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Monthly Archives: March 2015

Money And Muffins

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Every so often I try to be adult and look at the state of my finances.  However, I always forget that I have more money issues than a Wall Street Journal subscription, and that I’m already instinctively doing okay in terms of savings and such, and that – contrary to what people usually recommend – I actually do better automating all my payments and savings and then otherwise kind of ignoring what my bank account is doing.  Bad things do happen – my work accidentally underwithheld my state taxes, and I owe kind of a lot – but I still have the savings to cover that, and will be able to build it back up within a month or so.  But the fact that I had to dip into it for any reason is sending me into a “what-if” freakout that leads me to think that I’m going to end up living in a box with a pet rat when I’m 80 – which is kind of an overreaction to having to pay $500 in state tax.  Especially when I’m actually getting a federal return of $300.

And then I tried snapping out of it by looking into vacation plans, but a lot of the things I wanted to do are either cost-prohibitive or sold out.  I could easily save the money up by July, no problem – but I don’t have the money now.  Which just added to the anxiety.

I’ve pretty much come out of the worst of it, and even have a tiny plan to start an “I want to travel” savings account – I already have a “fun stuff” savings account, which my Irish friend kicked me into starting so I would at least have money on hand to go to a damn movie or something once in a while.  But the tail end of the bad mood is still there.

Fortunately, though, it’s a rainy day, and I have a lot of baking supplies on hand.  So I’ve resolved to bake my way out of this; filling the house with a variety of cakes and muffins and puddings and nibbly cookie things and other treats that can sort of soften life’s blows.  I may have to make a tiny grocery run, but I also know that for some reason, money spent on groceries sort of “doesn’t count” (I know it does, but it’s my psychosis, shut up) and it’ll only be a couple things I need to get anyway, only about ten bucks’ worth, and I’ll end up nibbling my way through chocolate and butter and in the meantime my bank account will slowly build back up while I’m distracted elsewhere and it’ll all be just fine.

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If This Isn’t Nice, I Don’t Know What Is

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I don’t drink often as a rule, so I don’t “go out to a bar” all that much.  Generally there needs to be something else going on to draw me there – a pub quiz, a holiday, good food.  I’ve gotten in good with the owners at the pub up my block, to the point that one of the owners sometimes springs for an extra drink for me if I’m at the bar – but I’m there for brunch more often than booze.

Then – just this Sunday, I learned that all this month they’re having traditional Irish music seisiuns on Mondays.

Well.

seisiun, for the record, is a sort of low-key, informal music thing in Irish bars – half jam session, half gig, half house party.  And mostly Irish folk – but the loose and informal folk I like, rather than the often over-produced things you hear in the big splashy Celtic Women Of Riverdance Meet The Chieftains kind of thing you’re probably all thinking about.  Small instruments usually – no one would dream of bringing a harp to a pub, after all, so it’s usually just guitar, bodhran drum, maybe a fiddle or a pipe, maybe a singer.  The band cracks jokes with each other and the audience in between sets, and sometimes shout out their drink orders to the bar while they’re in the middle of playing.

I am completely broke this week, and I really had stuff to do last night, but I decided I was just going to have to go for just a bit.  An hour, maybe.  One drink.

Two thirds of the band was already there when I showed up – guitarist and fiddler, huddled in the window, already in the middle of a song.  I snuck into a seat at the bar close by and ordered something that I had carefully calculated would still let me afford a tip for the bartender.

And then I sipped my cider and just sort of….settled in.  A seisiun doesn’t necessarily require total silence and listening attentiveness; you can talk to your friends if you want, sing along, or just sit back and chill and let the music wrap around you.  And that’s what I did, watching as the fiddler switched back and forth between that and a set of Irish pipes and then a pennywhistle, depending on the number.  After a while a third guy showed up, a big guy with a long ponytail and a bodhran in a case.  He was the singer as well, and his arrival heralded an expansion not just in the sound, but the set list, with some more contemporary songs joining the set.

Audrey, one of the two owners, came over to say hi and I joked that “you realize that you’ve just guaranteed I’m going to be here every Monday this month.”  I mentioned that I was going to have to leave after my one drink, and she insisted that no, I should stay for a second – even if she had to buy it.  “What are you drinkin’, love?” she asked, and when I meekly refused to go with beer, she just nodded and said “wine, then” and had the bartender pour me a glass of pinot.

