Sunday, December 28, 2008

Anything But Rice-A-Roni

The countdown is on until I officially start my vacation.

My extremely kind father and I will set out in the dark of night (or morning, depending on how you look at things), leaving Cincinnati at a truly bleak and black 3 AM, destination: Louisville.
Now, I know the River City isn't the most exciting of locales, but it's merely a stop on my journey West (long live the CVG boycott). My 6 AM flight takes me to Chi-town for a brief respite (do you think the bars there will serve Bloody Marys at 7:30 AM?), and then I will make it to my first real vacation stop - San Francisco.
I scored a sweet deal on a hotel - the Hyatt Regency San Francisco for $75 a night. They were the only schmucks who would take my uber low ball Priceline bid on a four-star hotel. The hotel sounds pretty nice - it's steps away from the Ferry Building, looks on to the water, and was even featured prominently in Mel Brooks' movie, High Anxiety.
I've packed about a million different accessories to dress up or dress down the arsenal of black clothing I've packed for the journey. My red-and-white polkadotted rain boots are also making the trek as the forecast for Eugene and Portland includes nothing but rain.
My suitcase includes a good variety of pleasure reading and I also hope to tick away my birthday and Christmas thank you note list while I'm gone.
And though I intend on avoiding any bit of work on this adventure, I might have to take care of a cookbook duty or two, though I am really contemplating putting it off until I come back.
I've got both my Flip and still cameras packed, so I intend on doing some blogging while I'm exploring CA and Oregon...
Wish me luck on finding the REAL San Francisco treat.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christ's Morning

Not a creature is stirring this morning.

Years ago, my sisters and I would be up and at 'em on Christmas morning, the youngest one jumping in the parents' bed (by far, the best technique to rouse two exhausted adults) and us two older girls combing through the carefully wrapped packages to determine our first strike.

Fast forward, oh, 20 years or so, and this morning I am left to my own devices while all the grown-ups (even those of us who were once children) stay warm and snuggly in their beds.

The meaning of Christmas has changed quite a bit for me.

As a kid, it meant hoisting up itchy kilts and scratchy woolen sweaters for Mass. Christmas meant amassing piles and piles of toys and books and clothes (and the ever treasured Whitney Houston tape - how will I know, indeed). The holiday was an occasion for gastronomic decadence, complete with Christmas cookies in red and green sugar crystals and silver dragee balls, fudge and the most amazing confections between two layers of pie crust.

These days, Christmas is less about the pile of presents beneath the tree and more about loving the people exchanging those treasures. Now, Christmas is about reliving the memories and remembering those loved ones who aren't able to join us around the fireplace - I love and adore you, baby.

Speaking of my niece, these days, my Christmas is about reflecting on the blessings we've each been given, no matter how fleeting.

Every day I am grateful for the gifts God has given me - and today I am blessed to celebrate Christ's birth.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Go Tell It On The Mountain

Around the globe, people are celebrating the holiday season.

Whether you celebrate the birth of Christ, the miracle of the oil in the temple or Kwanzaa, please make sure you refrain from celebrating as wildly as these two ladies.

(My TV peeps will especially enjoy the state-of-the-art editing and camera pans in this video).

Special hat tip to Tacky-Holiday-Sweater-Birdman for posting the video on Facebook - you know who you are ;)

Monday, December 22, 2008


"You know what San Francisco does to people who have never seen it before... Everything about the city excited her; she had to walk all the hills, explore the edge of the ocean, see all the old houses and wander the old streets; and when she came upon something unchanged, something that was as it had been, her delight was so strong, so fiercely possessive! These things were hers."

The quote above was cut from Hitchcock's Vertigo, a spectacular psychological thriller I was delighted to study in a college film class.

The movie starring Jimmy Stewart was perhaps my first exposure to the sights of San Francisco - a movie that to this day has left me with a desire to see Golden Gate Bridge and the Palace of Fine Arts.

This week my brain is juggling thoughts of sugarplums with dreams of catching cable cars and sinking my teeth into spectacular, off-the-boat seafood.

New additions to the to-do list: visit the Buena Vista for an Irish Coffee (okay, I might have more than one), spin by the Fairmont Hotel for a cocktail & visit with Rusty's cousin, check out Coit Tower.

I only need to get through the next week and then my brain and I will be able to enjoy a nice rest.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Go West, Young Woman

I know parts of the East Coast like the back of my hand.

My travels have taken me from Florida to Maine, but my area of expertise lies between New York City and Boston. From my favorite stores in the Big Apple (one of them: Pearl River Mart in SoHo) to one of the most beautiful inns I've ever explored on the coast of the Atlantic, there are plenty of places I've been lucky to experience in the Northeast.

