Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Post-Birthday Bash

(I apologize in advance for the amount of photos of me in this post.)

The birthday is over. The Beach house is now quiet. Thank you all for your great participation! It was a really fun party for me to host! Y'all are great guests!

So I bailed earlier than I expected Friday evening, but with good reason. My husband threw me a huge surprise party. Though I expected to take a brief blog break for dinner with my parents, it turned into a weekend-long celebration.

For the last year he has been plotting this party, which, until I was thrust in the middle of, I had not even the least inkling of. I went, unsuspecting, to dinner at my parents' house. I walked in to find a room full of some of my most favorite people in the world: people who live all over the United States, some of whom I haven't seen in years.

That's right. He gathered my best friends from the past 30 years in one room for my 40th birthday.

So Friday was dinner and catching up with friends. Until 4 in the morning. Saturday we were up early for brunch, and then into DC for a late lunch on the Potomac. The day was incredible. 78 degrees, sunny, a warm breeze. It was the absolute perfect day for sitting out eating crab and watching sailboats and windsurfers and airplanes landing at National Airport. Here's the hubs and me:

After that, we headed downtown for a private tour of the West Wing of the White House. Does it get much better than that?? I can never get used to the connections he has. He will always be that army tanker I fell in love with 17 years ago.

We started at the Old Executive Office Building: a gorgeous old building where most of the staff of the White House works, along with key personnel, as well as the place many of the president's meetings take place. (The White House, and in particular the West Wing, is actually pretty small, with only two small meeting rooms).

Here is my husband and I on the balcony where a very famous photo of President Roosevelt was taken. I have a photo of the photo, but I thought I'd spare you that!

That balcony is right outside of this room:

If I have the history right, this room used to be the Vice President's Office until just recent years. During the Johnson and Nixon years, it was also used by the President instead of the Oval Office for daily use, the feeling that the Oval Office was too ceremonial and formal. It's now used as a meeting room.

The architecture is incredible. I have lots of photos of incredible hallways and intricate hinges and ornate moldings, but this is my favorite: a grand four story circular staircase that ended at the top in a fantastic dome.

You take these stairs out the OEOB:

and across the alley to the back entrance of the West Wing:

I am sad to say my photo tour ends here, as cameras aren't allowed in the West Wing. But we got to see the Situation Room, which was beyond cool, and the kitchen, as well as the two meeting rooms which I recognized from every movie every made that involves the President.

We saw the Rose Garden and, of course, the Oval Office. Amazing, really, is all I can say. The hubs told me to drop my earring so he could hunt around the Resolute Desk for the hidden panel, but we didn't get that close to the famous desk. :) We did see the photos of the Obamas on the credenza, though.

Oh, and the Obamas. All four of them. Walking the dog in the Rose Garden.

As soon as allowed, the cameras came back out. Here we are at the other entrance:

We were allowed to have cameras in the press room, though. That figures, eh?

And here is my favorite man, looking ever the part of the president:

From beach house to White House. What a way to bring in a new decade of my life.

Friday, June 26, 2009

My Birthday Blog Bash!!!!!!!!


Welcome to the Maine Beach House! If you haven't been here before, this is my dream home I escape to with my writing group when we're in need of a little whine... ooops! I mean wine. And want to gab. About writing things. Or girl things. Or just laugh a bit. We laugh a lot here.

Could there be a better place, then, for my fortieth birthday bash?

I spared no effort in cleaning it for you, so come in, grab a fruity refreshing drink and join the party!

I made lots of little h'ordeurvey things too. Feel free to grab some on your way by.

That looks like a lot of raw fishy stuff on top there. Maybe you'd rather have something fried?

Mmmmm.... Spring rolls!
I think I'll take one of those Martini glasses with shrimp cocktail. Yum! In fact, I might take more than one...

Shall we retire to my favorite place in the house? The porch! Isn't this to die for? I even bought a new table for out here so we could eat here if we wanted. Off to the right you can see the ocean - that would be the Atlantic. Off to the left are the gardens. I won't be offended if you want to wander off there for a little bit and enjoy the gorgeous flowers. They don't even bother the most sensitive of allergies! Blog gardens are nice that way.

I know most of you are already sneaking around trying to find the library. Fine. It's over there.

There's a great comfy couch to sit and read, but don't even go hunting around the desk trying to find my WIP. It's hidden. :)

Since it's such a perfect day (it's always a perfect day in blogland), you might want to head down to the pool, too. I've got some fluffy towels, and extra swim suits in the pool house if you need them.

