Monday, December 9, 2013

A Little Rant About Wedding Planning...

If you want to have ANY recollection of your wedding, you are LEGALLY REQUIRED to hire a professional photographer for the perfectly reasonable price of one year's salary and the blood of your first born child.  You must instruct this person to snap artful photos of your wedding bands stacked strategically on one of your wedding invitations, or maybe a shot of the couple smiling at each other with that knowing look that means, "We'll have to put up with each other's farts for the rest of our lives."  Your friends are not to be trusted with cameras.  Your friends are either clumsy idiots or evil masterminds determined to ruin your wedding.  If you fail to hire a photographer, you will be immediately roofied after the reception and will wake up in a Mexican jail with your marriage license torn to bits and sprinkled like confetti into your hair.  Your granchildren's children will shake their fists at you for not leaving them any BEAUTIFUL wedding photos to look at and they will doubt that you are even related.  I, for one, have looked at my parents' wedding album every night since I was born and have wept over the photographer's brilliant artwork.  In fact, the walls at my grandparents' house were neither painted nor covered in wallpaper but were instead giant prints of their professionally-'graphed wedding photos.  DON'T YOU KNOW THAT THE AMOUNT YOU CARE ABOUT SOMETHING IS DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL TO HOW MUCH MONEY YOU SPEND ON IT!??

This pretty much describes all of my wedding planning experience in the last two months.  The end.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Halloween Fun, Part 2

I love movies.  And I don't just mean certain movies, I mean that I love the whole motion picture concept so much that I'll see pretty much anything in a movie theater just for the experience of sitting in a dark room with that stale popcorn smell, looking up at a big screen and letting the light flicker across my face.  I like laughing with the other movie-goers during a comedy and screaming with the other movie-goers during a scary movie.  On the other hand, I purposefully pick weird or inconvenient times to see movies in hopes that I'll get that rare experience of having a whole theater to myself.  I frequently see movies alone during Awards season to increase my chances of seeing all of them, and the Oscars broadcast is my Super Bowl.  In High School, my friend and I started a film club in which we watched a lot of well-made movies and then discussed them afterward.  Nerd alert, am I right?  My point is that during any holiday season, but particularly during the Halloween season, the movies are the best part for me.  I've watched a LOT of horror movies in my twenty-seven years... even the truly awful ones (and there are so, so many awful ones).  While everyone's taste in movies is different, these are the ones that are my all-time favorites.

The Exorcist
This is the first movie I ever watched that kept me up all night, too afraid to close my eyes.  Even looking up a picture for this blog post is probably going to give me nightmares.  And when they re-released it in theaters with the deleted scenes... I screamed and cried like a little girl.  I'm a pretty big wimp now, but I was a tough kid and movies didn't really scare me much until this one.  Honorable mention goes to The Exorcism of Emily Rose for being the only recent possession/exorcism movie that even comes close to this one.

Best Slasher Flick
I personally don't find slasher movies particularly scary, but this is the movie that wrote the rules for all horror movies after it.  Building tension, surprise scares, the gotcha! moment at the end, it's all here.  And unlike a lot of other movies in the genre, this one is actually a well-made and well-written film with interesting camera angles and decent acting.

Best Vampire/Best Foreign
Let the Right One In
I'll warn you right now.  This movie is not scary.  There are a couple of creepy parts and maybe even a few moments that made me jump in the American version, but it's a little stretch of the horror genre to include this one.  It is about vampires and it is very dark, but mostly it's a great film about loss of innocence and the end of childhood, being an outsider, and also a little bit (or a lot?) about love.  It's like the anti-Twilight.

Best Werewolf
An American Werewolf in London
The scariest parts of this movie have nothing to do with the werewolf, but the protagonist's lupine transformation earned this movie an Oscar for makeup. 

Best Zombie Movie
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
I'm a devoted George Romero fan (and actually met him this summer!) and I think the original Dawn of the Dead is his best film.  It may not be as flashy as more recent zombie movies, and zombie makeup has clearly come a long way since 1978, but like Halloween, Romero really wrote the rule book with this one.

Best Classic/Silent Film
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
OK so maybe not everyone has the patience to sit through a silent movie, but this is a great example of German Expressionism and clearly had an influence on Tim Burton's aesthetic.  Plus, I am actually afraid of sleepwalkers, so I find this movie genuinely creepy.

Best Arthouse
This movie is super weird and that is maybe most of what makes it scary.  Dario Argento knows how to build some tension and the lighting/set design will make you feel like you've walked into one of those creepy fun houses at a carnival.

