Thursday, June 07, 2007

"The stars at night..."

Above: That’s me, sporting my ten-gallon hat, of course!

"Are big and bright, (clap, clap, clap), Deep in the heart of Texas!" I remember hearing this song for the first time while watching Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. I always wanted to sing it, preferably with a bunch of Texans. My dream came true last weekend at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

Jason and I just returned from a long weekend trip to Houston. I have to be honest, I was not super thrilled to return to the city where I had my wisdom teeth taken out, but I was excited to meet his family members from his dad’s side. Having lived a big chunk of my life in the south, I was looking forward to sweet tea, southern food, and friendly people. I was not disappointed.

After getting settled in the first of two hotel rooms (the first one’s A/C wasn’t working, so we relocated after our first night), we decided to check out the local Waffle House. I don’t believe there are any Waffle Houses north of the Mason-Dixon Line, so Jason and I believed we were in for a treat.. Or at least, I did, and Jason gave me the benefit of the doubt. We walked in at 11:30 PM and saw only one clean table. The remaining tables were covered in dirty dishes left by previous patrons. We were so focused on our hunger that we ignored the mess as best as we could, especially since I reassured Jason that it’d be okay. The other Waffle Houses I had frequented were clean and had friendly people and decent food. I knew we were in trouble when we had to clear ants off of the table. The sad thing is that we stayed to eat! Jason’s brother-in-law, Paul, claims that it was worth it for the funny story this experience provides. I am still debating this theory.

Above: With Jason’s family, wearing 3D glasses at the IMAX.

I met Jason’s family, including his grandpa (who reminded me a lot of my 81-year-old grandpa from Tennessee who still works full time!), his aunts and uncles, and a few cousins. We had a great time! You can definitely say we ate wonderful food, and we managed to go to an Astros game (thank you, Carlos and Vicky!), and even broke them out of an 11-game losing streak. (The Red Sox lost that night, but you can’t win ‘em all!)

The best part for me was feeling welcomed into Jason’s family by people who had met me for the first time that weekend. Hugs were plentiful and I felt the southern hospitality throughout my visit, a feeling that I sometimes miss in Boston. Of course, since his dad grew up in Houston, I am marrying a half-southern gentleman, but I digress.

One of my favorite moments was at the end of the trip. Jason and I, along with his sister and Paul, were following his mom and dad back to the hotel. Stopped at a red light, Jason decided to honk the horn as soon as the light changed. Laughter shook the Trail Blazer as his dad flipped us off.

For me, Jason helped me wipe away the bad memories from my summer in Houston during college. They have been replaced with Carlos’ stories, Jason’s grandpa’s laugh, and all of the smiles shared during our visit.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Non-Stop Prom

[From the clutter-free desk of Normal Girl, comes this evaluation of the Boston Prom. Check out a mini photo gallery over at Jason’s blog]

For me, last weekend was devoted to Prom.

Friday, my youngest sister attended her senior prom. She got all dolled up, and then I squatted at her feet to buckle her black heels. I mentioned that she’d be returning the favor in a little over a year when I wear my wedding dress, but she was too excited to sense my hint of sarcasm. You have to understand that she is a bit of a drama queen, being the baby of the family and all. The following words came out of her mouth in a huff as she paced, waiting on her boyfriend who ALMOST prevented them from riding in the limo: “It’s my senior prom; it’s supposed to be perfect!” Lyra (my other sister) and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes. I guess after you experience your senior prom, it doesn’t seem like such a thrilling experience anymore. For Lyss, it was a big deal and looking back, I feel bad that I wasn’t more supportive. At the same time, her boyfriend slept until 2 and then ran around getting an undershirt and borrowing my dad’s dress shoes, while Lyra frantically searched on the internet for instructions on folding a handkerchief. Are you getting a glimpse into the chaos of my family’s house?! After surviving the tornado that was Lyss and her date, Chris, running down the stairs to catch a limo with Lyss’ friends, I took a deep breath and remembered my senior prom..

Cast your memory back to 1995… Although big hair was beginning to fade into history, it was alive and well in Circleville, Ohio. Prom was a huge event. We decorated for two days straight to make the gym into a Paris café. The sidewalk was lined with parents and siblings, who blinded us with flashes like we were celebrities on the red carpet. My date and I had a blast, dancing the night away with friends and smiling as the Prom Queen and King were announced. I have a few distinct memories from that night, but what stands out more than anything is how I sat in the salon chair for two hours on a hairstyle that barely survived through pictures. This time around, I’d do it myself!

Back to last weekend and Boston Prom. Normal Guy and I always joke about “what ifs”—what if I had stayed in Maine? Would we have dated? Would we have gone to prom? Well, this was our chance to experience prom together. I have to be honest, it took a little of the fanfare away considering that we got ready in the same apartment! Nevertheless, we got all dolled up, just like Lyss, and headed out to catch a cab to prom.

