Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Aspiring to it

Wearing viciously skinny red pants and an over-sized tan blazer, the author stands at the podium and as he orates passionately about Don Quixote, I notice that a large piece of hair is standing straight up at the back of his head.  Expertly applied hair product can't restrain this rogue and it bounces up and down as he gestures and leans forward against the wooden podium.  My eye keeps going back and back to that loose hank, flopping and jostling like a wind sock.

If only you could see the electric red

I really should be paying more attention to what he's saying. I am taking the occasional note, but I'm also trying to figure out what his relationship is with the young woman that accompanied him to this event.  She is pretty, and walks with the overly self aware grace of the young, in her red Asian print skirt and clunky old fashioned leather shoes. Daughter, he just mentioned his daughter. That makes sense. Though much less scandalous than the theory I had concocted. My jump to gossipy conclusions might be the exact reason that I need to attend this writers workshop. I might be a little melodramatic for my own good.

In an effort to motivate myself and kick start my writing habit again, I signed up for the New Letters Writers Weekend through the University of Missouri Kansas City. I heard about it on NPR and immediately thought, I want to do that. Then I hesitated. I was intimidated. I don't really consider myself a writer. I used to write a lot of bad fiction in high school and college. I've taken the requisite sensitive depressed girl creative writing classes. I was an English Lit major. I write this blog. But a real writer? A writer is not me. I write grants for work. But that is technical writing. It takes a level of skill and finesse that I'm still learning. It's not the type of creative literature that I love to read and dream about writing myself. But I talked myself into doing it anyway. I decided that no one will demand to see proof of my great American novel before they'll let me in the door. As long as my check clears, I'm in. And if I heard a friend say the kind of lame, self defeating nonsense that I let run on a loop in my head then I would tell her she was ridiculous and to send in her damn registration already. So I faxed in my credit card number, and bingo, I'm spending the weekend studying how to be a better writer.

One of the best things about the workshop was that it was held at the Diastole, which is the former residence of a doctor and his wife who donated their building to UMKC. It is filled with their art, books and pieces they collected throughout their lives. A rambling contemporary white house with three floors, countless little rooms, niches and libraries scattered throughout, and UMKC added some additional space and a small amphitheater to meet their event needs. I could have spent hours just wandering around and peering into corners and staring at the art. Or as my dad said, "Yeah, it's weird."

Living Room Social

Entryway Art piece

Carved chairs

View from the 3rd floor

The workshop started Friday night with a reception and key note speaker, the hummus, $10 bottles of red wine and mini quiches one would expect were in attendance, along with a motley gathering of writers. Writers tend to be introverted observers, but gather them in a room and set them loose on the topic of themselves, their writing and the craft of writing, and you can't shut most of them up. I was quietly inspecting a bright glossy piece of art on the periphery of the group, working up the necessary courage to go introduce myself to the random strangers scattered about the room.

More art

I chose one stranger and got started. Of course I chose the woman standing next to me who looked even more out of place than I felt, with her bedazzled jeans, low cut pink tank top, four inch snakeskin stripper heels, and a passion for writing historical novels (code for romance novels.) I started to feel more comfortable. She was friendly and I felt like a snobbish intellectual douche, because the minute I saw her in the room I felt more at ease. She stood out and in her standing out I felt more at home. I judged her immediately and felt guilty about that. Then once we chatted a bit I immediately realized, never mind, I was right. And also crap, now we are going to be stuck together all weekend. She sat next to me once the keynote speaker began, and giggled during the speech. Excessively. Things that weren't intended to be funny, the awkward kind of tinkly laugh, the laugh of the uncomfortable, the laugh of the in-over-my-head, the laugh of a woman wearing snake skin covered stripper shoes to a writer's conference.  She arrived late on Saturday, came in carrying two huge floral bags and a shiny jeweled purse, like she was going on a backpacking trip across Europe. She looked at me sadly when she realized I hadn't saved a seat for her.  Then she staked out a spot on the stairs behind the speaker and stretched herself out, spreading her luggage out all around her like a nest. She fell asleep a couple of times, her cell phone rang twice, and by noon she had repacked her bags and snuck out the side door, never to return. I think the science fiction gentlemen missed her most of all.

Sandals in the Kiva

Barbie may not have enjoyed the conference, but I loved it. I took copious nerdy notes.  I filled up my little notebook with advice and quotes, reading recommendations, literary jokes, deep observations, and the occasional story idea. I chatted with other writers and met some decidedly quirky folks, like the man who writes afterlife-fiction. Huh? Two souls fall in love in the afterlife? How does that work? Where's the conflict and the drama? Where are their bodies? Odd. But fascinating. And by the end of the weekend I felt like a real writer. Sunday I set up a work space in our guest room. Complete with laptop, an old desk from the Plaza library that we salvaged at a garage sale a few years ago, whose best feature, other than its plain broad surface, are all the scratches and marks left by students, and I plopped it right in front of the window. I'm doing some writing everyday. I started a short story yesterday. I don't know what's going to happen next but that's the best part, no one does.

My new space

Friday, June 25, 2010

7 Days - Day 7 -Mr. Kofi Swank

This is the top of my dresser in our bedroom. That fine looking gentleman is Mr. Kofi Swank. So named when I adopted him on a college art history trip to the Ivory Coast about twelve years ago. He is a spirit spouse figure or a blolo bian from the Baule people. He is beautifully carved, but more importantly, he's got panache. And some cute little blue shorts.

