Monday, March 29, 2010

Mac n Cheese

I don't know what it was about yesterday that made me feel so tired... it might have been the bleak weather, or the lack of quality sleep due to Quinn's midnight infiltration of our bed, but I felt as if I never fully woke up. Since it was Tom's night off, we attempted family dinner again. The highlight of dinner, for me, was the macaroni and cheese. I know that I had a recipe a long time ago, but at this point, I just wing it. It goes a little like this:

Melt 3 or 4 T of butter in a double boiler. I nestle a stainless bowl inside a saucepan filled with a few inches of very hot, but not quite boiling, water. Gradually whisk in an equal amount of flour. Whisk constantly for a few minutes until the flour is fully incorporated and loses its "raw" taste. Begin adding milk in small increments allowing each addition to thicken prior to adding more. I probably used about 3 cups of 2% milk. When the sauce is of a consistency that you enjoy (err on the side of too thin rather than too thick since things will change when you add the cheese) add grated cheese (maybe ~3 cups) and stir to a smooth consistency. Last night I used baby Swiss, aged gouda and some sharp cheddar - this is a bit of an exercise in cleaning out the cheese drawer for me. Season to taste with salt and pepper. I also like to add some smoked paprika for an added flavor dimension as well as for color. Combine cheese sauce with al dente pasta (last night I used whole wheat spirals) and place in a lightly buttered baking dish. Top with dried bread crumbs and bake at 375 for about 20 minutes. Yum - the perfect antidote to a rainy Monday.

Squeezing Lemons

As I was making a ceasar salad last night, rolling the uncut lemon on the counter, I considered how I came to know this technique for getting the most juice with the least effort - I was taught this by my mother. She has always been a wonderful cook/baker and I have some very nice memories of meals she prepared for my brother & me over the years. Her herring salad, pink from beets, is outstanding, as is her Waldorf salad. My brother always requested (and received) her Black Forest Cherry Cake, liberally doused with Kirschwasser, for his birthday. She swore the trick to lightness in baking was to only stir in one direction when beating batter or whipping cream. By hand, of course. This method would encourage air to come in and never leave. I was never able to master that second adage - I couldn't be that consistent, but I never fail to consider it when I have whisk in hand. Just like I always think of my friend Len Holl, a chef I worked with a lifetime ago, when I handle a knife. I know that any skills I may have in the kitchen have been honed by my 25+ years working in restaurants with fantastic chefs, but I also must credit my mother with teaching me some of what she knows about food and cooking. What have you learned from your mother?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sunday Supper

It has been a lovely day despite the wind and cool temperature. I didn't get out of bed until 9 a.m. and that was after some high quality cuddling and book reading (Finding Nemo) with Quinn. And Griffin, too, but don't tell anyone. I read the entire newspaper, enjoyed a grapefruit (it has been a great year for grapefruit, don't you think?), had some coffee and a piece of crumb cake from Able Bakers and then had a friend join us for brunch. The day was both languid and full, and I managed to go to the gym, get Quinn set with cleats for soccer ("How many more sleeps until I play soccer?") and then prepare a lovely family dinner.

Potentially lovely dinner, that is. Children really aren't necessarily the best dining companions, at least not when they outnumber you. It can be completely draining to justify your food to 3 prepubescent boy critics. Liam usually is the most compliant in food things, but he excused himself to use the bathroom and was gone for a long time. Like half-a glass-of-wine long. And we use big glasses. When I went to retrieve him, I found him on the floor; he had fallen asleep. Griffin was adamant that he didn't like potatoes and we played hardball with him - he wasn't leaving the table until he had eaten that teaspoon of potatoes he had been served. He and Tom are still at the table. Quinn, actually, was okay. He ate the potatoes and even fell for my oldest trick, the old, "No, you can't have those potatoes. You're not old enough." He asked for 3 servings.

