Monthly Archives: February 2013

Spring organization

drawerEarlier this evening, after a Sunday of much cleaning and a Monday of working late, I guess I got really caught up in a bout of productivity and stopped by The Container Store on my way home. I wish I hadn’t.

It’s two floors of products for your every organizational need — even those you didn’t think you had. It’s a place of doom for the wallets of perfectionists. I managed to escape with only three items. Mainly because one was a bulky canvas container and the other was a long box containing a two-tiered shoe rack and I was going to tote them all home on public transportation. Because in addition to being a perfectionist, I am also incredibly frugal.

Yes, I was that girl everyone gave death stares when she carried on her Santa Claus-worthy sack of home organization goods onto the 6 train. And into the CVS pharmacy line. But whatever. I GOT ORGANIZED.

I came home, and assembled the shoe rack by myself. Then I re-organized the bottom of our closet, gaining at least two square feet of storage space “beneath” our closet. I re-folded all of the towels in the linen closet, and placed all of my kitchen towels and washcloths in a snazzy new container. I emptied out the only real drawer in my kitchen, my kitchen cart drawer (above), and organized all my culinary gizmos and gadgets.

I am very pleased with my de-cluttered spaces.

Now I am envisioning a fully re-organized apartment, with little compartments and crannies for everything, from paper clips to old birthday cards. Whole empty, spacious rooms will spring up from nowhere, giving our little home infinite possibilities.

Did I mention that The Container Store is only two blocks away from my office? Oh, dear me.

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High school, a story.

Glee_SlushieAgainst my better judgment and Sean’s taunting, I’ve been watching the second season of Glee on Netflix out of desire to watch a TV show that is still “new” to me. If you’ve seen Glee, then you know an ongoing gag in the show is the members of the Glee Club get “slushie facials” from the bullies of the school — in short, they get ice cold, unnaturally colored beverages thrown in their faces.

This never makes sense to me because at my high school, the closest thing we had to Glee Club was Opus, our most selective choir group, and they were like superstars at our school. We band kids should have been getting the slushie facials. There is nothing cool about hats with plumes or memorizing arpeggios. Being able to sing and dance is kind of awesome.

Anyway, all this fictional depiction of bullying made me think about a really great feature I read in New York magazine last month, “Why You Never Truly Leave High School.” In short, this article details the long-lasting psychological effects being the bullied nerd — or alternatively, the ruling Queen Bee — while in high school can have upon a person. Kind of depressing stuff. Get this: the kids who were nerds were painfully aware of it and never forgot. The kids that other kids deemed “popular” always thought someone else was more popular than them. In short, no one is ever happy with their social status. Or so this article says.

Of course, we all know the ultimate Queen Bee is Regina George.

Of course, we all know the ultimate Queen Bee is Regina George.

While I never felt bullied in high school, the way I saw other kids were, I felt the worst I was ever treated was completely ignored. I distinctly remember one “group” assignment in my freshman English class, in which by some horrible fate of luck, I was stuck in a group of three with two Queen Bees. I studiously began flipping through my novel and working on the assignment right away. One girl looked at the other and said, as if I was a chair and not a human being, “Looks like she’ll take care of it.” And then the two proceeded to gossip away.

While that isn’t a fun memory by any means, I was happy to have formed friendships with other hard-working, ambitious peers. We had pizza study parties with our history teacher on speed dial and exchanged calculus notes on long marching band trips. Our lives were not the glamorous making of teen movies, but most of us got college scholarships, and a few are in medical school now, so I think we did OK for ourselves in the end.

But there is one incident from high school that I will never forget. It makes me crack up now, but at the time, not so much.

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You know that part in The Princess Diaries? “Someone sat on me again”? That actually happened to me. I’m not even joking.

You see, it all started in the eighth grade. I had just moved from rural Southern Maryland to Northwestern Florida. I spent my first lunch there in tears, missing my childhood friends from up north so much I thought I would be sick to my stomach. (FYI, I do not recommend doing this on your first day at a new school. It’s not so great for making new friends.)

So there was that, and then this boy in my algebra class had developed an inexplicable fixation with me. Every time I went to answer a question on the white board — and I’m a nerd, so this was often — he would watch with rapt attention. After class, he’d follow me down the sidewalk (Florida schools tend to lack hallways, going for more of an outdoorsy approach that everyone scorns on rainy days), and we’d have incredibly deep conversations like this:

Him: Hi.