Ta ta, 7 dayers! It's been a great run. Thanks so much for sharing your creativity and being so open with yourselves and your daily lives! See you in the fall!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

7 Days: Day 6 - Typical Day

7 Days:6 Better Hang Loose, Mom Says So
This was my 7 Days selection, Mom says "Mahalo!"

I liked today. I didn't do anything strange or fascinating or out of the ordinary. But it was good.

6:45am - I got up and made coffee. I ignored the daddy long leg on my bathroom wall. I wanted to kill it, but I thought that starting the day with a bug murder might not be the best idea. When I got out of the shower he was gone. That was worse. He's lurking somewhere, waiting for me.

7:45am - Rolled down the windows to dry my hair on my drive into work. It's summer hair styling. NPR on the radio, coffee sucked down in five minutes flat.

8:45pm - Prepping for a meeting with a client, I'm a social media coach from 9am until 9:45am today.

9:45am - Meeting over, I think I said the words "Facebook" and "email" about 5,000 times. I am a grant writer from 9:45am until about 10:30am. I'm editing project time lines and condensing petition signatures to fit in the 150 page federal grant that I'm helping one of our contractors complete by Monday. My first big federal application, nerdy excitement ensues.

10:45am - Third hat for the day, database manager. I am emailing the bitter faced tech lady who works for one of the database software companies that is failing me this morning. Our sharp male intern listens to me ramble on about databases for a half hour while "training" him. He is the only guy in an office of eleven women.

11:45am - Run home, let the dog out, spill iced tea all over shoe. It smells lemony. Wonder what the hell is going on with Days of Our Lives? I don't even watch this show. Turn off TV. Flip through Go Fug Yourself  for 15 minutes. Leftover pasta and a little Italian wedding cookie. Still good four days later.

12:45pm -  Back to the office, return phone calls, check emails, get response email from abrasive and unskilled tech woman about database question. She blamed me for the problem. Turns out it was their software glitch. Yay! Giddy with self satisfaction and her brief insincere apology.

1:45pm - Head to midtown to shadow the database manager at a new client's office. Their database manager took a different job and is not being replaced and in a half hour I'm supposed to absorb everything I can about her job to help her coworkers manage the database after she leaves next week. Sure. She's nice and gossipy so it was fun.

3:45pm - Stop on the way back to the office for a very large hazelnut iced coffee. The drive thru kid has a gold grill covering his top teeth. It is shiny.

4:45pm -  Phone call from slightly harried grant writer who is heading up the federal grant application. I can hear her dog barking in the background. She uses great expressions like "dandy" and "peachy." Deadline next week, eek. Almost ready.

5:45pm - Home, change clothes, take failed lipstick application photos for 7 Days and reject all of them. The daddy long legs, probably not the same one from 6:45, but give me some artistic license here, is hanging out on the wall in the kitchen, I still can't kill him. Scoop him onto a piece of paper and drop him out the door as I head to dinner with my mom.


This is Italian sausage and apple pizza.

6:45pm - Mom and I sit outside at Spin and enjoy the gorgeous weather and a little dinner. There is a table of dramatic, garishly dressed European women drinking and laughing loudly. They are all wearing bedazzled sunglasses and gold sandals.


7:45pm - Finally took some good 7 Days photos with Mom. She is such a good sport and let's me take tons of random photos right out in public. Though she does delete several and waves her finger at me and scolds me with "You better make me look good!" She does.



8:45pm - Home, Joe's out partying at the casinos and I'm writing this nonsense. Guess who's in the kitchen? That damn daddy long legs. (or his cousin)

What did you do today?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

7days: Day 5 - I Need My Water Wings

7Days:5 - Pool Cool

What is it about a pool? The smell of chlorine, the laughing, screaming kids, games of Marco Polo, cold drinks and squeaky rafts. When I was a kid we spent nearly every summer weekend and some weekdays too at my grandparents' pool. Jumping off the diving board, eating frozen grapes while wrapped up in huge beach towels, the pool was the definition of summer. As a kid you don't know all the work and expense that goes into having a pool, you just know that if you keep practicing you'll master that cannonball.

I wish I'd taken this one

But as adults, Joe and I tend to see the obstacles instead of the fun. So after our delightful Florida vacation, where we had easy access to a pool, we both have decided we'd really like our own pool one day. In our current house it's just not realistic. Neither one of us is a big fan of public pools. We are spoiled. So until we buy a new house with an existing pool, years from now, Joe bought a 10' inflatable pool at Target. No diving board, no deep end, but still somehow it captures at least a little of the essence of having a pool. The water flowing over your arms, the relaxing sound of birds chirping as you rest your head against the back of the raft, and the cool breeze that raises goose bumps on your wet legs as the sun bakes your face. Summer's here, I'm slathering on the coconut scented Banana Boat and I'm back in the pool!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

7 Days: 4 - Old College Reunion

7Days:4 - Wedding Cake and Blueberry

This is my 7 days shot. Yeah, that's my arm and hand. And my wedding cake and blueberry flavored gelato. That's all you get today. Really I was too busy talking and laughing to worry too much about my photo tonight. So I took a couple of pictures, and they were all pretty mediocre. This one had the most action and frankly the most gelato. And since most of the other shots were just my shiny red face, which lasts all summer, I went with the highest gelato content.

