Friday, July 31, 2009


You’d think that after two semesters of school I’d have reconciled myself to what I’m giving up as well as what I’m gaining. In reflecting more on what I wrote yesterday, I realized that part of my frustration rests squarely on my shoulders. I love being in school now and am excited that I’m learning a lot and setting myself up for new opportunities down the road. But it means some less wonderful things, too: it’s harder than ever visit friends out of town. I’ve now completed two semesters and did the same thing both times; I felt so busy during the term that I promised everyone I know a visit once I had a break. This August I’m going to Massachusetts to see my sister, the Berkshires to see Rena, and Vermont to see some old friends and meet one of Todd’s oldest friends. Broken promises include a visit to Colorado to see Laura and Nate and meet baby Piper and a visit to London to see Tina. I wish I could come in the fall instead, but I know once my semester starts up again the opportunity to travel will disappear.

And I’ve talked a lot lately about being a little sick of New York and wanting to get out of here, and I think some of that has to do with school, too. Ironically, I have to stay in New York during this program, but it’s also the time when I can least enjoy the city. There just isn’t the time to see Broadway shows, visit galleries, lounge in the park, etc.

All that said, a lot of this is just the sad circumstance in living in a city abandoned by my peeps. A couple of weeks ago, Todd and I met up by his office, which is near Madison Square Park. We wanted to get a drink and after walking a few blocks south found ourselves at the one and only No Idea Bar. We went in, mostly to indulge my nostalgia. The place was completely the same, except that now the music seemed way too loud. I suspect that says more about how I’ve changed than how the bar has. It took me back to our weekly gatherings and the days when I really had a circle of friends in New York. This was around the same time a group of us all went to the movies together; I think we saw The Talented Mr. Ripley. Outside the theater after the movie we all pulled out our cell phones and Michael said something like, “Who was going to call you? Everyone you know is right here at the movies with you.” Those days of having all my friends together in one place are long gone.

Todd got word the other night that another of his friends is now leaving the city, too. I am meeting new people and making new friends at school, and maybe at some point those still new friendships will solidify to the same extent as my other friendships. For now, though, I’ll continue to miss you guys and days when visits didn’t require so much planning.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

NYC: Ghost Town

One of the reasons New York has ceased to be the cat's pajamas for me is that so many of my friends are no longer here. Your cross-country scatter is great when I'm looking for a get-away in the mountains, by the sea, in another city, or in a small town. It's not so great when I want a spontaneous brunch on a Sunday morning.

I can now count Columbus, Ohio as another place where I have an ex-New Yorker friend. On Saturday, Anne will be U-Hauling on out of the city and into a three-year stint in the state that's tall in the middle and round on both ends. I know everyone is making the choices that are best for them individually, but cumulatively, it's more than a little sad.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Just to give you all a better sense where I was coming from in terms of my cake decorating expectations, here are a few of the birthday cakes my mom made for my sisters and me as we were growing up. I think one must have been for my dad, too... I don't remember getting a playboy bunny cake in elementary school! Anyway, you can now see that my attempts paled in comparison.

Monday, July 27, 2009


You could say that yesterday was spent in rehearsal mode for Have the Cake. Today is Sofia’s birthday, and with Todd’s help I whipped up about 50 cupcakes and a cake. The experience was not quite as smooth as I would have hoped:

The first six vanilla cupcakes look like exactly what they are because I forgot to add the food coloring to make them pink. After adding the coloring for the rest, the batter looked pinkalicious, but when the finished products came out of the oven they were back to their original vanilla appearance again. I didn’t break one open to see if it was pink inside, so I’m just hoping they are.

I had grand plans for all the fancy-pants ways I was going to decorate everything, but hit a couple of roadblocks. I made homemade icing using a recipe I’ve never worked with before and learned rather quickly that there was a small window of opportunity where the icing was soft enough to actually squeeze out of the piping bag but not so soft that it instantly became an ugly, messy blob. Also, in a perfect you-get-what-you-pay-for life lesson, it turns out my Target-purchased, four-dollar cake decorating kit was a nightmare. The bags that came with the kit were impossible to use, and Todd had to make an emergency run to the corner store for some gallon ziplock bags so we could get all Martha Stewart on its ass and improvise a work around.

In the midst of this I decided that five year olds don’t care about how lovely a cupcake is to behold as long as there is plenty of sugar involved. So many of the camp-bound cupcakes are simply slathered with icing and topped with sprinkles. I suspect this will go over just fine.

