In the mud

The Daily Life Text

I have read a lot of words these past few days, working on the local paper doing some copy-editing and writing for them, and then reading a working draft for a friend of mine. Busy is good, but the past few weeks have left me with very little inspiration for my own work, or even my essays, which are due in a work or so for the MFA applications.

So here’s a photo dump.

We went home on the 22nd for the hols and spent the night before going back to Claremont with my brother and his fiancee, Laura, making sugar cookies.

They were not the most perfectly shaped things:

Xmas trees, not shrubs.
Xmas trees, not shrubs.

And then we frosted ’em.

finishApparently I enjoyed myself.

pigI also got smacked down for making this cookie, which was, in Laura’s words, “Not your best work, Yi Shun.” Hmph.

To be fair, Laura added the weird white drizzling.
To be fair, Laura added the weird white drizzling.

Then we went home to Squaremont on the 23rd. We went to the Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden, where I’d only been once before. I thought it absolutely gorgeous. There is something really magical about a desert garden and the sheer variety of desert plants.

I've forgotten what this is.
I've forgotten what this is.
This is a manzanita berry shrub. Isn't it gorgeous?
This is a manzanita berry shrub. Isn't it gorgeous?
Winter sage, paired with manzanita berries. Love the contrast!
Winter sage, paired with manzanita berries. Love the contrast!

My town is best known for Mt. Baldy, which serves as our everyday backdrop and has nice bowl skiing when it’s not dusty and dry out. I haven’t been there in years, but the view of it is always in my head.


Adrianna spent the night on Christmas Eve (we banished mom to the living room and Jim, Adri and I cooked). Mom got drunk later. I didn’t get nearly drunk enough.

testing the tonality of her wine glasses.
testing the tonality of her wine glasses.

We had a very active Christmas Day. We all exchanged presents and then we went for a walk in the hills with like, a gazillion other people who all had the same idea.


My parents look like bookend penguins in this photo. adorable. I look like a treetrunk.

And then we picked up Kara and went to Laguna Beach to sample some incredible Japanese food. First we had more exercise in the form of a nice walk along the beach.

I love this photo! Two of my favorite people are smiling!
I love this photo! Two of my favorite people are smiling!

When we finally got back to New York, our friend Dave was happily ensconced in our place awaiting our arrival. Then Dave left and Jody arrived. We spent a lot of time doing this:

sitting on the couch in our PJs, I mean, not picking at split ends.
sitting on the couch in our PJs, I mean, not picking at split ends.

And then there was New Year’s Eve. Alan and Helene came up to a very loud place in White Plains. We ate a lot of food and had some margaritas and then we exited the madness, but not before this photo was taken.

NYE2And then the next day we went to Jen’s for a New Year’s Day party


And I think that’s quite enough photos for today, don’t you think? Meh.

Gwen Bell’s Best of 2009: Word or phrase

The Daily Life Text

December 17: Word or phrase. A word that encapsulates your year. “2009 was _____.”

Yes, please! I know it doesn’t exactly flow. But when I think back over 2009, I specifically remember a post that Lara had up on her site that ended with “Bring it.”

I think that’s such a great phrase. Lara lives in England. She is tall and collected and has terrific posture and is the very epitome of capability. I look upon her life with a certain sense of awe over her many accomplishments. When she says “Bring it,” it sounds cool, like the general challenge to the universe it’s meant to be.

This is Lara. On the other end of the transom, I was ripping my hair out because we couldn't settle on reservations for Ironman. Dyou see how calm she is? Mmhmm.
This is Lara. On the other end of the transom, I was ripping my hair out because we couldn't settle on reservations for Ironman. Dyou see how calm she is? Mmhmm.

I am, in many ways, Lara’s opposite. I leave a trail of things wherever I go. When I unpack, I tend to do it all over the place. I Leave a Mark, as it were. I am messy. When you picture me saying “Bring it,” you must picture me with strands of hair poking out everywhere, quite possibly standing amidst a pile of papers, out of breath from exertion and somewhat red-faced from whatever mess I’ve just created. I look wild-eyed, a little frenetic, even. I have probably preceded “Bring it!” with a dopey-sounding “Hunh? What’d you say?”

Yes, this is me, almost all the time. "Hunh? Wha? Oh!"
Yes, this is me, almost all the time. "Hunh? Wha? Oh!"

In spite of the general mess that is my life, I got a lot done this year. I did Ironman, and fulfilled a lifelong dream to become part of the worldwide disaster-relief community. We moved back to New York. I did a half-Ironman and bought some great artwork. I made some new friends and reinforced ties with others. I made a fair number of meals for friends and hosted some good parties and drove across the country with my Dad. My brother got engaged. I broke my digital camera and bravely bought another one in a foreign airport. I was nice to a lot of strangers and they were nice back.