Mom and Ava and Dad

This was pretty stellar for a Tuesday night. We had dinner and dessert with with our friends Dana and Paul, who were visiting from Pennsylvania!  And of course their daughter, Miss Ava. And Kristen joined us too. It was like a mini Hashinger Hall reunion. Joe and I both worked with Dana when we were resident assistants at the University of Kansas, in fact she was one of our bosses. But a cool boss. Dana and I also had a couple of African art history classes together. 

Miss Ava

Dana and Paul were the cool married couple in the dorm. Even though they are only a couple of years older than we are, they were married in college. And happily! I remember thinking how unique and bold that was of them to get married so young, and how lucky they were to have found their perfect partner so early in life.

Shy Girl

They had (and still have) the kind of marriage that I knew I wanted someday. Which I thankfully got!  Dana and Paul are smart, funny, kind, creative people (Dana writes a thoughtful and lovely blog over here) and I'm so glad we've kept in touch over the years. Thanks for stopping during your trip to hang out with us, guys. Thanks for letting Joe take a gazillion pictures of the spunky, pink-cheeked Ava. Let's try to get together again before another 10 years pass by!

All other photos except that first one are by the talented Joe Sands.

Monday, June 21, 2010

7 Days: Day 3 - iPhone App Addiction

7 Days:3 - Monday Morning Commute

It's Monday. It's hot outside, I'm at the office all day, working. Then I go from the office to the library for a couple of hours of tutoring and then thankfully home to the air conditioning, dinner with the husband, changing into loungy clothes, starting up the laptop and commenting on everyone's creative and ingenious 7 Days photos, followed by some heavy reading since I have two books I'd like to finish by Friday, and then bed. That's about all I can handle on a Monday.

So all I could really muster from my dehydrated creative juices this morning, was a little iPhone photo shoot in the car on my commute to work. Lots of yawning kept getting in the way of my smiles or goofy expressions, so I went with it. I love the iPhone camera, for its portability, its ease of use, and mostly because of the cool little apps that automatically help make even my mediocre photos look better. So this was shot with my new favorite, the Hipstamatic app. You can change the lens and the film and come up with endlessly different combinations. It's so fun it almost feels like cheating!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

7 Days, Day 2 - I Hit the Dad Jackpot

Father's Day dinner at our house, some Italian leftovers, great conversation with my dad and Kristy and a little photography. So of course I had to include Dad in my 7 Days photo. Let me tell you a bit about my dad.

7 Days: Day 3 - Father's Day
Love you, Dad.

When watching a particularly funny movie, like a Stripes or an Uncle Buck, my father laughs so hard that he essentially stops breathing and his face turns beet red. It's the best.

The Dad
My parents, pre-kids and pre-bitter divorce, so young and smiley.

My dad works his ass off, not just because he's a workaholic, which he is, but because he loves using his finance and management expertise to help as many nonprofit organizations as one man can cram into a given week. This does involve needing to remind him of his wife and children's existence occasionally, but that's ok. He's worth it.

The Dad
One of his many hobbies, fishing has lasted, that hat hasn't thankfully.

He throws himself into his interests and hobbies with an obsessive and youthful passion. Music, running, sailing, golf, fishing, religion, art- Dad has dabbled in it all with his entire energy, focus and time. It makes him a varied and interesting person. Except when you are driving in the car with him and say, he plays The Streets of Philadelphia by Bruce Springsteen, or which ever song he is currently obsessing on, over and over until he damn near burns out the CD.

The Dad
Dad, my younger brother Mike and me, look at those skinny legs.

But my dad's best trait, of which there are many, is his generous and supportive nature. He listens. And when you need him for something, anything, he drops everything to help, even if it's just a hug or a shoulder to cry on. Even though my dad is busy and in high demand, I know that if I need him, he's there. Anytime. And he'll have a movie quote to make me laugh when I've stopped crying.

Father's Day - Dad and Kristy

Dad and Kristy, pretty amazing people.

Happy Father's Day to all of the Dads, Daddies, Pop-Pops, Pampies, Pompies, Pa-Dads, Grandpas and Fathers out there! I'm nominating my dad for the Bravely Obey Dad of the Decade Award, and as I comprise the entire nominating committee and judges panel, he is the winner by a landslide!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

7 Days is back! Hot and Steamy Summer Edition

7 Days is back! (For more info on what the heck I'm talking about visit here and here.)

And like the spring session, I'm going to try and blog each day. But I'm tired tonight. Joe and I have spent the last couple of days in a glorious frenzy of cleaning and cooking, checking lists, and shopping for our Bravely Obey Summertime Italian Feast that we hosted tonight. We had some wonderful friends and family over for dinner. It was perfect. But I'm beat. So I'll write more about the whole thing tomorrow. But I can successfully check #15 off of my Bravely Obey In Action List. Thanks for helping me, guys!

Here's my 7 Days Day One shot, I think the look on my face says it all.

