Eight years ago, the company I was working for had just moved to a new office. There was no cable, so we were trying to watch the inauguration of President Barack Obama online. A bunch of us had gathered in a conference room to try to stream it, but it wasn’t working. After a bunch of unsuccessful attempts, someone finally said, “Okay, we’re going to Amrhein’s.” Word spread fast, and just like that, everyone got up, grabbed their coats, and headed to Amrhein’s, the restaurant down the street. It seemed like most of the office was there. We all cheered after he was sworn in, and it remains to this day one of my favorite memories of working there.
Now I’m at a new workplace, and a little over two months ago, I was sure that I’d be at work to see the first black president succeeded by the first female president. And while there is an endless list of reasons to be sad about Trump’s inauguration tomorrow, I just want to focus on one: Hillary Rodham Clinton not being the one leading us for the next four or eight years.
I really, really wanted her to be president, and that would have been true regardless of who ran against her. There’s much more I’m thinking and much more I could say- but for now, I’ll leave it at this. I’m still with her, and I am deeply sad at the loss of the chance to live in a country led by President Hillary Rodham Clinton.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I read a LOT in 2016. 109 books, to be exact. (Snuck one more in after that previous post published.) It helps to have a long commute on public transportation, and it also helps to have an awesome library right down the street. I was very methodical about my reading in 2016, aiming to read books in certain categories (i.e. classics, memoirs, nonfiction, self-help) in the same month and planning in advance which ones I wanted to read.
And now it is time to tell you my top ten books of 2016. (Meaning top ten books I READ in 2016, not necessarily ones that came out last year.) Without further ado:
The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman
This list isn’t in any particular order, but if I had to pick a favorite of the favorites, this would be it. And I’m excited to recommend it because I don’t know anyone else who’s read it. I’d read, and raved about, Susan Jane Gilman’s nonfiction, so I was excited to read her fiction debut. It spans 70 years in the main character’s life, from her birth in Russia in the early 20th century to her move to New York as a young girl to her abandonment by her family to her marriage and career owning a successful ice cream company. She turns out to be a not-so-nice person- Gilman has described her as a cross between Scarlett O’Hara and Leona Helmsley- but you keep sympathizing with her in part, I think, because you’ve been following her through her whole life and know all that she overcame. It’s a character-driven story, but the plot moves very quickly, and I just loved how right the character’s voice feels. Warning: this book will make you want ice cream.
Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
If you’re a Hamilton fan, this is a must-read. It’s got several essays on the development of the show as well as many of its cast and crew members. It also has the complete lyrics with footnotes provided by Lin that give additional information on historical accuracy, his thought process in writing, references you might not pick up at first, and random trivia. I recommend reading the lyrics while listening to the soundtrack- you’ll notice things you never picked up on before.
This was super depressing but incredibly well-written. There are two people who both believe they are the rightful owners of a house: Kathy Nicolo, the alcoholic original owner whose house is foreclosed on due to a bureaucratic mistake, and Colonel Behrani, an Iranian immigrant with a wife and children who buys the house at a reduced price at auction and sees it as a step towards the American dream. It’s told in alternating first-person perspective for most of the book, and while both Kathy and Colonel Behrani are very flawed characters, they both also have legitimate reasons to claim the house and good reasons for wanting to stay there. I was very invested in the story all the way through- while it’s clearly not going to end well, I stayed interested in how we were going to get there.
Attention-grabbing title, huh? I saw this book in a bookstore and was intrigued by it. It takes place in a small town in Idaho in the 1970s, where two teenage daughters in a devout Christian family are sent away to a cabin at the edge of town after one of them returns from a mission trip pregnant with what she believes is the child of God. It’s full of characters who could easily become stereotypes but never do. It’s another sad but well-written book, and I love Val Brelinksi’s unpretentious writing style. This is her first book, so I can’t wait to see what else she writes.
I decided to read this because I’d heard great things about the musical based on it (which I haven’t seen) and I love Alison Bechdel for coming up with “the Bechdel test.” I almost never read graphic novels or graphic memoirs or graphic anything- in general, I connect with words better than I do with images. So I was shocked that not only is the writing the best thing about this book, but it’s sprinkled throughout with literary allusions and comparisons to characters from fiction and mythology. The cartoons certainly enhance the story, but it’s the writing I really loved. It’s the story of her father, who died after being hit by a truck in what she believes was a suicide. Shortly before his death, she had come out to him as a lesbian, whereupon he revealed that he was also gay. Bechdel strikes a great balance between portraying the emotion she felt in the moment and analyzing her past with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. It’s heartbreaking, sometimes funny, and just very well done in every way.