Best Horror Movie with a Sense of Humor
Drag Me to Hell
I'm afraid that most of the movie-going public didn't "get" that this movie was supposed to be goofy in addition to being genuinely scary.  It's by Sam Raimi, the person who brought you the original Evil Dead series, so it's not supposed to be a really serious horror film, but maybe the humor was too subtle to seem purposeful.  I really enjoyed it and left the theater feeling totally satisfied.  If you take it with a grain of salt, you will feel the same way.

Best Kid-Friendly(ish)
This was a tough decision.  I know I'm supposed to say Hocus Pocus or The Nightmare Before Christmas, and I cherish those movies as much as the next 90's kid, but I think in terms of movies that are actually a little bit frightening (but not traumatizing), Beetlejuice is the best.  It's funny, it's quirky, and the non-CGI makeup, costumes, and set designs recall the good ol' days of special effects.

Best Worst Movie
Return of the Killer Tomatoes
That's right, not even Attack of the Killer Tomatoes but its far campier (if that were even possible) sequel.  You'll get a fine specimen of 80's George Clooney (which makes me think that no role is too small or too stupid when you're trying to build a Hollywood career) and a grand feeling of "What the f--?" that you'll never quite get over.  It's silly.  Very very silly.

And as for television...
Twin Peaks and Pretty Little Liars
(I'm pretty sure there is no Twin Peaks blu-ray and this is just fan-made, but that's not important)
Ever since Twin Peaks was released on Netflix, a lot of my generation has been watching it (perhaps re-watching it for some, but I think most of us were too young to get it when it was on TV).  It's good entry-level exposure to David Lynch... very bizarre but not so disturbing that you want to take a shower after you watch it.  It's funny but also very eerie and sometimes downright nightmare-inducing.
Ok, hear me out!  I was very skeptical of this series at first and was ready to give up after the first episode, but something about it reminds me of Twin Peaks.  Maybe because it's also sort of a murder mystery about a pretty blond girl who no one knew as well as they thought they did when she was alive.  The show's creators/directors (if not the series author... not sure because I've never read the books) have a genuine appreciation for classic film and a lot of details are Hitchcock-inspired -- a bird named Tippi, for example, or the "Rear Window Brew" coffee shop.  Their Halloween episodes are great, but every episode is like a mini horror movie and there were a lot of nights when I couldn't watch this show alone in the dark.  Pretty cool for an ABC family series.
Yeah, I know everyone loves Walking Dead and American Horror Story, but you all already know about those shows, so it wouldn't make much sense for me to list them here.

Anyway, I hope this has given you a few more ideas for fun things to watch as you continue to get into the Halloween spirit.  Next week: Best scary books to read during Halloween!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Halloween Fun, Part 1

One thing about me that some of you might not know is that I hosted a radio show in college called Music for Monsters.  This show consisted of horror-themed music (particularly punk, metal, and psychobilly, but really all kinds of things) interspersed with scary stories that I read on air.  It was a lot of fun and I'm glad I didn't leave my small, liberal arts college without giving college radio a try, but mostly what I've taken away from it is a large collection of Halloween-appropriate music to play all month long.  I'll share some of my favorites with you here.  Everyone knows Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and the classic "Monster Mash," but here are a few unexpected options to spice up your Halloween party (or just a playlist to get you in the mood).

1) The Misfits' "Halloween" is an obvious choice, and I love that song, but so many of their songs work just as well for this occasion.  Another one of my favorites is "Skulls," but I listed that one on my punk favorites list.  Instead, I offer you "Ghouls Night Out."

2) When it comes to creepy music, you really can't do much better than The Cramps.  A little bit garage rock, a little bit rockabilly, and completely weird, it's almost too hard to choose just one song.  I've picked "Rockin' Bones" from their "Psychedelic Jungle/Gravest Hits" album, but I also almost always put "I Was a Teenage Werewolf" on my Halloween playlists.

3) The Meteors are a great psychobilly band and if you're having a Halloween party (even if it's a party of one), you'd be remiss not to include "Graveyard Stomp" on your playlist.

4) "I Was a Teenage Zombie" by the Fleshtones is another classic that I played early on my show

5 and 6) So, in the 1950's and 60's, there was a trend of horror/sci fi movies and music that followed it (which is how we got songs like "The Monster Mash").  There are seriously like a billion of these cheap, little rock n' roll songs about Martians or Frankenstein's monster.  In fact, one of my favorites is "The House of Frankenstein" by Big Bee Kornegay...
OK, one more!  "Shudders and Screams" by Ben Colder...