Festive Chaos

Thursday, June 17, 2010

#15 - Prepping for Feasting

The feast begins in two days! A mouth festival of Italian delicacies, hand crafted salamis, olives, cheeses, Caesar salad that will leave you drooling with its garlic lemony goodness, juicy homemade meatballs, pestos, the sauciest of tomato sauces, and after you've gorged yourself on crusty bread and satiated your thirst with wine and blood orange cocktails, we wind it down with rich crumbly Italian wedding cookies to dip in your spumoni. You might have to roll yourself home.

Planning for the feast

Or at least this is what we plan to serve on Saturday night, barring anything ending up burned, destroyed, dropped or forgotten on the stove. For me, half the fun of having a dinner party is the prep work and the planning. Joe and I are hosting the Bravely Obey Summertime Italian Feast (#15 on that pesky list) at our house this weekend.

Planning for the feast

I'm excited. I love parties. I love hosting. I love using some of my favorite people as guinea pigs as they try out recipes that I've never cooked before. Risky? Yes. Entertaining, certainly! The worst that happens is we order some festive Papa John's pizza and drink boatloads of wine.

Planning for the feast

Four other couples will be dining at our rustic Italian table (read: card table pushed up next to dining room table, draped in a rustic white table cloth) and I've got my stack of recipes, my Lidia's cookbook, which inspired the idea in the first place and I'm ready to get cooking. And I'm not eating for the next two days in preparation. No, seriously. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Selfish Do-gooderism

I am in my mid thirties. 35 is just a few short hot summer weeks away. God, it's trite and predictable, but that's a hard number. A good number, a well earned number, but a sobering number. Rounding the corner to this mid-point has turned my already overly analytical brain into a marshy, saturated hot bed of quizzical musings, deep philosophical wonderings and curiosity about who I am some days.

What am I doing with my limited time on this earth? No, I'm not dying, at least not anytime soon, I hope.  But these questions nag at me; who am I at my core, what are my values, my contributions, my weaknesses and more importantly how can I winnow those weaknesses away.  I look at my life, my needs, my desires, my plans, evaluating who I want to be in the next ten years. And determining what I need to do differently today to get there.  I have that mouthy voice in my head that questions my actions, upbraids me when I decide to watch The Real Housewives of New York instead of reading Faulkner. The voice that says why didn't you try harder? Why are you lazy today? Why aren't you more ambitious? That niggling pushing little voice that probably speaks to me too harshly. Probably as it should be. That bitch is motivating.

So I come back around to where I was six months ago. I want to get out of my own head and out of my way. I want to do more for other people. I want to participate more in my community, enhance my connection to my neighbors, friends and people in need in my city. I want to give my time. Because it feels good and it makes me feel like a part of something bigger than weak, self-indulgent me. I'm not alone in this renewed desire to connect and feel useful. Volunteer rates are at their highest since 2003. The economy and job losses haven't forced people to simply sit at home dejectedly digging through the want ads. Americans are out there, contributing for each other and improving their own outlook in the process.  So joining the 63 million other volunteers in the US, I'm getting out there and giving back, or engaging in a little selfish do-gooderism.

I've been volunteering off and on for most of my life. I have an innate desire to help other people. And also just as innate, I want people to like me. I want to be thought of as a giving and helpful person. Probably because I'm pretty sure I'm a shallow and selfish person most days. And volunteering makes me feel good about myself. I admire people who choose to give up or change their safe, pretty lifestyles for a cause they feel passionate about. Men who sell it all and move to Pakistan to open a school, or college grads who sell back their books and then pack a bag and join the Peace Corps, or the family that sells their mansion in order to donate the proceeds to feed the hungry.  But those brave people also make me feel like shit. They make me feel like I should do more, get my hands dirtier, give up my luxuries, really feel my sacrifice. But I choose not to. Does that make me a weak person? Do I lack the capacity to give back on that scale? Or do all the little kindnesses and choices throughout my life have value too, though not on the massive Dateline story scale of selling my $1.8 million mansion and downsizing to a $500,000 house to feed hungry African children?

When I was ten or eleven I used to go with my parents to all of my younger brother's various soccer, baseball and football games. It felt like there were three or four a week. And I've never really liked sports. So instead of actually watching the games, I wrangled all the little siblings of the athletes and babysat and entertained them during the never ending soccer matches.  We ran around and played tag, Red Rover or hide and seek, made daisy chains in open soccer fields. I was in charge of my own little tribe. I kept them occupied and amused. And their parents were so grateful. I drank up all that glorious praise from the adults. I was giddy to be able to help and enjoyed it, too. Plus bossing people around comes naturally to me. I think of that as my first volunteer experience. It set the stage, along with my parents' influence, and from there I was hooked.

I worked as a volunteer at vacation bible school. I volunteered with Big Brothers and Big Sisters in college and had a three year relationship with Rita, my little sister. I took a 40 hour crisis counselor training class and worked for a year with Headquarters Counseling Center in Lawrence. I briefly worked with the Alzheimer's Association as a Memories in the Making art therapist.  Each of these experiences gave me something, other than just the glossy satisfaction of feeling like a good person. I know I helped people. I helped the vacation bible school teachers keep their cool so they didn't feel like locking rowdy kids in the supply closet. I helped Rita learn how to bake sugar cookies and appreciate Shakespeare, as seen through the eyes of Baz Lurhman and Leo DiCaprio. I held the phone to my ear and listened to many sad, lonely, scared, worried, anxious people and tried to comfort them in the middle of the night. I kept latch key kids, home alone after school, company over the phone, watching Saved by the Bell together and laughing at Screech's antics. I helped an old woman paint a picture of her favorite quilt and listened as she told me the story of how her grandmother had made it by hand for her as a gift on her sixteenth birthday.