I started the grill up. Are you hungry after all that activity? Nothing better on a warm summer day than some barbecue!

Of course, if you are a little weirded out by the heads on those fishes (really! now why didn't I chop those off before I put them on the grill??? Oh yeah! I don't know how to clean fish...) Perhaps we should just stick with a good steak . Can't go wrong with that...

I suggest pairing that with a nice red wine. If that's your thing. I know some of you are wary of the red-wine-headache. I'm pretty sure blog wine is safe, but I'll understand if you'd rather not.

Of course, if you'd rather have something a little less fancy, a good hamburger is always available.

I'm not really a beer drinker myself, but I hear that's great with burgers on a warm summer day, so I stocked the fridge for those of you who like it.

I think I'll stick with my favorite:

Ah! Refreshing! I think I'll take one of those steaks and an ice-cold iced tea... with lots of lemon!!

If you are still worried about Mad Cow thing, I stopped by the Farmer's Market too, so there are plenty of fresh veggies to nibble on.

And, of course, fruit salad. All organic. It took me a long time to find one - I mean make one - without bananas. I detest bananas. And since it's my birthday, I left them out.

If the porch is full, feel free to find a spot in the conservatory. I love how the sun fills this room! It's a perfect place to relax with a margarita, too!

Oh look! It's birthday blog magic! The kitchen is clean! Looks like I get out of doing dishes tonight! Who's up for a walk on the beach?

Isn't the sunset gorgeous on this beach? What? You expected to see an actual photo of the sun setting over the water? This is the Atlantic. The sun rises here.

But you know what's really cool about this photo? It's actually taken at the beach behind my dream beach house!

It gets a little chilly when the sun goes down. If you stay long enough, we could always set a fire in the living room and retire there for dessert.

Anyone for bite size desserts?

Or shall we dive right into the birthday cake?

Well, go ahead! Grab a glass of champagne there and let's have a toast!

To another decade! To all my blog buddies who have gotten me through this year! To us!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Consider this your invitation...

This weekend is my FORTIETH birthday. The big 4-0.

Hard to believe!

So I've stocked up on antibiotics, rehydrated, and am busy scrubbing down the Maine beach house for a huge birthday blog bash. There will be ocean views, champagne, and shrimp, along with some scrumptious desserts. After all, there's no trouble too big for a blog bash!

So come back tomorrow to visit, drop in to say hi, drink a glass of wine, sit on the porch and watch the sun rise or set over the ocean, or slink about the library snooping at the books on the shelves. It's all good at the beach house!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Macro Me

I'm sick. Sick, sick, sick. So sick even my skin hurts. My head is going to explode. I can't breathe. I want to crawl under the covers and sleep the next five days away.

So instead of trying to be informative or witty or interesting, or whatever it is I'm trying to do here on this blog, I'm leaving you with some of the photography I took at the New York Botanical Gardens.

A little beauty is good for the soul, right?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What am I reading?

So you asked, and I'm obliging.

Last week I went to a gala with my husband - an impressive array of important Indian and American politicos converging in DC for some great, important meeting that is way beyond me.

It could have been an incredible bore, but instead, the key-note speaker was Vikas Swarup, the writer of the book Q&A, the book that the movie Slumdog Millionaire was based on.

He was an amazing speaker! I laughed so hard, because he talked more about being a writer than about Indian/American cooperation.

Here is my favorite part of his speech:

"They asked me if I could have ever imagined my book as a movie, and I said, 'I could never have imagined my book as a book!' "

And he told this joke:

"A writer dies and is met by an angel who tells him he gets to choose between going to heaven and hell. He asks to take a tour of each before deciding. They first go to hell, where people are bound by chains to desks, where, in incredible heat, they sweat and slave over writing novels, constantly whipped and derided for their lousy writing. The writer says, 'I think I'd like to see heaven. This looks awful!' So the angel takes him to heaven, where he sees exactly the same scene. 'This is exactly the same!' the writer exclaims. 'Oh no,' says the angel. 'Here, they are published.' "

He wrote Q&A during a few weeks in England where he was doing diplomatic duty and his family had already gone on to India ahead of him. He'd thought about this book for a while but never gotten down to writing it, but left alone in a foreign city, he finally found the time. He said, "Usually, behind a successful man is a great wife, but for writers, behind a successful man is an absent wife!"