7) But not all great horror music is vintage.  There are a lot of fun, contemporary songs to choose from as well.  Let's say you want to have a dance party.  I've got you covered.  Here's a song that was playing at Dorney Park when I went for their haunted houses two weekends ago, "Kill Everybody" by Skrillex.
Rihanna's "Disturbia," Kanye West's "Monster," "She Wolf" by Shakira, and "Big Bad Wolf" by Duck Sauce are also good choices.  Every single Die Antwoord music video is the stuff of nightmares, but I can't tell if the songs would be creepy on their own or not.

8) For fans of serial killer thrillers like The Silence of the Lambs, GreensKeepers' "Lotion" is a good, unusual song.

9)Another punk favorite is "Army of Zombies" by Lars Frederiksen & the Bastards

10) And just for fun, here's the title song from the Steve McQueen movie The Blob to round out our Halloween playlist.

In other news, I finally found a real job!  I was beginning to get really discouraged, and then all of a sudden, I had some options.  I'm working in an office that primarily writes and prints airline menus.  So it doesn't exactly use my degree, but I do feel like I'm using some of my skills, and the main thing is that I get to wake up every morning, put on respectable adult clothes, and earn a real salary with benefits and everything.  Given the nature of airlines, my co-workers are very international and I find that exciting.  In my cubicle and the surrounding cubicles, I hear English, French, Russian, Arabic, and I'm always looking at other languages on the translated menus.  Working full-time means I still might not post more than once a week, but I do have some other Halloween-related posts stored away for the upcoming weeks.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Paddle On

Yesterday, I drove up to Swartswood State Park to make use of their lake and admire the Fall foliage just starting to come out.  Not only do I offer these pictures as proof that New Jersey is beautiful, but they also represent why I love canoeing.  I can go out onto the water and explore places I wouldn't be able to on foot, without a loud motor, just the swish of the boat gliding through the lake.  If you've never been to Swartswood, it's in my new favorite part of North Jersey, in Sussex and Warren counties, where there's a state park and/or historical site pretty much every 5 miles (sometimes less).  I highly recommend going up there.  There was no launch fee or entrance fee because it's the off-season now, but I almost wish there had been, so that I could help support these wonderful NJ state parks.

It was an absolutely gorgeous, clear day with perfect 75-degree weather.

No instagramming necessary for a view like this.

We encountered a little sailboat party going on.

Happy trees and cloud reflections

A hint of changing leaves.

The colors, Duke!  The colors!

In other news, today is my last day as a nanny.  Onto new things.  It's kind of exciting and scary.  Hopefully, I'll be able to tell you more later this week.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Friday Five

Sorry that I've been a bit of an absent blogger these past few weeks.  I've been going through a rough patch and it's been difficult to find something that I want to write about.  It's finally starting to look like my luck might be changing, but it's still too early for me to give you any details.  Anyway, I want to at least make time to appreciate some things that are bringing me cheer this month.

1. Pumpkin Flavored Everything
'Tis the season, y'all!  I can't help but fall for this marketing strategy every single time.  I have to admit that I got excited when liquor stores started rolling out the Pumpkin Ales and Oktoberfests in August (S was less amused).  Even though I can buy pumpkin any time of year, I guess I'm conditioned to only want to eat it every single day between the months of September and December.  Young American ladies (and probably some men, too) await the release of the Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks the way French people line up at midnight for each year's Beaujolais Nouveau.  Just in the past week, I've made pumpkin cream sauce for tortellini, pumpkin and butternut squash soup, pumpkin spice oatmeal, and I even bought pumpkin spice coffee creamer for my coffee.  I'm into it.  And don't even get me started on the apples and apple cider and apple cider donuts.

2. Going to See Movies in the Theater
It's the magical moment when horror flicks for Halloween intersect with Awards Season films.  I might have to see at least one movie a week just to keep up.  I'm most excited about 12 Years A Slave, The Counselor (I wasn't that interested in the plot, but Cormac McCarthy wrote the screenplay, so now I have to see it), Inside Llewyn Davis, The Monuments Men, and August Osage County.  I'm also pretty excited that Night of the Living Dead is coming back to a local theater, with commentary from the guys behind "Mystery Science Theater 3000."  I love movies so much that, during awards season, I usually go see several by myself, just to make sure I see as many as possible.  The Oscars is kind of like my Super Bowl.

3. A New Metropolitan Opera Season
Like Pumpkin Flavored Everything, I'm a sucker for the spectacular productions at The Met.  I'm really hoping to score some La Boheme tickets in the last-minute lottery this year, since I had so much luck with The Ring last year, but my guess is everyone else will want those tickets too.  Knocking on wood with crossed fingers!

