing I could remember was the one thing I liked: sour  cream.  This recipe doesn’t call for sour cream, and is the borscht equivalent of a very very very dry martini in the level to which it relies on beets.

I’ve a selective relationship with beets: I adore beet greens, I enjoy pickled beets, I like beet juice, and I like grated raw beets on salads. I do not, however, particularly like cooked beets. I’ll eat them, but I’m still sort of stuck on what to do with all the beets I’d need to support my beet green habit2. This is a recipe for borscht for those who don’t like beets – I’m pretty sure they are only there for color (and as a consequence chose to use the usual red beets instead of the golden beets that were on sale) – and are ultimately discarded after boiling.  This is a tomato-based borscht3.borscht

Borscht!

This is, like the aged eggnog recipe4 one I should have read through more carefully before beginning. I did read it through – just mistook that it makes 12 QUARTS for that it served 12 (really – how many recipes makes 12 QUARTS!!). So in that 12 quarts, there is the boiled off flavor of 2 beets. It’s a slightly difficult recipe in that the recipe itself isn’t entirely clear, and that it’s fiddly because it needs two very large pots to make the 12 QUARTS.

And the results were very tasty, indeed.  I took about half the soup into work – where it vanished pretty quickly in an office filled mainly with people who, ah, don’t focus on their vegetables, so it gets two thumbs up. The downside is that it makes 12 QUARTS and uses two pots – but I’m still not ruling out making it again.  But I am looking forward to the other recipes in the book.

1 I have far too many cookbooks to buy any on my own. I will never outcook them.
2 I try to follow other people when buying beets at the Farmer’s market after once being behind someone who was having the vendor remove the greens for discarding and I got a giant pile of greens for free!
3 I didn’t know there was such a thing either – it’s a much less famous variant
4 Where I didn’t realize how much I was making until I was getting ready to measure out a LITER of bourbon. Tasty. Far, far, far too much.

I knew it had been awhile since I’d blogged. A part of me was chagrinned and disappointed with myself: it’s something I keep circling back to a something that I want to do, yet have been short on the follow-through. Here I am, circling around again for another go around, hoping that this time it will stick.

But I was surprised to find that it had been as long as it had since I was last here. I haven’t posted since early February 2011 (and that post I never got around to posting until earlier this summer).

It’s been more than a year an a half. When I thought about it, I realized I haven’t posted since my life was interrupted by events outside of my control. I’d been under the belief that I was handling it pretty well.

However, because there wasn’t an obvious impact on my life, apparently it didn’t mean that it didn’t have an impact at all.

I’m realizing now, that it’s had a pretty big impact on my life, aside from going a year and a half without writing in this blog. It’s been a year and a half where subtle, and largely unacknowledged coping mechanisms took me away from living my life the way I want to, the way I used to.

And now I want it back.

I want to write in this blog again.
I want to see my life in stories.
I want my life to be FULL of stories.
In short, I want to get back to living, not merely managing.

Here is where I’m beginning what I’m calling my transformation project.

Tattoo

So I finally have a tattoo.

Judging by how many people were surprised that I got a tattoo, I suppose some sort of an explanation is in order. I don’t know that I can really explain why I wanted a tattoo, but I can say with definite certainty that I wanted one. I’ve been interested and thinking about getting a tattoo for over ten years, and decided to use my Dad’s calligraphy of our name before his Lewy Body disease made it impossible for him to do any calligraphy – and asked him to paint it for me.

I didn’t tell him what I wanted it for. I have no idea if he would have approved or disapproved – but I do know that he would not have said anything if he disapproved, so I said nothing. Also, I hadn’t yet fully committed to getting it, meaning mainly that I hadn’t decided where to get it, and I was thinking that it might be something I’d want to do after he died.

I like tattos at the base of the neck – but this tatto was for me, so it didn’t make any sense to put it somewhere where I’d have to contort before a mirror to see it for myself. I liked the idea of the forearm or the ankle, but expected that the ankle was likely to be more painful, being less fleshy (and having no idea what the regular sort of painful was going to be, was not excited to choose a painful location), and both locations are not terribly discreet. They are not brand-it-on-my-forehead statements, but I can forsee situations where I might not want to show it off. And I wasn’t sure if I was going to tell Mom, so that was a factor (and apparently not a great one, as I told her pretty much immediately).

Ultimately I chose my upper thigh – clearly visible in a bathing suit, and certain pairs of shorts, but otherwise invisible

As it turns out, getting it wasn’t really all that painful. It wasn’t pleasant, it wasn’t comfortable, but aside from when she started on a new area, it was mainly just uncomfortable, but easily bearable.

And so far, there are no regrets – not that I was expecting any, else I wouldn’t have done it, but it’s reassuring to be glad I did it.

But I wasn’t expecting what I would feel when I got it.

I now understand why people say it is addictive, and why there are so many heavily tattooed people. It’s an impressively empowering experience, one that I found surprising. It gave me a feeling of finally taking ownership of my body, which seems ridiculous seeing as I was already the one living in it and who had the most control over it. Still, I felt like I at last staked my claim and none can take it from me.

No doubt the feeling will fade, but I’m going to hold onto it while it lasts.