And ten minutes later, the bartender handed me a second one with a grin – “This one’s from Audrey too.”  Audrey, by that time, was busy trying to corral an adorable two-year-old girl who was intently trying to pull all the menus out of the hostess’s station. She would grab one, run across the bar and hand it to someone, and Audrey and her mother would chase after her to retrieve it, apologizing to the confused customer.  The band saw her, though, and broke into something lively with a steady beat on the bodhran – and she stopped in front of them, watching in fascination for a moment, then started a little toddler-dance, bouncing on knees and stamping feet, just moving in glee.  After a moment she ran over to Audrey and grabbed her hand, then dragged her over to grab mum’s hand and pulled them into it, letting the two of them hold her up while she threw her little body into the music.

The band slowed things down after that, with an old Van Morrison tune; it was one of my favorites, and I sang along with them softly.  I thought I’d been subtle, but the bodhran player saluted me after the song – “You knew all the words!  I’m impressed!”

I grinned. “If you guys know ‘Fisherman’s Blues’,” I sassed back, “you may have earned yourself a groupie.”  They all laughed at that, and went into their next song, and I went back to watching Audrey and our little dancer.

And then just as I was wrapping up with my last drink and starting in on a big glass of water (three drinks in two hours, and no food – yikes) the bodhran player called over asking me my name.  I told him, and he smirked.  “So we’re gonna do one more song before we take a short break,” he said into the mike, “but first here’s a Kim special.”  The band all grinned at me – and launched into “Fisherman’s Blues.”  I laughed uproariously when I recognized it, and sang along with that too.  When it ended I dramatically blew them all a kiss, and they laughed as well, pretending to catch it as they untethered themselves from instruments and picked up their own drinks.

Sometimes the world gives you good moments.

Doing Is Awesome!

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You know what, let me share the List Of Awesome I wrote at the beginning of the year.  This way, if the world knows about it, maybe it’ll happen.

So – by the end of the year, I want to do at least most of these:

  • Camp solo at Floyd Bennett Field. Floyd Bennett is an abandoned airfield at the ass-end of Brooklyn that’s now part of the national parks system – and as such, it has actual campgrounds there: full-on, legit campgrounds, where they give you a patch of ground with a fire pit in the corner and you bring your tent, sleeping bag, S’mores fixin’s, the whole bit.  It’d be my first solo camping excursion, and there’s something comforting about the fact that if something totally goes south I can always pack everything back up and catch a bus and be home in an hour.
  •  Hike in Staten Island.  Staten Island is the most suburban of New York’s boroughs, and there’s a huge network of hiking trails running bang down the middle. One of them is connected to a park that’s part of the same National Recreation Area that Floyd Bennett is, so that’d make for a great double-header. – (I did this – the report is pending.)
  • Hike the Rockaway Beach Rail Line trail in Queens.  I visited this as part of a research expedition for an Atlas Obscura piece; it’s an abandoned track on the Long Island Railroad, and three miles of the trail runs through a couple parks end-to-end; a number of Queens hikers have taken to using it as a park itself, and there’s a grassroots movement to give it a “High Line Park” treatment and make it an official hiking trail.
  •  Hike the Old Croton Aqueduct trail, end to end.  This I may do this spring – hiking the trail that’s been set up along the top of New York City’s first public aqueduct.  The trail also runs close to the Metro-North track up along the Hudson, so a lot of hikers will take the train up to one end, hike until they’re done, and get on the nearest train and come home.  But I want to do the whole thing – heading all the way up north, staying overnight in a hotel halfway, and then getting up and hitting the trail again and walking until I hit Yonkers.  Or maybe follow it all the way into the Bronx and take a subway home.
  • More Neighborhood New York pieces.   ….I swear I haven’t forgotten – the weather has just been shitty and I wasn’t going to go outside during the winter so hell with that.
  • Go see the Perseids under a really dark sky.  I have been trying for years to see the Perseid meteor shower somewhere – get up in the middle of the night at its peak and rent a Zipcar and drive far enough out on Long Island that I can escape the worst of New York’s light pollution and at least see some.  But every time there’s been a problem – either the car’s broken down somewhere near Massapequa, or it was cloudy, or I was sick; once I was nursing my cat through his final illness.  So I’ve always missed it.  But this year I am determined.
  • High Tea somewhere.  There’s got to be a place in New York where I can show up wearing a fancy dress and partake of a real proper full-on Downton-Abbey scale high tea with teeny sandwiches and fancy cake.
  • Tea at 4 on the afternoons I’m home.  Okay, you know how sometimes you have family members who only see you once a year or so and so when it comes to gift giving occasions, they sort of have siezed on one thing about you and always get you that thing?  For me and my family, this was tea.  I thus have an entire shelf of tea in all permutations – herbal, black, green, flavored, medicinal, in bags, loose, you name it.  Not only would getting into a tea-break habit be civilized, it would clean out my damn pantry.
  • Bake something every other week so there’s always something sweet in the house. Gotta have something to eat when I have my tea break, don’t I?
  • Eat through at least half of my pantry in general, and drink through at least half of my wine collection.  I have all this food that I am just plain not using – stuff that I purchased on impulse thinking “that would be good to create meals from”, but I never do.  And I also haven’t let myself drink alone – not because I’ve got a Dark Past, just because I think “it’s just me, what’s the point”, so all the wine that people have given me over the years has just sat here.  It’s time to put up or shut up – time to actually do some of those experiments I wanted to try, and actually let myself enjoy some damn wine.
  • Meet someone famous.  ….Okay, it’s a shallow wish, shut up.
  • Have a picnic during each of the four seasons.   I admit I’ve considered rethinking this during this particular winter, but next week is finally supposed to warm up a bit- I may do something on March 19th and check winter off on a technicality.
  • Leave the state at least twice.
  • Use three-day weekends for trips to either Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Providence, or upstate New York (the Catskills, Ithaca, Albany, the Adirondacks….).
  • Spend at least an overnight on a houseboat, a cabin, or a treehouse.
  • Skinny dip.
  • Take an aimless weekend road trip.
  • Hit up the First Saturday events at the Brooklyn Museum at least every other month.  I’m close enough to the museum that it’s ridiculous I don’t do this more – the first Saturday of the month, the Brooklyn Museum is free from 5 pm to closing, and they also have a whole ton of goofy extra activities planned; concerts, lectures, special exhibits, food, a dance party.  Most of the time I just turn up and take advantage of the free hours and prowl the regular exhibits that everyone else is ignoring because they’re all at the big events; but once I walked into the tail end of some concert where a woman was doing a scorchingly great cover of something by the Doors.
  • Get a proper bra fitting.  My friend E describes this as “the kind of place where little old ladies feel you up”.
  • A day at a spa.  I trust I need not explain why.
  • A bubble bath every other week.  Ditto.
  • At last two each: outdoor summer movies, outdoor summer concerts, events at my local Indie bookstore, and movies in a movie theater.  There are a crapton of free outdoor events every summer and I always make note of all of them, and them promptly forget them all.  Time to do more.
  • One each – a play in a theater, and an outing to a pub quiz.  Two things I haven’t done in a long time and need to do again.
  • Have someone else clean the house, just once.
  • Use more candles.  ….The members of my family who didn’t go with tea do candles.
  • Visit a major museum I’ve not been to before.  Coincidentally the city has just introduced a means to make this easy – to encourage people to sign up with the official city ID card, the mayor has rolled out a promotion that lets people use that card to apply for a free years’ membership in a slew of major museums.  I’ve already got a drivers’ license, so technically I don’t need it, but that is a sweet deal.
  • A visit to Storm King.  It combines travel outside the city, hiking, and art – this is like the perfect Venn diagram of my interests, and it makes absolutely no sense that I’ve not ever been there yet.
  • Write at least two letters on paper, old school.
  • Home renovation projects.  Just some things to pump up my living room – get new drapes for the living room, a new slipcover for my couch, more organization for my bar cabinet and art for this one big bare wall.
  • Try to get out on another photo expo with my friend Colin during the Botanic Garden’s early morning hours.  Depending on those hours, I could probably do this before work, even.  And as he pointed out to me, the light is beautiful, the dew on the flowers is picturesque, and the crowds are non-existent.
  • Take a nap in a hammock on Governors’ Island.  Governors’ Island has its “hammock grove,” but every time I’ve tried to hit that up the hammocks are all taken.  But now – I have my own hammock.  The island is mine.
  • Finish some of my outstanding unfinished knitting projects.  All knitters reading this just nodded knowingly.
  • Make some kind of textile good in general.
  • Hang out in a really stank dive bar one night.
  • Buy myself flowers and chocolate on my “birthday date” each  month.
See?  Way better than a New Years’ resolution list.

A Year Of Doing

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I’ve jokingly warned my friends that for me, this is going to be “The Year Of Doing Shit.”  This is actually a good change – a long string of bad luck and low energy and empty pockets forced me into a need-to-do-only mentality – focus on work, focus on home maintenance, focus just on keeping the bare minimum of self afloat.  If someone had arranged some fun stuff for me, or invited me to something they’d already planned, I’d go, but I had no energy to plan much of anything myself.

So I took it as a very good sign a couple days into January when I suddenly made a huge list of Things I Wanted to Do this year.  I was thinking of New Year’s resolutions (okay, yeah, it was a couple day’s late) and instead of the usual “get something published” or “eat more vegetables” kinds of things, I found myself making resolutions like “find a place that has proper English High Tea” or “go on one picnic each season” or “bake twice a month”.  I filled up about two pages of a Moleskine with a huge List Of Awesome, and started making actual concrete plans to do some of them right away.