Me: Hi.

Him: You’re new here. Where are you from?

Me: Maryland.

Him: Cool.

Me: …

Him: You’re so quiet.

Me: …

Him: But I like you. You’re cute.

Me: …………………….

Him: Bye.

Me: Bye.

My painful shyness did not help these conversations as you can see. But let me tell you a little more about my eighth-grade admirer. He was on the football team. He had long, swoopy hair like every other Florida boy. He wore a blue Hurley hoodie every day. He “surfed” (still not sure how this is quite possible on Florida waves). He was one of those kids who had somehow, at 13, managed to show up at school smelling faintly of pot, with the telltale bloodshot eyes. So, yeah, basically “dreamboat” by stereotypical Florida middle school standards. If you like potheads and prime community college material, I guess.

Let me tell you about me in the eighth-grade. I had bangs and glasses. I made my mom drive me to the public library once a week. I was obsessed with the Disney Channel. I coveted all things Limited Too. My crush was young Christian Bale in Little Women (oh wait, this is still true):

urlSo you’ll have to excuse me if I was a little flustered one day at lunch, as I applied ranch dressing to my salad, when this fellow — who deserves no identity protection, so we’ll just call him like it is, Micah — shouted “Hey! Hey, you, Rebecca!”

I turn.

“Will you go out with me?”

I turn beet red. All of his swoopy-haired, “surfer” dude-friend are staring at me. I want to dissolve into the economy-size tub of ranch dressing. I am 13. What does that even mean? Will you go out with me? Why me? Why is this happening?!?

I bite my lip, scrunch my nose, shake my head.

“ARE YOU SERIOUS?!?”

The friends are laughing, and I nod, and dart away in a beet-red flurry.

It is only later that I realize that it was the day before a much-anticipated field trip to Mobile, Alabama, a good two- or three-hour drive away by bus. We got to choose our bus-buddies. Micah obviously was planning ahead. You see, the ultimate in eighth-grade “relationships” is hand-holding. Field trips are good for that.

The rest of eighth-grade algebra was uneventful. Micah by and large ignored me. By spring semester, he was switched to another algebra period because his schedule changed as football season became baseball season. My face glued to the white board, I hardly noticed.

Fast-forward to sophomore year of high school, the first day of classes. English II Honors. I snag a seat near a friend, and stare in horror as none other than 15-year-old Micah strolls in. I am even more horrified as we are re-seated in alphabetical horror, placing Micah C. directly behind me, Rebecca B.

I ultimately decide I am being stupid. Micah C., member of the JV football team, has forgotten about his fleeting eighth-grade affections and my rejection of him. Besides, I love English. He was not going to ruin this class for me.

Me, in high school, minus the poofy hair.

Me, in high school, minus the poofy hair.

I was so wrong.

Over the next few weeks, Micah developed a reputation as the class clown. His favorite prank was calling the classroom phone number on his cell, and then hanging up as soon as our teacher made it over. He also would steal her dry erase markers when she wasn’t looking upon entering the classroom, then roll them across the floor in the middle of her lectures, completely perplexing our somewhat senile instructor. (Charming guy, huh?)

Then one day, he dropped his pencil on the floor. On accident, I think. It rolled to the side of my desk. I was about to fetch it for him, like a nice person, when he strolled up out of his desk, bent over to grab his pencil…and then SAT ON ME. Like, actually, physically sat on me to reach his pencil.

After, he jumped up in fake-surprise and exclaimed, “Wow, I didn’t even see you there!”

Some of the Queen Bees who were smitten with his antics started snickering. I felt the beet-red come to my cheeks, and stared determinedly at my notebook for the rest of class. I still have no clue how I made it through the rest of the year with that jerk sitting behind me.

Looking back, I think it’s ridiculous I still remember this incident. It’s not like I was shoved into a locker, had nasty things written about me in the ladies’ room, was stood up for prom or any of the stereotypical teenage torments you see in movie. Probably everyone else in that one class of 25 students, save Micah and myself, forgot about the incident by lunch break that day. I know that.

But I haven’t forgotten in eight years.

So yeah, that New York magazine article? Scary accurate.

