Sunday, December 28, 2008

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Real Icicles

Our living room window. Christmas Eve 2008.

Now I understand why Dave thinks the plastic Christmas icicles that people decorate their houses with in California are tacky.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Gina's Blogging Boot Camp in Mexico

Casa Sierra Negra del Sur

I'm pleased to announce that I'll be teaching a one-day Blogging Boot Camp in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico on Friday, February 20, 2009, 10am to 2pm at Casa Sierra Negra del Sur (Black Mountain South House…i.e. the fabulous Hyams-Barrett family compound).

Topics: Nuts and bolts how-to with helpful hand-outs galore, super savvy marketing tips, and oodles of creative inspiration to keep you fired up and cranking out compelling blog posts. I'll also reveal the meta and mini blog mysteries that are Facebook and Twitter.

$65 (includes snacks!)

To sign up, please send a note to ginahyams@gmail.com.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

First Snow

Here's what Goose and I saw this morning as we walked down the driveway to fetch the paper.

Eight or so inches of snow.

Our house and barn.

Campfire circle in the woods.

Plowed driveway entrance.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Mexican Wrestler Christmas Ornament


Happy holidays from Los Hyams-Barrett

Dos Mujeres Mexican Folk Art carries a slew of wonderful Mexican tin ornaments including this one.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

R.I.P. Lucky Green Glasses


My glasses frames sprouted an irreparable crack over the weekend. I called Dave from the Petco parking lot in Pittsfield to report the sad news. He tried to comfort me with "honey, you are more than your glasses," but I wasn't so sure. These weren't just any glasses. They were the best glasses in the history of glasses, or at least the history of my face and glasses.

I found them at Next Eyewear on College Avenue in Oakland six or seven years ago. As I recall, I didn't really need new glasses at the time and I was broke as usual, but when I tried them on, there was something so extraordinarily right about them, so me only better best self about them, that I whipped out my credit card with the justification: no one will deny me if I'm wearing these glasses...which actually more or less proved true, plus they generated an incredible amount of good will and conversation.

Literally hundreds of strangers, from all walks of life and of all races, thought enough of my glasses to stop me on the street or on the bus or in the spa locker room to compliment me about them. Society matrons. Homeless men. Hip baristas from coast to coast. These glasses helped me learn to graciously accept a compliment. I'd smile like I'd never heard it before, look the person in the eye, and offer a sincere thank you in return.

It's hard to say what exactly made these glasses compelling to such a wide range of people. All I know about their origin is that they were French and one of a kind. There's no label on the frames. I just sent the above photo to Next Eyewear hoping that someone there will recognize the designer.

The glasses were subtly spectacular. They did a slow burn. When they caught people's attention, the design somehow made them look closer. The liquid green pattern, the not quite cat's eye shape, and the flirty black rhinestones combined with the feng shui of my face in a mysterious way that compelled people to talk to me.

I'm not a particularly fashionable or put-together person and sometimes the compliments felt like compassion...like the people thought: damn that geeky girl got something right, let's prop her up and celebrate.

These glasses let me walk into any room and know that even though I might not be the smartest or the prettiest or the best writer or the most patient mother, odds were I'd have the best glasses. I will miss that power.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

R.I.P. Lucky Green Sweater

Looking through a folder of old digital photos this evening, I stumbled on this shot of Susan, Anne, and me celebrating the almost-sale of Searching for Mary Poppins and S's and my 40th birthdays at Tabla in New York. I'm wearing the fabled lucky green sweater, which will soon be transformed into a keepsake felted something thanks to Kari of Chixon.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Dave's Festive Phallic Holiday Lights

A change of pace from our neighbors' winter berry-trimmed wreaths, inflatable snow globes, life-sized manger scenes, and flickering no-room-at-the-inn candles in windows, eh?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Sol LeWitt at Mass MoCA

Photo by Erik Jacobs for The New York Times

Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective recently opened at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. I haven't yet had a chance to trek to North Adams to see the spectacle, but fortunately the exhibit will remain up for 25 years. Here's a link to a New York Times article about it.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Saskia Larraz Trunk Show at Allium Tonight


I've started hand-washing (or rather, machine-washing on the gentle cycle) my dry clean-only sweaters as a cost-savings measure...which is mostly working fine, except that doing so somehow ruined (shriveled up and shrank) my beloved lucky green Eileen Fisher sweater. I bought that sweater to sell the proposal for Searching for Mary Poppins (which linking the title just now, I see is currently selling used on Amazon for a penny...nice) and wore it in the Berkshires to all meetings at which there seemed to be anything important at stake. Now it's gone and I need a new lucky talisman.