And of course, there's Madison, my home-away-from-home.

All of these treasured places, experiences and people have made me a solid resource on all things New England, but when it comes to the West Coast, I got nothing.

Wine Country, the sublime always-in-the-70s weather of San Diego, the bright lights and glitter of Los Angeles, the progressive attitude of Seattle - it's all foreign to me.

Sure, I've seen the glossy postcards before, and the scenic, celebrity-laden shots in movies and in television. I've heard stories from friends and family about these spectacular destinations, but I've never had a chance to walk the paces and sip the tastes on my own.

That's all about to change, though.

I'm hopping on a plane and heading West to explore a bit of the unknown. I haven't spent much of my own vacation time exploring this beautiful nation of ours, and so I thought I'd get in some sightseeing while visiting D Money over the New Years holiday.

My adventure starts out in San Francisco - that glittery gem on the Bay.

I have a short list of things I want to do, including walk across Golden Gate Bridge, take a boat cruise in the Bay, check out City Lights Book Store - the mecca of the Beat movement. I've also been directed to swing by Dottie's True Blue Cafe and The House of Nanking when making my dining excursions (actually, my friend Freeman says he won't speak to me again if I fail to hit up these two restaurants).

I'm also hoping I get to check out Bourbon and Branch, one of SF's not-so-secret speakeasys.

On New Year's Eve, I'll fly from California to Eugene, OR to see D Money and savor the beauty of the Willamette Valley. I don't really know what to expect or explore, but I know D will do a spectacular job of showing me this new place she calls home.

After a few days in Eugene, we'll make a trek to Portland, where I am dying to ride on a streetcar (uh, hello, Cincinnati). I haven't done much research on travel suggestions in Portland, but I fully expect to be amazed by this town that is both incredibly progressive and yet protective of its green space.

I've got quite a bit of researching to do before my big trip, and I'd love to hear your suggestions. Have you ever been to San Francisco, Eugene or Portland? Got a great restaurant I should spin by? Perhaps a favorite street to stroll along?

Please feel free to pass on your suggestions to this adventurous traveler!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Deck The Halls With Debauchery

I hadn't seen so much T and A since I was in Vegas.

And that's highly appropriate because last night's Christmas party was a cast of characters from the liquor and gaming world (I'm talking casinos, folks, not D and D). At least that's what I could piece together based on the clues I'd been provided by my friend, X5, and the awards I saw lining the walls of the tricked out home well north of town.

X5 had invited me to this soiree, saying it would feature open bar and tons and tons of delicious food. Never one to turn down a tasty morsel or a good party, I decided to tag along to meet new people and soak up an interesting scene.

The guests had lined the neighborhood with Jaguars, BMWs, Corvettes and every other kind of flashy car you could imagine. I took it as a sign that I was in for some interesting people watching once inside.

We made it through the door and the host greeted us with open arms (X5 did not know this generous gentleman - she was a friend of a friend of the host's daughter, making me a friend of a friend of a friend...), and he directed a young 20-something blonde in a tight, black, lacy mini dress to swiftly take our coats and put them in a den-cum-coat closet.

Another party guest quickly briefed us on the particulars of the party. Upstairs: Open bar, company chefs preparing fillet, scallops and crab cakes in the expansive, marble-everywhere kitchen and a dining room filled with every dessert imaginable. Downstairs: open bar, live band, cold appetizers, and wine and cigars in the wine cellar.

We cruised toward the throng of people and I noticed I was woefully overdressed - as in, every inch of my flesh was covered, especially when my wrap sweater was around me. Everywhere I turned, I noticed overly tanned bodies with overly plump chests heaving out of underly covered dresses and plunging tops. The women glittered head to toe in diamonds, crystals and sequins. Their beautifully sculpted and shellacked nails looked like talons, ready to claw their way through the crowd while hot stepping on four and five-inch heels.

You can only imagine my disappointment in knowing almost every hot pair of shoes I own was out for repair.

Before arriving at the party, I was a bit concerned that my hair style of the evening (something that involves hot rollers, teasing and hair spray - I affectionately call it Big Texas) would be out of place that evening, and I was relieved after scanning the room and noticing other big, frosty 'dos that rivaled any of Dolly Parton's wigs.

The men - they were mostly older - like cigar smoking and, "Come here little girl, and sit on my lap" older. Slicked back hair, sport coats and a diamond pinkie ring here and there.

It was not my normal scene.

I had a few nice conversations with some of the folks there, but I mostly stared in amazement at the crowd and basked in the sense that I felt like I was in a movie entitled, "Classy, Preppy, Smart Girl Goes To A Christmas Party With Larry Flynt's Friends."