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
This is also a graphic memoir, and I read this right after Fun Home. Oddly enough, they’re both about relationships with and deaths of parents. In Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, Roz Chast recounts her relationship with her parents as they lived well into their nineties and slowly began to die of, essentially, their ages. Since dealing with an elderly parent or grandparent is something so many people have experienced, I imagine most people will find this super easy to relate to, even if your parents aren’t hoarders or extremely picky eaters. There are some very poignant moments- towards the end, Roz expresses regret that she and her mother weren’t closer- but despite the grim subject matter, this book is funny more often than not. Her parents seem like characters from a 90s sitcom, for one thing, and although dementia is a very sad thing, sometimes all you can do is laugh at it. And it’s hard not to laugh when Roz’s mother starts telling stories about things that never happened, like her mother-in-law trying to kill her. One thing that did surprise me is that Roz’s husband and kids are very rarely mentioned in the book. On one hand, I like that she kept the focus on her relationship with her parents (particularly since she’s an only child, which makes the family dynamics a bit less complicated), but on the other hand, it would have been interesting to hear about how her parents influenced her own approaches to marriage and parenting. I’m now two-for-two with graphic memoirs, so if anyone knows of some other good ones, send some recommendations my way, won’t you?
What an unexpectedly gorgeous book. It has one of the most tragic premises imaginable- the night before her daughter’s wedding, June loses her daughter, her daughter’s fiance, her ex-husband, and her boyfriend in a gas leak that destroys her home. (I wonder if the Madonna Badger story was the inspiration?) But rather than focusing on either the tragedy itself or on June’s life after it, Clegg uses multiple first- and third-person narrators to show us the wider view. We learn all of the backstory that brought the characters to the moment where everything literally exploded, and it’s done with just enough detail to make it moving but not sappy. It also manages, in a way that’s amazingly devoid of cliche, to convey hope in the end. In short, this was beautifully written- well done, Bill Clegg!
This was the best young adult book I read last year. Basically, there’s a teenage boy with a ten-year-old sister he’s sure is a sociopath, although no one seems to believe him. It keeps you in suspense throughout, and while it’s clearly building toward something big, the specifics of it aren’t easy to predict. I also really liked that the love interest is a liberal Christian with two moms- it’s super rare to see a portrayal of that kind of Christianity in fiction.
Looking over these, I have a lot of really dark and depressing books as favorites. Yeesh! But here’s one that was much lighter. It’s a fun concept- two teenagers in 1996 log onto AOL and are able to see themselves on Facebook 15 years in the future. It strikes a tone that a lot of YA books miss- funny without being a straight-up comedy, romantic without being fluff- and it mostly stays away from high school cliches. And I laughed at a lot of the moments when they don’t understand life in the next century (they’re very confused about why people say they miss Pluto and don’t know what texting is).
Mara Wilson is freaking awesome. As a little kid, she was famous for acting in movies like Matilda, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Miracle on 34th Street, but as an adult, she’s famous for being cool on the Internet. If you’re familiar with her writing, this book is just as funny, touching, and well-written as you’d expect. One really surprising thing is how easy a lot of her stories are to relate to. No, most of us weren’t on movie sets as young children, but Mara shares stories about girl drama in high school (over show choir, hilariously) and awkwardness around cute guys that most of us can see ourselves in. But there’s plenty of on-set stories, too. If you’re looking for any Hollywood dirt, you won’t find it- while there’s a lot about the pressure they put on people to look a certain way, she actually has nothing but nice things to say about her old co-stars, especially Danny DeVito. (I was fairly indifferent towards him before, but she shares some really sweet stories about him here.) Mara has had to deal with some adversity that has nothing to do with acting- tragically, her mother died of breast cancer when Mara was eight, and she also suffers from severe OCD and some other mental illnesses. But this book has a lot of funny moments and Mara has a great knack for succinctly summing up truths about life. I saw her speak at a book signing when this first came out, and I’m happy to report that she’s also really funny and engaging in person.
