Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Boxing Day

In England, December 26 is Boxing Day. In Denver, it is Culkin Skiing Day. Those hoping for a true family death march were disappointed, as the weather stayed mild. We still managed to ski ourselves into deep exhaustion.

Glorious sunrise.

Jane and Frank en route, in Idaho Springs.

Photographs at the top of the Continental Divide.

The Washington Street Culkins.

Apres Ski (with underage Culkins in a bar.)

Christmas Day at Washington Street.

At six, the Christmas celebration moved to the house of the Washington Street Culkins (Bill, Pat, Eric, Marc, Jane and Iris.) In a switch with tradition, Pat made her delicious manacotti and famous pepper salad, which was a huge hit. Billy got the presents distributed in record time. A good time was had by all.

Santa Bill (not to be confused with RamBill.)

Successful gift.

Matt and Aiden.

Hosmer and Anders.

Christmas Day Photos


Cool stocking present.

Trish with her new vacuum.

Frank in Yankee Santa hat.

Andy, Anders, and cheetah.

Anders, Sarah and stomach virus plush toy.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

More Denver Christmas

Yesterday was a long day of Chrismas activities. After an early morning workout, my father and I set out. Our first stop was the Christmas tree lot. (We used to buy our tree last thing on the 24th, but then one year we arrived too late and Dad had to scale the fence and throw a tree over to Sarah and I.) After bargaining the guy down to $50.00, we moved on to Zadies for breakfast and another planning session. Fortified with a veggie omlette and potato pancakes, we finally faced the Cherry Creek Mall.

I can't give too many details about the shopping, as people have yet to open their presents. So I will instead describe a very weird playground we saw at the mall. Instead of swings and teeter-totters, children play on giant fiberglass waffels, fried eggs, and pieces of bacon. I guess the news that we are supposed to encourage healthy eating in America's children has not reached the mall community. There is also a section with a huge television surrounded by what appears to be living room furniture. It was filled with men watching the Bronco game, waiting for their wives and girlfriends to finishing shopping.

After we gathered the gifts, we stopped for a libation and then headed off to the Tattered Cover, our traditional last shopping stop. Then home. But Christmas activies were far from over. Sarah, Andy and Anders came over and helped get the tree up and decorated. There was a slight crisis when we realized we did not have enough (working) lights, so Dad and I headed out to Walgreen's, opened 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It was packed with people doing last minute shopping (although I do not want to know why the woman in the Harley Davidson jacket in front of us was buying 3 boxes of rubber gloves). In addition to the lights, we picked up some always-useful reindeer antlers. These proved to be a big hit with Anders, who is showing the family affinity for goofy headgear.

Now it's Chrimas morning. The presents are wrapped, the stockings are full. The Mengshols will soon be here to eat waffels and bacon and the festivies will begin.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Plans

I'm in Denver for Christmas. The trip did not get off to an auspicious start, as United managed to get the plane off the ground two hours late, despite perfect flying weather. But since I've arrived, things have going well. The Culkins, one might say, are a very Christmas-oriented family. One of our traditions is to do all the shopping on the 23rd and 24th. (It used to just be the 24th, but the sheer number of people now involved makes that impossible.) My father believes that this plan saves time--as the shopping is not spread over weeks--and money--as by this point, everything is on sale. The latter is certainly true. When you have to cover this much territory in a short period of time, however, you need to be organized. Our first step is always to stop in a restaurant in the airport and make a list of people and possible gifts.

After that we headed off to pick up Sarah and Anders. We had hoped Anders would join us in this tradition for his first Christmas, but he isn't feeling too well. So his grandmother (a.k.a. Trish) was called in for backup and took over Anders duty. Of course, Ezra--the other beloved creature of the house--had to be given his share of the attention before we headed out.

Despite the late start, we managed to get quite a bit done, all in one store up in Boulder which was having a big sale. (See.) Andy, in a gesture of husbandly devotion, accompanied us. There was one glitch, in which the salesclerk charged us one hundred dollars for a fifteen dollar shirt. Sarah caught the error and all was well, although the clerk was strangely unrepentent. We finished the evening at Connor O'Neill's, the Irish bar off the Boulder Mall, which has a shrine to Michael Collins.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Solstice and Strike

Last night, Neilson and I went to the annual Bedford-Downing Street Block Association Winter Solstice Party. It's held in Churchill Park--decorated with lights for the occasion--and there is always mulled wine, hot cider and tasty treats, this year donated by the Greenwich Village Bistro. We brought along a special guest--my cat Audrey. I was afraid the cold air and the noise might scare her, but she had a great time and was the belle of the ball. People kept coming over to introduce themselves to her and we were the subject of several photographs. There was a tense moment when a bulldog looked in on her, but even then she kept her calm.