Life is good, and wide-open. But I think it’s probably only wide open because I make it a point to live this way. So while “Bring it,” doesn’t exactly fit for me, there is a certain propriety to “Yes, please”:

“Hey, Eesh, wanna come to London to visit?”

“Yes, please.”

“Hey Eesh, wanna do this race with me?”

“Yes, please.”

“Hey, Eesh, you should really, really try some of this esargot.”

These are water snails, not escargot. It's what we eat in Taiwan. Meh!

“Um. Yes, please?”

Indeed. Escargot. I ate them, if only to please my aunt.

If eating snails can make everyone this happy, well, um...Bring It. :D
If eating snails can make everyone this happy, well, um...Bring It. 😀

So there you have it. I’m not cool enough to say “Bring it,” but I’m more than happy to say “Yes, please,” every day of the year. Bring on 2010. I’ll Yes-Please it into the ground.

Gwen Bell’s Best of 2009: Tea

The Daily Life Text

Yes, yes, I’m late again. But some of these things don’t strike me. I don’t have any idea how I should categorize 2009 in a word, although I think I’m beginning to get a feel for the word that would be most appropriate, given the fact that I have fifteen minutes to write this before my next meeting: hectic!

Anyway, more on that later.

My tea for the year is one that I drag out for all special occasions. It’s called Montana Gold, from the Montana Tea and Spice Company.

goldbagI first discovered it sometime in the mid- to late-90s, when I was pondering a move to Bozeman, Montana. Look! Isn’t it pretty?

mt_bozeman04I mean, I literally was going to up and move from my little apartment in Astoria, New York, to a beautiful little pad smack in the middle of town. I went to visit for a week, and loved it. It was where various writer friends from my tenure at Audubon magazine lived, and they were all awesome people and very good to me. I was about to cut ties. I was about to embark on an exciting career as a mountain girl, living in the shadow of the Bridger Mountains, skiing every day of the season and writing about outdoors stuff until it came out of my ears. Maybe I’d learn to telemark! Maybe I’d finally be cool!

Over my week or so in Bozeman, I got very, very drunk with some select people, had a blast, and, when I’d come back to New York after signing the lease for my new Bozeman apartment in the old post office, sat up bolt upright one night and knew that that was not the life for me, at least not yet.

Thing is, I wasn’t that good of a skier, and I was not so enamoured with writing for the outdoors world that I could–or knew how to–make it my career. And, I found myself saying, an awful lot, when interviewing awesome people doing awesome things, “Man, I’d like to try that, instead of writing about it.” Some people are awesome enough to do the double duty, but I was not capable.

But that doesn’t mean that some parts of Bozeman did not worm their ways into my heart. The mountains have imprinted themselves on me. I continue to find wilderness where I can. I aspire, at some point still, to lead the mountain lifestyle, in a little mountain town. And I continue to drink this tea, which I found at the Leaf and Bean in Bozeman, pictured here:

leafnbeanThe tea gets dragged out whenever I am feeling blue. It is a mix of rooibos, cinnamon bark, orange peel, and some other magical stuff, like hope, freedom, and spice. It comes out when a good friend is over and I can foresee a long afternoon chat. It comes out when someone is in need of comfort, or when someone looks particularly joyful and in a mood to celebrate, and usually when I care about someone enough to impress them with something wonderful.


I guess it’s not the best tea of 2009. It’s kind of the best tea I’ve ever had.

Oh, look. It’s the end of the tunnel.

The Daily Life Text

Well, it’s the end of one tunnel, anyway. I believe I am finally fed up with being inactive.

What happened? This:


I mean that quite literally. Over the course of the day yesterday, I ate an entire pizza. I mean that I had a slice of cold pizza for breakfast, two slices for lunch, two slices for dinner–and I think I must have padded the rest of the day–and my waistline–with it.

It was a bizarre, other-worldly experience. I’ve never done such a thing before. I think I might refer to it as a milestone from now on. I’m not sure what I was trying to prove. Suffice it to say that after I had polished off the last piece, at around 9PM last night, I felt quite ill and realized, with some horror, that exactly yesterday a year ago–and about that same time, 6PM PST, I was toasting my first-ever marathon with a well deserved glass of pinot grigio. Sigh.

dv14I mean, crikey! Look at how happy I am! And healthy! Here’s another one, just for nostalgia’s sake:

deathvalleyLookit me, with my dorky little running belt and my loping gait!