So many imagined joys of parenting just haven't developed into reality. I always pictured baking cookies with my children. Music would be playing and we'd be having a great time using cookie cutters and McCormick's food coloring to make icing in a rainbow of shades. Reality: not fun. It is a stressful mess with flour and sugar everywhere. I'm just not good at letting go and I always say that my children make a much better impression outdoors. Speaking of outdoors...I thought that sleigh riding with the boys would be great, laughter bouncing from blindingly white snow to blazing blue sky. Ah. You know what? It isn't. They get cold and tired and in need of bathrooms before they've even worn a path down the hill. And my final example is Sunday dinner. It's such a nice idea - a pleasant interlude, as a family, before we start another hectic week. Unfortunately, it doesn't work out that way too often. Cloth napkins and dimmed lighting can only go so far. Creating a relaxing, comfortable ambiance for dinner with 3 children at the table is more of a challenge than I ever imagined. Thank God for wine.


When is comes to hosting brunch, Eggs Benedict is my go to dish. We were expecting a friend for brunch this morning, and I felt like making something a bit lighter and "springier" than my standard brunch specialty. Lying in bed this morning, I considered the contents of my fridge and was inspired by the salad greens, asparagus, roasted red pepper and avocado available, and decided to make a brunch salad. I had a pound of Falvo's thick-cut bacon on hand and I got that going under the broiler along with a bunch of asparagus that I had drizzled with olive oil, sea salt and cracked pepper. While the bacon and asparagus broiled, I tossed my mixed baby greens with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and threw in some herbs de Provence, sea salt and pepper. After the broiling was done, I shifted my attention to poaching the eggs and toasting some sourdough bread. I arranged the greens, chunks of avocado, crumbled bacon, and grilled asparagus on individual plates and then finished the salads with a couple of poached eggs and grated parmesan. I must say, it was delicious! Maybe the olive oil and bacon were no "lighter" than butter and ham, but I certainly felt as if it were a more virtuous brunch entree. And my theory that everything tastes better with an egg on top has been affirmed. What is your favorite brunch item?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

On Being the Madonna of Librarians

Last week I went to a Librarians' Conference at Union College. As you're picturing this event in your mind's eye, please don't make the same mistake I did - it wasn't actually on the beautiful Union campus, but was instead in a former Sheraton Hotel beyond Union's ivy walls. Ok, I'm not really certain that the walls are ivy-covered but, who's story is this? Needless to say, I was borderline late as I drove around the perimeter of Union, with its ivy- covered walls, looking for the College Hall Building.

The conference was cool. No, really. I learned some new tricks and I always enjoy seeing librarians from other districts and talking about the challenges we all face in a profession that always seems to be marginalized by administrators, fellow faculty members and parents. As always, Polly Farrington's class provided me with the most applicable lessons - she is a rockstar. As am I, apparently. You see, a number of years ago at this same event, a colleague told me that she never knew what to expect when she saw me because my appearance changes constantly. I do like to play around with "my "look," I guess. Just trying to stay relevant. Anyway, she continued by saying "Silvia, you're the Madonna of librarians." Seriously - this is in my top 5 of best compliments ever received! Right up there with "you don't look like a librarian" and the time when I was 8 1/2 months pregnant and crossing Lark Street, and received a wolf-whistle from a passing car of college boys.

This is the Madonna she was talking about, right? If she really meant the Virgin Mother, please ignore everything I said. Other than the fact that Polly Farrington is a rock star and Union College may be surrounded by ivy-covered walls.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Smells Like (pre-)Teen Spirit

I have an acute sense of smell. Not hyper-sensitive-like-a-pregnant-woman, but still, my nose sometimes gives me more information than I would like. When I walked into my house on Monday, I detected a new aroma; a manly smell, if you will. Since Griffin was the first person I encountered, my investigation began with him. I asked him if he knew what that smell was - had there perhaps been an unfamiliar man in the house? He feigned ignorance (really well, too). I persisted - did he smell anything different? After a few more questions, he rather sheepishly offered an was his deodorant. Apparently, his class has been meeting with the school nurse and getting "the talk." He was now the proud owner of a trial sized stick of Old Spice. He explained that he had gotten a little sweaty on the bus on the way home, so he had used his new deodorant to freshen up. How cute is that??

