Tuesday, December 30, 2008


In case you've been wondering about my delinquency with this blog lately, I've got to tell you- it's because I've been up to my head in jeans, underwear, flashlights, mugs, books, sneakers, Woolite, scarves, clothespins, digital cameras, GPS systems, and Dramamine.

What do these things all have in common, you ask? They are all things that go into a suitcase for a four month voyage on Semester at Sea! All that and more. And I still need to remove some items.

On Christmas Eve I drove to Ohio. Somewhat of a pain in the arse, because I had to take the PATH train and then the NJ Transit to Newark Airport to pick up the car. Then drive BACK into the city to load it up. Then head west once again in the car, for a 7 hour drive to Ohio in the rain.

The worst part? I got a GPS with the rental and she was MUTE!!! She was just having a "Silent Night" I joked with myself (amazing the puns I create in my head to make myself laugh during a seven hour car ride). But I had really been looking forward to the woman with the Australian Accent. You could TOTALLY disobey her and turn "left" every single time she says "right" and she still manages to recalculate and get you where you need to be. Amazing woman that Aussie is! .....But nooooo, she was mute. I had to rely on the North Star to get me home instead. Good thing it was Christmas Eve. Good thing I'm a Wise Woman. I did seem to forget my gold, frankincense, and mirth though. Hope I didn't forget anything else in all these suitcases....

So then I went to Ohio and spent some quality time with my family and old friends (JoAnn, Barbie, Tricia, Rose- loved seeing you gals) And I packed. And packed. And packed.

Speaking of GPS systems, Sarah and Scott gave me one for Christmas, but it's a really COOL one that works internationally! And nautically too! It even tells me water depths. And when I get off the ship I can program it to remember the location where I disembark, then I go explore the city, then I plug in the initial location of the dock and it guides me back. Cool, right? Thanks Scott and Sarah...awesome gift! And it even fits compactly in with my stuff.

My stuff. Ay yi yi. I've got one 70 pound suitcase (have to get it down to 50). One 30 pound suitcase (not bad). One laptop bag which also holds a little more. One purse. Well that doesn't sound like so much, does it?

Except then there's that pink "overflow suitcase". I want to eliminate that one all together. So Mom, Dad....be expecting me to mail a box of excess stuff to Ohio. I know you guys can't wait for that. I know how much you guys love being my storage facility over the next few months.....

So how do I get rid of things from those suitcases that ALL seem important to take with me? I don't know. Give me some time to think about it a little more. I've got to weigh and measure some things.

Recalculating. Recalculating. Recalculating...........................

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Shuffle off to Truffle-Oh!

In addition to my "day job", I do gigs on the side.

I've given many a sample of Famous Grouse Scotch, Mount Gay Rum, Masi Wine, Piper Heidsieck Champagne, and Remy VSOP cognac, among others.

I've done these tastings in bars, at liquor stores, in lounges, and at restaurants in the city. Who the heck passes up free liquor?

I've handed out samples of Saint Ives facial scrubs at the Revlon Breast Cancer walk.

I've passed out samples for Mr. Peanut on the 4th of July.

I've also managed Events, like New Years Eve parties on the "Temptress", a cruise that goes around the island of Manhattan. This holiday season, I will be doing another event like this, although I'm uncertain of the details just yet. I am hoping for "Capitale", this gorgeous venue downtown that used to be a bank- turned fancy party hall. It has marble pillars and ornate, rich decor. It stands tall, with high and beautifully sculpted ceilings, not dissimilar from Michelangelo's work. (Okay, not really similar at all really to Michelangelo's Sistene Chapel- but still high and beautiful.) The photo to the left doesn't do it justice. Not only is it a breath-taking setting, but I can also WALK there. Which would be quite pleasing for me on a cold cold night in the city when the streets are littered with drunken party-goers and there is not a cab to be hailed.

But I may be on a boat again or I may be somewhere uptown. Oh well- if I don't work at Capitale for NYE, maybe I can just get married there or something.

My other side-gig this year is to play the role of Lady Godiva. Kinda. I am working as the "Complimentary Truffle Girl" at the popular chocolate store. Only....it's outside. And I am giving prospective customers a card which entitles them to one free truffle: milk chocolate, dark chocolate, or hazelnut.

And you'd be amazed how many people pass this up!

I think they think there's a catch, but there's really not. All you really have to do is go into the store and exchange the card for a truffle. It's that simple.

Godiva gave me this really cute warm black wool coat with the Godiva motif, red gloves, a red hat, and a red scarf. I still felt frozen out there today. But the very sweet Manager gave me rich, creamy hot chocolate to warm me up. And the Security guard at the store, kept beckoning me back into the store to warm up under the hot lamps. My event manager even brought me mini hand warmers, like the ones I used to have in high school at football games. And a concerned customer told the Manager "that brunette out front should have a break! She's been handing out these cards all DAY!" Another customer told me "I always KNEW Santa was really a woman with free chocolate! Bless your heart."

So it's a relief to know that on this cold day, in this cold city there are some warm souls.

In the meantime, "Would you like to sample a complimentary truffle?"
(Sorry- I've said that like 18473729101010 times today. My lips are frozen into the formation of that sentence.)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"You just made me snort really loud, jerk!"

So before I give you the results you've all been anxiously awaiting, I must explain my title.

Okay wait...I have to sort of give you the results as a precedent to explain the above quote. I have two best friends, Dara and Holly. Holly didn't even bother to take the test, but Dara did. I called her this morning to let her know she came in 2nd, with 58 out of 60 correct. She started ARGUING about the ones she got wrong. She is angry that I "tricked" her because I am an Alpha Gamma Delta, not a Delta Gamma (see #28). If anyone in a sorority reads this...helloooooo, two different things. One has squirrels and pearls. One has anchors and little red-headed girls.

And Dara is also angry because she doesn't think I can break a brick with the back of my wrist (#9). Mom- can you PLEASE leave a comment on this blog and verify that this is true? Esta verdad!!!!

So Dara is yelling at me on the phone and I'm holding the receiver two feet in front of me as she complains for three straight minutes. "Oh how quintessentially Jewish of you to whine about MY blog", I taunted her.

This made her laugh and snort, while sitting at her desk, which turned the heads of several of her co-workers. And that's when she said the aforementioned quote "you just made me snort really loud, jerk." And I told her just for not believing me on those two questions, I am titling the blog after her. So there you go, Dara! Happy?

Oh! So the winner is.......{drum roll}.....Sarah!! My sister-in-law! She is a Laurie Expert. Guess what your prize is? A Pecan Cluster blizzard with extra pecans from Dairy Queen!! I'll give it to you when I'm in Ohio next week. And if it's nice we can even eat it in Dairy Queen Park. (hahah...just realized I said "we" can eat it...)

Here's how everyone else did. Thank you guys again for playing my game! Love you all! For those of you who didn't play, there's always next time...
Out of 60 Questions:
  • Sarah 59
  • Dara "sore loser" Finkel 58
  • Vickilicious 55
  • Erin and Adam 52
  • Sandra 50
  • Brian- somewhere in the 50s, but he refused to write the answers down, so I'm not sure
  • Barbie, Erika and Sophie 49
  • Margaret 45....this one was funny because I think Mags thought this was for her, so she answered according to what is true/false for herself! I love it! :) You win for most creative!

