Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Back to the wild

After two days with temperatures in the mid-sixties, the ice block on my balcony finally melted.  Time for the goldfish to move out of my refrigerator

First step was to place the vase inside the pond to allow the
fridge water to equalize with the pond water temperature.
Once the water temperature had equalized, I tipped them out into
the wild blue yonder. They quickly hid on the bottom.

It's amazing how much more room one has in one's fridge when there aren't goldfish living there.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Done deal

Remember that deal that took over my life in December and had me living in a conference room in New York for weeks on end?  Well, I'm happy to say that all the work paid off:  The parties signed last week, and it was publicly announced this morning (click here to read the press release).  Unofficial coverage in the media, which provide some additional color, started trickling in last week (here's a story from Bloomberg).  At the risk of speaking too soon (because who knows what still might happen), I'll say that I'm glad to have been involved in the project -- and even gladder to see it finished!

Sunday, January 27, 2013


Okay, so you know that saying, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all"?  Well, I read that as giving me permission to say whatever I want as long as I say something nice while doing so -- which is why I put all the nice things I had to say about this weekend in my last post. 

Why (WHY!?) is it that every time something was going really well this weekend, there had to be some little plague to take off some of the fun? 

It all started last night at the Brooklyn Rider concert.  As we walked up to the synagogue, I turned to Amy to make sure she had the tickets.  Her response:  What do you mean? I gave you your ticket after I bought it last October!  Me:  Not to worry, let's just have the will-call office give us a reprint.  To which the will-call office said, Oh, yeah, we don't do that.  At which point I tried to be charming -- but actually ended up being kind of Godmothery -- and won.  They let me in without my ticket.  Which should have been great, except that then I was plagued with victor's guilt for the rest of the night.  Gah!

AND THEN . . . today at the ballet.  Amy and I are sitting down in the prime orchestra section; our seats are awesome; the show was awesome; we are awesome -- until a woman who may have been related to the Pillsbury Doughboy sits down next to me, refuses to take off her puffy coat, and proceeds to occupy half my seat.  Seriously folks, what's the point of being skinny enough to fit within the boundaries of my own two armrests if everyone else gets to invade whenever they want?!?  And not only that, but then she starts jabbing me repeatedly with her elbow as she reaches into her coat pocket to get out cough drops (which resulted in her blowing menthol-breath all over me) and then peanut M&Ms (which resulted in her blowing peanut breath all over me).  I kid you not.  I was literally being attacked by a puffy-coated peanut-breathing dragon while Alice danced with the hot caterpillar.  The only way it could have been worse is if she'd been eating Doritos.  It was extremely distressing and I wished more than anything that I'd worn the device that Amanda had given me in penance for after an earlier peanut-breath incident on a bus in Peru.  Sadly, that talisman was at home on my bookshelf.

You're supposed to fill the slotted vial with some
good-smelling thing and then hold it to your nose
when plagued with odors.

FINALLY . . . tonight.  As the dinner party wound down, I offered to give the intern couple a ride home.  A good deed, right?  Right.  And no good deed goes unpunished.  In this case, I needed to move a bag from the back seat of the car into the trunk.  Only instead of just throwing the bag into the trunk and driving off, I threw the bag AND MY KEYS into the trunk -- and then closed the trunk.  Merde.  Of course there's no way to get into the trunk without a key:  my model of Kia doesn't have a separate trunk release, nor can you access the trunk from the interior as you can in most modern cars.  And, natch, my spare car key was in my office downtown, and my office key was in my apartment, and my apartment key was in the trunk, and in any event I was on foot without out a coat in sub-freezing weather more than a mile from the nearest metro stop, and I still had two twentysomethings who needed to get home. 

First things first, I took the twentysomethings back to the house where we'd had dinner and tore our hosts out of bedtime routine with their children so they could give the twentysomethings a ride home instead of me.  Then I summoned a private driver through Uber (thank heavens I hadn't locked my phone in the car, too!) and set off on what I was sure would be a multi-stop wild goose chase.

Fortunately things started getting better from there.  The guy at the front desk in my building handed me a spare key to my apartment without any hassle, and then I discovered (glory be!) that I actually had a second set of spare car keys stashed in my filing cabinet, so I didn't need to go all the way into town after all.  I was able to get back to the car and home without any further adventures.  (And I'm grateful for that, I really am, but sheesh!)

*    *    *

Now I'm sitting here at home, comfortably blogging about the weekend, wondering why all these stupid little annoying things had to happen this weekend.  I mean, it's not like people are dying or there's been an earthquake or anything truly disastrous (knock on wood), but still, it's as if I've been caught by the evil eye or something.  Fortunately I've got evil-eye protection all over my bedspread -- so at least I should make it until morning without further afflictions!

All the happy things

I hope everyone had as good a weekend as I did.  Here are the highlights:


There's nothing like blowing off work on a Saturday afternoon to eat some tasty barbecue with good friends.  My original plan had been to spend the bulk of the day working, trying to get a head start on the week to come.  But then I learned that Jennifer and Jean (two friends from Kennedy Center days), and Sarah (another friend who we met through Jennifer) were going to be lunching in Chinatown, and I just couldn't resist.  We met at Hill Country and spent a couple of hours enjoying the barbecue chicken, brisket and marinated cucumbers while catching up on everyone's lives.  Sadly, the food was gone before I thought to take pictures -- but it wasn't any less delicious!


