30 September 2007

Year of the Blog

Yes, I have indeed been blogging for a year. Time flies, huh? The actual anniversary of my introductory post was yesterday, but I was sorta busy. There were haircuts, errands, dinner with the Mrs. to celebrate our ninth wedding anniversary. Before I knew it, it was after midnight, and at that point, being tired, I decided I might just as well wait until morning.

In fact, one thing I've noticed over the past year is that there tends to be a lag time between events and my blogging about them. I think it's just my style: I like to digest and filter things, and it's not like what I'm covering hard news or anything. I'd like to think this process makes me a better writer, which was one of my original goals when I started.

I have learned a lot through this experience. I was never much of a journal keeper, so this is the most sustained writing I have ever done. It's been beneficial to me in many ways, and what has been probably the biggest surprise to me is how thoroughly satisfying it is to do this on a regular basis. I'm enjoying it far more than I would have expected.

In looking back, I think I have remained true to my original ideas of what I wanted to accomplish, and at the same time I have added dimensions to the scope of this blog that I would not originally have considered, to its benefit and mine. I hope that next year at this time, this will be even more true. Thanks for coming along on this ride.

27 September 2007

Live in Concert

I was able to nab a pair of tickets to see Bruce Springsteen when they went on sale on Monday. I'm excited about the show, largely because I've never seen Bruce live. But I did experience some guilt and hesitation before making the purchase, because the tickets were so expensive.

A hundred bucks is a lot of money for a concert. When I went to see my first rock concert, which was Queen at the Providence Civic Center back in 1977, I think the ticket cost $8.50, which seems like a pretty solid deal in retrospect. I have long had an unofficial ceiling of what I am willing to pay for a concert ticket, somewhere in the vicinity of $50. Normally this amount is only exceeded by the biggest acts at the biggest venues, so it hasn't been much of an issue. I've passed on seeing U2 one or two times in the past decade because I didn't feel like it was worth $75, and I'd seen them two or three times back in the 80s anyway.

So when the Springsteen shows were announced with tickets priced at $65 and $95, plus Ticketbastard's outrageous fees and "service" charges, at first I balked. I can afford it, but that isn't really the point. Would it be worth it?

I know that Broadway show tickets broke the $100 barrier a while back, but I don't necessarily have a problem with that because, even though I don't care for musicals and would be very unlikely to go to the sort of big, elaborate, mainstream show that is Broadway's bread and butter, I understand how expensive they are to produce, and how many performers and crew members are required to stage those shows night after night. Even though a concert tour also requires support staff, to my mind it just isn't on the same level of magnitude.

Then I looked at it from the other side. I've been a fan of Bruce's music for thirty years. (Before I started working, I used to babysit for friends of my parents, and once I accepted a copy of Darkness on the Edge of Town as payment for an evening's babysitting.) Since I've never gone to one of his shows, I've never spent money on tickets to one of his shows, so after all this time a hundred bucks doesn't seem like such a big deal. (A bit of rationalization, I know.) And the seats are excellent, right at the front corner of the stage (the venue's web site has a cool tool that lets you see the view from your seat), but a few rows up, high enough so I won't be craning my neck the whole time. I'm sure it's going to be an excellent show, and I'm sure when it's over I'll feel like it was worth it. But I probably won't do it again, at least not for a while.

25 September 2007

Got Milk?

A little while ago I went next door to the cafeteria to get some coffee. I had sworn off going there a while back, and I have not gotten any food from there in close to a year, but I'm finding these days that, instead of stopping for coffee on the way into work, I'm coming into the office and then going to get coffee about an hour later, which obviously limits my choices. Also, the cafeteria's coffee has improved (I'm not sure why), and if you bring a travel cup to use, they give a decent discount (around 25%) as a sort of reward for not using another paper cup, heat sleeve, and plastic lid.

As I was adding cream to my coffee, a student-looking young woman appeared next to me and asked, "Do you know if the milk is hot?" I had no idea, but I suspected not. I pointed her in the direction of the dining-services person in charge of the coffee and its associated fixings. Only then did it occur to me that her question was somewhat curious. Hot milk? Is this a standard option at the fancy coffee places I don't patronize? Was she trying to fall asleep? What sort of school had she attended previously where hot milk would be considered typical dining-hall coffee fare? I'm left to wonder.

