Friday, April 30, 2010

Week in Progress

This week has felt pretty intense so far; it hasn't helped that I've been waking up early and staying up late.

Sunday - preaching at the Bowery.
Monday - ethics training in White Plains followed by a mad dash to French class. Unlucky with the trains, I got there 1 hour late for a 1 h 20 min class.
Tuesday - cooking and delivering lasagna to new parents. To get there, I had the choice of a half hour walk, a half hour subway ride, OR a half hour bus trip - it was so nice out, for a change, that I took the walk.
Wednesday - French class followed by a mad dash to the upper, upper west side to lead Bible study. Came home to find that Stage I of the drain pipe repair project had taken place!!
Thursday - potluck & prayer chez moi.

This has been good -- these are almost all fun things I've been doing -- but I'm just feeling exhausted. The week isn't over yet, but the bulk of the "responsible stuff" (events that require me to play an active, planning role) is now completed.

I'll also have a break on the train to Boston on Sunday, I suppose; I'll probably alternate between French grammar and napping.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Happiness Project

I recently read Gretchen Rubin's book, The Happiness Project. It's a slim volume to begin with, and she freely quotes from comments on her blog. Her particular technique for implementing happiness-boosting changes in her life (extensive charts to track how she is doing on dozens of resolutions day-by-day) is far from universal. And her good-natured husband comes out as a bit of a hero when you think about some of the character traits she is attempting to reform.

That said, I found the book helpful and interesting. The author has gone through a process of facing her faults and limitations, and figuring out why these changes are needed.

It's not easy to change one's own attitudes and habits, and she has found a method that works for her. While resolutions are most emphatically not my thing, I can see similarities between her structured technique and the discipline of daily prayer for a believer. Regular daily prayer likewise helps continually focus one's attention on one's intentions and areas of concern, in the context of a larger, purpose-giving goal; it can be bolstered in fellowship with other believers who can support, encourage and hold each other accountable for progress.

I also appreciate her exploration of the happiness literature on our behalf, and her honest (but thankfully, not excessively confessional) reports of the fits and starts on her journey to help increase happiness for herself and her family.

A former colleague of mine likes to say sometimes, "These are gems that I'm giving you." Cynics may find much to mock, but there are gems here for those who truly seek them.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Virgil's BBQ

Ning came to town! She and U-chan and I were all in the same dorm in Boston, and we used to meet up for meals almost every day, play mahjong as often as we could, and chat about this and that, etc. But I moved to NYC and then she moved to Taiwan, and one thing led to another, and I hadn't seen her in - oh, maybe an entire decade. Probably not since her graduation (I have a great picture of U-chan and Ning in their caps & gowns).

So for this rare reunion, accompanied by Utsuki's mom and husband, we went to Virgil's BBQ in midtown Manhattan.

Chris figured out what we should order: pulled pork (nice) and beef brisket (yum!). And a bunch of sides. Though I have to say, I miss Michael's beef brisket from the old days of Mike's Iron Chef competitions in Astoria.

None of us brought real cameras, so our iPhones and Blackberries coped as best they could with the indoor restaurant lighting. I removed the incredibly dark shadows from this one and made it black-and-white. I think it came out surprisingly well, considering it started life as a mass of indecipherable darkness.

In any event, Ning looks great, and seems to be doing well ... EXCEPT that she admitted she hasn't played mahjong since she returned to Taiwan. Grrr. I thought maybe she didn't have anyone to play with and was ready to cut her some slack -- but it turns out everyone knows how to play! Even her brother!!! Double grrr. There is really no excuse for this!!!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Lilacs, Cherry Blossoms & Tulips

Overcast, chilly day at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden:

Next To Normal

On Saturday, NEXT Ministries went to the Broadway show, "Next to Normal". It was a good show - amazingly powerful performances and a great production. Loved the music. And the voices. And the set. The plot and characters were interesting. At times it was very moving. And yet something about the show left me disappointed. It's a bit hard to pin down, since each component was well-executed, yet I have the sense that the whole was somehow less than the sum of its parts.

To some degree, it's because I couldn't quite shake the sense that the show's purpose, in large part, was didactic. You will become enlightened about mental illness!! That created some distance for me, took away some of the immediacy of the family's problems. At times, I felt like the clinical jargon was being sung too clearly, too straightforwardly. Yet I wouldn't want those fabulous voices to be muddier. Maybe I'd have preferred, perhaps, that more were left to the imagination? Or that the words had more poetry, more mystery? (It's hard with a contemporary play, dealing with contemporary issues, I suppose, because our everyday life lacks poetry - we're all foul-mouthed, self-aware realists now.)

Then too I found the ending - though relatively positive - somewhat disappointing. I didn't like labeling the husband as the co-dependent enabler type. (Oh, cliché!) And maybe because the divergent results for the two parallel relationships seemed a bit forced to me. As if the dynamics in the two relationships are so similar, that only one of them can be "allowed" to make it. Or else as if the play were designed with the thought that American audiences don't like totally bleak endings, so we'll give them one successful relationship and one failed relationship - and it won't be the one they expect! Maybe that's the problem for me in some sense, that I didn't see a reason for the young lovers' relationship to work out where the mature lovers' relationship doesn't.

As far as the plot twists go, I tried to predict them, but luckily missed the big ones - it's wonderful to be surprised! After the first one was revealed, I wanted to see the opening scenes again to see how that played out with my newfound knowledge (same reaction as for The Sixth Sense). In fact, the only things I guessed right were that the daughter would become addicted to drugs and that the husband might be able to see the son as well - those are much more minor.

