Saturday, February 28, 2009

Number 26

Today I crossed off a pretty big item off my 30 by 30 list. I bought my very first brand-new car. No financial help from my family and I did a ridiculous amount of research all on my own. Luckily, I had some good moral support and a great shopping companion. After three hours and very little haggling, I left with my new wheels.

What I did not get to take with me was my old car. I bought my 1998 Mazda Protege in 2002, just a few months after I moved to Baltimore. My roommate at the time spotted the ad in the City Paper and I paid for it with $4000 cash (my grandparents helped significantly). It wasn't perfect and it had a little cosmetic damage, but it was all mine. Clean title, no payments, passed inspection.

That car saw me through some of the biggest transitions of my life. Adjusting to the East Coast, starting and completing graduate school, making new sets of friends both in Maryland and New Jersey, going through several relationships, health drama for my grandmother, various jobs and internships. For the past 6 1/2 years, often the only constant has been my car. It never had an official nickname, but sometimes I called the car Lambert after my MD plates which started with the letters LAM.

Anthropomorphism aside, you can understand the tinge of sadness I felt in harvesting all the detritus from my old car. The Google Maps printouts to destinations foreign and familiar, the receipts from umpteen repairs and oil changes, the ice scraper I thought I'd lost, the EZ Pass and so much more were neatly tucked into a Ziploc bag for easy transport into my new car. Yesterday before work, I took pictures of all the bumper stickers I've collected and used to decorate the Mazda and to help it stand out in a crowded parking lot. Some, like the University of Arizona sticker will be easy to replace, while others, like my Hungarian EU sticker might be a bit harder to source.

My friend blames my separation anxiety on all those cartoons we watched as kids. The Brave Little Toaster effect she called it. Snicker if you want, but you know you've felt badly at times when you throw away your old coffee grinder or post your ancient digital camera on Craigslist or toss a once-loved sweater in the Goodwill pile.

And who gets that attached to a coffee mill?! This was a car and that poignant sense of loss and guilt at destroying an inanimate object really got to me today. But as tough as it was to say goodbye, I know that every time I turn on my new car and the check engine light doesn't glow, I'll feel a little better. And every time I take it in for a free oil change, a bit of the guilt will dissolve. And every time I can open the trunk without having to turn the car off, I'll feel pretty damn good.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Kosher Cooking Carnival

This week marks the first time I've submitted to the Kosher Cooking Carnival. And by some awesome bit of luck, I got top billing.

Whether you keep kosher or not, check out all the great articles here!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

All in the Family

While the rest of the blogosphere is all atwitter with musings on Oscar nominations, dress choices and speculations about Ryan Seacrest's sexual orientation, I've decided to write about something completely different this evening. Honestly, I have only seen 2-3 of the nominated films and the rest are waiting release on my Netflix queue (or a free Saturday night). Also, I have a wonderful friend living in Tempe, Ariz. who dishes with me about the terrible outfits across the time zones. Coincidentally, Sean Penn is the shit in Milk and Robert Downey Jr. is the most underrated actor in the universe.

Earlier this week, I got an email via my professional Facebook account from someone whose name sounded vaguely familiar. The man, in his early 60s, introduced himself as my father's cousin Barry, the son of my great aunt, who I have no recollection of ever meeting. After my zayde (dad's father) died in 1989, our family stopped visiting Massachusetts on our regular summer vacations to the East Coast. Aside from seeing my bubbie (dad's mother), aunt and uncle at our bar/bat mitzvahs and at Bubbie's funeral, I've had virtually no contact with that side of my family, lo these 20 years.

Certainly, I've heard nothing of Cousin Barry, his brother and their daughters who were about the same age as me. It always felt a little unfortunate, but luckily I have a great family on my mom's side and I was always content with that. Besides, people on my dad's side had weird nicknames and were diehard Boston sports fans - and I'm a Giants (and Cardinals) fan.

Now, this whole new family dimension has opened and it's left me wondering why. Why now? Why me? And it's not just Cousin Barry. During the past few months and years, I have connected with myriad cousins, from David, the Oregon rancher to Pesha Rachel, the Orthodox mother of seven. Some of them like Cathi in Toronto, I knew about but had no way of contacting and others, like Hadassah Blima, I never knew existed. For someone who grew up with a small family and no Jewish first cousins, it came as quite a shock to find out I'm related to half of Lakewood, New Jersey (a well-known Orthodox Jewish enclave).