Now, I’m not implying that I’ve grown an extra chin, or extra hips (or maybe I have; some photographic evidence speaks to the contrary), but I must confess that it has been an extraordinary experience to see just how little I’ve done since July. It *is* fascinating, however, that I didn’t really miss the activity. I seemed to be perfectly, shockingly happy to Loaf.

Until yesterday, the Day of Galloping-Galooting Gluttony. And then I realized what I miss the most about training. I miss being healthy. I miss knowing that I *can*. Can what? It doesn’t matter. Here follows a short list of things I could do when I was training.

  • Eat whatever
  • Drink, without considering totally useless calories
  • Sleep well, and all through the night
  • Swim two hours at a time
  • Run a half-marathon every weekend
  • Ride 40 miles at the drop of a hat
  • Manage my time better

Heck, back then, I could eat a whole pizza and not take another second to think about what it was doing to my health. ‘Cos back then, then answer was nothing. If I wasn’t eating the pizza to make up for energy burnt during that day’s workout, I was fueling up for the following day’s workout. I hadn’t thought of my activity as adding so much to my life. I only had previously thought of it taking time away. The truth is, I became much more efficient, all the way around, when my time was limited. I was happier. I miss that.

And so, without making too much of a fuss about it, I believe I will go back to being happier, thank you very much.

By the way, here’s a photo of Dan, Audrey, me, Jim, Flat Stanlina, and Sprocket in front of Dan’s Christmas tree. I like to think of it as our alternate family photograph. And…wait a minute. Is that a double-chin I see, hiding behind Flat Stanlina? …


NaNoWriMo, Day Six

The Daily Life Text

…the first three days were brilliant. But then the end of day three came, and I was a good two days ahead, and now I am actually a day and a half back. Awful.

To distract myself I will post some totally writing-unrelated photos. (I tell myself that they are writing-unrelated, but we know better: EVERYTHING is writing-related):

On Wednesday, the day the wheels fell of the bus, Sylvia and I went to Rockefeller Preserve. I thought I’d been there before, but I was wrong. I got that confused with Roosevelt State Park. (Captain of industry, President of the United States…it’s all the same.) We saw some pigs there.


It was a beautiful fall day, and people were out with their horses and things, but it was still really, really quiet. We walked by a lake.


Sprocket pooped a gazillion times. I think this is because it has been quite awhile since we went for a full-on rampage in the woods like that, even if we weren’t trail-running. He was just so excited that…never mind.

Then we had a very nice lunch at Horsefeathers. Sylwia has those photos.

I forgot, though, the day before,  a grey day (and election day, I might add, without any more commentary), I went for a stroll down to the library and got distracted by the local Arts Council, which hosts cool exhibits every once in awhile. It’s in a building that used to be a bank, and they keep the vault wide open so that they can stage exhibits in there. I really like it. Here are a couple photos.


There is something very soothing about the shapes of these doors. And their materials I find to be very pretty.

While I was there, and before I ran into my friend Blake, whose Mom‘s office is in the same building, I spotted some artwork about Taiwan!


The exhibit was about global warming. I believe I will look up the artist and see if I can find the entire work of art, which is not mentioned here. Maybe I will give it to my Dad for Christmas.

Last night, which was Day Five of NanoWriMo and the third day of falling-behind, Jim brought this home:


Yes, it is an enormous bucket of RingPops. Last night was bad. I had eaten a couple handfuls of candy corn, a RingPop, and consumed two pint glasses of grape juice and a pint glass of cola. This is more sugar than I have eaten in one day in, like, years. It was awful. I was jittery and confused, and also, I wondered what Colin would say–he is on a sugar fast until Thanskgiving. What a nut. Of course, I am only jealous because Colin has accepted a position with WaterBox, a company that manufactures innovative water bottles, and there is a pub next to his new office and a ski lift right outside of it. We are not sure if Colin and his family will move. If they do, we will miss them. colinjim

For now, it’s back to Horsefeathers to meet Peggy for dinner. Jim hasn’t been, and I want him to see the beer list. Tomorrow is a full day of ShelterBoxing for me at the U.N., so I need some fuel.

