Category Archives: Travel

Easter Egg Champions

If Easter egg hunts were The Hunger Games, I’d be a career

Since 2009, K, L, and I have been celebrating Easter with K’s parents and various members of our entourage in Glastonbury, Connecticut. Some people might think such a locale does not have a lot to offer city folk such as ourselves. Honestly, I have no idea what Glastonbury has to offer. We’re always so busy reliving our childhood, we rarely leave the house. Sample activities at Camp Parental Units’ Connecticut Getaway include:
  • Cooking and eating elaborate 5 course meals
  • Guitar lessons/Fictional band practice
  • Fighting over K’s cousins’ long abandoned slippers
  • Dress up
  • Walking the dog
  • Chasing after the escaped dog
  • Roller racer races in the basement
  • Table tennis, in the style of Calvinball
  • Stealing pottery from K’s mother
  • Egg dyeing
  • Annual Easter Egg hunt
Charmed Thirds, Fourth Comings, Perfect Fifths

Gustave Courbet, Celebrity Stalker

Several months ago, E told me that I absolutely had to read this one young adult series–the Jessica Darling books by Megan McCafferty. Now for all but the three of you I’ve managed to convince that YA lit is not a complete waste of time, hold on a minute before you click that little x on your browser tab. This is not going to be a post about YA lit. I repeat: This is not going to be a post about YA lit. Just bear with me for the next two paragraphs and I promise that you’ll be rewarded with an art history lesson and one of those insane person rants that several of you seem to like so much.

Continue reading Gustave Courbet, Celebrity Stalker

Sparkly O’Clock

Five years ago, L and I accidentally studied abroad on the same program. Most people who knew us during our first two years at college would probably not believe this was an accident, as we were fairly inseparable. But indeed, we ended up picking the same program for exactly the opposite reasons and somehow landed ourselves together in Paris for nine months.

For the first time in two years, we were not living in the same room. This was an adjustment, but we were happy to be situated in neighboring arrondissements, her in the 15e, and me across the river in the 16e.

The mid-point between our two apartments was the Eiffel Tower, about ten minutes from either side. The Eiffel Tower became the meeting point for not just us, but for all our friends, and most evenings were passed on the Champ de Mars with a bottle of wine and a tranche of cheese, marking each hour with the lights on the Eiffel Tower going off, a time we dubbed “Sparkly O’Clock.”

Now, for the first time in a long time, L and I are no longer living together. She and her boyfriend moved in together in September. Like in Paris, she’s only in the next neighborhood over, but sometimes it feels like those few blocks stretch across an impassible, infinite distance.

Partly this is because I’m lazy. But mostly, it’s because our lives are diverging onto different paths, or maybe the same path, just at different speeds. It takes a lot more effort to spend time together now, and the dynamic is rarely the same as it once was.

Sometimes, I catch myself wishing things could go back to how things used to be, dancing around our dorm room or arguing over perfume ownership.

I know I don’t really want that. Both of us have grown so much since the first day of college, or those evenings on the Champs de Mars, or even the first couple years in DC. And I wouldn’t want to change any of that.

Mostly, it scares me knowing that someday, probably sooner rather than later, she’ll be more than a bottle of wine, a text message, and a ten minute walk away.

Happy Belated Christmas, LV. May we always have Sparkly O’Clock.

But at least for now, she is.

Cooking SuccessfulLee with PenPal

Last weekend, I had to go to New Jersey for a thing, so of course I stayed with Penpal and her family. I’m not really sure why this happened, but it was A Good Idea. Penpal flew back from Houston because homegirl is wicked intense, and we planned for a fun weekend. And by “we planned,” I mean I said “hey, do you want to learn how to make croissants?” And she foolishly agreed because she had no idea what she was getting into.

Around this time, Penpal was commissioned to do a monthly cooking segment for Forever Young Adult called “Cooking TragicLee”. She had me watch her video before publishing, seeking feedback, and since “OMG I LOVE THIS” was not particularly useful criticism, I also shared it with Bright Contradiction, my local cooking partner in crime. Like me, BC thought it was the Greatest Thing Ever, and she is not wrong:

BC immediately demanded that we document our New Jersey croissant making extravaganza, and penpal agreed to the scheme. I packed a camera and a couple of ingredients I had lying around the house and headed north.

