Around the World With Flat Olivia (the Second)

27 01 2010

It was nearly three years ago that Flat Olivia returned to Real Olivia, and to be honest I hadn’t given her much thought since. Until, that is, I found a manila envelope, decorated in peace signs, in my mailbox a few months back. Inside was a paper doll, not so extravagant at the first, but wearing a pink dress (with peace signs) and sporting incredibly long eyelashes.

She came with a note: “Dear TT, I am doing Flat Olivia again for myself. Please take her around NY. I’m just doing this because it’s a do nothing day. Love, Olivia”

Lucky for me, this time there were no requests for the American Girl Store or other hard to reach New York landmarks. Instead, the paper doll embarked with me on the randomness that is every day life. Together Flat Olivia and I watched the New York Marathon and joined friends for dinner and drinks.

She accompanied me on my trip to Aruba, and kept me company as I made my way form hard to find hotel to hard to find hotel (if only her navigational skills were better…), and she came along with me to a celebration at El Museo del Barrio, where we got to watch a live salsa band, and Flat Olivia even managed to shake her groove thing a little.

And then she returned to California with me at Christmas, where she joined Real Olivia’s cousin Gio and I on our excursion to visit the elephant seals, a very special occurrence since, Gio being my godson, our dates are generally limited to just the two of us; but we agreed that she could join since she is quiet and doesn’t take up a lot of room.

Earlier this month, Flat Olivia rode first class, compliments of the U.S. Postal Service, home to Real Olivia (who, I’m told, had been dragging her father out each night to check the mail for some weeks prior). Along with her she carried several photos of our adventures, plus a box of paper dolls, some stationery, and a new friend: Flat Titi. I’ve been missing my sometime paper companion, but yesterday was treated to a nice surprise. In my mailbox was a letter: “Dear Real TT, I’m having a really fun time with Olivia. I hope your [sic] having a good time. I am. I love you so very much. Love, Flat TT”

I was delighted to hear that the flat version of me is enjoying herself, though I do wonder what she is doing in Colorado. I imagine she’s gone skiing (something at which the real Titi isn’t all that adept) and I do hope they are reading lots of good books and maybe having a tea party or two. I suppose with that I should go write to my mini-me.

The Adventures of Flat Olivia

26 01 2010

There is a children’s book called Flat Stanley, which, though more than 40 years old, has become something of a phenomena of late. In recent years, Flat Stanley, the little boy who was flattened by a dresser, has traveled the world as the star of many books, and as such, he’s become a teaching tool to help elementary age children learn geography.

My brother Gregg’s youngest daughter, Olivia, is one of the world’s most charming children. At eight years old, she’s inquisitive, sweet and has a spirit so endearing it’s impossible not to adore her. And, for some inexplicable yet very happy reason, I happen to be her favorite person. When the family is together, Olivia can generally be found by my side, and she relishes in referring to herself as my appendage (yes, she understands what that word means).

Me and My Shadow

When we’re together, Olivia is fond of tea parties and hours of reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and when we have to part there are always tears and promises of letter writing. Wherever I go (with or without the stilettos) Olivia receives a postcard, and when, Olivia’s first grade class created “Flat Me’s” to send to relatives, Flat Olivia arrived in my mailbox. She was dressed in pink, with the hair of a real doll and stickers for earrings.

Per Real Olivia’s request, I was to take Flat Olivia to “the Statue of Liberty and the American Girl Store.” Anyone who’s passed American Girl Place knows it’s relatively hellish, especially if you don’t have someone under the age of 12 along with you, but not wanting to lose my status as favorite person, I went, and Flat Olivia received much fanfare, and even some real clips for her real hair at the Doll Hair Salon (yes, Virgina, there is a hair salon for dolls.

The Flat Olivia returned to Real Olivia, with a pile of postcards portraying Flat Olivia’s adventures in New York (plus a couple of American Girl hats for Real Olivia and her mini-me doll). And now little Olivia (the real one) has a better idea of New York, the big, strange place where her Titi (that’s me) lives.

I’m a little fascinated by this whole Flat Stanley thing. It’s become a major to-do and a pretty amazing one at that. It’s linked students and teachers around he country in a new exciting way. Check out the Flat Stanley Project.

Sound of Music Pilgramage (and Such)

5 01 2010

My last night at home, we happened upon The Sound of Music on television. I know this is not an uncommon affair, especially around the holidays, but nevertheless when those von Trapps are on screen I can’t help but watch (and sing along). In a moment of blissful familiarity my sister, parents and I crowded around to watch, only this time we got to pass the love along to my niece Gianna (until her mean parents made her go to bed).

It took me back. To childhood, when I wanted to be Gretl and made my siblings re-enact the cuckoo clock one sunny afternoon in Tahoe (you know you’re the beloved baby sister when you can command four teen/college age siblings to be photographed popping out from behind their father).