Sofia and Dylan were at our place when it came time to decorate the cake, and Sofia joined in to help. I knew it would be more fun with her involved, and in some ways it took the pressure off. On my own, I’d have tried to create a beautiful, sassy yet sophisticated cake, and I probably would never have been satisfied with what I created. Once she began art directing, though, my vision went out the window, and the final product has, well, let’s call it a five-year-old sensibility. There’s a lot happening, and Sofia was creative enough to think of a way to use just about every last drop of icing. I was ready to quit several elements before we did, but she felt that as long as there was icing in the piping bag we had an obligation to find a place for it on the cake. You won’t find this design in any bakeries, but she seemed happy and that’s what it’s all about.

Growing up, my Mom made some of the most amazing birthday cakes I’ve ever seen. Working at Ben & Jerry’s in high school I became a pretty good cake decorator in my own right. I went into this thinking that I’d do great: it was in my genes, and I have experience, after all. I learned quickly that I’m missing some key tools that would make it much easier, and I’m quite out of practice.

One of the prettier cupcakes

Cupcakes as far as the eye can see

Sofia's birthday cake

My apprentice with her creation

Sunday, July 26, 2009


Tori: Hey, guess what? This place gives Columbia students a 10% discount!

Todd: Cool. So something that costs $8.00 really only costs $7.00.

Tori: No. Something that costs $10.00 only costs us $9.00.

Todd: Oh. Right. I guess it's obvious I don't go to Columbia.

Friday, July 24, 2009

His Dark Materials

For many years, I distinguished my reading and viewing habits from those of my sisters with the notion that if something had a dragon on the cover, I wasn’t interested. In my family, it was shorthand to acknowledge that, unlike Shannon and Veronica, I wasn’t interested in wizards, time travel, outer space, or elves and goblins. Then I had to amend my shorthand to something along the lines of, not interested if it’s about dragons...unless it’s Harry Potter. Fast forward a few years, and I count The Time Traveler’s Wife among my favorite books and Battlestar Galactica among the very best TV shows I’ve ever watched. It took a long time, but I finally found enough quality in the fantasy/sci fi genres to help me accept that, like every genre, there is some great material out there along with a bunch of junk, that a good story will always be compelling, and that it’s possible to care about believable characters even if they fight aliens (or cylons). I’m still picky about these genres, and I don’t understand the inclination of fantasy authors to give all their characters really weird names; then again, I don’t understand the Hollywood trend to do the same, and I still read Entertainment Weekly.

All this is by way of introduction to say that I finished the final book in the His Dark Materials trilogy last night. I loved all three books: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. Author Philip Pullman first introduces to our heroine, Lyra, and her almost-but-not-quite-like-our-world world in the first book. Each of the subsequent books pull out farther and farther until we’re no longer ensconced in Lyra’s world but in story that is truly universal. I loved the characters from Lyra and Will to Lee Scorseby to Iorkek Byrinson to Serrafina Pekkala. I even loved — as characters at least — Mrs. Coulter and her golden monkey.

Pullman can be a bit heavy with the exposition, especially at the beginning of each book, which I can imagine initially turning off some readers. Since the books are officially intended as YA novels, the heavy exposition could be particularly troublesome, but it’s worth pushing through those pages of set up. The books provide a lot of big questions to ruminate on. If you’re just in it for the entertainment, there is plenty of that, too.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Three Credits Closer

As of 9:00 p.m. last night, I am three credits closer to finishing my degree. That means I’m exactly one quarter of the way through the program.

This class, Positioning, was my favorite of the three I’ve taken so far, which made it a lot easier to dedicate a good chunk of my summer to it. And we ended on a high note. Because the summer term is condensed, our last two weeks have been very intense. We each did a big fat presentation last night about how to bring more visitors to New York City, and I was proud of how my group did and what we put together. I liked the people I teamed with (not something you can always say about working groups), and the rest of the people in the class were all great, too. There was a feeling of camaraderie, and everyone (save the one sad sack in the group) went out for drinks together after class. Our professor and TA even came. And our professor even bought a round! It was a really fun way to end the semester and was a nice reminder that there are a lot of personal/social benefits to this adventure as well as academic/professional ones.

As good as it was, I’m glad that it’s said and done now. I have six solid weeks of no school, and I’m planning to appreciate the free time. Bring on the novels, dinners with friends, and weekend getaways!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bake One, Bake All

Hello, fellow cake lovers. My friend Rena has started a monthly baking club titled “Have the Cake.” I’ve joined, and you should, too.