Next to world traveling and a college Intro to Philosophy course, volunteering has probably had the most impact on my life in those times when I've been seeking answers and clarification about who I am, my place in the world and what is important to me as a human being. So I'm volunteering again. For a multitude of reasons: To try to answer some of these mid-thirties crisis questions. (I refuse to call it a midlife crisis, I plan to live past 70.) So that when that nasty little voice in my head starts to berate me about my contributions, I have a snappy retort for her. To make sure that you, dear reader, operate under the illusion that I'm a kind and generous person. And so you'll like me.  And finally and most importantly, to use my gifts, education and skills to help and benefit others. I  have been helped and supported by so many, many other people, that it is my lucky obligation to give something back in return. 

After finishing my tutor training in January, I'm now volunteering with Literacy Kansas City. I've been matched with three students in the last four months, and all three have either moved away or dropped out of the program. Bummer. And it really pissed all over my entirely idealistic image of the joys of teaching someone to read. Where I magically help them learn to read Steinbeck overnight, when countless other teachers just failed. I exaggerate, but this was probably for the best.  Now that I'm a little more hardened and realistic, I might actually be a decent tutor.

I just got matched with a new student. John is a warm, funny, 67 year old man. Born in Arkansas, he worked for 40 years at a local plant and is retired. His wife passed away recently and John's niece encouraged him to join the Literacy Kansas City program, just to get him out of the house, she said. John wants to learn to read so that he can read the Bible, read his own mail and bills and be able to read any book he wants from the library. We met last week and had our first tutoring session last night. It was hard. It's hard for John because he has always struggled with reading and it's simply difficult to learn something new like this. And it's hard for me, too. Reading is something I've done for thirty years. It comes as naturally to me as breathing. So I have to sloooooow down. I have to break down those ingrained patterns and skills that I do without thinking and find the best way to explain them to John. I have to take a word like "giving" and explain how that feels different in your mouth than when you say "getting." Did you know that your lips vibrate a bit when you say "giving"? I didn't really until yesterday. And mostly it's hard because I'm worried that I'm not a good enough tutor for John. That I will get more out of our tutoring sessions than he will. But I'm meeting him every week, I'm studying lesson plans and taking notes on bits that John struggles with, brainstorming new ways to help him remember to not drop the endings of words, and seeking advice from those great teachers all around me. I can't wait to see where we both are this time next year.

Volunteering is one of the core experiences of my life that has always been a good use of my time, has pushed me in new ways and altered and broadened my perceptions of the world. And I think we can all agree, it's a hell of a lot better than watching another episode of The Real Housewives of anywhere!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Even My Knickers Were Animal Print

Before last Wednesday I owned one item of animal print clothing. Just one. And I was alright with that. I had no deep seated desire to fill in that gap in my wardrobe. But last Friday night we had the pleasure of attending Jazzoo! And you can't attend Jazzoo without some kind of animal themed or at a minimum, festively colorful garb. So I dragged my friend Wendy to Marshall's where we were inundated with a variety of hideous and tacky animal print options, including velvet zebra tank tops and bejeweled pink and black leopard purses.  And since I wasn't attending Jazzoo dressed as a hooker, I passed on those choices and went with a classic wrap.

Quite proud of my polar bear necklace

(Accessorized later in the evening with a light up snowflake necklace, because we made a little donation 
to "feed the polar bears")

The creatively dressed masses

For those of you non Kansas City folks, Jazzoo is an enormous black tie fundraising event for the Kansas City Zoo. Held every year in early June, it's a night out at the zoo with endless food from 80 plus restaurant booths, potent beverages from 12 specialty bars, a gazillion guests (roughly 4,000,) multiple concert stages offering live music and an impressive supply of superior people watching opportunities. So when a good friend like Caroline offers you a couple of free tickets you don't say no.

Ms. Kassie and Ms. CarolineMap/Drink Tray

Drink tray and map - genius!

The Jazzoo crew noshing

Even if the weather forecast is for rain, 180% humidity and 195 degrees in the shade. Did I mention it was hot? Did I mention that though the zoo is large, cramming 4,000 hungry, free-drink seeking people into a fairly contained area only increases the heat and sense of impending suffocation? But at least it didn't rain. We had a great time, but if we attend again I will pass on doing the hair, the strappy sandals and go with a ponytail and flip flops, because damn it was toasty and stuffy.