I’m not looking for any sympathy because it was such a minor incidence, and it makes me laugh now. If you’re wondering, Micah didn’t even make it through community college. Looking at his life versus mine now, I think I am entitled to the last laugh (again, see the New York mag article, or look at Mark Zuckerberg’s life, for the geeks shall inherit the earth). But it is annoying, you know, how the littlest things are intensified emotionally by five million when you’re an adolescent, searing such little embarrassing instances on your brain forever.

My advice is to be nice to everyone. Even the girls who don’t want to sit next to you on the field trip bus.

breakfast-club-1985-07-gDid anything awful happen to you in high school? Please tell me I’m not the only one who got sat on, hahaha.

P.S. Second-most-awful high school incidence: The time my own homeroom teacher gave me detention for forgetting my student ID at home. Student IDs were no longer enforced two weeks later. There is nothing more comical than a high school salutatorian trying to remain invisible in after-school detention.

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Being a Professional Grammar Queen

workI realize I haven’t written much of anything about my job since when I accepted the position in August. It’s hard to believe it’s already been six months, as of yesterday, since my start date! The time has passed quickly, but it’s also astounding to me just how much I’ve learned in that short period of time.

When I meet new people and they ask me what I do for a job, I usually reply, “I’m a copy editor for a trade magazine.” Short, sweet, and simple. To some people — accountants, mainly — this sounds really cool. I avoid using my technical title, “desk editor,” because that is even more vague to the outside world. But does anyone know what copy editors do, really?

I certainly didn’t know what a copy editor was when I was high school, which is the age when you are most likely to be asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I received plenty of suggestions from my teachers: go to medical school (from my biology teacher, unaware of how embarrassingly squeamish I am), be a female engineer (from my calculus teacher, who sadly did not realize that I am a word- and not a numbers-person), be this, be that. But no one ever suggested copy editing!

Which is too bad, really, because copy editing is a job that was developed just for people like me.

I get to read stuff all day (news stories, continuing education lessons, whooo!) and wield my Grammar Queen Red Pen of Power. JK, I do almost all editing on the computer. And if that weren’t enough to delight this little bookworm/news junkie, I get to do page design, too.

Page design is my favorite. It’s a combination of creativity and precision. I get to choose arrangements and colors that are pleasing to the eye, and I also get to do really finicky things like make sure everything is lined up juuuust right and that the spaces between, say, two articles is the ideal amount (if anyone is wondering, it’s one pica, or 1/6 of an inch). There’s rulers and grids and color palettes and FONTS, so many fonts involved. Adobe InDesign is my happy place.

In short, my job is to take information the reporters have gathered and present it to the reader in a way that is accessible, organized, and appealing. You could also say I put words and pictures on pieces of paper. Ha.

I also get to do other stuff that while not necessarily fun, still surprises me that I get to do for a job and get paid for it. Things like (I kid you not) wading through hundreds of photos to pick the prettiest ones, then processing them through Photoshop. Sometimes I make slideshow photo galleries for our website. I can assemble digital editions of the magazine that allow you to click on a specific article on the table of contents, and flip directly to that page. Sometimes I use a special computer program so that when readers scan a certain logo in the magazine with their smartphones, an additional video, podcast, or photo gallery will pop up. (That last one is actually really cool. I always triple-check anything I’ve programmed for scanning, mainly to relive the coolness again and again.)

I’ve learned how to use iMovie at a very, very basic level, and how to tag items in InDesign with XML so they can be easily uploaded to our website. I can make infographics and charts galore in Illustrator. I think I’ve finally figured out most of the Apple keyboard shortcuts for Adobe Creative Suite. Or at least the ones I feel the need to know.

And I know I will keep learning new things.

I love working in media/journalism/publishing because it’s such a dynamic industry. Yes, print is dying, but publications are not. News and current events will never cease to be important There are so many innovative ways to redesign the traditional print publication into something paperless and interactive. I can’t wait to see what will be thought up next.

(If you, too, are a professional interested in the changing mass media industry or are just a consumer who is curious about how news is made, I suggest the NY Times‘ blog Media Decoder, as well as mediabistro’s daily e-newsletter. Also, if you have Netflix, watch the documentary Page One. Throw in The September Issue and Helvetica for more fun info about the publication production process and typography/graphic design, respectively. You’re welcome.)