Each month, one person from the group picks a recipe (something they’ve never tried before) for a cake, cookie, cracker, pie, bar, biscuit, brownie, etc. for the group to try. Individual bakers are encouraged to make it their own and put their own spin on it however they’d like. Since I’d prefer to not blow up like Violet Beauregarde, my spin will be trying all those low-fat tricks like using apple sauce instead of oil. To that end, if anyone knows other low-fat tricks, please send them my way. :)

Each person has the entire month to try the recipe. Once done, bakers should post photos and thoughts on their baking experience on their blog and cross post them on Have the Cake. If you don’t have your own blog, posting only on Have the Cake is fine, too.

I know a lot of you are bakers in your own right, and it’d be fun to share this experience. Leave a comment here or email me directly if you’d like to join in the pastry fun.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Loving Seeing Shannon

Shannon had a performance this past weekend at a show up in Connecticut, and since NYC is just a hop, skip, and a jump away, I was lucky enough to get some time with her, too. We had a fabulous dinner at Tartine in the village with Todd and a friend, and then the four of us visited Fat Cat, a bar downtown that I love. Todd discovered it a while ago, but this was my first time there. The subterranean bar is large and filled with all manner of games. Booths at the front have chess and scrabble; further back are pool tables, ping pong tables, a table version of bocce ball, and more. We staked out a spot at an open foosball table, where Shannon and I quickly proved that enthusiasm for the game is not synonymous with talent. Luckily we were mostly in it for the fun and not the competition. Oh, and this bar also has live jazz. I loved it.

The next day Shannon and I indulged in a bagel breakfast at Absolute (Virginia apparently only offers Dunkin’ Donuts bagels and the like, which is not the same as a proper New York bagel), did a Wii workout, lunched with Todd, and then wandered the city looking at bric-a-brac, beautiful dresses we couldn’t afford, and books we had no time to read (my currently to-be-read pile hovers around 80 books).

We feasted on home made vegetarian chili that night while watching Man Vs. Food, a show all about a normal guy who tries to eat a LOT and which instantly made me feel better about my big bowl of chili. After that, Shannon, Dylan, and I were off to Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. I’ll post a full write-up of my thoughts on the movie soon, but will say now that I’d like to reread the latter half of the series. Books one through four I’ve read multiple times each and know very well. Five, six, and seven are less embedded in my memory, though, and deserve a reread. Of course, see above for the size of my to-be-read pile, and you can imagine how soon that will happen!

Shannon was off early on Saturday morning for Connecticut, but I did get a few more hours with her last night when she passed through NYC again before heading back below the Mason-Dixon line.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Kevin Sucks

But luckily Lionel Shriver’s book, We Need To Talk About Kevin, doesn’t. Despite a very after school special–sounding title, this is a powerful book that really deserves to be read. However, please, please don’t read it if you’re pregnant or trying to start a family. I cannot say this enough: this is not the book for you.

We know that Kevin comes to no good end from very early on in the book; otherwise the novel follows a chronological trajectory, told through letters Eva, Kevin’s mother, writes to his father. We see Eva and Franklin’s early relationship, Eva’s passion for her business, the way they sidle up to parenthood with a little reluctance and a lot of uncertainty. We see Kevin’s childhood and maturation through Eva’s eyes and share her ambivalence, anger, and, ultimately, terror and sorrow.

Shriver depicts, with heartbreaking believability, the way a marriage can be worn down and how family comes to define the individual. She reminds us how much of life is luck and beyond our control. For the last 50 pages or so I was glued to my seat, unable to look away until everything — awful though it may be — was said and done.

The book isn’t always easy and isn’t for everyone (seriously, pregnant friends—don’t read it!), but, unlike Kevin, it is good.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Getting Out of New York

I have never felt so trapped in Manhattan. I’m still blaming our rainy June for my current level of apathy about life in New York, but the truth remains: I’m a little sick of being here. And I think I might want a car. One of the things I’ve always loved about living in New York City was how unnecessary a car is, but I’m starting to covet one nonetheless. There’s still no need to have one to get around the city itself, but it feels so impossible to get out of the city that I’d like one for the weekends. Rental cars and zip cars in the city are really expensive, and they book up so far in advance that you can forget about anything resembling a spontaneous weekend getaway. And I’m frankly sick of public transportation. I feel guilty saying it, because public transport is good for the environment, but I’m still sick of it. I’m sick of spending half an hour just to get to Penn Station, standing around for another 10 minutes waiting to find out what track I’m on, feeling like herded cattle as I and a zillion other people shuffle onto the platform, and then listening to someone’s cell phone conversation for the length of the trip.