Dinner was good, although we shared our table with an “interesting” pair. We had fun taking pictures and tried to think of cheesy poses, just like we did in 1995. I was excited about sharing a slow dance at prom, but it wasn’t meant to be. Spinderella had only fast songs on her play list and didn’t touch any of my favorites from the 80’s: Bon Jovi, Boyz II Men, and Guns ‘n Roses. We sat there, watching the other prom-goers dancing. We danced for a few songs, but the music was the end for me—just not what I was looking for! When Normal Guy asked me what I was thinking about, my response was “comfy pants.” I wanted to go home.

Reliving prom was fun, but I realized what made it different this time around. After watching Lyss get ready, I remembered that, to me, high school prom was about creating a perfect romantic moment. Normal Guy and I don’t need to create a perfect time and place for perfect moments; we experience them at random moments that we share, whether it’s sharing a laugh in my car driving to Maine or playing travel cribbage on our hotel bed in NYC. Prom was not necessary for us to have a perfect moment, but it was still fun to get dressed up! Next time, we’ll call it an early night and share a slow dance barefoot in our living room!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Senior Prom – 12 Years Later

Above: That’s us, captured mid-laugh at The Boston Prom

Better late than never, isn’t that right? On Saturday night, Keryn and I got dressed up in our best formal-ware and headed to the prom. I think we were both expecting it to be a more relaxed event, but 90% of the people there were taking it very seriously. I had been hoping to see some puffy sleeves and mall hair—standard fare for my own actual senior prom back in mid-coast Maine. Keryn was hoping for some cheesy 80’s music; perhaps some Whitesnake, Poison, and Bon Jovi. Alas, we were both sorely out of luck. And they reserved the lone slow dance for the waning minutes (by which point we had already fought the drizzle to snag a taxicab). All in all, we had a great time. How could I not, seeing as my date was the hottest girl at the prom!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Dining at the Automat

After brunch in the East Village, we wandered in search of cheap sunglasses and knock-off handbags. Suddenly I perceived a pink storefront… No, not a storefront, but a vending machine the size of a hotel room. What kind of crazy contraption might it be?

Imagine my glee at realizing it was none other than the very Automat I read about in The New Yorker a few months ago. I couldn’t have been more excited. I think Keryn had a tough time understanding my fascination, but I was not the only man drawn to the stainless steel machine. In the fifteen minutes we stood in the vicinity, ten people snapped photographs. None bought food.

The Automat offers a diverse set of snacks and meals. PB&J sandwiches. Chicken nuggets. “Roast pork bun”--whatever the hell that is. Or how about the mac ‘n’ cheese kroket (or the dubious-sounding chicken pot pie kroket). Corndogs. Hot dogs. Cheeseburgers. Donuts. Name something unhealthy, and they’ve got it.

How does this nifty contraption work? Well some guy in the back prepares the snacks and loads them onto shelves. The hungry shopper feeds six or eight quarters through the change slot, opens one of the glass doors, and takes the treat of his liking. No lines, no menus, no language barriers. Like buying a soda except with meat.

I’m not going to lie--the food did not look especially appetizing. And I’ll eat almost anything. The cheeseburger repelled me with estimable enthusiasm. Yet I nearly bought a portion of chicken nuggets just to be able to say that I sampled the wares.

I’m not sure whether the Automat will ever catch on (it certainly didn’t the first time around, decades ago), but the next time I pass one by, I might have to roll the dice. I think I'll stay away from the cheeseburgers...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Greyhound Observations

My birthday present for Keryn’s 30th: two nights in a nice Times Square hotel, orchestra seats to The Lion King, and an afternoon with her future maid-of-honor. We took the bus because it’s really the only way to travel when you’re saving up for a wedding. The Acela would have cost nearly as much as the airplane ticket she bought for an upcoming trip to Hawaii, and once you factor in security lines and the commute from LGA into the city, the shuttle hardly seems worth the extra dough. So we headed to South Station last Saturday for the bus to New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal.

Scattered observations from our trip:
  1. Apparently the economics of the matter are widely apparent. There was so much demand for the Saturday 9am bus that they added a second bus for the overflow – and filled it. On our return trip Monday afternoon at 3pm (hardly what one would call a popular travel time), half the potential passengers in line were stuck waiting for the next bus. Turns out that you really do have to be at the bus station an hour before departure…

  2. The passengers on a typical Greyhound coach represent an incredible socioeconomic spectrum. Almost shocking, in fact. Like a great eighty-passenger melting pot with one sloshing toilet and squirt-on hand sanitizer.

  3. Would it really be so bad if they put pockets on the seats? Or cup holders?

  4. How is it possible that so many people traveling the Boston-New York corridor are unfamiliar with the basic concept of “carry-on bags go under the seat in front of you?” The lady in front of me on Monday kept shoving my bag into my feet while she enjoyed ample legroom. I have just resisted the urge to type a flurry of unkind names.