Objectively, a lot of really terrible things happened in 2016. Violence, war, terrorism, natural disasters, the deaths of many beloved celebrities, and, of course, the election of a fascist Cheeto.
For me personally, though, this was actually a very good year. Although it wouldn’t take much for this to be a better year than last, honestly, considering that in 2015 I lost my apartment in a fire and, as you could probably tell from this post, was suffering from some pretty intense depression. Three days after Christmas last year, I started taking EffexorXR, and on New Year’s Day, I started feeling more like myself again. And thus began a much better year for my personal life.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of things that happened this year:
I completed the Insanity workout and tried some workouts I’d never done before, like Bodypump.
I saw Les Mis on Broadway one more time as well as A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder right before it closed.
I saw Ramin Karimloo in concert three times- twice in Indianapolis in March and once in New York City in July.
I saw The Sound of Music and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (again) in Boston.
Over the course of the month of April, I ran 100 miles.
I went to New York and saw Hamilton (with the original cast!), Waitress, She Loves Me, and Bright Star.
I had my ten-year college reunion in June. It was wonderful- I got to see a bunch of friends I don’t get to see enough, including Christina, Jon, Steph, and Jackie. It was just as much fun as the five year, although there was the weirdness of seeing how many people have kids now. (There were some “WTF? She had a BABY?!” moments.)
I got an unexpected but quite welcome promotion and raise at work, and I also got a bonus for some extra work that fell on my plate over the summer. I continue to be happy with my job and coworkers, people seem happy with my work, and I’m actually kind of shocked at how little I miss publishing.
Since this was the first full summer I spent at my apartment, I got to take advantage of the nice pool my complex has.
I went to my friend Caroline’s lovely wedding in Connecticut.
Erin and I joined a kickball league in the fall, which was fun. It also enabled me to go to a fun Halloween party, where I dressed as a tree.
I continued to sing in my chorus, volunteer at the soup kitchen, and be involved in my church’s young adult group.
For the first time, I sang with the choir in a Christmas concert at my church.
I’m keeping my apartment tidier and cleaner than I used to. I still have work to do, but I’ve come a long way.
I read a LOT. 108 books, to be exact, almost twice as many as last year. Thank you, longer commute. I’ll blog about those books in more detail in a future post.
I made a lot of good food, although not as often as I would have preferred.
Towards the end of the year, I saw a lot of good movies.
I watched, or finished, Making a Murderer, Friday Night Lights, The People vs. O.J. Simpson, Stranger Things, Fuller House, The Path, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, Catastrophe, One Mississippi, and Outlander. I also got hooked on This Is Us and Full Frontal.
I had a lot of fun times with friends and family.
So, what DIDN’T happen this year?
I wish I had better news about dating, but…I don’t. Dating continued to suck this year, and I still have moments of loneliness and despair. The best thing I can say about it is that I’m not giving up.
I surprisingly did not do any road races at all this year. Next year, I’m aiming for another half-marathon.
Despite starting off strong, I did not exercise as much as I wanted to.
I obviously did not blog as much as I wanted to.
And I’ve fallen out of writing fiction, which I’m sad about.
So those are all things I’ll work on changing next year. I don’t know what’s going to happen with the state of the world, but I hope to keep the state of the world around me doing well.
I am hoping that next year I’ll start posting more regularly. But for now, I’m going to post about some things that happened this year that I never blogged about when they happened.
One item that’s been on my bucket list for years has been doing an open-water swim, so I made it my mission to do it in 2016. I’d heard about the James Doty Memorial Mile Swim, down on the beach in Southie, so after spending several weeks swimming at the gym in the morning whenever I could, one Saturday in June I went down to the beach and signed up. They gave me a bathing cap with a number on it and wrote the number on my arm.
At the beginning, I had some doubts about whether I could keep doing it, but as I kept going, I felt better and better. We started off all pretty close together, but at one point we were so spread out that I couldn’t see anyone else and started to worry that I’d gotten lost. And then, 33 minutes after I started, it was over! That wouldn’t be a great time for me in the pool, but I’ll cut myself some slack since it was the first time I’d swum in open water. And since it was a nice day in June, the water wasn’t that cold once I started moving!
The whole event was incredibly well-run but also very low-key. They explained everything to us before we started, including that it was very safe and that the only sea creatures we were likely to encounter were a type of jellyfish that doesn’t sting. Everyone I talked to was incredibly nice, and they had food for us afterwards.