The problem, of course, is that like everything else, cars are more expensive in New York than they are anywhere else. Unless I want to spend half my life looking for parking, I need to account for an expensive parking spot in a garage somewhere, which just makes the cost of the car that much more outrageous. I haven’t compared the cost of insurance in the city with that of other locations, but I can just imagine that it’s a lot, lot more, too.

I know I’m not leaving New York. Even if I wanted to, there are too many reasons to stay right now. But I’m sick of it anyway.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bruno: C-

Late on Friday night I tweeted/Facebook-status-updated: “Just watched Bruno, and it sucked.”

Since then, I’ve become slightly more appreciative of it—though only slightly. There are several legitimately funny episodes: scary stage parents, adopting foreign babies, and California PR wannabes among them. There’s also an ending that really just needs to be seen to be believed. Unfortunately, many of the best parts appear in the trailers, so you’ve probably already seen them. Also, these funny bits were truly episodic. Any plot (of which there was very little) was simply a series of contrivances to get Bruno to the next ridiculous episode. Upon even the laziest of inspections, the movie makes no sense whatsoever.

And, far more unfortunately, I really couldn’t appreciate the odd funny episode because I was so turned off by the oft repeated joke that essentially made up the rest of the movie: gay guys like things in their butts. Yes, that is genius satirist Sacha Baron Cohen’s gift to us: sodomy joke after sex toy joke after S&M joke. I realize that Cohen’s trying to reflect homophobic America’s assumptions and fears back on us, but I paid a whopping $12.50 (I still can’t believe it costs that much to see a movie in New York, but that’s a different post) wanting to laugh. I have no problem being offended. In fact, I went into Bruno expecting to be offended. But I expected to be surprised and tickled, too, and that didn’t really happen. Repeating the same joke, and an obvious one at that, again and again simply felt lazy.

And, bad news for Sacha Baron Cohen, his schtick isn’t surprising anymore. I admit that seeing him catch people — both famous and not — acting indescribably bad made for some very, very funny moments. But it’s no longer unexpected. Borat was fresh because the wider audience (those who hadn’t seen his TV show) didn’t realize what was coming. Now we can all pretty much see the set up for what it is, making each subsequent payoff one of diminishing returns.

Also, in comparison with Borat, Bruno is simply a less likeable character. Many of the unsuspecting participants in Borat began with optimism and a desire to help this clueless foreigner. It was only when he crossed a line that people balked, and part of the joy was in watching that transformation. Bruno is unlikeable to me as a viewer and to most of the people whose paths he cross in the movie. There is no transformation in Bruno, just Bruno being an ass, people acting embarrassingly stupid, a something-up-your-butt joke, repeat.

I had high hopes for Bruno, so it’s really too bad that I can’t say kinder things about it. My best recommendation is to wait for the DVD and then fast forward through to the good stuff.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Obama: An ass man?

Just how ridiculous is our media? There's now a full blown news story about whether or not Obama was checking out a woman's ass.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Weekend Update

Todd and I are off to see Bruno tonight. I suspect it will be hilarious and offensive, much like Borat. That magical blend is Sacha Baron Cohen’s specialty, and given the clips I’ve seen it seems like he holds nothing back. The rest of the weekend will be a mix of fun and work. I have a draft written of my final solo assignment for the semester, due Tuesday, though I should probably go through it again and see where I can strengthen it. I also have some reading and a group meeting on Sunday for my final presentation. The final is all about how to market New York City, so if anyone has strong feelings about what makes you come here for a visit, please let me know.

In between all of that brain activity, Todd and I are meeting up with friends for brunch tomorrow and dinner tomorrow night. It’ll be a day all about food! If the weather holds out, we might make the evening meal a picnic in the park, which would be lovely. I haven’t had a picnic since April when I joined my college friends for a mini reunion in Sheep Meadow.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


I feel like it’s been a baby-centric couple of days. First of all, many and huge congratulations to Laura and Nate! I cannot wait to see more pictures of Piper and the whole family, and I’m even more excited to see you guys in person again (whenever that will be, I do not know).

Home last weekend, I got to see Caryn and her family, too. Joey is growing faster than I can stand, but that’s the way of babies and toddlers, I guess. She’s such a happy girl that it was so fun to be around her: lots of giggles and spinning around, not to mention a surprising amount of talking for someone who is not yet two. And it’s hard to believe that in only two months, Caryn and Larry will be welcoming a second baby into their home!

