The Postcard Project

My summer of puttering around the house has led to several hands-on projects, some involving a hammer and nails, one (nearly abandoned) involving yarn and knitting needles, and a few other collage-type endeavors involving scissors and tape. My favorite, and most sentimental, of the projects dealt with twine, paper clips, velco strips and a few intercontinental trips: a postcard chain, draped across the kitchen windows! (With our courtyard’s palm tree as a backdrop, I simply must add.)

I know my handiwork isn’t much to look at. But reminders of friends, family and all these world-wide experiences make doing the dishes a real treat and give a globe-trotting feel to the kitchen and everything we cook in it.

I first got the postcard chain idea from Real Simple. But my local grocer didn’t have old-school clothespins, as the magazine suggested using, so I improvised with paper clips and hanging-down twine to give the staggered effect.

The only drawback of the postcard assembly line is that the sun’s shining directly on the actual notes on the backs of the postcards. So in an effort to not lose them forever, I’ll reproduce them here, starting from the young-buck days and working up to the here-and-now.

***

From Erin D. in San Diego (June 3, 2003 – the day before my birthday and no shout-out?!):

Mary,
I wanted to say that I like how we’ve become book-sharing friends, in a way. Maybe someday we will found a book club. I hope so anyway. In any event, traveling rocks. Isn’t it strange that Jersey Deuce’s Pish [the trio of Erin, our friend Kristin and me] will be all over the place this summer? Okay, here’s the expected part – I’m in S. Cali near my hometown of San Diego, where we’ll camp tonight. It’s wonderful. I feel at home.
LOVE, Erin

[I remember Erin telling me about Everything is Illuminated that summer. It remains one of my favorites; who knows what-all I suggested in return. In any event, we did found a book club…only took us 6 years to do it.]

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Notes From An Expat

Making a go of it.

Sorry for the absence. This will be a long post, so better use the bathroom now.

Note 1: On returning to the blog habit

The Michael Jackson revival (such that you can’t go to a radio station, wedding or random block without hearing “Billie Jean”) recently celebrated its one-year anniversary; meaning, he’s been gone a year; and so has been my presence from this blog. And while I can’t resuscitate MJ, I can write something once in a while, dammit.

As luck would have it, I’ve got nothing but time these days. So let’s rock.

Note 2: On moving to San Francisco

I’ll skip over the ins and outs of the how and why, because it’s about a job and that’s boring—but wait. Who doesn’t reach a point in a settled and happy life when the thought springs out: If I become unsettled, could I become even happier? When Rawle first introduced the prospect of moving, I thought “No no no.” Tears were shed. But, much like tepidly jumping into cold lake water leads to one saying to one’s still-on-the-dock friends, “It’s really nice once you get in,” the idea grew on me, to the point that thinking we might not be moving was too heartbreaking to bear. At the time, I was working in the travel industry, but I felt a little untraveled, a little static, etc.; so even though I was largely a stowaway (always playing the little sister role, I am) in this westward endeavor, I had my reasons. When you’re a small-town Delaware girl whose largest move ever is from Wilmington to Philadelphia, your figurative wings feel a little like flying, word?

Enough with the Dear Abby response. Here we are in San Francisco, and the reactions are numerous and varied. For instance.

Note 3: On the food

Back when my job was to report on such things, I read a piece on Philadelphia’s dining scene, written by a San Francisco food blogger. “Shoot,” he gushed. “I wish we had stuff like this in Frisco.” So I was nervous that the food in San Fran would pale in flavor, diversity and sheer volume as compared to the cheesesteak, Garces and pierogie palaces of my native city.

Well! One word: Burritos. Another word: Skewers. Two more words: Citrus Club. Four more words: Where have I been?

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D.C. Trip: Free to Be You and Me

When our anniversary rolled around (conveniently close to Valentine’s Day), we had some ideas about how to celebrate.

“Let’s so skiing!” I said, excited by the prospects of hot chocolate, hot tubs and the inevitability of my black diamond skills looking very impressive to Rawle.

“No skiing,” he said. Apparently it isn’t fun for a 6’7″ man to fall on his butt. “Howabout New York?”

“Too expensive!” Much as I love The City, the exorbitant cab, hotel, restaurant and cover charges didn’t sound like my idea of vacation. I thought about the other cities in our midst: Boston, too far; Baltimore, too frequently visited already; Pittsburgh, too cold. Then I thought about D.C., where I’d recently attended my cousin Martin’s wedding in its newly effervescent Chinatown. I proposed our Nation’s Capital and we shook on it.

img_2218During the trip’s planning stage, we discovered that D.C. trips are practically recession-proof!

First, while booking our stay at Hotel Rouge (a boutique hotel in Dupont Circle), we were offered 30% off our total stay if we booked an extra (3rd) night. So we basically got a night free.