So I went out and bought the book. It's a great read. I love the unique structure of it. I haven't seen the movie, but I plan to watch it this weekend when I'm done reading.

The other two books I bought this weekend are both non-fiction. I don't read a whole lot of non-fiction. Percentage-wise, it's probably pretty low. But I love true-life adventure stories, like Alive, Into Thin Air, and The Perfect Storm. I have read just about every book out there about climbing Everest, and Kraukauer's Eiger Dreams is high on my list for this summer.

But I came across a review for Crazy for the Storm last week, and I couldn't wait to read it. It's the memoir of a man who, as a young boy, was in an airplane crash in the mountains with his dad, his dad's girlfriend, and a pilot. His dad and the pilot died on impact, and he chose to hike out of the snowy mountains with the very injured girlfriend. She died on the way, but he survived, thanks to the experiences he'd had with his dad in extreme sports.

Funny enough, it's structured very much like Q&A. I was sucked in by the photo of him on his dad's back surfing when he was only months old. Who does that? And by the guilt he has felt all these years that the girlfriend died after he convinced her to leave the plane and hike out.

The last book on my nightstand is Columbine. It's morose, I suppose. I asked for it for my birthday and I got lots of raised eyebrows. But I've been fascinated with the book since long before it came out. I stumbled on the cover artist a while back and read about how he decided upon this design, which led me to the substance of the book.

I am most interested in how our perceptions of who the killers were, how the media portrayed them, is all wrong. I think I'm interested in this for a great part because I see the effects of Columbine on my own kids' schooling. The security, the endless anti-bullying campaigning, the sensitivity training they are getting in public school that came about because of the erroneous belief that Dylan and Eric were loners scorned by their classmates and relegated to the fringes of the school.

I think it will be a good thinking book - one I will want to talk about when I'm done.

So that's my reading list for the next week or so.

What have you been reading? Anything good to recommend?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Today, I'm Just A Reader

It's been so long since I posted last!! Wow, life has gotten away from me in the last week. The kids finished school, my daughter had a birthday party, and our family escaped to Busch Gardens for a few days of family fun time. I've been in computer/blogging/writing/reading withdrawals!

I spent a few hours today wandering Borders looking for a book. I realized about half and hour into it that I was enjoying it as a reader instead of a writer, for the first time in over two years. Instead of wondering where my book would go, instead of thumbing through the first pages of the new releases wondering what in the first paragraphs caught the attention of an agent, instead of fighting the feelings of butterflies in the stomach, thinking this is going to be me someday soon...

Instead of that, I just looked at books. I wrote lists of books I wanted to buy and read just because they looked interesting, and not because they were repped by an agent I liked, or because they fit a certain genre, or because they were the books touted on blogs I felt I should read.

For the first time in a long time, the pressure was gone.

I suppose that's both good and bad, but it is what it is. For the first time in a long time, I am not close to being on those shelves. Not even in my head. The book that is done, that is still on submission with three agents, is done for me. I'm putting it away, and not holding my breath.

And while I'm not going to stop writing, I'm going to give myself a little slack this summer. I'm going to spend more time with my kids, more time reading, less stress trying to write the next best seller. After all, who says I have to be done with a new book in six months? Who says in six months agents will be ready to take on more risks, and publishers willing to publish more books? There is, for this time in my life, no deadlines. I might as well enjoy that.

I brought home two brand new books that I could barely get in the door before cracking open. And now I'm off to sit in bed and read one until my eyes can barely stay open. I am so excited to make time to read again. (I think it's only been two weeks since I finished the last one, but it seems like forever ago!!)

And I found, while picking up all those great books in the store and falling in love with the reading again, that I was excited about writing again too.

Monday, June 15, 2009

New York, New York

It's been one week since I got back from my weekend in New York. I am finally feeling like I am settling back into my own life, and wondering why the city discombobulated me that way.

It's taken a week to process even a fraction of the hundreds of photos I took there. Some turned out really great; some were passable. A lot stunk. Which is what happens when you take seven hundred photos. Frankly, I wouldn't want them all to be great because what would I do with seven hundred awesome photos??

I left on Friday with my sister on our first-ever sister outing, the first time I've gone away without my own husband and kids ...ever. We packed the car with tunes, food, camera equipment, Starbucks coffee, and more shoes than we could possibly wear in one weekend.