I love getting to work in an industry that is in some ways a little antiquated — I’ve always yearned for the bygone years of my favorite classical novels — but also exceedingly modern. As a liberal arts major, I know how invaluable it is to have so many hard skills and proficiency in numerous computer programs. I like the confident, valued feeling of knowing I have the ability to do something that not everyone else can, that I do something much more than fix misplaced commas and write headlines. (But believe me, writing headlines takes skill like you would not believe. Writing headlines is the bane of my existence.)

So, all in all, everything with my job is going really well. Is it my “dream job”? No. But my dream job is something like getting paid millions to recommend my favorite books to customers in a bookstore while drinking lattes and petting cats all day. Or, OK, working for a newsy consumer magazine, like Time or New York. Or maaaayyybeeee Martha Stewart Living or Real Simple.

But my current job is a good stepping stone, with lots of responsibility and potential for growth during my time here.

Other perks: lovely coworkers, short commute on public transportation (less than 30 minutes), K-Cup machine, casual dress code. Getting to work on a Mac at a desk with a window view (you know, of another building and pigeons) isn’t so bad either.

I will never cease to be grateful for the opportunities given to me. I’m not going to pretend like I didn’t work insanely hard to land two full-time, salaried journalism jobs in the first two years out of undergrad. But I do know at least part of the reason I’m here is luck, and for that, I am forever grateful.

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Five-star read: Unbroken

I just finished — seriously, 15 minutes ago — one of the best books I have read in a long time. And I know it’s only February so this might be a moot point, but easily the best books I have read yet in 2013.

bookcoverThis book was recommended to me many times, especially when I asked friends for nonfiction suggestions for my New Year’s Reading Resolution. I know that it was a NYT bestseller and Time magazine’s Best Book of 2010, but for some reason, I just couldn’t quite believe the hype.

And the thing is, of all people, I should have some personal interest in a biography about a U.S. Army bombardier who, by an unfortunate twist of fate, becomes a Japanese POW during WWII. I lived in Iwakuni, Japan when I was in first grade, as my dad served in the Marine Corps (he still works with the Department of Defense and travels there often). My paternal grandfather served in the Pacific Campaign of WII, and later in the Korean War, with the U.S. Navy. I studied the story of Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes when I lived in Iwakuni, and even helped fold paper cranes to mail to her memorial statue in Hiroshima as a peace offering. So. What. Was. Wrong. With. Me?!?! WHY DIDN’T I WANT TO READ THIS BOOK?

I’m only sorry I did not read this book sooner. Yes, it is a military history book in the sense that there is a lot of information about the planes (B-29s) and military tactics of WWII. But it is SO. MUCH. MORE. Specifically, it is the detailed life story of this man, Louis Zamperini:

WK-AV921_COVER__DV_20101110182743If I were to summarize this man’s incredible story to you, it would sound like a cross between Forrest Gump and The Life of PiOnly, guys. It really happened! Louis — or Louie, as he is more often called — not only endures his plane crashing into the Pacific Ocean, surviving for more than a month on a raft smaller than a bathtub with two crew mates (oh, by the way, fending off man-eating sharks along the way), but THEN has his raft shot down by a Japanese bomber. Then endures two years as a POW in Japan, where he is starved, beaten, and tortured to the brink of death. Not to spoil anything for you, but, um, history: the Allies win, and Louie makes it back to the States, where he must face the personal demons of PTSD, alcoholism, and depression and a plaguing hatred for the Japanese.

As the title of the book, Unbroken, might give away, Louie is a victor in all battles.

Louie embraces his mother, Louise, upon his post-war homecoming.

Louie embraces his mother, Louise, upon his post-war homecoming.

Did I mention that in his pre-Army days, Louie broke all kinds of running records, nearly achieved the four-minute mile and competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics (where Hitler personally congratulated him on his athletic finesse)? Did you know he’s still alive and well today, in his 90s? That you might have seen him in, oh, five Olympic opening ceremonies in the past as he carried the famed torch?

I didn’t, but I’m so glad to know Louie now. What an incredible story about the importance of human dignity and perseverance. I was expecting an exhilarating, harrowing survival story, but what I learned is that it takes so much more than food, water, and shelter to remain truly alive.