4. Being More Active Outdoors
I've gone camping three times this year and we've planned at least one more trip before the season is over (that's S, prepping some firewood on our last excursion).  I'm trying to take advantage of the beautiful state parks we have here in New Jersey... I know, you probably thought the whole state was either like Newark or Seaside Heights.  Nope!  We also have forests, rivers, mountains, and lakes.  I haven't gotten the canoe in the water yet, but I'm hoping to take it for a spin this weekend and maybe next weekend as well.  S and I have also started taking little walks every evening after dinner.  At first, I was kinda like, "Aw, man... I just got home.  Do I have to go out again?"  But once we get going, it's a really nice way to decompress from the day.  We try to go a little bit farther every night.  It's not a real workout, but studies show that even just a little, light walk a few times a week has long-term health benefits.

5. Getting in the Halloween Spirit!
I can't decide whether Halloween is my first or second favorite holiday, but it was taken from me last year due to Superstorm Sandy and this year I demand some festivities.  Haunted houses and hayrides, corn mazes, pumpkin carving, candy, costumes, maybe some light decorating if a certain someone will let me...  Hopefully we can get our cable to work again in time to watch Beetlejuice and Hocus Pocus on TV (even though I own both of those movies).  OK, so maybe it's still more than a month away, but October magazines come out in September and I'm already getting inspired.  The good news is that a lot of things most people would only put out during Halloween, I consider part of my everyday style: skulls, bats, etc.  Our apartment is already covered in cobwebs and spiders, so that's one less thing we have to do!

Happy weekend, readers.  I'll try to be back with some real posts next week.  Don't forget that you can (and should!) follow me on Twitter for daily, bite-sized updates.  If you still feel like winning a beauty product care package from me, follow me on Twitter, Instagram, or Bloglovin.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Recent Acquisitions

I've come into some new-old, cool things this summer (old in general, new to me) that I think are worth sharing.  Some additions to my collections, new collections I've started, etc.  Other people downsizing their possessions has come in handy for me!

The thing I'm most excited about is my new set of vintage, mismatched teacups.  I was never interested in teacups before (and, in fact, rejected a matching set from my grandma's old house), but these all looked so pretty and interesting together that I felt like I had to have them.
My favorite is the yellow and gold one in the back, but I also love the butterfly handle of the one in front of it.

I also found a new addition to my oddities collection at the horror convention I went to.
It's a mummified pig fetus!  Ain't he cute?

We also inherited a canoe and a lot of camping equipment.  We're hoping to put it to good use this weekend.  And, yes, in-laws... we bought some life jackets!

By all means, if anyone else wants to give away a bunch of fun stuff, let me know!  Shopping your closet has become a trend during weak economic periods, but I've had a pretty good time shopping other people's attics!

Monday, September 9, 2013


S and I spent most of the summer chasing memories.  His parents retired and are moving out of the house that S considered home for half of his life, so everything we did had a sense of urgency about it.  Everything felt like it would be the "last" time.  We also buried his grandparents in the town where his mother's family spent their summer vacations and were able to revisit some of those memories with her.  We came back to our apartment with boxes full of childhood toys, high school pictures, college books, and we inherited a car-full of old things that belonged to other people.  I'll admit that most of the time, I felt like a voyeur.  Not having grown up with his family, these things didn't mean to me what they meant to S.  I'm learning quickly that this is an important part of joining someone's family and I felt honored to get to share these moments with them.  One of the best parts of this experience, for me, was witnessing new memories being made for S's nephews (soon to be my nephews too!) -- camping with their family, riding "big kid" rides for the first time, participating in their grandpa's last church service before he retired.  These are the things they will remember when they get older.  It's kind of amazing to watch that happen.

When we came back to our apartment at the end of Labor Day weekend, I needed to relive my own childhood for one night.  Every year, my hometown marks the end of summer with an "Italian Festival" held in a church parking lot.  I honestly have no idea how old I was when I started going to the Italian Festival, but I do know that every year since then, except for the two years that I lived in Iowa, I've at least made an appearance for a few minutes to say my goodbyes to the season.  As a kid, the Italian Festival meant going on the ferris wheel with my Dad.  As a teenager, it was a time to reconnect with my high school friends.  Now, because I'm still working on an academic-year schedule, the Italian Festival is sort of the last hurrah of vacation.  For some reason that I can't quite articulate, it felt really important this year... maybe because I had spent the rest of the summer doing things that were nostalgic for S, or maybe because getting engaged makes me feel more officially like an adult, or it could be the pressure I've put on myself this year to find a better job.  For all of these reasons, I cried over spilled zeppole.  Let me explain: zeppole are pillows of fried dough, covered in powdered sugar, and they are the one constant of every Italian Festival.  Summer just doesn't feel complete without them.  S and I had been at the Italian Festival for about five minutes before the clouds opened up and we were caught in a thunderstorm.  I tried to get some zeppole at the last minute before we left, but the moisture from the rain and the heat of the zeppole fresh from the fryer caused the bag to rip open in my purse, covering everything in wet powdered sugar and leading to luke-warm, soggy zeppole.  I cried when we got into the car.  In my mind, this one, last symbol of carefree, summer days had been ruined.  S didn't quite get it at first; I'm sure he thought I had lost my mind.  It's funny how we tend to instill small things with the monumental power of nostalgia.  To me, those zeppole weren't just a dessert, but the markers of an occasion.
Of course, we went back the next night, won every game we played, and got six perfect zeppole before heading home.