Penpal picked me up from the train station on Friday night and drove me back to her parents house. Even though we are in fairly constant communication via snail mail or the internets, we’d only met once before. Sadly, there are not clear social rules dictating how you should act when visiting your epistolary friend and her family, so things were kind of awkwardly formal, like that time in Anne of Green Gables when Diana first comes over for tea and gets drunk on “Raspberry Cordial.” (side note: recipe idea for your cooking show, Penpal?)

But being a naturally awkward person, this didn’t bother me too much. Plus, Penpal’s parents are really, really lovely people. Even if her dad is kind of like the paparazzi and there are now about a million pictures of me and Penpal that could be featured on Awkward Family Photos:

The next morning, as we were lazing around after breakfast, I had to break the bad news:

Penpal: So should we get started on the croissants? 

Me: As they will take about 8 hours, yes. 

Penpal: 8 hours?! 

Me: Give or take.

So we went to the store, grabbed the remaining ingredients and got started. I was too lazy to look up my recipe, so we kinded of winged it. We ran into several technical difficulties, both with the filming and with the cooking. Penpal’s mother was extremely unsupportive of the entire endeavor. Every once and a while, she would sail through the kitchen, horrified by the mess we were making of her countertop, and say something like “You know, you can go down the street to the bakery and buy croissants. They’re very good,” or “You’re still not done yet?!” or “I think you should give up now and go drink mimosas on the porch.”

But we persevered. Croissant-making involves a lot of waiting around, so we filled the hours in between with chatting, drinking beer, and playing board games. We discovered that Operation is an infuriatingly difficult game, even as adults (how are you supposed to get the ankle bone attached to the knee bone? HOW!?), and I decisively crushed Penpal and her younger brother at Settlers of Catan. I felt really bad about this because they were all friendly and non-competitive about the game, and I’ve been conditioned to play ruthlessly by people who will temporarily break up with their significant other over a bad move. Eventually, however, the waiting was done and we finished baking.

Lucky for you, you get to watch the process unfold in mere minutes rather than hours:

To prove the worth of our 8-10 hours of baking, we organized a blind taste test of our product versus the bakery versus Pillsbury in a can. Drafting Penpal’s parents and brother for the task produced hilarious results:

And now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go check the expiration dates of everything in my fridge.

The Hanson Project: Part 3: The Epic Conclusion

Hanson fans @ Toad’s

Sometimes, I get really inspired about a blog piece. I start writing enthusiastically and then… I get distracted. Something else comes up, and the further removed I get from the event, the harder it becomes to write. I have a half dozen such posts sitting unfinished, collecting e-dust in my drafts folder. My friends start harassing me about why it hasn’t been posted, but the more time that passes, the less likely it seems that they will ever be published.

Such is the case with this post, which I started over three months ago now. It would be really convenient to just never finish writing this, but alas, I am going to visit E and F this weekend and I fear that if I don’t publish it, they may bind and gag me save my fingers below the knuckles, toss me in the trunk of a car with a laptop, and not let me out until I’ve produced a worthy post on the matter. So to avoid that inevitability, here it goes…

A long time ago (October), in a galaxy far, far away (Connecticut), I went to a Hanson concert. You may remember from back before I fell of the face of the internet that I prepared for said concert by listening to all of their albums in chronological order and then making the sweetest t-shirts ever, at least until I made these epic Twilight shirts after which I really should have re-evaluated my life-choices.

