Friday, January 30, 2009

Pittsburgh Steelers

I grew up on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Growing up in Western Pennsylvania typically guarantees a couple of things:
1) You will inherit the rather grating local accent,
2) You will worship the Pittsburgh Steelers.

I've been trying to discard the accent all my life, with varying success, but I will always love the Pittsburgh Steelers! Football is huge in Western Pennsylvania anyway, but the Steelers have appeared in SIX Superbowls--winning five--and Pittsburgh LOVES its home team. On Sunday they will take on the Arizona Cardinals in Tampa for the national championship: Superbowl XLIII.

Having moved away from Pennsylvania after college, my husband and I have cheered on the Steelers mostly alone. But this year, I've re-connected with many of my Pittsburgh friends via facebook, so every day I receive event requests encouraging me to join the "Terrible Towel" or "Super Bowl Bound Wave."
So Sunday evening, I will watch the big game, enthusiastically waving my Terrible Towel, admiring Hines Ward's smile and checking out Troy Polamalu's (USC 03!) cute little ass. Also, seeing my team win a sixth Superbowl. Go Steelers!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Things That Made Me Happy in January

1. Barack Hussein Obama. I am no longer cynical, I am hopeful. Our new president has such an overwhelming task ahead; I do not know if any person could be up to the challenges but I do know that I have such confidence in this intelligent, well-spoken, thoughtful man and today I am very proud, once again, to be an American. Stay informed Here and Here.

2. Coffee in bed. This weekend was a long one for my husband and I (looove academia), so we took turns making coffee in our French Press, preparing a tray, and bringing it upstairs. Sometimes we'd eat cookies, too.

3. Coffee in the shower. My sleep patterns changed recently and I found myself waking up really really early. My husband and I have been working out after work for ever, but we were becoming increasingly frustrated with its impact on our down time. We'd rush home, ravenous, but no! first to the gym! Once home, we'd end up eating dinner too late to enjoy it, shower quickly, then it would be time for bed.

In the past, working out in the morning wasn't logistically feasible, with four people vying for our one shower. Also, I resisted rising any earlier than necessary, especially on a work day. But now that my sons have moved on, and I was waking up so early anyway, I thought, why not? So now we set our alarm for 4:45 am. The key is not to think about it. If you ponder, the second after the alarm, "What if I stayed in bed today and worked out tomorrow instead?" you're dead. Once I pull on my sweats and am outside scraping ice off the windshield in the frigid, dark, morning, it's too late. My path is chosen.

One of my colleagues at University of Southern California, a morning runner, came into work one morning complaining about the mess she had made when she dropped her coffee cup in the shower. We all made fun of her--who takes their coffee in the shower?--but now that I am a morning runner too I have seen the light. I prepare the coffee maker the night before, and when we step in the door, back from the gym, it's about finished brewing. I head to the shower and my darling husband brings me fresh-ground, freshly made coffee. He has to choose the cup carefully because it must fit on the windowsill, just adjacent to the shower stall!

4. My new coat and hat. For Christmas, my husband gave me this beautiful J.Crew Lady Day coat in sea salt (creamy white, really--lined in Thinsulate). A few days later we found the cloche at Urban Outfitters. I still need a faux fur muffler, I think, to really complete the look. And I always carry a Shout wipe with me, although I recently tried it on a minor stain and the wipe caused a more noticeable mark than the dirt scuff itself. Wah!

5. Knitting and reading books about knitting, sewing, etc. I'm a novice, but this month I taught myself how to knit cables and fix dropped stitches (sort of). And I'm about finished with a beautiful scarf made of cashmere and wool filaments that is the color of the Nantucket hydrangeas. Last week I went to the local knitting shop over lunch. There's a table around which ladies sit and knit, so my friend and I brought our knitting and worked on our projects a bit. I tried to watch all the seasoned knitters in order to break the bad habits I had developed by teaching myself knitting in a vacuum. I also spent an unreasonable amount of money on yarn for two new projects from Louisa Harding's beautiful book Knitting Little Luxuries.

There's only so much time in the day, though, and thus often I prefer reading about crafting rather than actually doing it. I'm actually--or I used to be--a very good sewer, but it's still fun to look through books of basic sewing projects such as Seams to Me, Stitched in Time, and Amy Butler's In Stitches, and I can't wait until this book comes out in February. Knitting-wise, although God knows when I will knit through the yarn I purchased last week, I'm about to order this book from Amazon; wouldn't it be lovely to knit Anthropologie-like sweaters for oneself?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Iced Vanilla Blended

I am craving an Iced Vanilla Blended from Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. Sadly, there are no franchises nearby--in fact none in Illinois!--and no, Starbuck's Frappuccino is not the same! (The closest I've come locally is my nearby Border's/Seattle's Best Iced Vanilla Latte.)