Wrong Way

Driving through Medford Square last night around 7:15, on the one-way section of route 60 westbound between city hall and the light at Main Street, we encountered a car driving toward us the wrong way. Several cars honked at the oncoming vehicle. As we passed, we saw that the driver had her cell phone up to her left ear. Maybe she was trying to get directions?

24 September 2007

Mirror, Mirror

I was in the shower this morning, trying to think of something to write about, when I realized the answer was literally in front of my face.

See, I'm a shower shaver. I started about two years ago. I have very sensitive skin and used to suffer nicks all the time, but since I started shaving in the shower, I almost never cut myself anymore, because the moisture and water vapor helps keep my pores open, resulting in smoother shaves. I know doing this uses more water, but I only have to shave a couple of times a week; if it was a daily necessity, I would be more hesitant.

If you're going to shave in the shower, obviously you have to have a mirror, preferably one that resists fogging. I had one of these that I had bought from the Improvements catalog web site, but recently I found that it was losing its non-foggingness. I felt like I should get another one, but I didn't want to buy the same thing only to have it happen again down the road, so I wasn't exactly expending a lot of effort to find a replacement

So a few weeks ago, I found myself in Bed Bath & Beyond, a place I don't venture too often. I was looking for something; I don't quite remember what it was, but I think I found it. I also found this non-fogging mirror for only $10, which I figured was cheap enough. To my surprise, it's much better than the one it replaced. It really stays clear, it's not distorted like the old one was, and the suction cups are stronger so it doesn't fall off the wall. I like it so much that I'm going to go back and buy another one and put it aside, so if this new one also loses its ability to stay fog-free a couple of years from now (which I suspect it will), I'll have another one at the ready.

18 September 2007

Shop 'Til You Nap

Being a dedicated shopper, I had to get out to Natick this past weekend to check out the hugely expanded mall (let's just establish now that I'm never going to call it the "Natick Collection," and I don't think most others will either). I wanted to go last weekend, but the Mrs. dislikes crowds more than I do, so she wasn't having any of that opening-weekend madness.

We probably could have waited a little longer before going, because there are still about a dozen stores (out of more than 70) that are not yet open. I'm sure the opening day for the expansion was firmly established a long time ago, so it's a little surprising that so many retailers would miss the guaranteed publicity and crowds generated by the opening. But none of those were stores I was interested in, so I didn't feel I was missing anything.

The addition is nearly as large as the rest of the mall. If you come off the Pike you'll approach the mall from the back, which means the first thing you'll see is Neiman Marcus; you might want to refrain from eating beforehand, because the outside of the building looks like some sort of regurgitated Frank Gehry nightmare that could cause you to lose your lunch.

Many of the stores (NM, Gucci, Vuitton, Burberry) are Metrowest outposts of high-end stores already in Boston's Copley Place or Back Bay, but that wasn't why I wanted to go, since I don't shop in those places anyway. My primary interest was in visiting several retailers that previously had no presence in this area, and who don't (yet? ever?) sell their stuff online. I'm highly bored with the stores I already had access to around here; one of the reasons I was excited to visit Uniqlo in New York earlier this year was because it was a store I hadn't been to before.

I was eager to see fresh merchandise, and I had hopes of finding some interesting new stuff. And yet, yesterday I came away empty-handed. Here are some brief thoughts on these new-to-us stores:

Zara: Zara originated in Spain and has hundreds of stores on four continents, but is relatively new to the US market. Their business model is somewhat similar to that of H&M, in that new merchandise is constantly flowing into the stores, but from what I saw, I would say Zara's stuff is of higher quality. Stylewise, the closest reference points are probably Club Monaco and Banana Republic. Men's suits were only $259 (I didn't check to see if that was for both pieces or just the jackets, but they were all displayed with both pieces on the same hanger). I noticed a number of non-English-speaking couples shopping and buying, which tells me that Zara is known to a lot of people from other parts of the world, by reputation if not by experience, and that people have been waiting for them to open here.