(This is us in Central Park, looking remarkably fresh considering... We didn't get a photo of us in the car, although we talked about doing it.)

Technically, the city is about five hours away, give or take depending on whether you're looking at the GPS or at MapQuest. Unfortunately for us, it was storming hard the entire way and it took well over seven hours. Fortunately, we had tunes, food, Starbucks, and a lot of catching up to do. I won't go into standing out in hurricane like weather trying to put gas in the car, and then having to stop on the NJ turnpike because I'd forgotten to put the gas cap back on in my hurry to get out of the rain. :)

But not even rain could deter us!

We arrived at Grand Central drenched, starved, and laughing like teenagers. We wanted to eat something authentically New York - at this point roasted peanuts from a vendor would have done - but at ten o'clock everything was suspiciously quiet. We walked to Times Square and ended up at the very chic and New York Hard Rock Cafe (that statement is dripping in sarcasm).

Even that was mostly empty. C'mon New Yorkers! Where is the night life?? Are you afraid of a little rain??

By the time we got the subway back to our hotel, the shuttle had stopped running and we had to walk the two miles - in the rain and our high heels - back to the hotel. This actually proved to be much funnier than you might have expected. Looking back, maybe it wasn't too smart or safe, but at the time, it was adventurous, and that was what the weekend was all about.

So Saturday dawned gorgeous, fully making up for the rain, and I traded my stilettos in for sneakers and denim, and headed in to Central Park to meet one of my most favorite non-related people.

This is Tom:

Tom is a friend from way back at Penn State - who taught me everything I know about theatre lighting (which is annoyingly a lot, if you ask my husband). He lives in New York when he's not on tour somewhere with someone famous, and agreed to show us around the city.

I have to say here that I completely warned him that we were armed with cameras and were prepared to use them, and yet he came anyway, which is just a testament to how amazingly patient he is.

So we started off in Central Park, where, despite several trips to the city, I have never been. It looks like this:

This is the first pond you come to. I think my sister and I spent 20 minutes right here taking photos of building and birds and flowers and the pond. Tom waited patiently and then nudged us forward, saying, "There are lots of other birds and flowers and building scenes further in which we are never going to get to if you don't keep moving!"

So we did. And he was right. There was lots more!!

This (below) is the amphiteater in the park. There was a crew loading in equipment for a show so the entire bottom of this picture, had I bothered to take the whole scene, would have been trucks and power cords and lighting and people. Tom gave us a good safety lesson in how to handle power cords that are sitting in rain puddles that might have been beneficial to the bozos loading the equipment.

There were also a ton of weddings everywhere we went. At least, wedding photographers. And brides. This was so gorgeous I couldn't help but take the shot myself. It is probably my favorite of everything I took that weekend.

We hadn't know Tom would be able to be our unofficial tour guide when we planned to spend the day in Central Park, but by the time we wound our way through, I was so glad he'd been there to not only show us the best places, but to get us out again.

Of course, here is how the conversation actually went:

Me: Thanks so much for taking us through the park!! We would have totally been lost without you!!

Tom: No you wouldn't have. You would never have gotten past 200 yards in!

Which is, so sadly, probably true.

We saw lots of other parts of the city, too, and I loved most the things I don't see where I live.

Like lots of taxis.

And lots of tall buildings. I love those tall buildings.

And the subways. I loved the subways. I totally felt like a local getting around on them, but like a geeky tourist taking photos of the stations!

But aren't these totally gorgeous!!?

Saturday night we went to Carnegie to see my mom sing. Mostly we saw the feet of the orchestra members. Did I mention we were in the front row?

Still, there were there, and when we saw my mom afterwards she was so high on the whole experience I might have suspected she was taking something illegal. Also, she stayed awake until one a.m. to do dinner at Tavern On The Green, which I think makes it definitely possible she was on something. :)

We traveled back to Times Square after Carnegie to take in the night lights and back to the hotel at the early time of 3a.m. Yes, we walked the two miles again. Barefoot. Man, those Carnegie heels were KILLING me!!

Sunday was the botanical gardens, which was AMAZING! I'll post those photos later as they deserve their own page!

And then our last stop before heading out:

The Brooklyn Bridge.

What an incredible day it was! The bridge was mobbed with people, but it turns out if you point the camera up, they don't show up in the photos!

And here is what I looked like most of the time:

Maybe I couldn't actually live there, but I definitely could have stayed longer.

Maybe next time.