Okay so without further adieu....here are the answers:

1. I love to shop. F I hate crowds, and I hate malls. I *do* however, enjoy small specialty shops when I'm traveling. Just not malls or crowds.
2. I am lactose intolerant. F
3. I take the train to work. F Not anymore! I am on the Lower East Side for a couple more weeks!
4. I saw my mom yesterday. F- A little over a week ago I did.
5. I never leave home without my compact umbrella. T
6. My eyes are green. F they are "pretty blue" as my friend Adam says (thanks Adam!)
7. I went to Italy two summers ago. F- I went to Greece with Holly in 06
8. I am Czech. F Slovak! Two different things!
9. I can break a brick with the back of my wrist. True (DARA!) I know tae kwon do!
10. I know a girl in a city of 8.5 million people who has dated three of the same people that I've dated. T- her name is Maura. We were stunned and amazed when we discovered this!
11. My mother almost named me Valerie. T, but was too much of a mouthful, so she opted for "Laurie" instead.
12. I was Miss Majorette of Ohio. F- but my BFF from high school (JoAnn) was! She was more committed than I was about these contests! I was like 3rd runner up or something.
13. My favorite thing to do is drive. T
14. I am very good with directions and never get lost. T- I love getting off the subway in a strange neighborhood and as my friend Vicki says "finding my way back"
15. I love tofu and try to eat healthy. F- hate that crap! I am allllll meat & potatoes. That's the Irish that exists in me.
16. I hate sushi. F- but my sister-in-law reminded me, it always makes me sick. It kinda does- but I still love it and eat it.
17. My brother & sister-in-law live in Hawaii. F, they used to- now they are in San Francisco/Ohio.
18. I have a cat named Isham. F
19. I have a lot of shoes. T- I never buy clothes, but ALWAYS buy shoes. And I did it *before* Sex & The City made it a NYC cliche'!
20. I used to live in Queens. F
21. I'm afraid of thunderstorms. F- love them
22. I have lived uptown, downtown, midtown, and in Chelsea. T
23. My favorite apartment was the one by the Brooklyn Bridge. T
24. I am in the process of completing my EdD and soon you'll have to address me as Doctor Laurie. F, but Dara told me that she would address me this way if that makes me happy. My boss and I were going to do an online program together, but we've put it on hold.
25. I am writing a book. T
26. I am organized with my finances. T
27. My favorite book is "The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein. T- I cry every time I read it.
28. I am a member of Delta Gamma. F- Alpha Gam!!!!
29. I used to live next door to the largest indoor growing rubber tree plant. T-it was at the Fraternity house next door and I think it probably died. Drunk people used to pee and vomit on it at all hours of the night.
30. I went to college in the rubber capital of the world. T- Firestone, Goodyear, all of those call Akron, Ohio home!
31. I love to run. F- hate to run.
32. I love to walk. T- love to walk. I average about 6-7 miles per day.
33. I am diabetic. F
34. I love cheap white wine. T- oh how I love my rotgut! Especially with my Grandma K!
35. My dream is to go to Seychelles. T- until that dirty rat Holly and her hubby J went their on their honeymoon and stole MY spot!
36. When I was a child I wanted to be a flight attendant. T- I still kinda do some days
37. I have never seen a full episode of Seinfeld. T- I know. I'm weird. I've seen bits and pieces, but never sat through an entire episode.
38. I prefer my coffee with cream and sugar. FFFFFFFF Black please!
29. I prefer my men to be Spanish. T, and Dara said "but we're working on this". I can't help it though. (Oh...and If any tall single Spanish men are reading this, feel free to comment by the way.)
30. I still remember the hotel room number when I went to Hawaii in 3rd grade. T- that was a great vacation- thanks Mom and Dad!
31. One time in Puerto Rico I tripped in iguana manure and broke my wrist. Mostly False....although I did slip through some green iguana manure and I really did kinda hurt myself. Nothing that a vicodin didn't fix though! :)
32. I would love to be an astronaut. F- outer space just seems so lonely and desolate.
33. I speak French. C'est vrai!
34. I speak Spanish. T- sort of. Un pocito. I try.
35. I play the piano. FFFFFFFFFFFF- Mom- do you remember the day I went to my lesson in 2nd grade and I couldn't find "Middle C"? I cried for days.
36. I have been to Prague. F
37. I have been to the rain forest in Central America. T
38. I am a die-hard Democrat. F- I am Independent. Although, I registered as a Democrat when I first signed up to vote. But I am Conservative on many issues. Quite Liberal on others. That's why it's always difficult for me to choose an appropriate candidate. Someone the other day implied that I don't care about our future. Au contraire! And I notice this person has been coming back to my blog....is this what you were looking for, J?
39. I have a tattoo, but I don't tell very many people about it. F- I don't even know what I would want on my body for the rest of my life (except for maybe one of the Spanish men mentioned in #29!)
40. I am scared of needles. T- but am getting better after all these travel inoculations!
41. I won the award for "best legs" in my sorority in college. T
42. My dad was in Vietnam. T
43. So was my mom. F
44. They met there. F
45. I can't think of anything better than a day at Yankee stadium and a cold beer and a hot dog. F, unless they're playing the Mets or the Indians. Although I must say, I love all baseball, so I still enjoy a day up in the Bronx, as well.
46. I think A-Rod is hot. T (Embarrassed to admit this. Don't tell Carlos Beltran....)
47. I love the mustard from the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium. T- Oh my god, it tasted wonderful. I could eat it by the vat. It is unique- ask anyone in Cleveland and they will totally know what I'm talking about.
48. They still have it at Jacob's Field. T- except it's not even called Jacob's Field anymore. Damn corporate ballpark names.
49. My favorite team won their prospective league's pennant last year.F
50. Chicago is in my top five favorite cities. T
51. Wrigley Field is my favorite ball park. T- even though their mustard sucks.
52. I know more about baseball than my brother does. T
53. I have never been to Mexico. F- I have indeed been there a couple times!
54. I hate baklava. F- I love this even more than the mustard mentioned in #47!
55. I used to work at NYU. F
56. I lived in a neighborhood with mostly Puerto Rican people when I lived uptown. F- primarily Dominican.
57. Monfongo is yummy. T- delicious! Ironically, Mofongo is Puerto Rican but I did eat it in my old neighborhood.
59. I love politics. F- and here is why: I think politicians do a lot of complaining about their opponent, as opposed to saying what they're going to do to better our government. I wanna hear what you can do to make things good- not the muck you have to sling about the other guy!!!!!
60. I am Catholic and enjoy going to mass. T- I am definitely more spiritual than religious, but I enjoy the tradition, the smell of incense, the witty well-spoken priest at St. Francis of Assisi, and the lessons. I think most religions have a very good underlying message, which inspires us to better ourselves. Peace be with you. That's my favorite message from mass. What a simple phrase. But what a wonderful message to spread to everyone around you. I get the chills when I think of this.

Okay, that's it for now. Thank you for reading this far. Stay tuned in the upcoming weeks for the blog about all of VOUS!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Stand by.....

First of all, I wanna say thank you to Barbie, Erika, Erin, Adam, Vicki, and Brian Vanschmataburg for taking my True/False test.

....but, where are the rest of you? Dara Pie? Patty Cakes? My Little Chicakadee Steph? Mommy? Fatima? Sarahlicious? JoAnnie? Grandma? Gissell? Sophiqua? You guys might win! I know you guys read this stuff.....

But I'll give it a few days for you guys to give it a try before I post the results. So far so good. You guys made some good guesses! So to the rest of you, even if you don't think you know, go ahead and take a stab! Remember, there's a PrIzE......

Okay, so not today, but after this True/False quiz ends, I've decided my next "game". It's a Tribute to my readers! I'm going to write a few sentences about all the people whom I know read my blog and you guys have to guess which one describes you. Does that sound fun or what? Who said the Rime of the Modern Mariner has to be all about moi? I mean Samuel Taylor Coleridge's work wouldn't have been as good without the albatross and the wedding guest, right? I think this might be a tall order, even for me. I know of at least 55 of you who are subscribed (which is awesome, by the way- send all your friends too...the more the merrier....there is room at the Inn for many more of you.)

At any rate, I don't have much else to say today. From what I understand it's snowing outside. But I wouldn't know for certain, as my office doesn't have a window. Nonetheless, the snow is quite welcome. Last night was 60 degrees and I went onto the terrace and ate a knish and drank a beer (because the two go hand in hand). Oh- and by the way, I went to Katz's for the first time in the 7+ years I've lived here . NOT IMPRESSED. Disorganized, expensive, confusing, and not so good about customer service. But the knish was okay.

In addition to the warm weather making this season kinda weird, I've felt a little lack-luster about the holidays. All of my belongings are stored at my parents' home in Ohio from now until after I get back from my voyage. My cat ("Kitty") is uptown at Dara's. My heart is still in New York. And my mind is out at sea somewhere. I walk by the fragrant smell of scotch pine and nostalgia hits. Love that smell. We always had a big tree at christmastime when I was a child. I even watched my favorite Christmas special the other night- Charlie Brown's Christmas. But I can't get into it. I even took a new route to work today. I walked down Mulberry Street. Little Italy looked festive for the holidays! Oh wait- I think those gaudy lights are ALWAYS there year-round. But nonetheless, I liked walking down a different street. There were crazy aluminum trees in windows and tacky things like that. It made me smile a little. For those of you with children (Jen N., Wendi, Gissell, Margaret, et al), please tell me the holidays get exciting again with children around? That's what I'm hoping for. In a couple years when I have some wee sproggins' I'm sure my heart will be back into it again. (Is that jumping the gun?)