Still, why connect through me? Why not my brother or sister? They are outgoing and personable and have the same uncommon last name. The best explanation I've rationalized is that as the oldest child in my family, I'm predisposed to be the connector and filial beacon. And various researchers can back me up. Eldest children are known to be more conscientious and socially dominant than their younger siblings, so maybe it's in the genes. My Cousin Philip (aka our U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia), similarly keeps track of all the family relations and can explain what a second cousin, once removed, actually means. He's also an oldest child.

Whatever the reason, I'm thankful for all the new and rediscovered family connections that have come my way since I moved to the Northeast. Even if it means embracing a few Patriots fans.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

And I Knew Him When...

File this in the "I Knew Him When" category wherein I rarely get to stash items, except for the guy from ninth grade algebra/senior year English who now plays in the NFL. What makes this instance even better is that unlike Todd Heap, George Polk Award-winning journalist Ryan Gabrielson will actually take my calls (plus, I have mildly embarrassing photos of him from college).

For those who don't know him, Ryan is a reporter for The East Valley Tribune (my hometown paper), who wrote an expose of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, titled "Reasonable Doubt." You can read the story in its entirety here and you can learn all about the Polk Awards from an article in Monday's New York Times.

Ryan shares the award with 13 other reporters (or teams) from around the country, and he won in the category of justice reporting. I remember talking to Ryan nearly a year ago about the article and his passion, devotion and determination was clearly evident.

Who knew the nervous blond guy wandering the Arizona Daily Wildcat newsroom circa 2000, with a notebook permanently lodged in his back pocket would go on to become the award-winning journalist (and fantastic husband and father) he is today? I'm sure it helps that his wife Rachel is incredibly supportive and that his daughter Olivia is super cool (plus she freakin loves me).

We've had a lot of adventures together, and over all the years, I've never been more proud of Ryan and his enviable dedication to bringing people the truth. Congratulations Toughguy!!!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Waste Not...

I generally don't post about events that happen to me, in order to preserve some modicum of anonymity and privacy. But every once in a while, something happens to me that is so ridiculous, I feel there is a benefit to the rest of world in sharing the story.

Recently, I started making coffee at home. Raised on instant decaf, I had little coffee making experience from which to draw, but I also knew that it was a skill I should probably master. So strong was my belief in the importance of coffee dexterity, that I included it on my 3o By 30 list. I had a French press taking up kitchen counter space, so I bought some beans, wantonly ground them in the grocery store, and took them home.

Anyone who has used a French press will know that while it's an incredibly easy method for brewing, not using a filter means you have all these coffee grounds just sitting there in the bottom of the pot. You can never adequately get them all into the trash can without the use of a spatula and they tend to shoot out all over the place when you go to rinse them out.

Every time I wanted coffee, I had to deal with the unpleasant task of trashing the grounds. And in these troubled economic times, I hesitated to thoughtlessly throw anything away (here are 10 much better ideas). So I decided that the best thing to do with yesterday's used coffee grounds would be to cool them off in a Tupperware, mix them with some baking soda and use them to exfoliate in the shower.

Once dripping wet and naked, I squirted a liberal amount of shower gel into the container and proceeded to spread the concoction onto my body.

Now, a logical person like yourself may have thought of the potential mess such an idea would engender much earlier in the execution process. But then you wouldn't be me. It took me about one thigh and most of my stomach before I realized that the grounds might be too coarse to fit down the drain... and that it might stain my tub... and that it kinda smelled weird to combine coffee and sea minerals shower gel.

Never one to let a little mess get in my way of what I thought was a good idea at the time, I finished exfoliating before embarking on the imperative task of cleaning the shower. Whatever environmentally-pious intentions I had were completely obliterated by the amount of water I needed to clean the curtain, the soap dish, the tile and the space between my toes.

Maybe not everything should be recycled.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Baby Baby Baby

Just a few weeks ago, the world marveled at the live birth (via Cesarean section) of eight babies to a woman in California. Matt Lauer and gang trotted out sets of sextuplets and septuplets previously featured on the show to postulate about the health of the babies and mother, the possible names and just what diapers might cost such a family.