S and I are entering a new chapter of our lives together and it's been a little bit difficult for both of us to let go of the previous one.  The unknown can be scary, but if I have to jump into an abyss, I think I picked the perfect person to do it with.  Now, bring on the pumpkin carving and Halloween candy.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Welcome Back!

Oh gosh, it's that time of year again.  S and I are both starting work again tomorrow, so I can't deny that summer is over any longer. It has been a really activity-filled, exciting summer during which I've been not home more often than I've been at home, so that has made it fly by way too quickly.  To be honest, part of me is happy to be home.  I'm ready to get back to a healthy routine and start writing again.  As a substitute teacher and nanny, I don't get a paycheck during the summer, so it will also be nice to be able to contribute to the household again.

Despite the fact that I've physically been on vacation, I do feel like I've accomplished a lot this summer.  I've applied to a lot of jobs, published an article in XO Magazine and did a lot more editing for them, and I've done a lot of thinking about what this blog should be.  Since I haven't been posting every day, I've had more time to come up with well thought-out posts with some substance to them, sort of like this one.  I think I would rather post less often -- maybe once or twice a week -- but write posts that are a little more meaningful.

On the other hand, I'm going to start off with something on the lighter side today.  We'll work our way up to more serious stuff later, but today is the last day of vacation for many of my friends who work on an academic calendar.  A few of my favorite bloggers have posted recently about the drug store beauty products they use regularly.  I might not be the best person to take beauty advice from.  I don't even wear makeup on most days.  In fact, stop reading now.  This post idea was a mistake.  No, not really.  Are you still there?  Just listen; it'll be fun.  It's true that I have a very, very simple beauty routine.  Unless it's a special occasion or I'm really trying to impress someone, I have just a few makeup essentials that just make me look polished and put-together.  There are a few items I insist on buying from high-end stores like Sephora: perfume, any powders or foundations, real grown-up lipstick, etc.  I think these items are worth investing in because of the quality of ingredients and how long they last once you put them on.  I find that drug store make-up tends to run/bleed/smudge or wear off easily.  I'll write a post about my "splurge" beauty essentials some other time.  For now, I honestly do get by with drugstore cosmetics in my everyday life.  The fancy stuff is really just for special occasions.  My most important beauty products are benzoyl peroxide face wash (it's easier to wear less makeup if my skin is already clear), mascara, and a little tinted lip balm.  If you take care of your skin, just some mascara and light lip color will make you look more awake and, frankly, like you give a crap.

Clean and Clear Continuous Control acne cleanser is by far the most important beauty tool in my arsenal of beauty tools, or how ever that metaphor is supposed to work.  It has 10% benzoyl peroxide and is mineral oil-based rather than oil free.  This might seem counter-intuitive, but oil works best for dissolving other oils.  This cleanser doesn't dry out my skin, but I have that perfect* mix of Italian and German that makes me very pale but somehow oily at the same time.  I'm not sure I would recommend it for people who have dry skin all the time, but if that's the case for you, you might not have to worry about acne so much.  Clean and Clear does have a similar product with only 5% benzoyl peroxide and exfoliating beads, which I use in the winter.  This might be your option if you have dry skin.  Since I've started using benzoyl peroxide instead of salicylic acid cleansers, my skin has never been clearer.  This makes for a smooth, clean canvas for accenting my best features.

My go-to mascara is Maybelline's "The Falsies" line.  I've tried all iterations of it except the most recent, "Big Eyes," version.  My favorites are Black Drama and Flared.  They are all true to their word -- my lashes become very long and defined, like false lashes, but without the effort it takes to put on real falsies.  (Ha.  "Real falsies."  Oxymoron!)  Some drug store mascara runs/smudges or clumps easily, but I haven't had any of those problems with this one.  I have noticed that it dries out more quickly than high-end mascaras, but experts suggest that you replace your mascara every three to six months anyway, so I don't mind buying a new tube at such a reasonable price.