The Overtons

The dress code for Jazzoo is black tie or creative black tie. Creative? What does that even mean? Well, we spotted everything from vaguely racist pith helmets, crushed velvet pimp jackets and hats, furry animal slippers, lots of animal print bow ties, safari jackets, vests and cummerbunds, men in tuxedo jackets and shorts, a guy wearing a t-shirt with the word ZEBRA printed on the front, ladies in leather hot pants, lots of cleavagy mini-dresses, and many many tastefully coiffed and clothed couples. But who cares about those boring people?! Bring on the lace up leopard print bustiers! Sadly, we are lacking in any great "creative" dress photos, it was dark and hot and we were busy carrying drinks and food and trying to scope out a breezy cool place to relax.
Adults on merry go rounds are funny

Some of us hopped on the carousel, some of us drank enough mojitos that we thought giving our wife driving advice on the way home was appropriate, and some of us had cinnamon rolls for dinner. Joe got to listen to several song stylings of The Orchestra, a sort of ELO (Electric Light Orchestra) group, made up of at least one original member of ELO and several new additions.

Joe gets arty when he's tipsyThe Sands

ELO is a band close to the Sands boys' hearts. If you don't recognize the name you would certainly recognize many of their songs from commercials and oldies radio. Joe was excited to see them and they were pretty good, but not quite ELO, more like a very good cover band. As Joe told me, if Jeff Lynne isn't in the band it's not really ELO. But you know who really likes ELO cover bands? Drunk, dancing 40 year old women in sundresses!

The Orchestra- nearly an ELO cover band

Thanks to Caroline and Kegan for inviting us to Jazzoo. We had a great time. And while I don't know if I feel the need to attend again anytime soon, I was thrilled to get the chance to experience the Jazzoo at least once. I was going to consider this "#26 -Attend a black tie gala for one of my favorite nonprofits." from the Bravely Obey in Action list. But I sweat much more than any lady should sweat while attending a gala, and as much as I like the zoo I don't think it quite qualifies as one of my favorite nonprofits. So I'm keeping #26 as something I still need to accomplish. Consider Jazzoo just a little practice session!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Old People are Wise and Florida is Hot

We walked off the plane in Fort Myers and I immediately despised the jeans I was wearing. They are the perfect travel pants, comfy, dark (they hide any errant midair spills) and fairly polished looking. But in Florida in May, jeans are idiotic. I started sweating within thirty seconds. Kansas City was in the 60's and rainy when we left. Florida, not so much.


Joe and I trudged around the silly car rental area, poorly laid out and nearly unlabeled at least for the Budget area, and finally tracked down the right desk. I collapsed with our luggage in the waiting area and watched Joe at the desk. I should have known something was afoot when it took forever to get the car, which we had reserved months ago, and when there was much smiling and nodding from the rental car agent. So Joe surprised me with a convertible upgrade. Yay?! Eh, except I was Debbie Downer and mildly unamused. Joe is a huge fan of convertible life, the wind in his massively curly hair, face tanning by the minute, I am less enthused unless it's sunny and a high of 75. I usually feel cooked, dirty, wind blown and my makeup melts down my face like butter cream icing on a summer wedding cake. I'm not super high maintenance, but convertibles bring out my prissy vanity. He knows this. So as Joe tried to convince me that he had upgraded purely for my pleasure, I was a little indignant. I blame the heat. But after a large iced coffee, hair in a ponytail and sunglasses slapped on my face, I quickly fixed my attitude. Because well, hell, convertibles are a blast! So we hit the road and headed south to Naples.


Joe's great aunt and uncle had generously lent their condo to us for the week. Decorated all in light beiges and greens, lots of windows, sliding doors we could throw open in the morning and at night when the humidity and temperature was bearable, a view of the green golf course, a fully stocked bar (pineapple rum is a delight) and a nearly empty condo complex, these were the perfect accommodations. Oh, yeah, and free. The pool was just several yards across the street. Heated to a balmy 82 degrees, not particularly refreshing, but who am I to look a gift pool in the mouth?


So we got settled in, dropped off bags, made a grocery list, we had ambitions to cook in for several meals, and then headed out for our first seafood dinner of the week. I won't recount every delicious meal on this trip, there were many, and though we may be abundantly well fed foodies, I don't want to bore you with each meal. Though I wouldn't mind reliving them each a time or two. This one was a stand out. Steamers is a traditional New England seafood joint. Nothing fancy, situated in a strip mall next to a Subway, the decor is netting and plastic fish on the wall, old wooden tables, basically a less cheesy Red Lobster vibe, our clam appetizer was delivered in a plastic basket with paper plates, but the food was perfect. I might as well have been eating those clams right on the beach in Cape Cod they were so good. And all the waitresses sound like they just flew in from Boston, brusque but efficient. Joe followed the appetizer up with a fried seafood basket, his favorite meal, and I had the lobster roll. Otherwise known as lobster salad on a split top, buttered and toasted potato roll. Creamy, sweet lobster meat tucked inside a crispy roll. The perfect sandwich. The fries were pretty good too. Add a diet coke with a lime squeezed in it and this vacation was already off to a damn good start.




After dinner, we were able to put the top down on the convertible since even Joe likes the top up when the temperature is over 90 degrees, and tooled around Naples to get our bearings, we hit the beach, walked down the pier, got our feet wet in the gulf, breathed a deep sigh of enjoyment and impending relaxation, hit the Publix for supplies, headed back to condo and crashed.

