Gwen Bell’s Best of 2009: Place

The Daily Life Text

December 11 The best place. A coffee shop? A pub? A retreat center? A cubicle? A nook?

I really had to think about this one. In the end, I picked the most mundane of places: our current apartment. Back in Chicago, we lived in a huge, drafty 1400-square-foot spot. It was a ton of room and badly put together, and, frankly, I didn’t want to be there. Chicago, I mean. I got to like it by the time we left, but it wasn’t my idea to move there and it took me a good long while to just shut up and live in this terrific city for however long I got to experience it.

It's huge! This room isn't even the bulk of it! (New Year's, '05)
It's huge! This room isn't even the bulk of it!

It was in an awesome, post-Victorian-era greystone that had been gutted and re-done. We liked it, but it had so many elements already built in, like an original sideboard dating from 1912, when the building was built, and pocket doors. High ceilings and poor insulation made the place super-chilly, so we ran the fireplace a lot. Perhaps the thing I hated the most was the fact that it was so big that Jim and I just spread out. Things got lost and hidden, and, with the addition of basement storage just below us, it was a recipe for way too much clutter.

We lived on the first floor, where the front door is, of this house.
We lived on the first floor, where the front door is, of this house.

Also, I had a terrible habit of walking around without either my contacts or glasses in, so I probably didn’t see the clutter part of the time. It was awful.
Before the move to Chicago, we lived in a small place in Croton Falls, New York. It was about 750 square feet. It was Jim’s place; I moved in when my Manhattan roommate got married. It felt tiny, expecially for two people who owned two bicycles apiece and, eventually, a 19-foot kayak. But we loved it. It was Sprocket’s first home.

Our back door was arched and exited onto a massive porch. We loved it. So did Sprocket. (Fuzzy!)
Our back door was arched and exited onto a massive porch. We loved it. So did Sprocket. (Fuzzy!)

Anyway, in May this year we moved from Chicago back to New York State, to White Plains. It’s a weird place. The social divide here feels tremendous at times. But our apartment? I love it. We’re back down to 1100 square feet, and the missing 300 square feet has allowed us to regain some of the efficiency we had when we were living in 750 square feet.
Now, when we’re done cooking, we put things away. We store extra things in the storeroom. We keep most stuff stores away in cabinets. It’s not perfect. But it’s closer to the way we want to function.
Perhaps best of all, this new home was a blank slate. Aside from the obnoxious radiators, which stick out of the wall and reduce the published living space by something like 20 square feet in each room, it had no quirky features whatsoever. So it’s truly become a place that we’ve made our own, and in full partnership.

our couch in Chicago was big enough for three hounds & three people! 98 inches!
our couch in Chicago was big enough for three hounds and three people, all at once. 98 inches!

So this is the place I call home. Really, really and truly. Not “Jim’s place, which I crashed into,” or “our Chicago apartment (we had to move for Jim’s job),” but “our place.” Great things will happen here.
Oh, and there is a spare bedroom and a spare bath, and spare keys. Our friends are always welcome.

I have wanted an Arco lamp forever. it's too big for the room, but whatev.
I have wanted an Arco lamp forever. it's too big for the room, but whatev.
galley kitchen; dining table under bar, funky lighting.
galley kitchen; dining table under bar, funky lighting.
elements of a bedroom: lamp, ratty old bear; books; lint brush; 400-count sheets.
elements of a bedroom: lamp, ratty old bear; books; lint brush; 400-count sheets.
elements of an entryway: a Sprocket and a ShelterBox. Um, yeah.
elements of an entryway: a Sprocket and a ShelterBox. Um, yeah.

Oh, HI THERE!

The Daily Life Text

My goodness, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen you.

You’ll excuse my absence, please…I’ve been holed up, working on my project for National Novel Writing Month. It’s over now, though, and I should really stop neglecting this ‘blog. A lot has happened, and since I’m not really very good about keeping a written journal any more, I must confess to feeling a little bit scared that if I don’t jot something down on these digital pages, one day I’ll wake up and realize that whole chunks of life are missing from my memory. Yikes!

But that won’t happen with November, because really, all I did was write.