Everything seemed very small; I tried on a vest I liked that was supposedly a large, but it was way too small for me, and there was only the one piece in that style, so I couldn't compare it to another size. Even the stacks of pants seemed like they were made for very, very skinny Eurodudes (they are thinner than us porky Americans, right?). In general, the clothes were far more dressy than what I generally wear to work. Not that I don't like dressing up, I just don't often have cause to do so, and when I need to, I already have plenty of appropriate clothing. I suspect this will be a store I will go into, take a spin around, and leave. The Mrs. assessed the women's section: she wasn't impressed. She said the higher-priced items didn't seem like they were of good enough quality to justify their prices.

Ruehl: In an effort to be all things to all demographic groups, Abercrombie & Fitch has started Ruehl to try to attract customers who have aged out of their other brands' target markets. They are attempting to conjure a hipster Greenwich Village vibe: the outside of the store has been made to look like a brownstone (ooh, how cool!), there are only two narrow entrances, and the name appears only on one awning on the far left, so it would be easy to look at this store from out in the mall and have no idea what it is, which is kind of their intent.

When I went inside, I was greeted by a faux-cheerful college-age gal. I felt like she should have been handing out candles or glow-sticks, because Ruehl is without doubt the darkest retail store I have ever been in, and that includes the gargoyle place on Newbury Street. I almost expected to find couples making out in the dim corners; indeed, instead of A&F's trademark oversize, black and white photos of naked guys, Ruehl has oversize, black and white photos of naked guys and naked girls together.

The clothes are on tables with pin-spots pointing down on them, or in vitrine-like cubbyholes in the walls that are lit from within. The walls are painted black, the wood flooring is medium-dark, and the doorways from one room to the next are narrow and dim, which only enhances the sense of disorientation and claustrophobia. If you stand near the front of the store and look toward the back, it looks like it could be one of those fun-house places where the ceilings become too low for adults to stand upright. Oh, the clothes? A lot of $80 shirts, for one thing. They were made of very nice, substantial cotton and, as far as I could tell without a flashlight, were devoid of any logos, but I don't spend that much for my shirts. Maybe when they start marking things down...

Martin+Osa: Like A&F's Ruehl, M+O is a concoction of American Eagle aimed at older customers, but that's where the similarity ends. Whereas Ruehl seems like merely a more expensive and slightly more grown-up variant of its parent brand, you would never know this store has anything to do with AE. Apparently Martin and Osa Johnson were real people, world travelers and adventurers in the early decades of the 20th century, and they are serving as the inspiration for the stores' design (woodsy lodge + Zen garden) as well as the clothing. That's swell, but does a clothing store really need a "back story," as it's described on their web site? Did I hear someone say "marketing overkill"?

However, some of the clothes at M+O were things I could actually see myself wearing. There's a (slightly) rugged, outdoorsy touch that reminded me a little of Orvis, but a without that brand's stuffy-CEO-weekend-wear vibe. I wasn't wildly excited about anything, but it feels like they have potential. Also, it seemed like there was a lot of open space in the store; this may be by design, or it may be that not all the merchandise has arrived yet, but either way the offerings seemed a bit thin. I'll check back in a month or so, when stores start bringing in their holiday-season collections, which tend to have slightly more distinctive items than the regular collections.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Nordstrom, even though it doesn't quite fall in the same category as any of these stores. Nordstrom is not new to New England; they opened a store in Providence several years back. But this is the first one in Massachusetts, and it's a good bit closer (although I can get to the Providence Place mall via public transit, whereas I can only get to the Natick mall by car). I don't buy a lot of clothing at Nordstrom, but over the years I have bought a few things, and the shopping experience is always so pleasant that it makes me want to go back. There are plenty of stores that could learn from the way Nordstrom treats customers; it makes me wonder why they don't.

17 September 2007

A Word of Thanks from Your Host

I'd like to take a moment to say hello and thanks to everyone who stopped by for the first time last week. Adam over at Universal Hub has linked to my posts several times, including last week's bit about the cupcake place that brought a lot of new visitors; a link in a posting on the same topic on LiveJournal's Davis Square page did the same.