It's a terrible travesty that the turquoise shirt on one brother and the pink plaid shorts on the other are hidden. A little imagination goes a long way though...

It also brought me back to Salzburg, which I visited with my friends during our European adventure, for the sole purpose of taking the Sound of Music Tour. After nearly a month of discussing and reminiscing, of yodeling our way through picturesque European hamlets and trying to remember the names of the of “those two other children” (they are, incidentally, Louisa and Brigitta), we found ourselves on a bus engulfed in the soundtrack and seeing the sights firsthand.

I skipped down the very same lane where Julie Andrews sang “I Have Confidence” (albeit somewhat less gracefully) and we stood in front of the gazebo of  “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” fame. The hysterical disappointment of the day was that we couldn’t enter it because some time before an elderly woman on the same tour broke a hip trying to jump the benches as Liesl did. We did, however, get our music fill for the day, and it was also a great way to see a gorgeous city. Added bonus? I got to relive my trip to the beautiful town in the Alps some years later when writing the EuroCheapo city guide to Salzburg (see it for doing Salzburg on the cheap).

Halloween Traditions

27 10 2009

I am not a Halloween person. I have very little creativity when it comes to thinking up clever costumes and even less artistic ability when it comes to creating them. I inherited this from my mother, who loathes Halloween and had a great way of talking me into costumes that were easy to acquire, but incredibly random. (The highlights: I was a 6-year-old Jane Fonda because I already had a leotard, tights and leg-warmers and at 10 I was an electrical engineer because my father worked at PG&E and could bring home a hard hat.)

But costume or no costume, I love the holiday, and not just for the excuse to eat candy. Halloween is rooted in ancient cultural traditions, and I find the history rather fascinating. There’s Dia de los Muertos, of course, the Day of the Dead (or rather “days”—it traditionally lasts for three), perhaps best known for the colorfully dressed figurines with skull faces, but there is much more that goes into the rituals of this fascinating celebration of the the dead, which has its roots in Aztec and Mayan traditions.

Then there’s Samhain, the Celtic celebration of the dead, based around the idea that dead souls return on this one night when the veil between the two worlds is thin. Many of the Samhain traditions gave birth to our modern American Halloween traditions. For the full story check out the History Channel’s comprehensive website, complete with fun videos of New York’s parades and costumes of the Twenties.

Gold Stilettos Meet Red Stilettos

2 10 2009

Last Thursday’s gala was great not only for the Grease 2 memories it brought back, but it was a big night out for the gold stilettos, their first in quite some time (and now my feet remember why that is). Anyhow, amid the performances and the munchkin appearances, the gold stilettos managed a little sightseeing of their own. There, in one of the Tavern’s many rooms, was a whole display of ruby red shoes, 21st Century style.

These sparkly shoes of all shapes and sizes were part of a fundraiser for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Some of the world’s favorite designers, from Jimmy Choo to Betsey Johnson, answered the question, “What would Dorothy wear today?” Their answers were nothing short of inspiring (the gold stilettos were certainly impressed): from the playful to the elegant and all decked out in red crystals. The Ruby Slipper Collection toured the world for the past year, and then each pair was auctioned off, with its corresponding and equally lovely sketch, at the gala. I can’t think of a more gorgeous fundraiser, and neither can the stilettos (they are still drooling). See some of our favorites here

Traveling Books

9 07 2009

Literally. I just discovered and am fascinated. The site allows for the sharing and discussion of books in an organic, wholly amusing way. Here’s the quick version: sign up for an account here (for free), then register a book and write the BookCrossing ID inside. “Release” the book (translation, leave your book on the train, a park bench, on someone else’s doorstep…), then wait. When someone finds your book, they can come back to BookCrossing and enter the ID, then hopefully, make some sort of journal entry about said book before re-releasing it.

While I’m not ordinarily one to “release” my books (call me a pack rat, overprotective “mother” or whatever else you will—if I like a book, I want it to stay with me), I’m into this idea. I love the idea of setting something free into the universe for someone else to find, and the idea of them being able to track it. Who knows? Perhaps your book could make it around the world. Stranger things have happened…

Rushmore Addendum (and more on girlfriends)

7 07 2009

I realize now that I was mistaken about the name of said creepy Texas town. After writing the post, I quickly dashed off an email to Kristi and Christine, noting that the town of Leprechaun became even more creepy when it failed to exist. Both remembered said town and the fear and speed with which we passed through it. But Kristi made a good point: the town was not named Leprechaun at all. Here I will quote Kristi, because she captures the sentiment well:

