Monday, January 31, 2011

Smith & Wollensky

As I hinted at yesterday, Becky and I both took the day off work today. Call it a one day "staycation." We did this in honor of New York's Restaurant Week, which has become a bit of a tradition for us. During Restaurant Week a large selection of participating restaurants offer three course meals, with lunch for $24.07 and dinner for $35.00. They offer a limited menu and if possible pack the tables a little closer together. But at the nicer restaurants that price is a steal for that much food. So, you might think that our tradition would be to try out a selection of different restaurants that would otherwise be inaccessible to us. That was actually our original intention. But then the first time we tried it (in 2008) we abandoned thoughts of going elsewhere. Our restaurant? Smith and Wollensky.
For appetizers, Becky enjoyed fried calamari (which she proclaimed to be the best she's ever had) and I ate split pea soup (not exactly my favorite, but theirs is good and I didn't love the other options). Mostly though, during this course we enjoy the bread basket. It is piled high with four different types of bread, plus some crispy chip-like deliciousness. I'm a sucker for a good bread basket. As best I can describe, the options are pretzel bread, sourdough bread, crunchy delicious oatmeal bread, and strange fruity bread.

For main dishes, we pick the obvious. Do I even need to tell you that it is the 10 oz. filet mignon? Well, I probably do because I haven't actually linked you to the menu yet. But nonetheless, obvious. Since becoming my significant other, and being influenced by the uncooked steak love that runs rampant in my family, Becky has been on a slippery slope towards ordering rare steak. Today she took the plunge and, for the first time, ordered a rare steak in a restaurant. When she did this the waiter questioned, "would you like a warm center or a cool center?" It turns out there is a super secret "extra rare" option, which of course Becky passed on (she's still on the slippery slope after all) and I of course gleefully accepted. Steak verdict? Delicious. We also enjoyed adding some hash browned potatoes and some white wine on the side.

For dessert we again selected the same option. Chocolate mousse cake. Rich, creamy, chocolaty deliciousness for the win.

One of the things I like about this restaurant (and other similar restaurants) is that all of their stuff is personalized with the restaurant name. As in, the plates say "Smith and Wollensky" and the silver is engraved with "Smith and Wollensky" and the napkins have a woven likeness of the restaurant facade and even the mints have "Smith and Wollensky" candied right in.
To justify the price (even with the deal this is a lot more than we would usually pay for a lunch, once you consider wine and side dishes and taxes and tips!) we called it a late joint birthday celebration, despite the fact that they were both about a month ago. A very happy birthday to us! Long live the Smith & Wollensky tradition!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Still one day left!

While all of you suckers (er, loyal blog followers...) are preparing to go back to work tomorrow, Becky and I are still lounging and enjoying the weekend. One of us will update you on that tomorrow, I promise. But I figured in the mean time you need something to tide you over, seeing as how for you the weekend is over! So what kind of adventures did Becky and Carrie have this weekend?

Overall it was a pretty uneventful weekend. We watched both our Netflix movies: Love Happens and The Informant. The Informant sucked. Seriously, don't waste your time. I guess maybe it was supposed to be kind of a spoof, but we found it neither funny nor interesting. Becky actually asked me if we could turn it off, but I hate turning off movies once they're started. Love Happens was at least worth watching.

Saturday we spent almost two and a half hours outside digging my car out of the snowbank. We didn't actually want to move it (and in fact were afraid to move it, since we'd risk not having a parking spot when we came back, due to snow covering so many parking spots) but we were afraid that if we didn't put some work into uncovering it that we'd never see it again. We managed to anger two different neighbors in this process, who both accused us of trying to put the snow into their driveways and an empty parking spot. Yes, we were guilty of putting the snow in the empty spot (because it has to go somewhere!), but seriously, we were working so hard to be polite and not put the snow in other people's way. And what did we get? Neighbors yelling at us. Apparently snow brings out the crazy. We both really like people to like us and have strong Midwestern Nice streaks, so having the neighbors yelling at us was really stressful.

We also managed to make some progress on the kitchen reorganizing project. Part of this project is so that we can actually take some of our wedding presents out of the closet and put them somewhere accessible. We now have PopTop containers, a coffee machine, a hot chocolate machine, cutting boards, steak knives, champagne flutes, and a bunch of other random stuff! Woo!

For probably the first time ever we saw an ad on an internet TV show (Modern Family on Hulu, in case you're wondering) that we were actually interested in. Vittana is a non-profit that provides micro loans to students in developing countries who are completing college or vocational schools. Theoretically anyways you loan the students money and a year (or so) later they repay you. At which point you probably roll your money back into another student. Becky and I are both intrigued by the whole micro loans to individuals in developing countries concept, and of course we both support higher education. So there you go, we're helping sponsor a young Nicaraguan woman in her pursuit of education. Check it out.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Snow Day!

Apparently this January has been the snowiest January on record in New York City. I honestly never imagined we'd see this much snow here. It is the snow of our childhoods in the Midwest, which even they haven't had for many years. I'm definitely one of the first ones to jump on making fun of New York for considering itself a cold place, or a place capable of handling snow. But, especially considering they have no where to put the snow here, this is pretty crazy.

We woke up this morning to Becky's phone ringing with an automated message letting her/us/the neighborhood know that her work was closed. This noise was followed by the siren alerting us that local schools were closed. Now seriously people, the siren? That is supposed to go off when meteorologists have spotted a giant spinning funnel cloud. It tells you loud and clear to grab your battery powered radio in one hand and your cat in the other hand and run to your basement. It does not tell you to go out and play in the snow! I don't even know how to describe the siren or the noise without describing it as a tornado siren. In the absence of much tornado risk, I wouldn't have even guessed that northeastern cities would have them. But our town does, and apparently they use it to announce school closings. I knew my work would be open, so I didn't even bother getting up, despite the fact that my annoyance kept me from falling back asleep.