In fact, I had over 400 visitors last week, making it my best week yet, for which I'm very appreciative--it's nice to know someone is reading (besides my friends). The cupcake critique also got more comments than anything else I've yet written, so please keep commenting as well. (And to "George Bush": I rejected your comment because it was offensive, but I suspect you already knew that.)

I don't know if all of you will keep coming back, but I certainly hope so. I suppose it's really up to me to make it worth your time. My one-year blogiversary is approaching, and I am pondering ways to celebrate. To that end, I welcome your suggestions.

Regular programming will resume shortly...

13 September 2007

T Time

Some randon, T-themed observations:

--I guess the T has decided that summer is over, because it seems like the Orange Line trains I rode on today didn't have their air conditioning on. It wasn't hot outside, but it was still warm enough on the trains that the AC would have been nice.

--Since the bus I take in the morning runs at fixed intervals, I tend to catch the same bus (unless I'm running late) and thus I see a lot of the same people from day to day. One guy who has been on my usual bus for the past couple of weeks emanates a funkiness that suggests that either he or his clothing, or possibly both, have not been cleaned in a while. This isn't unusual on the T, but since he's on the same bus most days, it stands to reason that he's going somewhere specific, and he does not otherwise have the appearance of someone in indigent circumstances. If he's going to a job, his coworkers must be starting to feel a little uncomfortable.

--Remember a few months ago when the T announced that they were going to try to keep stations cooler this summer by installing water misters in some locations? So, did they ever do it? I saw a few stand fans around Downtown Crossing this afternoon, and it made me realize that I didn't hear anything else about it after that initial story. If they did do it, did anyone feel like it made a noticeable difference? If they didn't do it, why not? I tend to go through downtown without getting off the train, so it may have happened and I just hadn't been around to notice.

11 September 2007

Doggie Styling

The dog was looking a little dingy and smelling a little doggy, so on Sunday we paid a visit to LaundroMutt, the dog-washing place near Fresh Pond in Cambridge.

I know that some people are quite content to bathe their pets at home, in the tub or the yard. Our outside faucets only deliver cold water, and since greyhounds have very little body fat and a thinner coat than a typical dog's, they get cold very quickly, even on a hot day. As for the tub, well, she's kind of big to wrangle in and out, plus we don't have a hand-held spray or any other way of directing the water.

This is why LaundroMutt exists: because many dog owners don't have the necessary facilities, or it's just easier to take care of the dog-cleaning somewhere other than your home.

The tubs for larger dogs have ramps so you don't have to lift your dog up and over the side. Once your dog is aboard, a staff member slides the ramp out of the way underneath, and inserts a removable piece of the tub wall to block the opening. There are vinyl aprons to protect your clothing. You can bring your own shampoo, or they will supply it for you. You can adjust the water temperature to your dog's liking, and use the hose to spray the water where it's needed.

After the bath, you can opt for a hot-air blow-dry, but on a previous visit London did not like that one bit, so we went with the standard method: they give you a towel and a chamois, just like you'd use to dry your car after washing it. Of course, the dog is going to shake itself silly at the first opportunity, regardless of how well you dry it.

The basic wash-and-dry without the hot-air dryer costs $15. That would probably be an indulgence if we were doing it monthly, but we brush her thoroughly a couple of times a week, and we were told by a professional trainer that dogs, if brushed regularly, do not need to be bathed very frequently, as long as they stay out of nasty stuff. Our dog does not get opportunities to roll around in mud or do other messy things. (This might be a disappointment to her, but since she can't talk, we'll never know for sure.) So, for the two or three trips we make per year, it's totally worth it, and as I like to point out, it's also supporting a local business.

LaundroMutt also sells a variety of treats, so you can reward your dog for putting up with the trauma of being bathed. We got London a turkey jerky patty, which she had inhaled within about 20 seconds of getting in the car. Poultry seems to have magical properties for her.

09 September 2007

Hey, Cupcake

The Mrs. and I are avowed sweet lovers. We love good (dark) chocolate, we love pastries, we love baked goods of all kinds. So when I heard that a new cupcake place was opening in Davis Square, I knew we had to check it out.

The place is called Kick Ass Cupcakes, which is cute, and it's located on Highland Avenue just outside the square proper. We headed over there on Friday night (they're open til 10 PM on Friday and Saturday nights), their first day open for business. Their web site promised about ten different varieties of cupcakes, including some unusual flavors, so we were anticipating some good stuff.