The NaNoWriMo experience is fascinating. I learned a lot of things about myself. First and foremost, perhaps, that I write very quickly. This is mostly because I’m very good at letting myself ramble. So maybe it’s not really that I’m a speedy writer; it’s that I generate a lot of text in a short period of time because I’m turning things over in my head, and that translates directly into words on the page. (I have absolutely no doubt that the current 50,000 words I have down now will gradually be whittled down into something not even half the size.)

Second, I learned that I really do love to write.

Third, I learned that I also like the process of a verbal dump first, and then whittling down second. I don’t think this is any real surprise; after all, this is my second time with NaNoWriMo, with much the same results. Also, this is, if I think back to my editing life, the way it’s always been with me.

So there’s another year over. I am deeply grateful to the NaNoWriMo process; I’d informed my critique group that I was going to have a revision of my latest book to them by the first of November, and, after two months or so of doing nothing but working with existing text, it was a sheer pleasure to spend a whole month indulging in logorrhea.

Okay, who’m I kidding? I have been doing other things since since last I saw y’all–I went to a TweetUp at a lovely winebar in Mt. Kisco and met a bunch of great people that might lead to more freelance relationships. I’ve got a new freelance gig that looks like it might be long-term, writing copy for an awesome company. (Yes, that’s my copy you see on the front page.) And there are other things going on. But not exercise, sadly. This time last year, I ran a marathon! (Today is the annual Death Valley marathon, at which I had fully planned to be this time last year. Oh, the best-laid plans…)

I’m still completing my applications to a few MFA programs, but I’m looking forward to several more freelance projects between now and then. I guess, the thing is, although I’ve really enjoyed this freelance lifestyle for the past umpteen years, it’s time to step up my game, either with more challenging, enjoyable freelance projects (I count the work for hipsandcurves.com in that category) or with publication of one of the four manuscripts I have lying around.

Perhaps this is all just year-end ruminating, but I feel like I’m approaching a period of great activity. I’m visiting my friend Jody in her new home in North Carolina in a week; I’ve got several freelance projects immediately on deck that I need to take care of; and the completion of those applications will be the crowning point, I think, of that activity. The Christmas holidays will be here in no time flat and I want to go into them–and come out of them–feeling refreshed, happy, and satisfied.

And no, I’m not thinking about any revisions for my most complete novel to date, even if I’m sitting on top of a bunch of great feedback from my critique group. That is, not until Monday, anyway.

Here are some photos from the three weeks I’ve been away from TheGoodDirt.

parkHere’s the park across the street from us. Sprocket and I poach it every morning. We like it there, although it’s only a 1/3rd mile loop around.

ciprianiHere’s Jen, Anna and me at Cipriani Dolci, where this happened to me, but where, nevertheless, I had a terrific time with my friends.

mejimgrandmasHere are me and Jim and an errant biplane on the shores of Lake Michigan by Grandma’s house in Sheboygan the day after Thanksgiving. I love her house. She’s been living on the same plot of land for all of her 84 years. Pretty cool.

dantreeWe helped Dan shop for a tree after Thanksgiving. It was so nice to see him, even if he was terrifically jet-lagged from his time in Hawaii. Rough life, I say.

bunnyearsOur amazing friends Lisa and Ron hosted a dinner party for us. Lovely! They made pasta that impressed the Italian at the table, and we played a rollicking game of dominoes. (Really? Did I just say that? Yes.) A mis-communication between the photographer (me) and the photographees (them) resulted in the above ridiculous photo.

And now, onto a continuation of my own rough life: Reading, writing, not exercising. Sigh.

Lost: Mo, size large.