Then last night I had a dream that I was pregnant! I know I’m not, but all the recent baby excitement was apparently enough for my subconscious to get in on the action, too.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Frozen River

If you followed any of the Oscar chatter this spring, you might have heard about a little movie called Frozen River. It didn’t seem to garner much of an audience in the theaters, but I’m here to tell you that it’s 100% worth a viewing now that it’s out on DVD.

Set in up-upstate New York on the Canadian border, the movie focuses on two down-on-their luck women: one is a widowed Mohawk, estranged from her young son. The other is a white woman with an MIA gambling addict for a husband and two sons to take care of. Both struggle just to keep hold on their hard lives and modest dreams.

Through a chance encounter and shared desperation, they begin to smuggle illegal aliens over the US border through Mohawk territory. The runs include risky drives across an iced-over river, dealings with unsavory people, and the obvious criminal activity. The lure of easy money keeps them going, despite all the reasons to stop.

There is a quiet but powerful undercurrent of tension throughout the movie that kept me simultaneously rapt and anxious. The performances, especially Melissa Leo’s, are extraordinary.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

4th of July Plans

Is everyone ready for Independence Day? Are barbeques primed and ready to go? Sparklers purchased?

I’m abstaining from most of the July 4th traditions this year and heading home to see my Mom for the weekend instead. Fireworks are ok, but in between bursts of color I always start wondering about all the debris and smoke and environmental damage. If I ever did the research, I’d probably find that in the grander scheme of things, there are a lot of bigger environmental issues to worry about. Still, for some reason it always pops into my head during fireworks displays.

So I’ll skip that and instead Mom and I will do a little shopping (I’m looking for some versatile, comfortable, work-appropriate dresses), get our toes prettified with a pedicure, and catch up. I haven’t been home since Christmas, mostly because school started in January and it took me a while to find a balance and some time. Homework is light this week, though, and I’m looking forward to a little time away. Add in a Saturday brunch with Caryn, and it gets even better.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Real Simple = Real Stupid

If any one out there is considering getting a Real Simple subscription, I have two words for you: good luck.

In a desire for domesticity back when Todd and I were planning to move in together, I ordered a subscription to Martha Stewart Living and Real Simple. I imagined all the wonderful things I’d cook, the ways I’d keep us organized, and the lovely touches I’d add to our joint home. Martha started coming as expected, and I promptly began flipping through the magazine and not doing anything in them. :)

Real Simple, on the other hand, was a bit more complicated. They say to give 8 to 12 weeks for the first issue to arrive, so I didn’t worry when at first that nothing was arriving. Then, oddly, an unmarked empty duffel bag arrived for us from Real Simple. It’s not branded, there was no note, and the only reason I even know that it was from them was because of the return address on the envelope. So weird. But, I thought to myself, at least I know they have my address.

Another month went by, and I finally emailed them with the details of my order requesting an update. It had now been four full months and I’d gotten no magazine. I received a curt note back telling me to chill, and that they had just gotten my order in May (I actually placed the order in February). Still, I was happy when an issue finally showed up a week or two after that exchange.

Today, I got another email from Real Simple. Here’s what it said:


We know you're busy, which is why we created Real Simple: to help on-the-go people like you find faster, easier solutions to life's everyday tasks. We appreciated having you as a Real Simple subscriber and we want another chance. We've arranged for you to receive a special offer:

Act today, let this be the last month that you miss out on our:

* Delicious recipes tips for any occasion -- from weeknight meals to holiday gatherings
* Stylish, practical ways to organize and beautify your home
* Inspiring solutions to help you look and feel your best
* Clever ways to make the most of your money

Come back to Real Simple today!


Carrie Goldin
VP of Consumer Marketing, Real Simple

P.S. As a special bonus, you'll receive our signature Getting Organized guide, FREE with your paid order. Brimming with solutions and strategies to reduce life's clutter, this 40-page guide is the perfect companion to our magazine.

So my 12 month subscription was over after just one month? What? I emailed them back, told the whole story, and asked for confirmation that I’d get my remaining 11 issues. I kind of wanted to ask for the special bonus, too, just for my trouble, but I can’t imagine what that kind of request would do to their incredibly useless system, so I restrained.

But seriously, I’ve never had to work this hard for a magazine subscription before in my life. I have real doubts that I’ll get another issue until I call them, send another email, or take more action. It’s really frustrating. I like Real Simple but not this much. And the irony of having to do this much work for something called Real Simple is just not worth it.

(Also, why not work on that mail merge technology so that my name appears in title caps, just like the rest of the message? I mean, everyone knows that these messages are not really personalized, but the weird capitalization makes it stupidly obvious.)