While I digested my barbecue, I managed to squeeze in another hour of work before heading back to Chinatown for dinner.  This time with Amy (a law school friend), her sister Julie, and Kristy, a friend I meth through Amy and Julie.  We met at Absolute Thai, where I successfully resisted the temptation of all those noodles and ordered a paleo-friendly meal of soup, salmon and vegetables (more on why that matters later). 

Tom Kha Gai
(chicken and mushrooms in spicy coconut milk soup)

Grilled salmon, spicy mango salad, chili-lime sauce


From dinner we walked over to the Historic Synagogue on 6th & I Street to see Brooklyn Rider in concert.  For those who don't pay attention to public radio (I'm such a nerd!), Brooklyn Rider is a Brooklyn-based string quartet that plays everything from classical quartets (they did a fantastic Mendelssohn piece last night) to contemporary works to pieces they commissioned from friends or composed themselves.  They've got a great, vibrant sound; they're very cool -- definitely not your grandfather's string quartet.  (If you're interested, you should check out their YouTube channel and some of the pieces that NPR has done about them.)

I only felt comfortable taking pictures during the talking breaks

The synagogue itself was worth seeing, too.  It was built in the early 1900s and has been well-restored after being rescued from demolition and/or worse (e.g., being turned into a nightclub).  It's still an operating synagogue as well as a popular performance space.

This little friend turned up during intermission

I am a sucker for ballet. And I'm a sucker for Alice in Wonderland. So, not surprisingly, I loved seeing the National Ballet of Canada's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland at the Kennedy Center this afternoon.  I haven't read much of what other people are saying about the production (though there's a good review here and more photos here), but it was exactly what I was hoping for -- and more.  It was playful and magical and scary (the terrifying sausage-making scene in the Duchess's cottage could have been straight out of Sweeney Todd) and oh, so much fun.  Much of it was accessible to even the least experienced audience member -- which led to an enthusiastic and appreciative crowd, always a plus -- but there were also inside jokes, with musical and choreographic references to other ballets and orchestral works (some of which I got; I'm sure I missed a bunch).  There were multi-media integrations, Basil Twist-like puppets, fabulous sets and clever special effects that captured all the shrinking and growing that Alice does throughout her adventures.  And, of course, there was the dancing -- lots of great classical ballet that never seemed to take itself too seriously (there was a healthy contingent of character dancers) and even some tap.  Made me sad when we had to come out of the rabbit hole in the end!


After the ballet I hurried back to Arlington for one of those small-group dinners that the church organizes every few months.  This one was hosted by a couple I hadn't met before -- the guy is my age and a nuclear physicist; his wife takes care of their three rambunctious kids.  Of the other guests, I already knew two (he's a lawyer, she a former teacher), and two were new (recent college grads, both interning out here for the next few months).  Dinner was delicious (spicy chili!) and my contribution (sliced apples with almond butter) was a hit -- the adults loved the almond butter, and the kids polished off the apples like they were candy.  It was fun to get to know some new people; a great way to end the weekend.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

I've got goldfish in my fridge

It's one thing to leave your ornamental goldfish outside overnight when there's a light freeze:  The fish just keep swimming happily under the ice.

I think they're pretending to be killer whales, waiting for a
baby seal to fall through the ice so they can eat it.

It's another thing altogether to leave them outside when the forecast looks like this:

Especially when your fish live in an unheated barrel on an 8th-floor balcony.  I mean, seriously.  A week of sub-freezing temperatures risks turning that thing into a solid ice cube -- and although it may be true that, from a financial perspective, I should be more worried about saving my water lily than the goldfish (the former cost $40; the latter, $0.25 each), I still can't help feeling a little horrified at the thought of finding once-living fish-bodies in said ice cube. 

So into the fridge they go.  That way I don't have to worry about losing counterspace or seeing their little strings of poo, and they don't have to worry about drastic temperature fluctuations between indoors and outdoors.  It's a win-win for everyone.

Think of it as fish tourism:
"Here on the left we have a gallon of milk."

And if I hear any complaining about cramped quarters or how distressing it is to have the light flash on every time I open the door, I'll just show them this photo of their currently very frozen home.

I'm considering inviting some polar bears to live on the ice
during the winter months, since apparently it's all melting up north.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Inauguration Day

Today President Obama was inaugurated to his second term as president of the United States.  Technically he was already sworn in, having officially taken his oath of office yesterday (January 20th being the prescribed Inauguration Day), but since yesterday was a Sunday, all of the public pomp and ceremony happened today. 

Four years ago I spent Inauguration Day at home, watching events unfold online, while gazillions of people froze outside in the below-freezing temperatures.  This year I still had no desire to stand around for hours in the cold (even if it was only in the mid-40s), but I didn't have to worry about that -- instead, this time I was invited to the fancy inaugural reception that my firm (which is located on Pennsylvania Avenue, just a couple of blocks down from the White House) holds for clients and the attorneys who work with them.  We've got a fantastic rooftop terrace with views over the city and, more importantly, the Inaugural Parade route. 

I got to the office early.  I didn't know what the crowd situation on the Metro or in the streets around my office would be like, and in any event I had plenty of billable work to keep me occupied until the party started.  As it turned out, the Metro wasn't any more crowded than during an ordinary rush hour, and the masses downtown hadn't quite materialized when I passed through.

My building is the one on the right.  All of the streets were blocked off, and the tents were the security
checkpoint to access Pennsylvania Avenue and the National Mall.