This quote from the book really resonated with me: “Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen. The stubborn retention of it, even in the face of extreme physical hardship, can hold a man’s soul in his body long past the point at which the body should have surrendered it.”

It was so interesting to read about the little ways the POWs kept their sanity and dignity, even by doing little things like stealing pencil boxes or teaching the dumber, unknowing Japanese guards vulgar English. This book also illustrated how sometimes the existence of hope can truly mean the difference between life and death.

To be honest, some parts of the book were very emotionally challenging to get through. In American public schools, much of what happened to the Allied soldiers in Japan and the atrocities commited by the Japanese military and government are not openly talked about, at least in substantial detail. You’d be hard pressed to find a U.S. teenager who could correctly explain the Rape of Nanking as opposed to, say, Auschwitz. I have read numerous fictional and nonfictional works depicting life under the Nazis’ control of Germany and the horrors of concentration camps, but I had no idea just how nightmarishly the Japanese military treated their POWs.

For example, at one point Louie injures his ankle and can no longer contribute to the hard physical labor the POWs endure in coal mines and the like, so “the Bird,” a sadistic camp leader, forces him to tend to a camp pig, forcing him to clean the stall with his bare hands or else endure a brutal beating. Louie is so malnourished he resorts to stealing handfuls of slop from the swine’s trough for extra sustenance. This is just one example of the abuse he endures.

unbrokenNeedless to say, it is hard not to become quite emotionally attached to the book’s heroes. After seeing men at their weakest and most vulnerable, you can’t help but feel you know them most intimately. I cried at several points in the book, like when an American pilot signals to the POWs that the war is finally over and they are free. Oh, and at the above passage. After witnessing so much suffering, it was hard not to share in the soldiers’ elation and joy, too.

I recommend this book to, well, everyone, but especially Americans. Why do we not read these kinds of things in schools?!? It’s hard to read something like this and not care deeply about our country’s history, about the sacrifices of our military and the hardships on the homefront of decades past. What’s even more mind-boggling to me is that this book focuses mainly on ONE man’s story. Just one. One man out of so many who served their countries during the war. It’s hard to grasp the untold stories that were lost forever in men’s unmarked graves.

Also, big, huge props to writer Laura Hillenbrand for tackling this epic of tale. She spent more than seven years on this project, interviewing Louie more than 70 times (in addition to countless other witnesses and sources), and poring over Louie’s pack-rat scrapbooks, one of which weighed more than a whopping 60 pounds. It is quite a feat to compile so much research, so much information, so much history, into one book and make it so readable, so human…and so addicting. It was hard to put this down at the end of my bus rides or lunch hour. Let’s say I pushed back my bedtime a few times to finish this read.  (At one point, I was racing through, thinking “OK, they’ve got to drop the atomic bombs on Japan soon! And then the war will almost be over.”)

Inspiring, phenomenal, amazing. All the cliches apply here, and rightfully so. Do yourself a favor, and read Unbroken. I swear it’s not the military brat in me speaking.

urlP.S. As of December, there is talk of a film adaptation, to be directed by Angelina Jolie. Whatever. Read the book.

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5 things (about life lately)

560379_10151458986121743_1899409956_n(1) Last night, I made Ratatouille a la Remy, just like in the Disney/Pixar film, thanks to smitten kitchen. I am immensely proud of myself and my mandolin for our hard work. Also, isn’t this one of the prettiest dinners you’ve ever seen? It’s really tasty, too. Now I want to try cooking other French-ish things like coq au vin or boeuf bourguinon. I love cooking. Cooking is my favorite.

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(2) It’s funny how people always make Christmastime to be all winter-y, dreaming of White Christmases and decorating with snowmen and paper snowflakes, when really February is the dead of winter. And no one wants to go out on their Valentine’s date in 5 degree weather. It’s amusing how quickly everyone’s seasonal love for scarves, hot chocolate, and other warm coziness fades by this time of the year. I’m struggling to remember how deathly hot it was when we moved in at the end of June, when I took two frigidly cold showers a day and pressed chilled Diet Coke cans to my forehead to prevent overheating. (Photo taken from Sean’s office, at Madison & 42nd, overlooking Grand Central Station.)