Baby Lips, another Maybelline product, provides the perfect amount of color and moisture for everyday wear.  I've just started using this type of lip balm (in the "Cherry Me" color) and I think it's my new favorite.  It keeps lips protected from the elements, but it's not too thick or sticky.  The color is light, but noticeable.  You'll look like you're more alive, but not like you've been standing in front of a mirror for an hour.

I'm lucky not to have very high-maintenance hair, but now that I've tried Herbal Essences "Honey I'm Strong" conditioner, I'm spoiled and no other hair product will do.  It feels rich, smells great, and makes my hair silky smooth.  It looks like I've styled it, even when I've literally done nothing to it.  This is worth using one of my 3-ounce liquid containers when I travel.  I can live without it, but I'd rather not.

In other news, the blog now has a Twitter account!  In celebration, I think it's time I do my first giveaway contest!  Just follow me on Twitter, Instagram or Bloglovin and then post a comment that you've done so.  Each platform on which you follow me is one contest entry.  I will put all of the entries into a hat (literal or proverbial) and pick one at random.  The winner will receive all of the products featured above and a nice, little, personalized note from me.  We'll discuss the logistical details for shipping once you've won.  
Disclaimer:  I am not in any way affiliated with Clean and Clear or Maybelline and am just doing this contest for fun.  For the one or maybe two of you who is/are already following me on all of those platforms, you can still enter the contest by promoting this post on one of your Twitter/Instagram/blog accounts.  

With that, dear readers, I leave you to your final summer holiday.  Thanks for sticking with me.  There's a lot coming in the near future.

*and in case anyone is wondering, the word "perfect" to describe being both pale and oily is sarcastic.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Camp Jessica

I've been thinking a lot about summer camp lately.  I had a really good conversation last month with my fiance's uncle about why sending your kids to camp is such a great idea.  On the other hand, my future sister-in-law asked, "Weren't you sad that your parents sent you away all summer?"  The answer is: no way!  I've always gone to some kind of camp, from the time I was two years old.  I went to day camp, arts camp, sports camp, sleepaway camp, even college prep camp at Yale.  When I was in college, I worked as a counselor at a couple of summer camps.  My sister and I were borderline obsessed with camp... she ended up working there for years after she was too old to be a camper and even has a 10 year canoe paddle award to prove it.  I loved camp so much that I turned down a chance to go to Amsterdam with my mom so I could go to camp instead.  (OK, so maybe I'm kicking myself for that one, but it was my Counselor-in-Training year and it ended up being very important to me).  It taught me a lot of life lessons that I feel have shaped me into the person I am today.  I learned how to be away from home for the first time, how to make friends even when I didn't know anyone, how to be somewhat uncomfortable and still have fun, and how to put others before myself.  One of the biggest things I learned at camp was that I could be myself, even if "myself" is a little weird... because everyone's weird and that's OK.  Thanks to facebook, I'm still in touch with most of the people I knew at camp and they feel almost like an extended family -- people I don't see often (or at all), but with whom I share a permanent bond.
I thought I might share some of my favorite camp experiences on the blog today so you can get a sense of the kind of crazy, amazing, challenging, character-building thing that is CAMP.

Weird Traditions
This is probably the most important one.  The traditions give campers the feeling that they're a part of something that the rest of the world wouldn't understand.  This is central to the feeling of belonging that camp can provide for even the most antisocial kids.  We're all in on the pranks, the ceremonies, the specific camp language.  It's like being in a fraternity, except that it builds you up rather than putting you down.
This image is from the climactic Candleboat ceremony at the end of each camp season.  Every camper gets a candle, every cabin group gets a boat, and those boats are then sailed across the canoe pond in the dark, making a gorgeous last image just as everyone's starting to feel really sentimental about leaving their friends for the summer.  This ceremony comes at the end of a campfire performance -- one of many during each camp session -- in which counselors read inspirational stories, give out awards for physical achievements, camp spirit, and strong character, and everyone sings songs together.
There are happy traditions too.  The day camp I used to attend had a Where's Waldo day every summer, in which they hid a life-size Waldo figure somewhere around camp.  Whichever cabin group found the Waldo would get a prize.  They also commemorated each week of camp by the camp director doing a coordinating number of cartwheels.  At sleepaway camp, the boys' and girls' cabins always played pranks on each other: either waking them up at 5am by banging pots and pans and shouting unit cheers, or stealing their unit sign in the middle of the night and putting it in a canoe in the middle of the pond.  These are the things that you kind of "had to be there" for.  These are the things that make campers a part of the group.