But for now, I am just going to enjoy the time with my friends and family before I leave (in LESS than one month I'll be in Miami on the ship!!!!) Thank you all for reading, commenting, entertaining my notions, playing my reindeer games. Because you guys mean everything to me. Even that pain in the ass, Brian. Yeah, yeah yeah....it's getting mushy and I can't have a blog with at least a HINT of sarcasm somewhere.....

Thursday, December 11, 2008

True or False

Always a popular blog, today's exam will cover everything Laurie V from A to Z.

This is an exam, so there will be no cheating. Cheaters will be dismissed. Get out your number 2 pencils and clearly mark "T" for True or "F" for False. You can leave your guesses in my comments, or email directly to me. Results will be posted in a couple days.

And.....are you ready for this? The winner gets a prize!!!

1. I love to shop.
2. I am lactose intolerant.
3. I take the train to work.
4. I saw my mom yesterday.
5. I never leave home without my compact umbrella.
6. My eyes are green.
7. I went to Italy two summers ago.
8. I am Czech.
9. I can break a brick with the back of my wrist.
10. I know a girl in a city of 8.5 million people who has dated three of the same people that I've dated.
11. My mother almost named me Valerie.
12. I was Miss Majorette of Ohio.
13. My favorite thing to do is drive.
14. I am very good with directions and never get lost.
15. I love tofu and try to eat healthy.
16. I hate sushi.
17. My brother & sister-in-law live in Hawaii.
18. I have a cat named Isham.
19. I have a lot of shoes.
20. I used to live in Queens.
21. I'm afraid of thunderstorms.
22. I have lived uptown, downtown, midtown, and in Chelsea.
23. My favorite apartment was the one by the Brooklyn Bridge.
24. I am in the process of completing my EdD and soon you'll have to address me as Doctor Laurie.
25. I am writing a book.
26. I am organized with my finances.
27. My favorite book is "The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein.
28. I am a member of Delta Gamma.
29. I used to live next door to the largest indoor growing rubber tree plant.
30. I went to college in the rubber capital of the world.
31. I love to run.
32. I love to walk.
33. I am diabetic.
34. I love cheap white wine.
35. My dream is to go to Seychelles.
36. When I was a child I wanted to be a flight attendant.
37. I have never seen a full episode of Seinfeld.
38. I prefer my coffee with cream and sugar.
29. I prefer my men to be Spanish.
30. I still remember the hotel room number when I went to Hawaii in 3rd grade.
31. One time in Puerto Rico I tripped in iguana manure and broke my wrist.
32. I would love to be an astronaut.
33. I speak French.
34. I speak Spanish.
35. I play the piano.
36. I have been to Prague.
37. I have been to the rain forest in Central America.
38. I am a die-hard Democrat.
39. I have a tattoo, but I don't tell very many people about it.
40. I am scared of needles.
41. I won the award for "best legs" in my sorority in college.
42. My dad was in Vietnam.
43. So was my mom.
44. They met there.
45. I can't think of anything better than a day at Yankee stadium and a cold beer and a hot dog.
46. I think A-Rod is hot.
47. I love the mustard from the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium.
48. They still have it at Jacob's Field.
49. My favorite team won their prospective league's pennant last year.
50. Chicago is in my top five favorite cities.
51. Wrigley Field is my favorite ball park.
52. I know more about baseball than my brother does.
53. I have never been to Mexico.
54. I hate baklava.
55. I used to work at NYU.
56. I lived in a neighborhood with mostly Puerto Rican people when I lived uptown.
57. Monfongo is yummy.
59. I love politics.
60. I am Catholic and enjoy going to mass.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Changes in Latitude, Changes in Gratitude

Yesterday I learned that my Semester at Sea Itinerary has been changed. Now, instead of Italy, Istanbul and Egypt those ports have been replaced with Morocco, Namibia, South Africa and Mauritius. At first I was disappointed, now I'm flipping it upside down and getting excited again. The rest of the itinerary stays the same. We are going to be safe from pirates now. I was actually surprised that Thailand and India stayed on the itinerary, but we're on stand-by for other changes, based on political and terrorist situations.

Ironically, this was my horoscope this morning: You may be feeling anxious now because so much is up in the air. It seems as if your plans -- no matter how well formulated they are -- will have to undergo revision in order to adapt to the changing circumstances.

It's true. At my institution of employment the President is having all staff members read "Our Iceberg is Melting", which is a fable about penguins finding a new, safe place to dwell. Moral of the story is basically that everything is always changes, and how you manage it is what matters.

Speaking of places to dwell, I had drinks last night with my very good friend Vicki and my new friend Adam and we were in one of my old neighborhoods at a place called "Redemption". We also decided there should be a blog about places where I've lived in this Big Bad Apple. Why not? Everyone always seems fascinated and has a bunch of questions when I talk about New York. So here are some old apartments. Talk about Ch-ch-ch-changes......

So when I first moved to the city in Summer 2001 I interned at an ivy league university uptown. I looooved the neighborhood (Morningside Heights) and it was really hard to go back to Illinois at the end of the summer to finish my masters. Morningside Heights was a neat neighborhood. I lived near Grant's Tomb and cute little tree-line streets with ornate pre-war buildings adorned with gargoyles and beautifully sculpted wrought-iron trellises which were decorated with window-box gardens. Maybe a pansy or two growing in those boxes. Very cute, quintessential New York City. Below is a street scene from Broadway, near 113th street or so.

When I moved back permanently the following summer, I lived downtown in the financial district. The first apartment was pretty sweet. I had a dishwasher (a hot commodity, by Manhattan standards!) and a marble kitchen and bathroom. That's my sister-in-law and me in the kitchen. Notice the wine glasses....every single one of those has been broken since I lived there in 2002, between all the blissful wine-induced moments.....I mean..... between all the moves:
I worked on-call at that job, so the university provided my apartment for me so that I would be able to respond quickly to incidents on campus. Often times in the Residential Life role, one is asked to direct a different building, which was the case here. The following summer, my supervisor had me move to another apartment. I was excited about it, and I looooved this one, because it was huge and it overlooked City Hall and the entrance ramp to the Brooklyn Bridge. The first one is my living room and the second one is the view out my kitchen window.
Then I left this job so I had to find a new place fast. Two weeks notice meant two weeks to also find a new place to live. Kind of not easy in Manhattan. This time my new job was *not* footing the bill, as I did not rotate on-call. One of my friends was subletting her apartment for $800 per month, which was a STEAL in Turtle Bay. The exact same unit above me was rented for $1500- almost double. I lived on 53rd and 2nd. And I was excited. Well, as it turned out, my "friend" turned out to be a slumlord. The apartment was a small studio in a tenement building. I lived above that Indian restaurant pictured below (the red awning). My apartment always smelled of curry. Since it was an old building, the fuses would often blow, and guess where the fuse box was? In the basement of the Indian restaurant. One time, over Memorial Day Weekend, I turned on the air conditioner and blew a fuse. The Indian restaurant was closed for the entire weekend, so I had no electricity. Also, when I lived there in 2003, it was right after Bloomberg (or wait...maybe Guilliani at the time?) proposed the "no smoking in restaurants " rule. It was a great rule, but guess where all the smokers stood? You got it! Right under my window. There was also a popular bar next door to the restaurant. So if I opened the window, in came the smoke. It was also quite noisy and one morning I woke to a drunken puddle of vomit on my doorstep. Fantastic......Then in January, we had no heat, nor hot water because something was wrong with the boiler. I found out from the upstairs neighbor that everyone got a free month of rent. Since I was subletting and payed my "friend" directly, who in turn payed the management company, I was unaware of this. She claimed to know nothing about the free month. I was glad to get out of there. Cute neighborhood, though and I loved the conundrum of small very old tenement buildings being shadowed by huge modern glass office buildings.
In addition to hating that apartment, I also hated my job at the time. It was *not* in college student affairs, but with a jewelry firm which bought important estate jewelry and re-sold it to private dealers.
I left that job and got another job that involved being on-call, so once again my job provided the apartment. This one was in Chelsea. I loved it so much- I had a fairly large one-bedroom with lots of sunlight. Here it is at Christmas-time.
Oh, and did I mention I had a view of the Empire State Building from my window?

