Category Archives: life in Phila

how saving sheep sucks my time

I’ve never been that interested in video games. Usually, I only care about them when I can’t play them–like when my brother got a Nintendo when we were kids. He bought it with his own money and could therefore control who got to play when. (Pretty much he could play it, whenever he wanted. My sister and I could play it maybe once a month for 30 minutes.)

Video games also become very interesting when I shouldn’t play them. I got addicted to Civilization for a couple months and I played tetris with great devotion while I was procrastinating writing those term papers in college. That is basically my video game history.

Until now. Now I feel it is my moral duty to save the sheep. Hans downloaded a simple little arcade game called “Madness” onto his ipod Touch. I am addicted. And I keep thinking I’ll grow out of this addiction, but I haven’t. At least not yet. I’ve been playing for at least two months now, and I have to get in at least one game a night. I know it’s getting bad when Hans told me the other night that I can’t get mad or frustrated at the video game.

I have a bag of knitting sitting at my feet. A stack of library books on the coffee table. A number of sewing projects in my mind. Yet I spend an hour or so each evening saving the sheep. (From the aliens, of course.)  Luckily for me (and for the progress of my novel), Hans brings his Touch to school every day so the sheep can’t distract me from real work.

If Hans didn’t use his ipod Touch for school, I would be really tempted to toss it overboard. Instead, I need to get a grip. Get some self-control. I hate video games. Really, I do.


Did you really just ask me that?

Or, How do you answer inappropriate questions?


near Fairhaven, Maryland


I like to think that I’m fast on my feet; quick to retort; ready with an answer. I have, after all, spent about 11 years going back and forth with the idea of going to law school. But sometimes I’m caught off-guard and my best answer to a question gets stuck in the recesses of my brain leaving me, five minutes later, thinking: why did I say that? I didn’t need to answer that question.

Being seven months pregnant lends me to a lot of unsolicited advice, comments, and questions. This weekend, a person I had only known for about 20 minutes asked me, point blank, “if the baby is a boy, are you going to circumcise it?” I blinked twice and answered. Five minutes later I was mentally kicking myself. That is a personal question that not even my family or closest friends have asked me. Yet I answered this stranger. And, maddeningly, I came up with twenty different responses I could have used, had my quick thinking not failed me at the time.

So my question is: how do you respond to inappropriate questions, comments, or advice? I’m sure Emily Post has an answer or two–most likely along the lines of “thank you for your concern/interest but I am not ready to share that information yet.” A third grader would be more direct and say: “mind your own beeswax.”  What is the middle ground between those two? Sure, I could be polite, but part of me also wants to tell respond by saying: hey, back off!

America is the land of political correctness. I would never call an overweight friend “gorda” (fatty), like they do in the Dominican Republic, or “flaca” (skinny), nor would I call out to the blonde woman who just dropped her glove in line in front of me at the post office “rubia” to get her attention. I would simply say, ma’am.  The generic address of ma’am, while more socially acceptable and polite, is imprecise and boring. But it is politically correct and it will not offend, heaven forbid.

PC-ness goes beyond the labels we use to refer to other people–it is ingrained in our daily interactions with strangers, colleagues, and acquaintances. When is the last time you were completely honest with someone without beating around the bush? And how did that go? Did it require an apology, clarification, or further discussion? Or did it make your relationship more open and honest? I’ll guess the former. But what if we were a little less PC and a little more straightforward? I think our relationships would be more honest, more open, and more real.

So the next time someone asks me an inappropriate question, will I refer in a way in which Emily Post would approve, or will I point out the inappropriateness of the question and decline to answer? (Or, will I answer and then kick myself later?)

Phila. Opera Co. surprises the market

The Opera Company of Philadelphia surprised shoppers and lunchers at the Reading Terminal Market this Saturday with a flash performance (Random Act of Culture, they call it) of “Toreador” from Carmen.

The surprised expressions on people’s faces! I wish I was there.

Caribbean dreaming

It’s that time of year again. The thermometer is consistently dropping down to 20 degrees every night and stays in the mid-30s during the day. We’re forecast to get snow tonight and tomorrow and I’m constantly wearing 2, if not 3, layers, top and bottom. The fingerless gloves my mom knit me for Christmas are worth their weight in gold. Ah yes. Winter. Not my favorite season.

So what do I do? I dream of the Caribbean. I start looking at future cruising boats.  Wait for friends down island to update their blogs so I can get a fix. Read Caribbean news blogs. Look through old pictures and wish my hair was still bleached blonde and my skin was still dark brown. Stand in front of the fish monger and grumble at how expensive and stale the tuna and mahi-mahi are.