One reason I wanted to do an open-water swim is in preparation for doing a triathlon next year. I’m making that one of my 2017 goals. The only challenges I’d foreseen in doing a sprint triathlon were that I will need to do some major work to be ready for the bike part (that’s still true) and that I’d need to learn how to handle swimming in open water. Now I’ve got that down!
I don’t want to write too much about the election just yet. I’m still too angry and upset. Maybe at a later date.
The first Saturday Night Live after the election had this opening that made me cry: the amazing Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton singing “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, who had just passed away.
(One of the minor tragedies of this election is that we won’t get to see Kate’s Hillary Clinton as much. She’s brilliant.)
“Hallelujah” is one of my favorite songs ever. It’s my go-to shower-singing song. But the Leonard Cohen song I’ve thought sums up the situation in our country the best right now is actually “Everybody Knows.”
Everybody knows that the dice are loaded Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed Everybody knows that the war is over Everybody knows the good guys lost Everybody knows the fight was fixed The poor stay poor, the rich get rich That’s how it goes Everybody knows Everybody knows that the boat is leaking Everybody knows that the captain lied Everybody got this broken feeling Like their father or their dog just died
Sounds about right to me. This song has been covered a lot, and I remember this cover by Elizabeth and the Catapult was on Damages.
(Okay, it was the dry season, so we didn’t actually see any of the rains down in Africa, but I did want an excuse to share this video.)
We’d been talking about going to visit Tiana in Zimbabwe since she moved there two years ago due to her husband’s job with the Foreign Service. In the spring, Erin, Julie, Jackie and I decided we were definitely going to do it. So one night on Google Hangout, we went online and bought our tickets, and with that, we were going to Zimbabwe!
Sunday, August 7
We were flying through Dubai—Julie, Erin, and I from Boston and Jackie, who lives in DC, meeting us on our Dubai flight. Our flight left at noon. Twelve and a half hours—the longest flight I’d ever taken. I’m terrible at sleeping on planes, so my plan was to try to stay awake until normal sleeping hours, then sleep. I read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (which I liked, and I know that’s a controversial opinion) and watched some of the Olympics. (I’m pretty obsessed with the Olympics, so back at home I was DVRing the primetime coverage.)
Monday, August 8
We landed in Dubai and had a tight layover—about an hour and a half. After wandering through the huge airport, we got to our gate and discovered they were already boarding. And it was kind of weird—the gate didn’t lead to the plane, but to an escalator, and they would only let a certain number of people down at a time. Jackie met up with us during this time and joined us in confusion. It turned out that the escalator led to the shuttle bus that took us to the plane.
So, anyway, we got on the next flight, which made an hour-and-a-half stop in Zambia before continuing to Zimbabwe, and I realized that I’d made a terrible mistake and should have tried harder to sleep on the previous plane, since it was morning by the time we took off. I actually like long flights, but I hit my limit on this trip. I ended up getting very little sleep.
We finally landed in Harare. Zimbabwe has been having a currency crisis in recent years and they now take the American dollar. You can’t really get money from ATMs if you’re a tourist, and most places don’t take credit cards. I got a taste of that right away when I got my visa—they didn’t have enough cash to make change for me and I had to wait while they found some.
Then we went over to the baggage carousel to get our bags. We waited. And waited. And…nothing. We were thinking, “They can’t possibly have lost ALL of our bags.” But…yep. They had. When we went over to the lost baggage claim area, they already had printouts from Emirates with our names on them. We would have to wait twenty-four hours until the next plane from Dubai landed.
So that was a bummer, but at least we were going to Tiana’s house and could borrow most of the things we needed from her. And by the time we got that sorted out, I was no longer tired. At her house, we said hi to her husband Nick and her adorable eleven-month-old baby, Evelyn, and went to bed.
Tuesday, August 9
The plan for the day: lunch at a restaurant Tiana likes, then a visit to a wildlife sanctuary called Wild Is Life, then pick up the bags.
We drove to the restaurant, and after we parked, Tiana suddenly said, “Hey, get over here on the grass so this car can park.”
I should mention that I have another college friend, Bridget, who also works for the government and has been living in Pakistan for the last few months. At the reunion (which, ha, I never wrote about), we FaceTimed with her, and I figured it would be a long time before I saw her again.