So here is my question/plea. Can anyone provide a recipe that I can follow at home to closely approximate the real deal? I would consider ordering CB&TL's French Deluxe Vanilla powder, but with shipping it's really a bit ridiculous. Still, if that's what it takes...

I guess I would need an espresso machine as well. Damn. I don't think this is going to happen.

Here's where I'd rather be today. Strolling down the Promenade and sipping a Blended, of course. Current temperature on the Prairie: 12°F (feels like -6). Double damn.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Appreciating Art: An Unorthodox Method for Maintaining Your Child's Interest at a Museum

I recall an August afternoon in Chicago in 1973 when I took my daughter, then seven, to see what Georgia O"Keeffe had done with where she had been. One of the vast O'Keeffe "Sky Above Clouds" canvases floated over the back stairs in the Chicago Art Institute that day, dominating what seemed to be several stories of empty light, and my daughter looked at it once, ran to the landing, and kept on looking. "Who drew it," she whispered after a while. I told her. "I need to talk to her," she said finally.
Joan Didion, The White Album. 1979.

Last Saturday, my husband, myself and my youngest son took my oldest son back to his home in Chicago and decided to spend the rainy afternoon at the Art Institute of Chicago. When we lived in Chicago before moving south in 2002, we were members of the Institute and paid it regular visits, but I hadn't been back since before I moved to Los Angeles in 2006. It was so good to be back but it is changing! We were lucky that the new Impressionist galleries had re-opened just before Christmas, and many works that were on loan previously were back in the collection. I can never visit the Art Institute without saying hello to old friends like Caillebotte's Paris Street or Seurat's La Grande Jatte! Also, in May, a new Modern Wing will open. Designed by Renzo Piano, the new space increases total museum space by 30%, and will display the entire range of modern and contemporary collections. Good stuff.

Now that my boys are grown up, we proceeded through the museum a bit differently than we had in the past. Together, the four of us walked through the photography exhibit, Henri Cartier-Bresson and the Art and Photography of Paris, but then we split up, each visiting our favorite collections. I spent most of my time in the European Sculpture and Painting area, especially admiring the Jacques Louis Davids and the Hubert Roberts. (I love this, and this.) I just finished Francis du Plessix-Gray's biography of Madame de Staël and felt drawn to see artists from the same time period (1766–1817) . We met for lunch in the Institute's Garden Restaurant, and then dashed to the parking garage under Chicago's beautiful Millenium Park in the pouring rain.

It was fun to see my sons, now 22 and 18, feel so at home and excited to be in the Art Institute. When we first moved to Chicago, in 1992, they were so small and I, thrilled to be living near one of the greatest museums in the world, felt compelled to drag them there. It was clear within minutes that I would need to devise a way to hold their interest long enough to give me time to enjoy it myself. Thus, follows my rather subversive technique, and I'm sure many will not approve. I should also add that both of my boys are artsy, liberal, and independent (intellectually, if not yet financially ;-)) so if you're trying to keep your children on the straight & narrow, this probably is not the best option. Leave them at home! Still, it worked, and here was the plan:

1. Arms and Armor collection. What boy doesn't like swords, pistols, halberds, cleavers, suits of armor, maces, and and chain mail? The Armor collection at the Art Institute used to be located on the first floor, and we would always start here. Then, I would rush the boys up to the Impressionist gallery for a few short minutes so I could see my Monets and Renoirs, until my sons lost interest and we would then find:

2. St. George Killing the Dragon, by Bernat Martorell (1430/35).

More armor, more weaponry, and a dragon to boot. There's a lot of blood and gore in the Renaissance & Baroque Art collection. My boys were also particularly taken with:

3. The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist. Giovanni di Paolo (1455-60, in the Medieval to Modern European Painting and Sculpture).

Yes, truly disgusting, but imagine how interested the boys were in learning all about John the Baptist (locusts!!!) and Salome (veils!). (Here's another "head" shot, if you're also interested in this sort of thing.) We spent a lot of time in the Medieval to Modern European Painting and Sculpture gallery. I could look at the beautiful Davids (see above), and my sons would be thrillingly horrified by paintings such as:

4. Head of a Guillotined Man, Théodore Géricault (1818/19).

Ew. But still...memorable.

5. It wasn't all blood and gore. The Art Institute is home to the charming Thorne Miniature Rooms, which also entranced. My youngest son also developed an attachment to an earthenware Chinese horse.

6. Finally, we would go to the Museum store and the boys would choose postcards of their favorite pieces. I still find them when I'm cleaning out their drawers (among other, less savory, things)!

This Buddha is a family joke. Actually, it's between my husband and I; our youngest son isn't very amused. Anyways, at the time when we first started going to the Art Institute, he was just turned two. He was comforted by sucking the finger on one hand, and holding onto our earlobe (!?) with the other. You may not imagine, but someone continually holding onto your earlobe is very irritating. There's also a risk that you may end up looking up like the Buddha above. At least that's how it felt.