Things I Acquired This Weekend

The Daily Life Text

Head and chest cold
Questionable photographs
New vernacular

HOW does one acquire so many fabulous, varied, tangible and intangible things in the space of one weekend, you ask? The answer is simple: FAT TIRE NARNIA. What *is* Fat Tire Narnia?
Well. Let’s just say that it involves mountain bikes and the never-ending search for good places to ride. Yes, yes, I know I said, particularly after Isabella was stolen, that I really didn’t know if I was going back to mountain biking. i’d invested what I saw as a fair amount of time and never really gotten any better at it, after all. But then, see, Friday afternoon, we crossed the border into Massachusetts, and the leaves were gorgeous and crunchy, and somewhere deep in my physical memory there was a buried a sense of woods, trails, and the curious, fragrant crunch that occurs when you fall off your bike into a pile of soft, welcoming leaves. There was speed, and crisp, cool air, and the joy that comes from being out on your bike in the woods in the deep of the fall. It’s different from riding in the summer, you know. Anyway. Jim and I pulled into Colin and Carli’s house in the early afternoon, and we mucked about Melrose for a bit, getting to know the town. Chris came in later that evening, to a nice seafood dinner at Turner‘s and some nice local microbrews to boot, and then we all called it a night.
The next morning, after some faffing about buying groceries and getting fueled up with coffee and whatnot, we packed our cars and headed off to East Burke, Vermont, home of Kingdom Trails, only to get stuck in a lot of leaf-peeping traffic.
Here is proof of the pretty foliage.
There are no pictures of awful leaf-peepers or the traffic they caused, ‘cos there were’t any when I took this photo. That’s ‘cos I figured out too late that the white screen my camera was showing was indicative of a smashed LCD, rendering my camera useless. So I pointed it around and took random photos of leaves, but it didn’t much feel right (my camera doesn’t have a viewfinder).
I took a bunch more like this:
and then gave up. Sigh. Too bad, because there were some really good times that weekend. Good thing Boyd had a video camera, and Colin is an inveterate shutterbug.
Anyhow, we pulled into East Burke, Vermont at around 3:30 that afternoon, just enough time for the guys to squeeze in a late-afternoon ride, and Carli and I packed up Lily (Colin and Carli’s gorgeous little 3-year-old girl) and Sprocket and went off to the campsite to set up camp, but not before I looked shiftily at the local bike shop and tried to talk myself out of buying a bike right then and there.
At camp, Carli and I encountered several problems: the campground was shaped like a circle with a couple of off-shoots that we didn’t see at first, making finding our site a small adventure; Sprocket kept on trying to explore the greater area; the hammock Colin had thrown into the car at the last minute turned out to be not-a-hammock, the ground was almost too soft, so on, so forth. By the time we got everything set up, it was time to meet the boys back in town for dinner.
I just about made up my mind to get a damned bike when all three boys came rolling across the street on their bikes, covered in mud, faces covered in shit-eating grins the likes of which I’ve never seen, not even on athletes crossing the finish line after a long race. Cos, see, finishing a race is still work. There’s a very different feeling to doing something that you’re just good at, something that doesn’t involve winning, that just involves being out with friends and riding to your skill level.
We ate at the local pub, finding some terrific beers on tap and discovering the crap service that exists in a small town that revolves exclusively around mountain bikers and locals, and then we went back to camp to experience the hell that is starting a fire in damp weather.
I put my Leatherman to good use (also, some handy skills that I picked up from watching Bear Grylls on TV–shut up), shaving wood into teeny tiny bits for tinder and then dumping the entire pile of shavings into the dirt just shy of the fire pit (blame too many micro-brews). At the end of the night, it fell to Jim to save the evening, since he apparently breathes sheer oxygen from his lungs, where the rest of us mere mortals exhale only a shallow mix of useless CO2 and other pointless gasses. At any rate, our dismal fire fell prey to the damp in the air and an eventual rain as we slept that night.

my hero!
my hero!

I woke up feeling groggy and snotty, but rallied enough to drag my arse up to the bathroom and brush my teeth. Sprocket came with me, hellbent on saying hello to whoever was in the bathroom stalls. Good thing mountain bikers have a good sense of humor. When I came back we’d decided on abandoning the oatmeal-in-a-camp-pan breakfast and settled on a hot breakfast somewhere in town, thereby putting me in striking distance of the bike shop again.
I wandered in with our friends, trying to stay casual, loose, but then I found a real steal, and, bolstered by four people who clearly weren’t going to let me out of there without a bike anyway, I walked out with a ride I really like, a new pair of shoes, pedals, and cleats, all for a nice price.
Carli and I left the boys for a ride while we drove Lily into the neighboring towns, hoping to get her to sleep, and then we went back to camp for lunch and then geared up for our own ride.
Colin, Chris, and Jim returned with predictable shit-eating grins again, and we suited up, left Sprocket and Lily with Colin, and proceeded on our own ride.
It was a sheer joy being back on the bike again. There’s nothing really unrideable, even for me, about the trails at Kingdom Trails, and I’m hoping that we’ll go again before the season’s out. I executed one stunning crash on a run that involved some banked berms and chose to peg-leg my way down the rest of the trail, but that’s OK–I’ll get better as time goes on.
The rest of the afternoon’s kind of a blur. Our time on the trails went by in a ridiculous flash, all woods, leaves, laughing, and Carli taking out a small defenseless tree, and then we headed off to dinner in a neighboring town and back to the campsite, where the fire lit successfully and we chatted into the night.
It was a terrific trip. There is something really cool about getting together with people you don’t really know, making that leap into friendship, committing yourself fully to an experiment, only to find a good match all around. Lots of laughs and automatic inside jokes, things that can’t be posted here because they won’t make sense to anyone else.
For Jim, I think it was an extra-sweet trip. We know only a select number of people who can keep up with him on a mountain bike, and while he always enjoys riding with me or our mutual friends, it’s not the same as actively pushing your partners–and being pushed–while still having a great time. Onward and forward, to the next Fat Tire Narnia.