Then after I left that job, and ended up in Inwood/Washington Heights. Like a million blocks uptown at 204th and Sherman. The cheapest neighborhood in Manhattan. The best way to describe this neighborhood and building would be summed up in one word: disrespectful. People didn't clean up after their dogs. They left garbage and litter everywhere. There was often ketchup smeared all over the floors in the hallway. Teenagers played their reggaeton as loud as possible. The infamous neighbor below me was affectionately nicknamed (by me) "The Ol' Bitty". She would complain about everything and often bang on my pipes. The lady above me must have been auditioning for "Stomp", because that is mostly what I heard all hours of the night. Neither of these two women spoke English, so I would often have the one below (The Ol' Bitty) come upstairs, pound on my door, shake her fist and scream some Spanish obscenities...my Spanish is somewhat limited, and the only word I actually caught was puta. I got it.
That apartment was a very small one-bedroom. It looked like a shoe box. I had absolutely no sunshine, and the view out my bedroom window was a dank courtyard (if you can really call a cement dumping ground a "courtyard"). I did, however, love the exposed brick walls. Across the way, I had a direct view of Inwood's own version of "the ugly naked guy". You can sort of see him in this photo:

Then that lease just ended in September. I have been in transit since then. Currently I am on the Lower East Side, which I looooove. Here I am on the corner outside my building. I have always felt pulled toward this neighborhood. I love it so much because it is "old" New York. I think my Great Grandma Valentino may have lived here. Lots of immigration took place here in the 1920s from Italy and there is even a Tenement Museum on Orchard Street.
The photo below is of Dara outside a synagogue on Rivington Street. One of the things I love about New York is the contradiction of the city- the fact that something beautiful is often laced with graffiti (as seen below).

I joke with my friends, that the small cabin I'll occupy on Semester at Sea will actually be an UPGRADE for me, after getting used to the tiny shoeboxes in Manhattan! At least I'll have a port-hole so I can wake up to the skyline of Hong Kong and the pristine beaches of Mauritius and the jungles of Guatamala.....I would say that appreciating where I am at any given moment and adapting to change comes easily for me. Wouldn't you agree?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Farewell, So Long, Vaya Con Dios

There is a country song by George Strait that says " Goodbye, Farewell, So long, Vaya con dios, Good luck. " I loved it, because when I was in college, we would go country line dancing at this joint, and to that particular song we would dance the cha cha. We twirled. We spun. We swayed our hips. The cha cha was a dance used for many different songs, but it had some different moves than the traditional Latin cha cha, when doing it "country line" style. At first it made me dizzy, but once I got the hang of each twist and turn, I loved it so much.

Getting the hang of each twist and turn? That's what we do in life, isn't it?

Additionally, I have been thinking about this George Strait song, because this week has been about parting ways. My Great Aunt Theresa has died this week. She was my grandma's sister and best friend. A beautiful woman, she had been sick for quite some time. But she was surrounded by her children, her grandchildren, and her great grandchildren. People who loved her. And I will say my farewell to her this weekend. She is on the right, my grandma on the left. My aunt Patty and I in the back:
This week, and over the course of my lifetime, I have also parted ways with friends. Not by death, but because I chose to remove "the toxins" as my friend Vicki refers to them. Like a colonic for one's soul. I had to do that this week- remove a toxin, that is. (By the way, if you've never had a colonic, it is a daunting experience, but you feel so cleansed afterwards! I recommend La Casa Day Spa on 20th Street. All the toxins are removed. Out they go!)

Where was I? Oh yes. Parting ways. Removing toxins. Vaya con dios. That's it.

It's been a tough week in so many ways. It started over the thanksgiving holiday. The ultimate holiday of gratitude. Without going into personal detail, I have learned about surrender. Surrender, to me does not hold the negative connotation as we know it, but instead it is more of an acceptance. Marianne Williamson writes in her book "A Return to Love" about surrender. On page 52, she states that this means emptying one's mind. In Zen Buddhism, a beginner's mind is like an empty rice bowl. If it's not empty, the Universe cannot fill it with wonderful things.

Yes, yes, yes. THIS is what I'm talking about. Emptying my mind of all of the anger, the bitterness, and the hatred so I can open it up to all things new, happy, and wonderful. Letting go.

Marianne Williamson also talks about the day that she officiated both a wedding and a funeral. The funeral was first and the woman who died had been brutally murdered. She told the little boy and the husband to be strong and to use this death as a gift, a blessing. Oddly enough, Williamson describes that at the wedding she officiated later that day the groom had the same look on his face as the husband at the funeral. It was a look of pure unadulterated love. Healing is a return to love. Even death can be a gift to us.

Okay, is this post too serious? It is. I know. I know what you guys like and it's the humor in my life. Either that, or the stuff that is forthcoming.... the Semester at Sea stuff. But you have to get through the serious stuff to get to the humor.

So here goes..... a funny anecdote, a typical "Laurie" story. Today over my lunch break I went to the nail salon in Tribeca, across the street. Frankly I needed to get out of my office and my nails were a mess. I haven't been there in awhile, but I recognize the woman doing my nails. She has never spoken much English, but she tries. I give her credit for trying. Throughout the course of doing my nails she asks "You have baby makes?"

WHAT!? Baby makes? My family just told me I looked like I had LOST weight. So now I look pregnant? Fantastic. That goes nicely with all the stress in my life these days. Par for the course, as they say. Although I would love to have a baby more than just about anything in the world, sorry Toots- not just yet. Maybe after semester at sea.....but glad that I pull off the pregnant look with such ease.

As I was sitting waiting for my nails to dry, I was looking at the bottles of light pinkish colors of nail polish to choose from. "Sugar Daddy." "Mademoiselle". "Spaghetti Strap". "Baby Cakes".

Oooohhhhhhhhh......Baby Cakes. Baby Cakes. Baby Cakes. Baby Makes. What color is on my fingers? I get it.

Ah well. Either way, I was so ready to get outa that nail salon.

Vaya Con Dios.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Off the deep end.....

I write this as I sit at my grandma's house, as I visit her in Ohio over the Thanksgiving holiday. We like to drink wine (even at 3:00 PM). It's the wine that comes in the box....the "rotgut" as my grandma calls it. We drink our rotgut and she tells me stories about her mother and her brother. She also reminisces about Scott and me when we were little kids.

I am looking out the window at a pool with a coating of ice on the top of some mucky water. It's been awhile since anyone has splashed around in that pool. My grandma and grandad taught us to swim when we were very little. I think we were very very fortunate to have learned that skill at such a young age.

My grandma also pulled out a diary that she found of my brother's.

He transcribed three entries to my grandma when he was about three years old, and after that he lost interest.
Here is one of the entries from July 5, 1980:
In case you can't read it, the gist of it is:
Dear Diary,
I went to grandmas house. I played with all my friends in the gym set. And we had lots of tan. We went swimming with the tubes and muscles. We like to swim a lot but its cold in there. Laurie & me went to the deep end with our tubes and muscles and Laurie jumped off at the deep end.

Not much changes. In fact, the entry from June 9 stated that "Today I goed to the doughnut place with Mother and Laurie." That doesn't sound like a bad idea right now......

Monday, November 24, 2008

But I used to put on her lipstick and give her her morphine!!!!!

Due to some "customer complaints" about my blog being too bland lately, I'm trying to juice it up a bit tonight. My friend told me that he "liked it better when I was negative". Yes, Mr. Vanschmataburg, I understand your point. Angry and condescending does indeed make a funny weblog.

So let me not exactly be negative, nor angry, nor condescending, but instead let me share some stories of my career. As a disclaimer, I might add that I love my career and I am in no way angry about what I have chosen to do by trade. But I do think my friend's point is that I sound a little too chipper lately....that said, I'll get to the meat. I think these stories may satiate my friend's appetite for a non-wholesome blog.

Oh- and one more thing....Let me preface by saying, I am often asked what I do as a career and what I will be doing on Semester at Sea. The answer to that is sometimes complicated for people to grasp. Currently I am a counselor and disability coordinator at an art school in the city. Primarily I do referrals, and very short-term personal counseling 50% of the time. The other 50% of the time I do disability services, which means I accommodate students with disabilities. This could be anything from arranging a sign language interpreter for a deaf student to allowing a dyslexic student to have extra time to complete an exam according to ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) regulations. On Semester at Sea I will be a "Living Learning Coordinator" which is a residential life position.

In my previous jobs 2 jobs, I have been a Resident Counselor. This job entailed being on-call all hours of the night and responding to student emergencies. I dealt with everything from student conflicts to suicide attempts to drugs to alcohol poisoning to rape to physical altercations. Some evenings I'd have no calls whatsoever. Yet other nights I wouldn't get a wink of sleep. During these nights I worked closely with Graveyard Shift Security to handle each "project". Much of my job was simply being the college's staff representative and ensuring that the student is hospitalized or treated for whatever the emergency may have been and then reporting to my director so that appropriate follow-up could be done.