But then, at the normal time, I did get up, and found that our busses were not running. Which of course makes it less than easy for me to get to my annoyingly open work. After much conferring with the appropriate powers-that-be I determined that I could in fact use some leave time and reschedule my appointments. And hence, a snow day was born.
That's each of us with snow piled up over our heads! Unfortunately, my poor car is also piled up well over its head.
Yep, there's a car under there. And it belongs to me/us. If we ever find it again that is. I joked about it before, but I'm now a little bit concerned that we might actually not be able to move it again for a while. Especially because we're supposed to get more snow this weekend!

We decided we needed some delicious snow day dinner. So, we pulled out the awesome cookbook that we received as a wedding shower gift and selected a Cheddar Ham Soup. The cookbook was a project headed up by my sister (and Matron of Honor). She sent out blank recipe cards to all of the women who were invited to the wedding and asked them to submit a recipe (and a memory too, if they chose) to include in a cookbook for us. So at the shower we received a cookbook full of the favorite recipes of a whole bunch of our friends and family members! We thought it was a really neat way to include all of our long distance friends and family who weren't able to attend the shower, and now it's a fun keepsake. I can happily report that Becky's aunt's soup is delicious! So we'll be eating soup and enjoying this lovely view out of the windows, possibly for months to come.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Computer Lab Nostalgia

I read some huge exciting news today via the little birds on Twitter: Facebook versions of Carmen Sandiego and Oregon Trail will be released in February!

Someone mentioned in the comments on this article that she remembered playing these games 20 years ago. Which caused me to realize "Holy crap, it really HAS been 20 years! How is that even possible?!" You see the problem here is that someone who can clearly remember things that happened 20 years ago must certainly be a grown up, and I am certainly not one of those.

But this realization got me to thinking about the good ol' days in the computer lab at my elementary school. My school got a computer lab when I was in 3rd grade, and let me tell you, it was a BIG. FREAKIN. DEAL. I think some PTA members may have sold organs on the black market to fundraise for that thing or something. It was awesome--each of us got to use a computer at the same time. And the computers had games! Two of them! Those games were Oregon Trail and....something else. I think maybe it had dragons? And something about designing your dream bedroom? Anyway, Oregon Trail was clearly the superior choice. I have such fond memories of watching my little green oxen plod across my tiny black monitor, and my incredible inability to shoot anything in my efforts to hunt. Seriously, that buffalo could stand right in front of me and stare me in the eye, and I wouldn't figure out how to shoot it.

A year or so later, my family got a computer at home, and in addition to Oregon Trail, we acquired several different versions of the Carmen Sandiego games. Each of these games of course included about 7 installation disks (and I seem to recall a fair amount of swearing from my parents when the computer didn't seem to want to recognize them in the right order) and a world almanac or similar reference, which was of course absolutely necessary for answering questions in the game. Oh, life before the internet. (I admit, I do sort of miss those pages in the middle with the pictures of all the countries' flags.) I'm curious to see how they've modified the game to make it a little more challenging in the age of Wikipedia.

Do you have any fond memories of early computer games or experiences? Are you as crazy excited as I am for these games?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


As a follow-up to Carrie's weekend post, our groceries from Fresh Direct arrived last night. It was pretty sweet that someone else packed them and hauled them up the stairs for us, but it's a little strange to get groceries in boxes. The service is great, the food looks fresh, but they don't sell many of our staple items (and only have name-brand options of many products) and their regular prices really aren't competitive with what we usually pay for the same foods.

Plus I just really LIKE grocery shopping. I used to be obsessed with reading grocery store sale flyers, looking for the best deals, but my lust for that has dulled with time. Admittedly, our usual grocery-shopping routine probably sounds a little crazy to some. We do a big shopping trip every 3 weeks or so. We plan out meals for the upcoming few weeks before we go, and make our grocery list based on that. The Target store near us has a pretty large selection of groceries and some of the best prices around, so we start there for a lot of our staples. We then head to the Trader Joe's that's about half a mile past Target and stock up on produce and most of the other items that Target doesn't sell. This does tend to leave a couple of specific products that aren't at either store (we're picky about tortillas--go figure), so one or the other of us will walk to the grocery store that's a couple blocks away to fill in any remaining gaps. The whole project takes a couple hours, but we get most of our food at the best prices we can find, we get good quality meat and produce, and by planning our meals ahead of time, we don't end up wasting much food. Having a plan also makes us less likely to come home from work and say "I'm tired, let's just order take-out, eat mac & cheese, etc." It works for us.

But since I view the Saturday grocery shopping every few weeks as a sacred activity, I'm even less likely to be sold on Fresh Direct's services. But thank you for the $50 coupons--we do appreciate them!
piccadilly-cat sez "ur soda runned away"

O hai, NFC Championship

In case you haven't heard yet, THE PACKERS ARE GOING TO THE SUPER BOWL!!!

Alright, I admit that I am no die-hard fan and that I only watch the games that happen to be televised here, but the Pack will ALWAYS be my team. Fortunately, one of my co-workers is also from Wisconsin and IS a die-hard fan, so I get to hear all about what I missed and what's new in the world of the Packers. Said co-worker is also a regular at Kettle of Fish, the best Packer bar in NYC. I'd been saying for years that I was going to go watch a game with her, and somehow this game, against Da Bears, no less, seemed like the perfect candidate. But there's something you need to understand about the patrons of this bar, and Packer fans in general--we're crazy.

On Sunday, the game started at 3:00 p.m. The bar was opening at 1:00. This naturally meant that in order to be guaranteed a seat to watch the game, we needed to get there and line up early...just after 10:00 a.m. In case standing outside a bar in the West Village for three hours on a Sunday morning doesn't sound crazy enough to you, keep in mind that it was only 20 degrees outside. But I put on all the warmest clothes I had, packed my thermos of hot chocolate (after nearly scalding myself checking to see if it leaked. It did. I responded by wrapping it in a plastic bag and keeping it upright. It worked.) and trekked into the city while Carrie stayed in our warm, cozy apartment.

Fortunately, the wait passed relatively quickly, and just as I began to fear that I may never feel my toes again, a kind stranger appeared with extra hand/foot warmers. Hallelujah! To give you an idea of the scope of the line (and the craziness of those in it), here's a picture I took shortly before the doors opened.