Great beer: Switchback, Trout River, Magic Hat, Flying Dog, Dogfishhead

Great food: Poutine! Poutine! Poutine!!! Powerfood on a plate!!

P.S. Congratulations to Laini Taylor, whose book Lips Touch is a National Book Award finalist.

They do things that they’d never do on Broadway…

The Daily Life Text

I am fighting some kind of wacked-out head and chest cold. It is making my thought process fuzzy, but perhaps that’s more the incredibly long weekend I had.
It started on a Wednesday, you see, with some visits with old friends from college and one much more recently and regularly in touch. With the former I’ve kept in only spotty touch, but the latter’s been on and off, sharing adventures and catching up every once in a while. Really, really nice. Breakfast with one, lunch with the other, and, shock of shocks, when I stepped to have lunch with Kate and spotted her jotting thoughts down in a journal, I became instantly aware that I don’t do this myself anymore, if at all. I carry around a notebook that I use to write, uh, notes in, but I’m nowhere near the pages I used to collect for myself each day, noting down minutiae of thought and occurrence. Oh well. It doesn’t fit my current life, quite possibly because I’m spending much more time at TheGoodDirt.
Anyway. I then went to my favorite airport terminal in the world to catch my afternoon flight to Chicago’s Midway, where I took notice once again of the awesome depth model of Lake Michigan, and, also, noted this:
It’s an enormous bird, made of tiny, tiny aircraft. Here:
But the crowning grace of this work, which hangs suspended from the ceiling at Midway, is the silhouette that the bird casts, which is made of the weights that hold the artwork in place.
Can you make out the silhouette? It’s an airplane. Very, very cool.
Anyway. It was a minor thing to get from Orange Line to Brown line and back home to Dan’s, where I was staying for the night, and where he’d offered to host me and Audrey in an eerie reprise of many, many evenings we’d spent previously at Dan’s house, before Jim and I moved. It felt curiously like nothing had changed, except that I was walking around in a pair of boots that I’d ordinarily never wear to Dan’s house because I know he’s got a loose shoes-off rule in the house, and who wants to deal with mucking around in boots just to take ’em off?
Er. Dinner that night was a casual affair, with pizza from Art of Pizza next door and some glasses of wine, and then it was off to much-needed sleep.
Thursday was breakfast with Kristin, which was really nice, and felt, once again, as if I’d never left; then lunch and an exploration of the Art Institute with cousin John, who’s starting his first semester of law school at Northwestern.
I never tire of the Art Institute, and if I feel as if they’ve done the place a minor disservice with the installation of a new wing that feels kind of ordinary, well, it’s the art that makes the place, anyway.
Took this picture of John and myself in the reflection of the Bean, which makes me laugh every time I look at it.
I zipped up to my old neighborhood, had a quick visit of the Southport stores, and then went to Tabitha‘s place to meet my wonderful, wonderful critique group. Here they are. I can’t believe we’ve been meeting forever and that this is my only photo of them. DSC00327
We took a look at Tabitha’s next work, which is quite good and on its way to being something much, much bigger. I am remiss in not mentioning here that Tabitha has secured an agent for the first work she had us critique, Royal Rose. Needless to say, I am stupid proud of her and equally, stupidly, keep on repeating, in her company, “SQUEEEE! You have an agent!”
Anyway. I’m up next, again. It’s a freak proposition that I’ll have this thing where I want it to be in time for our next meeting.
I went out to meet friends for drinks afterwards, again in my old neighborhood, and had a wicked good time at our old haunt, Gurthrie’s.
Crashed into Dan’s place and woke up for breakfast the next day at the lovely Tre Kroner, where I had terrific Corned Beef Hash and eggs and good coffee, and then it was off to meet Abby for lunch and David for tea and then home for a quick kip on the couch, and then off to Lisa and Ron‘s to meet up with Kristin, Audrey, Bonnie, and Jim for dinner at Babareeba, where they did absolutely right by us and set us up with a nice corner table, two pitchers of sangria, plenty of tapas, and a full round of desserts for a ridiculously small price. The conversation was terrifically good, and I’ve never been prouder to see such different people all at one table.
I often say that I’m proud of my friends, happy to endorse any one of them, but this really took the cake: Conversation never lagged, and yet, all of these people come from different walks of life. Really, really precious, to be sitting among all of the smarts, and know that these brilliant people consider me a friend.
[/End Schmaltz]
Next morning it was off to meet Tab at her place for a conversation on a potential class we’d like to jointly teach, her in Chicago and me here, and bat around ideas in her gorgeous little penthouse office, way in the trees at the top of their home. Sigh.
Then, after lunch with Alexe and Mike and Baby Kai, we were off to Ed and Kathleen’s wedding, which was, ostensibly, the reason for coming into town in the first place.
They were crazy busy, but not too busy that they couldn’t take the time to say hello and look thrilled and point us out to the friends they thought we needed to be in touch with. We love Ed and Kathleen, have I ever said? It’s funny how a scant year of living in the same house can make people fast friends or true enemies. We’re lucky to have stumbled upon the former in many situations, but truly lucky to count Ed and Kathleen as good friends, people we’d expect to hear from if things went pear-shaped, and who’d we’d expect to be able to call on if they went cock-eyed on this end.
Here I find myself all emotionally verklempt over the fact that Chicago is truly a great city, where we had great friends, and must exit for a Kleenex, but not before mentioning that I had breakfast with the very cheery, insightful Bevin the next morning before flying home. Lovely way to cap a really, really great weekend. More later.