I went up to my office and worked.  It's nice how productive you can be when you sacrifice a federal holiday to come into the office and work.  As I worked, I listened to CNN's coverage from the Capitol Building and kept an eye on the crowds outside.  As you can see, the crowds were focused on the Mall, leaving Pennsylvania Avenue nearly deserted until after the swearing in.

There was a brief buzz of activity late morning when the presidential motorcade zipped up Pennsylvania from the White House to the Capitol Building.  The motorcade is always surprisingly long, and it always travels surprisingly fast -- which is why I only got a photo of the tail end of the polic escort and not the President's car itself. 

Some people like watching the motorcades because it gives them a sense of witnessing power and Important People.  I actually don't like motorcades at all because, to me, they're the sort of demonstration of power and Important People that puts me in a mood for the French Revolution.  As I watch those shiny black limousines cruise with their massive security detail, forcing everyone else around them to stop and wait, I can't help but think of the absolute power of the monarch and the privilege of the aristocracy, and I understand a little bit why le peuple got so upset.

Fortunately, however, this is the USA, 2013, and not France, 1789, so we did not have a rebellion or cut off anyone's head.  Instead, we were treated to two interminable prayers, some songs from pop-stars, a weird (and boring) poem, a couple of swearings in, and one very good speech from the President.  Then it was over; time for lunch. 

I'd love to say that I ate the delicious lunch that was served at the client reception.  But I can't.  Turns out, these reception-style meal events are pretty tricky when you're wearing Invisalign retainers.  Either you eat with them in, risking an atrocious smile as food particles work their way between the retainers and your teeth, or you unceremoniously rip them out in front of everyone and stand there holding your plate in one hand and your teeth in the other, looking for all the world like some crazy old coot from the Ozarks.  I chose a third option of skipping the food and making my rounds with only a drink in my hand.  Then, once I'd seen everyone I wanted to see, I went down to my office and ate a peanut-butter sandwich at my desk (at least I'd had the foresight to bring food!). 

After lunch the party dispersed to find suitable viewing locations for the parade.  The parade goes right down Pennsylvania from the Capitol to the White House, passing right in front of the firm.  Most of the lawyers who have offices on the Pennsylvania side of the building left the crowded rooftop terrace in favor of their own, less crowded offices. 

I did the same.  Tim, a friend of mine (who also happens to be a client), had come to the party with a couple of additional friends.  I invited them into my office to watch the parade. 

The initial phalanx of police motorcycles.
Followed by several tight marching squadrons in military uniform (I could never tell who was who).
The President and First Lady walked outside their car until literally a block away from us. 
Then they stopped and got back in the car and drove past.  We were all super annoyed.
There they go.
The Vice President did the same thing.
There must have been some pre-arranged deal where they walked from A to B, and we were just past B.
After the Important People drove past, the rest of the parade was just marching bands from random states.
I didn't wait long enough to find out whether all fifty states were represented.
That's Tim, with the band from Ohio in the background.

I'm happy to have been downtown for the inauguration, and I'm happy to have seen the parade.  Can't get more Washingtonian than that!  To be honest, though, it was pretty anti-climactic.  If it hadn't been for Tim and friends, I'd even go so far as to say it was boring and a waste of time. 

Part of the problem is that we're dealing with a second inauguration, which inevitably is less exciting than a first inauguration.  Believe me, four years ago this place was electric with insane positive energy -- it literally felt like Christmas for a week.  Not so this year. 

But also there's my whole French Revolution hang-up (which maybe I should just call cynicism lest I give the French Revolution short shrift).  I just don't buy into the pomp and ceremony of politics and the state in action -- and having devoted the entire day to watching the parade only to see a few black cars and some high school marching bands doesn't exactly help.  Next time I think I'll just stick to listening to the speeches and songs from the comfort of my own living room.


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Planes, paintings and long-lost relatives

Here's a question from the "which Romantic hero(ine) are you" department:  Have you ever moved across the country to where you think you are completely without kindred, only to discover that, in fact, you've got cousins in the neighborhood -- and that you've already met them?  I have.  Turns out that plot point in Jane Eyre wasn't so far fetched after all (though, to be fair, my cousins didn't find me unconscious on the moors or ask me to join them as a missionary in Africa; and I'm still waiting for one of them to tell me that I've inherited a fortune so that I can share it with them while remaining independently wealthy). 
Here's the story: 
My paternal grandmother is a McKay, and there's a branch of the McKay family that lives in Arizona, mostly in the Mesa area, I think.  Because of geography and life, my generation never really got to know this side of the family -- all we knew is that there were a bunch of "Arizona cousins" that everyone liked, and with whom I associated fuzzy childhood memories of busy holiday dinners and scavenging for Indian pottery shards in the desert. 
Fast-forward to last fall.  While I was holed up in my apartment waiting for Hurricane Sandy to blow over, two Arizona cousins -- Joan (my first cousin once removed) and her daughter, Joyce (my second cousin) -- who had apparently seen my cutting edge weather reports, messaged me saying that their son/brother, James, also lives in Arlington and that we should connect.  I looked James up and, lo and behold, discovered that I had actually met him a couple of years earlier in the singles ward I'd attended when I first moved down from New York, and that we currently lived about a mile from each other.  We connected on Facebook and, after juggling conflicting schedules for a couple of months, finally planned to meet up for dinner on the first of February.
In a completely separate track, my dad emailed me a couple of days ago and told me that another Arizona cousin, Kirt, was living in Virginia Beach (he's a Navy pilot), and that he'd given Kirt my contact information.
Next thing I know, it's Saturday morning, I'm on my way to ballet class, and I get a call from an unknown number that turns out to be Kirt -- he's driving up from Virginia Beach to meet James; they're going to the Smithsonian that afternoon and do I want to join them? 
Sure!  Who cares that I'd planned to spend Saturday afternoon running errands and catching up on work projects -- I wasn't about to turn down an opportunity to connect with family.  (How's that for uncharacteristic spontaneity?)  As Kirt finished the three-hour drive, I managed to finish my class and brunch with Amy, run home and change, and then drive over to James's place to meet them. 
Moi, James, Kirt
On the National Mall.
We started out with the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum -- and let me just say that it's a completely different experience when you tour that museum with a Navy pilot!  Normally my eyes glaze over after about half an hour in there, but this time I thoroughly enjoyed Kirt's running commentary on all the flying machines we saw -- his expertise and enthusiasm were way better than any museum docent.