I knew I was in the right place when I saw cheeseheads.

Once inside, there were drinks, plates of summer sausage and cheese, and Usinger's bratwursts to help us warm up. I was sadly lacking in Packers garb (a situation my mom is remedying as I type this), but fortunately my co-worker brought me a spare jersey, and another kind stranger was passing out green and gold beads (and cheese curds--yum!)

Anyway, I would describe both that game and the bar as somewhat ugly but awesome. The bar was seriously a little trippy--with the wood paneling, ceiling tiles, and several people in very un-ironic plaid, I could have sworn I was in someone's basement in Wisconsin rather than in the West Village. But it was also refreshing to just be able to give the name of a town in response to "Where you from?" And I think the last time I was surrounded by such enthusiastic sports fans must have been in the student section at a UW-Madison football game. The air in this place was electric.

Oh yeah, and did I mention SUPER BOWL?!?! I am already scheming plans for green and gold foods to make for that day. Suggestions are welcome. And so far the list of attendees at said party includes Carrie, me, and our cats--so if you're going to be in the neighborhood, please feel free to stop by!

After I got home from the game, Carrie and I feasted upon leftover homemade chili in homemade bread bowls. The bread didn't turn out quite like I'd hoped--all four bowls mysteriously shrunk just before I put them in the oven, but they were delicious nonetheless.

Monday, January 24, 2011

On home ownership and New York

Well, I had Becky all lined up to blog for you tonight, but then she got busy with other things and couldn't do it.  So I guess you're stuck with unprepared me!

A few weeks ago Becky apparently decided that she was sick of feeling impoverished and decided to take a whole pile of personal finance books out of the library.   She has since been methodically making her way through them, while I occasionally pick one up and page through in a sign of support.  I certainly got a few laughs out of Suze Orman of 2005 waxing on about the wonders of investing in home ownership.  But despite the change in circumstances since 2005 I hear it's still a pretty decent investment.  And it's something we aspire to do someday.  But not here.  Gothamist illustrates plainly and easily why not.  Why is New York so strange?  It is at the same time a cultural capital of the United States and not in the slightest bit quintessentially American.  And apparently it's become the city I love to hate (okay, and just plain old love too, despite its crazyness and insane cost of living).

While I was browsing over at Gothamist I also came upon this Walk of Shame, which has a similarly favorable outlook on the great New York experience.  Woo-hoo longest commute in the nation!  Of course I'm not sure if they calculate this based on where you live or where you work, so I don't know whose commuting average we're driving up...either way I think we're clearly hurting someone's average.  Does that make me a New Yorker yet?

So I hope that wee bit of mappy goodness can tide you over until tomorrow night!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Depths of January

I know I'm a wimpy Minnesotan, I know that the weather in NYC/NJ is nothing compared to what it has been in the Midwest, but I'm officially tired of winter. And I didn't even stand outside in it for 3 hours today like Becky did. But I'll let her tell you about that insanity. This has probably been the snowiest and coldest winter since we moved here (and this is our fifth, believe it or not!) Something about the combination of the snow strategy here (pour an ocean of salt all over everything, let the cars create huge slushy puddles to get rid of snow bulk) and our lifestyle here (walking to public transportation, on-street parking, me walking all over the place for my job) makes the tropical NYC winter still feel unbearable.

Friday night we hung out at home and watched Inception from Netflix. I liked it a lot, but probably not as much as I thought I might, based on descriptions I've read referring to it as a mix of Memento and Eternal Sunshine. I've been thinking about it since then and I still don't understand why Cobb and Saito end up in the same place in the end, nor do I understand how they managed to get back to "reality." And pretty much the entire winter wonderland 3rd level scene confused me. But I love both Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page, so two thumbs up from me.

Saturday we avoided moving the car, and hence dealing with the aforementioned annoying weather and parking situation. How did we do that you ask? A seemingly too-good-to-be-true coupon from Fresh Direct! Fresh Direct is one of those grocery delivery companies, which of course we are usually way too cheap to consider utilizing, even on frigid days. Apparently they are hard core trying to push their service in this area, because they sent us a coupon for $50 off a $125 order and free delivery - and we can use it two times within 60 days!! So I spent way too much time on the eternal grocery list and now some poor Fresh Direct shmuck has to carry our milk and soda and 8lbs of meat through the cold and up the flights of stairs. I'm sure they anticipate I'll get addicted to these amazing benefits, but between the extra cost and not having a lot of the exact products we like, I think we'll only be using it for the two awesome deals.

We went to see The King's Speech on Saturday night (go indoor entertainment!), which was also fun. I'm glad none of my clients are royalty; that sounds hard. Scenes of the commoners when the air raid sirens were going reminded Becky and me of the children of war exhibit that we both loved at the Imperial War Museum of London.

Today I'm relaxing as a bachelor with my Sam Adams blackberry witbier, my pizza rolls, and my televised football game. Yes, that's right, I am watching a football game alone. I know this sounds seriously crazy to any of you who know me. But I wanted to know what happened! Sorry for the lack of live blogging, I know how you all love a good live blog!

Friday, January 21, 2011

The one where she comes home late

I start blog posts in my head all the time about work. And then I remember how dangerous it is to write about work. I have all of my clients' stories bouncing around in my head all of the time. I feel like I should write about poverty and intergenerational trauma and systemic dysfunction and transference. But I don't know how to talk about any of these topics without telling you pieces of their stories. Even sanitized of names and personal details it feels too dangerous to talk about.

In the marginally safer world of offline conversation, my work stories sound different outside my office walls. At work, stories that include drug abuse and incest and suicide attempts and prison and foster care sound normal. Outside they sound a lot more intense. I think there's a certain amount of desensitization necessary for doing this type of work. Sometimes though I fear that it holds me back from providing everything that I should to some of the families who need it the most.