The Daily Life Text

Sigh.
I do hate losing my mo. One of my favorite lines to trot out about having chosen writing as a career is that you can find inspiration in whatever you do or say. You wake up every day knowing that something is going to strike you as worthy. Everyone has something to offer you. It’s a very lucky thing, knowing that you’ve got that on your side. Inspiration’s not a problem. It’s motivation that’s the issue, motivation to get up and outside and look for inspiration. You don’t find it in a cubicle, although a good friend mentioned the other day that I am the type of person who would do better in a box, entirely closed up, if I am to really focus. Sigh.
Take today, for instance. We went to bed last night at a reasonable hour and I decided that this week was going to be the week that I get back to being physically fit. Yes, yes, I really have done nothing since Ironman. I did this jog on Monday:
mapgrab
and it took me FOREVER. I ran the loop six times, for a total mileage of 1.8 miles, and it took me 21 minutes. Argh. Speed isn’t really an issue–I’ve become quite pokey since I started distance training, and I’m okay with that–really, really–but what I was really struck by was how much my legs ached on Tuesday.
At any rate, I thought, OK, let’s just get back on the bandwagon, do cardio three days a week this week: Wednesday you’ll do the same loop six more times, maybe 7, do the same thing on Friday. By week two you should be working out six days a week, strength training on the days you don’t run.
Guess what? It’s Wednesday. I have not yet gone for my jog. Later, though, later.
The weekend was strange. Friday night I took Jim to Horsefeathers with Peggy, since he’d never been. We got home kind of late for my 5:15 wake-up call to get to the U.N. in time for U.N.-Rotary Day. It was a nice day representing ShelterBox, but I ran, as predicted, on all six cylinders that day and was totally wasted by the time I got home for dinner with Kate. Still, it was awesome to see her, and nicer still to have yet another friend in our home.
We didn’t take any photos with Kate (why not? why not? morons!), but I’ve been charged with a Flat Stanlina until after Thanksgiving, and she got her photo taken at the U.N.
yi@un
Lucky girl.
I spent all over Sunday on the couch. Totally exhausted. It was a gorgeous day, and I read Wuthering Heights and watched the BBC film version, which was unexpectedly moving.
Anyway. So here I am, flabby and unexercised. In other news, though, I’m finally beginning to wrap my head around finishing my applications for the MFA programs I applied for (really, it’s just sending in manuscripts and essays and things), I wrote close to 3000 words yesterday for NaNoWriMo, I just found out my good friend Jody is going to be Chicago the same time I am over Thanksgiving, and I think I am *this* close to convincing my brother that he needs to come out early for Christmas so we can have some quality time before the holidays take over.
I think I might actually have most of my shopping & making-stuff (I do hate the word “crafting,” don’t you?) done, too, believe it or not. Most of it.
Here’s a gratuitous photo of the United Nations building. I’ve always loved this building. It’s due to be gutted, though, because it’s way out of honking code. Asbestos and everything.
U.N.bldg
I forgot: Flat Stanlina and I had coffee together. She ate most of my egg sandwich, the little so-and-so. coffeeandsandwich
More writing now. Some exercising later. Bleh. I have a horrible hankering, by the way, to be back on Dartmoor. Wannh!
Shelterbox SRT Training 103

Eyeballs in my martini and the woes of a broken camera

The Daily Life Text

My, oh my, oh my.
How time does fly. We’ve done a lot in just a short week. I’ve mentioned our friends Colin, Carli, and Lily before. We went on that incredible Fat Tire Narnia trip with them? Right, anyway, Halloween kicked off a week early for us, as we met the Trues over in Sleepy Hollow for some good graveyard fun. Honestly, it was just us, walking (okay, first driving, ‘cos we weren’t clear on the concept of an unmarked parking lot) through the graveyard, visiting the graves of people more creative, more famous, wealthier than we are. This is where I really regretted not having a camera, since there were actually some really beautiful, very moving monuments to people. But it’s OK. Through the wonder of facebook, i have poached a photo taken by Carli that shows one of our favorites:
gravestone
I can’t remember who it was, but I’m going to have to just go back to the cemetery, maybe in winter, and take a few photos of my own.
There was one family that had some very good, very snarky epitaphs on their stones–one of my favorites said something about the adventure of a bargain.
Anyhow, we wandered through Sleepy Hollow for a bit, seeing with dismay that everything was closed on a Sunday, even brunch places and then we went on to Irvington and had lunch at Geordane’s, after which I promptly left my bag on a bench.
Oh well.
Fortunately, the people of Irvington are very nice folks and when we got home there was a message from the Irvington Police department saying that someone had found my entire bag and that I could pick it up whenever I wanted. People are good. When we returned to Irvington, we spotted this in a shop window:
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I really like the plastic-eyeballs in martini-glass detail:
PA250132
(That’s some innovative garnish.)
The rest of the week was spent inĀ  panicked preparation for our party, to which we were expecting 20, 25 people in our teeny tiny apartment. In the end, it all worked out OK–people hung out on the balcony and largely away from the over-lit kitchen. I tried to take some photos with my broken camera:
DSC00409DSC00411

our neighbor, blake. awesome, nice guy.
our neighbor, blake. awesome, nice guy.