Day of Birth, Girls’ Night Out, and the Weekend of Bad Photos and Gorgeous Houses

The Daily Life Text

Oh my, oh my. What a week.

I turned 35 last Tuesday and did it in the company of some good friends, some I hadn’t seen in a year or so. It was a terrific evening: Jody and I saw a movie that a friend produced, and then hopped into a taxi cab to meet up with some old friends.

Girls' Night Out, the reprise
Girls' Night Out, the reprise

We met up at a funny little bar called Three Steps that was very sweet and came with its own hound. [Who’m I kidding? This is not a hound. This is some kind of Roomba creature. I know this because it spent most of the night trolling the floor, looking for bits of the pizza we ordered.]


Shortly after (okay, three hours later) we dragged ourselves to the Campbell Apartment, where this happened:


And this:

DSC00306What’s that? You want to know what’s happening there? I’ll tell ya: Our girl Jen landed herself in a Reuters photo, is what. Jen got laid off on a Monday, made a sign, and ended up all over the newswaves the rest of the week. Way cool. I hope this will help her to land a job soon. She deserves it.

Tuesday and Wednesday were ShelterBox days for me. The CEO of our little NGO was in town, and I accompanied him on a little junket that involved some speaking and socializing and meeting. It’s always nice to get the head honcho’s point of view about the future of the team you volunteer for. Even cooler, Tom’s just won the Alternative Rich List, an award given to honor those whose wealth is measured in terms of what they’ve given to society. Very cool. Over the course of our three days together, we met some people who seemed truly stunned by what we do. Someone even told me that what we do elevates us to the status of angels. I’m not willing to go that far–it’s just a fact of life, isn’t it, that some of us are driven to do this work and others aren’t, and that’s OK. To call me an unearthly being was jarring, to say the least, and humbling, at best.

Couple that with a visit from my girl Jody, newly re-arrived from Boise, and you get a whirlwind three days. It was just the way I like to lead some of my days: hardly room enough to breathe, capping evenings with good company from friends. Wonderful.

On Friday Jim and I went to Rhode Island to visit the Newport Mansions. Here’s one of them, the Elms.


D’you see the massive shadow of the tree taking over the lower half of the photo? That’s a weeping beech. Here’s what it looks like from the inside:

This photo is only one of the reasons I'm calling this entry "Bad photos." People's thumbs; blurred photos; missed subjects...argh.
This photo is only one of the reasons I'm calling this entry "Bad photos." People's thumbs; blurred photos; missed subjects...argh.

Seeing the houses was bittersweet for me. I fully believe–and intend to–have a home as expansive as the ones we saw in Newport, but I’m fully aware that I need to make a lot more money–and have a lot more diligence–before I can have one. I don’t mean to say that I want something that’s 70,000 square feet, with 70 rooms, I just mean that I want something that feels as open, something where all of my friends come and visit and see it as a place to relax and be happy. I’ve written before about this. I won’t bore you with it again, but I will say that I’ve added one more requirement to the list: A big lawn, I think. Croquet is in order!