I saw the blog post of the road trip! And it got me thinking more about that lovely stop in Texas we made and realized that it was actually Shamrock, TX that we went to (hwy 40 goes right through it). Aside from the creepiness factor, I remember joking that leprechauns were going to jump out of hiding places and kill us (probably where you got the idea that the town was Leprechaun, TX). I also remember a lot of neon signs and a lack of people. There was some food court area or county fair area and nobody was there – it was empty – like a ghost town. So instead of eating dinner there, we drove to the next town.
To further underline the “FREAKIN CREEPY” aspect of the town, she included a link to this image:
My point here is twofold:
  1. Shamrock, TX remains just as creepy a prospect as Leprechaun, TX would be if it did in fact exist, even though its Economic Development site makes it seem rather quaint( but does the happy waitress on the front page look as though she’s missing an arm??)
  2. Shamrock, TX is a “Legend of America,” which is a nice way of saying that even if it doesn’t have leprechauns waiting to prey on young college girls, it certainly has its share of ghostly lore. (Why, now, do I somehow find this aspect fascinating?)
  3. Most importantly, Shamrock, TX, and my “mis-memory” of it, sparked a whole new round of reminiscing about said trip, with this response from Christine: What a good trip that was, can you believe how young we were?? We couldn’t even drink. And why didn’t we bring any alcohol around with us to drink at night? What did we do for entertainment?…

Her list goes on, as could mine, but I’ll save more stories from the road for another day. Nearly 10 years later (gasp!) they still haven’t gotten old, and they are a sign of the strength of gal pal bonds and the thrill of travel that solidifies them. Perhaps that Shamrock was a little lucky after all…

Oh Schmap!

6 07 2009

I recently discovered that two photos I posted on Flickr were selected to represent Woodlawn Cemetery and the New York Botanic Garden on Schmap, this new, nifty interactive map guide. This was exciting because: a) someone likes my pictures! and b) I discovered Schmap, this cool new digital travel guide, where users can publish schmaps (with photos, reviews and trip itineraries)  and access maps and guides from anywhere. Yet another reason I need to invest in a smarter phone than the jenky one I currently have.

Will Someone Pinch Me Please?

30 04 2009

Life is pretty phenomenal right now. I just returned from a trip home. It was a short one, but a lovely one, and since I was home for a wedding I had the opportunity to see old college friends that I haven’t seen in far too long. Plus, it’s finally springtime in New York. The parks are green and the weather fine (it’s about time).

All that aside, the real reason that I’m flying high these days is that—wait for it—I finally have a job, a real, grown-up, regular hours job. And not just any job, a job with Hearst Digital Media that seems almost too good to be true. It’s been about a year in the making, and about three years since I’ve had a full-time job, and I am definitely, with all my heart ready to jump into Hearst and make things happen.

First, the commute is a straight shot from my home on the B train up to Columbus Circle, no frustrating transfers or running through subway stations. Second, the building is lovely and light-filled and LEED-certified (which, nerd that I am, makes me oh-so-happy), oh, and very close to Central Park, which is yet another perk. Third, and most importantly, the job is swell. I’ve only been at it two days, but I already know that the people are nice and that I’m going to thoroughly enjoy what I’m doing. I’ll be working on sweepstakes as well as the gift guides for the holiday season, which promise to give me a lot of Excel work (yes, I am an Excel nerd), a bit of writing and a whole lot else. Plus, it’s sort of like shopping for a living, and who wouldn’t love that.

I had a very hard time leaving my kids in Harlem, but this is a huge and exciting step for me, and one I’m most looking forward to. Stay tuned for updates to come!

Love for Swedes

27 04 2009

Oh those Swedish… They bring us some of the best shopping around.

First, there’s Ikea. I sometimes feel that I’d prefer to impale myself with a handful of those tiny pencils they pass out at the door than fight the crowds and maze-setup of this circus; but at the same time I must admit that there’s something satisfying about wandering navigating the maze, gazing at random gadgets and stockpiling items I never knew I needed, partially because they’re too cool to pass up (cheese grater that then stores grated cheese?) and partially because they’re ridiculously cheap (hello set of three scissors. I need you not but you’re $1.99!)

Then, there’s H&M, which despite its affordable price tags, can quickly become very, very expensive. And time consuming. And, ultimately (and most importantly) fashionable.

Now Sweden has done it again. I introduce from Sthlm,a site that celebrates the brilliance of Swedish design. Now you too can indulge in the brilliance of the Swedes (without dangerous pencils or the madness that is the H&M fitting room). Starting in April, the site will feature a new designer every month, selling that designer’s merchandise for a limited time (the period said designer is featured). This month: the candy-colored towels, coasters and other items of Lotta Kühlhorn. What a way to get unique, fun, and brilliantly designed items that aren’t recognizable as Ikea or H&M! Sign up for the newsletter and you too will soon be saying, “Thanks. It came from Sweden.”