That's my ever so reasonable and rational business justification for attending Saskia Larraz's trunk show at Allium tonight in Great Barrington. Don't you agree that this bracelet is the key to my professional future?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Twitter Update


"Blog to reflect. Tweet to connect."

I don't know where this quote originated. I read it via Debbie Stier whose Twitter stream I stumbled upon a few days ago -- how I don't remember, I just liked that in her profile, she described her profession as "Publishing Insurgent."

I figured out how to feed my Twitter updates to this blog (see right), so those of you who don't want to join the fray can still get a taste of it and click as you like on the various interesting links that pass through.

RT = retweet, meaning one is forwarding on someone else's post. @whatever name = who one is responding to or talking about. Out of context, the posts may not make much sense. That's OK. Just let the experience of reading them wash over you and whatever pleasure or horror sticks, that's the point.

My friend Susan Ito blogged about the appeal of Twitter and Facebook today.
She wrote, "I was always a sucker for passing notes in class, and writing observations in a notebook a la Harriet the Spy, and this is the grownup, high tech version of that." Exactly.

Monday, November 24, 2008

will.i.am's "It's a New Day" video



I woke up happy, with this song blasting through my head. Perhaps you, too, would like to watch this video again.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Aaron Neville Kicks Off Holiday Tour at Mahaiwe



Annalena and I went to the mall yesterday in search of a homecoming dance dress (alas, I'm not finding the winning Forever 21 strapless, black and gray-striped, silk bubble dress online to show you...14 year olds are the only creatures with any business wearing such a confection and junior rocks it). Anyway, it's already Christmas at the mall. Normally, I abstain from holiday music until December 1st, but given the economy, I don't begrudge the merchants for trying to stir up some early cheer.

I'm also making an exception to the no Christmas music before December 1st rule for Aaron Neville, who kicks off his Creole-spiced solo holiday tour on Friday, November 28st, 8pm at the Mahaiwe in Great Barrington. Backed by a quintet that features his brother Charles Neville on sax, Aaron’s show will focus on classics from his albums, Christmas Prayer and Soulful Christmas, alongside hits from throughout his five decades-long career. Click here for tickets.

I'm especially looking forward to hearing him sing songs from his recent album, Bring It on Home...The Soul Classics. Aaron says on his website, "These classic songs have been pumping blood to my heart from the first second I heard them. They've been a part of my life. Singing them, especially in the aftermath of Katrina, was a deeply spiritual experience. They helped me get through. They gave me hope. And for me, music has always been about hope."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Interview with Anne Bramley


Anne Bramley is a food scholar, university lecturer, writer, cook, and host of the internationally acclaimed podcast, Eat Feed. She was born in a Midwestern blizzard and has thrived on all the best things cold weather provides, from her grandmother's "snow ice cream" to deep-winter snowshoeing. She has also traveled the world, living in England, Germany, and United States and learning from each new food culture she encounters.

Eat Feed Autumn Winter: 30 Ways to Celebrate when the Mercury Drops is her first cookbook. Epicurious.com just named it one of the Best Cookbooks of 2008. She lives with her husband, daughter, two cats, and two dogs in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where they eagerly await the next snow day.

*******************

Gina: Your book is filled with lots of wonderful historical recipes. On election night, I had a good time reading your accounts of Lincoln's Inaugural Chicken Salad, Washington's Favorite Corn Cakes, and Jefferson's Peanut Sundaes. Where did you track down these gems? Also, what did you end up serving at your own election night get-together?

Anne: As an academic, I've always got my head in some archive or other and tend to collect bits and bobs of culinary history since you never know when you'll want them. And as a former Chicagoan (and Hyde Park resident) my election night was inspired by some of our favorite foods from the city and neighborhood.

Gina: In your acknowledgments, you mention that novelist Katharine Weber gave you an early boost. How did you meet her and how did she help you?

I met Katharine through Readerville. She is always there with ready and willing advice about the writing life -- agents, pitching, publicity, and more -- and she's always generous in lending an ear as well as a hand to a new writer. Plus she has sent me some of my best podcast topics and guests.

Gina: I'm charged with bringing cranberries to Thanksgiving dinner at my mother-in-law's house this year. I know you love the topic of cranberries. Please tell me how should I cook them and share with my readers why you think they're so interesting.