Well, you can probably see where this is going. The car behind us pulls in…and out of it steps FREAKING BRIDGET! She’d decided to come visit during her R&R and had been corresponding with Tiana about it secretly. It turned out she was bcc’d on all of our emails with Tiana about this trip—we had no idea!
We had a great lunch outside at this restaurant Arroma Caffé. There were chickens wandering around. I felt a little weird about it, since I was eating a chicken sandwich.
Then we headed to Wild Is Life, a sanctuary in Harare for orphaned and injured animals. It was pretty freaking awesome. We got to feed some of the animals—including giraffes and a warthog named Pickles.
Giraffes are pretty awesome.
We also saw a lot of elephants and impala and watched them feed the lions.
We also met Marimba the pangolin. I’d never even heard of a pangolin before—it turns out they’re highly endangered, and there are so few of them that no one really knows how long they live.
About halfway through the afternoon, we had tea, which was fun. At the end, we had rosé as giraffes looked on and tried to steal the drinks from us. You know, like you do.
After all that, we went back to the airport, where, thankfully, all of our bags had finally arrived.
Wednesday, August 10
This vacation turned out to be a nice combination of sightseeing and relaxing. Wednesday was nothing but relaxing—hanging around Tiana’s house with her cute baby and cute dogs. Evie is a really great baby—so cute, so easygoing, so happy, so easy to make smile. Everyone would be having kids if every baby was guaranteed to be like her.
And Tiana’s two dogs, Kiro and Moki, are pretty awesome, too. I saw a lot of animals in Zimbabwe, but these two were my favorites.
A friend of Nick’s from work came over for dinner. Afterwards, we packed for our trip to Victoria Falls.
Thursday, August 11
We headed back to the airport to go to Victoria Falls! We were flying on this tiny African airline, Fastjet. Julie had looked up the airline’s baggage rules earlier and found this gem:
We actually had a great experience with the bucket-of-fish airline, though.
Here’s the hotel, where all the rooms were named after animals. Tiana and I were in “Buffalo.”
We went out for lunch—where we ate, among other things, impala and crocodile—and did a bit of shopping.
For dinner, we went to the Boma, where we tried warthog and I even had a piece of a fried worm! They had a show toward the end of the night, where they gave us all drums for an audience response-type drum thing.
After we got back, Tiana and I were settling into bed in our hotel room when the hotel phone rang. We both looked at it in confusion. Tiana finally picked it up and discovered Erin and Bridget on the other end. There was a spider in their room, it turned out, and they weren’t sure if it was poisonous or not. I only heard Tiana’s side of the conversation, but it was hilarious. Erin was saying they’d actually been trying to call Jackie and Tiana was like, “How would Jackie know if it’s poisonous or not?” I was cracking up by the time the call ended and headed over with Tiana to see the spider. In their defense, it was pretty huge, and Tiana pretty much laughed in my face when I asked if you could just kill it with toilet paper. Tiana ended up whacking it to death with the hotel room bible. Or smiting it, if you will.
Friday, August 12
We headed off to see the falls. They were pretty awesome—there’s a reason they’re one of the seven wonders of the natural world.
It was the dry season in Zimbabwe, and usually you can’t go too far out on the rocks because they’re too slippery, but we were able to go out farther than usual. We also didn’t need the raincoats we’d rented.
Then we got lunch at the Outlook Café, from which you could see people ziplining. Ziplining is something I’d wanted to do for a long time. There were three options— these two looked way too scary, but the third, the Flying Fox, didn’t look too bad. So I decided to do it and managed to convince Erin to do it, too.
IT WAS AMAZING! So much fun—as close to flying as I’ve ever come. The operator even let both me and Erin do a second run for free.
Afterwards we went shopping and bought safari hats to wear on the safari the next day, then went out for dinner at the Victoria Falls Hotel.
Saturday, August 13
Safari day! We had to get up early to get in the car that was coming for us. The safari was actually in Botswana, just over the border. (Victoria Falls is right where Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, and Namibia all converge.) So we had to go through the post at the border, then get in the safari vehicle. Ours was called the No. 1 Ladies Safari, after the book and TV series No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, which is set in Botswana.