In the last few weeks, I have been struck by how quickly my boys are growing up. It is such a damn cliche, but it does seem like yesterday that they were babies and now 2 of the 3 are stepping away from childhood in giant leaps.

I'm afraid this topic will be a refrain for the next few years. How do you deal with your babies growing up?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Kids are All Right

So, I’m reading a really good book – The Kids Are All Right. It is a memoir co-written by 4 siblings and relates their experiences after the death of their father in a car accident, followed by the death of their mother from an absolutely merciless battle with cancer. The story is set in Westchester County primarily during the 1980’s. The “chapters” are told in alternating voice and it is so interesting to read the individual perspectives on commonly shared experiences. The book is really hard to put down and will appeal, I think, to teens and adults alike. One of the authors, Liz Welch is scheduled to read on Thursday, April 1st at the Book House in Stuyvesant Plaza. I’ll be in NYC that evening and unfortunately won’t be able to attend. If any of you go, please post back here with a comment.

I know that this book is going to make me cry.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sake Cafe - New Scotland Avenue

Our plan for yesterday, the glorious first day of spring, was to attend the Mac N Cheese Bowl at the Italian American Community Center. We didn't buy advance tickets, and despite arriving reasonably early ~11:45, we got shut out. Since I like to think that the event was prompted by a comment I made on Steve Barnes' Table Hopping blog, it was a bit of a bummer, but we happily left a donation and went in search of an alternate lunch plan.

Saturday was such an amazingly gorgeous day that I found myself craving "clean food," i.e. something not loaded with cream or meat. Trust me, I would have sacrificed and consumed large amounts of cheese and milk and butter in the name of charity, but since that was no longer an option, I found myself itching for some nice, light spring rolls. After we considered our options (yes, there are finally options in Albany!), we decided to give the Sake Cafe a shot and, bonus, they had outdoor seating available. We perused the menu and selected a number of items. The server was really nice, very gracious and managed our order of 2 soups, 2 salads, 3 appetizers and 1 entree flawlessly. We began with a hot & sour soup for Tom and Tom Yum soup with chicken for me. I love Asian soups!! Don't get me wrong, I love me some bisque and chowder, too, but there's something about a light broth with intense flavor, that I really appreciate. My soup was lovely, with tender chicken, non-mushy mushrooms, tomatoes and flecks of cilantro. Our next course was a special that our server had recommended, a sea scallop prepared sashimi style. The presentation was beautiful and the scallop was tender, sweet and extremely fresh. In addition to the fanned out scallop sashimi, there was a small mound of seared scallop served on the side, which made a nice contrast to the soft raw fish. We followed the sashimi course with salads - traditional iceberg lettuce and shredded carrots for Tom and seaweed salad for me. Both salads were enjoyable, Tom's dressing was well balanced and my seaweed salad was tender and a pleasing portion. Our next course was those rolls that had initially inspired our visit - soft rice paper rolls filled with shrimp, Asian herbs and vegetables served with peanut sauce. Now, for me, peanut sauce is one of those things, like a fried egg, that makes most everything taste better and this was no exception. This food is the kind of cuisine that satisfies without being too filling and the rolls were perfect. Next, (yes, we're good eaters!) we had an order of the shrimp shumai - these were firm and moist and delicious. Our final savory course was the Thai basil with shrimp which was served with a side dish of rice. The shrimp were a bit over-cooked, but the rest of the dish was pleasing. It wasn't very spicy, but we did enjoy it. We completed our meal with an order of green tea fried ice cream. Believe it or not, I've never had fried ice cream and I can't say that I'd be in a big rush to order it again. The breading (?) and frying, in my mind, don't really add enough to the taste to justify the additional calories and I would have been happier with a couple of scoops of the ice cream unadulterated. And the grand total for this decadent feast? $53 pre-tip! Wow!