First jet engine to break the sound barrier.
Thanks to Kirt and this display, I now understand
how jet engines work.

Cockpit simulator of an Airbus jet.
Kirt explained what was happening as the simulator
went through take-off and landing.
Monkey in a 1950s space pod.
Apparently the project was abandoned because
the monkey that trained for the mission was from India,
and India views those monkeys as sacred,
so sending a monkey on a perilous mission into space
became a touchy diplomatic issue.

After Air & Space, we ran across the National Mall . . .

pausing briefly for a shot in front of the Capitol Building

. . . and into the National Gallery of Art.  We only had an hour before closing, so we just got the "highlights" map and started running.  Here the roles were reversed -- this was my element and I enjoyed sharing some of what I knew about art history and the individual artists and paintings that we saw (though I also tried to keep it toned down and not be an obnoxious art know-it-all). 

Madame Moitessier (Ingres, 1852)
My single favorite comment of the day came from Kirt when he saw this painting:
"Now there's a woman who has never run a day in her life."

I love how I can be surprised by this museum no matter how many times
I visit.  I used this image of Saint George and the Dragon as my Facebook
profile picture for a long time and had no idea that the original was here.
After finishing our run through the art museum, we walked slowly back to the car, stopping (as one does) for some pains au chocolat at Paul Bakery.  They were delicious on the chilly afternoon, and I was happy to have gotten to know James and Kirt a little better over the course of the afternoon.  It's funny how "family" can bring together three different people like that, out of the blue, and facilitate a connection that might never otherwise have been there.  Kirt will go back to Virginia Beach after the long weekend, and I'm not sure how often he'll be back up here.  James lives here, though, and I'm looking forward to building the acquaintance into friendship, so that "family" will mean more than just a diagram on the family tree.


Good friends, good food, and some very beginning ballet

Remember my little rant last week about friends and flakiness and sitting at home watching movies alone?  Well, I'm happy to say that this weekend went much more smoothly.


Yesterday morning dawned chilly and bright.  I got up early and checked my work email -- a slew of documents had come in overnight that needed attention.  Fortunately, the review was quick and didn't require any follow-up from me.  A good thing, too, since I had planned to meet up with Amy for another ballet class and brunch. 

This was my first drop-in ballet class that since completing missing nearly all of my "Intro to Ballet" class last month.  The couple of classes I did attend paid off, though!  This time, at least, I knew the positions and some of the basic foot movements, which helped me get through the class with marginally less stress and bewilderment than the first time.  (And by marginally less stress, I mean very marginally -- the teacher still exclaimed, upon seeing my shoulders, "You are one stressed out lawyer! Lower these!"  And I had just congratulated myself on how non-stressed I thought I looked in the mirror...)

After class ended Amy and I stopped for brunch at Cafe Deluxe, near the National Cathedral.  It was a cute neighborhood diner with a good basic menu and quick service.

Omelette with feta, spinach and tomatoes;
breakfast potatoes and biscuit


Later that night, I met Nicole for dinner at Mintwood Place.  Nicole is a very good friend who goes all the way back to my days at the Kennedy Center.  In fact, she's the person they hired to replace me when I left for law school.  She's one of the most positive, talented and coolest people I know, and she's had a meteoric career at the Kennedy Center -- in the eight years she's been there, and all by the age of 30, she's done incredibly good work and become one of the top fundraisers at the Kennedy Center.  Sometimes I wonder if I could have done similarly well had I stayed at the Kennedy Center, but then I get sad when I realize that if I'd stayed at the Kennedy Center, Nicole wouldn't have been hired and I would have missed out on a great friendship.

Anyway, it had been several months since Nicole and I last saw each other -- we were both so busy during the fall -- so it was great to be able to catch up on each other's lives (the common theme: we work too much!) and enjoy some delicious food!

Grilled baby octopus with rouille sauce, cheese crisps and asparagus

Cast-iron Amish chicken with green beans, roasted garlic and rosemary

Apple tarte a la mode

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Okay, teeth -- start moving!

Oh man.  What have I gotten myself into?