On the land portion of the safari, we saw a lot of elephants, giraffes, some buffalo (including one old buffalo who crossed the road right in front of us), mongooses (spellcheck just informed me that “mongeese” isn’t a word), hippos, impala, crocodiles, and some cool-looking birds.
We then went to the safari lodge for lunch and began the boat portion of the safari. It was pretty awesome—we saw animals like crocs and hippos up close, and this fantastic scene with elephants.
When we got back, we got dinner, then went back to the hotel and drank wine while watching the opening scene of The Lion King.
Sunday, August 14
Our flight wasn’t until late afternoon, so we spent the earlier part of the day shopping, then headed back to Harare. Tiana was happy to be reunited with her cute little girl, and we had dinner and played with Evie again.
Monday, August 15
We packed, got lunch at a place near Tiana’s, and headed to the airport for our flight to Dubai. I got almost no sleep on the plane, which was not the plan, and I started going stir-crazy. I also engaged in some airplane parkour at one point—the guy in between me and Erin was sleeping, so when I had to use the restroom, I had Erin get up, got up on my seat, and literally jumped over the guy into Erin’s seat without waking him up.
Tuesday, August 16
Dubai day! This whole day felt like a weird dream, actually. For one thing, we were all really tired from not getting any sleep on the plane, and for another thing, Dubai is a study in contrasts. You’re very clearly in the Middle East, but you’re also surrounded by American and British stores.
The most surprising thing about Dubai? It was humid. I knew it would be really hot there, but I was thinking, oh, it’s the desert, it will be dry heat. No. It wasn’t. It was so humid you really couldn’t go anywhere outside. Which wasn’t a huge problem because everything we wanted to do was indoors, anyway. (Including skiing- one of the things I’d wanted to do indoors was skiing in a mall, but in the end I didn’t have time.)
We checked into our hotel rooms, then got in a cab to tour the Jumeirah Mosque. The cab driver, who took us right from the hotel, was a bit sketchy- he kept trying to get us to change our plans and go somewhere else, and we kept telling him to just take us to the damn mosque already. But luckily, that was as sketchy as the trip got. The mosque was beautiful, and we listened to a woman talk about Islam and answer questions.
Then we went to the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. It was pretty cool, but you actually couldn’t see that far from the observation deck due to dust. That is a weather forecast in Dubai—dust.
I think I mentioned that in London, we went to tea at Fortnum and Mason. After discovering that there was a Fortnum and Mason in Dubai, we decided to do it again! It was just as delicious as it was in London.
After that, it hit us that we were jet lagged and had gotten very little sleep, so we went back to the hotel to lay down for a bit.
Then we went out to dinner. Bridget wanted to have a great last meal before she headed back to the not-so-great food in Pakistan, so we went to a nice French restaurant.
And then it was time to head back to the airport. Bridget headed back to Pakistan, Jackie to DC, and Erin, Julie, and I to Boston.
Wednesday, August 17
Okay, I wish the story ended there, but I have to describe the absolutely INSANE flight back to Boston.
It was going okay until we were somewhere over Greenland. Then all of a sudden, on the map that shows where the plane is, I saw that we were going BACKWARDS and our destination was now Iceland. We were, it turned out, experiencing a medical emergency and had to land the plane. Someone told us later that the emergency was a little kid with pneumonia. Because we landed at a small airport, they had to jettison fuel and then re-fuel at the airport. So that took even longer, and then as we were taxing through the airport, we paused for a long time. Apparently, there was a SECOND medical emergency. (I have no idea what that one was.) So we had to wait some more.
Also, not long before we went on this trip, Emirates had this incident where a plane burst into flames. I think the flight crew was paranoid from that, because a couple of hours before we landed, Erin opened her eyes to find two flight attendants standing over her sniffing. One of them apparently thought she smelled something burning, and they made our whole row get up as we all looked at each other like, “What the hell? I don’t smell anything!” I honestly think the flight attendant must have been imagining things, because no one else smelled it and we returned to our seat pretty quickly.
So, we landed, finally, about five hours after we were supposed to. I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to spend the whole day sleeping at home, as planned, but things didn’t end there. Logan Airport took over two hours to return everyone’s bags. I have no idea why- they said something about being short on grounds crew but for the life of me I can’t figure out why it took as long as it did. We were standing by the baggage carousel as a small amount of bags would emerge every fifteen minutes or so.