Then, once we found out a one-way train ticket from Philly to D.C. cost $150, we went the way of the Chinatown bus. Total cost: $29 round-trip.

 

So on Friday the 13th (!) of February, we hopped on the bus and made the three-hour trip from Chinatown to Chinatown.

 

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We checked into the Hotel Rouge, and rouge it was indeed. Redness everywhere, down to the free Bloody Marys (and cold pizza!) offered every weekend morning.

Lo and behold, Room 909 was made for us. I shrieked to discover my man Bruce gracing the wall next to our door.

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Being young and fun, we saddled up to Bar Rouge, a Sex and the City-esque lounge just off the lobby. The clientele included: screaming, just-barely-21-yr-old (presumably Georgetown) students dressed to go clubbing in Berlin; middle-aged couples necking and drinking appletinis; and Rawle and me. It was totally weird. And the prices! At $6 for a Yuengling, even Stephen Starr would be impressed by Bar Rouge’s audacity.

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Adventures in Artistry

Hey guys. I didn’t forget you! Big things are coming.

In the meantime, please enjoy today’s foray into Photoshop/time theft (where I would be considered a novice and an expert, respectively).

Short-haired Mary and big-horned iguana in A-R-U-B-A

Short-haired Mary and big-horned iguana in A-R-U-B-A

Here’s another look:

He's a big'n!

He's a big'n!

Sorry for that complete waste of time! More to come!

In Which Mary Takes a Trip

I try to make a habit of trusting the people I love. So when Rawle said, “Let’s go to Cincinnati for New Year’s,” I said, “Great, where do I sign.”

So to Cincy, we went! Confetti in tow.

Plus, I should say, some wariness on my part. In all of my years, my few glimpses into the Midwest have mostly come from the “Get Me a Whopper” commercial and evangelical Christian videos where they play with snakes. And Hoosiers of course.

But it seems my sources were wrong! Cincinnati is long on charm and short on Bible-thumpers.

But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.

This is a story about a guy:

Poncho

Poncho

And a girl:

Pish with her turkey dinner

Pish with her turkey dinner

…who went to Cincinnati to visit some friends of the guy’s. He used to live there when he managed a band called Homunculus, whose live shows I’m told were off the hizzy.

First thing about Cincinnati: Spend-thriftiness-wise, it’s almost impossible to fly there from Philly, so we flew to Columbus Airport and rented a car. Not just any car!

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Yeaaaah, booooy!

As we were driving from the Columbus Airport to Cincinnati, Rawle woke me up (I’m a selfish passenger) and pointed out a sign on the side of the road. “Welcome to the Midwest,” he said.

"If you died today, how would you spend eternity?"

"If you died today where would you spend eternity?"

Good question! Followed in short order by this guy:

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So, some invisible Bible-thumpers exist. And they always will!

Another thing about Cincy: You can buy booze in the grocery store.

Booze in the grocery store

Booze in the grocery store

The grocer (called Kroger’s which, aside from the East Coast, monopolizes all of America) also specializes in cologne bearing the name of middle-American celebrities:

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Tim McGraw and Tom Brady in smell-form

So we got to our temporary residence, the house owned by Rawle’s friends Ben and Sarah, who were away for the holidays. No sooner had we arrived and each downed a Chipotle burrito than Rawle said, “Oh shit. I gotta…uh…”

And with that, he bolted to the bathroom. And then to bed, and then to the bathroom, and then to bed. Where he stayed for the next two days.

Over that period, I watched the following: Seinfeld (2x), The Office (2x), Jeopardy (2x), The Da Vinci Code, The Cosby Show (4x), Sex and the City (2x), The Making of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours (2x) and 15 and Pregnant (1/2x). I also got drunk by myself and generally kicked it.

Finally, Rawle rid himself of his bug. I was so happy, I played him a song!

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I hope you’re still following along. Cause this is when it gets great!

We packed it up and said, Shit, time for a beer. We sought said beer at a little joint called Habits Café:

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We got a couple Bell’s on draft, much to Rawle’s delight. Here’s Mr. Blue Eyes himself:

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Then we took a minute to get a photo opp with Kentucky in the background (there it is to the left of my dome!):

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Sick

And drive by Rawle’s old house:

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All of this throwing up and day-tripping left us with about 6 hours until 2009. So we drove to the Schoen residence, quickly got dolled up and a little shit-canned, and 3-2-1, Happy New Year!

"Here we go again," says Rawle.

"Here we go again," says Rawle.

"Gimme somebody to kiss!" says Mary.

"Somebody gimme a kiss!" says Mary.