These may look like retainers,
but right now they feel like a can of worms.
My Invisalign adventure officially began a little over 24 hours ago, so I guess you could say I'm still in the honeymoon phase -- assuming, of course, that by "honeymoon" you mean a period in which you acquire a speech impediment and drool a lot and have to put wax in your mouth to protect your lips from sharp edges.  It turns out that orthodontia is very weird.
For one thing, it seems to be surrounded by all the wrong anxieties.  While I sat in the chair having little nubs attached to my teeth so that the retainers have something to grab onto, the orthodontist kept reassuring me that they weren't going to stab needles into my gums and that "all that drool" would go away once I'd gotten used to having the retainers in my mouth.  But never once did he reassure me that the rule about not taking the retainers out of my mouth for more than 45 minutes at a time had an exception for Michelin-starred tasting menus.
For another thing, it seems age inappropriate.  Seriously.  I feel like I should be either 13 with braces or 86 with dentures.  Though now that I think about it I guess I do plenty of things that would fall stereotypically within those age ranges (like watching Hannah Montana reruns late at night on the Disney channel and writing with fountain pens).  So maybe it's just me that's weird, and not orthodontia.
But, weird or not, I do feel self-conscious.  Smiling and eating and talking all now feel extraordinarily different, and so I assume that everyone else is noticing those differences as much as I am.  Of course, the whole point of getting Invisalign is that they aren't all that noticeable -- indeed, I didn't get any extra attention at all today until I started pointing it out to people ("Okay folks, let's bring this conversation back to me -- notice anything new?") and even then the most anyone said was "oh, I didn't even notice".  What's really interesting, though, is realizing just how much of my self-confidence comes from the fact that I feel like I can flash a good smile and speak well.  To suddenly feel like my smile is diminished, and to hear a lisp that wasn't there before, is a good reminder that maybe what matters is not so much a pretty smile or the glib tongue, but rather the fact that I'm smiling at all and the substance of what I'm saying.  (I know, I know, it's obnoxious to say that when the whole point of this whole thing is to have an even better smile at the end -- but at least I get some grateful lessons for a while.)
In any event, these retainers will be my constant companions for the next few months.  If I remember correctly, there are 16 retainers in the full set, and I'll wear each of them for two weeks.  I like that math.  The original estimate was that I'd need to wear the retainers for a full year.  But assuming no surprises, it now looks like I may be done with them in time to eat a long, retainer-free Thanksgiving dinner! 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The pros and cons of being social

I think I've mentioned before that, in an effort to expand and deepen my friendships, I've adopted the following rule:  Whenever you have a choice between being social and not being social, be social.  This weekend was an interesting study in how that rule can play out.


On Friday night, I went to a reception for Maryam Montague, an American woman who lives in Morocco and has recently published a book on Moroccan design.  (I've been following her blog for some time, and I read her book before my trip to Morocco las year.)  I invited a friend of mine, Danya, who shares an appreciation for all things Moroccan, and we enjoyed meeting Maryam and noshing on hummus and grape leaves. 

On the way out of the reception, Danya said she was going to a book club meeting that was being hosted by a mutual friend and asked if I wanted to come.  At first I felt reluctant -- I wasn't in the book club, hadn't read the book, wasn't expected by the hostess, kind of wanted to go home and sit on the couch.  But sitting on the couch is not social; crashing a book club meeting is.  So I chose the latter.

And it was definitely the right choice.  Amy, the hostess, seemed genuinely delighted to have me join the party, and the other book club members were friendly and welcoming and more than happy to discuss/describe/explain the book with someone who had only read the New Yorker article about the directors of the movie that was based on the book.  We talked for quite a while, both about the book and about other topics, and had a great time.  By the time I left, I felt uplifted and happy and part of a network of friendship that was bigger than just me. 


Last night was basically the opposite.  There was an opening reception at an art gallery downtown, and I had arranged to meet up with a friend to see the art.  But the guy sent a text canceling about an hour ahead of time, saying that he had decided to go to a different party instead. 

I was super annoyed.  One of the things (maybe the thing) I value most in a friendship is reliability.  All of my very closest friends have that quality; I feel like I can rely on them 100% to follow through on whatever they've committed to do -- and I try very hard to be similarly committed and reliable.  So the converse is also true:  Flakiness is one of the things (if not the thing) that annoys me most in a friendship.  It upends plans and grates against my compulsion for control and order.  It demonstrates a lack of consideration and an inability to plan ahead (or at least an inability to manage competing demands in a way that doesn't feel like flakiness).  And it hurts my pride feelings by suggesting that other things are more important than me (because let's face it, although many things are more important than me, I prefer it when people play that down...).  As I look back over the years, I can think of a number of budding friendships that I abandoned or put on the backburner because of flakiness.

The problem is, a lot of people seem to be flaky.  This is the main reason why I need my rule about being social in the first place.  Because life runs so much more smoothly when other people aren't involved!  I'm in control and can do what I want to do, when I want to do it.  I just have to do it alone. 

Which is what I did, of course.  I went to the art gallery by myself.  The art was fine, but I didn't have fun.  I decided to reapply my rule and found some other friends who were out and about and getting ready to go to another party.  I met up with them and had an okay time, but I was too grumpy to go to the other party and deal with whatever messy social situation might have been there.  (The introverted side of my was obviously in high gear -- I could just as easily have been excited at the prospect of meeting a bunch of new people.)  Instead, I went home and watched a movie. 

Not the coolest way to spend a Saturday night, by any means, but at least I had made two valiant efforts to be social before ending up on the couch, instead of starting on the couch to begin with.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

I'm getting awesomer

I did this last night in yoga class.


In the eight years I've been doing yoga, it's the first time I've managed a freestanding headstand.  Not that I've been trying to all those years -- not every instructor leads the class through headstands,and every time I did try it in class, it was extremely uncomfortable and I failed.  So it's not like I sat around at home trying to stand on my head. 

But this time?  Easy as pie.  And it felt awesome. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

New York - Done?