Spring has sprung in the DelSo!

And here are the pictures to prove it. The Normanskill is raging as you near the bridges. Not a good idea to fly fish there this time of year and, luckily, Cassidy showed no interest in swimming. The picture on the right shows the tell-tale red glow of buds forming and all of my autumn planting has yielded a glorious display of crocus. Get out there and enjoy the first day of spring. Now!

The Lorax speaks for the trees, the Lilly speaks for the librarians.

Unless you're living completely off the grid (in which case you probably won't be reading this), you know that these are some dark economic times. School districts are being asked to cut their budgets by millions of dollars and droves of faculty and staff are being laid off. I attended a school board meeting on Thursday and listened to dozens of residents speak in support of the district's nurse-teachers, music teachers, guidance counselors and the amazing dual language program offered at the Delaware Avenue Community School. Disturbingly enough, other than a group of Albany City School District librarians, no one spoke in defense of the elementary librarians who are slated to lose their jobs. Talk about invisible! Perhaps it has been a long time since you were in elementary school. Maybe you have forgotten the important role played by the person, probably a woman, who introduced you to libraries and taught you how to independently locate and use information. When I was in elementary student we moved frequently - I had been in 6 different buildings in 3 districts by the time I was in 5th grade. I met a lot of people and contended with being the new girl more often than I would have liked, but what I most remember about all of those different experiences, was which buildings had libraries. Pine Tree Elementary in Monroe, N.Y., had a library that was my favorite. The librarian was warm and welcoming and I remember feeling happy whenever I was in that space. I can't remember any specific lessons she taught other than how to competently select books, how to shelve materials in my role as student volunteer, and that the library was a place that was simultaneously safe and familiar yet absolutely boundless in opportunity for information and knowledge, but, my experiences in that library more than likely inspired me to eventually become a librarian.

Albany's children also move around a lot and it makes me sad to think of an already disadvantaged population being denied access to professional librarians. Without trained librarians, how will our children learn to access, evaluate and manipulate information in a world that has become information driven? Where will children learn how to navigate through the mountain of resources now available at the click of a button? And without librarians who will be providing Albany's children with a consistently safe and inviting place from which to explore, to absorb and to be inspired?

The text below is the statement I made to the board.

As a parent, school librarian and as a taxpayer, I'm here tonight as an advocate of elementary librarians and their libraries. I understand there is discussion about eliminating some, if not all, of the district's elementary librarians. You should know that I went to library school with one of these professional elementary librarians and I have tried to entice her to come to the suburban district where I work, on numerous occasions, to no avail. She was, and remains, committed to her students and her library. She wasn't tempted by the promise of clerical assistance or by a population seemingly less needy than the population she presently taught. I work in a district that families move to from Albany, often immediately following elementary school. I work with some terrific kids, however, our children attend Albany schools because we believe in providing our children with access. Access to diversity and opportunity and knowledge. No one in an elementary building knows more about teaching our children the 21st century skills necessary to access information and knowledge than their librarians. Diminishing librarians and library programs in this district, will perpetuate the disadvantages far too many of Albany's children already experience. Having a library without a librarian is akin to stocking a professional garage with expensive tools, parts and equipment and then leaving the doors open and allowing anyone to come in and fix your car. It doesn't work. Please think carefully before eliminating these vital positions.

Have you been to a school board meeting recently?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What Makes Me Irish? Nature vs. Nurture.

I have red hair and freckles. I am social, outgoing and enjoy a bit of craic, which for the uninitiated means "fun," not crystallized cocaine. My ideal lunch would be a pint of Guinness and a bowl of my Aunt Bridie's creamy vegetable soup. I know my way around Dublin and have been fortunate enough to have visited Ireland a half dozen times. My father, Jeremiah McMenamin, was born in Co. Donegal, Ireland. All of these things certainly define me as Irish, however, when you factor in that I was raised exclusively by my German-born mother, why do I so strongly identify as being Irish?