This post isn't flowing the way I want it to flow. Perhaps I should have stuck with my original topic: exhaustion. Sometimes it feels like the exhaustion is related to the stories bouncing around in my head is related to the desensitization. Or maybe it's just the 1am bedtimes. Either way, it has been a long week (despite only being four days!), after a few other long weeks. Monday we did the drive back from MA, Tuesday evening we had an insane rendezvous with a lawyer and two other lesbian couples (more on this some other day), Wednesday I worked late and then we socialized at Kara's until much too late, Thursday I worked late again, and now it's finally Friday.

Another worker said to me tonight "I just can't fight anymore," regarding trying to summon the energy to argue with a supervisor about whether to indicate a case. We spend enough time dealing with exhaustion from our own lives and exhaustion from the intensity of the clients' issues. Why do we also have to fight with the system itself to get anything to work right?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Home again home again

We're back from another voyage to Massachusetts. After picking the car up at the car repair shop (and a whole fiasco where they lost the car's proof of registration. gr.) on Friday night we left late and arrived even later. Saturday we slept in and then spent the day hanging out at home with Jen and Sean and Matthew and Thomas. They're adorable as always, but apparently hanging out there is enough like hanging out at home that we completely forgot to take any pictures. Sorry. Saturday night of course was the famous yellow pants game, with the fondue and the wings and the champagne and the chocolate cake.

Sunday the family went to a multiples playdate while Becky and I hung out at home and then went to get haircuts. One of our oddities is that even though we get super cheap haircuts, neither of us ever gets our hair cut at home. Apparently living in the land of ridiculously expensive haircuts means that cheap haircuts are exceptionally bad. In the afternoon we went to family swim at the Y (Thomas is amazingly close to learning how to swim considering he's still under 2!), dinner at Olive Garden (sorry Italian food purists, it was convenient and someone had a craving), and home for baby bedtime and Despicable Me.

This morning we packed our car full of our wedding presents (which my parents brought from Minnesota at Christmas) and did the long trek back to New Jersey. Suffice it to say that I am sick of that drive. This afternoon and evening we've been much too lazy, and now the week is about to begin. How do we always end up back here, at the beginning?

I hope your weekends were refreshing and maybe had a bit less driving and/or car drama than ours!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Packers/Falcons Liveblog

I'm writing from snowy Massachusetts, where we are watching the Green Bay Packers/Atlanta Falcons playoff game. The cast of characters: Carrie, me, Jen, Sean, and Matthew (asleep, hopefully to stay that way). Thomas is sleeping in his crib (also hopefully to stay that way).

In case there is any confusion, we are rooting for the Packers, a.k.a Yellowpants.

Everyone: Who's the Zac Brown Band?
Carrie: Holy crap, that's a big flag.

Carrie: Wait, maybe we're not all rooting for Green Bay.
Me: Yes we are. My blog.
Carrie: Jen, who are you rooting for?
Jen: Becky's team. She's scary.
Carrie: Sean, who are you rooting for?
Sean: Green Bay vs. the Falcons? I don't really give a crap.
Carrie: See, I guess we're not all rooting for the Packers.

Jen: I miss the light.
Sean: You could have watched the boys when they were in here pushing it over.
Jen: I had an urgent situation.

Sean taught Carrie how to stir...a valuable skill to acquire at age 28.
Jen: Do you think cheese fondue and champagne is a good food for a football game?
Me: I come from Wisconsin.

Carrie: Okay, I am not missing the kick-off this time. Is this it? Yay, I saw the beginning! That's the beginning, right?

Carrie: I am actually capable of following this game now if I'm paying attention.

Packers fumble
Carrie: They took the ball! Is that legal?
Everyone: Yes.
Jen: You would have them play a very calm game.
Carrie: It's MEAN!

Falcons touchdown. Sad face.
Cheese fondue all gone. For the record, it was Pesto Fondue with hot Italian sausage and bread. Delicious. 
Here comes the chicken wings! (Jen: Can we eat wings with fondue forks?)

Jen (to Carrie): It's a little weird that you know about football.

Yes, and it also makes for less entertaining live blogging. Sigh. Oh well, I have wine. Perhaps that will liven up the liveblogging!

Sean explains random facts about football.
Carrie: I didn't even know you LIKED football! Is it like in your genes cuz of that Y chromosome?

Touchdown Green Bay! W00t!

And the Falcons ran it all the way back for a touchdown. Lame.
Carrie: Can they even do that?

Carrie: They're playing really rough.
Jen: It's the play-offs.
Carrie: But it's MEAN!

Touchdown Green Bay again! Huzzah!
Sean: Yellowpants just needs some defense
Carrie: Well, they need someone on their team other than Aaron Rodgers. Apparently they forgot.

Interception. Woo-hoo!

Carrie: That made up for his (Jones) mistake earlier. SEE?! I also have increased memory!

Jen: Wait, you drank more Pinot? How are we gonna drink that whole big bottle of bubbly if you keep drinking Pinot?

Interception/Touchdown!!! Carrie and me yelling...fortunately this did not wake Matthew.

Sean explains something about eligible receivers and various positions...
Carrie: Sean uses a lot of words I don't know when he talks about football.

A giant slice of chocolate cake with Bailey's frosting appeared in front of me, along with a glass of bubbly. Magic! Also, the Packers are rockin' the house.

Rodgers runs it in for another TOUCHDOWN!!!

Me: Do you think if I went to the gym more often, I'd look like them? I mean, the cheerleaders, not the players.
Jen: I think you'd have to go a lot more often. And not eat so much cake.

Insightful lesson on challenges courtesy of ehow.
Jen: Is there anything we do that doesn't involve Google?
Sean: Yes, sometimes you can use Yahoo.
Me: Ew.

Another touchdown! Awesome!

Carrie: If your team messes this up, I'm gonna be so disappointed in you.
Me: In ME, personally?
Carrie: In your ENTIRE STATE.

Oopsy, just realized I forgot to mention a Falcons touchdown. Jen and I weren't paying attention then anyway.

So there was a fieldgoal, and the Packers picked up a fumble. But there was also a champagne flute that broke here, so several of us were consumed with that clean-up effort.

Field goal. Also, my cousin's wife, who's from the Twin Cities and part of a family of die-hard Vikings fans, just declared herself a Packers fan. Huzzah!