Anyway, one October afternoon, I found myself climbing on a bus to New York. Six excruciating hours later, I was finally greeted by the scent of 33rd and 7th, a welcoming mix of mediocre pizza, stale urine, and cigarettes. E appeared, already sporting her “I

The beginning of the weekend passed in typical fashion–late night sushi, farmers market, eating, eating, and more eating–but then we got down to business. There were two more in our party so we slapped together shirts for them as well, including my all-time favorite thing I’ve ever made. I don’t have a good picture of the original, but I liked it so much that I’ve screen printed several copies since then:

I have made myself the companion t-shirt, “Sorry, I was watching Court TV”

If I ever open my Etsy store for secretly-embarrassing-yet-superficially-cool-looking t-shirts, this will be the first thing I sell. I love this design. Inspired by one of Hanson’s best-worst songs, “Man from Milwaukee,” this shirt is for the Hanson fan that doesn’t want anyone else to know they’re a Hanson fan, but is maybe ok with the world thinking they buy nonsensical graphic tees at Urban.

Attempting to harness the glow in the dark properties pre-concert. It was a fail.

After getting all gussied up with our TOMS, t-shirts, and glitter make-up that would have made our thirteen-year-old selves die from envy, we headed out for the concert. On the way, a girl stopped and asked directions to Toad’s in a state of urgent panic. “How did you know we were going to the Hanson concert?!” we asked in mock surprise. “Oh, I saw your shirt,” she replied without a hint of irony. Apparently Hanson fans are not good with the sarcasm.

What Hanson fans are good at is being scary. Once inside, we discovered the venue was already packed. This did not bother me, as I am always one to throw a few elbows and dance my way to the front of the crowd in about three seconds flat. But I only got us about five feet further into the fray before being utterly terrified by the death glares surrounding me and retreated back to our original corner. Alas, actually seeing Hanson in concert was apparently not on the agenda.

Full zoom, on my tip-toes. Bonus though: the crappy quality makes Zac look topless.

It didn’t matter, however, because as it turns out, Hanson is AWESOME in concert. Like, really, really good. They are so good that I strongly considered going to Northern Virginia (ew!) a week later to see them again (in the end, Hatred of NoVA > Love of Hanson concerts). I didn’t even mind Taylor’s whiny voice! Although, that’s 90% because it turns out that Taylor is our prettiest man.

I like your scarves, Tay.

Even their terrible old songs sound good. I know this because the gimmick of the “Musical Ride Tour” was that for each city, the audience voted online for Hanson to play one of their albums in full. New Haven was given the option of Middle of Nowhere, This Time Around, and Shout It Out. If you will remember from my extensive notes, I loved Shout It Out, hated This Time Around, and thought Middle of Nowhere was hilariously awful. But Middle of Nowhere was going to be my only shot at hearing “Man from Milwaukee” in concert, so I put all my eggs in that basket. Lucky, too, because we only won by four tenths of a percentage point. I was four tenths away from having to listen to this shit in concert.

Instead, I got the great pleasure of hearing all my favorite least favorite Hanson songs. “A Minute without You!” “Mmmbop!” “Yearbook!” Plus, they included some good ones from their current album, and the less noxious songs from the ones in between. And to my delight, they closed the concert with my personal favorite, “Man from Milwaukee.”

The best part about seeing “Man from Milwaukee” live is that, apparently, on the original CD, tracks 13-20 are blank. So in concert, it’s tradition that everyone counts up to the song:

Now, I cannot tell you why the good people of San Diego here are not properly enthused, because in New Haven, the crowd went APESHIT during the countdown. I tried to film it, but all you hear is high pitched shrieking like it’s 1964 and The Beatles just rode into town on a stallion called Ed Sullivan. I was totally party to this, which is why the camera is so shaky that I’m not even going to assault your eyes with the video I recorded.

After singing “With You in Your Dreams” as their encore (a bit of a letdown after the glory of “Man from Milwaukee”) we decided it was imperative that we get our hand-crafted Hanson shirts autographed. I do not have much experience with such matters; the closest I’ve come to getting an autograph from someone not at Disney World is groping Kim at the end of a Matt & Kim concert. Knowing that just a few weeks prior, my penpal had gotten Zac’s autograph on the shirt I’d made her, I sought her advice:

Find the tour bus afterwards. Put your hands on it for good fortune. With luck, a brother emerges.

Let me know if your mission is a success.