Hmmm. But now, because I saw that one, I have two more plays on my radar screen - The Screwtape Letters and Love's Labour's Lost.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Chelsea Visit

Today, I went to Sarabeth's on Central Park South for a celebratory birthday brunch. Ironically, I'd never heard of this institution before last Saturday - and now I've gone twice in 8 days. Although last Saturday I went to a different location (Sarabeth's on the Upper East Side) at a different time of day (tea time) after enjoying the Curious George exhibit at the Jewish Museum.

Afterward, a friend and I caught the Lego exhibit at the Agora gallery in Chelsea. I heard about this exhibit on Above the Law because the sculptor, Nathan Sawaya, was a lawyer. (Or perhaps "is a lawyer"? Not sure about the verb tense here; he may still "be" a lawyer, even if he is no longer practicing law. Once a lawyer, always a lawyer, as they say.)

It was a much smaller exhibit than I'd anticipated, and I'd already seen most of the sculptures before in photos. It was really cool to see them in person, though. There's a wonderful duality to the sculptures; on the one hand, you can readily see that they are made of blocks and that everything is literally stepped. But on the other hand, many of them give a remarkable illusion of fluidity. (Think waves vs. particles.) The contour lines or ridges in muscles, or even on the side of the head, in a work like "My Boy" (which I couldn't help seeing as a reverse Pieta) are incredibly cool. The faces are often surprisingly expressive -- even on "Think", which seemed a little glib at first, until I squatted down to look at it eye to eye. My favorite work was "Red," a brightly colored torso with arms reaching up. You'll never guess what color it was. I'm about 80% sure it's a figure rising out of the ground, although I can also easily imagine it as a figure being sucked into the ground and flailing for something to hold on to. Most of the works are sculptures, but there are also three flat, pseudo-monochrome pieces (just white, black, and shades of blue) which look like they were created from photographs. All very cool, but rather pricey.

We took a look around the rest of the gallery as well. I really liked these two works by the German painter Michael Sky:

There was something about the soft gray and the thin lines and (in the tree picture) the intricate working of the branches, like neural networks. Just beautiful.

A lot of the pieces were interesting, but one lovely work by Adriana Cora reminded me (in a very modern way) of a mille fleurs tapestry, and some of the works by VéroniKaH were particularly striking.

As we looked for a way to the highline, I admired this building:

Then on 23rd Street, this tree seemed at first to be covered with fungi, but they are flowers blooming directly on the trunk:

Afterward, I met up with U-chan and enjoyed the rooftop sculptures surrounding Madison Square Park. They are apparently the creation of Antony Gormley, as part of an installation called "Event Horizon". (The official website says they're on display from 3/26-8/15, but I saw some news items dated 3/10 advising folks that these are not real people and they will not jump.)

Supposedly there are 31 life-sized figures cast from the artist's body. (I didn't see that many, but I was primarily enjoying the sunshine & conversation.)

Sunday, April 04, 2010


I hosted Easter at my place again this year, with 15 people all told. We were on borrowed chairs and floor cushions as well as my normal accoutrement of stools and chairs, clumped around cobbled-together tables. It was a blast.

Jee brought some eggs she'd hand-dyed with organic dyes; I'm glad I checked with her about whether they were primarily for eating or decoration. Turns out they're hard-boiled and very much needed to be refrigerated. To save space, I put them in with my 3 regular eggs:

Although I have to admit their original "nest" was pretty cool:

I decorated the mantel with care, but I knew the Easter Bunny was not going to make it down the chimney this year. The eggs in this picture were a gift from my mom many years ago; let's just say, these eggs are purely decorative. She blew them out while they were raw, then glued fabric on them. Pretty darn cool. She also made the fabric -- and slightly cubist -- bunny rabbit on the left.

What I didn't realize until well into the evening was that my Easter Island heads were actually rather appropriate to the occasion as well! Here's another closeup of eggy gifts from my mom:

This was a gift from Seth many moons ago, on his return from New Zealand. He had insisted on meeting me for lunch the day after he got back -- but was so jetlagged that he was an hour late! The waiter gave him heck for it, which I thought was awfully sweet. I also liked the sheep (even though we didn't have lamb this year).

The menu was Cuban ropa vieja (traditional beef recipe from Oprah's magazine O, but I threw in a sweet potato as well just for kicks), chicken ropa vieja (from allrecipes. com), and chickpea masala (also from O). People loved the beef dish, but only the chickpea masala dish was finished up. Then again, I did cook 7 pounds of meat - there was no way my guests were finishing all that in one evening!

U-chan and E-san lingered after everyone else had gone, and it felt like the party was just beginning! It's so good to spend time with friends.

Friday, April 02, 2010


Of my two live operas this season, I definitely preferred tonight's Hamlet.

I have to confess I'd lazily assumed it was a Verdi opera (heck, he wrote Macbeth, Otello, and Falstaff - all of which I love), but it was by a French composer, Ambroise Thomas. Oops.

It was lovely - powerful performances, enough drama to make up for the discomfort of the nosebleed seats.*

The women (Gertrude and Ophélie) were especially good. The role of Ophélie was originally to be played by Natalie Dessay, whom I'd seen in Lucia di Lammermoor, and that was one of the reasons I chose this opera. Her replacement, Marlis Petersen, was amazing as well.

I might sèche mon cours on April 24 to see this again in the movies.

FN* After the pleasure of watching the simulcast of Carmen at BAM -- such comfortable seats! such a great view, with no one blocking me! and backstage interviews w/ Renée Fleming! -- it's even harder to put up with the rather painful Family Circle option. I now suspect it's the intense physical discomfort from the ergonomically-incorrect seats, compounded by the strain of trying to see the distant stage around or over the person in front of me, that has caused me to get so drowsy when I see operas in the Family Circle.