So here are some vignettes of my career. *Names have been changed. And names of colleges at which I've been employed have been withheld to protect privacy.

Munchhausen Bi Proxy This one occurred at a private institution uptown where I did my internship in the summer of 2001. There was a student named *Kristy. Kristy was a high school student who was enrolled in a pre-college program and had what we in higher ed refer to as, "helicopter parents". Simply put, they hover. Her father was a physician and was very involved in his daughter's life. The family lived in North or South Carolina, but the father must have flown up to New York at least 5 times during the two month program. During the course of her 2 month summer program, Kristy was in the hospital four times. Her father was always inventing illnesses for her. I spent a good chunk of my internship in a hospital waiting room, waiting for a student who had absolutely no ailments, only a father who insisted she needed treatment. After researching MBP, I discovered that it often occurs among children whose parents work in healthcare professions. I remember being on the phone one day with the other intern and reporting back to her "I'll be home soon. I'm just waiting on Kristy to finish her colonoscopy procedure." (No joke). I actually think this father created illnesses for the entire family. The kicker came when Kristy's grandmother died and despite all of her illnesses, she had to fly home for the funeral. She was kicking and screaming and thrusting on the floor in the lobby of the residence hall. As we put her into a cab her parting words were "I'm going to miss her so MUCH. I used to put on her her lipstick and give her her morphiiiiiiiiiiine!"

Black Feet
In 2002 I moved back to NYC permanently, after finishing my last year of grad school I took a position at another university downtown. I about had a heart attack when I saw Kristy's name on my roster. A tooootally different college and there she was. I think I almost quit that day. As it turned out, Kristy ended up dropping out of that college (because she was so "sick") and returning to whichever Carolina she was from. But this story isn't about Kristy. It's about *Jane. Jane was a student who often looked confused and disoriented. One night at 4 AM, Security contacts me in my apartment. "Umm, Laurie? Are you asleep?"
Sidenote: why do they always ask this?

"Could you come down to the lobby of *Nassau Street residence hall?". Down I trudge after awakening from my slumber. In the lobby I find a student whose feet are as black as coal. She is wearing no shoes. I see that it's Jane. Jane is wandering aimlessly in circles and asking Security why they took her money. A better question might have been where were her shoes. She proceeds to tell me she walked downtown from Union Square. (Probably at least a mile away, Union Square is a park where drug deals have been known to occur at wee hours of the night.) It took her awhile to be able to explain to me where she was or where she thought she was. Clearly she's confused, because she also told me she walked here from Williamsburg (a neighborhood in Brooklyn). Another student coming in from a night of drunken debauchery told me he thought he saw her on the Brooklyn Bridge. Wherever she may have arrived from, she was out of sorts. After this confusing conversation, she fell to the floor and began to convulse. EMS were contacted. I asked Security to go up to her room and get some shoes. Her roommates, now stirred come down. As she is being wheeled into the ambulance, the roommate tells me "Umm...Laurie? I found this next to her bed. Do you think this is significant?" In her hand was a syringe. I still remember the EMS guy's name badge. Bartolome. So Bartolome took the syringe and off they went to St Vincent, a very scary place, I might add. St. Vinny's is in the 14th Street area and last time I had to accompany a student there at 4 AM there were homeless people dripping blood and naked women lying in pools of vomit and defecation in the lobby area. But nonetheless a place that treated my students. I later found out that Jane had been using heroine. She had OD'd but not to the point of death. She was dismissed from the residence hall and returned to Westchester where her parents lived. This one was actually pretty sad for me. She came back the next week and I escorted her to her room to get her belongings. She was crying and she told me how much she loved school. Unfortunately she loved drugs more. I never saw her after that.

South Stairwell One day I received a report from Security that stated "Oral sex occurred at 2100 in the South Stairwell of *Applegate Hall." Oh boy. I swear I don't make this stuff up. Attached to that report were photos from the security cameras. I met with the student the next day. When I asked him if he knew why he was in my office, he said no. I suggested we take a walk. We walked to the stairwell and I pointed out the camera. He turned as red as a beet and began to cry. I felt sorry for him. I think he moved out of the residence halls at the end of the semester.

Pink Robe

This one actually occurred when I was a graduate student, working as an Associate Resident Director in a campus-owned sorority house. I lived in an apartment, kind of attached to the side of their house. When a drunken prankster would pull the fire alarm, we'd evacuate. Sororities had strict rules, one of which being that they were not permitted to have men in their rooms after 10 PM. Lo and behold at 4 AM the fire alarm would go off. (In case you're wondering, yes 4 AM is the witching hour on college campuses.) When that alarm went off, we would check the rooms to ensure that everyone had evacuated. More often than not, we'd see boyfriends scrambling out, trying to hide from view. My favorite incident though, was the episode where this girl *Jill's boyfriend came outside in nothing but Jill's pink bathrobe. "Laurie, I'm not in trouble right?" Well, Jill, as soon as I stop laughing I'll be able to give you an answer.
*** No one was harmed in the "fire".

Something's hot!
When I worked at a fashion school in Chelsea I am happy to say that I didn't deal with many fire alarms, but when we did, I loved it because that meant the NYFD brigade would arrive! I loved it so much, because even though it was annoying for 500 students to evacuate a building, the silver lining was the New York Fire Department. Oh how I loved those muscular men! How brave they were in the face of danger! Even if it was just a college student who had burnt some grilled cheese.......

Friday, November 21, 2008


Each and every morning I write a list of things for which I am grateful. I share this list with only about 14 other people, a very select few-- people who I know will appreciate and reciprocate the infectious positive energy. Most of them also send me their gratitude lists. Every single day. Sometimes there are 10 things on my list. Sometimes there are 25 things. Sometimes they are very macro things like "I am grateful for a wonderful childhood." Sometimes more micro like "I am grateful for the fingers to type this email message."

Either way, it is a very positive start to the day. As opposed to the complaining I was once accustomed to in my life, when my list would be more like "I hate this crappy weather." "I should have called off work today." "I hate how weak this coffee tastes." (You get the idea...) Don't get me wrong....I am not immune from negativity or bad feelings....I just try to talk myself out of that pessimist energy by appreciating the good.

At first this list was difficult. I was pulling things out of thin air. Now it's so easy that I sometimes have to make myself stop at 25 and save the others for the next day.

An important message I've learned over the years is the very simple phrase "You reap what you sow." I find this to be a common theme in my blogs, my way of thinking- and therefore my behavior. Good thoughts breed more good thoughts. So if I focus on the things I do have I will therefore create more things to be grateful about. Follow me, here?

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I couldn't think of a more perfect time to share with you a glimpse of what my gratitude list looks like.

Here goes:
1. I am grateful for the readers of my blog.....it is you for whom I write. I love sharing my experiences, my thoughts, and my life with all of you. Thank you for being part of my world.
2. I am grateful for Round 2 of my travel inoculations the other day. This means that I will be free from strange diseases on my voyage....things like Hepatitis A and Malaria. (Actually Malaria is a pill you take....but nonetheless I'm grateful to be immune.)
3. I am grateful for Vernor's Ginger Ale, which I have never seen east of Ohio.
4. I am grateful for the nostalgia of college and how my campus always smelled like fresh baked bread, since the Wonder bread factory was right there. The air was so warm and buttery, I could barely concentrate.
5. I am grateful for healing.
6. I am grateful that the way that the smooth velor blanket feels against my skin.
7. I am grateful for the dinner I had tonight with Dara, Sophie, and Kevin.
8. I am grateful for the book by Jeannette Walls that I read recently. "Glass Castle" (talk about someone who had very little, but didn't complain.)
9. I am grateful for my sister-in-law since I never had a "real" sister....she is even better.
10. I am grateful for therapy in all forms.
11. I am grateful for gloves, scarves, and hats in cold weather.
12. I am grateful that I got to meet Sanjay Gupta the other night at the CNN event "Fit Nation". He seems so articulate and intelligent!
13. I am grateful that I got to meet Jillian Michaels from the "Biggest Loser". Even though I've never seen that show, I am going to watch it now! She was funny and sweet.
14. I am grateful that the Universe opens its arms to you, if you are willing to surrender to it.
15. I am grateful for surrender.
16. I am grateful for the baked plum hor d'heuvres at the CNN event the other night. Divine!
17. I am grateful for the smell of Hawaiian Tropic suntan oil.
18. I am grateful that my mom, dad, and both 80-something grandma's are coming to see me off in the Bahamas.
19. I am grateful that I will get to meet the rest of the staff a few days early, when we board the ship in Miami.
20. I am grateful for the trips I've selected in the pre-sale and the potential opportunity to be a Trip Leader.
21. I am grateful for the cheers, the tears, and the chills I get when I see such endurance and accomplishment, like the day I watched the NYC marathon in Brooklyn.
22. I am grateful for extra virgin olive oil (EVOO! Did I mention Rachael Ray was at that CNN event, as well!?)
23. In fact, I am just grateful for all olives period.
24. I am grateful for being in the now and appreciating the moment. Like this one.
25. And this one.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Poked, prodded and drained....but I've got mussels!