E eagerly awaits a brother’s appearance (Preferably Zac)

We loitered with at least a hundred other grown-ass women for at least a half an hour, while they tried to clear us out of the street. But Hanson refused to emerge. Finally, we accepted defeat:

Heartbroken, we left and went on with our lives. Normalcy returned with things like eating lots of food and E embarrassing herself horribly at a party. We thought our Hanson weekend was over, but we were so very, very wrong.

The next afternoon, E and I packed up and got a train back to New York. I noticed how incredibly slowly the train was moving when I realized how much I needed to pee and that there are no bathrooms on the MetroNorth to New York. Finally, the train stopped altogether.

After waiting at a standstill for at least a half hour, I checked twitter and discovered that a bridge was out. Finally, they pulled up to a train station in the Middle of Nowhere, Connecticut. This is the point in the story where E and I realized that we were living the lyrics of “Man from Milwaukee,” a song that was written when Hanson’s bus broke down in the middle of nowhere. The Middle of Nowhere.

It started at a bus stop in the middle of nowhere
Bus stop, train stop, potayto, potahto. We all piled of the train and stood pointlessly in the parking lot, not sure of our next course of action. E went to find a gas station across the street in search of a bathroom. I sat down on a wall with our luggage and waited for something to happen.
This was only the first wave…
Sitting beside me was a man with no hair
A balding man totally came and sat down next to me.
From the look on his face and the size of his toes
He comes from a place that nobody knows
I didn’t inspect his toes. But he was kind of weird and was carrying a big empty plastic storage bin.
Maybe I’m hallucinating, hyperventilating
Letting this big-toed bald man sitting here tell me about the sky
It was a really nice day. I think we commented on the weather, and how nice the clouds looked. E came back and took my place while I found the bathroom. In the meantime, she also befriended him. In fact, on my way back from the bathroom, he shouted “ALIX IS BACK!” Even though I’d never told him my name.
Maybe I’m hallucinating, hyperventilating
If you asked me now then I couldn’t tell you why
I’ve been sitting here too long by a man from Milwaukee
Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that our new friend was from Milwaukee. And we had definitely been sitting there way too long. It was looking more and more likely that I was going to miss my bus back to DC.
He’s been talking too long on his yellow walkie talkie
Cell phones are kind of like latter day walkie talkies, right? Cause he had one of those.
He’s been talking to Mars but I think he’s wacky
Technically it was his sister-in-law that he was talking to… Maybe her name was Mars? She’s apparently a very nice lady with twin infants and a minivan.
He says they’ll come get him, come get him some day
At this point, they were trying to cram hundreds of people on to a handful of city buses to get us to the next train station beyond the broken bridge. The possibility of escaping this Connecticut hell-hole was pretty grim, and we were looking for contingency plans. He was trying to con his sister-in-law in to coming to come pick him up, and us too if we so desired.
E continues her weekend pose of “standing next to buses she can’t get on to”
He says where he’s from is called Albertane
There they use more than 10% of the brain
But you couldn’t tell it from they way they behave
They run around in underwear and they never shave
He was not clean shaven, but happily, also not in his underwear. That would have been weird.
Or maybe I’m hallucinating, hyperventilating
Letting this big-toed bald man sitting here tell me about the sky
Maybe I’m hallucinating, hyperventilating
If you asked me now then I couldn’t tell you why

{Repeat Chorus}

This is Mother Bird calling Baby Bird
Baby Bird come in, come in Baby Bird

For the love of Pete come in!
This is Baby Bird…sorry I was watching Court TV
Do you copy? Do you copy?
Of course we copy…24 hours a day…in color