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(3) Central Park in the snow is the most beautiful, happy thing. When we got about a foot of snow on Feb. 9, there were hundreds and hundreds of New Yorkers out enjoying the snowfall. It looked like one of the old-timey Victorian postcards by Currier & Ives, depicting an era when people would go ice skating on frozen ponds instead of man-made ones and used wooden toboggans instead of the colorful plastic ones of today’s age. You know, like this? This was Central Park two Saturday’s ago.

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It was such a delight to see children zooming around every which way on sleds and inner tubes and their own backs, dogs frolicking, and grown-ups giggling delightedly like children.

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(4) I started volunteering one evening a week with the cat rescue organization from which we adopted our dear Ali. Myself and two other volunteers tend to the half dozen or so cats currently living at the UES Petco. We clean up after them, feed them, provide any medications, and love on them (of course!). Petco is a sad in-between place, like a cat orphanage, before cats are adopted or just temporarily fostered. Some of the kitties, like adventurous, not-quite-photogenic Diesel (above, who just went to a forever home this past weekend!) are sweet as can be. Some are problem children, who dump their food face-down into their litter boxes or hiss at all the other cats. The cats cycle out pretty quickly, fortunately, but it means there’s always someone new in transition there and you don’t know how they’re going to act. In case you couldn’t guess, I now want to adopt ALL OF THE KITTIES. Even the problematic ones.

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(5) For Valentine’s Day (OK, technically the day after Valentine’s), Sean and I checked out the NYC location of Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, which opened in the fall. We went to the original — and only other — location of Beecher’s at Pike’s Place in Seattle on our honeymoon. It was eerie how similar the two locations looked, right down to the milk jug “stools” and the glass walls that allow you to watch employees make cheese on-site. We went to the downstairs “cellar,” which was surprisingly ritzy. They have nice happy hour deals where you can get the “world’s best mac ‘n cheese” for half-price and $6 glasses of wine. It was super-crowded and unorganized downstairs, and while the decor was nice and the macaroni was delicious, as expected, I think next time we’ll just eat in the casual upstairs deli. Same thing, lower price. 🙂

Then we came home and made fancy s’mores on our gaslit stovetop with a s’mores kit I got from the Brooklyn-based etsy shop whimsy&spice. These were a little more “grown-up,” with substantial graham shortbread cookies, maple-infused homemade marshmallows, and extra-fancy Madecasse chocolates.

But yeah, we did celebrate Valentine’s with mac & cheese and s’mores, so we are probably 10 years old, secretly.

P.S. My Valentine’s gift from Sean, which completely broke our rule of “not getting anything seriously nice,” is two tickets to see She & Him on the Central Park Summerstage this July, furthering my Zooey D. obsession. So sweet! I’m already envisioning myself in a flowy sundress and sandals in the NOT COLD.

Check these two cool kids out here. This will be my third time seeing M. Ward live, and you should definitely check out his work with indie supergroup Monsters of Folk. And give a listen to M.’s solo stuff, too.

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Television ‘comfort food’

With the snow here, I’ve been nostalgic for Gilmore Girls, probably because it seems like it is always winter in Stars Hollow, Connecticut. This show is also the chicken soup for my soul.

Sean always makes fun of me for cycling through the seasons for the millionth time since high school, but I can’t help it. Something about the familiar cast of eccentric characters, the quirky small town setting, the witty banter, it just makes me feel warm and cozy inside.

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And every time I watch the show, I seem to get a few more of the literary and pop culture references (my favorite, from Paris during her college daily editor-in-chief days: “Journalism is an art form, and the best art is created under repression, like Stalin’s Gulag. You think Solzhenitsyn could’ve written ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’ on a yoga retreat?”). So it’s never quite the same, you see.

As I watch the second season, and Jess is first introduced to the show, I’m reminded so much of how much I loved the relationship between him and Rory. It is the ultimate romance for book-lovers. Take this scene centered around Rory’s copy of Howl:
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RORY: You stole my book.

JESS: Nope, borrowed it.

RORY: Okay, that’s not called a trick, that’s called a felony.

JESS: I just wanted to put some notes in the margins for you.

RORY: What? [looks through the book] You’ve read this before.

JESS: About forty times.

RORY: I thought you said you didn’t read much.

JESS: Well, what is much? Goodnight, Rory.

RORY: Goodnight, Dodger.

JESS: Dodger?

RORY: Figure it out.

JESS: Oliver Twist.