So, yeah. Not the best flying experience I’ve ever had, but at least it made me happy to be home. Because this trip was such a great time, I didn’t want to go back to my normal life.
For a trip down memory lane, here’s my very first blog post on what was then called Struggling Single Twenty-Something. I’m sure it will surprise none of you to know that I kicked off the blog with a Les Mis reference.
I’d just graduated college then and was living with Christina about five hundred feet off-campus from BC. I changed the name of the blog when “twenty-something” was no longer relevant. Whether I’m still “struggling” is up for debate, but I am sad that ten years later, I’m no closer to relieving myself of the “single” status.
Most of what I wrote in that first post is still accurate, minus the publishing job. It took me longer than it should have to realize that I should be doing something else, and I just celebrated one year in my higher ed job.
It kind of makes me wonder how much I’ve really changed in ten years. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like very much, and like I should have changed more.
Blogging has certainly changed. For one thing, very few people are still doing it. I’ve written about it before here and here, so I won’t repeat myself, but one thing I thought of recently: when was the last time you heard someone mention the blogosphere? It used to be a term people used freely, but those days seem sadly past.
And I need to follow my own advice, because while I’m still posting something at least once a month, as I have from the beginning, I definitely don’t post as often. I do love blogging, but motivation is hard when so few other people are doing it.
I’ve stuck it out with this blog for ten years. And maybe it will change forms, maybe I’ll change in ways I can’t forsee right now, but I hope I’ll keep it going for a long, long time. (And yes, I have a draft of the Zimbabwe post- going up soon!)
So this is what I wrote for my birthday last year.
Yeah. I was really not in a good place.
But now? Honestly, I feel better. And there’s no huge reason why- I haven’t fallen in love or anything, haven’t even had any good dates recently. But there are a lot of good things that add up.
I have my new job now- and actually, I now have an even newer job. I got a bit of a promotion recently and so far it’s going really well. I like my coworkers, I like working in higher education, and I’m surprised at how little I miss my old job.
I like my new apartment. More sunlight, an awesome pool, no drug addict next-door neighbors (ah, Sketchy Meghan, I wonder where you are now?), a little balcony, a washer and dryer in-unit (although no dishwasher, weirdly), a library and several stores and restaurants a short walk away, and neighbors who are mostly ninety, which means it’s quiet.
Here’s some exciting news- next month, I’m going to Zimbabwe! Tiana and her husband (who’s a foreign service officer) have been there for a couple of years and now Erin, Julie, Jackie and I are going there to visit her. We’re going to see Victoria Falls and do a safari and go to a wildlife sanctuary- and on the way back, we have a long layover in Dubai!
I’ve been reading a LOT. I’ve read almost as many books so far in 2016 as I did all of last year- thank you, longer commute. I’m going to be posting about some of those books soon.
I’ve also been exercising and cooking more. I’m doing things I’ve meant to do for a long time.
I just feel…more connected to people, more comfortable with myself than I did at this time last year. I hope it lasts.
The Friday before Memorial Day weekend, I set off for New York, armed with my ticket for Hamilton.
It was a physical ticket, not even an e-ticket, but I was still worried that it somehow wasn’t legitimate, that something as awesome as being able to see Hamilton with its original cast (well, minus Jonathan Groff) could not really be happening to me, even if I had paid good money for the ticket. Judging by people’s reactions when I told them I was going to Hamilton, it might be the most impressive thing I’ve ever done.
I arrived in NYC on Friday, reading Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, the biography that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda to write the musical, on the bus ride down. I first went to the graveyard at Trinity Church, where Alexander and Eliza Hamilton are buried.
I THINK, based on my Internet research, that this is where Angelica Schuyler Church is buried. I couldn’t get too close to it and her name isn’t on the gravestone anyway.
And what do you know, Hercules Mulligan, the guy with the greatest name in history, is buried here, too.
I stopped at Fraunces Tavern for a drink, got a cookie at Levain Bakery, grabbed a quick bite to eat, then headed to my first show of the weekend, She Loves Me.