Fear- Team-Building Activities
Sometimes in life, you just have to let go of your B.S. and give something a try, even if you're scared or simply don't feel like doing it.  I learned this pretty quickly at camp.  Everyone had to participate in certain activities -- the climbing wall, the trust falls, the high ropes course, the hikes, (or, in my case) the sports.  If anyone got stuck at the top (or not quite the top) and had trouble coming down or continuing, no one would make fun of you.  The rest of your cabin group would be there to cheer you on, tell you that you can do it.  When someone inevitably gave up and had to have a counselor help them down, no one made you feel bad.  You would get a sincere, "good try," and "maybe next time," because there would probably be a next time.
I actually love climbing and high ropes, ziplines, etc.  I love the thrill and the sense of accomplishment.  I would probably never have figured that out if I hadn't gone to camp.  Something else I figured out at camp is that even though I hate playing softball or going to instructional swim, I still had to do it, and it wouldn't kill me to put some effort into the less fun parts of life. 

Survival: literally and socially
When I was a CIT (Counselor-in-Training), we all had to complete a wilderness survival challenge to prove that we were responsible enough to take a group of children on a camping trip.  Each of us was blindfolded and led to a campsite somewhere on the camp property.  We had to build a fire, build a shelter, cook dinner with the ingredients provided to us, and find our way back to main camp in the morning.  It was a rite of passage for all of the camp's oldest attendees that helped us transition from childhood to adulthood... or something like that.  At most, it taught us how to be more self-sufficient.  At the very least, it taught us how to build a fire.  That's a pretty cool thing to know how to do.
(this is the kind of lean-to shelter we had to build, and it looks like the CITs are still doing this)
Maybe more importantly, summer camp is like a crash course in social skills.  When you first arrive, you're thrown into a group of kids who you don't know, but who might know each other from home or previous years.  Suddenly, you have to spend every moment together for at least two weeks.  Some of the other kids might have a lot in common with you, but most of them won't.  The only thing you'll have in common is that you're all in the same figurative boat.  Especially at my sleepaway camp, the kids were from a very diverse variety of backgrounds, so we learned a lot from each other.  Each of us learned that we can't always be the center of attention.  The world doesn't revolve around us.  Campers who went out of their way to think of others before themselves were given a daily "I Am Third" award (the "third" refers to God first, everyone else second, yourself third).  Some people had bigger personalities than others and everyone kind of had to find a place for themselves in the camp microcosm.  Lucky for me, my particular brand of weirdness that maybe didn't work so well for me at school ended up helping me shine at camp.  Being willing to humiliate myself really came in handy for all of those weird traditions and team-building exercises.  
This was my camp family, the CITs of 2001.  That's me in the middle, feeling truly loved and like I belong in a way that I've rarely felt since then.  I don't even talk to a lot of my camp friends anymore, but I will always think about them and care about them.
Going to camp is an adjustment for everyone.  Some kids will enjoy it more than others.  But I strongly believe that even trying it one summer is an important life experience for kids to have.

I've been meaning to write this post for a while, but it's particularly poignant now that I've heard the news that a member of my extended camp family has passed away.  In memory of Little Jimolka.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Thursday Three

Like a "Friday Five," but I didn't feel like coming up with two more things.

Eastern State Penitentiary
We visited this now-closed prison in Philadelphia where we saw Al Capone's cell, an escape tunnel from the 1940s, and an antique operating room.

Boardwalk Arcades
I'm not much of a beach person, sadly, but I do love a good boardwalk.  Ocean City's boardwalk is one of the best, with Kohr Brothers frozen custard and arcades for everyone.

I did get my fortune, but I didn't turn into Tom Hanks from the 1980s

Simpsons pinball

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Mildly Disturbing Minigolf Decor
A lot of boardwalk minigolf is all show and no substance.  This particular course was actually an interesting one to play on, with real obstacles, but some questionable sculptures and paintings.
Like this version of Lucy the Elephant, giving me the side-eye...

...or this horrifying octopus-giraffe hybrid...

... or this pantsless Porky, drunkenly fist-pumping and staring at people's butts while they putt.

My future brother-in-law also let me tag along for parasailing with his mom and girlfriend.  Real pictures to follow.  Now, I will be off the grid for a night or two as we go semi-camping.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Funny Girls

I brought a lot of books down to Ocean City with me for this last little stretch of vacation.  Most of them are some of the more serious books I've been meaning to read for a while.  To balance those out, I also brought along two books of comedy essays that I bought on a whim while on a Barnes and Noble binge.  Of course, I plowed through both of these books right away, finishing both in the first few days of the trip.  It turns out I have some stuff to say about the developing careers of female comedy writers.