Anne: Every way and in everything! I love that they are really one of the few remaining foods that have a season that you can't industrialize your way around. At least as far as I've seen, they aren't shipped in from the southern hemisphere as with things like raspberries. Instead, I long for the October harvest each year and then try to do as much as possible before they're all gone from the shelves in January or February.

When I have the ability to cook just cranberries and not have something else in the oven, I love to do low temp, slow cook with a bit of spirit at the end. I don't really have a recipe and tweak it every time, but do something like a pound of cranberries with 1/2 to 1 cup of brown sugar for 1 to 2 hours at 200 to 225 degrees. Add a splash of alcohol in the final 15 minutes -- brandy if you're going for a Jeffersonian French inspiration, rum for something a bit more middle-brow colonial. The key thing about the low temp for a long time is that the berries don't pop and go mushy like in a stovetop sauce. Instead they just gently warm and soften. Mmmm. (Also, I know it's a big range on the sugar, but people have wildly different sweetness desires when it comes to cranberries and I prefer mine a bit tart, vaguely reminiscent of the kind of tart sauces that historically accompanied meat like verjuice in the Renaissance or a 19th-century gooseberry or rhubarb sauce.)

Gina: What is your favorite winter cocktail?

Anne: When I'm looking for some vitamins with my vice, it's a Bloody Mary made with Scandinavian aquavit (like the Bloody Sigrid in the book). But oftentimes I just want something really warm, creamy, sweet and possibly nutty, so I wrap myself around whatever boozy milk punch is on offer.

Gina: What's next on your proverbial plate?

Anne: Getting a position in the new administration as the local seasonal food czar. If that doesn't work out, endless meals with great cold weather foods and a little bit more time with my husband and toddling daughter and our menagerie of 4 animals who are often lounging in front of the warmth of the oven waiting to see what experiment pops out next.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Silly Goose

The love dog awaiting pack hike in Kennedy Park this morning.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Lemon Water, Lotusland, Hello

Hello, Imaginary Friends --

As I type this entry, a wildfire rages in Santa Barbara and my thoughts are with Lotusland, an extraordinary garden that seems to be in the fire's path. I took Dave there for his birthday years ago. It would be sad to lose this historic treasure. If it survives and you haven't visited, I suggest you book a trip there pronto.

I spent the week at an organic juice purification retreat at Kripalu doing research for an article. I'd never fasted before and it was...challenging. I found that the detoxification process made me queasy (a symptom that, according to the instructor, meant my gallbladder was purging). My sense of smell became so acute, I couldn't stomach the potassium-rich root vegetable broth or the enzyme-laden green juice spiked with spirulina. Even the ginger tea didn't sit well. I mostly stuck to lemon water, Emergen-C, and millet. After four days, I emerged radiant, five pounds slimmer, and a little loopy, craving yams and chicken soup.

While the experience was interesting, I can't imagine wanting to repeat it...except for the lemon water part, which I've vowed to keep drinking every day. I'm quite convinced that it, salsa music, and walking Goose in the woods, are key to my mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

I hope you all are well. Thanks for stopping by.

Love,
Gina

UPDATE - November 17, 2008
Good news posted on the Lotusland website:

"We are relieved to let you know that Lotusland has survived the devastating Tea fire. We would like to express our most sincere gratitude to the brave firefighters, police, sheriff, and all departments involved in the heroic effort to save lives and property. For further information please check www.montecitofire.com."

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Duncan Sheik to Perform at the Mahaiwe

Next Saturday, November 15, singer-songwriter-composer Duncan Sheik will perform selections from his hit musical, Spring Awakening (which won eight Tony Awards in 2007 ), along with other original material, at the Mahaiwe in Great Barrington. Spring Awakening original cast member Lauren Pritchard will join him for the concert. How fun is that? Be there!

And please consider joining me as a friend of the Mahaiwe, which just lost $150,000 of its funding due to state budget cuts. We are so lucky to have this gem of a venue in our little town.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes We Did

Zilly Rosen of Zillycakes in Buffalo, New York, built a likeness of our now President-Elect Barack Obama using 1,240 cupcakes. Click here to read an interview with the artist-baker.

I feel proud to be an American this morning.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Metal Mouth No More

I'm posting these photos with the grudging permission of my daughter. For the record according to her: I am the most annoying blogging mother e-v-e-r. But isn't she cute?

Dave and Annalena in Provincetown last summer.