  5. I’m still not clear on the rules regarding tips to the driver or curbside luggage guys. Is there a standard practice?

  6. R.N. Morris’s The Gentle Axe is a splendid mystery novel, though it makes me think a re-read of Crime and Punishment may be in order.

  7. I shudder at the thought of an eventual permission for in-flight cellular phone calls.

  8. How does anyone undertake a 4.5 hour journey without a scrap of reading material? I’ve wondered this on flights, too… But at least they show a movie there. And there’s always the SkyMall catalogue (and the hot dog toaster I’ve long claimed to covet). If you’re going to sleep part of the way, great. But sooner or later you’re going to wake up. The idea of staring straight ahead for so many hours makes me queasy.

  9. The view of Manhattan on the voyage home is absolutely priceless… And I can’t wait to go back again in a few months.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Planning the Honeymoon (13 Months Early)

Assuming that we get our desired date and stick around for Sunday brunch / farewell with our guests, Keryn and I will leave for our honeymoon exactly 13 months from today. By this point in the day we would be somewhere over the Atlantic, our scheduled arrival in Paris - Charles de Gaulle a mere five hours away…

So far we are implementing a divide-and-conquer approach to wedding planning. Keryn has minimal interest in menu/bar, and she has somehow arrived at the conclusion that I should plan the honeymoon. Meanwhile, she is in charge of the music (including a string trio/quartet for the wedding march) and flowers. Some subjects (cake, stationary, centerpieces) remain in a netherworld of shared responsibility.

I’m so excited about honeymoon planning that I have already sketched out an itinerary. Paris for four days. Normandy (D-Day beaches, Mont St. Michel) for two. Overnight train to Monaco. One day suntanning on the Riviera. Onward to Florence for four days. Day-trips into the heart of Tuscany and Cinque Terre (on the coast). Venice for two nights. Fly home from whichever Italian airport we can get a convenient itinerary from.

Not bad, huh? Of course there are a few problems with the plan… Namely, it’s way too early to book flights, hotels, train tickets, restaurant reservations--pretty much everything. Prices will change between now and then. Airlines don’t let you book more than a year in advance (if you’re lucky). Restaurants may close. Besides, Keryn needs to look at the fancy travel guides (they have lots of pictures!) to figure out if there’s anything she’s dying to see but I unknowingly excluded from the plan.

We are planning to set up a honeymoon registry for all this… If anybody happening by this blog has suggestions on that increasingly-popular-but-still-quasi-taboo practice, I’d love to hear them!

[It’s important to note here how I typically plan travel. A recent scenario: woke up on Thursday morning realizing I had not yet booked airfare for my business trip scheduled for Monday-Tuesday. Got the very last seat on the very last flight that would get me into the city prior to my meeting. So planning something this far in advance is definitely out of the norm. See what the love of a good woman does to a perfectly normal procrastinator like me!?!]

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Wedding Planning: The Launch

So what if it’s not about our random travel adventures. Normal Guy and Girl are planning our wedding--tentatively scheduled for June 2008. I say “tentatively” because we have to settle the pesky matter of picking a venue and paying a deposit before we prepare Save the Date cards for our epic guest list of A-list celebrities and potentates.

To kickstart our wedding planning, we attended a bridal show at The Dunegrass, which is one of our top choices (we think). Last Saturday (April 28), we drove two hours from Boston to Old Orchard Beach so we could start debating the finer points of fondant vs. butter cream, bow ties vs. cravats, digital photo albums vs. old school prints.

The setting was quite handsome, despite the fact that the trees don’t yet have their leaves. Check out the photograph Keryn took to document our trip:

Yup, that’s a chipmunk on a concrete wall. Seals the decision for me! :)

Overall we loved the venue. Easy to find, with a minimum of Route 1 driving (a critical issue for my mother). An attractive indoor space, plus usage of the deck and patio areas. Decent prices for dinner (and a reasonable minimum total food/beverage requirement). And they throw in a free round of golf for the groom and three buddies! Only one trifling little problem... No indoor ceremony option.

Sure, the little gazebo on the lawn looks classy, and hopefully it stands well out of the range of errant tee shots. But from the very beginning of our planning, that was one subject on which Keryn and I steadfastly agreed. NO OUTDOOR CEREMONIES. Unfortunately, we are apparently among the only people who feel so strongly on the matter. But I think of swarming black flies in Connecticut, hurricane-force torrents in Southern Mass. (my sister’s wedding), and getting a migraine from squinting against the sunlight in Colorado. NO OUTDOOR CEREMONIES. Yet for a solid hour, as I stuffed my face with wedding cake samples (point of fact: wedding cake just doesn’t taste all that good), I worked on convincing myself otherwise.

We returned home with eighty pounds of promotional material, most of which Keryn has already analyzed. In three weeks we’re scouting other venues and some potential indoor ceremony sites. Man, no wonder people hire wedding planners!