On a roll

Yesterday I burdened the world wide web with an abundance of my photos from New York last summer. I’ve got bunches more, many of which send me into uncontrollable giggles every time I look at them which, believe me, is not a pretty sight.

So let’s just take a look at one today.

And here is a quiz for you: Name all the reasons why I love this photo. There are at least five.

Have a great weekend.

Love,

Ellen

Come along for the ride

I really enjoy taking pictures, and for the last couple years, I’ve kept a point-and-shoot Canon in my purse at all times. I was completely convinced by those commercials a while back, when Steven Tyler walks into a restaurant and a whole table full of women go completely to pieces trying to get a photo of him. “This will never happen to me,” I vowed — though since it’s rare that I run into celebrities, this danger is frankly pretty low.

So I took a lot of pictures when I visited New York this summer. I’ve always got an eye open for the quirky, so in addition to a good many touristy shots, I also came away with a mini-mother lode of Pictures of New York by a Visiting Yokel.

For example, subway tile.

To me this is just beautiful; an unexpected jewel in the urban landscape.

There’s a lot of this too.

We saw this as we walked along the street to the East Village on the Sunday morning of our visit. The tiny restaurant, called Joe Doe’s, was perfectly interesting and served duck eggs, which I did not eat. Not because I’m not adventurous — Lord knows I am — but I simply forgot to order them. Now I can’t say, “I went to New York and ate duck eggs!” the opportunity for which I’m sure I would have come up in conversation at least once sometime before Christmas.

This was sitting in front of the restaurant:

Naturally I had to sit on it, looking at it did worn from countless generations of bottoms. Most likely it was generations of chopping carrots since it’s apparently a butcher block table. But still. It looked sitonable.

(As an aside, “sitonable” is what certain friends of mine, and one husband, likes to call an Ellenism. It gives them great amusement that I earn a living as a writer, yet I’m always making up words. Now, I consider it an attribute and a testament to my creativity that I’ve got this inclination. Buttheads that they are, though, they’re more amused that a purported writer has “difficulty” adequately utilizing the vast array of words available in the English language, and feels it necessary to improvise. Well, it’ll come as no surprise to this contingent — Steve, Todd and Tras I’m looking at you — that this attitude gets a big raspberry from me.)

Anyway, back to the New York Tour. We stayed in Chinatown, and my rube-reaction here was the most pronounced. Somehow, I didn’t envision it quite so full of, you know, CHINESE PEOPLE.

What did I think I was going to find in Chinatown, you might reasonably ask? Well, I certainly expected some Chinese people, and some speaking of various Chinese languages. But here’s the rube in me talking: I didn’t completely understand that Chinatown is populated by people from various Chinese lands who are continuing to live more or less as though they’re still in China. It’s fascinating, intimidating, perplexing, and frankly unusual for someone who is still getting used to hearing Spanish spoken by the growing number of Hispanic immigrants to Kentucky. In New York, hearing English starts to become the unusual thing. It’s quite marvelous.

Our hotel was in the Bowery, an area adjoining Chinatown and Little Italy that was, until just a few years ago, Slum Central. Not anymore. This hotel was an unexpected treat. A little smaller than the plump, cornfed midwestern hotel rooms I was used to but perfectly wonderful for a week-long stay in the city.

We also shared it with half of Europe. I’m not kidding. I think we were the only American citizens staying at the place. Every morning at breakfast we were knee-deep in Italians, Germans, Swedes, Belgians, Spaniards and I don’t know what else, since I didn’t march up to everybody at eight in the morning and demand their nationality.

I mean, I wanted to, but I didn’t.

Food was a big part of our stay, especially when Cara the Chef arrived. A cooking school graduate and buyer for an organic restaurant in Washington, D.C., Cara is totally consumed by food. She does consume it, too; some of it I consider hideously inedible, such as the tripe, yes TRIPE she ordered one night. Eating the “whole animal” is big in the circles in which she moves and really, I don’t disagree with most of her ideas.  But you know, guts, ick.

No, the carb-laden wonders of Little Italy are more my speed. Oh the pasta I consumed, along with this, my last night there — salmon with a little rosemary tree on top.

And this was fun — a shop that sold rice pudding in precisely the same Baskin-Robbins manner most ice cream parlours dish out the calories.