Sunday was "spend the day with Mike" day! My little brother moved to Fort Myers in January of this year, which prompted our visit to Southwest Florida in the first place. Mike had Sunday off work, and with his girl Jaime in town too, the four of us decided to spend Sunday together. Joe and I drove up to Fort Myers, checked out Mike's nice apartment, drove by the restaurant where he is the sous-chef, more on The Veranda later, checked out downtown Fort Myers and then drove down to Fort Myers Beach.




Fort Myers Beach was crazy. I felt like I'd been dropped into Spring Break for the over 40 set. It was great and a total contrast to the placid, family vibe of Naples. Lots of boats, lots of beers and lots of fake boobs. Fort Myers Beach has that party energy and guidos galore, plus they boast a lady with the most buff, muscled arms that I've ever seen in person. Mike was fixated. Minus the bikini top, I would have sworn she was a man from behind. Our main goal at this point was lunch and cooling off a bit. So Mike took us to one of his favorite spots, The Cottage, which serves a mean fish taco, paired with a cold Corona and a bar stool facing the beach, the four of us were in heaven, sweaty, sand covered heaven. We hung out for a couple of hours and talked and people watched. Once the heat got to us we headed back to Mike's place so Mike and Jaime could pick up swimsuits and Mike's car and head back to Naples with us for the rest of the day.

We stopped at the condo in Naples so Joe and I could change into suits and grab beach supplies and then we headed to Naples Beach. Quiet, breezy and nearly 10 degrees cooler than earlier in the day, we set up our chairs and towels and jumped right in the water. Except for Miss Jaime, she accidentally forgot to put on her swimsuit top, and being that this wasn't a topless beach, we convinced her to go ahead and get in the water in her cute black dress.


Mike got in the water past his knees for the first time since he moved to Florida, ridiculous! And we swam and frolicked and felt little jelly fish brush up against our hands, floating all around us. It was an excellent afternoon. We headed back to the condo, rinsed off the sand and changed for dinner, except Miss Jaime who still had her "swimming" dress on, which had dried by the time we went to dinner, but as Joe said, "Jaime, you look like a baseball hat." All the salt from the ocean had dried on the black gauze of her dress. Thankfully, dinner was a casual outdoor affair at Alice Sweetwater's where we all gorged ourselves on the best fried shrimp in Florida.


We sat on their back deck with misters and fans keeping us cool. And then home to watch the Lost series finale, old school style, DVR and HD free, and it was still excellent.

Monday was a total lazy day. No plans, we slept in and wore swimsuits all day, alternating between laying out at the pool, reading, swimming, chatting up the senior community, and taking long afternoon naps. Around dinner time we finally decided to shower and venture out. We had another outdoor dining experience right on the bay at, of course, the Bayside Grill. The food was great. Our waitress was friendly and other than having to listen to the douche sitting behind us talking too loudly about how "much better the FT (Financial Times newspaper) coverage is now versus the WSJ (Wall Street Journal), WSJ has just really gone down hill, they've disappointed me" and hearing his elderly mother complain loudly about the food and talk to their waiter as if he were five, it was a great evening.



Tuesday was a shopping, touristy kind of day. We scoped out a breakfast place on UrbanSpoon and landed at Lulu B's. All retro diner decor with purple everywhere, the waitresses were in their sixties with excellent bleached blond hair, blue eye makeup, gravely smoker's voices and that gruff but friendly demeanor that should be a job requirement for all diner waitresses. After breakfast we headed to the Waterside Shops which are the fancy, high roller stores, where we purchased nothing but replacement iPhone chargers and I simply browsed through the Kate Spades, Louis Vuittons and Hermes, thinking "Why would I want to spend $5,500 on a purse?" And I'm pretty sure I would feel incredibly uncomfortable carrying around a $5,500 bag, especially since I've been known to spill an entire iced coffee in my purse.  Then we stopped by Barnes and Noble where I picked up the final book in Stieg Larson's Millennium Trilogy -  The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. If you haven't read these books I highly recommend them. They are incredibly popular which often makes the book snob in me shy away, but these books are smart, well crafted and peopled with some complex, realistic characters that you just root for all the way through. Then Joe and I walked around the Third Street South shops, the old downtown area of Naples, filled with art galleries, boutiques and restaurants. We grabbed lunch and headed back for an afternoon at the pool. We cooked in that night and then went to the beach to watch the sunset. Just gorgeous.





Wednesday we got up early and drove out to the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary for a little Florida nature and some minor exercise to awaken our vacation dulled brains. Corkscrew Swamp has about a 2.5 mile raised boardwalk that meanders through several different habitats: pine flat wood, wet prairie, lettuce lakes and marshes, pond cypress and bald cypress forests.


In the high season it's filled with birds and wildlife, but since we were visiting off season we didn't really see a lot of animals or bird life. But the trade off was that we had the entire place to ourselves. We walked the first half of the boardwalk in almost complete silence as we took in all the foliage, fauna and greenery surrounding us.


It wasn't too warm yet since we had started early, but everything was wet and shortly we were soaked just from the humidity and constant moisture. I loved the pristine and vast amount of nature we walked through. I can't describe for a regular city girl what a strange and thrilling silence was all around us. No traffic, no horns, no ringing cell phones, just frogs and birds and the occasional alligator waking up from a nap.


And of course the clicking of our cameras. We didn't see another person for over an hour and half and then when we did just a quiet hello and we were back in our own world again. I loved it.