My parents weren't married and I never had the chance to meet my father. When I was growing up, the name Jeremiah McMenamin was as exotic to me as Rumpelstiltskin. My mother claimed to no longer have any photos of him, so any middle-aged man with an Irish brogue was potentially him - or himself, as we Irish say. Although my family didn't travel far or frequently when I was a child, each time I found myself in a place with an unfamiliar telephone directory, I would look up "McMenamin" hoping to find my father and make a connection with that part of myself which was missing. As desperate and random as this technique may have been, it was ultimately successful, however, many years had to pass prior to my making contact with my father's family, years I spent learning to get to know myself.

At the age of 22, I found my father. Well, sort of. What I found during a trip to London, armed with my Dublin phonebook directory page, was my cousin, Conal McMenamin, who shared the distressing news, that my father had in fact passed away 5 years previously. Conal, however, did put me in touch with my Uncle Eamon who lived outside of Philadelphia. Within weeks, I was in a rental car driving to Broomall, PA to meet my first family member, beyond my mother and brother, ever. I can't adequately describe the emotions that were coursing through me as I walked to my Uncle's front door. I remember a sense of nervous excitement coupled with trepidation - what if they didn't accept me? Would this be where the story of my father began - or where it would finally end?

And which was it? Both. It was the beginning of my creating real connections with the people to whom I am linked to genetically forever. It was the end of my imaginary father - both the one I had created in my head and the one my mother inflicted upon me with her bitterly distorted memories. I learned about a man who loved his large family - and about an entire family happy to embrace me, the previously unknown daughter of their departed brother. I came to know my father's brothers who recognized me as their own before introductions had been made.

When I make my cup of tea and pour the cream into the cup first, I do this because it is the way my father always made his cup, something I couldn't have possibly known. There was an occasion, a family wedding, where I sat in my Uncle's kitchen surrounded by relatives. We were having a grand time, keeping our throats lubricated to facilitate the telling of stories. At one point, I said something immediately forgettable except for the silence it prompted. When I sheepishly asked if I had said something "wrong," my father's siblings, independent of one another, explained that the expression on my face and the tone in my voice were so reminiscent of my father that it literally took their breath away. Apparently, I am my father's daughter. And last year, when I took Liam to Ireland and we found ourselves having dinner with one of my father's sisters and her eldest son, I knew it wasn't coincidence that the date exactly marked 25 years since his death.

I identify as Irish because being Irish is proof that I am connected to a place and people that are both known and unknown. And being Irish confirmed for me that the quest for something outside of myself can ultimately lead to a place inside of myself.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Who took the drugs out of rock n roll?

So there's this channel on cable that our entire family enjoys watching together - Palladia. If you aren't familiar with it, it is an HD channel of concert performances and they show some really cool stuff. Remember when MTV actually showed music? Well, this channel, 1840, continues to play musical performances and we've been lucky enough to catch the completely over the top The Song Remains the Same, DMB live at Piedmont Park (epic!), as well as various festivals around the world, like the Isle of Wight Festival and Austin City Limits.

Last night I caught a little of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on an episode of Storytellers. Now, Tom Petty and I have history. My very first arena show in 1981 (!) was TP and the Heartbreakers at the Brendan Byrne Arena, which incidentally is no longer called the Brendan Byrne Arena. On a side note, which do you think is worse - never having an arena named after you, or having an arena named after you and then having the name changed by some corporate sponsor?? Anyway, like I was saying, TP holds a special place in my heart (hello, Glenn Martin!) and I've seen him a number of times. I've always enjoyed watching him perform because he puts on a terrific show filled with enthusiasm and laid back charm, but something happened last night that really disturbed me.