Victory for the Packers! NFC Championship game next weekend!

And now, I think it's time to put my sicky wife to bed. She has been complaining off and on all night that her head feels like it's full of syrup. Between her cold and the cold that Matthew and Thomas both have, I think it's only a matter of time until I get sick...

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Smooth Moves

Well, in the spirit of trying to get my butt off the couch more often, I decided this week to try out one of my Christmas presents: a Wii game called Zumba Fitness.


What, you don't think that's hilarious? Well, that my friend, is where you are quite wrong.

So for starters, the game requires wearing this belt around your hips (the Wii remote goes in the neon green pocket).
Zumba belt of awesome
Since photos and video were strictly forbidden, you'll have to just form a mental picture of me in my living room wearing pajama pants (circa 1999) with turquoise cow spots, a magenta t-shirt, and this really awesome belt velcroed around my hips.

I then fired up the game (which by the way, has the most annoying interface I have ever seen in a Wii game. It's like they forgot that the Wii remote could be pointed at the screen to select things. Who knew the arrows on that thing could be used outside of Mario Kart?) and proceeded to the Learn the Steps section. Each style of dance (calypso, salsa, merengue, etc.) is divided into several levels.

I started with beginner calypso. The first step is pretty much put one foot in front of you, then back, lather, rinse, repeat with other foot. I got that part. The game then decided I was so good that it would just fly through the rest of the steps in the beginner lesson, with the instructor telling me how great I was doing the whole time! Let's just say that the motion sensor on this thing leaves a bit to be desired. My best recollection of this scene:

Glowing green Zumba instructor: You're doing great! Keep it up!
Me (blank stare): What the hell just happened?
Carrie: Bahahahahaha
Cats (blank stare)

I tried another learning level thing and concluded that it was not going to work, so I figured I'd just jump into a beginner song. Following the steps actually went a little better that way. And I decided that since the motion sensor was off, I'd just keep jumping around and the stupid machine wouldn't know the difference. And it worked! I got all kinds of bonus points despite the fact that my "dance" probably would have horrified any real-life Zumba instructor. (That is the good part about the Wii game: glowing instructor on screen is very non-judgy of my sad, sad dancing.)

The downside of switching from learn the steps to the do the routine? Shimmying. And lots of hip rotating. And all sorts of other things that my joints do not do. Seriously, I have the stiffest, whitest hips on earth. I am astounded by dance moves that other people can pull off, but I cannot do any of them. Instead, at this point I just looked like a sweaty, out-of-breath, pajama-ed fool doing some combination of calypso, Jazzercise, and that Cotton Eye Joe line dance from 5th grade gym class.

I'm pretty sure even the cats were laughing by this point.

Carrie showed her support by standing up and imitating me.

But Carrie can't laugh too much, because I have one chief advantage over her: rhythm. Yes, I may have no sense of how to dance to said rhythm, and my coordination is so limited that I will likely trip over myself if I try, but I can find the beat and at least do some basic movements in time with it.

Anyway, I'm pretty lousy at the game. But since the game is a little lousy at figuring out that I'm lousy, it's all good. And it gets me off the couch for 20 minutes at a time, and it doesn't require going outside in 20-degree weather, which is always a plus.

Besides, I think I'm getting better. The second time I played, I only grape-vined into the Christmas tree once.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Happy Snow Day Recipe

We did not actually get a snow day today here--all the dramatic lead-up (and New York does drama and anxiety in preparation for snow like nowhere I've ever seen before), and then we only ended up getting around 9 inches. And after the disaster that was the snowstorm a few weeks ago, city governments apparently figured out how snowplows work and got things cleaned up. But it did snow, and therefore it was a perfect day for making soup!

Wild rice soup is a favorite of both Carrie and me, so I thought I'd share our recipe with you. Both of our moms had slightly different recipes, and we've incorporated bits from each into our version.

Note: if you don't live in Minnesota or Wisconsin, wild rice may be tricky to find or obscenely expensive at your average grocery store. But I have good news--Trader Joe's sells it for a completely reasonable price! As an alternative, you could wait to see if Carrie's mom brings you some the next time she visits, but I think that's probably not the most reliable plan for most of you. If you don't have a Trader Joe's near you, I am truly sorry.

Wild Rice Soup
Makes 4-6 servings

2 cups cooked wild rice (2/3 cup uncooked)
5 Tablespoons butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup grated carrots
1/2 cup flour
4 cups chicken broth
pinch of pepper
pinch of turmeric
2 bay leaves
1 cup diced ham
1 cup half and half

Cook the wild rice first; it takes about an hour total, so you'll want to start this a little in advance of the rest of the soup. I generally use about three parts water to one part rice, so 2/3 cup rice and 2 cups water (this leaves a little extra water in the pan at the end, but you can either drain it off or just pour it into the soup with the rice). Put rice and water in a pan and heat to boiling. Reduce heat to simmer and cover. Cook for 45-55 minutes or until most of the rice kernels have popped.

Melt butter in a sauce pan and sautee the onion and carrots until tender. Blend in flour. Slowly add broth stirring constantly (A whisk helps at this point to keep the flour from getting lumpy). Keep stirring until mixture thickens slightly. Stir in pepper, turmeric, and bay leaves.

Add ham and cooked rice. Simmer for about 5 minutes. Stir in half and half and heat to serving temperature. Don't forget to remove bay leaves before serving!

We usually make a double batch of this--the leftovers are delicious! If you double it, make sure you use a stock pot or dutch oven because it's a lot of soup.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Fun with Census Maps

Hello friends. I could come here today and moan and complain about the buckets of money that we are pouring into my eleven year old car. I was actually going to do that. But I did a lot of private moaning and complaining, to Becky, to my coworkers, to my family. And now I'm moving through the stages of grief into reluctant acceptance.