And then we got hit with Fimbulwinter for two months, and the cold and snow and yick kept me in my mole hole a little longer.  And on top of that, I got hit with a couple of financial hiccups (I don’t have the best of options for paid time off right now, and a tax snafu also means I have to pay way more than I thought I would this year).  And so more than a few times my roommate has come home to find me watching TV and too wiped to do much else.

But then today, I’ve suddenly been hit with the urge to add to my original List Of Awesome – and even do a couple things this weekend.  I used to be in the habit of sometimes, when I was bored, going on a walk and just taking pictures – not really for anything or of anything in particular, just…looking for things that would be good pictures.  I haven’t done that in years; but then just this morning, as I was scurrying to get ready for work, I passed the shelf where my camera is stashed and paused, looking at it.  “Sunday’s supposed to be nice,” I thought…

Maybe the Doing-Shit impulse just needed to catch a second wind.

There’s A Reason This Isn’t A Fashion Blog

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Thoughts During This Weekend’s Great 24-Hour Wardrobe Overhaulapalooza

  • Shopping actually goes a lot easier when you have a bit of a slogan in mind to describe your style.  Based on what’s in my closet, I think my slogan is “Preppy Sailor In The Bohemian Division of The Hippie Navy”.
  • There is nothing sadder than the one ebay purchase you made on a whim a year ago but then it was too small so you stuck it in your closet in the hopes that maybe one day you would magically start being a person who remembered to exercise and would maybe lose weight.
  • I have a lot of scarves.
  • I set out to buy two specific things – a navy blue blazer and a red and white striped boatneck top.  Both are simple, common items.  Both were offered at the first store I went to – but the red and white striped top was only available in small.  There is no logical justification I can find to explain why none of the other five stores I subsequently went to had anything resembling that item on offer – either the colors were wrong, the sleeves were wrong, or the neck was wrong.  Or there were no striped tops of any description.  785 different kinds of poncho, sure, but no red and white striped boatneck tops.
  • Craziest clothing item I saw – a sweater that looked like the pelt of a Muppet who’d lost its life in a glue-related accident at a rhinestone factory.
  • The layout of H&M stores makes no damn sense.  I see a rack that says “Pants” in big letters, I go to look at the pants – and instead I find tiny tissue-paper dresses and “vintage look” t-shirts.  Another rack with a sign saying “Dresses” actually bears bras.  The pants, I can only assume, must be on a rack labelled “parking meters”, and the dresses on a rack saying “Beware of the Pirhana”.
  • I have never understood why women try to bring their boyfriends shopping with them.  Every department store I go to, I always see this sad cluster of guys sitting outside the dressing room, looking bored out of their minds; or I see a woman eagerly pawing through the racks, turning now and then to a guy behind her who’s got a thousand-yard stare and asking him, “what do you think of this, do you like it?” and he grunts something in response.  Ladies – they don’t want to shop with you.  Accept it.  And no, they’re not giving their real opinion of the outfit you’re trying on – they’re just saying whatever will get them the hell out of there fastest.  Seriously, do yourself and him a favor and leave the guy at home.
  • I have a lot of scarves.
  • There has got to be some kind of paper about the herd mentality which uses teenage girls in shopping centers as their case study.
  • I was going to be so organized about my wardrobe.  Really, I was – taking pictures of the outfits I liked, trying everything on, carefully noting how this shirt went with that pants and those shoes, but after getting everything out of my closet and laying it out on the sofa…I was already getting bored.  I made myself check out a few options, tried on a bunch of things that I was suspicious were getting too small, packed away a couple things I was pretty sure I wouldn’t wear again this season, and then hung everything back up again.  I’ve already largely forgotten most of the “new outfit ideas” I came up with only an hour later.  Fortunately, that navy blazer mixes in well and I do remember about a week and a half’s worth of outfits I can get just from that, so that’s a bit of progress.
  • I did also use the time to exile some things to the laundry.  I may have only the vaguest ideas what to wear that floral-pattern blouse with, but it’ll be a clean floral-pattern blouse.
  • Really, the biggest problem with any outfit browsing these days is that I need to take the shoes into consideration.  A lot of what I was coming up with wouldn’t work with the waterproof clog-like things I’ve been wearing since mid-January because they’re the dressiest snow-friendly shoes I own.
  • No, seriously, I have a lot of scarves.
  • The maximum amount of time I can send thinking about clothes seems to be about four hours before I start thinking things like oh who the hell cares it is just a pair of pants all it’s really supposed to do is cover your butt it is not supposed to be an artistic statement.
  • I still probably have more clothes than I should.  But I am pretty sure that I have about a months’ worth of outfits in there, none of which involve jeans, and all of which can be definitely worn to work.
  • And a lot of scarves.