At 3:00am last night (this morning?) we discovered that we had finally -- FINALLY -- reached the what looked like closure on all of the transaction documents on this crazy, never-ending deal.  All that remained to be done was secure a few outside approvals and sign the dang things. 

It was a weird moment.  The process had been so grueling (and the remaining approval process is tricky enough) that it was hard to feel excited or relieved or like it was even really over.  We looked around the room at each other, wondering what we were supposed to do.  Sleep?  Go home?  We guessed so.  Huh.

So, off we went into the night.  The principals of the two parties will meet for dinner next week, by which time we should have word back on the approvals.  If we have to make any changes to finalize the approvals, then I will likely be back up here at the end of next week.  But if not, then we'll really be done.  I'm crossing all my fingers.

My job for the rest of the day is to figure out how to get back to DC while picking up the pieces of my other work projects.  I've got a couple of calls scheduled and several other tasks that need doing, but it looks like I'll be able to catch an early afternoon train and be home in time for yoga class.  Yay!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

New York - Deja vu all over again

Welp, I’m back in New York in that conference room where I spent most of the month of December. This deal isn’t done, you see, and the client decided it wanted to get everyone back in the room for more face-to-face negotiations. They’re getting nervous that they’ll lose the deal if they don’t sign it up as soon as possible. Judging by the apparent lack of urgency on the part of the counterparty (who has been negotiating with other potential buyers all along), they may be right.

In any event, I got the news that discussions would recommence over the weekend while I was in New York for the opera. I considered just staying Sunday night -- that would have allowed me to see one or two more shows, go to church with friends in New York, and have the firm reimburse my train tickets. But I hadn’t packed for more than a day’s worth of business attire, and at this point I place a very high premium on sleeping in my own bed and getting to my local gym in the morning. So I took the train back to DC on Sunday morning, spent the day working on other client matters and putting my personal affairs in order to withstand my continued absence. Then first thing on Monday morning I did my Crossfit workout, packed for a few nights, and climbed back on the train to New York. I had been home for less than 18 hours.

It’s weird to be back. We’re in exactly the same rooms, exactly the same seats. The smells are the same, the food is the same, the people are the same. The issues are the same (though fewer, thank heavens). It’s almost as if we never left. Except, of course, that it isn’t Christmastime (a fact most obvious in the price of hotel rooms -- in December my room fluctuated between $600-$800 per night; now my room is just under $200), and I have enough clothes, and we aren’t pulling all-nighters. Not yet, at least. Last night’s meetings ended at 11:30pm, and this morning we didn’t start until 10:30am. So not too bad, all things considered. If we get out early enough tonight, I may have enough time to watch the first episode of Downton Abbey (or even run out and catch another Broadway play).

Sunday, January 6, 2013

New York - Trojans and a hot tin roof


How do you survive a five-and-a-half hour opera?  By eating a hearty breakfast immediately beforehand . . .

Quiche lorraine, Greek yogurt with rawnola (a.k.a. birdseed)
with a side of Victor Hugo

and by sneaking a handful of granola bars into the opera house to be eaten during the third intermission.

It was odd to be at the opera house at noon.  So much sun!  But I guess that's the only way you can fit two performances in one day.  By the time we left, it was dark night outside, and definitely dinnertime.

During those intervening hours, while the sun set, I saw one of the grandest of grand operas:  Hector Berlioz's Les Troyens.  And when I say "grand opera", I'm not just speaking in superlatives -- grand opera is a particular style of opera, tres en vogue in mid-Nineteenth Century Paris.  Basically it requires a massive story, a cast of thousands, an enormous orchestra and dance.  Can't have a grand opera without a ballet in the middle of it.  Hence the five-and-a-half hour running time.  Hence also the rarity of these sorts of performances -- these operas are enormously expensive to stage. 
But, oh, are they grand!  As you might suppose from the title, Les Troyens is the tale of the Trojans, starting with the fall of Troy at the end of the Trojan War (with the Greeks and Helen and that giant horse), continuing through their sojourn in Carthage with Queen Dido, and ending with their departure to found Rome.  It's basically Virgil's Aeneid in five acts of singing. 
A full summary of the opera can be found here.  But here's a brief synopsis: 
The first two acts are in Troy.  The Greeks have just departed, leaving their horse on the beach.  The Trojans think they've won the war and start celebrating while Cassandra freaks out and tells everyone that it's the end of the world.  Of course, she's right, and by the end of the second act everyone is dead except for the handful of men who escape with Aeneas.
The last three acts are in Carthage, and they essentially run like a romantic comedy:  Pretty and successful career woman (that's Dido, the queen) is too focused on building an empire to snag a beau (well, she had one, but he died), so her chubby sister encourages her to open her heart to love.  Then, right on cue, handsome single dad (Aeneas!) shows up, demonstrates both sensitivity (here's a necklace!) and awesomeness (why don't I just defeat this invading army for you?), and wins our queen's heart and soul.  They settle down to wear purple (apparently the color of conjugal bliss) and watch a never-ending ballet. 
So far so good, right?  Well, but then a bunch of bloody ghosts show up on their way to MacBeth and remind Aeneas that he's supposed to go to Italy so that he can found Rome and die young in a glorious hero's death.  Since that's clearly a better option than hanging out with a hot queen watching ballet, Aeneas ditches town (but not before singing a really great aria).  Upon seeing his departing ships, Dido kills herself (also after singing a fantastic aria) on top of a burning pile of all the stuff Aeneas left behind.  The end.
Of course, none of that synopsis conveys the magnitude, power and complexity of emotion that this opera takes you through.  Yes, it's a grand opera in the technical sense of the term, but it's also grand in every other way.  The music is gorgeous and ranges from stirring and powerful to tender and heartrending.  The singers and orchestra are among the best in the world, and the staging is really well done.  (By comparison, I felt the dancing was a level down in quality, which was my only complaint.)  And for as over-the-top as some of the situations may seem, the opera actually challenges you to engage and reconsider what the right answer is. 
For example, suicide.  Is it ever okay to kill yourself?  I'm inclined to say no.  But at the end of the second act, the city of Troy has been sacked by the Greeks and burned to the ground.  The temples have been defiled, many of the women and children raped and killed.  Almost all of the Trojan men are dead, and those who live have abandoned the ruined city and any survivors.  Well, there are survivors -- a group of noblewomen and their servants and daughters are hiding in the palace, watching as their men die or abandon them and the Greeks approach.  Rather than submit to rape and enslavement, the women kill themselves in a mass suicide.  It's appalling and very disturbing, and yet, despite my revolt I couldn't say that they were wrong to do so.  Better than almost any other art form that I can think of, this operatic moment compellingly captured the moral complexity of this extreme human situation.
Here's a clip of Dido singing after Aeneas has deserted her.