Nothing could ever make this spoken interlude applicable to real life.
You wouldn’t believe me if I told you the rest
Just as we were sold on hitching a ride with his sister-in-law, a bus appeared from nowhere and we forced our way on. We were deposited at another train station.
Never been so happy to be in South Norwalk
The man sitting by me who was barely dressed
Flew off to Milwaukee or perhaps Albertane
And left me at the bus stop just barely sane
After getting off the bus, the three of us sprinted onto the platform. And then we ran in opposite directions. Just like that, our new friend, with whom we’d share two bizarre but not unenjoyable hours, was gone from our lives forever.
I’ve been sitting here too long thinkin’ about Milwaukee
I’ve been talking too long on my yellow walkie talkie
I’m talking to Mars you may think I’m wacky
I know they’ll come get me, come get me someday
I know they’ll come get me and take me away
I know they’ll come get me, come get me someday
If not tomorrow then maybe today
Finally, we made it to New York with 13 minutes to spare before my bus left. Unfortunately, my bus left from Penn Station, and MetroNorth runs through Grand Central. We tried to get a cab, but none were to be had. Instead, we sprinted across town and made it to the bus stop just five minutes after it’s schedule departure.
And for the first time in the history of BoltBus, the bus had left on time.
In the standby line, E and I nearly got in a rumble with some bitch and her two hulking boyfriends, and I had to argue my way onto a bus to Baltimore instead of DC. Then I caught the last metro from Greenbelt. I suffered a near mental breakdown when I discovered that track maintenance on the green and yellow line meant the metro would leave me stranded in Petworth, land of no taxis, but I managed to catch the last shuttle bus home. In the end, I think it took me 11 hours to get from F’s apartment in New Haven to my front door, a trip that should really take no more than 7 or 8, max. But it was totally worth it to really live the Hanson experience. Now I can wear my “Sorry I was watching court TV” walkie talkie shirt with real Fanson pride!
Just kidding. I will never be a Fanson. Those people are insane.

I’ve got mail!

There is something extremely dreary about coming home from Christmas, something which is made a thousand times worse by coming home to a cold, empty house, knowing your friends and roommates are still away with their families, eating delicious home-cooked meals, whereas you have no food in the house and have to get up and go to work tomorrow. The sad reality of it all came crashing down a few minutes ago, when I picked up my take-out order of palak paneer from down the street. “Just get back in town?” Either he could read the post-vacation dejection on my face, or I need to lay off the palak paneer, as my six-day absence was noteworthy. Neither scenario is particularly good.

The only positive note in my return was checking the mail. Mail makes everything better! Well, not when it’s credit card offers, bills, and coupons for Ace Hardware, but today I am the happy recipient of not one but TWO real pieces of snail mail from Texas. First, a Christmas card for our house from a friend who recently moved to Dallas, and second, a letter from Houston. This letter is nothing special–just a few lines about an Ina Garten recipe and a champagne fountain–but it’s enough that my house doesn’t feel quite so empty on this sad, December night, alone with my styrofoam box of takeout.

I have gotten many such letters from Houston over the past several months, thanks to a blog called Forever Young Adult. One of the writers decided it would be a good idea to match up eager readers like myself with penpals, under the assumption that everyone likes mail. It was a really good idea. Penpal, seen here doing her best impression of Drunk Sober Kitchen, mails me stuff all the time! Not only do I regularly receive letters, but sometimes, I even get presents in the mail! And sometimes, she gets her minions in DC to creepily leave things on my doorstep that can’t be easily mailed, like a bottle of champagne. Or this:

Yes, I came home from a particularly heinous day at work (post-thanksgiving sadness) to find a giant, homemade advent calendar sitting on my front porch. Each of the 24 little baby socks had a note and a thoughtful gift, including but not limited to: a toy dinosaur, a magnifying glass, fifty cents in pennies, a set of belly-dancing zils, a pez dispenser, a dreidel, three mini-bottles of liquor, and some tiny Ewok figurines which I plan to eventually turn into earrings.

You might think that would be enough effort for one Christmas for a person she’s only communicated with in writing and met once. Au contraire! Look what Santa brought me from Texas:

For those of you that don’t know me: that is a giant painting of my face. I had my suspicions when she started making shady requests like “Could you please send me a front-facing photo of your face with no teeth-showing.” But never did I imagine something on such a vibrant and enormous scale! I am struggling to figure out where to hang it so that won’t look totally narcissistic (my bedroom) or be completely mortifying (K’s suggestion to mount it in the front hallway, like Eva Longoria in Desperate Housewives). The best idea I’ve come up with so far is to start painting a bunch of other canvases so that it’s not the only thing hanging on my wall.

It is hard work keeping up with such creative genius.