The first of the two books was Is Everyone Hanging Out without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling.  Those who know me beyond the blog have probably heard a few of my choice words for Zooey Deschanel.  While my hatred for Zooey Deschanel (and all Manic Pixie Dreamgirls) has mellowed a bit, I find it very refreshing to have Mindy Kaling become so successful in the past few years.  She is the anti-Manic Pixie Dreamgirl.  While the Zooey Deschanels of the world act like they're stuck in adolescence, passing off incompetence for cute, awkward nerdiness, Mindy Kaling proves that you can be feminine and still be an adult.  She doesn't feign modesty about her intelligence or her rise to fame.  She can joke about her body image without being exhaustingly self-deprecating.  She owns it.  And she is funny, without feeling the need to entertain the debate about whether women can be funny.  

Next, I read Alida Nugent's book Don't Worry, It Gets Worse.  Alida authors the Frenemy, a blog that reminds me of the good ol' livejournal days.  She doesn't post recipes or tips for home-making and very rarely posts pictures of herself (when she does, they are purposefully unflattering), which is kind of refreshing in a reality-check kind of way, after browsing unattainable fashion/lifestyle blogs like Cupcakes and Cashmere or The Sartorialist.  The tagline for this book kind of makes me cringe, and there are a lot of things about it that make me want to roll my eyes -- another young woman writing about her food and relationship issues, her inability to find a "real job," white collar problems aplenty.  It's nothing revolutionary.  But she says things that I think all the time and wish I could articulate.  She says them in a way that makes me feel and also makes me laugh.  She's sarcastic, but also really honest.  I'm happy I bought her book because I'm glad to help support her career.  

So, let's talk about funny women.  Like Mindy Kaling, I'm not going to dignify the "women aren't funny" argument with a response.  What I will say is that ever since Tina Fey and Amy Poehler opened up the comedy prospects for our generation, more hilarious women have been popping up and taking the spotlight.  Aside from Kaling and Nugent, I also can't get enough of Aubrey Plaza and Anna Kendrick.  One of the things that's so great about these women is that they also aren't getting famous by being sexy or playing the uptight, nagging wife character.  They're talented and that's enough.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


First, a note on alcohol:
Despite the fact that one of the post tags on this blog is "wine," I should mention that I am not a heavy drinker.  Ironically, my interest in alcohol diminished significantly after I turned 21.  As a foodie, I like to pair drinks with food and test out different flavors or flavor combinations.  For me, beer, wine, and cocktails all have their own time and place (I look forward every Fall and Winter to the seasonal beers, while hot weather makes me crave sangria or a margarita at a beachside bar).  Aside from holidays and special occasions, I typically only have one serving of whatever kind of drink I'm having, always with food, and only when I'm already in a good mood.  This isn't so much a rule that I have as a personal preference... it just never occurs to me to drink more often or in greater quantity than that.  I don't particularly like being drunk, so that's never my goal.  My goal is to enjoy the flavor of a wine, beer, or cocktail and the experience of drinking it.  I strongly believe that a healthy life can include moderate indulgence.  (Now, if only I could be that disciplined about ice cream...)

Disclaimer over... onto the fun part!
Having said all of that, I like trying new liqueurs when they start popping up on artisinal cocktail menus at trendy bars.  Some of you may have heard of St. Germain, or other kinds of elderflower liqueur.  They sponsored the Governor's Island Jazz Age Lawn Party last summer, but I didn't get a chance to try any of their cocktails, so I've been curious to try it ever since.  The company seems to have a 1920s speakeasy vibe and the bottles look like a mix between an art deco skyscraper and a medieval potion bottle.  It tastes sort of like peaches, but with a floral undertone, and goes really well with citrus and white wine.  A lot of recipes suggest pairing it with champagne and/or grapefruit.
I bought a package of pink grapefruit flavored sparkling water and then remembered that I had this little minibar-sized bottle of St. Germain sitting unopened since last Fall.  I thought I might experiment by mixing the two together and it worked really well!  St. Germain is pretty sweet, while the sparkling water wasn't sweet at all, so the combination made a sort of peachy-grapefruit soda type of drink.  I've been calling it a grapefruit-elderflower fizz, but I'm open to ideas for catchier, less clunky titles.  This drink would probably work just as well (if not better) with unflavored sparkling water and a splash of fresh grapefruit juice (nothing with any sugar added to it or it will be too sweet).  Try it at home on the next hot day!

4 ounces grapefruit flavored sparkling water
25 mL (slightly less than one ounce... half of the minibar-sized bottle) St. Germain
4 ounces grapefruit flavored sparkling water
1/2 ounce grapefruit juice
1 ounce St. Germain

This is not a particularly strong cocktail, so if you need something with a bigger kick, Heart of Light posted the recipe for a similar cocktail that skips the sparkling water and includes vodka instead.  As always, drink responsibly, friends.  It's too nice out to drive anyway.  Stay put and enjoy the sunset.