Ugh, so good. Jess is every bookworm’s dream boyfriend. Also, he’s from New York, so he’s super-cool, OK?

Did you know there’s actually a Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge list of all the books referenced or shown in the television series? It always makes me feel pleased with myself when they reference a book I’ve read (“Just call me Ponyboy.” in reference to The Outsiders, or “My mother, the Howard Roark of Stars Hollow.” in reference to The Fountainhead).

Rory has always been one of my favorite fictional characters because I liked that especially in the early seasons, she was very shy and studious — which made her sooo much more relateable for me than anyone on other teen shows of my high school years like The O.C. or One Tree Hill.

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Fun fact: Rory and I also have the same birthday (October 8) and college major (English). We’re also both from small towns with funny names (Stars Hollow, Niceville) that host annual events (like the Boggy Bayou Mullet Festival in Niceville). We both were editors at our college newspapers and got our first “grown-up” jobs as reporters. We also both had our long-term college boyfriends propose to us shortly before college graduation, although we gave different answers. We’re basically twins. Except I don’t have wealthy New England grandparents who sent me to Yale or a mom who had me at 16, but that’s OK.

Do you have a favorite TV show that always makes you feel a little happier than before you started watching it? I feel more relaxed as soon as the opening credits of Gilmore Girls come on.

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Neighborhood love.

photoThe winter has made us a little stuck in a rut where it is hard to motivate ourselves to go anywhere and do much besides watch rented movies and read at home. I think it’s nice to have a month or so of “hibernation” time. We’ve been lamely staying in the UES for much of the weekend. Which is fine by me, because I love our neighborhood. I love all the dogs in sweaters and little kids in snow boots.

IMG_3850On Saturday, while venturing out to our favorite corner diner a few blocks away, we noticed that Ottomanelli’s Cafe 86 had reopened after five months of mysterious deadness. It was a great discovery. Ottamenlli’s Cafe is a true neighborhood gem: a too-narrow restaurant that serves up extremely reasonably priced Italian dishes that taste like your mama made them. If your mama is Italian, that is. Mine isn’t, but I imagine the hearty, simple meals there could be served in some Italian mom’s home kitchen. I love their spaghetti bolognese. And their lasagna. All of the meat in their dishes is delivered fresh daily from their meat shop down the street.

The Ottomanellis have a sort of meat empire across the city. They’ve been a big name in the butcher business since 1900, but the sons (grandsons?) have since split up and staked out territory in different neighborhoods. One of their butcher shops is across the street from us (at 82nd and York Ave). It’s more pricey than what you can get at the supermarket, but it’s definitely quality. We bought some freshly ground beef here for Sunday’s dinner, and it was much better than chuck. Also, all their beef is from grass-fed cattle, which is good to know. And people who work there know their regulars by name, and call new faces “sir” or “ma’am.” The floor is checker linoleum. Need I say more?

We ended up dining at Ottomanelli’s Cafe on Saturday night, and it did not disappoint. It’s a bit out of the way for everyone else, but it’s a Yorkville favorite. The place was hopping, and people kept having to wait in the cramped entry way for a table to open up. Throughout dinner, we kept hearing people telling the two servers how glad they were the place was back open for business.

lOn Sunday, we went to Beanocchio’s Cafe, our go-to hangout spot these days for when we get need to get out of the apartment. This place is SUCH a breath of fresh air in a city full to the brim with Starbucks and Coffee Bean. There are little figurines of Snap, Crackle and Pop (you know, the Rice Krispies icons) and Archie Comics characters on the back shelf next to the assortment of tea bags. There’s a stuffed Pinocchio doll, naturally. The menu, which includes breakfast items and sandwiches, is painstakingly written by hand on a giant chalkboard. You almost feel like the gang from Friends could come walking in at any moment to catch up.

We just get two black coffees and a muffin (all of their muffins are awesome, none of that dried-out Starbucks nonsense) to split, and then linger there for an hour or so. This Sunday, we couldn’t get a two-person table, so we had to sit at the large kitchen-type table at the back with — gasp! — strangers.

It turned out to be a really pleasant time. We ended up swapping sections of the Sunday Times with a gray-haired couple and randomly chatting with two women about Downton Abbey — our unanimous entertainment choice for that evening over the Super Bowl.

And they say you never meet your neighbors in New York.

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