After about 20 minutes (okay, maybe sometimes an hour) of messing around on the internet I snap out of it and think of what I like about living in the frigid north. In no particular order:

  • sourdough baking
  • proximity to family and friends
  • access to quality news: NPR, PBS Newshour
  • internet: 24/7
  • red wine (not so much now, but it was vital last winter)
  • cozy bars and pubs (ditto to above, although they’re still nice even if I’m just drinking hot tea)
  • hot tea
  • new friends
  • setting down roots in a new community
  • coffee shops
  • Reading Terminal Market
  • local, organic food
  • the public library
  • Trader Joes
  • my Kitchen Aid stand mixer
  • my sewing machine
  • spring
  • fall

So, the frigid north is not all bad in January. At least the days are getting longer.

The photographer’s assistant

That was my role on Saturday–assistant extraordinaire to Hans. He booked a wedding for Saturday and the bride and groom wanted a second photographer. Voila! Meet Kristen. Writer, baker, baby incubator, sailor, boat handywoman, and, now, photographer’s assistant.

The wedding was in Harrisburg, Penn. We arrived at 2:30 to take the “getting ready” pictures (I photographed the groomsmen and Hans worked with the bride); 5:30: ceremony; portraits; dinner; toasts; dancing; cake-cutting; bon voyage. We packed up and left around 10:45PM. Phew.

A second photographer was useful during the getting ready pictures when Hans couldn’t be in two places at once. The rest of the time, Hans managed to get almost every single shot. I got a few shots he didn’t get (because he was busy taking pictures somewhere else) and it was reassuring to have a second photographer to make sure nothing was missed.  I did spend quite a bit of time after dark running around next to him holding up the flash; helping to move lights; and keeping track of good photo opportunities (although I don’t think he really appreciated me pointing out good photos…”oooh, look, that’s a good picture.” or “hey, quick get a picture of that.” Yeah. He knew what pictures to take).  Hans has photographed over 50 weddings–it’s really hard work. He was basically running around all the time and when he did get a minute to sit down and catch his breath, he was back on his feet snapping another picture.

The pictures came out great. Unfortunately I can’t post any pictures here since they’re not mine to share. Imagine: Vietnamese-American bride, strapless white dress with flowing skirt and long train, five bridesmaids with short purple dresses in different styes, a three-tier cake, west-facing golf course–perfect for sunset portraits, happy family members, and best friends. It was a beautiful wedding.

Oh, and did I forget to mention the chocolate fountain?

seen & heard (or not) in 19106

just walking, no conversation

One of my current writing challenges is imagining the movements of my characters.  For example: “‘You’re kidding!’ Sam said, and threw her hands up in the air.” But do people really throw their hands up in the air? Or would she put her hands on her hips? How do I describe gestures? What does angry body language look like? Sad body language? How does a little kid move?

Yesterday morning was sunny and warm. I treated myself to a pumpkin spice coffee (decaf. so the little baby doesn’t arrive in March jazzed up on caffeine) and an old fashioned donut from Dunkin Donuts. I stationed myself on the corner of 6th and Chestnut in front of Independence Hall and watched people walk by. I took pictures and jotted down their conversation in a notepad. The most surprising thing: there was barely any conversation. Maybe it was too early in the morning. Maybe people needed their second cup of coffee. After 45 minutes my coffee was empty, my donut was long gone, and I decided to go home.

[the captions are taken directly from my notes]

Philadelphia. Tuesday October 5, 2010

I walked to the bank and the post office on this rainy, chilly fall day.

I saw:

  • two umbrellas with polka dots
  • a man with a suitcase trying to hail a cab
  • tourists wearing garbage bags as raincoats
  • three pairs of matching white sneakers
  • an empty bottle of Gordon’s dry gin
  • a yellow Hummer
  • a matching leopard print umbrella and raincoat
  • cafe tables and chairs set up outside, waiting for rain-loving diners
  • basil growing in a pot outside a restaurant
  • brown cowboy boots
  • a purple purse
  • the flash from a camera inside the “passport pictures” corner store
  • five cases of Coors Light being wheeled into a bar
  • two women eating salad for lunch
  • a man taking a picture of a woman in front of Independence Hall
  • a toddler sleeping in a stroller
  • Phillies hats
  • Phillies coats
  • yellow leaves on the ground

I felt:

  • rain on my face

The lights will stay turned on inside stinkpot all day today. It’s gray and dreary.