I didn’t really know the music before I saw the show, but I did know the story—You’ve Got Mail, one of my favorite movies, is based on The Shop around the Corner, an earlier movie which is based on a Hungarian play called Parfumerie. She Loves Me is also based on Parfumerie. So I knew what to expect from the storyline. The cast was excellent, and I got to meet some of them at the stage door afterwards. Laura Benanti didn’t go to the stage door because she was sick, but she did pre-sign some programs and she waved to us as she got into a car when she left. Here I am with Jane Krakowski and Zachary Levi!
The next day, I went to the Statue of Liberty. I’d been there before (in my pajamas), but this time I had crown access!
Then I got a cookie at Schmackary’s (which was awesome!) and went to the matinee of Waitress. It was AMAZING—even better than I expected. Jessie Mueller was incredible in the lead role—she made me tear up during “She Used to Be Mine.” And Christopher Fitzgerald totally deserved his Tony nomination. His character, done wrong, would end up seeing creepy or stalkerish—in the movie, in fact, it kind of seems like Dawn is settling for Ogie—but he was endearing and hilarious, especially on his big number “Never Getting Rid of Me.” Keala Settle, whom I also loved when she was Madame Thenardier in Les Mis, and Kimiko Glenn were both great as Becky and Dawn, respectively. Joe was played by Dakin Matthews—I remember him as Headmaster Charlton on Gilmore Girls! And all the music was phenomenal. I love Sara Bareilles, and I really hope she isn’t done writing musicals. Hamilton is totally going to win Best Score at the Tonys, but I feel like in any other year, it would be Waitress.
I didn’t take any pictures, but afterwards at the stage door, I met most of the cast. (Not Jessie, unfortunately.)
After a quick bite to eat, I headed to the Richard Rodgers Theatre to enter the room where it happens.
I’d listened to the cast album a million times, liking it better and noticing something more each time I listened to it. I’d read the Hamiltome. My expectations were pretty high.
Hamilton surpassed all of those expectations.
There are things about the show that don’t come across when you listen to it. The incredible choreography. The turntable that enables them to do some interesting things, like the rewind during “Satisfied.” Hamilton making fun of Jefferson’s dancing in “Cabinet Battle #1.” Hercules Mulligan being the flower girl in the wedding scene.
But moreover, the energy in the theater was just incredible. You knew everyone there was super excited and happy to be there. There was this palpable joy in the air, the kind of joy Lin-Manuel Miranda radiates every time he talks.
I am super lucky that I scored this ticket for when the original cast, except for Groffsauce, was still with the show, and all of them were on that night. I didn’t get to meet anyone at the stage door, unfortunately—I went, but it was really crowded and I couldn’t get up close, and after forty-five minutes the new king, Rory O’Malley, was the only person I saw come out.
The next day I went to a cat café. I love cats and wish I could have one, but it was so hard to find a new apartment after the fire and would have been even more so if I had a cat, so I think now I’m resigned to not getting one until I own a place. I didn’t take any pictures, but the kitties were cute!
Then I decided to see if I could get rush tickets for Bright Star. I’d listened to the album and had heard good things about the show, and although it’s gotten five Tony nominations, it’s struggling at the box office. So I got a ticket, for a pretty decent seat, and I’m glad I sent. The show, which is an original story, was written by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, and the music is all bluegrass.
I’m so happy I went. It’s a lovely show that more people should see. It takes place in North Carolina and goes back and forth between 1945 and the early 1920s. Carmen Cusack plays the main character, Alice, as both a lovestruck teenager in the 20s and an intimidating literary magazine editor in the 40s. She’s the absolute best thing about the show, and while her fantastic voice comes across on the album, her phenomenal acting needs to be seen in person. Her performance of “At Long Last” gave me goosebumps. She totally deserved her Tony nomination—and this is her first Broadway show, so I’m excited to see what her future holds! There are other things that need to be seen in person, too—one song, “Another Round,” didn’t make that much of an impression on me when I listened to it, but onstage it’s a really fun number.
Also, when the curtain came up after intermission, there was Steve Martin onstage playing the banjo! That doesn’t happen at every show, so I’m lucky I got to see him. At stage door (he’d left by then), the cast was saying that even they don’t know when he’s coming. Here’s a (not very good) picture of me with Carmen Cusack.
A little more sitting in the park, a little more book shopping, a little more good food, and my Hamiltrip came to an end.
Seriously, you guys, watch the Tonys tonight. Even if you don’t care who wins, now that I’ve seen four of the nominated shows, I can guarantee you that it’s going to be an awesome show.