Unfortunately, the cupcakes were practically microscopic. Now, there's nothing wrong with mini cupcakes, but these were almost small enough to be considered mini-sized, yet they cost $2.75 each. By way of comparison, when we went to New York in June, we ate lunch in the basement cafeteria at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where we split a delicious, gigantic cupcake filled with raspberry goo that was $3.50.

We did end up buying some cupcakes, and they weren't even that good. The Mrs. said she felt like she wanted to go back to talk to the proprietor, to give her some friendly advice. I don't like to say bad things about someone trying to make it running their own business, because I know how difficult it can be, and I like to support local businesses whenever possible. But I fear that a lot of people are going to visit Kick Ass Cupcakes once, and not go back. I hope the people running the place rethink their pricing or their sizing, or both.

Saturday we stopped in Ball Square to get a snack at Lyndell's bakery. They make some pretty great pastries; I'm quite partial to their raspberry danish. And they also make cupcakes, which are generously sized and cost 90 cents each.

05 September 2007

Today's Special

I've been getting lunch from the cafeteria of one of the hospitals down the street. It isn't great food, but it does the job. I've determined that I should pretty much stay away from the cooked food, but since I usually get a sandwich anyway, it works out fine. It solves the lunch problem quickly, cheaply, and with a minimum of fuss.

As with most institutional cafeterias, there are a number of daily specials. How special they are is fairly subjective; whether or not I get the special depends on what it is and what I'm in the mood for that day. Today's deli special was an Italian sub. I love Italian subs, though I don't eat them as much as I used to, because they're pretty bad for me (and you, and everyone else).

It's been a while since I've indulged in one, so I decided that I would go ahead and get the sub. There are two servers at the deli station, and the woman behind me ordered the same thing at about the same time, leading to both of us being asked more or less simultaneously, "Do you want mayonnaise on it?" I looked at the woman, who looked back at me. We both said no, then looked at each other again. I said, "Mayonnaise? On an Italian sub? That's just...wrong." She nodded in agreement. Ugh.

Mayonnaise has its place, but the idea of it on an Italian sub is stomach-turning. I thought maybe this was another of those quirky local food things that people think are so charming (like getting rolls with Chinese food, or what everyone else calls a milkshake is a frappe around here), but I'm local and I've never heard of it in my entire life. I think maybe the cafeteria ladies decided to embellish on their own. Good thing they asked first, or today's lunch wouldn't have been too enjoyable.

04 September 2007

Getting Out

So, another long weekend is over, and what did I do with my three days of freedom? Not much. We ate our way around greater Boston, did a few errands, and watched Zodiac, but as is frequently the case, I'm left with feelings of post-long-weekend regret. We should have planned some activity, should have taken advantage of the great weather and the freedom from work and other commitments to do something fun. But we didn't.

We tend to not plan much ahead of time. We like to pretend that this is an advantage of not having children--that we can do what we want, when we want--but the truth is we're just lazy, and the result is that on many weekends we end up not doing much of anything. As I put out the trash on Sunday evenings I often think to myself, "Where did those two days go, and what do you have to show for it?" I don't like this. It feels like we're prematurely old or something, and it isn't good for us. It's a rut we need to get out of.

The Mrs. has a tendency to sleep a lot on weekends. I don't begrudge her the extra rest, because her job is stressful and she needs more sleep than the average person anyway. But I often find myself sitting around waiting for her to wake up. I try to make use of that time by doing household chores, but I still end up feeling bored and restless. At times I have gone off to do things by myself; spending time separately is healthy, but one point of weekends is that we're supposed to spend time together, so even if I just run off to the mall for a couple of hours, it sort of feels like I'm abandoning her.

I think we need to try harder. I think it might help if we start planning something, anything. Each weekend we should have at least one planned activity, no matter how minor or trivial. Find a new place for brunch. Take the dog somewhere that she can romp and play for a while. Hit some yard sales. Take a drive somewhere we haven't been before. It isn't hard to come up with ideas, but it is going to require some effort to get off the couch and make them happen.