As is tradition, we felt like the dickens the next day. Luckily, 3 things immediately made us feel better:

Pop'ems

Pop'ems for Marky

Phoenix the Dog

Phoenix the Dog

Eddieeeee!

Eddieeeee!

No amount of nausea was keeping Rawle and me from everyone’s favorite resolution: lose the gut. So off we went on a nice, light run.

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That’s before. This is after:

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Another notable thing about Cincinnati: There’s a ton of ethnic food, reportedly because of the nearby Proctor & Gamble international headquarters.

But I don’t need to know why! Just get me to an Indian buffet!

Bliss-ful and and food-full at Baba

Bliss-ful and and food-full at Baba

I tell you what — I’m glad we went to Baba and not the s***-house next door:

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Next up: To Cincinnati’s Northside neighborhood, popular amongst homosexuals, washed-up hipsters and… me! I love the Northside!

Mostly because of this place:

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Shake It Records

I love Shake It Records! They’ve got no shortage of great albums (Springsteen, whu whu!) and McSweeney’s anthologies (yes! books!) plus just the sort of architectural/editorial enthusiasm to make you want to buy everything you see.

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Every time Rawle came down my aisle, I ran away because I didn’t want to leave (I love stores in which I resort to my 4 year-old self). Finally I agreed to purchase some stuff and leave the rest for a wish list (I almost bought an album by a French actress, but finding that too impulsive, instead bought a book called Animals of the Ocean, In Particular the Giant Squid).

Here’s a nice parting shot of the Northside:

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Later on, we went to see Slumdog Millionaire at the Esquire Theater. Great theater, even better movie. Even if Adam hated the Bollywood ending.

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We then met up with Ben (from the first house!) at a little coffee shop called Sitwell’s. If I’d gone to college in Cincinnati, I’d’ve been here all the time.

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Much like the grocery store, Sitwell’s has a liquor license. So I got some boozed-up coffee concoction that made me seriously freak out. Nevertheless, a wonderful place.

The next day, let’s see. If memory serves, we went running again, kicked it, ate a steak dinner (during which the Homunculus boys were celebrity-spotted by the waiter), got ice cream at UDF (featuring a real, live Adam Schoen Freak-Out when they ran out of Peanut Butter Chip), and my very first comedy club experience ever, at the ill-titled Go Bananas.

And suddenly, it was Rawle and Mary’s Last Day in Cincinnati. We commemorated the occasion by getting tofu pad thai from Rawle’s Favorite Restaurant Ever, Thai Express.

Rawle enjoys his Thai Express

Rawle enjoys his Thai Express

We blissfully devoured the pad thai in Ault Park, a Gatsby-esque public space overlooking the Ohio River.

Ault Park

Ault Park

Here I am at Ault Park (if you can find me!):

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By then, it was time to head on back to Columbus for our flight home. But wait! Look at this ridiculous mushroom house!

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Okay, then it was time to go home. (But not before I realized I’d lost an earring while going through security and, while a brattily tearful Mary stood there in her Uggs, Rawle spotted the rogue earring by the ticketing desk from 50 yards away. Ferris Bueller, you’re my hero!)

Poncho takes over the airport

Poncho takes over the airport

Well, that’s the tale of Rawle and Mary in Cincinnati. We shared some laughs, endured some vomiting and bought some useless stuff. The way I see it, Cincinnati is a lot like Philly — random, full of food and largely misunderstood. Difference is: In Cincy, you can booze pretty much everywhere. Good on ’em.

Next up: Our nation’s capital! We’ll be taking on Señor Obama’s new digs for Valentine’s Day Weekend. Stay tuned.

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

Ocean City, NJ

My sand-colored summer.

Last time I went on vacation, I enjoyed a week-long sojourn in Ocean City, NJ. There, I happily wasted my time on naps, The Office, margaritas, cornhole, two books by Joan Didion, a puppy’s company, sun, surf and hard-shell crabs. It was heaven in East Coast form. And I’ve missed it ever since.

But as of 5:45 or so tomorrow, I will again wade into the waters of vay-kay. This time, though, I’m going to…

Glittering, gleaming Cincinnati!

Glittering, gleaming Cincinnati!

Cincinnati!!!

I know nothing about this place, except that the Bengals are not very good (despite what the Eagles and Redskins would have you think) and the Reds blew their load on Griffey, Jr. I also know that you could call it “The Nati,” but I’ve yet to confirm whether this is considered cool or not.

I hear that the ethnic food is very good in Cincinnati, as are the chain-store shopping opportunities. And there are, of course, the WKRP associations.

I have some lovely friends-of-friends who live there and they’re very kindly putting me up for an extended New Year’s. Schoen family, get ready! I spill things and can’t cook.

And so, I’m excited! It’s time to leave this coast for a while, do a little anthropological work at the heartbeat of America. Ohio, here I come.