There they were on a hip oriental rug-covered stage, playing their instruments and singing one of their classics - "You Don't Know How it Feels, " when there was a blur in the lyric. Instead of hearing "but let me get to the point, let's roll another joint," I heard "...let's roll another gobbley-gook." Really?? Saying the word "joint" is somehow censorable, but Peter Griffin is free to say: "By the way Lois, I got a piercing over there. I'm not going to tell you where but I will give you a hint--it wasn't on my nose or my ear and it was one of my balls." Really??

Somehow it is acceptable for a character on How I Met Your Mother to say: "Lebanese girls are the new half-Asians, " but merely saying the word JOINT is forbidden? Who makes these decisions? Why is it acceptable to talk about testicles during prime time, on a national network, but not use the "J" word? What makes the word joint so threatening or controversial? Aren't musicians considered to be artists? Why are their works of art, i.e. their songs, being tampered with? I remember, back in the day, listening to commercial radio and realizing that words such as "goddamn," "funky shit," and "son of a bitch" had all be sanitized from songs I grew up listening to. Songs that I had simply enjoyed. Not songs that I looked to add words to my vocabulary or songs that I expected to teach me new ways of being deviant, because, of course, I had real life friends for those purposes. So, Palladia, it really isn't necessary for you to take the drugs out of rock n roll for my protection. Believe me, I can handle it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Compliment Miser

I don't give a lot of compliments - I'm more a provider of criticism by nature. Judgements simply flow much more easily from lips. I also subscribe to the theory that if you don't say too many nice things on a regular basis, when you do finally bust out an accolade it makes a much larger impression. Something happened, though, this weekend that is causing me to reconsider my tendency to be tight with the positive words. I was lucky enough to get together Saturday night after work with my oldest friends (have I mentioned recently how much I love my husband, life and friends?), and was so happy to share some time with people I have known for 30+ years, that I found myself freely giving compliments. And they were appreciated and well-received. When I told one of my friends with earnest sincerity that she was "so pretty," I swear, she almost cried. Her face lit up and that small admiring comment made her glow even prettier than before!! Her reaction got me to thinking... Maybe I shouldn't ration compliments like my husband rations directions when we're driving. Perhaps I should strive to be as equally generous with positive remarks as I am with critical judgements. And, just in case the people that I spent Saturday night with are unaware of how important they are to me, I'd like to drop a major tribute to them here - I seriously love you guys and my life would be so much less without each of you in it. Does that cover me for a while?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Pizza Sunday

After a late night with old friends, curling up on the couch with the paper was about as strenuous an activity I could manage for today. However, since there are mouths to be fed (mouths which are quieted by food), and wine to be enjoyed, I needed a dinner plan that didn't involve lots of effort or expense. Inspired by some already grated mozzarella from Cardona's and a lovely roasted red pepper in the fridge, pizza became the answer. We usually have some frozen pizza dough in the freezer, but in the amount of time required to gently bring it up to room temperature, it is just as easy to make my own. I like this recipe except I don't really follow the directions too closely. At this point, I know how dough is supposed to feel, so I add flour to get it to a texture that I find pleasing. As the dough went through a brief second rise, I caramelized a couple of sliced onions (red & white) in butter and sliced my red pepper into strips for the "grown-up" pizza. I think a hot oven is critical for pizza and I usually fire mine up to 450F. I also like to coat the pizza pan with olive oil and dust it lightly with rough corn meal for some added flavor and texture. The boys' pizza was pretty traditional with red sauce and mozzarella cheese, while for Tom & me it was white pizza with sweet caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, mozzarella and freshly grated parmigiano reggiono - delicious! If I was feeling even slightly more ambitious, I would have rubbed the pan with a crushed garlic clove and drizzled a little balsamic vinegar on top, but, like I said, I was going for simple. And seeing how I was already down an hour (damn you, spring ahead!) I went lazy. Hope you're all spendng an equally enjoyable Sunday with those you love.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Lilly Bistro Bar?