Jim and I tried–and failed again–at the fishbowl photo. Jim looks increasingly consternated in these things. I think we’d better try another tack. P9190136We spent the later part of the day wandering the grounds of The Elms, and discovered this scary-looking statuary.

P9190133I mean, hello?? This is a lion, attacking an alligator. What does this mean? Let us take a closer look at the struggling alligator. P9190134Why? Also, is it an alligator or a crocodile? If it is an alligator, than the bronze thing above it is a puma or a panther or some sort. If it is a crocodile, the thing is a lion. Because, well, alligators live in Florida. Lions do not live in Florida. I am so confused. Mostly because, well, why would you want to have such a sculpture in your yard??? The other one, on the other side of the yard to preserve symmetry, is a lionness with a dangling limp turkey from her mouth. (Or is it a vulture? ‘Cos, you know…) Ugh.

And then we saw this:

P9190139This is s horse with webbed feet. I know there is some mythological thing going on here, but I am refusing to entertain it, mostly because the faun on the side of the fountain scared me with his wide-open mouth and scary singing technique. Or maybe I was just distracted by the other fountain, with the woman proudly squirting water from her melons. Yes, you read right. Oh, those crazy American industrialists.

Actually, the whole weekend was very interesting. I learned a lot about some very ballsy women, which was cool, women who weren’t exactly happy with their lots in life, despite having tons of money. Alva Vanderbilt Belmont, who kept scullery maids but who was a champion of women’s suffrage, and her daughter, Consuelo, who agreed not at all with her mother’s decorating sense and went on, like her mother, to divorce her first husband. And then there was Gertrude Vanderbilt, who grew up wealthy but who wondered if anyone would ever love her for anything but her money. Tragic, in their own ways. Definitely worth reading up on later.

On Saturday night Jim took me to dinner at the White Horse Tavern.

P9190141It’s rumored that there’s a ghost in here, but I didn’t see him, even after a half-bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. Really nice meal. We’ll come back, if we can.

Here’s one final photo from the weekend, ‘cos I did name this post “Bad Photos,” after all.

P9190146See? All blurry! Argh!

Irvine Hills hillbilly

The Daily Life Text

…No, not really. My little cousin Adrianna is here this week. It’s her first time in New York. I do love showing folks around this place.
Her first full day here, we went down into the city at a reasonably late hour and met Larry for lunch. His office is in one of my favorite buildings in New York, The Chrysler building. It was so nice to see it again, and have an excuse to ride the elevators, and be in all that Art Deco glory. Clearly Adrianna was less enthralled than I was–I mean, most people would be.
Larry loves his family’s family’s history. He’s taken the extra step of letting folks in on it, which is how we got to hear about his grandfather, who lost a leg in the war and spent the rest of his life as a model for war and post-war efforts. This is Larry with a blowup of one of those ads.

Larry's grandpa had a lot more hair than he does.
Larry's grandpa had a lot more hair than he does.

After a quick lunch, Adri and I wandered up to see the U.N., where it was too hot to take photos and I once again admired the architecture (are you getting the idea that this tour is more about me than my guest?) and then we walked over to Fifth Avenue and down it for a skosh before hopping into a cab to meet Anna at Penn Station.
From there we walked down to Chelsea, admiring things in shop windows and searching for frozen yogurt, and then I took them to Brooklyn Industries and we took a bus over to Chelsea Piers for a terrific boat cruise around the lower end of Manhattan, almost up the other side to the Queensboro bridge. I didn’t know this until we got there, but it’s run by the same company that did me and Jim’s goodbye party from New York in 2005 and a Girls’ Night Out event. Love, love, love them.
Here is a nice photo of Adri, me, and Anna.
When did I suddenly acquire those bizarre dimples on my cheeks? Dislike!!
When did I suddenly acquire those bizarre dimples on my cheeks? Dislike!!

Adrianna was a little seasick. Evidence is here, in this photo, and the ensuing six others, that she took of various sights from exactly this viewpoint.
I like how Lady Liberty is falling off the edge of the photo, like she was seasick too.
I like how Lady Liberty is falling off the edge of the photo, like she was seasick too.

From there we walked down the West Side Highway to get to the High Line Park, which was something I’d wanted to show Adrianna anyway, and then we walked over to meet Jim and Denise for dinner at the very nicely appointed Safran. Here’s a photo of Anna and Adri at the High Line.
My friends are ridiculously cute. You can quote me on that.
My friends are ridiculously cute. You can quote me on that.