So instead I will share with you a fabulous New York Times creation that Becky found for me to play with. You might remember my fascination with interactive maps. This one is pretty cool, huh? I love how populated New York is, and therefore how clear the neighborhood distinctions are. By either income or race, there is such an obvious line where Harlem meets the Upper East and Upper West Sides. By pretty much any measure Manhattan below 110th street is so very unusual; it is richer, more educated, whiter, rent is higher, and an absolutely insane percentage of elementary kids go to private schools. The whole crazy I-95 corridor from Boston to DC has these peculiarities to some degree too. The map of percentage of people without high school diplomas has a swath of color across the southern United States, even more than I would have expected. Check it out! And then come back and tell me what exciting things you learn! I need something to distract me from my poor decrepit car and its health care bills....

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Knitting--No, I Haven't Forgotten How

It's been a slow knitting year for me; as with many things, it took a bit of a backseat during wedding planning. In the months leading up to the wedding, I did manage to finish off three pumpkin hats (last year's version featured here, and this year's version is here, both modeled by our favorite nephews) for Matthew, Thomas, and our friend Stephanie's daughter.

The pumpkin hat, along with the Christmas hats I made for the nephews last year, are from Susan B. Anderson's itty-bitty hats, which I highly recommend. I also came across a pattern in that book for a hat with little pigtail tassels, which I knew would be adorable on Stephanie's daughter--the perfect complement to her mischievous smile. I don't have pictures of her in the hat, but here are a couple pictures of the finished product.

I've knit a lot of baby/toddler hats in the last couple of years because they're so fun, so cute, and SO quick, but I think it's time to branch out and tackle something else. I haven't yet decided what that should be, but I suspect Carrie will probably argue that I should finish one of the several projects that I've started for her but never finished!

Are any of you knitters? If you're on Ravelry, add me--just search for duhbeckster

Zee Weekend

Last week felt a little bit like it would never end. I think this might be the unfortunate but inevitable result of an extended vacation. But the weekend did finally come, and we did our best to enjoy it.

Friday night we met up with our friend Kara, who is usually up for the wackier of our entertainment choices. For dinner Becky wanted to try something new (Shake Shack overload I guess) and suggested a Bosnian restaurant called Djerdan. I was doubtful, but agreed. Since I was running late Becky and Kara ended up first having a drink at a Spanish place down the block. Suffice it to say that the sangria was made with Carlo Rossi's finest. Alas. But Djerdan was excellent! We shared an appetizer of some doughyness in yogurt sauce that was decent. The highlight though was the main dish, the house speciality, burek. Becky and I shared, so we got to try slices of cheese and meat (spinach is the third choice). Burek is apparently a scrumptious stuffed phyllo dough pie. It was savory and greasy in the most delicious way, and each slice only cost $5! I'm quite excited that we now know of another tasty and inexpensive option that is convenient to Port Authority and most Broadway theaters.

We then headed over to Madison Square Garden for the entertainment portion of the evening: the 2011 Professional Bull Riders Invitational*! I had no idea there would be so many cowboys in New York City. The festivities started while Kara and I were buying pretzel beer (pictures of which are sadly on Kara's camera and therefore not currently available to me). But, as photodocumented by Becky, they poured gasoline on the dirt and lit a giant PBR on fire.
Good start, good start. An invocation was prayed, and then we sang the national anthem while saluting a giant waving American flag stitched together by tornado survivers from flag pieces somehow associated with 9/11. I think that speaks for itself.

Then came the bull riding!
Trusty Wikipedia, via the Motorola Droid, filled us in on the rules and various controversies related to the sport. Basically, each rider climbs on a bull and has to hang on with only one hand for eight seconds. If he (as far as I can tell, they're all men) succeeds, then his performance is ranked 0-50 and the bull's performance is ranked 0-50. The scores are combined, and the rides are ranked. Watching the bull-riding was moderately exciting for eight second increments, but overall a bit slower paced than we expected. At one point a rider was dragged behind a bull for a few seconds, and at another point a bull with a lasso around his neck pulled free of the cowboy who lassoed him.
Saturday we planned to do errands and all kinds of boring stuff around the house. We debated about whether to walk to the closer grocery store or to dig the car out of the snowbank and drive to Target and Trader Joe's. Digging out won. That is, until we went to start the defroster and found that the car didn't start. I spent nearly an hour on the phone with AAA and another hour idley waiting for the tow truck to come. Despite fears that it would be worse, we're fairly sure that the car is fine, but that the battery just couldn't hold a charge while parked in once place for three weeks in cold weather. Friendly tow truck operator jumped us and away we went. Except for one catch. The hood of the car will not completely latch, which seems to be related to some fraying of the cord near the hood release switch in the car. Becky and I know pretty much nothing about cars (a cause for some concern), but the tow truck man told us not to drive on the highway until it somehow starts latching... Troublesome.

Sunday we headed to Queens for brunch with our friend Stephanie. She made the most delicious baked French toast, eggy casserole, coffee cake, homemade hot chocolate, and served us mimosas. Yum. We provided raspberries, blackberries, and thawed strawberries from our summertime adventures. We had a lovely time chatting with Stephanie and playing with Stephanie's two-year old.

This evening we watched the Packers beat the Eagles - go yellow pants!

*No Friends of Animals protestors were injured in the writing of this blog entry.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Deliciousness in the Target aisles

Here we are in the midst of an exciting weekend in the tri-state area. It would be a lot easier if we actually lived in New York City, by the way, and could do things only in New York and be New Yorkers. But that's not the case. So anyways, what would a weekend in New Jersey be without a trip to Target? It's a magical land, where spending $100 is not optional, regardless of whether or not you cross start to get there. So, we're tooling along in the grocery section, trying to focus on buying the foods on the list, when what to our wondering eyes should appear...

Peppermint Oreos! And yes, I shamelessly stole that image from some other website. And no, I'm not going to credit them because I already forgot what website it was. Sorry, I accept the bad internet karma.

I had high hopes for the cookies. The fact that I chose them to be my one off-list splurge purchase should be evidence enough of that! (Becky chose chocolate goldfish with mini marshmallows, in case you're wondering. But I'm a nice wife, so I let her have some Oreos too.) But seriously? These cookies are delicious. The pink frostingy goodness in the center is just the right mix of minty fresh and cremey delicious, and the peppermintyness perfectly complements the traditional chocolate cookie covers.