J'ai mange' des moules en lundi avec Dara. Mais, le garcon ne nous laisserait pas emmener les moules à la maison avec nous, parce qu'it' ; risque sanitaire de SA. Nous avons fait tellement de toute façon !

Ok, so just in case you don't speak French.....Dara and I went to a French restaurant the other day and we had mussels. They were delicious, but we couldn't finish them because they were so plentiful. The waiter told us that we are not allowed to take shellfish to go, because it's a health hazard. So we did a sneaky thing and pulled them from the shells and put them into the to-go container anyhow. (We had two containers....one for my left-overs and one for hers, but we consolidated so the mussels could go.) BTW, If anyone from that French place on Bleecker Street is reading, I know NOTHING!

Seriously, that buttery garlicky sauce that you dip your crusty french bread into is divine. And I love mussels (on my plate and on my men!)

On a Semester at Sea note, I had some of my inoculations yesterday at a doctor's office in Soho. MMR, influenza, Hep A & B (which I have to go for again next week- Dose 2), Tetanus, and Typhoid. And then I've got to get scripts for malaria and a patch for seasickness. Fortunately I don't really have to get yellow fever nor Japanese encephalitis. I had a total of five pokes, not including the pokes for drawing blood.

They drew four vials of blood, performed an EKG, a urine test, took my blood pressure, took my vitals, and weighed me for my physical exam. Needless to say, I was feeling a little woozy after leaving the doctor's office and my arms are *still* hurting today. *Although I am grateful for that ache, because that means I am going to be immune from disease on my trip. I would say the worst part of the physical exam was being weighed!

So I went back to my office and fortunately I didn't have any more appointments for the day. When I left to catch the train around 6, I was hoping no one would run into my arm. There is always a large crowd heading towards the PATH train and the subway between about 5:00 and 6:30....the lower Manhattan rat race. I am thinking all the way I hope no one bumps into my sore arms!

Lo and behold, the woman in front of me stops short causing me to stop and people to bump into me. Cursing under my breath, I looked over to the lady who stopped short.

Uh oh.

Her eyes were rolled back into her head and she was wobbling. I forgot about my own arms and reached out to catch her. She didn't faint, but she was close. We stepped away, out of the line of traffic and she took some deep breaths. She thanked me for taking the time to make sure she was okay and told me I was her angel. She had been having some medical complications lately, she told me. She also told me that she herself saw a man lying on the ground one day on Madison Avenue and he was having a heart attack so she stopped to assist, but she was the only one.

A true lesson of "what goes around comes around" for her. Because that's just what we humans do. We help one another. Or do we?........

Do you remember the story of Kitty Genovese? The woman brutally murdered in Queens in 1964, whitnessed by many of her neighbors (38 of them to be exact). When the attacker first caught up with her, she screamed, "Oh my God, he stabbed me! Help me!" and the neighbors did nothing. The murder prompted a psychological study about the lethargic and callous attitudes of onlookers. Reasons for this negligence include that onlookers see that others—actually or presumably- will know how to help better (not recognizing that nobody actually does help), and that onlookers feel insecure helping with others watching. In general, bystanders (or those walking through the rat race) are less likely to react when more people are present.

But I think that 44 years later things are a little different. I wonder if the passing of time and tragic events that have occurred in our world would change the results of this study? It reassures me that there is love in the big bad apple, after all. At least I think so.

And I'm grateful for my sore arms, vaccinations, angels, helpful strangers, muscles, and mussels.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Jump, you say? How high?

This one's about loooooove.

The fickle nature of love.

I loved once (maybe even twice). And it was wonderful. The kind of love that one dreams about. Chills up your arms. Ticklish feeling in your stomach. Goofy grin on your face. Singing along to every song on the radio and feeling as though each lyric has been written for you personally. Skipping down the hallways.

I love to love strong and confident men who know what they want in life. Men who have goals and achieve important things. Men who walk with their heads up and best foot forward. I love having long conversations over breakfast, drinking black coffee and sharing interesting tidbits we've read in the morning paper. But I also like to be taking care of these men. Like being on my hands and knees, finding their lost keys under the table, on the floor of the darkened bar, scoping around with a flashlight, while they are outside laughing, flirting with other women, and smoking a cigarette, not a care in the world.....

See.....this was the problem. I was taking care of them and they didn't want to be cared for. "Jump, Laurie", they would say. "Jump you say? Sure! How high?" And I would be right there jumping. I lost my breath. But, EVEN with all the jumping, I still had one foot on the ground, so I was able to keep my balance (kind of). I was barely standing, while trying to maintain a relationship with men who didn't even know how to jump, let alone be swept away by me. And then came the point when the proverbial straw broke the proverbial camel's proverbial back. And just like that it was over. And I couldn't jump any more.

I spent a lot of time being miserable. Because infatuation trumps good judgment. And one day it just kinda clicks. You stop jumping for everyone else and start doing so just because you want to. Might as well! Van Halen understands! Ask him!

Crap, I just re-read what I've written thus far and realized this one's personal and I'm giving away my secrets. Let me find a way to shift gears here....

.....I am IMing with one of my buddies, Mike J....and he is asking when I'm going to publish my book. Well Mike, I don't know the answer to that question, but I'm working on it, one blog at a time. Somehow Mike and I are in a conversation about my diplomatic nature and how understanding I am and I agreed that yes, I am Christlike. Mike is asking me if Jesus liked mimosas as much as I do? I think he preferred wine, as there was an orange famine that hit circa the New Testament. But I'm sure they were was plenty of wine instead, since he knew how to manifest it out of water. Probably no bubbly and OJ for JC, but plenty of wine. Because after all, Jesus never turned water into mimosas. Although, I'm sure that would have made for interesting brunches. Great. I've gone from love to blasphemy all in one blog. Can I add any more taboo topics? Politics anyone? And I even went to mass tonight, believe it or not! Communion and the whole nine yards! I should be behaving better than this! Don't worry Mom, if you're reading....I'll say a few extra hail mary's for my blasphemous talk about Jesus drinking mimosas and then let it go. I should stop while I'm ahead.... Let me shift gears once again....

Did I tell you how much I love brunch? Because that's like a blog in and of itself. Or maybe I could write about.....oh, say Semester at Sea? The whole reason I created this blog in the first place! So maybe next time.....but for now I need to stop jumping....instead I should probably be down on my knees.....

Saturday, November 8, 2008

What's Your Price for Flight?

Dear Chinese Consulate of New York City:
Please do not lose my passport and visa application before I come to pick it up next week. I am pleased that I was in and out in 15 minutes, but a little iffy about your application process. So please just file mine away in the V's and I'll see you next Wednesday! I really am looking forward to visiting your country in the upcoming months.

On Thursday morning I schlepped myself and my passport and my Visa application over to 42nd Street and 12th Avenue (a Loooooong walk in the rain!) to finally obtain my Chinese tourist visa for Semester at Sea. I went to get the Indian one last month, which was basically a piece of cake, speaking of which- the Indian visa place was close to the Buttercup Bakery, which made the process even sweeter. If you remember the blog about the "golden delicious" cupcake......that was the place.....so upon retrieving my Indian visa, I also retrieved some cupcakes. Each one just melts in your mouth. The buttery sweet frosting, the flaky soft melt-in-your mouth cake....mmmm.... heavenly blisss....ummm... Where was I? Oh, right. Chinese visa.
So this was my conversation with the Consulate employee....aka Chinese Visa Nazi:
Chinese Visa Nazi: You not list a hotel.
Me: That's because I'm coming by ship.
Chinese Visa Nazi: You go on cwuise?
Me: Not exactly a cwuise, it's a study abroad program, an educational thing.
Chinese Visa Nazi: You need STUDY visa, not tourist!
Me: No, no no....Semester at Sea comes to your country all the time, and this is how I was instructed to fill out the application, according to their guidelines. I'm not really a study-abroad thing for *me*, because I'm working as a staff member.
Chinese Visa Nazi: You need a WOK visa?
Me: A what?
Chinese Visa Nazi: WOK visa!!
(She is getting frustrated and yelling this. The people in line behind me are glaring at me.)
Me: Oooohhhhh.....work visa? No, no no...that's not it either. I'm working for an American University.
Chinese Visa Nazi: You go on cwuise?
Me: Yes.
Chinese Visa Nazi: Okay, we give you passport back and visa next Wednesday.