One of the highlights of our trip for me. And as this post is getting a little long I'm just going to breeze through the rest of the day: lunch outside, pool, nap, sunset dinner on the beach, rum drinks, bed.

Thursday we drove to Everglades City to take an air boat tour through the mangroves, hoping to spot some of these real live alligators that we had been told lived in Florida. We had heard of these mythic creatures, but hadn't spotted a one at this point. Even the drive to Everglades City informed us that we were in the middle of alligator and panther territory.


And yet we saw not a single viscous creature. So disappointing.  And I'm not talking about the sad baby alligator we were invited to hold while having our picture taken once we made it to the boat tour company. That little guy was just kind of sad. We passed on that photo op. But live, wild alligators, up close and personal, while speeding around the swamps with Captain Henry, yes! WHeeooh!

The wind whipped through our hair, creeping, growing mangrove surrounded us, the occasional prehistoric beast came lurking out to greet our boat, and I might have squealed at least once when Captain Henry took a tight turn and I found myself tilted precariously close to the water.




I felt like a little kid, smile plastered on my face and checking out the same giddy look of mild danger on Joe's face. Going fast is fun. You can see a little footage here. It was even more fun that it looks.



Rest of Thursday: lunch outside on the water, spotted tiny sharks feeding under the dock by our restaurant, pool, picnic on the beach at sunset, watched five para-surfers, home, bed.


Friday was another "spend the day with Mike" day! And our last full day in Naples. Joe let me sleep in and enjoy a couple of hours of alone time, which I basically spent laying around in my pajamas drinking coffee on the lanai, while he went up to Fort Myers to pick up Mike for our 9am Naples Water tour.



Captain Matt at the The Charter Club dock took the three of us out for a tour of the bay and the gulf, we saw a few dolphins, many oversized celebrity mansions, Captain Matt offered a bit of political commentary on the oil spill and the insanity of owning a $40 million dollar home that is empty 50 weeks a year, and then dropped us off at the white sand beaches of Keewaydin.





This beach was beautiful. Sugar fine sand, beach covered in shells, clear blue water and no one around. We only saw one other person on the island in the forty five minutes we were there. Though the island is open to the public it's only accessible by boat. It felt like we had our own beach property. We each filled up a ziploc bag with shells, swam, took pictures and just relished the experience.  The three of us just kept looking at each other and smiling and saying "How awesome is this?" How lucky are we to be out here?" It was perfect.


Again, I ramble, quick Friday wrap up: lunch outside on the water again, browsing the touristy shops at Tin City, home to take showers and pack a change of clothes for our fancy dinner at The Veranda in Fort Myers, and Joe might have been having so much fun on the beach that he walked right into the water with his wallet in his pocket, so he had a little wallet drying to do.


Then we headed up to Fort Myers, Mike might have taken a little nap on the way, we dropped him off at work, then Joe and I wandered over to the Edison Ford Winter Estate. I wasn't particularly interested in going to this museum. Frankly wandering around an old lab and looking at old lab equipment seemed kind of dull to me. But after we got a totally unnecessary audio tour equipment lesson, "Press the number of the audio tour you want to hear and then press play. Press the volume up arrow to turn up the volume." Really? We couldn't have figured that out? Anyway, once they finally let us loose on the property and out of the little museum, it was beautiful.  See!







I would like to move here. And I wouldn't even mind wearing period costumes if they would let me live in the house. After a couple of hours walking around and fantasizing about moving into Edison's master bedroom, we ran back to Mike's apartment and put on our fancy pants and headed over to dinner at Mike's restaurant.


Wow, just delicious. The Veranda is a lovely restaurant situated in two old houses in the middle of downtown Fort Myers. They make everything from scratch. From the tangy salad dressings, to the desserts, even the red pepper jam generously spread on their sweet corn muffins. Mike gave us a tour, I happily spotted a man with a live parrot on his shoulder having a drink in the bar, always a good sign. We got a cozy little table in the corner.  Pete, our competent and gracious waiter who even has his own business cards, began our decadent meal with a seafood sampler with scallops, shrimp, mini crab cakes and artichoke fritters. Jesus, and this was just the first course. Followed by salads, and then the main show, Joe enjoyed the the hog snapper cooked in parchment paper and I had ostrich fillet in a savory coffee demi glace along with fresh morel mushrooms. Soo good. I assumed that ostrich would taste a bit like chicken, but the flavor is similar to lean beef. And as if we weren't stuffed by this point, Pete brought out two desserts. The best key lime pie in all of creation and a chocolate pate so rich and creamy that more than one bite seemed indulgent. It was a fabulous meal and a stellar way to end our vacation and our last night in Florida. Thanks again, Mike! You should be very proud of yourself and the restaurant.

And that was pretty much our vacation. Saturday was just a couple of hours at the pool, a couple of hours of cleaning the condo and then the rest of the day spent traveling home.

This dapper gent was on our flight home, carrying a whimsical Treasure Planet backpack. Young at heart.

While the trip was relaxing, fun and just a delight, it was really nice to come home again. We don't have an ocean or quite as many elderly rich people, but it's home. And even though I don't get to spend the day drinking by the pool, I was happy to be back to our life. #42 Accomplished!

Most photos by Joe Sands, a few by me but not many.