(Neilson, Audrey, Jane S. and Don, enjoying the solstice.)

The talk of the party, besides Audrey, was of course the (now ended) strike. Everyone was pretty good natured about it, but then people in Greenwich Village tend to work somewhere between midtown and downtown, and can walk to work. Each morning I went by the Brooklyn Bridge, where people poured off into City Hall Plaza, looking cold and tired. But even they also looked kind of happy, accepting the coffee and hot chocolate offered by the Red Cross and the teacher's union with smiles and laughing about the absurdity of the situation. I'm glad its over and feel the same conflicted feelings Jody express earlier today. But it is always great to see what troopers New Yorkers are and how we rise to crisis when its called for.

Transit Strike!

It is difficult to get a sense of the transit strike from pictures- it kind of looks just like any traffic jam in New York, at least in all the neighborhoods I've been in since it started.

I have to admit, I'm a total waffler on this strike. Sometimes I sympathize with the transit workers, and sometimes I am completely appalled that they went on strike. The MTA is horrible, poorly managed, kept 2 sets of books to keep their true financial situation obscure. Apparently Peter Kalikow drove several businesses into the ground, in real estate and publishing (the New York Post came close to folding according to some reports with him at the helm).

I guess I'm irritated with everyone involved in this mess. Anyway, I just hope it ends soon.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Lights for Clinton Street

A couple of months ago, I posted about Julie Taymor shooting a movie set in the 1960's on my street. After the shoot, the production company donated money for neighborhood residents to put Christmas- (or should I say Holiday?)- lights on the street. Money went for materials, many many yards of various types of white string lights, rope lights and puffy looking snowball lights, while artists and neighbors were invited to build something for display on the facades of buildings in the 3 block strip of Clinton Street between Houston and Delancey Street.

Calvin and I volunteered to create some sort of light installation. This is my idea of big fun- I don't really discriminate between making art and holiday decoration. What can I say, I just like to make stuff. For Calvin, it is holiday decoration and neighborhood good will- not the same as art.

I lobbied to get to decorate the hardware store on the street, Rothstein's. Clinton Street has become a major destination for those seeking a hip dining or drinking experience. Many storefronts that once contained services such as shoe repair stores or optometrists are currently bars and restaurants. While I patronize many of these places and don't really miss the open air heroin drug market that predominanted in the 80's and early 90's, I like to support the remaining businesses. And I particularly like Rothstein's and the proprietor Raymond- this is a store that sells everything a sculptor (or cook) might need. If you don't see it immediately, just ask- he's got it.

We came up with the idea of making a light installation that showed a hammer driving a nail and animating it, so I made a flash animation to present to Raymond (yes, a multimedia presentation- I can't stop myself). Raymond wanted something that looked a bit more festive, so we revised our design and agreed on one that featured a series of interlocking circles combined with a leafy pattern.

Friday night we built the structure for our piece and laid out the pattern of the lights. Saturday morning I attached the lights to the chicken wire, while Calvin figured out a cradle system so we could hang the thing over the parapet of the building where Rothstein’s is located.

In the early afternoon, we were ready to put up our lights- we had to somehow get them out of the apartment and down 3 flights of stairs onto Clinton Street. This involved some anxiety- a few ominous sounds of cracking wood- but no real damage.

We had a lot of help- the guys from the hardware store, and a group of volunteers organized by Marybeth Nelson, as well as Marybeth herself. Marybeth is the force behind the light project- none of this would have happened without her. She is one of the proprietors of a couple of restaurants on Clinton Street- Alias and Fresh Food. We recently became regulars at Alias, very tasty food and cocktails. A.K.A. was also one of her restaurants- I was in mourning when it changed hands, but Alias has become a great replacement.

Our lights went up very fast, Calvin and Oscar, one of the hardware store guys, got up on the roof and hauled them up with some guidance from the street. I forgot to take pictures of the guys on the roof and only have a shot of Calvin climbing back down the ladder afterward.