Aside from arranging travel plans to China, I've been arranging my holiday visit to Ohio. I was going to stay in Hoboken over Thanksgiving or maybe go upstate with Dara or to Connecticut with Holly and Jay, but instead I'm going to see my own family. I rented a car and will drive there and then fly back to LaGuardia. Since I waited until last minute, the prices have gone up for flights, but my mom booked it for me. (Go mom! Thank you so much!)

My head is spinning. There is so much to be done in the two months before I leave. Travel immunizations, Hepatitis vaccines, malaria prescriptions, get new camera with points I've earned on my credit card, possibly a new laptop if I'm not broke from the doctors visits and malaria meds, organize my files at work and get everything in order for my "substitute" during the four months I'm gone, straighten out my tax forms and mail forwarding situation while I'm gone, tie up some loose ends with my volunteer position with Alpha Gam, try to work a few liquor promos (in case you didn't know, I work champagne, wine, and liquor tastings as my side-gig.....it's decent money and the most fun job in the world....only I haven't done one since like July, so I need to get on the ball with it during the holidays to earn some extra cash)......what else? Just a million things at work, etc.

All good things. I love being busy, because it means I am preparing myself for something wonderful. I would do these tasks a thousand times over to go on this voyage, that's how excited I am for Semester at Sea.

I've noticed during these busy times I've not been dating much at all. But I am starting to get bored and maybe want to throw in a few dates too. Is this realistic? You guys know anyone? Tall, smart, and single? If you do, send 'em to The Rime of the Modern Mariner, Inc. and I'll show 'em a good time. Must love blogs. Must love fluffy gray cat named Isaac. Must want children. Potential suitor should be willing to part ways for four months starting in January or be compact enough that I can fold him up in my suitcase. On second thought, better not....I am thinking I might be finding Mr. Right on my voyage. ***Can you tell by the title of my blog and the reference to "finding Mr. Right" that I've been listening to Night Ranger? I looooove that song. I heard it in the grocery store this morning and couldn't help singing along.

Sister Christian, oh the time has come
And you know that you're the only one to say, OK
Where you goin', what you looking for
You know those boys don't want to play no more with you
It's true......(and this is where the giant crescendo starts......ba ba ba ba ba ba...)
What's your price for flight
In finding Mister Right
You'll be all right tonight

Uh oh! People were staring. But come ON! You can't BLAST that at a grocery store during the mundane task of shopping, which I already HATE to do, and not expect me to start jamming!

Speaking of "motoring", that's precisely what I've gotta do right now. I have a four month voyage to plan already!!!!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Rest of the Story

It's been two years now since my Grandad died. It was in fact, the second Wednesday of November, so it's almost two years to the very day. I hadn't really been thinking much about it. But last night on my way home, as I was traversing the park I heard someone's car radio. They were listening to Paul Harvey. Paul Harvey had a radio show called "The Rest of the Story" (and I believe he STILL does, even though he is 90 years old). He had such a wonderful, gentle, soothing speaking voice and I loved the heartwarming stories that he shared with his listeners. Oh my gosh, the nostalgia I felt! I hadn't heard Paul Harvey for a long time!

My grandad used to listen to Paul Harvey every single day. His segments were usually about someone well-known, but the stories he shared weren't well known stories. Harvey's radio show would often start with "You know the news, and in a minute you'll hear the rest of the story..." Grandad had an old radio next to the kitchen table with a rabbit ear antennae. My Grandad kept a folded papertowel at his spot at the kitchen table. The papertowel always had a trace of brown mustard because Grandad would put the knife he used on the papertowel so that it wouldn't dirty my Grandma's tablecloth. We never were allowed to put garbage in the trashcan, because it smelled. Instead we put it in this thing my grandad had called the "trash masher". Like Grandfather like Granddaughter...I have a quirk about trash piling up and I am constantly taking out the garbage even when it's not full. Grandad sat in a worn green leather chair which was ripped and held together with duct tape. Grandad knew how to fix anything and he owned a machine shop for many many years. He was an expert welder. He also had a loom and made beautiful rugs. I have one of his rugs next to my bed now.

My grandad had a poodle named Mitzi. Mitzi used to lay at my grandad's feet at night. One night he felt Mitzi's warm body lying on his foot as he sat in his chair and watched television. But out of the corner of his eye he saw Mitzi walking clear on the other side of the room. He still felt her warm body on his foot. He looked down and realized Mitzi had thrown up on his foot! We all had a good laugh about that!

Grandad had a shirt that he wore in his machine shop. When my brother was little he called it "Grandad's doity shoit" because it always was full of grease from my grandad's long hours of manual labor in the shop. (It took Scott awhile to pronounce his "R"s).

This is my Grandad in his doity shoit:

I was not there, but I remember what my mom told me the night before my Grandad died. My mom had been sitting with him in the hospital and he asked her to turn on "Dancing with the Stars". He had fallen asleep and my mom told him "Dad, you're asleep. I'm going home, but I'll leave your show on. I'll see you in the morning."

I flew to Ohio for the funeral on a Friday. A week later I flew to Maui to visit my brother and sister-in-law and celebrate their marriage, a bittersweet visit. I spent our days at the beach crying on the phone with my Grandma. I could barely swallow the fish tacos that Sarah and I had bought. We had a wonderful time, but what a sad undertone.

I am so choked up I can barely breathe. Pull it together, Toots. Pull it together. I have happy memories about Grandad and one could say I have a cheerful demeanor. But today I weep.

And that my friends is "the rest of the story"......

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Any Port in the Storm

We've had our first staff "meeting" for Semester at Sea via conference call. It was nice to put a voice with the names and the emails and the bios I've been reading. I am excited, eager, and energized after learning more and more about our specific duties and how life on-board will feel. I can taste the spray of the salty air when I close my eyes and think about my journey. The day of departure is coming up right before my very eyes, in about 70 days or so.

My Grandma K would say my departure is coming up "in three shakes of a lamb's tail". She is Scotch-Irish, you see and she is full of sayings, words of wisdom, proverbs, and other little nuggets of genious. (Not to be confused with my other Grandma-Grandma V, the one who took us to feed the ducks, the one to whom I referred two blogs ago, who is quite a genious herself. And she also appears in one of the Vietnam photos from one blog ago, the photo of my dad in Kentucky after his Basic Training).

Fortunately for me, BOTH of these sharp, intelligent grandmas are coming to the Bahamas to see me off, as well as my parents.

My Grandma K taught me lots of important things, like never to be "meek and mealy-mouthed". That means no matter what anyone says or does, I speak up and stand for what I believe. So I did just that today: I voted. I've got to say, even though I have been conflicted and was unsure that I'd even make it to the polls, I scooted my arse over to Chelsea this morning and cast my vote. I was undecided, yet still concerned with the future of our United States (would you call someone like me bi-political?), and I am satisfied with the decision I did make. I imagine that someone's got to be able to fix the state of our country, SOMEHOW. "Any port in the storm", as Grandma K would say.

Afterwards, I visited two former colleagues and also dear friends, Gissell and Clare since I was right next door to my old office. I am going there every day that I need an esteem boost! They made me feel so wonderful and told me how slim I look these days. (Must be all the walking I've done on both sides of the Hudson. I've been averaging 7 miles per day.) I've got to say, they are looking pretty darn hot too....I'm surrounded by beautiful and smart people in every walk of life.

These past few days have really been quintessential days in New York City. Today was voting. Sunday was the marathon, which I watched from Bay Ridge in Brooklyn with my dear friends Maura and Dara. We drank mimosas as laughed blissful champagne-orange-juice-induced laughs, and we screamed for runners until we had no voices. We high-fived strangers, as if they were our best friends! We yelled out the names displayed on the sprinter's shirts and clapped and cheered. It was such a monumental day in New York City and I am so proud of the speed, endurance, strength and grace of each runner on a beautiful November morning. I get the chills and tears well up in my eyes, as I watch these dedicated gazelles fly by.