Becky did some experiments and determined that her optimal frosting:cookie ratio is 3 chocolate wafers:1 frosting patty. As usual, I strongly disagree, and would instead argue that 1 wafer:1 frosting patty would be ideal. But don't trust our opinions; try it for yourself!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

About that New Year Thing

It's the start of another new year. I have a long history of making New Year's resolutions and then failing to achieve them, but it still doesn't stop me from having a desire to start fresh and make changes as we swap in a new calendar for the old.

Last year was so dominated by the wedding and all the planning involved that it feels a little strange to not have one big project to focus on this year. I'm actually not mourning the loss of wedding planning or wishing for more DIY projects or anything like that; it's just that I don't have one big thing to obsess over so now I have space to figure out where I want to focus my energies.

I've read on a few blogs this week about the idea of One Little Word: selecting a word for the year to be a point of focus and reflection throughout the year. As far as I can tell, the idea started here and has now boomed into all sorts of internet craziness (you can pay to take a One Little Word online class?) I really like this idea though, so I figured I'd give it a shot.

For 2011, I think my word is intentional. Throughout the course of a day/week/month/year, I do all sorts of things without thinking about them. And thank goodness for some of that--imagine if I had to think carefully every time I brushed my teeth! But there are a lot of things I do that really deserve more thought and care than I give them. And there are many things I would not do if I was a bit more intentional in my actions.

In particular, I want to be more intentional about
  • How I spend my time. I always feel like I don't have enough time (don't we all?), but let's face it: I waste an awful lot of time staring at my computer and doing nothing useful at all. That's time that could be spent exercising, cooking, crafting, reading (books, not facebook!), volunteering, exploring the corner of the world I live in, or millions of other things, not least of which is spending more quality time with my wife. In fact, even updating this blog more often would be a million times more productive than refreshing my facebook news feed or checking to see what the most emailed NYTimes articles are today.
  • How I spend my money. I'm pretty frugal, but there are certainly things I spend money on that don't really bring me much happiness but still waste money. I'm trying harder to skip spending money on the candy bar that I only want because I'm bored or the Chinese food that we only want because we're too lazy to cook and instead save that money for something we actually want (and sometimes that something turns out to be Chinese for dinner!) And maybe, just maybe we could go to Target "just to pick up a few things" and not end up spending $100? I'm pretty sure we don't actually need to buy every random limited edition Reese's product ever made, for example...
  • What I eat. I tend to go in spurts of eating healthy followed by long stretches of eating mostly crap. Don't get me wrong--we cook dinner at home most nights and don't eat a lot of pre-packaged foods by American standards, but there's still a lot of room for improvement. Like vegetables. I heard they're good for me. So this year I'd like to be more intentional about eating more vegetables, eating fewer processed foods, and trying new recipes. I get caught in food ruts, but between all the cookbooks I have and all the recipes I've bookmarked online, I think I should have plenty of new foods to keep me busy in the kitchen this year!
How about you? Do you have any goals or resolutions of sorts for 2011? And do you have any recipes you'd like to share? I'm looking for new ideas!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Wedding photos!

In all of the holiday craziness, we neglected to mention that our wedding photos finally came back!! Click here to take a look at the post that our lovely photographer, Becca Dilley, put up on her blog. Maybe someday soon we'll post a few more of the 700 or so that we received (don't worry, only immediate family have to sit through all of them! Speaking of which, are our parents and siblings still our "immediate" family? Inquiring minds have been inquiring.)

They're gorgeous and I'm very very happy with the pictures and of course the wedding. But a little part of me is sad to have everything, including the pictures, be settled and final and unchangeable. There's no more possibility that maybe we could throw another pose in or smile a little better or lose more weight or or or. I'm always looking for all the options!

We also got the video back from my brother-in-law over the holidays, as it had been previously held captive on his video camera, due to the power cord being left in Minnesota after the wedding. Videography is the one area that we ended up really skimping on, and had a friend video the ceremony using my family's camera rather than hiring a professional. He did a much better job than I ever would if someone asked me to do the same (take note, never ask me to video something important for you). The camera is steady, the sound is audible, and everything really important about the ceremony is captured. So, success!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Snowy New England Christmas

As mentioned in several previous posts, we spent Christmas in Massachusetts with my family. In a wave of brilliance, we created an itinerary that did not require us to drive at all. We took Amtrak (my first American train trip! Verdict: good, but no Shinkansen) to Providence, flew from Logan to Milwaukee, and then flew home to Newark. As we hauled our suitcases packed for both trips, 12lbs of cookie tins, and Christmas gifts into Manhattan, I briefly regretted this decision. All that was gone forever by the time we were nestled into our train seats, dining on traditional Wisconsin cheese and summer sausage and watching the Connecticut traffic through the windows.

My parents arrived by car from Minnesota the same night we did. Their car was piled up not only with Christmas gifts for everyone, but also with tons of wedding gifts we had been forced to leave in November! It was fun to see everything again, although only briefly: we weren't able to take anything with us, since we were flying out. But we'll go back in January with our car to pick our stuff up. Apparently destination weddings keep on giving!

Our adorable nephews continue to get more adorable. Thomas' truck obsession has only grown more intense, and dominates his small vocabulary. His favorite phrases seem to be "big truck," "my big truck," and "more big truck." He received Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go as a gift, and showed a surprisingly long attention span for it. The cutest part is a page that shows a big accident, with several trucks all tangled up together. When Thomas saw it he stared at it with a look of horror and announced "big truck uh oh!" And every time (which is many) after that when he got to the accident page, he'd repeat it over and over and over.
In contrast, Matthew doesn't have a particular affinity for trucks. Unless of course it happens to be in Thomas' hand, at which point whatever it is becomes the single most important thing in the entire world. He's more cautious than Thomas and more socially aware. His sneaky little grin, when he thinks he's getting away with something he's not supposed to do, is precious. I think his favorite phrase is "mo"(re), which can be used to demand more of a type of food, more snuggles, more off-key grandparent singing, more slides down the slide, more bouncing on the bouncy ball, or pretty much anything that could possibly be repeated.
We did our usual ritualistic Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, with new ornaments and stocking hanging and church and wild rice soup and oyster stew on Christmas Eve, and stocking opening and full breakfast with coffeecake and one-at-a-time present opening ordered from youngest to oldest on Christmas Day. The little boys enjoyed ripping the paper off and playing with their abundance of new toys, but had limited patience for the extended version that my family has elongated in the child-free years.