Here is Calvin relaxing with a beer at the Lotus Club to celebrate a job well-done. Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Lisa Neuman

My friend and neighbor Lisa Neuman died on Dec. 2 at the age of 92. Lisa was an exemplary single woman who lived a full, interesting life. Viennese to the core, she loved well-made pastries and was a devotee of Claude’s patisserie on Fourth Street (though she hated the man and insisted he had once tried to kill his wife). Lisa earned a doctorate in psychology in Vienna, but came to New York in 1937 under the sponsorship of her aunt, a doctor, as the Nazi threat was looming. She got a master’s degree in social work from Smith College, and her first job was at a home for “wayward girls” in Hudson on the Hudson, a town long known for its red-light district. The bulk of her career was spent with the New York City school system. Lisa spoke at least four languages and was an avid world traveler until she was slowed down by macular degeneration. As her world shrank, she took delight in sitting in nearby Winston Churchill Park. If I spied her there, I would join her for a while. She once remarked that the little park was our “Versailles.” Don and I were often guests at Lisa’s Sunday supper parties, where the cast of characters included a water colorist, a pianist, a couple of shrinks, a clockmaker, and an Italian tailor named Pino. After one of these parties, a former co-worker of Lisa’s revealed that she didn’t work too hard during her last days at the Department of Ed. She was often on the phone gossiping with friends and bridge partners. I was happy to know that.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree

New York is at its best in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Lights twinkle throughout the streets, people bustle around with their arms full of gifts, the champange flows, and, best of all, there are trees everywhere. New York, wonderful as it is, often does not smell that great, but in December the scent of pine infuses the air. On my way to work, I walk through a giant Christmas tree lot which is like getting a brief hike through the forest each morning.

I also love the tree in City Hall Park, across the street from my office, which is actually a bunch of trees bound together in the fountain. Its decorated with ornaments made by children in the New York City public schools.

It looks especially great night and always cheers me up when I am depressed about the fact that it is pitch black at 5 P.M.

As for the whole Christmas Tree/Holiday Tree controversy, I have to say the term holiday tree always strikes me a little ridiculous. Instead of a war against Christmas, it actually seems to be a way to foist Christian traditions on non-Christians. On the other hand, Christians, I believe, stole the whole tree idea from the pagans, as a way to co-opt solstice celebrations and covert the masses. So perhaps solstice tree should be the official term.


"716" is a web comic created by my friend Marianne Petit. This comic features wacky tales about her extremely eccentric neighbors in midtown Manhattan, as well as the story of her divorce in 2001 with the events of 9/11 as a backdrop.

This week's episode, "Free Therapy", focuses on the break-up of her marriage, with quotes from "Josephine", a former divorcee now happily remarried.

Marianne has another wonderful site, "When I Was Three", with animations depicting family travel, decapitated Barbies, ozone depletion and its impact on toddlers, and many other topics.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Pop Gadget

I visited my friend Jenna this weekend- she and I went to graduate school together and worked on a few projects afterward that involved handbags, photography, lamps and knitting. As I remember, Jenna and I would get together and I would complain at length about whoever was annoying me at the time, while we both carefully crafted obsessively detailed potential handbags/items-of-clothings that incorporated broken glass, mohair, and transparencies of funeral monuments.

Jenna is a wonderful designer. Right now, one of the projects she is working on is PopGadget, a blog that features technology for women.

If you're looking for the perfect gift for that special someone who really likes technology, this is the site for you. There is also a lot of information on cool tech items for tiny tots.

Here is a picture of Jenna with her beautiful daughter Mia.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

How Big?

My Dad loves babies. He always has. He loves to talk to babies, play with them and especially ask them THE question. "How Big is the baby?". Last wednesday my Dad helped Andy and I by picking up Anders at daycare. We asked Dad to stay for dinner but we didn't know we were in for a show. After dinner, Dad asked the famous question, "How Big is the Baby" and taught Anders the standard reply, "SOOOOO BIG". Anders loved it. For over half an hour, Dad had him laughing out loud. As Dad said, "How big is the baby?", Anders would throw his head back and giggle. We had never seen his little body shake with such laughter. Then Dad started in with peek-a-boo and the laughter started again. We took pictures and video. The pictures don't nearly capture the moment but at least you see him smile.

Andy and I tried the same games the next night without nearly the same response. It must just be Dad's special touch with babies.


I'm in Vermont this weekend, where a friend from college recently purchased a house. Vermont is perhaps the most Christmasy of states, so it a great time of year to be here. We've had a great time, eating blueberry pancakes, visiting a Christmas tree farm, decorating the tree purchased at the farm, enjoying the "Ye Olde" charm of the Vermont Country Store, and munching on chedder cheese.

Last night we drank "Vermont mohitos," which consist of rum, maple syrup, seltzer and lime. These taste much better than you might think.

We later ate chicken with 40 garlic cloves, which was delicious, followed by yummy apple pie and vanilla ice cream.

We mangaged to get the tree up without incident, and I even learned a great tree decorating trick. We had forgotten to buy ornament hooks, so it looked like the tree decorating was going to have to put on hold. Then someone remembered recent tip from some T.V. life-style maven, which was to use garbage bag ties. They worked wonderfully and keep the ornaments on more securely than the hooks.

Now it's time to go eat egg nog french toast and thick cut bacon, then take a walk around the old cemetary.