Then last night, I cut through Bryant Park which was all set up for.....ice skating! It was almost 60 degrees, but skaters were whirling around the ice, practicing their triple toe-loops with Dean Martin singing his heart out on the loudspeakers in the background. It was surreal to see such a winter sport on such a warm autumn day. Bryant Park is one of my favorite urban oasises (oases?) because of the gorgeous green lawn and shaded trees with tables underneath, perfect for reading. Imagine all of this with a backdrop of tall buildings and a glance at the glowing lights of Times Square if you are sitting in the right spot. Now imagine the leaves changing in this park to crisp oranges and yellows and reds, on a perfect autumn day and the green lawn now covered by an ice-skating rink. Imagine happy smiling folks twirling around the rink in t-shirts and without jackets. My phone could not capture the magic accurately.

New York, New York what are you going to do without me for four months?

Well don't you fret because I'll be back in three shakes of a lamb's tail.....

Friday, October 31, 2008

Just one Piece!!!!!

We all know when it comes to chocolate, "just one piece" never works so well for me....not only would I eat half of my bag of candy when I got back from trick-or-treating, but I would eat most of Scott's too! (Remember from the last blog, I was the bully!) But my poor mother always tried in vain to only allow me to eat just one piece when I got home. She never really kept sweets around, so it's no wonder Halloween was my favorite holiday as a kid. Scott's too. (Until I stole all of his candy. The phrase "stealing candy from a baby" was created for kids like me.)

Speaking of Scott and I when we were children, here we were on the first day of school. I never understood why kids though our mom dressed us funny:

Just kidding, this wasn't the first day of school....this was actually Halloween,probably about 1980ish or so. Notice I have the pumpkin full of candy in my hands, and Scott's hands are empty.

And in case you have read the blog before this, here is a photo of Scott and me in our "pinching baby" days. Scott was still in basic training for pinchers at this point (and yes, those are probably the stairs I pushed him down):

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. I think mostly because of the candy, but more-so because I like dressing up.

This photo was taken in 1996 when my parents used to make me clean the house and wear a French Maid's outfit to do so! (They must have been mad about me stealing Scott's candy.)

Okay, once again I tease....I actually never really learned how to clean the house. That shot was taken when I was in college- my dad and me before I went out with all of my sorority sisters for a wild party.....err, I mean volunteering my time to go trick-or-treating with little children. I taught them how to eat just one piece too! And I also taught them about sharing their candy....with adults who are taking them trick-or-treating..... My mom and dad would be proud!

Speaking of my dad, he reads my blog! Aaaaand upon my request, he did indeed send me some of his Vietnam photos, which I hadn't seen since I was a little kid. Much like me, my dad also works at a college (The University of Akron, my alma mater) and he does a class on the Vietnam war. These are a selection of some of his photos from the powerpoint he uses for that class.

Much like me, my dad loves to take pictures. My dad and I are a lot a like in some ways. Except......when it comes to Halloween candy, I think my dad has a lot better control about eating "just one piece".

PS- Love you Daddy!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Stored away in the bowels of my brain I’ve got all these files of unwritten blog topics I’ve earmarked for a rainy day. Tonight is kind of a rainy night, and I haven’t departed on my BIG voyage, so I don’t have any stories of the Great Oceans Blue quite yet. Instead, let me delve into my internal card catalog instead.

I know you guys love the stories of my childhood, and I think some of you might appreciate hearing about my early journeys, before I even knew how to spell Shanghai, let alone realize I’d be traveling there. Italy was a little bit more familiar, because my Grandma Valentino came from there and I knew that all of our Thanksgivings were extra delicious, and probably a little different from my friends’ Thanksgivings, because we ate Italian food- things like squid and wedding soup, in addition to our turkey and stuffing. I didn’t know much about Hong Kong, but it reminded me a lot of an Atari game I liked to play…the game with a big monkey who rolled barrels to trip up opposing players. And last, I was the little girl who thought Vietnam was just a strange place where my Daddy liked to visit, wearing camouflage green clothing, and wander through swampy rice fields, all of which was depicted when he would show us his US Army slide shows in the darkened family room circa 1981. Speaking of 1981, when I was about five, my Grandma and Grandad used to take us to this place in Barberton, Ohio called Lake Anna. There were ducks and swans at Lake Anna so we used to take stale bread for them to eat. Stale bread wasn’t good enough for people to eat, but the ducks never seemed to mind it too much! We would skip through the park, actually half running and half skipping and stand as close to the water as possible without falling in and reach over so close to the ducks that they would practically be eating out of our hands.

Scott and I would sit in the back seat, patiently waiting to get to the lake. Scott was a kid who could always eat. He was never fat or pudgy, he just liked to eat. We usually got Frozen Custard (this awesomely creamy, dreamy, smooth ambrosia, not to be confused with frozen yogurt or ice cream or anything of that sort), or sometimes we had Barberton Chicken. I never knew why fried chicken was so famous there….I just knew I lived for fried chicken and this stuff made my mouth water….it was served with these potatoes that were much like French fries and this stuff called “hot sauce” which was a ricey tomatoey type of goop that you slopped on over top of your potatoes and I’m not sure what exactly was in it, all I know is that it tasted pretty darn good.

So with our tummies full of greasy Barberton chicken and creamy custard, we were ready to share our stale bread with the ducks. I learned all about sharing when I was a young child and I was always willing to lend my friends a Barbie doll or a grape popsicle or a ride on the handlebars of my bike. No problem! I loved sharing my things and realized that giving to others brought me great joy as well. If one person can enjoy something, even better if two people can enjoy it!

Somewhere I think Scott missed this lesson. I remember one time sitting in the backseat, swinging my feet (which didn’t quite reach the ground) back and forth and patiently waiting to get to Lake Anna to feed the ducks, I noticed this chewing noise. I looked over and there was Scott eating every last piece of the stale bread. His cheeks full of bread, he grinned a missing-my-two-front-teeth-and-just-got-a-dollar-from-the-tooth-ferry smile. “Sssshhhh Sissy. Don’t tell.”

My eyes were big round blue saucers. I couldn’t believe Scotty would eat all of the food we brought for the ducks. Wouldn’t they be hungry? I was a pretty good kid (although some may beg to differ) and I did know we were supposed to share our bread that was earmarked (there’s that word again) for the ducks. Not for Scott who just ate three legs, one wing, and a thigh! (I’m talking about the Barberton fried chicken here, not the ducks we were about to feed.) But I kept my mouth shut. I don’t know what good I thought this was going to do, since pretty soon Grandma and Grandad would catch on and see that there was nothing left to feed the ducks.

Laurieeee????? Scottyyyyy? What are you two doing back there???

As usual, we’d both smile our shit-eat grins. “NOSSING!”

I think my grandparents got a kick out of our antics, but my parents didn’t.

Even though I loved to share, I hated cute little babies, because I was envious and had to be the center of attention. My mom would hear me asking Scott in the backseat of the car “Now Scott….when we see a baby what are we going to do?”

His answer was always the same: “PINCH THEM!!!” (I trained him to answer that way.)

So my mom loooooooves to share the stories of how I would convince Scott to come with me and pinch babies. One time in McDonalds we saw a baby and I ran up and pinched it. Scott ran up behind and pinched it too. The mother of the baby was FURIOUS, as was my mother after she realized what we’d done. She took my arm and yanked me out of there and my grandma took Scott’s arm and yanked him out of there.

For some reason my friends think this story is hilarious.. Poor Scott. When we were little, I wore the pants. I was envious of Scott too, because he was the baby of the family, so it was easier just to boss him around and be at my beckon call. I used to do mean things like shove him down the basement stairs and I had him so well trained that he would stick up for me. Bloody and bruised, he would crawl back upstairs, and my mom would ask “What the hell did Laurie DO to you!?!??” And through his tears and blood he would plead “Mommy, don’t be so hard on her.”

Poor little guy. This brings a tear to my eye now. Melts my little jealous, baby-hating heart! I *was* kind of mean! I’m glad I learned that there’s more to being a good kid than just sharing grape popsicles. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t been so bossy with Scott. But then one day he got bigger than me and stood his ground, so I guess it wasn’t allllllll that bad for him.

I truly had a wonderful childhood and with the exception of a few quirks and mean-spirited pinching episodes, I was a pretty good kid I think. Mom, if you’re reading this, please leave a comment so all of my readers believe me!!

I’m nostalgic now, after writing this post. Dad, if you’re reading, can you please email me some of your army pictures from Vietnam? Scott, if you’re reading this, can we play Donkey Kong on the Atari next time I’m in Ohio? Grandma, if you’re reading this, can we get frozen custard?

Okay, all of this stuff sounds reallllllly good. I loved my childhood and the thought of re-living some of these memories is making me very happy.

If it were 27 years ago, I’d be skipping! Hell, might as well skip right now…..