After several (and I mean several) Maker's-and-Cokes, X5 and I decided to hightail it back to the comfort of Hamilton County.

Who knew the City felt safer than the 'burbs?

The car sailed in the direction of Jeff Ruby's latest invention - Bootsy's Produced by Jeff Ruby. While crossing Walnut, X5 told me, "This place will never survive because you have to actually go in the bar to know whether it's busy or not, and people in Cincinnati want to already know that kind of thing before they get there."

I didn't really get the logic, but it all made sense after ascending the stairs - the crowd was full of a bunch of people trying to look important.

It turns out there are still some places where conspicuous consumption is alive and well, despite the economic crisis.

Men in suits everywhere, women in tight tops and more plunging necklines. I felt like giving some of them directions to the party in the 'burbs. The circular bar ringed a collection of bartenders in satiny, Vegas-like mini dresses. The ladies slinging booze behind the bar were quick with a pour, which I was grateful for after receiving my very dirty gin martini.

We cruised through the room before making our way to the patio - a painted, wrought iron creation clinging to the front exterior of the now purple and yellow building. After nearly hugging a heat lamp for a good 20 minutes (another girl on the patio almost attempted to pole dance on the heat lamp until management asked her to get off the furniture), X5 and I made our way back inside to join some friends in the casbah-themed VIP room.

The bottle service we enjoyed included a pair of bottles of Grey Goose and unusual, pie wedge-shaped pitchers of cranberry and orange juice and Red Bull.

We sipped on a couple cocktails courtesy of the gentlemen hosting the special get-together behind the velvet rope, and then we decided to make our way home.

I wrapped up the evening thinking a multitude of things, but first and foremost, gratitude for the moral compass, intelligence and modesty that tends to steer the direction of my life.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Two Choices

One of my bosses sent this email to our department today.

We're in the business of doing good work for people, and sometimes that means reflecting on what's in our heart to motivate our mission.

I'm a pretty altruistic individual (and admittedly super sensitive), and so I would be lying if I said this didn't bring a tear to my eye.

Please only read it if you have the time and patience to consider the message - I decided to share here because I'd reach a larger audience on the blog than through email (besides, most of the folks who I'd email read the blog, anyway).


At a fundraising dinner for a school that serves children with learning disabilities, the father of one of the students delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended. After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he offered a question. "When not interfered with by outside influences, everything nature does, is done with perfection. Yet my son, Shay, cannot learn things as other children do. He cannot understand things as other children do. Where is the natural order of things in my son?"

The audience was stilled by the query.

The father continued. "I believe that when a child like Shay, who was mentally and physically disabled comes into the world, an opportunity to realize true human nature presents itself, and it comes in the way other people treat that child."

Then he told the following story:

"Shay and I had walked past a park where some boys Shay knew were playing baseball. Shay asked, 'Do you think they'll let me play?' I knew that most of the boys would not want someone like Shay on their team, but as a father I also understood that if my son were allowed to play, it would give him a much-needed sense of belonging and some confidence to be accepted by others in spite of his handicaps. I approached one of the boys on the field and asked (not expecting much) if Shay could play. The boy looked around for guidance and said, 'We're losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we'll try to put him in to bat in the ninth inning.'

"Shay struggled over to the team's bench and, with a broad smile, put on a team shirt. I watched with a small tear in my eye and warmth in my heart. The boys saw my joy at my son being accepted. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shay's team scored a few runs but was still behind by three.

"In the top of the ninth inning, Shay put on a glove and played in the right field. Even though no hits came his way, he was obviously ecstatic just to be in the game and on the field, grinning from ear to ear as I waved to him from the stands. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shay's team scored again. Now, with two outs and the bases loaded, the potential winning run was on base and Shay was scheduled to be next at bat. At this juncture, do they let Shay bat and give away their chance to win the game?

"Surprisingly, Shay was given the bat. Everyone knew that a hit was all but impossible because Shay didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, much less connect with the ball. However, as Shay stepped up to the plate, the pitcher, recognizing that the other team was putting winning aside for this moment in Shay's life, moved in a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shay could at least make contact. The first pitch came and Shay swung clumsily and missed. The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly towards Shay. As the pitch came in, Shay swung at the ball and hit a slow ground ball right back to the pitcher.

"The game would now be over. The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could have easily thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shay would have been out and that would have been the end of the game.

"Instead, the pitcher threw the ball right over the first baseman's head, out of reach of all team mates. Everyone from the stands and both teams started yelling, 'Shay, run to first! Run to first!' Never in his life had Shay ever run that far, but he made it to first base.