Look out, world. Baby's got contacts and a metal-free smile. We celebrated the unveiling of her straight teeth this morning with hot chocolate at Haven in Lenox.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Happy Day of the Dead


"There is more time than life."
-- Mexican proverb

"Day of the Dead celebrates the intimate, continuing relationship between the living and the dead. Like the celebration of a birthday, it reconfirms annually the love, goodwill, and generosity that the beloved can count on, no matter that they are dead."

"Day of the Dead altars give tangible form to our feelings of loyalty, affection, and longing for those who have passed away. The holiday isn't about ghosts and goblins; it's about the strength of family ties and enduring love. The Mexican mix of stoicism, wit, and reverence teaches us that death is a natural extension of life. By honoring our loved ones' spirits in living color, and sharing their legacies with our children and community, we nourish a sense of continuity. We are all much less alone."
-- Me

Candles to light the way for the spirits of our loved ones to find their way home, water to quench their thirst after the long journey, salt to represent the spice of life, and flowers to symbolize its ephemeral loveliness. Our Day of the Dead altar now stretches six feet across a window sill.

Chester, the guinea pig. A coconut mask kitty stands in for Etta-pus. We substituted mini pumpkins for marigolds.

My brother, Jan, and the blue bird of happiness he gave Annalena, along with polished stones that he tumbled himself.

My dad, Dave's dad.

Dave's brother, Pete. (The photo is his passport.)

My brother, Charlie, and grandmother, Mae.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Air Tahiti Nui's 10th Anniversary Contest

There's wintry mix in the forecast for tonight in Massachusetts. I'm thinking it's a good day to win a free trip to Tahiti. Thanks to Wendy Perrin for the 411 (via Twitter...like I've been saying: people, it's useful!).

Monday, October 27, 2008

Canyon Ranch Offers Spa Renewal Days to Berkshire Residents

Canyon Ranch in Lenox is generally guarded like Fort Knox, access limited to those who can afford to spend a couple grand per day to retreat and recharge. Rumor has it it's where Hilary Clinton went to regain her equilibrium after her defeat in the primary election. I don't know if that's true or not, but I can report firsthand, having spent a few days there on assignment earlier this year, that it is indeed a special place.

I've written a lot about spas, and my first impression of Canyon Ranch was that it was too sprawling and corporate. In the end, though, the staff won me over. A lot of smart, caring, talented people work there. And, unlike some other health spas, they're preaching good common sense. Their philosophy of health isn't whack-a-doodle extreme. For instance, they won't make you drink hempmilk (no offense to those who like the stuff). One leaves the ranch feeling invigorated and armed with tools for living a more joyfully engaged and healthy life. Other than the fact that the experience costs so much, what's not to like?

They usually don't sell day passes, but now through December 21, 2008 they're offering Berkshire residents a day rate of $225, including a gourmet lunch, unlimited use of the facilities, lectures, classes, and one service valued at $130 (which won't go far, but you could probably get a very nice pedicure).

If you do go, be sure to sit at the "Captain's Table" during lunch, which is open to anyone who wants to meet new people. I had wonderful, unexpected conversations there with a guy who described his job as "nation building in a box," a Harvard professor who was writing a book about dignity, and a young Brooklyn Hip Hop fashion designer.

Call 800-742-9000 for details and reservations.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Which Photo is Best?



Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I've been switching out the profile photo a lot lately. I've been testing the recent Berkshire Museum photobooth shots to see how they might look on my revamp-in-progress website. My mother wrote this evening: "You seem to be specializing in Tilted Head and Recipes these days. Have you any straight-on vegetarian head shots? ...Nice shot of the truck." Annalena thinks my eyes look crazy in the gazing heavenward smiley photo. Obviously there are more important things to fret about, but I need to turn in one of these to accompany a magazine article this week. Which do the royal we think is best?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

We're Selling Grandpa Bob's Truck

Grandpa Bob's Truck

Midnight Blue 1997 Ford Ranger XLT
  • Only 25,000 miles (literally, he only drove it to the post office and to the dump)
  • Like new condition (Bob took care of his stuff)
  • 2-wheel drive, 5-speed
  • 4-cylinder engine
  • Good gas mileage
  • $3,500 firm
Call Dave: 413-281-9310

Friday, October 24, 2008

Favorite Brisket Recipes?

Beef poster by Steven Norman

I have a certain fear of cooking meat, but the Dutch oven gives me hope of not screwing it up. This morning at breakfast I announced my intention to try my hand at brisket. Dave said, "Isn't that the name of one of Sarah Palin's children?"