I just loved this park. I was sorry to have missed the Renegade Cabaret, a thing started by a woman whose apartment overlooked the High Line in its abandoned glory for just about ever. When she realized that people could actually see into her apartment, right up to the laundry she was hanging on her balcony, she invited a friend over, a singer, to belt out a couple of tunes. You only get the tunes if her party lanterns are hanging out. Alas, they were not out, and we did not get our evening concert at the cabaret.
On the way back to Grand Central from the restaurant, however, we did get to see two different musical acts. This one, in an abandoned clothing retailer , was particularly charming. In fact, the fact that we were separated from the music by the glass doors made it sound very ethereal. You had to put your ear to the crack to hear it, and there were several of us, whispering so that we could get the most out of it.
Adrianna was in town by herself yesterday with a classmate of hers, so today will be my second day with her. We’re getting a nice tour of the American Museum of Natural History for an old high-school mate of mine, who’s a librarian there, so we’re both looking forward to that. And then, after dinner with said pal, we’re off to a singer-songwriter friend‘s birthday party. Yay!

The things they ate

The Daily Life Text

During an Ironman, you consume all sorts of high-tech food. Engineered stuff, crafted to hit the sweet spot between high-quality fuel and optimized ease of digestion. If that jargon isn’t enough to make your head spin, well…you should take a look at the labels on some of the stuff I ate.
Here’s the list:
(5) Gus
(2) Trader Joe’s Sweet,  Savory & Tart bars
(2) Cokes
(1) banana, cut into chunks and consumed over different aid stations on the run.
(5) bottles of Gatorade or Powerade
I added up the calorie count…it comes to something like 1900 calories. I don’t know how many calories I burned, but it’s way more than the above list gave me. Either way, I didn’t feel nauseated and I didn’t once feel hungry, so I think I did right by myself for the glacial pace at which I was moving.

No, the real problems came the next day, post-race. We sat down to a celebratory meal with Lara, of brat-and-potatoes, chicken cordon vert for Lara, and Wienerschnitzel, I think, for Jim. Prosecco for Lara and a summery white wine spritzer for me, and we gabbed happily about the race and debriefed each other.

But as I began to wolf down my food, I realized that there was what felt like a massive lump in the back of my mouth, just where my palate met the soft part of my mouth, and it was increasingly painful. I vaguely remembered there being one other such occurrence before, and I remember Jim saying to me then that he had it too, but I couldn’t remember when or why.  I was looking at my plate, wondering if I should mention the fact that I could hardly swallow to my friends and ruin the festive mood, or if I should just glug down the rest of my white wine spritzer and hope that numbed the problem. Too late, though: my friends noticed my slowing down (also, perhaps, the glassy-eyed staring at plate didn’t help, either) and asked with some alarm what happened.

It turns out, this happens after every race during which you’ve eaten pretty much nothing but soft foods. Your body’s in shock, you see, right down to the fact that all of the dehydration, near-starvation, and sugary content over the course of one long day forces the physical reaction of an angry, swollen palate.

All of this is to say that I think my body’s only recently gone back to normal. I couldn’t eat the hashed potatoes that came with my brat that day (too many rough edges); I could hardly eat the fondue we had that night for dinner because the fatty cheese covered nice crusty bread; I was thrilled to find that gelato didn’t offend anything in my system, and that beer cooled my throat. So sad. The next day was better. We went to visit a lovely mountain via funicular train up the side of Mount Pilatus:

Me, Jim, and Marilyn on board the funicular train

and had lunch at the top, which looked like this:

crisp greens
crisp greens

and this!


Point being, there was no way I was going to let that gorgeous food go to waste, even if it was all sharp corners and crunchy things.

I still wasn’t really eating right by the time we got home, although I suspect part of that might have just been general aimlessness and a lack of focus and normal schedule. I think I’m back on track though: I’ve been eating good dinners and semi-good lunches. Had a nice burger at a BBQ with friends on Saturday evening; Friday I had shrimp burritos, but I totally neglected to eat the rice on the side, choosing instead to drink a very large margarita. Come to think of it, I think maybe the fact that the margarita was half-done by the time food arrived may have forced me to not see the rice at all. This is because of another side effect of Ironman training: I am now officially an uber-cheap date.

Anyway, I think I’m finally back to normal. I’m starving all the time and thirsty all the time, so I think my body is telling me that now I need to go back to exercising all the time. Ha! Ha! Ha!

Right. Tomorrow, it’s back to our regularly scheduled reading-and-writing based programming. I have a stack of book reviews floating around in my head that I need to process.