"He scampered down the baseline, wide-eyed and startled.

"Everyone yelled, 'Run to second, run to second!' Catching his breath, Shay awkwardly ran towards second, gleaming and struggling to make it to the base.

"By the time Shay rounded towards second base, the right fielder had the ball. The smallest guy on their team who now had his first chance to be the hero for his team. He could have thrown the ball to the second-baseman for the tag, but he understood the pitcher's intentions so he, too, intentionally threw the ball high and far over the third-baseman's head.

"Shay ran toward third base deliriously as the runners ahead of him circled the bases toward home. All were screaming, 'Shay, Shay, Shay, all the Way Shay.'

"Shay reached third base because the opposing shortstop ran to help him by turning him in the direction of third base, and shouted, 'Run to third! Shay, run to third!' As Shay rounded third, the boys from both teams, and the spectators, were on their feet screaming, 'Shay, run home! Run home!' Shay ran to home, stepped on the plate, and was cheered as the hero who hit the grand slam and won the game for his team.

"That day", said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, "the boys from both teams helped bring a piece of true love and humanity into this world. Shay didn't make it to another summer. He died that winter, having never forgotten being the hero and making me so happy, and coming home and seeing his Mother tearfully embrace her little hero of the day!"

AND NOW A LITTLE FOOT NOTE TO THIS STORY: We all send thousands of jokes through the e-mail without a second thought, but when it comes to sending messages about life choices, people hesitate.

The crude, vulgar, and often obscene pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion about decency is too often suppressed in our schools and workplaces.

If you're thinking about forwarding this message, chances are that you're probably sorting out the people in your address book who aren't the 'appropriate' ones to receive this type of message Well, the person who sent you this believes that we all can make a difference. We all have thousands of opportunities every single day to help realize the 'natural order of things.'

So many seemingly trivial interactions between two people present us with a choice: Do we pass along a little spark of love and humanity or do we pass up those opportunities and leave the world a little bit colder in the process?

A wise man once said every society is judged by how it treats it's least fortunate amongst them.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Zuzu's Petals

I've always had a thing for George Bailey.

I don't know if it's because of his vulnerability, his naivety or his ultimate ability to overcome hardship, but I've always adored him.

Double Platinum says I love It's a Wonderful Life because I am a very "capra-esque" kind of gal - you know, glass half full, overly positive, blah blah blah.


I got my annual fix of IAWL by attending a unique performance put on by the Falcon Theatre in Newport.

The show is "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Drama" is a clever turn on an old story. It features a cast that portrays live radio in its heyday. The show includes jingle singers, sound effect masters and of course a list of actors pulling double and triple duty where the character voices are concerned.

Michael Potter played George Bailey (the irony of his last name was not lost on me), and his delivery definitely captured inflections and expressions reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart. He did a fine job portraying G.B., but I felt like he was more trying to assume Stewart's ghost instead of making the role his own.

In my opinion, Peter Weiglin and Jim Waldfogle stole the show. These distinguished gentlemen took on no less than seven characters a piece, demonstrating a remarkable command of voice, tone and dialect (and now I'm delving into my college linguistics classes). They transitioned flawlessly from grumbling and gravely characters to insecure, hesitant personas.

The entire cast was spectacular, and though the show intended to portray a live radio broadcast, I was enthralled by watching the amazing work done at the sound effect table and the subtle back stories woven between the characters.

I highly suggest you take a trip to Newport's Falcon Theatre (inside Monmouth Theatre on Monmouth) to see the show - it runs this Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Sotto Voce

That I was in madrigal choir is probably of no surprise to many of you.

My high school years were not the epitome of athleticism (though I was on the track team - as a shot put and discuss thrower) and while I perhaps had the smarts, I didn't gravitate to more scholastic activities like debate team or Latin club.

My gig was singing.

I started young, performing with school children's choirs, and that's when I determined that I loved the limelight of the spotlight that came with belting out solos. The most memorable solo of my youth involves me getting in a garbage can and teasing my hair, crooning to a dirty Chuck Taylor while singing my part of a Sesame Street medley.

In later years I tackled solos in German, French and Italian, all tunes that allowed me to explore the power and range of my voice.

High school brought on the opportunity to audition for a select madrigal choir. That group came with period costumes and the chance to experience an intense holiday performance schedule at venues around Connecticut. Ours was a group full of "chorus" people - you know the type. We sang our set list in the hallways during study hall. We'd belt out trills and embellished versions of the most popular tunes on the radio.