I'd be most grateful for any brisket tips.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Interview with Caren Cross

Writer, director, and producer Caren Cross is a first-time documentary filmmaker who became obsessed with wanting to figure out why she and others had abandoned their lives in the United States to live in a small town in the mountains of central Mexico.

Caren’s undergraduate degree is in painting. She was diverted from that passion after seeing Frederick Wiseman’s documentary,
Titicut Follies, an exposé of the abuses in a mental hospital. Graduate school came next and she subsequently worked for 27 years as a psychotherapist in private practice. Then a one-week vacation in Mexico changed the course of her life again.

After 30 years of pursuing the American dream, she felt compelled to leave it all behind and start a new life in Mexico. Thousands of Americans have inexplicably made the same choice to relocate to the town of San Miguel de Allende. Lost and Found in Mexico is their story. Why do they come? Why do they stay? Why do they find life in a third world country more satisfying than life in the United States? Combing the streets of San Miguel looking for answers, Caren gathers a compelling web of stories. The answers are inspirational, compelling, and incredibly honest.

For more information about the film and to watch a three-minute trailer, click here.

****************************

Gina: With the election coming up, I'm hearing a lot of people in the States say, "If Obama doesn't win, I'm fleeing the country." As one who has left your home country, do you feel that it's possible to actually escape?

Caren: I also keep hearing and reading those declarations! When I came to Mexico ten years ago, I came because something in Mexico appealed to me, not because I wanted to escape from something. After a few years it occurred to me that I had changed radically and that it was because I was no longer affected by American culture and I wasn't part of the Mexican culture. I was suddenly free.

This was surprisingly quite beneficial for me. I hadn't been aware of how anxious I was, how much I had been driven by a desire to achieve, to look good, to keep up with popular culture, etc. And the worries that I felt in the states were mostly gone. Now, however, the state of affairs in the states is affecting the entire world. The details of this presidential race are discussed constantly in the homes and streets here in San Miguel de Allende.

The outcome of the race is on all of our minds. Most of us care deeply and are helping out in some way and do not feel immune to the state of affairs up north. So, now I would say that one can't entirely escape by fleeing the country. But one can escape the fast-paced life that leaves little space for relationships and the constant barrage of consumerism and competition.


Gina: How long did it take you to create the film? What was most surprising to you about the process as a first-time filmmaker?

Caren: Well, first of all, I thought that making Lost and Found in Mexico would be easy. It certainly looked easy! What could be so hard? I figured it would take 3 months. It turns out that it took 3 1/2 years! The first thing that I did was to order 6 books from Amazon with titles like, How to Make a Documentary Film. What most surprised me was how many ways there are to construct a film. And getting clarity on what I wanted to portray was quite difficult. More difficult was cutting out witty, entertaining parts of the film that I loved but that really didn't "fit" under a topic. The editing process took 2 1/2 years.

Gina: What are your favorite and least-favorite things about living in San Miguel de Allende?

Caren: My list of favorite things is really long: the friendliness of both the Mexicans and Americans; the sense of community; the weather; the quality of the light; the ability to do all that you need to do on foot; and the high percentage of interesting foreigners who have come to live here. I guess the main thing is how I feel each day when I wake up. On the negative side, I really miss first-run movies and I miss having the Sunday paper in bed with a cup of coffee. Somehow reading the New York Times on the computer doesn't quite make it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pumpkins for Obama

YES WE CARVE
For stencils to carve your own Barack O' Lantern, click here.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Happy 14th Birthday, Annalena

My daughter turns 14 tomorrow. All clichés about time passing much too quickly apply. Here she is at age 8 during her Fruits phase in Oakland, California.

Catherine Niles's Fall Foliage Photographs

One of the voyeuristic thrills of Facebook is the window into your friends' friends' lives when one of your friends makes a comment on one of their friends' posted photos, which suddenly gives you access to a stranger's photos. These glorious fall foliage images by Catherine Niles of Salisbury, Connecticut showed up in my Facebook news feed when our mutual friend Nancy commented that they were breathtaking. I agree and am pleased to share them here with permission. Cathy doesn't have a website yet, but you can reach her at cenile [at] comcast.net.

Small Red, Big Yellow

Maple with Cotton Balls

Dueling Branches

Rudd Pond, Millerton, New York

Friday, October 17, 2008

Fall Bouquet

For Susan and Anne

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Even The Blueberry Leaves Are Turning

It's a thrill to walk down the driveway to fetch the morning paper this time of year. Each day new trees explode with color.



Fall foliage in the blueberry patch.