I also indulged my weakness for ice coffee at least once. It’s strange, but I only seem to remember I like it about once every two or three years, and then I can’t get enough of it. I’ve been making it at home ever since and it goes a long way toward explaining my high energy levels lately.

Of course I took far more photos than I can wedge in here, and maybe if you’re lucky (ha!) I’ll throw in a wacky one every now and then just to amuse myself. I’ve got loads of strange detail shots of artwork we saw at the Metropolitan, which unfortunately for me are on another computer and I’m too lazy to go fetch it and boot it up right now.

But here are a couple more, just for fun, that I shot mostly for Tras because our Prius, when I went to New York, had only been in our possession for a few short weeks.

I didn’t even take a taxi, not even one, while I was in New York, but as you can see, they’ve gone somewhat green there in the Big Apple, big surprise to me.

Sure New York was crowded and noisy, big and bewildering, and very visually interesting. But it’s also one of the more pictoriffical places I’ve ever been, specializing in the most blog-postabillimous photos I’ve ever pixallagated.

Dreaming of the falls in autumn

The air today is crinkly crisp; it seems fall has arrived at last. The warm days of early October lulled me into thinking it might be a long slow autumn that, if I crossed my fingers and wished hard enough, might ward off wintertime. I’m not a cold-weather person.

Though there are few things I love more than wearing boots, I’m apt to dig in my heels and resist the coming of winter. I look at friends who live up North, slack-jawed with disbelief that they can actually survive, for months on end, enveloped in gloves, hats, scarves and great-big galumphy overshoe looking boots (or worse yet, Uggs). In fact, I make it my mission every year when the cold weather hits to go absolutely as long as I possibly can without putting on gloves. A truly triumphant year is one where I don’t pull them out of my pockets, at all.

So you see why today I started looking through pictures I shot in July of our vacation to Cumberland Falls.

Look at the green. Look at the smiles. Look at the humidity-induced exhaustion. The day I took this photo we were on a hike to Eagle Falls, located on a tributary to the Cumberland River, below the actual falls. It’s a strenuous hike, and a strange one too in that you go uphill and downhill quite sharply both ways. At any rate, what you probably can’t see in this picture is that it was so humid Tras’s glasses were fogged up. Mine too. Man, it was hot.

Man, I wish it were that hot now.

Look at this.

This was yesterday. This is totally unacceptable. No, not the fact that Trassie’s out there playing soccer and — here we document the earth-shattering news — yesterday HE MADE A GOAL! (Insert wild cheering, squealing and the pounding of proud parental feet.)

No, what’s unacceptable is the fact that I had to wear a coat, ear muffs, boots (well, that part was OK) and gloves. Yes you heard me. I’ve burned the whole No Gloves this Winter thing before we’ve even hit Halloween.

This is more my speed.

Kayaking. In addition to viewing the lovely falls, hiking, general meandering around and a little swimming, we took a day trip down the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River.

It was simply wonderful. Claire, Christopher and I each had our own kayak, while Tras took Trassie in a longer double kayak which was less maneuverable but safer for the tot. The river wasn’t particularly deep, the section they turned us loose on had a slow current and there were four or so gentle rapids to keep the adrenaline flowing if things threatened to get too relaxing. I counted dozens of kingfishers along the banks, though I never spotted one actually fishing. We passed beneath several abandoned bridges, stopped to do some swimming and generally felt like we were the last people on the planet.

The day was warm but not too hot; the following day it rained, which was the source of the humidity along our Eagle Falls hike.

Our week at Cumberland was just the type of vacation such breaks from the routine were meant to be. As I sat listening to the roar of the falls, the quiet lap of water against my kayak or the sounds of my children’s voices, I was storing up peace that would carry me through stressful times in the coming year. Whenever office politics or other irritants lurch into my life, I can draw strength from this and other breaks from the ordinary that, by virtue of their effect on me, became extraordinary.

Swimming and skipping rocks. Hiking, paddling, listening to the sounds of nature. Finding hidden treasures along the path.

Not every moment was soaked in the pleasures of the out-of-doors. The lodge at Cumberland Falls has some small duplexes that, while smaller than a cabin, are larger than a hotel room and come equipped with a mini-kitchen. Trassie dubbed our room the “Little-Tel,” and just hanging around our room proved also to be time well-spent. Whether one is equipped with electronic devices or not.