I've been getting asked, with increasing frequency, when Tom and I going to open our own place. I have a couple of standard replies to this question such as, "when the boys are old enough to stand on milk crates to wash dishes, " or "when the right location/opportunity presents itself." The truth of the matter is that the entire imagined process completely overwhelms me. Not the actual management of the place or the physical work involved, just the paperwork and financial risk necessary to become a business owner. I am completely confident that Tom & I would work well together - we generally share the same sensibilities about what makes a positive dining experience, and would perhaps even get to see each other more often if we co-owned a place. Tom's knowledge of wine and my sensibility about intuitive service would certainly provide us with a foundation to support a successful bistro/wine bar, but how does one get their head around all the other stuff?

I worry that I'm not ambitious enough - all I would want to do would be to provide guests with a quality product at fair value in a setting which is attentive to their comfort. I don't want to create an empire or make a killing. I don't want a humongous place - 10 or 12 tables would suit me nicely. I've always imagined a place with cushiony seating, mismatched china and good glassware. Perhaps a small bar where folks would feel comfortable eating and a positive mix of warm lighting and dim corners. A place that would open in the late afternoon and be appealing to a range of people - the early evening hours would attract families interested in a well-prepared dinner along with a thoughtfully selected bottle of wine, while the vibe would be decidedly more adult oriented as the night progressed.

Now, I can see all of this in my mind's eye, I can even hear the play list of music in my head, but what I can't imagine is how to find the nerve to make the leap. How do entrepreneurs find the daring to take a chance? Does this lack of courage mean the Lilly Bistro Bar will exist only in my imagination forever? Might this be an occasion when the right shoes, even some that are red and sparkly, might not be enough and I simply have to believe in myself and Tom and our abilities?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mad Men & Fab Women

I may have come to the game a bit late but, these days I am firmly on the field with Mad Men. I think this show originally was brought to my attention by Matt Baumgartner on his Friday Puppy blog. Although neither Matt nor I are into women, we apparently share the same appreciation for the zaftig Joanie - she is smoking hot. The title of this series is a bit misleading, because, seriously, the female characters are at least as riveting as the males. Betty Draper (on the left) absolutely freaks me out - she is so patrician and beautiful, but seems to yearn for a more earthy experience of life. Out of all the women on the show, she makes me the most uncomfortable with her coy manipulation and innocent blue eyes. And Peggy (on the right) is such a mess of conflicted Catholic guilt and ambition that I don't know whether to lead her to the confession booth or to the nearest cocktail lounge. But, Joanie... she's the one I would ask for advice about how to land the resident hottie, Don Draper. Yes, yes, he's married, but in my imaginary 1962 world - he isn't. Joanie and I could be roommates and share clothes and smoke endless cigarettes together while dishing about men and their manly ways. And all the time I currently spend going to the gym would be spent eating donuts and drinking scotch.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Exercise - Who is it for?

I've got some issues when it comes to exercise and was wondering how other people feel and/or think about exercise. I can't possibly be the only person who mentally tallies the number of times in a week that they exercise, right? Don't you all keep track of how many workouts you manage to get in each week? On the small chance that you don't, let me give you a peek into my head and share my sickness, I mean, method.

An exercise week begins, like a work week, on a Monday. The goal of every fresh, new week is 5 days with exercise. I attempt to achieve a balance between cardio work, weights and yoga, mixing it up with indoor and outdoor exercise. I enjoy a mix of group and solitary exercise although I think I gravitate toward a more moderate pace when I work out alone. I pretty much have the group exercise schedules at 2 YMCA locations committed to memory and bounce between locations depending upon my other responsibilities. Last week was pretty ideal with a day of jogging, 2 1/2 hours of x-country skiing, a spinning class and 2 yoga classes. Despite that amount of time devoted to working out, I still felt as if I could have used another day for weights, but, I console myself with the fact that I do the best I can.