Then it came to light this week that the mother, Nadya Soleman, is a single 33-year-old with six other children, all under the age of seven. When interviewed by Ann Curry about why she would want to raise 14 children on her own, Soleman answered “All I wanted was children. I wanted to be a mom. That's all I ever wanted in my life. I love my children.” And how does she plan to support these children? Well she's finishing up her master's degree in counseling and her disability checks (from when she was injured in a riot at the state mental hospital where she worked) provide a little cash. By the way, counselors in Southern California can expect to make about $45,000.

So forget for a minute about the incredible selfishness of this woman hording children, forget about the idiot doctors who have continually impregnated her with some guy's sperm (the children all have the same father), forget about the fact that Ms. Suleman has a publicist, forget the ethical implications, forget about the health risks and even forget about the stretch marks. Let's talk about how these babies affect us.

With multiple birth babies facing high potential for jaundice, seizures, heart problems, blindness and various developmental delays, the taxpayer burden for the Suleman brood could quickly soar into the millions of dollars; all at a time when most people don't have the spare funds for others' delusions of maternity. Early estimates of the hospital bills range from $1.5 to 3 million, and that doesn't even begin to cover the costs of special education, continued asthma treatments, scholarships to summer programs and college and food.

As I mentioned before, Ms. Suleman has had sufficient funds to retain the services of a public relations firm, who are surely hard at work coming up with ways for the family to make some money. In the spirit of helpfulness and volunteering our President has recently advocated, I'd like to offer the Killeen Furtney Group of Los Angeles a few suggestions.

#1 Pimp My Baby
No, not a makeover for the sure to be destitute Suleman children, this would instead be an opportunity for childless couples to rent the children for a weekly fee while the whole world watches. Lifetime or TLC should have no problem getting sponsors... though with 8 kids born at once, it's tempting to suggest Animal Planet.

#2 Cautionary Tale/aka Book Deal
Let's just assume this family will be massively dysfunctional. Ambitious publishers may be smart to secure rights to the kids' stories now so that we can read the tell-all books that much sooner. Bonus - this supports literacy among the children.

#3 Cottage Industry
Why don't more people buy American goods? They're often more expensive than similar items from China or Vietnam. Why? Because those guys use child labor! Now we all can support local industries AND get cheap shit, thanks to the Suleman family. From t-shirts to household goods and sneakers, this could be the perfect marriage of domestic labor and affordability, just what we need in these cost-conscious but idealistic times. Watch out Dov Charney and American Apparel, Suleman Industries is coming to your home turf in LA!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Day the Music Died

Of all the topics I routinely feature on this blog, music doesn't figure too prominently. It's not that I don't like listening to music or commenting on the music I enjoy the most. It's just that there is so damn much music floating around out there and I know I listen to the stuff that's already been processed by the radio stations. Plus, I only listen to music on the radio after 6:30 p.m. and on the weekends (NPR the rest of the time).

Besides, music fandom requires a level of devotion I can rarely muster up for total strangers. A friend of mine has been a dedicated Cure fan since the age of 12 and has seen them in concert more times than I've probably visited my own parents in the last 5 years. Other people feel so strongly about the poisonous commercialization of pop music that they only listen to the purest unsigned artists that you'll never hear on the radio. I simply lack that kind of patience and am way too busy with other projects - like this blog.

So why write today about music? Because 50 years ago today, the Big Bopper, Richie Valens and Buddy Holly died in a horrific plane crash while on tour. Don McLean memorialized the event in the infamous ballad American Pie, as a mournful elegy for a time long since passed.

Though I spent many a campfire belting out the song, I'd have to argue that music may have changed profoundly since the 1950s, but it's hardly dead. Sure, we have to battle the evil forces of American Idol winners and Jonas Brothers fans, but we have much to be happy about too.

Music listeners today have the most incredible consumer choice when it comes to their individual preferences. From iTunes to XM to MySpace to independent radio stations (like the excellent RXP in the TriState area), we no longer need big record companies to tell us what to listen to. We can advertise, produce and distribute our own tunes, and often for free.

Sure the onus is on each of us to decide what determines quality music and what is simply manufactured crap, but it makes for some fantastically random playlists. Plus with the economy failing and people having less money to spend on things like CDs or concerts, artists and listeners will get even more creative (or desperate) about promotion and dissemination.

Life and times in the music world may not be as simple as they were in 1959 when the plane went down, but they certainly are interesting. And for the record and proof of some great tunes, my favorite band right now is Gogol Bordello and my favorite song is "You are the Best Thing" by Ray LaMontagne.