We would sing after school, we'd sing in the car. We'd sing at each other's homes. We were such a solid group of singers that we snagged an opportunity to tour Europe for two weeks. We never stopped singing (on that trip and in general), and I loved every minute of it.

A powerful mezzo-soprano (my torch song is "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina"), I really wanted to go to college to pursue a degree in voice. To this day, I don't know if my parents were wise or harsh in insisting I chase down a more lucrative vocation. Honestly, I also delight in the bit of irony that my chosen major of journalism has never really been considered a cash cow.

Their firm request sent me off to college a bit hurt and disappointed.

With the exception of the rare karaoke night, I haven't sang in an organized fashion since. In college, it was too painful to "play sing" by joining any one of the choruses on campus. I'd watch those groups with envy, though, knowing full well I could belt out a tune with the best of 'em.

These days I get my singing in while showering or driving.

I gave it up many, many years ago, but sometimes I wonder what it would be like to jump back in to some kind of organized musical endeavor. I have a feeling the opportunity would take me back to the good 'ole days when I was a kid.

I wonder if that's how these guys feel.

Straight, No Chaser is an a cappella group that first started singing over ten years ago at Indiana University. Back in the day, the group was known for singing classic songs with a humorous twist. One of members uploaded an old holiday performance on You Tube, and it's now been seen by more than eight million people.

The viral sensation has led to a record deal for SNC, so the group is apparently getting back together after all these years.

They're squeezing in a tour and time in the recording studio in between their day jobs - all for an opportunity to relive a moment of their youth and crank out some really fantastic music.

I can only imagine how ecstatic these guys are.

Friday, December 05, 2008

On The Books

Hopefully you can make this graphic out. If not, here's what you need to know:

The Cincinnati Women Bloggers are hosting a Holiday Social at Pachinko in MainStrasse Village, Covington on Monday, December 15.
The social runs from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
You don't have to be a blogger, twitterati or even a computer user (though I don't know who, besides my mother, isn't online).
Cover is $10, with proceeds going to the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Northern Kentucky (a United Way of Greater Cincinnati partner agency).
The donation includes a drink ticket and appetizers.
Would be wonderful to see you there!

Monday, December 01, 2008


I was going to start this post with melancholy reflection - only because that's the emotion my birthday tends to prompt these past few years.

But then I experienced an unexpected series of events this morning, and thought I should reflect on that.

My day started with the unfortunate chore of having to clean up three piles of dog poo and a little pool of dog pee.

Such are the trials and tribulations when you are house sitting for two dogs, and though I was very disappointed and highly disgusted, I couldn't help but think to myself, Only on MY birthday would this happen.

Most people start their birthdays with a special cup of coffee or perhaps breakfast in bed. Me? I start mine with cleaning up crap.

To make matters worse, I couldn't find a pair of rubber gloves, there were no paper towels in the house, and the poop was kind of mushy (sorry for the over sharing). The whole scenario was a little bit, uh, undesirable.

So, there I was in my pajamas, my hand wrapped in two plastic grocery bags, using toilet paper to clean up the mess.

The whole time I was cursing the dogs and thinking about how I had planned on curling my hair and putting on some makeup that morning. I mean, there's no better time than a birthday to put in a little effort in one's appearance, right?

Instead, I was nose deep in mushy shit that I had to clean up myself. Not a stellar start, but at least I knew the day could only get better.

Now for the melancholy reflection...

Curiosity raced through my veins for the very first time on this day in 1976. After a long day of procrastination, I finally made my debut at 10:10 pm in Charlotte, North Carolina.

A bloody, cone-headed mess, my eyes were wide open and dancing around the hospital room, taking in the bright lights, the many faces, and of course the two people who gave me life - at least that's what I'm told. The story is always the same. I was checking the place out, looking around with unabashed interest in my surroundings, and I guess it's been that way ever since.

This passion for discovery, understanding and experience has offered a thrilling journey during these 32 years.

And though today marks the anniversary of my birth, I am all too aware of the fact that I am dying with each breath. It's a very morbid way of looking at life, but I am cognisant of the fact that we're all getting closer to death with the sweep of each second hand.

It's that acknowledgement that I suppose fuels my eternal hunger for life experience. I don't know the expiration date of my life, and so I am working damn hard to savor every taste while I can.

This sense of adventure, paired with low expectations and a laid back attitude, have served me well thus far. Sometimes life hands me a great moment, like walking down the steps of the Eiffel Tower, a special moment of bonding with my family, or savoring a spectacular dinner with my closest friends and an almost limitless supply of wine.

Other times my life is all about cleaning up the shit.

I guess it's the balance and the ability to take it all in stride that makes me grateful.