Out of all the activities I participate in, the one I most love is x-country skiing, with cycling a close second. I've been x-country skiing as much as possible these past few weeks -it has been a disappointing year for x-country skiing with a definite lack of snow. Usually Cassidy (our black lab) and I jump in the car and are on the golf course in 10 minutes, however, this winter we've only skied locally once. Other than that, I have driven to Pine Ridge in Poestenkill to get my fix. Last week while I was there, skiing solo through an amazing wonderland of blue skies, swaying evergreen trees and crisp snow, I considered what I was really exercising - was it my body or my mind?

When you exercise is it with thoughtful or thoughtless exertion? During a yoga class, which is harder - focusing on a physical pose or letting go of your thoughts? I know that when I ski, as my arms and legs glide, my mind and thoughts flit and roam unrestrained. My imagination is released and allowed to wander at its own pace and I feel my creative spirit is flexing.

If you speak to anyone who exercises regularly, I guarantee you, they will say that physical activity is as important for emotional and mental health as it is for physical well being. Do you exercise regularly? If so, is it about fitting into your favorite jeans or releasing endorphins? Exercise - who or what is it for?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ticket(s) to Ride

We've already established that I'm a bit of a planner - and, I know, it's my own fault. I've learned over the years that I am most comfortable when I have something fun to look forward to. This can also be interpreted as an inability to firmly live in the moment, but let's consider the cup to be half full today, ok? So, I've been planning a trip to Italy to celebrate Tom's 50th birthday for about 4 years. Well, mentally for 4 years, but in reality about the last 10 months. Last May I found the perfect villa in Tuscany - it had plenty of room for everyone who said they wanted to join us, and also was divided into separate units to provide some privacy and space to the various groups. Once this major portion of the trip was decided (or so I innocently thought), airfare became the next focus of my attention.

Beginning last fall, I started trolling for airfare for our family of 5 ,with an ideal budget of $4000 for plane tickets. As I started to monitor various travel sites for airfare prices, I had to resign myself to the fact that our plane tickets were probably going to cost us $1000 more than I had previously anticipated. Since we were interested in expanding our trip a bit to include a couple of days in London (Liam's request), I thought I'd find the best deal by flying in and out of London. I've heard of "open-jaw" tickets, but don't really know much about how that works. I instead decided to buy round trip tickets to London and then book tickets on another carrier to take us from London to Pisa return. I went completely out on a limb 2 months ago and snatched up tickets for the London-Pisa segment on Easy Jet for the sweet price of $700 total. Purchasing tickets piecemeal like this is not for the faint of heart. I was pretty comfortable taking this route since our flight out of London wasn't until early evening and I am familiar enough with trans-Atlantic flying to know that most international flights arrive in Europe in the early morning, thus giving us plenty of time, if necessary, to travel between London's 4 airport choices.

Yesterday morning, after weeks of seeing no fares below $4300, I got lucky. Vayama came through with a price of $3400 on Swissair out of JFK. I ultimately booked the flight directly with Swissair becuase it was even less money - $3300. Now this flight is not ideal - we have to fly out of Kennedy rather than Boston which means navigating around the city and out on Long Island on a summer Friday afternoon. We also have a layover in Geneva, which I can accept much more readily than some of the domestic carriers' options of flying to Philadelphia or Chicago prior to heading East. We're also flying into Heathrow while our Pisa flight is out of Gatwick, but we have 5.5 hours to manage that transfer and, honestly, after being penned up for 8+ hours on a plane, I think the boys would do well to stretch their jet-lagged legs a bit. The coolest thing (other than the price!) is that on our way home, we depart from London's City Airport which will be very convenient since we are trying to find accommodations in Central London.

So - our trip to Italy/London is shaping up nicely. I was able to find airfare within my budget and have a couple of major components of the trip decided. The folks who originally committed to sharing our villa have been less easy to pin down, but I will do my best to ensure that this is a family/friend trip that will long be remembered. Incidentally, we do have room for one more couple to join us so if you're interested in spending a week (with the Lillys!!) drinking wine and soaking up the sun in Tuscany, get in touch.