When a mid-October frost bites my gloveless hand, it’s a source of warmth to remember the falls in autumn. They used to call it the “Niagara of the South.” I’d like to go on record as saying I’m damn glad that there is a Niagara — emphasis on South — that can take away the chill.

Shopping at the end of the universe

It could be because I grew up in a small town. It could be because I’m lazy. It’s most likely because I enjoy amusing my husband. But the fact is, I don’t like to drive all the way across town to shop at stores when there’s an identical one to it just moments from my house.

Call me crazy, but I can see Fayette Mall from my the top of my street. Tell me I’m insane, but within five minutes of stepping into my garage, I can have a grocery cart in the produce section of a large major grocery store with six Golden Delicious apples already bagged, snugged down and headed purposely toward the cilantro and green onion display.

Why on earth would I drive 25 minutes, when the traffic’s light, mind you, to shop at the mall at the end of the universe?

Well, today it was because my husband surreptitiously lured me there.

Look at it from my perspective; when you talk the place I grew up, you’re talking really small — around 2,500 souls when I left Carroll County for good circa 1986. Wikipedia now claims it was closer to 4,000 in the 2000 census and I don’t doubt it. I grew up driving all the way to Madison, Indiana, in order to eat at McDonald’s and frankly, I’ve had enough of it. If it’s not at my end of town, thanks, I don’t want it.

And that’s the thing: we’ve got Lowe’s, we’ve got Wal-Mart (a store with which I’ve got an appalling love/hate relationship). We’ve got Bed Bath and Beyond. It’s all here. There is no reason on God’s green earth to haul butt all the way to Hamburg Place, the sprawling, bazillion-acre complex that formerly was the home to one of the more prestigious horse farms in Central Kentucky. The Maddens sold out in the ’90s and now look what we’ve got: Barnes and Noble, Babies R Us and Dick’s out our ears.

So to speak.

The thing you have to understand about Tras is, he loves to bargain hunt. Every primal instinct he has retained from his Cro-Magnon antecedents has reached its full fruition in his ability to A) Conceive of a purchase; 2) Locate it at every outlet in the Central Kentucky area [and on one memorable occasion, as far away as central Ohio]; and c) Find it at its lowest price.

Now in this age of the Internet, this job is considerably easier and completed much more quickly without moving from one’s comfortable chair. But Tras does still do quite a bit of stalking and killing of hardware the good old-fashioned way: by burning half a tank of gasoline to save 5 bucks.

But wait! Remember the Prius! The way this pretty baby saves gasoline, by virtue of its hybrid engine, we’re actually using far LESS gasoline to get to Hamburg. Why, when you took at it that way, it’s actually closer to home!

Um-hmm.

As we wove our way through the approximately 32,532 stores that make up the Hamburg Complex, Tras commenced to teasing me about my reluctance to venture forth into the wilds of northern Fayette County to procure the items I claimed to need at Wal-Mart. (Sweatpants and a warm shirt for Trassie’s chilly soccer game tomorrow and a get-well card, if you must know.)

It would have been downright silly, he maintained, to sally forth toward the Wal-Mart less than two miles from our house, when this Wal-Mart is right along the way — and amidst some classier neighborhoods, to boot. My tender sensibilities wouldn’t be wounded by the sight of a muffintop midriff, or a mullet in the wild. No, this Hamburg Place Wal-Mart was so close to Brock McVey, contractors’ supplier of the mysterious, that it would be ludicrous NOT to go to Hamburg, was the reasoning.

Oh, dear, and you didn’t even pack your overnight bag!

Yes, I can take a bit of ribbing on this score; I don’t like to drive over there and will pretty much do anything to avoid it. Whenever Tras announces he’s going to “check the other Lowe’s,” I know a trip to the other end of the universe is forthcoming, so I turn the oven off and delay dinner by an hour or two. Today we took the day off to run errands and get a little work done around the house, so there really wasn’t anything to prevent me from making this long day’s journey, so long as it didn’t end at night. And when I got there, sure enough, there weren’t any Mullets a la Wal-Mart, it was indeed a gorgeous store, I found what I was looking for, and we returned: lo, the mammoth was slain.

Though I doubt I’ll ever find the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything — with apologies to Douglas Adams — when you’ve got an autumn day as glorious as the one I spent today, you don’t mind going to the end of the universe to look for it.