For Christmas dinner Sean cooked up a lovely bazillion pound prime rib (every good holiday meal has at least a few pounds of meat per person!), mashed potatos, Yorkshire pudding, and bread pudding.
Yum. Unsurprisingly, we also ate well the rest of the time there, with a birthday meal out at the best restaurant in Providence (in honor of my mom, myself, and Becky), egg roll weather, Breakfast Nook, and Chili's chicken crispers.

After the Nor'Easter we bundled up Matthew and Thomas and introduced them to snow. They had of course seen the stuff last year, but never really had a chance to play in it.

I think it might take a year or two to catch on.

We also spent a lovely afternoon at the candlepin bowling alley. Before we lived with Jen and Sean a few years back, I had never heard of this wacky Massachusetts tradition. They have their own style of bowling, in which the pins are skinny, the bowling balls are tiny and light, and you get three attempts to knock the pins down during each frame. Matthew and Thomas really wanted a chance to immitate the adults and throw the balls down the alley, but had to settle for handing them to us, rolling them around on the ball return, and crawling under every row of seats. Thankfully this was much cleaner than the smoky, stinky bowling alleys I remember from childhood!

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year's, Badger Style

I managed to survive my first day back at work after 12 glorious days of vacation. My brain is still a bit fuzzy, but hopefully that won't prevent me from regaling you with tales of our adventures. We spent the first part of our vacation, including Christmas and the few days immediately following it, in Massachusetts with Carrie's family. I'll leave Carrie to tell you about those shenanigans.

After being thoroughly worn out by two toddlers, we flew to Wisconsin to spend a few days with my family. My parents picked us up at the airport and promptly whisked us off to Flat Top Grill, a Mongolian BBQ restaurant where you put your own stir fry ingredients in a bowl and they cook it for you. What distinguishes Flat Top from similar restaurants is, first and foremost, their roti bread; it's a delicious, flaky, buttery flatbread that I'm sure has an obscene number of calories but is totally made of WIN. Sadly, there are no pictures of said dinner on my camera because we ate too fast, but trust me, it was yummy.

My sister and her boyfriend drove up the next day, and we spent the evening playing multiple rounds of Cranium with them and my parents. Our time in Wisconsin was basically dominated by a. food and b. Cranium. Sadly, the Madison contingent dominated at Cranium, but we put up a good fight!

My other sister arrived home the following day, and we set out celebrating New Year's Even in style: with fun hats, more board games, too many snack foods (mostly puppy chow), and our beloved friend Asti.

We still didn't win at Cranium (or Pictionary, for that matter), but we dominated at Taboo! During downtime Carrie also created some lovely art for us to enjoy:

Old Man Cranium Clay
Carrie's depictions of me, Angie, Ian, and Jen
On New Year's Day we watched the Tournament of Roses Parade, then celebrated Christmas with my family. The rest of the family had celebrated earlier, but they decided to let us open our own presents. And Santa waited to fill all our stockings at once!

And of course, in a house full of Badgers, we watched the football team's valiant Rose Bowl efforts against TCU and their vastly inferior mascot. Sadly, Bucky was not victorious in the end, but it was not for lack of spirit at my house!

Why yes, as a matter of fact, I AM sitting on the floor cutting summer sausage in that picture. The smorgasbord needed to be spread, but there were still 3 minutes left on the clock and I was NOT about to miss it!

I hope that you and your family had a splendid time celebrating the holidays of your choice! Although I wish we'd had more time to spend with our families, I'm grateful that we were able to see everyone and celebrate with them for a few days.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Back to life, back to reality - 2011 style

Well blogging friends, welcome to 2011. Hopefully we've all safely arrived by now. I'd like to say this will be the year that we will buckle down and secure our blogging fame. But it probably won't be.

To my family, who are eagerly awaiting the Auntie Blogging, I do intend to get back to New England Christmas (complete with candle pin bowling!), but not tonight.

Becky and I rang in the New Year with red plastic champagne flutes, alcopops, and some intense competitive humming (Cranium) in the company of her lovely Wisconsin-based family. There was watching of the ball-drop (an hour delayed, naturally), toasting, kissing, eating, and all of the appropriate festivities. But then of course it was the weekend, and the rest of our vacation continued.

Now, the eve of January 2nd, feels like the real New Year's, in a much more mundane but realistic way. We've replaced champagne with diet pepsi (for me) and water (for her), extended family with our furry babies, and excessive quantities of holiday foods with our bare refrigerator. And tomorrow we will set our alarms for uncomfortably early hours and trudge our way back into the city that never sleeps, except of course when more than a foot of snow falls and then it hibernates for several days.

2010's contents felt pre-ordained (even if monumental) at the end of 2009. We got engaged in mid-November and knew that a good chunk of 2010 would focus on wedding festivities. We already had reservations for our major vacation of the year, and we knew that our other travel would be exclusively to the midwest for wedding planning and various other pre-ordained family functions. In most other ways we anticipated, it turned out correctly, that 2010 would be a year of stability for us. Perhaps in fact the most stability that we have had in any year since we met, and maybe the most stability that we will have for a few years to come too.

2011's contents are murkier. We've chatted about various goals, know we want to have a honeymoon, know we'd like to focus on being a bit healthier and on spending less time on the computer (but fear not, also blogging more! unfortunately for you, like most people, we have a history of failing at new year's resolutions), know we want to have a spring Ocean Grove weekend and a fall Vermont weekend, and know we'd like to someday find some more solid career direction. These and others are among the general partially formed plans we have all along declared for the post-wedding period. But, ready or not, 2011 is no longer some hypothetical distant post-wedding future.

I guess it's time to make it happen.

Welcome to 2011, welcome to Monday morning.