And here are some still shots from this production that I culled from elsewhere online:
Cassandra and the fatal horse
Cassandra and Greeks
Cassandra and Andromache threaten (and then commit) suicide
Celebration of Dido at Carthage
Dido climbing the pyre in despair


What do you do after sitting in a theatre for 6 hours on a Saturday?  See another show of course!  As soon as the opera was finished, I ran down to Times Square to see what was on offer at the TKTS booth.  There were a handful of shows that I wanted to see -- mostly plays rather than musicals -- and I opted for the new revival Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  It's still in previews, so I had no reviews to judge it by, but the cast is strong (Scarlett Johansson, Ciaran Hinds, Benjamin Walker, Debra Monk), and I wanted to compare the production to the one I saw in 2008 with James Earl Jones, Terrence Howard, Felicia Rashad and Anika Noni Rose. 

This production was much better.  Not sure exactly why, but I seemed to get it in a way that I didn't get the other one.  Possibly because it was easier to hear and understand the actors, possibly because the director had them play more with levels of emotion (the other one just felt like three hours of screaming), and possibly because I really liked the staging (that bedroom felt both claustrophobic and completely exposed). 

Anyway, there isn't a "plot" in the same way as the opera -- everything happens in the course of an afternoon/evening, all in a single bedroom.  It's a mise en scene of a deeply disfunctional and wounded (and wounding) family, and nothing is every wrapped up nicely -- there certainly is no happy ending.  But it's complicated and fascinating and definitely a major piece of American theatre.  And since I'm not going to say more about it, here's a link to a synopsis.

I was glad I saw it.  I'm curious to see how it fares with the critics and the public when it opens in a couple of weeks.

(One other thing I will say, is that movie stars really must be from a different planet.  Scarlett Johansson and Benjamin Walker both were just gorgeous in a way that nobody I hang out with is -- and they're basically my age, which is alarming.  But they were actually good at acting, too, not just pretty bodies.  So there's that.) 

Friday, January 4, 2013

New York - No man is an archipelago!

The opera tomorrow starts at Noon and runs for five-and-a-half hours, which means that I have to spend both Friday night and Saturday night in New York:  There just aren't any trains that would allow me to come up in the morning before the show or to leave and go home after the show. 

What's that you're saying?  Oh, right:  Here's the world's smallest violin playing "My heart bleeds for you."

You've got a point.  I shouldn't complain about having an open weekend in New York (especially since my work-related Marriott points qualify me for very comfortable free lodging) -- so I won't.  Instead, I'll tell you about what I saw:

Peter and the Starcatcher was at the top of my list of Shows I Want To See.  It won a bunch of Tonys, got great critical reviews, and is scheduled to close later this month, and I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to see it.  But I managed to snag a ticket for tonight's performance (with arguably one of the best seats in the house) and had the time of my life.


The play is the origin story of Peter Pan -- how he became the Boy Who Never Grew Up and how he got to Neverland.  It's a charming story and even more charmingly told.  Honestly guys, I am an enormous sucker for simple theatre that feels like playing "make believe" more than "real life".  And this show had that magical quality in abundance.  There were only minimal sets; everything was done by the actors, a few simple props (some rope, two toy boats, a pile of fur with a tail), and the audience's imagination.  (For those of you who know and love the work of Mary Zimmerman, I'd say this was very much in the same vein.) 

The writing was enormously clever and funny, ranging seamlessly from the juvenile (flatulence!) to the sophisticated (Proust!), and the actors pulled it all off very well.  Captain Hook (here called Captain "Black Stache") was an outrageous show-stealer who managed to make the three words "Oh my gosh" feel like a complete song and dance number (I won't say more for fear of spoilers -- the show goes on tour soon!).  Also, there's an incredibly funny funny mermaid kick line.