And then I switched to Jim’s camera, which has uber-aggressive flash and does not show the spookiness of our black-lit, scary apartment.

our friend matt the banana.
our friend matt the banana.

PA300135
PA300136PA300139PA300140PA300141
Really, really fun. We had a great time. I, by the way, was the only one who didn’t immediately guess what my friend Tom, who came in the LORD outfit with the FLIES pasted all over him, was. Argh. SO LAME.
I said it before, and I’ll say it again: I have awesome friends. Folks really got into the Halloween concept, and everyone seemed to either be drunk or having a good time. Snort!
And now, the view from my window lately:
DSC00402
In writing news, on Wednesday afternoon I hit a massive glitch in my most recent manuscript, freaked out, and sent in applications to three MFA programs. Why, yes! I am a spazz! Thank you for asking!
At any rate, the day after I’d paid all the application fees and sent away for my transcripts, I fixed the glitch and sent the novel off to my group, and then I had a ridiculously good HopBack beer and felt lighter than I’ve felt in months. I really like this manuscript, and think it has a good chance, but now I’ve got to wait a month until my critique group gets back to me with what they think.
Fortunately, it is now National Novel Writing Month. So this is what I’ll feel like for the rest of the month.
keyboardrage4ov
Also, I went back to the gym for the first time since Ironman. I guess that should read, “I did something with my body for the first time since Ironman,” ‘cos I haven’t been a gym rat in ages.
At any rate, it’s now gorgeous, gorgeous fall, and I can start looking forward to winter pursuits. Yay!
That’s it for now. I need to be better about keeping up this thing. I always feel better after I’ve posted. Lugging too many memories around in my very small brain can’t be good for me.

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.]

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

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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.

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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!

Labor Day shenanigans

The Daily Life Text

The perils of coming home from a long trip abroad on the eve of a long weekend are such: wasted hours sleeping; hours spent half-awake; susceptibility and a remarkable weakness toward the suggestion to drink. Witness last night’s labor-day BBQ at Stuart and Mhairi’s, which involved haggis burgers and a fair amount of single-malt Scotch. This is what happens when you party with the Craigs.
Here is proof:

The haggis burgers are to the right. Wow!!
The haggis burgers are to the right. Wow!!

Here is proof that there were at least five Scotch bottles out. Kara left early. More came out after her departure. We broke a lot of corks and endured the Wrath of Stuart, but I think everything was OK in the end.
I'm not sure what that look is.
I'm not sure what that look is.

We went to the lovely township of Bath, ME on Friday morning, and stayed at the really lovely Fairhaven Inn. Our room, at the top of the stairs, was nice but a little bit stuffy, and if the little perks you expect from a B&B were somewhat minimal (honor system for sodas and bottled water; popcorn microwaved instead of fresh; coffee in the break room instant; powdered creamer for said coffee), well, it was Labor Day weekend and there were only two families staying there. I wonder if it’s any more exciting in the winter. Anyway, breakfast was nice and we had good company in the form of a couple from New Jersey who I hope we’ll see again.
And the light in the mornings at this place was beautiful.
light
We were in Bath to see my old friend Julia get married. It’s been a long road for Jules, and I’m proud of her and of the fact tht our friendship has seen us through so many changes. I never feel like I have to “catch up” with Julia. it’s always like it’s always been. That’s a nice thing. That, and I love Julia’s parents, so it was nice to see them, and her sister Anne as well.
I said somewhere before that all my friends are gorgeous. Proof!
I said somewhere before that all my friends are gorgeous. Proof!

Here are Jim and I, fishbowling. Jim has very long arms. I am clearly in disbelief.
or maybe I am in disbelief at how OLD i look in this photo!
or maybe I am in disbelief at how OLD i look in this photo!

In the sitting room of the B&B we found a relative of Sprocket.
rear
He was not amused.
front
Er. More later. On ShelterBox, yes, yes.

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.
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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!