For all the fun and games, there was also some surprising emotional depth, as well.  The dueling concepts of wanting to be alone but have a family, to be a leader and grown-up without becoming the sort of adult who lets you down, to be strong without being cold, to be the best but liking the company of people who are better, to be yourself but also to change -- all those things were there enough to move you and make you think in the downtime between the chuckles.
Molly and Boy first meet
Molly and the Boy first meet

Playing catch-up

So it's been, what, a week since I last wrote?  Argh.  If it had been just an ordinary week, I wouldn't worry about it -- one of the biggest stumgling blocks (at least for me) in journal writing or blogging is feeling like I have to capture all the Big Moments that I missed writing about before I can write anything new.  In fact, that's one of the major reasons I abandoned journaling and took up blogging.  If I were to play catch-up in my journal, I'd have to play the whole "I graduated from college and went to law school and learned Spanish and then was naked (almost) and covered in mud in a Turkish bath" game.  I'd probably gnaw off my arm first.

But a quick summary of a memorable week?  That I can handle.  Here goes:

First, my grandfather turned ninety.  Or, rather, he hadn't turned ninety yet but we celebrated it as if he had turned ninety (by eating bison, as one does) which means that for all intents and purposes he is ninety.

Appropriate for the occasion because it is in Perry, Utah,
where the Davis clan first settled after emigrating from Wales.
Bison steak -- tasty but tough
Raspberry cheesecake -- tasty but way too much

Inevitably there was a speech in which my grandfather told us what he knew about old age ("He who has the most birthdays wins!") and the origin of my dad's nickname, Dibber, which my nieces and nephews now call him instead of Grandpa.  Naturally, I took notes:  Once upon a time, my grandfather was a youth and ran with a crowd who thought it was cool to call each other by their last names.  So my grandfather became "Davis."  But over time that became "Daver" and eventually evolved into "Dibber."  Years later, when my grandmother was pregnant with my dad, she decided that if the baby was a boy, she would call him Dibber.  The baby was a boy, and she did call him Dibber.  The end.
El abuelo, mid-speech
El abuelo, post-speech


One of the great joys in life is eating hot Liege waffles right out of the grill.  They're warm and sticky and supremely delicious (what ball of butter, flour and sugar wouldn't be?).  Alas, they also failed to cross the Atlantic as successfully as their more pedestrian cousin, the Brussels waffle.  Sometimes I can find pre-packaged Liege waffles, but I've never found a place anywhere outside of Belgium (specifically, the Gare du Midi) that made them as they should be made.

Until last Saturday.  Turns out some blessed souls (a.k.a. three guys wearing bow-ties) set up a kitchen in an old trailer and sell beautiful, authentic Liege waffles in the parking lot of the Dan's grocery store in the Olympus Hills shopping center in Salt Lake City.  The trailer is called Saturday's Waffle (surely a bad pun on a Mormon cultural reference, Saturday's Warrior) and they're only open on Saturdays from 8am to Noon. 

I got up at the crack of dawn and went out in search of them, determined to (1) find the place, (2) eat a hot waffle, and (3) get enough additional waffles to share with all the friends I was meeting up with later in the day for brunch and lunch.  (In other words, I ate roughly 47 waffles that day.)

The line formed early
Yum, yum, yum


The rest of the day on Saturday was spent eating waffles catching up with friends from college, mission and work.  Sadly, I came away with photos of the food I ate but not of my actual friends with whom I ate it -- my priorities may need some rearranging.

Brunch with Anna at the Oasis Cafe!
Omelete with canadian bacon, mushrooms, onion, herbs, cheddar cheese,
breakfast potatoes, and salsa fresca
Lunch with Peggy and Mary
Brunch notwithstanding, I couldn't resist the omelette special:
Crab, avocado, tomatoes, mushrooms, gruyere cheese, with hash browns

Later that night I met up with my family and extended family at my great-uncle's house for the annual Davis Family party.  It was kind of like a repeat of the 90th birthday party -- it was all the same crew as before, only sans the kids -- it's a grown-ups only party, which I really like.  This is always my favorite party of the year.  The Davises are all interesting and interested people -- the sort of people I want to be when I grow up.


The next morning I flew back to DC at the crack of dawn (I have got to stop taking flights that require me to get up at 4:40am), this time without any of the delays that plagued my flight from Denver.  Waiting for me in my apartment were all the Christmas packages that I hadn't been able to open because of my crazy pre-holiday work travel.  I opened everything and had myself a merry little post-Christmas day!

The lady at the front desk was so annoyed with my
accumulating packages that she called me to have me authorize
her to put them inside my apartment.

After that, it was back to work.  Because the month of December had been dominated by one massive work project in New York, followed by a week's vacation in which I did (almost) no work, I needed to make some serious progress on a handful of other projects that had been neglected.  So I worked through New Year's Eve and fell asleep on the couch at 8:30pm, which was the lamest thing ever.  I salvaged some of New Year's Day by going to an extended spin class and a fondue party at a friend's house, but then came home and spent the rest of the day (and week) working as quickly as I could and struggling to keep the partners and clients at bay and the new projects from multiplying. 

In the margins, I also have been trying to figure out my big travel -- and other -- plans for this new year.  Based on proposals from different friends, I finally decided that I would go to Vietnam and Russia and then buy a condo.  But then all the timing of the proposed trips fell apart and now nothing works and probably won't work and so between that and work I felt very stressed and slept poorly and lost my joie de vivre.

None of which was helped by the fact that I had to go to New York, yet again, this weekend.  Not for work, this time, but because I have opera tickets at the Met for Saturday.  Normally this would be great news -- I had been looking forward to it ever since I bought the tickets last summer -- but after all the travel of the past month (the disruption and the expense) and the current demands of work, it was the last thing I wanted to do. 

Nevertheless, one doesn't miss the Met (especially when you have fancy seats and Deborah Voigt is singing), so this morning I boarded the train and here I am -- caught up!